DECEMBER 26, 1942
JOHN BULL By FRANK STUART
Who Roped Himself to a Live Mine
of C ROMYN
NOW IT CAN BE TOLD
This is the story of a busman's
holiday, showing how one of those unpretending salt-sea Skippers, who
nowadays face hourly death risks as part of the normal earning of their
daily bread, could not keep his fingers off danger when he was on shore
"NO ladders, no gales
to matter, no losing sleep, watching for U-boats and mines and bombers
and things! " That was how Captain Leo Romyn put it.
Feet in the fender and a good
fire going, something tasty cooking for supper and perhaps the pictures
to-morrow. . . .
And, when to-morrow came, such peril as not even the deep waters had ever
He was having breakfast when the house shook with the blast of a terrific
explosion. Somewhere down on the waterfront; you could tell that.
Then, silence, broken by the scurrying of feet and the shouting of excited
and frightened voices. Romyn swallowed his coffee, grated back his chair
and ran out to look.
"There's mines adrift - coming in with the tide," panted a passer-by.
"One's blown hell out of those houses by the harbour. Lot o' people
hurt - or killed . . ."
But Romyn's boots were clattering along towards the waterfront.
The place was a frightful sight. A mine had washed against the jetty edge,
and 650 lb. of high-explosive - enough to blow an armoured battleship
to ribbons - had expended its fury on the waterfront and the houses and
Romyn hardly paused to look at this disaster, for a group of men were
talking fiercely, arguing, pointing out to sea.
Another mine, rolling like a black porpoise, was wallowing obscenely in
with the. tide. Only minutes could elapse before it struck its blow, and
a whole row of little houses, already chronically weakened by blast, would
go tumbling down.
The morning sun glinted feebly on the fragile glass horns of the mine.
To touch one of those horns would mean an explosion.
Already, the mine was in less than 6 ft. of water; the horns might roll
and touch bottom at any second now. The women tried to huddle their children
down side-streets; cries of terror came from the windows of the threatened
houses; men stood white-faced.
Skipper Romyn yelled in his " bridge officer " voice: "Get
a coil of rope, there, Look lively. Twenty feet of it!"
" Rope! " Come on, there!"
Obediently, men scattered, looking for rope. They did not know why. Romyn
threw off his jacket, rubbed his hard hands together like a fast bowler,
stared round as if setting his field.
"Get those women back, there!"
Someone handed him a big coil of rope. He eyed it critically, nodded and
swiftly formed a running noose in the end. He put the coil quickly about
his waist, and then calmly stepped down on to the pebbles, and walked
into the sea.
"Come back - you'll be killed!" screeched a woman's voice, near
to breaking. Men bit their lips.
He waded steadily in, through rough surf, and the mine gambolled suddenly
towards him, its brittle glass horns flickering. He reached out a hand,
though he was yet many yards off. A big wave nearly knocked him off his
"When I saw him going to meet that thing, I got a sudden idea what
it must have looked like when a Roman gladiator walked into the arena
to meet a lion," an onlooker told me afterwards.
Romyn was now more than waist deep, and when a wave came in, it rose to
his ears, lifting him slightly. The waves rolled the big mine over and
over. If it hit him and by a miracle failed to explode, it would certainly
stun him, break his bones. ...
Slippery Black Ball
Romyn reached out, placed a hand on the slippery black ball that threatened
him. It became strangely quiet, as if it recognised a master.
Then a wave came, washed clean over his head, and those ashore, muttering
oaths or prayers, saw the mine rise above him on the slope of water and
glide savagely down as if to smother him.
Then his head showed again, with racing white water up to the chin, but
the mine half in the curve of his arm, an apparently willing captive.
His other arm came up, winding the rope round the mine. It was apparent
that he was still on his feet.
The noose was over - he was pulling it tight. A wave turned the mine quickly
over on one side, and it seemed that the glass horns must be splintered
against his shoulder.
But those who watched, forgetful of the icy wind that cut through them,
saw no explosion.
His arms came up again, and the rope writhed like a black snake over a
Then another wave - and mine and man vanished, then reappeared, the mine
still enmeshed in the rope, the man still standing with that 650 lb. of
explosive nuzzling his chest with its tender little horns.
Romyn was seen half wading, half swimming, drawing away from the mine,
gripping the rope's end in his hand. It was seen to be fastened about
Still shoulder deep in that freezing water, with spray over him at every
new wave, and sometimes vanishing beneath the smooth green curves of them,
the man began to walk, towing the mine slowly after him.
1,000 Ib. of Floating Death
Not far short of 1,000 lb. in weight, floating, of course, but able to
smash down on its warder, able to blow his body to bloody shreds, able,
perhaps, only to tap him on the head so that he fell and drowned. ...
Those on the shore saw this man forcing his way through the winter seas,
towing away from them and their homes a dreadful invader.
A number of boats, anchored in the harbour, tossed and fell on their cables,
and these Romyn had to avoid. As he worked his way round one boat, the
sea ran up behind him, hurling the mine, as it seemed, right on to his
He fell forward into the water, regained his footing in a foamy scramble,
and began to wade forward once more.
Those on shore walked parallel with him, unable to speak to each other
or to take their eyes off him, so that they stumbled against each other
and into the sides of the road.
Kept Steadily On
Right on beyond the last of the boats, parallel with the shore, finding
his footing God knows how, among the uneven rocks and pebbles beneath
the running tide,buffeted by waves that broke now and again clean over
him, and rolled his charge this way and that till it looked as if it was
trying to break free, steadily Romyn went on.
Only a few feet behind him glittered the glass horns, whose touch was
death. At times they seemed to prod his back.
Nearly a mile from the place where he had roped the mine, the Skipper
on holiday found a bit of deserted foreshore. He moved in cautiously -
cautiously because if a horn of the mine, touched bottom, or chipped a
rock of the many that stuck up slippery and menacing hereabouts ...
Romyn stared at these rocks calculatingly. He advanced to one, looked
down on it, shook his head, found another. To that, it being suitable,
he made the end of the rope fast.
The huge mine, dreaded by battleships, was ridiculously made captive,
like a dog on a string tied to a tree.
Romyn waded ashore.
Men were there with dry clothes, whisky in a flask, towels. They began
a babble of praise, rough jokes, patting his shoulder, trying to help
him out of his sodden and icy clothes.
His face was very white from such exertion as can seldom have been accomplished
by a man of his age. His skin was fishy-coloured and rutted from wind
But the spirit of the man shone as clear as a flame.
"Get down - to the Post Office - telephone the naval people,"
he said heavily shivering and trembling with cold. "They can - send
some men down - they'll want to - analyse that mine - it might give up
some of Old Hitler's secrets . . ."
And then Romyn more or less collapsed.
FLOATING MINE HERO SAYS "NOT
Daily Express Staff Reporter
SKIPPER LEO ROMYN, "black-out
hero" who waded waist-deep against a rising tide and secured a floating
mine which threatened to explode against the sea-wall of an east coast
town, told callers at his home yesterday:-
"You are congratulating the wrong man, I didn't do it."
He denied that he had touched the mine, said an unknown man must have
taken the risk to prevent the explosion.
But Coast-watcher Donald McPherson, 53 years old, saw Skipper Romyn wade
out in the dark and carry the mine past the wall to safety on the sands
above high-water mark.
Then, "just for safety," he carried it another 10 yards higher.
The mine was noticed beached on the sand during low tide. Mr McPherson
moored it on the beach with anchor and rope until it could be made safe.
When the tide rose the rope broke and the mine floated on the waves towards
Mr McPherson saw the mine nearing the wall and saw Skipper Romyn, wearing
his waders, walk through the waves to secure it. He told me : " He
got the mine in front of him and gently pushed it along through the waves
past the wall. It was a great risk to take.
" He walked about 150 yards with it, then carried it out on the sands,
above high-water mark.
" Even then he picked it up again and went higher.
"Experts told me they would not have done what he did. They all agree
it was very brave." The mine has now been destroyed.
Mr Leopold Romyn
Dear Skipper, - The Amiralty should advise the King to decorate you.
I am thrilled to read how, wading into the sea up to your shoulders, you
seized a Nazi mine and pushed it fifty yards down the beach, away from
the sea wall and houses.
Maybe you were angry, your own house having been damaged with several
others by a drifting mine on the previous day. Whatever your mood, you
must have known that mines can explode at a touch.
Well sone, Skipper! - JOHN BULL.
(Newspaper cutting: John Bull)