Neville is finally free to share war horrors
For more than 60 years Neville Dean was sworn to secrecy after witnessing one of the worst disasters to befall Allied troops in the run-up to the invasion of Europe.
On April 28 1944 a total of 749 US soldiers and sailors died when three ships involved in a training exercise were ambushed by German torpedo boats just off Slapton Sands near Stokenham on the Devon coast.
The full scale of the tragedy remained hidden for almost 50 years because of a secrecy order issued by General Dwight D Eisenhower, the supreme commander of the Allied expeditionary force, who feared news of the disaster could destroy morale or tip off the Germans.
It was only when Belper man Neville saw a BBC documentary in 2004 he realised that he was finally free to talk about the ill-fated Exercise Tiger.
Now, his experiences are being detailed for the first time as part of a forthcoming book by Derbyshire author Malcolm Cowper, who is compiling the stories of dozens of ordinary local men and women whose wartime experiences have still yet to be reported.
The Slapton Sands incident is still etched in Neville’s memory.
“We thought it was a routine training exercise,” the 91–year–old said.
“We had travelled down with an officer who was one of the umpires and we thought it was just going to be dummy rounds.
“When we realised live rounds were coming in we ran like hell. Men were falling from the boats and drowning because of the weight they were carrying. It was terrible. I had to sign something on the journey down to say I would keep it secret which I thought was strange. But we never expected that. Nobody did.”
It wasn’t the only time that Neville would be exposed to unspeakable horrors during the conflict.
In April 1945, while operating as a tank driver, Neville’s unit was ordered to take flame throwing tanks into what they believed was a prisoner of war camp and incinerate the camps as there had been an outbreak of Typhus.
They soon realised this was no prisoner camp, but Belsen, the notorious Nazi concentration camp where 30,000 people died in the months leading up to liberation and 10,000 in the weeks and months that followed, their bodies too weakened to survive.
It remains to this day one of Neville’s worst memories of the war. Over the next few weeks pictures of these atrocious camps would be seen around the world, but for Neville and his comrades no film could adequately convey the “hideousness” of what they had witnessed.
Mr Cowper is searching for other people with wartime memories to share for his book, which is out next year. In particular Derbyshire women. To contact him phone 01246 856 987.
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