TRIBUTES have been paid after the last survivor of a key Second World War naval battle died. Bill Wedge, who served onboard HMS Worcester during the Channel Dash in 1942, died earlier this month at the age of 98.

Mr Wedge originally joined the Navy in 1938, and his son-in-law, Ron Crompton, said: “His name was actually John Francis Wedge, but he was given the nickname Little Bill after his father, who was nicknamed Bosun Bill, had served in the Merchant Navy so the name Bill stuck with him for the rest of his life.

“He was born in South-East London, there was not much money about but he got a free place at one of the local schools. He then joined Barclays bank at 17, a year before the war started. He had joined the Naval Volunteer Reserve so he was called up in 1939.”

Mr Wedge spent time on minesweepers in the Thames, seeing the Dunkirk evacuation and the bombing of London. He was then sent to HMS Worcester, where he served in the famous “Channel Dash”.

Mr Wedge went back to working at Barclays after the war, going on to open its first branch in China and is survived by his three children, seven grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.

The Channel Dash saw German battleships the Scharnhorst, Gneisenau and the cruiser Prinz Eugen attempt to race back through the channel to get to a less exposed port in northern Germany having been damaged in bombing raids.

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The RAF and Royal Navy tried to race to meet them there, sending six destroyers into the channel alongside three destroyer escorts, 32 motor torpedo boats and around 450 aircraft.

The three large German ships were escorted by destroyers and torpedo boats, with a sizeable Luftwaffe presence in the air. The Channel Dash was considered at the time to be a British failure as, despite the Gneisenau being severely damaged and the Scharnhorst hitting two mines, the ships all made it through the channel and safely to port.

The Worcester lost 23 men killed and 45 wounded of a crew of 120. It had also sustained six hits from the heavy German guns and its funnel was seriously damaged. In addition, the number one boiler room was flooded, leaving the ship dead in the water and requiring tugs to bring it back to Britain. Despite sustaining heavy damage during the Channel Dash, the Worcester was repaired and continued to serve until 1946, when it was sold for scrap.

The three German ships carried on being attacked by the British, and the Scharnhorst was eventually sunk on Boxing Day 1943. Prinz Eugen was surrendered to the Americans in 1945 and was towed to a Pacific Atoll to be used as a nuclear test target after the war. Gneisenau was stuck in port until 1945, and was eventually sold for scrap in 1950.