The Hartlepool man who survived attacks by dive bombers and U-boats - and never sought praise for his bravery

James Victor Cole wasn't one to dwell on the past.

Tuesday, 24th May 2016, 10:00 am
How we reported the story in 1956.

If he had been, his story would easily have provided enough material for a movie.

As it was, he shared it with the Northern Daily Mail in 1956.

James Victor Cole.

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It was a tale of a man whose whole life seemed to centre on the Navy and the sea. Chris Cordner reports.

James Cole was a man of modesty.

A man who played down the drama he had faced during his lifetime.

In the Second World War, for instance, he was on board a supply ship which was constantly menaced by German dive bombers and U-boats. It was a terrifying time.

James Victor Cole.

The enemy was determined to stop him from refuelling the Allied warships.

But looking back, James wasn’t one to lay any claim to heroism. He put it down to the troubles the Royal Fleet Auxiliary faced on a regular basis.

In his understated way, he said he was just one man doing his bit and everyone who served in the war had it tough.

It wasn’t his only drama on the seas, although his others were more joyous occasions.

He was in a convoy at Scapa Flow when HMS Howe flashed a message to the whole of his ship, to say that one of the crew had become the proud father of a baby daughter. It was James and the whole ship knew!

On another occasion, a similar radio message came to his ship, this time to say he had become a dad to a son.

But this was a much more confidential message. James was the radio officer on duty at the very moment that the announcement arrived and he took the message himself.

Years later, he made the pages of the Northern Daily Mail in 1956. At that point, he and his wife Mary had two children Kenneth, 20, and Angela Mary, 11.

And at that point, he had been serving with the Hartlepool Coastwatch service for 10 years.

He told of his love of the sea since he was a little boy in Cornwall when he used to chat to the local fishermen.

His whole life had been filled with the coastline and the people around it.

There were other nautical stories as well, such as the one he witnessed when he was 11-years-old. He was living in Ireland at the time and the date was May 7, 1915.

The Lusitania had been torpedoed by a German U-boat off the Irish coast.

James remembered: “I saw the few survivors clinging to the small boats which struggled into port. I shall always remember the day and the date.”

He’d seen his fair share of drama and it ran in the family. His father, Lieut James Cole, was decorated in 1909 by King Edward VII at Buckingham Palace for saving the crew of a ship.

Who remembers the Cornishman who came to Hartlepool and loved his life in the North East.

We would love to know more about him.

Contact Chris Cordner by emailing [email protected]