SAILORS who began their careers on a Hampshire river and made the ultimate sacrifice for their country have been honoured with a lasting memorial.

A monument unveiled at the entrance of St Andrew’s Church in Hamble lists the names of 83 men who trained in the village and went off to fight in the two world wars but never returned.

To mark the occasion a parade of 40 surviving veterans from the Training Ship Mercury passed through Hamble on Saturday.

Mercury, which was moored on the banks of the River Hamble, trained boys for a life at sea for more than 80 years. They included 11 who died at the Battle of Jutland, a famous First World War conflict that resulted in the loss of more than 6,000 British lives.

Another four died on HMS Hood, which was sunk German battleship Bismarck in 1941, leaving only three survivors.

Flight Lieutenant Thomas Barker Leigh was a notable graduate of the training school who went on to join the RAF.

He took part in the Great Escape of 1944, a mass escape from German prisoner-of-war camp Stalag Luft III, but was recaptured and executed by the Gestapo.

Two other sailors became captains of the Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth liners while another ended up as a Spitfire pilot and died in the Battle of France.

Between 1885 and1968 TS Mercury prepared about 5,000 boys aged 13-14 for a career in the Merchant Navy or Royal Navy.

Captain David Parsons, chief executive of the Southampton-based charity Merchant Navy Welfare Board and chairman of Mercury Old Boys Association, which has paid for the monument, said: “There is a huge history there. It was a major feature in the village when we were there and it was very well known in the village.”

Capt Parsons, who left the training school in 1964 and went on to 30 years in the Merchant Navy, said many boys who trained on the ship would have probably gone on to work out of Southampton port.

He added: “The parade included 40 Association members and a large contingent of villagers turned out to watch. It was a beautiful day and the atmosphere was very supportive of the memorial, which looks absolutely magnificent.”