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Call to honour Navy blaze heroes

Published 08/07/2015

Simon Coveney has been asked to consider honouring the two veterans
Simon Coveney has been asked to consider honouring the two veterans

Defence Forces' chiefs have been asked to reconsider honouring two Navy veterans whose bravery helped save more than 80 lives after a boiler room fire.

Lieutenant Pat O Mathuna and Stoker William Mynes suffered severe burns fighting the blaze on the LE Cliona in 1962 after a depth charge exploded prematurely during a training exercise.

The force of the blast lifted the corvette ship several feet out of the water in Cork harbour and ruptured oil lines sparking the lethal fire below deck.

Mr O Mathuna, now 85, executive officer and second in command on board, left the bridge to help Mr Mynes and spent about 40 minutes dousing the blaze with sea water.

"It would have been nice if someone had said something to us, but at the time it was not the done thing," he said.

"I felt then, and still think, that I was doing my job. Now I'm thinking more about the next world than this world but by virtue of the fact that I know what Willie did, I would not be selfish about it. He deserves recognition."

Mr Mynes, 19 at the time, was in the boiler room when the explosion occurred.

He ordered two younger stokers to evacuate while he suffered burns on his arms, hands and face crossing the worsening fire to cut off oil supplies and stem its spread.

About 20 navy recruits, crew, civil servants and a media pack witnessed the detonation and subsequent firefighting.

Without the sailors' knowledge letters have been sent to Defence Minister Simon Coveney seeking a review of their efforts in the hope they will belatedly be offered the Distinguished Service Medal.

A similar campaign was dashed in 2013 because the men were not recommended within four years of the incident.

Mr Mynes, who helped fight the fire from the deck despite his burns, said: "They didn't go in for medals in the Navy at that time. A lot of fellas said that Pat should have got something and he said if he should have got something then I should have got something."

The LE Cliona was going at full speed, about 15 knots, when the premature blast occurred seconds after one of 10 depth charges was dropped overboard.

The test run was the Navy's way of disposing of ageing explosives, training new recruits and an ultimately doomed public relations exercise.

There were fears that if the fire could not be contained the ship would sink and detonate the already unstable ordnance.

Captain Thomas McKenna, naval commander, wrote a letter commending the men's actions weeks after the incident when he remarked about them acting "without hesitation, with tenacity and coolly".

Mr O Mathuna retired as a naval commander in 1992 with his career taking him to UN peacekeeping duties in Lebanon in 1988.

Mr Mynes remained in the Navy for six years before moving to London and later he returned to Dublin to work as a postman and was honoured for stopping a thief from stealing the mail - IR£300 and a commendation.

"Would you believe it, I got more from An Post than I got from the Navy. But I have no axe to grind, they just did not do it at that time," he said.

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