Forty Years On

Forty years ago was the midpoint between ourselves and the Second World War. Many in the Wychwoods still had memories of that struggle. However they were beginning to disappear from our community. This is well illustrated by our excerpts from the archives of The Wychwood  Magazine in this issue.

From the Wychwood 40 years ago (December 1982/January 1983 issue)

In November, 1941 three teams of specially-trained divers from the Italian Navy launched an attack by night on the Mediterranean Fleet as it lay at anchor at Alexandria. The attack was very successful and resulted in the cripp­ling of the battleships ‘Queen Elizabeth’ and Valiant’ which were out of action for many months afterwards.

The senior member of the teams – all of whom were captured and made prisoners of war – was later awarded the Gold Medal for Valour, equivalent of the Victoria Cross, which was pinned on his breast by Crown Prince Umberto.

After the war the story of this exploit was recalled in books and films. One of the films was made by an Italian company with the title ‘Human Torpedoes’; the other, starring John Mills, was called simply ‘Valiant’. Both scripts were highly fictionalised, because they were both written by De La Penne (he of the Gold Medal) whose bravery was only equalled by his lively imagination.

In both ‘stories’, an important part was played by the interrogating officer. In the Italian version, he was cast as a full Commander, RN, with a bullying manner; in the English version he appeared correctly dressed as a Lieutenant, RNVR, but added drama was supplied by giving him Anglo-Italian parent­age, and hence divided loyalties when questioning his mother’s compatriots.

Neither film had a great box-office success. After all, what British audience wants to know about a Royal Navy defeat? De La Penne is now living in honoured retirement in his native country and all the other characters in the story are dead, save one, the interrogating officer.

He is now the editor of ‘The Wychwood’.

Then in the very next issue of the magazine (February/March 1983) came the following sad report –

It is with great sadness that the Wychwood Magazine has lost Its most able Editor. “Bob” Long died on Sunday 5 December 1982.

He was a man of great attributes and a staunch Churchman. He was the local representative of S.S.A.F.A. and the Officer’s Association, and also the Oxfordshire Playing Fields Association.

During the War he joined the RNVR, and being a brilliant linguist, was attached to the Eighth Army for Naval Intelligence. Later in Italy, he was Flag Lieutenant to Admiral Morse in Naples. He came to Shipton from Yorkshire and worked whole-heartedly for our magazine. We all send our deepest sympathy to his wife Bettine and his family. Those of us who knew him will mourn a true friend.

Rob Long was also listed in the first two membership and programme cards of the Wychwoods Local History Society ie for the period 1981 to 1983, as Editor. The WLHS, as part of its 40th Anniversary, is trying to add biographical notes of key early members to its history of the Society. If any reader of The Wychwood has information or anecdotes relating to Commander Long (possibly a photograph?) Alan Vickers would be grateful to hear from them on mail@alanvickers.net

December 2021 – January 2022