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Navy Vet Goes Swimming for First Time Since Surviving WWII Torpedo Attack

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A 97-year-old Royal Navy veteran has gone swimming for the first time since surviving his ship being sunk by German torpedoes during World War II.

Nursing home bosses arranged for Roger Roberts to go for his first dip in 80 years after HMS Charybdis came under attack in the English Channel in 1943.

Roberts was just 17 when his vessel was bombarded and sunk during a German torpedo attack, which left him stranded in the middle of the sea.

He was fortunate to be one of the 107 men on board to be rescued, but he has not set foot back in the water since the traumatic event, which claimed 464 lives.

Roberts, who is one of only two survivors from HMS Charybdis still alive, had always been reluctant to return to the water but made it part of his bucket list when he moved into Foley Grange in Kidderminster, England, last January.

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After nursing home staff heard Roberts’ amazing survival story, they wanted to help him achieve his dream and got in touch with a local leisure center.

Wyre Forest Leisure Centre then invited Roberts down for a 20-minute swimming lesson last week, which he said was “a lot warmer than the English Channel.”

“I enjoyed the swimming lesson, but it was a lot [of] effort for someone of my age,” Roberts said. “I have to say though, the water was a lot warmer than it was all those years ago in the English Channel.”

“There was ice in the water, and it was freezing. I was lucky. I was a good swimmer,” he recalled.

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“We went into the water and had about two hours in the water trying to find planks of wood. We managed to scramble onto the planks, and there were 60 men holding onto it. It was very hard. I managed to come out in one piece from the incident, but a lot didn’t. You had to look after yourself as well as your friends, and we all put our arms around each other, and eventually we were rescued.”

Roberts was born on April 12, 1925, and he first learned how to swim at primary school, going on to represent Birmingham, his hometown, in district competitions.

While still underage, at 16, Roberts tried to join the military, but he was given a shilling and sent home on a train after his sisters contacted the army recruitment team to inform them of his age.

A year later, he enrolled in the Royal Navy in 1943 as a Stoker and boarded the HMS Charybdis — a Dido-class cruiser launched in 1940.

While serving on board, the HMS Charybdis was hit by German torpedo boats in the English Channel in October 1943 and started to sink. Working in the engine room at the time of the strike, he was told to abandon the quickly sinking ship, leaving him stranded in the English Channel until he was rescued.

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The World War II veteran has now been at the care home for 12 months where he has become a popular resident among staff.

Foley Grange’s home manager Hannah Atkinson said: “When I watched Roger getting back in the water, it was a very heartfelt moment and brought tears to my eyes.

“Thanks to the Wyre Forest Leisure Centre, we’re now able to offer swimming sessions to our residents every Tuesday, and Roger will be a regular attendee.”

“My motto in life is ‘never give up and keep going’ and that’s what made me want to get back in the water,” Roberts said. “If you have a problem do not give up as everything will work out in the end.”

Produced in association with SWNS Talker.

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