Charmed, Hero Who Survived Sinking of Four Ships

Daily Mail (London), June 15, 2013 | Go to article overview
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Charmed, Hero Who Survived Sinking of Four Ships


Byline: Jonathan Brocklebank

Tragedy: The sinking of HMS Prince of Wales off Malaysia LIKE Uncle Albert in the sitcom Only Fools And Horses, his days at sea during the war were somewhat ill- starred.

Almost every ship Ian Forbes served on in the Second World War ended up on the bottom of the sea.

But, unlike the comedy character, the Scottish seaman who survived four sinkings was every inch a hero.

Now, 20 years after his death, details of his remarkable story have come to light with the sale of his medals at auction.

As well as surviving four ships, the young officer witnessed the Allies' worst naval disaster of the war, swam through sharkinfested seas, narrowly escaped death at the hands of natives on a South China Sea island and endured torture and punishment beatings in a Japanese prisoner of war camp.

Yet he survived the lot, noting at one stage that he appeared to lead 'a charmed life' because of all his narrow misses.

It was just after the war that Commander Forbes, a descendant of the Forbes baronetcy of Newe, Aberdeenshire, was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his 'great courage' while serving on two of his ships.

Since his death in 1993, his decorations have been in the hands of a collector of gallantry medals who has put them up for auction in London on Wednesday. Their pre-sale estimate is [pounds sterling]5,000.

David Erskine-Hill, of auctioneer Dix, Noonan and Webb, said: 'Over 30 years as a specialist in medals, I have never heard of a man who survived the loss of four ships in such horrific circumstances, not to mention a close encounter with the Bismarck and the trauma of three years as a prisoner of the Japanese.

'Today the accolade of hero is a much abused one - it is to men such as Ian Forbes that it should be applied.' The seaman entered the Royal Navy in the mid-1930s and by the outbreak of war was a sub-lieutenant on the escort vessel HMS Bittern.

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