The last survivor of a torpedoed World War II warship has died aged 101 on his daughter’s birthday after testing positive for Covid-19.
Pvt Dennis Morley, from Chalford, was a prisoner on a Japanese warship, the Lisbon Maru, when it was attacked in 1942, taking more than 800 lives. He survived, but remained a prisoner of war until Christmas Day 1945.
Exactly 75 years later he spent Christmas 2020 in Gloucestershire Royal Hospital after a leg infection and a fall, expecting to return home on December 29 – but then he tested positive for Covid-19.
“I was absolutely heartbroken, we almost knew that would be the end then. It was about accepting fate at that point, because of his age,” said his great granddaughter Leone Coysh, 24, who he helped raise from age nine.
Dennis, who was a nurse at Standish Hospital in Stroud after the war, became unresponsive on New Years’ Eve and Leone was invited to say her goodbyes.
“It was the worst day of my life. It was the icing on the cake for 2020. It was horrendous,” said Leone, herself a nurse at Gloucestershire Royal Hospital,
Just like he had courageously fought to stay afloat after the Lisbon Maru was shot, the war hero fought the virus for three more days until he passed on January 3, the birthday of his daughter Denise Wynne.
“I took him a picture of my four-month-old daughter on Christmas Day, and he said he was so sad he wouldn’t get to see her grow up – he loved her to bits,” said Leone.
Above: Dennis with his great great grandaughter
“He was just an incredible man, someone that everybody loved. He was so selfless – always thinking about other people.”
She described how he tried to calm his fellow prisoners and help them swim when the Lisbon Maru began sinking in 1942.
On his 88th Birthday, Dennis had taken Leone, aged 10, with him on a trip of reconciliation to Japan, where he met with former Japanese soldiers and forgave his captors.
Dennis, a Bandsman and stretcher bearer in the Royal Scots 1st Battalion, was supposed to attend a memorial dedication ceremony for the victims of the Lisbon Maru at the National Memorial Arboretum in October.
Above: Dennis Morley aged 20
In October 1942, the Lisbon Maru was carrying 1,816 prisoners that Japan had captured – after they took Hong Kong in December 1941 – to Japan without any markings indicating POWs were on board, when it was shot by an American vessel.
Carnage ensued over the next 24 hours as Dennis and the other prisoners, who were left trapped below deck, tried to escape and swim.
Japanese soldiers shot at the men in the water, only ceasing fire when local unarmed Chinese fishermen began rescuing nearly 400 of them from the sea.
Dennis, then in his twenties, spent the rest of the war in a POW camp in Osaka, Japan, where he worked in the docks and at the airport.
He moved to Wotton-under-Edge after the war and he married twice. His story has previously been shared on ITV News and by the BBC, when a Chinese film maker suggested salvaging the ship.
Brian Finch, who translated the book A Faithful Record of The Lisbon Maru Incident from Chinese said: “Dennis Morley was the last known survivor of this terrible event. He and all those that suffered should never be forgotten. May he and they rest in peace.”