A Royal Navy sailor from Littlehampton has told of his pride after a voyage of discovery led him to unearthing a slice of his family’s military heritage.
Chief Petty Officer Lee Hayward travelled 3,500 miles to the town of Ajax in Ontario, Canada, to visit a street now named after late grandfather, Stewart Hunter.
The trip was part of a celebration marking the heroic efforts of Stewart and his shipmates who served on HMS Ajax, which the town is named after, during the Second World War.
Lee, who is an electronic warfare instructor at HMS Collingwood in Fareham, said it was amazing to finally visit the street, called Hunter Drive.
“I felt enormous pride and was so humbled to accept the street dedication of my grandfather’s name,” he said.
Stewart was involved in the war’s first naval engagement in the Atlantic – the Battle of River Plate, on December 13, 1939.
The battle saw Ajax and sister cruisers HMS Exeter and HMS Achilles pitted against the German cruiser Graf Spee.
The trio of Royal Navy ships launched a devastating bombardment of the Nazi warship, causing such extensive damage it forced her captain to scuttle it.
The town soon began to name streets after those who served on the British ships.
But Stewart died in 1987 never knowing of the tradition. It was only by chance his wife Mary found out while reading a newspaper article a year later.
After a call to the town’s mayor and a check on Stewart’s military history, it was decided Ajax would honour his service and dedicated a road after him.
Lee, who lives in Littlehampton, had known about this for years but had never been able to visit.
But he was invited to a ceremony marking HMS Ajax’s contribution to the war effort and the subsequent anniversary of the freedom of the town being awarded to the following HMS Ajax.
The weekend saw veterans of HMS Ajax parading through the town.
There was also a formal unveiling of a memorial in honour of the 4,500 names of the crews of Ajax, Exeter and Achilles.
Lee, who is part of HMS Ajax River Plate Veterans’ Association, said: “My wife, Elizabeth, and I were blown away by the reception and friendliness of all the people we met in the town of Ajax.
“Overall the weekend and events which took place were beyond our expectations immensely.”
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