John Henry Phillips had just got his first job as a commercial archaeologist when he took a holiday volunteering to take World War II veterans to Normandy.
A mix up over accommodation led to John Henry sharing rooms with 92-year-old Patrick Thomas who, as a teenager in the war, survived his ship being destroyed off the French coast in 1944. Memories of the traumatic events had stayed with him all his life.
Patrick’s landing craft, LCH 185, had led the first wave into Sword Beach on D-Day. But on 25 June the ship and its crew was sunk by an acoustic mine. Thrown into the sea, Patrick had two injured friends alongside him but he could save only one of them. After the war Patrick received a letter from one of the families. He hadn’t shared it with anyone until he read it to John Henry. At this point John Henry felt he had to find the resting place of the ship for Patrick.
This book tells of how John Henry engaged maritime archaeologists and divers to help him locate the vessel on the seabed. He approached the mayor of the French coastal town for permission to design and mount a memorial, and organise an unveiling ceremony, for the lost ship. He also produced and presented a film to document the events.
It's a compelling account of the search for the ship and the developing close bond between Patrick and John Henry, interspersed with the details of the wartime events leading up to the sinking of the vessel. It's a moving, gripping and life-affirming memoir.
My interview with John Henry Phillips will appear in an issue of 'Suffolk' magazine this summer.
For recommended non-fiction titles, take a look here.