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Last Updated: Tuesday, 7 February 2006, 17:13 GMT
Great War veteran dies aged 107
Nicholas Swarbrick
Nicholas Swarbrick was the last merchant sailor from the First World War
The last remaining merchant sailor from the First World War has died aged 107, his family have said.

Nicholas Swarbrick died peacefully last Thursday at the nursing home in Grimsargh, Lancashire, where he spent his final years.

His death leaves just 11 soldiers, sailors and airmen from the Great War, said a National Archives spokesman.

Most of these live in the south of England, apart from two in Australia and one who lives in Derby.

He was a remarkable man. He thought he had lived in the most exciting century the world has ever seen
Rodney Swarbrick, nephew of Nicholas Swarbrick

Mr Swarbrick served as a merchant seaman during the 1914-1918 conflict.

His nephew, Rodney Swarbrick, said : "We are coming to the end of an era.

"He was a remarkable man. He thought he had lived in the most exciting century the world has ever seen. He thought he had been lucky to live through a century of such unparalleled endeavour and achievement for mankind."

In an interview last year to mark Armistice Day, Mr Swarbrick said he could still recall the death of Queen Victoria as a boy and his memories of the war years lived on with him.

Born in Grimsargh, near Preston, he joined the Merchant Navy aged 17 and trained as a radio officer. German U-Boats took a terrible toll on Allied shipping, sending thousands of service personnel, and civilians, to a watery grave.

Mr Swarbrick said: "I was the radio officer and could hear when ships were being sunk.

SOS distress

"I could hear the SOS messages from torpedoed ships, ships in distress and going down and hearing their death throes. It was pretty horrifying to hear what was happening on the airwaves.

"And the instructions we had was not to go to their aid, because you yourself then became a target for the sub lurking close by.

"You had to get the hell out of it rather than go to help - that would be merely to commit suicide.

"I always expected us to be next, I think we just got used to that fear, but it never happened to us."

Working life

Mr Swarbrick remained in the Merchant Navy for 13 years.

He switched to his father's farm business in Grimsargh for the rest of his working life.

Mr Swarbrick remained teetotal and single all his life, but one of his nephews is an officer in the Royal Navy.

He died in a nursing home which overlooks land which his father and he once farmed.

The veteran will be cremated at Preston Crematorium on Friday.

Don Touhig, Minister for Veterans, said he was sorry to learn of his death.

"He will be greatly missed by all those who knew him and I offer my condolences to his family and friends," he said.

According to the National Archives there are three sailors from the Royal Navy, who served in the First World War, who are still alive, four soldiers, three members of the Royal Flying Corps and one member of the Royal Navy Air Service.

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25 Nov 05 |  Scotland
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09 Nov 03 |  Southern Counties


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