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Lt Cdr Ian Fraser VC, DSC, RD, RNR (1936-38)

Ian died on Monday, 1st September 2008, in Arrowe Park Hospital, Wirral, Merseyside aged 87. He was the last living Royal Navy recipient of the Victoria Cross.

Ian Edward Fraser joined Conway in 1936. He played rugby for the 1st and 2nd XVs and excelled at boxing, his bouts being noted for their tenacity and commitment. In 1937 he was cox of the Conway gig’s crew against Worcester. He left Conway in 1938 and joined Blue Star line. He was appointed Probationary Midshipman RNR in 1938 and in June 1939 was called up to join Royal Oak. He volunteered for submarine duty and was awarded the DSC whilst serving in Sahib in the 19th Flotilla in the Mediterranean. Injury prevented him sailing in Sahib’s last cruise when she was lost and all but one of her crew became PoWs. After a short period in command of an old submarine, H44, out of Londonderry, a rather uneventful command, he volunteered for X-craft in March 1944.

His citation reads: “During the long approach up the Singapore Straits he deliberately left the believed safe channel and entered mined waters to avoid suspected hydrophone posts. The target was ground, or nearlyaground both for and aft, and only under the midship portion was there sufficient water for XE-3 to place herself under the cruiser (pictured below - Ed). For 40 minutes XE-3 pushed her way along the seabed until finallyLt. Fraser managed to force her right under the centre of the cruiser. Here he placed the limpets and dropped his main side charge. Great difficulty was experienced in extricating the craft after the attack had been completed but finally XE-3 was clear and commenced her long return to the sea.The courage and determination of Lt. Fraser are beyond all praise. Any man not possessed of his relentless determination to achieve his objective in full, regardless of all consequences, would have dropped his side charge alongside the target instead of persisting until he had forced his submarine right under the cruiser. The approach and withdrawal entailed a passage of 80 miles through the water which had been mined by both the enemy and ourselves, past hydrophone positions, over loops and controlled minefields and through an anti-submarine boom.” He was also awarded the Legion of Merit of the United States of America.

After the war he formed Universal Divers Ltd with ex frogmen and colleagues, pioneering the application of wartime underwater skills to the commercial field.

An interview with Ian for a recent TV programme about the VC is here. An excellent and informative film made by a local school about Ian's exploits is here.

Obituaries were published in The Times, The Telegraph, the Liverpool Echo and Sea Breezes.

A copy of the Thanksgiving Service for Ian's life is here.

My thanks to Steve Budd (71-73) for the following account of the Thanksgiving Service which was attended by 28 Ocs and 8 Honorary OCs:

"The church, St James With Emmanuel, was the same one Ian and Melba Fraser married in and all their children were baptised there, and as churches go it was a quite impressive edifice. It became obvious early on that this would be more than the average service. Many flags flying from buildings on the Wirral were flying at half-mast as a sign of respect for their local hero. I stood outside in the church grounds and watched as mourner after mourner arrived, safe in the knowledge that there were pews reserved for OCs. I watched as the standard-bearers arrived from various submariner association branches, the British Legion and George Brown carrying our own colours. There were twelve all told. There was also a contingent of four serving submariner ratings/ncos, at least two Commanders and Rear Admiral David Cooke MBE curnetly Commodore Maritine operations, latterly Flag Offficer Submarines. The Mayor of Wirral and several town councillors were also there.

Every part of Ian's life was represented by significant numbers of people from all the areas he had worked, played and involved himself in. There were golfers, a representative from Wycombe Grammar School and even an ex-chairman of Everton football club was there.

I eavesdropped on the chap in charge of the bearers issuing instructions, asking if they all understood what they were to do, then saying that he wanted it smart and professional "because after what HE did, he deserves it!" Then a piper appeared and played a lament out on the street, which was rather poignant. I went into the church at 1450 and took my seat, noticing on the way in that although quite a roomy building, all the pews were full and there were dozens  standing.

The Padre was clearly an old friend of the family, and conducted an excellent service. The order was the hymn, The Lord's My Shepherd followed by the reading - Psalm 107 verses 22-30 delivered by Ian's son Martin, who despite a couple of deep breaths before commencing, was flawless. This was followed by the address (in the absence of eulogies) which was delivered by the Padre, and was kept very light-hearted, so that I as an onlooker felt that it was indeed a celebration of Ian Fraser's life. In fact, as he surveyed his domain, packed as it was with bodies, he remarked that were Ian there he would have told him "Lock the doors boy, you won't get a crowd this big on Sunday!"

There were then prayers and the hymn Eternal Father, a blessing and the choir sang Sunset and Evening Star. The two front colour bearers then went to the forefront and lowered their standards as the Last Post was bugled through the church, then raised as Reveille resounded. A semi-military finale for a true hero of our times, Reveille of course raising everyone's spirits, the church then very slowly emptied as a full house of people from all walks of life and all ages emerged into a bright day and made their way to Grove House Hotel.

The hotel were clearly taken aback at the numbers attending, it was a job finding somewhere with enough room to drink a pint, as uniforms mingled with bemedalled veterans, civilians and Old Conways, most of whom were wearing the Club tie.

Ian Fraser had been given a send-off as befits a VC holder, and I am proud to have been able to be there.

I can but hope I have managed to convey to those unable to be there the magnitude of the day."

Ian's 1st Lieut, now Commander, Bill Smith RNZN living in Wellington and still fit. Bill at the time was a Sub Lieut. Bill went on to have distinguished war service gaining a DSO, then served in the RNZN as NZ Hydrographer followed by attachment to the Antarctic Survey.


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