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Dennis Arthur Copperwheat won his George Cross in March 1942 while serving at Malta on the cruiser HMS Penelope - nicknamed HMS Pepperpot by the fleet because of the number of times she had been holed.

This was the darkest period of the war for the embattled island, day after day, night after night, the Luftwaffe pounded the harbour at Valetta and the convoys which were steaming to its relief.

The Norwegian merchantman Talabot, its hold crammed full of precious ammunition, was a survivor of the convoy MG1 whose approach was cheered by the watching crowds at Valetta as it limped towards port, screened by its busy escort of British destroyers.

The cheers turned out, however, to have been premature. When less than 40 yards outside the port, Talabot was hit and set ablaze by the German bombers. Not only did she block the harbour entrance but the danger of the flames reaching her cargo posed a serious threat to the port and naval shipping.

Lt Copperwheat, 27, torpedoes and explosives officer on the Penelope, was detached with a party of ratings to carry out one of the most nerve-testing wartime missions: to board the crippled merchantman and scuttle her.

They laid charges to pre-empt the big bang and got ready to leave. But the fuses did not seem to have worked and, ordering the rest of his working party to stand clear, Lt Copperwheat returned on his own to double-check them.

He was still on the Talabot's deck, surrounded by fire and minor explosions, when the charges suddenly went off - lifting him bodily into the air and nearly killing him.

But Lt Copperwheat, like Valetta's Grand Harbour, survived to claim an honoured place in Malta's history. A month later the island itself won the George Cross, a unique distinction at the personal request of George VI for the heroism shown by its people during that period.

Some contempories thought that Lt Copperwheat's action would have been more appropriately recognised by the VC but that is usually awarded for acts of valour committed in the face of the enemy which precluded him.

As it was, he became only one of three men to win the George Cross during the siege of Malta.

Having originally enlisted as a boy sailor, Dennis had worked his way up through the ranks to a commission, finally retiring as a Lt-Commander in 1957.

Dennis Copperwheat died on 8th September 1992, aged 78.

May he rest in peace.

Thanks to Phillip Chantrell for supplying the material for this item.