THE first casualty from WW2, commemorated on Wantage War Memorial was Marine Verdun Loos James Pierpoint who sadly died on the 14th October 1939.

He was one of 833 men who died when the battleship HMS Royal Oak was torpedoed by the German submarine U-47 at Scarpa Flow in the Orkney Islands.

Verdun as one can see was named after two of the most famous battles of WW1. Born on the 31st October 1916, he was the son of William and Annie Pierpoint (nee’ Blunsden).

Father William (who served with the 14th Battalion Worcestershire Regiment from 1916-18) was a bricklayer working for Wheeler & Co in Mill Street. Verdun had 11 siblings.

Of his brothers four served in WW2, George (with the Military Police), Bill (Royal Artillery), Frank and Desmond ( both with the Royal Berkshire Regiment).

After leaving school, Verdun worked as an errand boy for Nichols & Son stationers and printers in the Market Place where also his brother Desmond worked as a printer.

He was also a keen cricketer , playing for the Wesleyan School team.

According to a family story, in 1933, Verdun stole some money from his employer, and his father William found out, and gave him so much hassle over what he had done, Verdun left home to join up.

On the 23rd January 1934, aged 17, at Southampton Verdun enlisted into the Royal Marines.

It would appear from from Verdun’s company conduct sheet that in the early days of his service with the Royal Marines, he was very much a ‘jack the lad character’ as he was found guilty on several occasions of not keeping articles of his kit clean, appearing on parade dirty and being absent without leave on several occasions.

One of these was when he was part of the Royal Marine display team at the Royal Tournament in 1934.

Verdun’s first overseas posting was to Egypt for a year, and then he was posted to HMS Nelson on 11th April 1937.

HMS Nelson was the flagship of the Home Fleet and on the 20th May 1937, took part in the Coronation Fleet Review at Spithead off the coast at Portsmouth.

It was at Portsmouth in June 1939 that Verdun joined his next ship HMS Royal Oak.

On the night of the 13th/14th October 1939, HMS Royal Oak was at its anchorage at Scarpa Flow when the German submarine U-47 penetrated the line of block ships at Kirk Sound and a lookout spotted the outline of a battleship. As it was 1 O’Clock in the morning, the vast majority of the crew were asleep.

The U-47 fired a salvo of three torpedoes. Two missed, but the third struck the bow of the ship at 1.04am shaking the ship and waking the crew.

Many of the men on board heard a muffled ‘whump’ and were unsure of what caused it. So many sailors returned to their hammocks unaware that their ship was under attack.

Meanwhile, the U-47 tried again with a spread of three further torpedoes, and this time there was a large explosion underneath the Royal Oak and she rolled over and sank within minutes.

By 1.30am all there was to be seen was fuel oil and survivors in the water desperately trying to survive.

A total of 833 men died within the ship including over 100 boy seamen. Local casualties apart from Verdun Pierpoint, included Able Seaman Joe Wilkins originally from Wantage, Cpl Henry Jordan Royal Marines whose parents lived in Lockinge and boy sailor Frederick Minns from Uffington.

There were 420 survivors, 386 of whom were pulled from the sea by the tender Daisy 2, the U-47 returned to Germany where it received a hero’s welcome and Hitler received the crew in Berlin.

In Wantage on Monday, October 14, there are going to be two services to commemorate Verdun Pierpoint and those who lost their lives in HMS Royal Oak.

The first takes place at the War Memorial in the churchyard of St Peter & St Pauls Church in Wantage at 6.10pm and the second at the Royal Oak Public House (the HQ for Wantage Royal Naval Association) at 8pm.

It is hoped to have a small exhibition about HMS Royal Oak at the Vale and Downland Museum in Wantage on the day.