Joan Brunt
(Article Published: Monday 05 April 2004
 The Bournemouth Daily Echo)

I'LL NEVER FORGET: Joan Brunt, 88, pays silent tribute to late-husband Arthur Park, and inset, a commemorative wreath is laid by Royal Dragoon Guards officer Steve Kirkman where a Valentine tank lies in Studland Bay

FRAIL Joan Brunt had waited 60 years to say farewell to her husband Arthur.

One of six servicemen who drowned during the doomed pre D-Day Exercise Smash in Studland Bay on April 4, 1944, Cpl Arthur Park's body was never found and his young wife was robbed of laying him to rest.

Six decades have passed but, for his 88-year-old widow, Arthur's memory lived on yesterday (April 4) as a memorial stone overlooking the scene of the tragedy was unveiled as a lasting tribute to the lost members of the 4th/7th Royal Dragoon Guards.

Joan, who had travelled from Darlington to honour her late husband, fought back tears during a poignant remembrance service on the windswept headland at Fort Henry.

"It's very difficult," she reminisced sadly. "Coming here today has brought all the memories back.

"I remember getting a telegram to say Arthur was missing. I was told not to ask any questions and I didn't.

"After 12 months I received another saying Arthur was presumed dead. It's a long time ago but it's never left me," said Joan, who remarried after the war.

The pensioner, who now walks with a stick, was supported as she laid a wreath at her late husband's memorial.

With her fur collar shielding her from the sea winds, she gently patted the poppy tribute and bowed her head in sorrow.

War veterans joined servicemen and women to watch from the cliff-top as a C-130 Hercules from RAF Lyneham flew overhead, scattering 40,000 poppy leaves.

The commemorative plaque was unveiled by one of the survivors; a lieutenant, now General Sir Robert Ford aged 80. His three colleagues were among those who died. Sir Robert told the Daily Echo of the dramatic moments of the Studland Bay tragedy.

"We were on the surface of the water after coming off the landing craft and becoming increasingly apprehensive.

"The water was coming in very fast and although we had small pumps, they were just not effective. The weight of the water against the canvas was just too great.

"We knew we weren't going to make it. We were still floating and all four of us were standing on the top of the tank. Then a great wave crashed over the top and we sank to the bottom.

"The canvas enveloped and I knew we were trapped. I lost the mouthpiece from my lifesaving equipment and so it was useless.

"I was able to take a couple of short gasps of oxygen because we seemed to be in a bit of an air pocket. Then I realised I was only trapped by my feet so with my lifejacket I managed to rise to the surface. It seemed a long way back up. Unfortunately my colleagues did not make it. Today is a very fitting memorial for all those who died."

On Saturday the only surviving Valentine DD (duplex drive) tank re-enacted its wartime row at Studland's Knoll Beach. From an army launch boat it was driven into shallow waters just offshore before making its way onto the beach. The tank was rescued at auction by John Pearson - who bought what was left of it in 1984 after its previous owner had tried to convert it into a bulldozer following the war.

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