Sailor's heroism revealed after 50 years

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A sailor who died saving others as an aircraft carrier sank during the disaster that became the second largest British loss in home waters during the Second World War is being considered for a posthumous gallantry award.

Petty-Officer John Stamp died after HMS Dasher blew up and sank off Arran in the Firth of Clyde on 27 March 1943. The tragedy, which claimed 379 lives, has been shrouded in mystery ever since.

Tomorrow the dead man's two sisters, accompanied by Dr David Clark, Labour's defence spokesman, and author John Steele, are to deliver a petition to Downing Street asking the Government to cut through the red tape surrounding bravery awards.

Petty-Officer Stamp, 31, of the Royal Naval volunteer reserve, ignored the order to abandon ship and forced open a jammed water-tight door when he heard the cries of 20 trapped sailors. They were saved, but his bravery cost him his life.

The cause of the blast was never fully explained and, despite an inquiry, relatives of those who died never discovered what happened.

The campaign organiser is John Steele, author of the recently published The Tragedy of HMS 'Dasher'. Stamp's heroism was revealed when Mr Steele interviewed survivors, and he then traced the sisters, Vera Marshall of Washington, Tyne and Wear, and Ann Curran of Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, both now retired. They had not known of their brother's role.

Mr Steele, of Ardrossan, Strathclyde, raised a petition demanding recognition for the sailor, and collected more than 10,000 signatures. Dr Clark heard about the campaign, and wrote to the Secretary of State for Defence, Michael Portillo, who replied that a post-war committee had decided no awards would be considered after 1946.

Mr Steele said yesterday: "I sent Mr Portillo a letter pointing out that John Stamp could hardly apply because he lost his life, and his family couldn't apply because they didn't discover the truth until I traced them.

"Let's let the public know about this man. He was a war-time hero and should be recognised. At the very least, a letter from a government minister to the two sisters should acknowledge his bravery. The parents died not knowing what their son had done."

Mrs Marshall said: "Even if there is no award, it's a proud feeling that John has been recognised ... and so many people will know his story."