The HMS Neptune: An amazing story of survival


Jack Dusty Clothing and Lifestyle blog - The HMS Neptune at sea
It was on Christmas Eve of 1941 that Able Seaman John Norman Walton was rescued. He had spent 5 days adrift on a life raft. He was the sole survivor of New Zealand's greatest Naval tragedy.
HMS Neptune sank on the 19th of December 1941, after sailing into an uncharted minefield off the coast of Tripoli, in the Mediterranean Sea. The tragedy itself claimed the loss of 837 lives, 150 of which were New Zealanders. The ship was tasked with destroying German and Italian convoys delivering troops and supplies to Libya, in support of Rommel's Army in North Africa.
Able Seaman Walton was one of 30 who made it aboard a life raft. By that night, it was down to 16. What followed were 5 hellish days that saw nearly all of the men die, either from oil consumption, exposure or dehydration. The day before Christmas, there remained 2 men. Walton and Price. After waving to an Italian aircraft, a torpedo boat found him and threw him a line. In Walton's words "I collapsed when I got on board and woke up on Christmas Day in a Tripoli Hospital. They told me Price was dead." He was the only survivor.
Walton was temporarily blinded through Christmas due to the oil. Boxing Day gave him his sight back and then not long after, on New Year's Day he was put aboard an Italy-bound ship. From then until 1943, he was a POW.
Jack Dusty Men's fashion and lifestyle blog - John Normal Walton, Naval officer
"I spent 15 months in various prisoner-of-war camps until told I was going to be repatriated and arrived home in June 1943. The Italians had told me I was the only Neptune survivor, but I could never believe that until the Navy confirmed it for me in 1943. Sometimes even now it is hard to take in."
What followed was one hell of a life. In 1946, after three years serving in a frigate on Russian convoys and then on Rowena, a minesweeper, he was de-mobbed. He settled in Leeds and embarked on a career as a professional boxer. A perfect choice for a man with such fighting spirit. He fought under the name Patsy Dodds, Dodds being his wife Irene's maiden name and Patsy because, early in his career in fairground fights he would deceive his opponents by pretending to be in trouble, manipulating them in to over-confidence. Either with gloves, or bare knuckles, Walton didn't mind.
147 recorded fights later (82W, 61L 4D), he called it a day. By then it was the late 1950's.
In this time he had been called up again during the Korean War and would serve another 5 years in the Navy. He retired from service as a petty officer and would work as a director on a container firm in Leeds. In 1985, he retired to Pudsey, where he lived with Irene, who he had married in 1943 until her death in 2002.
Walton was a hard man until the end. In the year 2003, at the age of 82, a pair of muggers tried their luck at taking his wallet. "You will have to get it out of my pocket" he told them and as the first one leaned in, he butted him on the nose, then hit the second one with a left hook. The fight clearly over the two muggers scattered and ran off. Not being able to chase after them was what upset Walton the most.
2 years later in 2005, Norman Walton passed away. He was 84 years old. 
Today at Jack Dusty, we pay our respect to those who died on Neptune, and to Norman Walton. We think he and Jack would have been good mates.

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