The murder of Lord Louis Mountbatten left the country grieving and was one of the low points of 1979.
For two families, from Southwater and Henfield, the tragedy led to a moment of pride when their sons were called to help escort the Admiral’s coffin to Westminster Abbey.
The two sailors were Keith Foulsham, who was only 16-years-old, and Trevor Witcher, 32. Keith had been a member of the Royal Navy for three months, having joined up straight after leaving The Forest School. Trevor was more of an old hand, being a married man with three children.
Young Keith was given the honour one month after his passing out parade at which his unit was the best turned out. His parents, Robert and Doreen, and his sister Wendy, 18, watched the funeral on television and were able to spot Keith on the drag ropes at the front of the gun carriage which carried Lord Mountbatten’s coffin.
In the Witcher household, Trevor’s duty help a particular poignancy. His father, Ernest, who was 57 at the time, had served with Mountbatten 40 years earlier at the battle of Crete.
Mr Witcher, who was foreman mushroom grower at Cobbins Nursery, told the County Times: “I felt so proud that I should have been with Lord Mountbatten at the beginning of his limelight career and that my son was there at the end.”
Both Keith and Trevor, who was a petty officer yeoman in 1979, were called back from leave to take up their posts on the drag ropes.
Mr Witcher senior described the first time he met the Admiral as a 17-year-old lad on the HMS Kingston at the start of the Second World War. Much to his horror, his uniform cap had blown away as he headed ashore at Loch Ewe, Scotland.
Fully expecting to be sent back on board when he came eye-to-eye with the man he described as “the last of our great leaders”, he was relieved when Mountbatten simply told him to enjoy his day – but to sew on his chin stay properly.
Mr Witcher said: “It was this humane attitude to a tough job which earned the Admiral of the Fleet the respect of everyone who worked for him. His men were very proud to serve him.
“He was very much a man’s man. He never talked down to you, he simply talked to you. There was no upper crust about him.”
Describing himself as “shattered” when he heard the news of Mountbatten’s death, Mr Witcher said: “When I was a lad I did not really understand the significance of Mountbatten, but when he came on board our ship his charisma would rub off on you.”
He added: “He believed in working hard and playing hard and was a strict disciplinarian. His word was his command. If he told you to do something, you did it.”
Following the service at Westminster Abbey, Lord Mountbatten was buried at he was buried at Romsey Abbey.
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