Tributes pad to Sunderland war sailor

War veteran Ronny Giles.

War veteran Ronny Giles.

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TRIBUTES have been paid to a war veteran who was the last survivor of a torpedoed ship in the Second World War.

Ronnie Giles sailed on the Empire City in 1943 as a Merchant Navy engineer.

The ship, which he had worked on at Doxford shipyard, was carrying a cargo of coal from East Africa when it was hit on August 6, 1944.

In a previous interview with the Echo, Ronnie told about the attack. He said: “Our ship was torpedoed in the early hours. I was in my bunk, half asleep, when we were hit in the engine. The noise of the explosion was terrific – it fairly made my eardrums burst.”

Ronnie managed to escape in a lifeboat with other crew members and floated at sea for days, before rowing their way to the East African shore where they were greeted by tribesmen.

Ronnie, who went to Southwick School, recalled: “One of the natives made a small hole in a coconut and gave it to me to drink the milk. He was such a nice chap.”

They sailed back to England from Cape Town on the Empress of Scotland several weeks later.

Originally from Southwick, Ronnie spent his last few years in Pallion.

He died on February 14 of pneumonia. A widower, Ronnie had no children, but many close friends.

Sue McCabe, 48, of Pallion, and her partner Ray Lathan, 58, had been friends with Ronnie for 15 years.

She said: “He was a lovely gentleman. He loved travelling and would often get the bus to Durham and South Shields.

“He was really active until he broke his hip, that was around October 2011.

“He was so proud of his time in the Navy and he will love something going in the Echo about him.”

Ronnie’s funeral will take place at 1.30pm tomorrow at Sunderland Crematorium.

Twitter:@Monica_Turnbull