Author makes long odyssey to visit father’s wartime grave

A Welsh American author has made a pilgrimage to Shetland where his father was killed in one of the worst disasters to befall Lerwick in World War Two.

Lyn Clarke, who has written three autobiographical memoirs of a Welshman, only learned of how his father was killed when his son Richard, who lives near Doncaster and accompanied his father to Shetland, found details of the destruction of two motor torpedo boats in Lerwick Harbour on 22nd November 1943.

In his latest book, Lyn says that his mother Elizabeth, who brought him up in Pontypool, never went into detail about how his father was lost. Richard found reference to MTB 686, on Shetlopedia. The sleek warboat was planning a commando mission to Norway, or perhaps Sweden to pick up ball bearings for armaments, accompanied by the Norwegian MTB 626, and was being loaded with jerrycans of fuel to enable a return trip.

Somehow, the vessel’s Oerlikon gun was fired by accident, this in turn set fire to aviation fuel on the deck for the boat’s engines which led to one devastating blast, followed by another half an hour later. Both vessels, which carried torpedoes and depth charges as well as ammunition, sank or were sunk by Naval gunfire intended to stop the fire spreading.

A plaque, unveiled in 2000, marks the spot near Mareel where the vessels were lost. Altogether eight men were killed or later died of wounds –seven British and one Norwegian sailor. Five were buried at the Knab. The North Ness at the time was a depot for British coastal forces.

Lyn, who arrived in Lerwick on Thursday night and will fly south again tomorrow, said today that the most emotional moment of their trip so far had been visiting the plaque on Friday morning.

“It is a very short distance, 50 yards at most, from where my father died,” he said.

Lyn Clarke (second from left) was killed in the 1943 explosion in Lerwick Harbour.
Lyn Clarke (second from left) was killed in the 1943 explosion in Lerwick Harbour.

He believes his father, also named Lyn, may not be among those buried at the Knab as he was a stoker on the vessel and may have sunk with the remains of the boat in the harbour.

Lyn says in his addendum to Reflections of a Welshman, the third in his trilogy, that photographs of his father showed that he looked to have aged 10 years in six months, such was the stress of wartime.

Amazingly, when Richard put some more details of the disaster on the internet, he was contacted by a Norwegian New Yorker, Knut Gustavson, whose father had been on MBT 626 and managed to escape by swimming through a hole blown in the side of the boat.

As well as making trips to Norway with commandos or to pick up wartime supplies, the MTBs were involved in propaganda dissemination, convincing the Germans that an allied invasion of Norway was planned. This led to Germany keeping 250,000 men in Norway and away from the invasion beaches in France.

Lyn has come a long way since his hardscrabble upbringing in South Wales, the focus of his memoirs. An accomplished sportsman he carved a career in sales and engineering and now lives in a “semi-tropical paradise island” in Florida with his wife.


Add Your Comment
  • Allen McNeill

    • January 10th, 2016 11:03

    I am sorry but I’m not great on a computer, I am basically in the first stages of getting any info/photos I can about MTB 686 and what happened. My Dads brother (my uncle)was on her, and sadly died in this accident, Able seaman JR McNeill. I am planning to visit his grave in the not to distant future.
    Yours, Allen McNeill

    • Barbara Morris

      • January 10th, 2016 15:51

      Hello Allen,

      James Ryce McNeill was my father’s cousin. J. McNeill’s mother Christina was a sister to my grandmother, I live in Shetland and would be delighted to meet you. I can give info on family history. I’ll leave my contact details with the Shetland Times.

      Best wishes,

      Barbara Morris

  • Knut Danielsen

    • May 19th, 2018 16:46

    My father, QuarterMaster, engineering, Louis K Danielsen, from Bergen, was on MTB 626 when the fire started. Seein that it was feasible, he escaped through another hole from another exploded mine after Knut Gustafson had gotten out. In dad’s case he suffered severe burn injuries and was not expected to live. Thanks to some very skilled surgeons, he recovered, went on to serve with Leif Larsen on the Vigre, and lived 35 more years. More often than not, he relived that nightmare in his dreams. Lynn Clark and I have talked. I was fortunate in the sense that I had a father in my life until I was nearly 22. My feelings go out to Lynn who was not as fortunate.

  • Terence Smith

    • October 28th, 2019 19:30

    My name is Terry Smith.
    I was born “Terry Small”
    I’m second cousin to Ord seaman Sidney George Small who sadly lost his life in the tragic accident, aged 19.
    I visited the war grave back in the 70’s but, plan to revisit to see the memorial.
    Sidney was born and raised in Charlton, South east London.
    Thank you to everyone for the research.
    The article is much appreciated


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