The life-saving mercy of a German submariner in the Second World War gave a young seaman a second chance which he has not forgotten more than 70 years later.

Denys Favre, 97, of Highfield Place in Epping, applied to join the RAF with thousands of other men after war broke out in September 1939.

With eager competition, a lack of planes and high blood pressure, Mr Favre was unable to join but was still keen to do his part.

Jumping at the chance, he was one of the first recruits to the new Air Sea Rescue, which aimed to save the lives of pilots shot down by German gunners.

He recently told the story of his greatest adventure to Royal British Legion member Derek Berwin, 82, and his grandson Edward, 18, when they visited the North Weald Airfield Museum together.

“It sticks in my mind even today,” said Mr Favre.

“I got on the Duchess of Athol, which was really a troop ship, coming from Cape Town and we were going on leave.”

About 1,500 miles of the coast of West Africa, disaster struck as the ship was hit by a German torpedo and quickly sank.

“We got shaken out of the hammocks!” he said.

“So there I was, with a couple of colleagues in a lifeboat and wondering what would happen next.

“I worked out we were about 2,000 miles from the coast of Africa, which was nearest land - which was rather a long way to row.

“Anyway, the next morning we awoke and then suddenly in advance of us was a huge submarine.

“It was one of the new ocean-going submarines of the German navy and we nearly landed on top!

“The skipper, plus a machine gun, got his gun on us.

“I thought ‘Oh gosh, we survived the sinking of the ship but now we are going to be shot.’

“And the skipper said ‘What was the name of your ship?’

“A colleague of mine, I say a colleague, but he was one of the lads you know… he said the Duchess of A***hole!

“And they send all these messages back to Berlin you see, so I thought that was quite funny.

“The skipper then said, ‘I am sorry, but I have not got room on board to take you on’ but he said I wish you well and down he went.”

After several days adrift, the lifeboat was picked up and taken to Freetown in Sierra Leone – Mr Favre’s life was saved.

Later during the war, he was on duty for the rescue service in the English Channel when they came upon a man in the sea.

After thinking he was a downed Spitfire pilot, they discovered the man was a 17-year-old Nazi pilot.

Hearing this, the captain vowed to “mow him down”, but was stopped at the last minute by Mr Favre.

“I said ‘Sorry sir, you cannot do that, not under the law of the sea… my life was saved by the submarine commander’.

“So we rescued him and got him ashore… one life being saved led to another life being saved.”

Mr Favre left the service at the end of the war in 1945 and returned to normal life, before deciding years later to try to meet the submarine captain and thank him for saving his life.

Contacting the German records office he found the skipper had been Hans Ibbeken of the U178, but he was too late.

“I thought I might meet the skipper, but they are all dead now.

“So I cannot reach him - not yet, anyway.”