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Pauline Biddlecombe, PO Sutton's daughter emailed Naval-History.Net to say she had an interesting letter written to his then fianceι, Wren Vera Bull about the invasion, one of his badges, and photographs of him and his ship HMS Blackpool, most of them probably taken in Antwerp. And where could she find out more information about his ship?

This material follows, plus some additional information about HMS BLACKPOOL (link to Service History), not that much has been published. The letter, between a young man in action and his fiancee at home, albeit in the same service, is very personal, but Pauline believes it gives an insight into how they, and many others, fared during the war, and she wanted it published. Reading between the lines, I think it says a lot about people and war.

If anyone can add to this information, please let Pauline know at




Henry (or Harry) Sutton was born in Verdun, Montreal, Canada in 1921, his family moved to the US in 1923 and when his father died around 1930, his family returned to England, to St Mary's Cray, Orpington, Kent. Pauline does not know when her father joined the Royal Navy, but he came out at the end of the war. In 1945, he married his sweetheart - Vera.


Harry on the left


Harry second from left


Vera and Harry






As one of many thousands of small vessels serving in the Royal Navy in World War 2, very little has been recorded in published sources about HMS Blackpool. The few references about her and some inferences from the information supplied follow (her Service History by Lt Cdr Geoff Mason is now available):



HMS Blackpool, Bangor-class diesel-engined minesweeper, built Harland & Wolff, Belfast, 600 tons, 16.5knots, 1-3in HA  or 1-12pdr AA/4-0.5in AA guns (sources differ), 60 crew. Pendant number J.27, ordered 12 July 1939, laid down 19 September 1939, launched 4 July 1940, completed 3 February 1941.  Became Norwegian Tana in 1946, stricken 1961 and broken up. (Conways "All the World's Fighting Ships 1922-46", "British and Empire Warships of the Second World War" by H T Lenton)


19th August 1942 - Blackpool with 9th Minesweeping Flotilla during the Raid on Dieppe, Operation Jubilee ("Chronology of the War at Sea 1939-1945" by J Rohwer and G Hummelchen)


6th June 1944 – Blackpool (commanding officer, Act Lt Cdr G H Bird, RNVR) took part in Normandy invasion as one of eight minesweepers of the 9th Minesweeping Flotilla, Senior Officer Cdr R W D Thomson RN in HMS Sidmouth. In the Assault Phase, part of Force J (Juno Beach), sweeping Channel No.7. In the post-Assault Phase, as ordered by Naval Commander Eastern Task force (NCETF).


"The minesweeping operations  …. were going almost exactly to plan in spite of stronger tidal streams than had been expected and the unfavourable weather. They were completely disregarded by the enemy despite the fact that the 14th Minesweeping Flotilla was in sight of the French coast from 1957, 5th June and before dark could distinguish individual houses ashore. …..


"The change of sweeps on the turn of the tide were successfully accomplished by all flotillas, though the 9th and 18th Flotillas were obliged to execute the manoeuvre in a minfield(!)"


(Battle Summary No.39, "Operation 'Neptune', Landings in Normandy, June 1944")


Confirmed in the letter below that she was present off Normandy, 5th-8th, returned to England 8th, back to France 10th, and also that the Germans did not respond.


November 1944 – Blackpool may have taken part in sweeping the River Scheldt to open a passage to Antwerp or in subsequent routine sweeping. Sweeping started on the 4th, the first coasters passed safely through on the 26th, and the first sea-going vessels on the 28th. Photos of HMS Blackpool following were believed taken in Antwerp, presumably around or after these dates.


However, her role is uncertain here as all the Scheldt minesweeping appears to have been carried out by the smaller British Yard Minesweepers (BYMSs), Motor Minesweepers (MMSs) and minesweeping Motor Launches (MLs). (HMSO, "The Campaign in North-West Europe June 1944-May 1945")

following six photographs probably taken in Antwerp

Harry - front centre


Harry playing the harmonica


Harry in the bow


Original  with transcription following



Wren V J Bull,

W.R.N.S. Quarters,

11, Princes Gate,

South Kensington,

London S.W.7





P/MX501256 H. T. Sutton


H.M.S. Blackpool

C/O G..P.O.





My Dearest Vera,


Well my darling how are you, has your cold got better now. Have you received any of my mail yet. I sent you a letter last Friday. I hope you have received it by now. We had some mail come aboard the same day but there none for me. I hope to have some when we get back to "England".


Well my darling I am still very much alive and quite fit and happy. I don't know when I shall be home on leave but I don't think it is very far off now. Now that this invasion is all over now.


We have been told that we can write home about our experience in the invasion. So I will give you a slight detail about it.


Well we started off about midday Monday June 5th and swept right across the channel to the place where the invasion took place afterwards. We arrived there about 1 o'clock in the morning. And kept on sweeping until about 3 o'clock about seven miles off the French coast. Then we waited there until the actual landing took place, that was about 7.30 am. During the time we arrived there and up till about day break which was at 7 o'clock the R.A.F. were bombing like anything, then the British and American Battleships took over with those sixteen inch guns. The invasion fleet followed us over and when we saw them, well really I have never seen so many ships in all my life and I expect never will again. It was impossible to count them all. After that we stopped there just sweeping out to channel and back to the French coast. Thursday we went back to England till Saturday. And then back to "France" and we have been around there ever since. At the moment we are just lying off there. I don't know when we are going back to "England", but when we do go back I hope there is some leave.


Well my darling I didn't think it was going to be so easy – we never had one shot fired at us. Well not yet, "touch wood and whistle". I can tell you I thought our chances of coming back after that first sweep were pretty negligible. But here I am still alive and thinking thank "God".

continues ........



Terribly sorry darling but I had to drop your letter, as I had to go on "Watch".


Well my darling how is your "Mother and Dad". Give them my regards. Have you heard from "Harold" lately – remember me to him when you see or write to him.


I suppose you are pretty well full up with work. Still you have one consolation. I suppose you are able to get home once in a while. By the way have you seen or heard from "Mother". Of course I haven't heard from her which is quite natural. I have written several times to her in the past fortnight. But I was just a little worried  about her. Only if she hasn't heard from me she'll start worrying like anything. So please darling, if you receive any of my letters, just let her know in your next letter to her.


Well we are all writing letters here and nobody knows what to write about except this invasion. They are saying to each other, what shall I put next, then somebody says who are you writing to? Is it your wife. Well put some lovey dovey stuff in, that will fill a few pages up. You have to laugh, because the things they get up to. But don't worry Darling, what I put in your letter is from me and not made up by anybody else ……….."


After the war, Harry worked as so many did, in a variety of jobs over the years, finally working and living in the Isle of Wight. He died in 1986, aged 65. Vera followed him in 1999.

Harry at Dartmouth in 1979


Vera at Porchfield, Isle of Wight in 1982

Their story must be like millions of other couples who lived and fought through World War 2, and I am only too pleased to record this short account of just one. 


Gordon Smith, Naval-History.Net

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