Not bad sailor, by all accounts. And if I could have this as an epitaph, please
'He always had a great sense of humour and it's got him into trouble over the years. We understood how to take it and in those days there were no reporters around!'
Prince Philip's war heroics come to light after 60 years
Old comrade reveals how Duke's quick thinking saved his ship
A remarkable act of heroism by Prince Philip
that saved scores of lives during the Second World War has been revealed after 60 years by a grateful fellow veteran.
Harry Hargreaves, now 85, has spoken for the first time of how quick thinking by the future Duke of Edinburgh, then a first lieutenant in the Royal Navy, foiled a Luftwaffe bomber which looked certain to destroy their ship during the Allied invasion of Sicily in 1943.
The story came to light among tens of thousands pouring into a BBCi website called 'People's War', which invites the public to share their experiences. Launched in June, it is now attracting 20 contributions an hour from the surviving 350,000 veterans of the conflict.
The BBC has invited some of the storytellers, now into their eighties or beyond, to take part in a major series of programmes next year leading up to the 60th anniversary of the D-Day landings.
Hargreaves was a yeoman aboard the destroyer HMS Wallace on which Philip, son of Prince Andrew of Greece, had been appointed first lieutenant - second-in-command - at the age of 21. In July 1943, engaged in the Allied landings in Sicily, the ship came under repeated bombardment at dead of night and its crew realised that they would probably lose their lives.
It was then Philip conjured up a plan to throw overboard a wooden raft with smoke floats that would create the illusion of debris ablaze on the water. As he hoped, the German plane was fooled into attacking the raft while the Wallace sailed to safety under cover of darkness.
Hargreaves recalled the terrifying events of that night on the website: 'It was obvious that we were the target for tonight and they would not stop until we had suffered a fatal hit. It was for all the world like being blindfolded and trying to evade an enemy whose only problem was getting his aim right. There was no doubt in anyone's mind that a direct hit was inevitable.
'There was no question but to accept that on the next run or the one after that we had little chance of survival. I had been through so much that the feeling of anger and frustration was as great as the fear I and everyone else felt.
'It was less than five minutes after the aircraft had departed and - if the previous space in time was approximately the same - we had about 20 minutes to come up with something. We couldn't steam far in that time, not even far enough to make the aircraft think we had moved.'
He continued: 'The first lieutenant [Philip] went into hurried conversation with the captain, and the next thing a wooden raft was being put together on deck. Within five minutes they launched a raft over the side - at each end was fastened a smoke float. When it hit the water the smoke floats were activated and billowing clouds of smoke interspersed with small bursts of flame gave a convincing imitation of flaming debris in the water.
'The captain ordered full ahead and we steamed away from the raft for a good five minutes and then he ordered the engines stopped. The tell-tale wake subsided and we lay there quietly in the soft darkness and cursed the stars, or at least I did. Quite some time went by until we heard aircraft engines approaching.
'The sound of the aircraft grew louder until I thought it was directly overhead and I screwed up my shoulders in anticipation of the bombs. The next thing was the scream of the bombs, but at some distance. The ruse had worked and the aircraft was bombing the raft. I suppose he was under the impression that he had hit us in his last attack and was now finishing the job.
'We lay there waiting for him to leave, which he did, and, in view of the solitary attacks so well spaced apart, we were convinced he would not return. It had been marvellously quick thinking, conveyed to a willing team and put into action as if rehearsed.'
Speaking from his home in Westport in Ontario, Canada, Hargreaves told The Observer: 'Prince Philip saved our lives that night. I suppose there might have been a few survivors, but certainly the ship would have been sunk. He was always very courageous and resourceful and thought very quickly. You would say to yourself "What the hell are we going to do now?" and Philip would come up with something.'
Hargreaves, who has published a full account in a book, It Wasn't All Mayhem , maintained contact with Philip and last met him during a royal visit to Canada two years ago. He added: 'He always had a great sense of humour and it's got him into trouble over the years. We understood how to take it and in those days there were no reporters around!'
Philip joined the Navy as a cadet after leaving Gordonstoun School in 1939. In January 1941 he joined the battleship HMS Valiant in Alexandria and was in charge of its searchlight control during the night action off Cape Matapan, for which he was mentioned in dispatches. After serving aboard the Wallace, he was appointed first lieutenant of HMS Whelp, which was present in Tokyo Bay when the Japanese signed the surrender.
Old comrade reveals how Duke's quick thinking saved his ship.