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John Verrall - Bombs and Bullets Defied

Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail, Monday, March 10th, 1941:
Local Boy Who Took Over Ships Gun.
When a British steamer was attacked by a German aircraft, a 17-year-old West Hartlepool boy, who was on his first trip, continued to fire the ships antiaircraft gun until the order to take to the boats was given. The story of his bravery was told when survivors were landed at a West coast port recently. He is John Verrall, messroom boy on the steamer, and elder son of Mr. and Mrs. John R. Verrall, of West Hartlepool.

When the attack developed Verrall volunteered to help the third officer at the A.A. gun. The raider began to sweep the decks with machine-gun bullets. Verrall saw the third officer fall at his side, mortally wounded. John immediately took over the gun and kept up a constant fire on the raider every time it swooped over the decks.

It was the rear gun which killed the third officer, and Verrall avenged his death. The rear gun of the plane became suddenly silent, the explanation being that the ships gun had killed or wounded the Nazi gunner.  Four other members of the ship’s crew were killed by the German bombs and bullets before the order to abandon ship was given. The lifeboats were irreparably damaged, and the crew had to use small boats and rafts.
The survivors were adrift for many hours before being picked up by a British warship. The rest of the crew praised highly the conduct of Verrall and of Tom Lowe, a 16-year-old Middlesbrough boy, who, after the boats had been launched, went back for his wounded Malayan friend and carried him back to the boat station and safety.

When seen by a “Northern Daily Mail” reporter, John Verrall hadn’t much to say about his experience, except that he acted in the obvious way after the third officer was killed. “It was quite thrilling while it lasted.” He said, “but we hadn’t a chance once the ship was hit. I didn’t know much about the gun, but I knew enough to keep it firing, and when the third officer went down I simply took his place. I meant to get the rear gunner if I could, and apparently I succeeded, for when the plane came back for another attack the rear gun was silent and never fired again”

An old boy of Lister Street School, Verrall was formally employed by a local timber firm, but when work became slack last autumn he decided he would be more use at sea. And he is by no means discouraged by his first experience. Already he has fixed up to join another ship.

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