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A Young Communist League member in Partick, Scotland, Patterson joined the Royal Navy in 1939.
His ship was sent to Dunkirk to help bring by the stranded British troops and was attacked by German dive bombers in force and the order was given to "abandon ship".
Billy stuck to his guns and brought several enemy planes, and saved the ship. Like a number of other Communists during the war he received and accepted an award from the King for his heroics.