b. 1922, Ammanford, Carmarthenshire | Royal Navy
Neville (Nev) Bowen served as a Royal Navy DEMS (Defensively Equipped Merchant Ship) Gunner throughout World War Two, taking part in the Battle of the Atlantic. At the age of 19 Nev was called up by the Royal Navy and was an Able Seaman Gunner serving from 1942 to 1946. Amongst his medals are the Atlantic Star, Pacific Star and the Italy Star.
Nev was born on 22 September 1922 in Ammanford. He left school at age 14 and went to work in the Saron coal mine in 1936 until 1940 when the mine closed. Nev then went to work in Worcester carrying out labouring work on an Aerodrome until moving to Birmingham where he worked demolishing houses that had been bombed during the Second World War.
At the age of 19 Nev was called up by the Royal Navy and went to do his initial six weeks training in North Wales, HMS Glendower, which today he describes as “Butlins Holiday Camp”. On completion of basic training, Nev went to Liverpool, HMS Wallasey to do his gunnery course. He recalls the instructor briefly showing them the American Oerlikon Gun and being told “Don’t worry about this, you won’t see it”. Later during Nevs’ service he was required to man an Oerlikon Gun.
Nev took his first ship in Scotland, The Orkney Isles. The ship was a troop ship carrying RAF personnel to Canada and was called the Louis Pasteur. They crossed the Atlantic and arrived in Halifax Nova Scotia. From there Nev travelled by train for 6 days to San Francisco to pick up a new ship, his second ship which was a Merchant Ship. Nev was a DEMS (ie Defensively Equipped Merchant Ship) Gunner attached to the Merchant ship. When on board and loading the guns he was shocked to see the gun the ship had been provided with was the American Oerlikon Gun! Nev and his mates had to assemble and learn the gun very quickly. He recalls the magazine being like a large round tub holding 60 rounds. Nev and his mates managed to do it.
Nev then sailed to New Westminster, Vancouver and recalls it being a small place with a Pub, Church and a Cinema. Only there for a few days, Nev recalls how he and his friend Bill Dias went to Church and met a family who took them to lunch and they signed a visitor book. Nev recalls seeing the names of the chaps who had been before them.
They then sailed down the Panama Canal, crossing a difficult sea to New York. After some repairs to the ship they again set off crossing the Atlantic and into the Mediterranean.
Nev had two brothers also serving in World War Two. His brother Doug was in the Welsh Regiment and elder brother Will was in the Royal Artillery. When Nev was on watch in Naples he was told the Welsh Regiment was on shore. Nev duly went ashore after his watch to search for his brother Doug. Instead, he found his brother Will from the Artillery. They enjoyed a meal together and separated, not to see each other again until after the end of the war.
Nev sailed back to New York to reload in 1944 and returned via the Mediterranean to Alexandrea. It was here that Nev received the news that his brother Doug had been wounded at Mont Casino and had been taken to the 70th General Hospital in Naples. Despite Nev being due to leave his ship he stayed on to go to see his brother Doug in Hospital. Nev emotionally recalls visiting him for three days. On the third day, Doug told Nev he was returning home on the next hospital ship. Nev was thrilled to tell Doug that the hospital ship was in dock, and they would be going home together.
Nev recalls being part of convoys through the Atlantic and witnessed the sinking of other ships including a ship in front of them. Nev also described how he witnessed a man being blown from a stricken ship into the sea and being powerless to do anything about it. Whilst on watch, recalls seeing a torpedo narrowly missing his own ship. Nev made it home safely together with his brother Doug who made a recovery at Swansea Hospital. They were also reunited with brother Will after the war.
After the War
Following his service in World War Two, Nev returned to his beloved hometown of Ammanford and returned to work in the mines. Around this time Nev met his soon to be wife Val Mai. They married in 1947 and are still happily married to this day some 76 years later. Nev worked at the mines for nearly 20 years until he got a job as a driver travelling the country until he retired. Following retirement Nev engaged in turning wood on his lathe and to this day produces beautiful pieces including pens, bowls and mushrooms which he sells to raise money for Veterans charity to this day. Nev is a much-loved Father and Grandfather who adores his family.