'I served with Prince Philip - he was a wonderful fella'

WARM tributes have been paid to the Duke of Edinburgh, who died on Friday morning.

Prince Philip undoubtedly made an indelible mark during an extraordinary life of service, colouring the lives of many thousands of people.

Some crossed his path during one of his many public engagements, others through the Duke of Edinburgh Awards scheme.

But for a select band it was during his years in the navy.

As a young man, Isaac Higginson could never have guessed when he served on HMS Valiant on the same gun as a young Prince Philip that he would one day be receiving a 100th birthday message from the Prince’s wife, Queen Elizabeth II.

Isaac hit that big milestone in 2018 and was treated to a party at the Royal British Legion, alongside seven of his eight children.

Born at Four Mile Burn between Parkgate and Doagh in 1918, Isaac’s father John, who was in the Royal Irish Fusiliers, was killed on the Khyber Pass aged just 22.

He had been a batman to a colonel and at just three or four-years-old, Isaac went to be raised by his grandparents, not far away at ‘the Strand’, after his mother re-married, growing up in a quaint thatched cottage.

His grandparents had a shop and delivered to homes in the locality on a horse and cart.

Isaac left to join the Royal Navy in peacetime 1934 as a Junior Rating and went on to serve alongside the future Duke of Edinburgh on the Valiant - and they played hockey together at the Port of Alexandria and also went to the same cinema.

“It was a lovely place, on the Mediterranean.

“I wish I could go back,” Isaac told the Guardian in an interview shortly before his ‘big birthday’.

“I like Prince Philip, I would love to meet him again some day.

“He was a wonderful fella.”

Isaac recalls one occasion during a hockey match with an RAF team when an opposing player cheated continuously by using his foot to move the ball.

The famously-blunt Prince barked: “If you do that one more bloody time then I will cut your feet off you!”

The pair were both aboard HMS Valiant during the Battle of Cape Matapan, when British warships destroyed five Italian vessels off the coast of Greece in 1941.

The Duke identified two enemy cruisers, while a third cruiser and two destroyers were sunk by the British fleet, with the loss of 2,300 sailors, Italy’s worst defeat at sea.

The Duke was Mentioned in Despatches for his courage during the battle by the fleet’s Commander-in-Chief, Admiral Sir Andrew ‘Cutts’ Cunningham.

He was later awarded the Greek War Cross of Valour.

Allied losses amounted to a single torpedo bomber which was shot down with the loss of its three-man crew.

Allied ships picked up 1,015 Italian survivors, with another 160 saved by the Italians.

The Duke wrote about the skirmish in a foreword to Dark Seas: The Battle of Cape Matapan, a book about the event, which lasted from March 27 to 29.

The Duke joined the Royal Navy as a 17-year-old cadet in 1939 and described his rank of Midshipman during the battle as the 'lowest form of life in the Navy'.

He rose through the ranks becoming, aged 21, one of the youngest officers in the Navy to be made First Lieutenant and second-in-command of a ship.

After the war he was promoted to Commander, but gave up active service in 1953 to dedicate himself to his duties as the Queen’s Consort, and was promoted to Admiral of the Fleet.

Sadly, Isaac passed away in late 2018.

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