Atom bombs, P0W camps and sunk ships? It's all better than being down the pit!
A GREAT-GRANDFATHER who survived the sinking of two warships during the Second World War and three years in a Japanese prison camp has celebrated his 100th birthday.
Thomas Donnelly, who narrowly avoided being on another doomed ship, also witnessed the atomic bomb being dropped on Nagasaki.
But the former dockyard worker told his family the worst thing he ever did was work down the coal mines when he was just 14.
Amazingly, Mr Donnelly was fit and active and living independently until about a year ago.
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Now living at a care home, he was joined for his birthday by his son Ken, daughter-in-law Lynne, granddaughter Leanne, and great grandchildren Lola and Jack.
Ken, aged 71, of Modbury, said he was proud of his father for coming through all the ordeals in his life.
He added that the family had tried to persuade him to tell the story of his life, but it had never quite happened.
Born near Sunderland, Thomas Donnelly was put to work down the mines at the age of just 14.
Ken added: "He always said it was the worst thing he ever did, even worse than being a prisoner of war. He was lowered down on a platform. It must have been pretty terrifying."
Mr Donnelly joined the Royal Navy and was initially part of the crew of the battleship HMS Royal Oak.
But he was transferred before she was sunk with the loss of more than 800 lives in Scotland in October 1939.
He was on board light cruiser HMS Curlew when she was sunk by a German bomber in Norway in May 1940.
Mr Donnelly survived and joined the crew of HMS Exeter, famous for its role in the sinking of the German battleship the Graf Spee.
But the cruiser was scuttled in the Indian Ocean after being crippled by Japanese attacks in March 1942.
Mr Donnelly and other survivors were taken to the Japanese mainland and he ended up in a camp in Nagasaki.
Back at home, his new wife Doris, nee White, whom he had married in Plymouth in 1940, and son Ken prayed for news.
Ken said: "I did not really know my father until I was four or five. When I used to complain about eating something, he used to tell me: "When you are hungry, you will eat anything.
"He used to say how 20 prisoners used to watch a guard eating an apple, desperate to get hold of the abandoned core."
Ken added that his father was once beaten unconscious with a bat for sharing a cigarette with fellow prisoners.
He said: "My father actually witnessed the atomic bomb at Nagasaki. He was working at a docks a few miles away when they heard what they thought was a terrific thunderstorm. Then they saw the mushroom cloud.
"They feared they would all be killed but the Japanese just ran off and left them."
The Americans liberated the camp and word came home that he had survived the war.
Ken said: "We were warned he would come back looking like some sort of skeleton but he was actually repatriated via the United States. They gave the prisoners anything they wanted. He actually came back overweight."
Mr Donnelly worked for British Rail and then was a "slinger" or crane operator in the Dockyard until his retirement at the age of 64.
He lived in Honicknowle and latterly in Colin Campbell Court in the city centre.
Mr Donnelly lost his wife Doris about 10 years ago, but managed to live independently, still doing his own shopping and DIY jobs.
Ken said: "We could have written a book about him, to tell the story in more detail, but there are things he would rather forget."
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