No. 815 Royal Naval Air Squadron - HMS. Illustrious
(Egypt, Western Desert, Greece, Crete & Cyprus)
No.1850 Royal Naval Air Squadron - HMS. Saker, HMS. Venerable and HMS. Vengeance
(United States, United Kingdom & Far East)
Petty Officer (O) Richard Griffin
This extract is kindly reproduced
with the permission of Mrs. Diane Rayburn (nee Griffin) daughter of Richard
When I finished initial
training at Lee-on-Solent in November 1939, I was
drafted to the naval air station at Worthy Down near Winchester. There I did
some more training and got rated to Air Mechanic [O] first class. It was at
Worthy that I was drafted to 815.
As with all new assignments,
you had to get used to new 'Oppos', get used to being a part of a team. We
had the standard wooden hut accommodation, with the central stove it's pipe
going through the roof.
There were five armourers: Gissing, Bonner, MaCauly. All serving ratings who had transferred from general service to the air division, me a new entry, and Corporal Gater RAF, serving with the navy until us naval types gained time and experience to take over.
It was a free and easy enough time for us. After duty we were able to go to Winchester and there was weekend leave.
The pilots did a lot of
flying, we used to fit six practice smoke bombs and then hop in the rear
cockpit and go up with the plane. That was quite a thing; the plane at about
3,000 feet would dive straight down to the target, then drop the bombs and
pull out. The 'G's' left the stomach behind.
1940 was one of the big cold
ones, snow and ice everywhere. Ashore in Winchester one night, seven us
missed the last bus back. It was a seven mile walk back to camp, then came
freezing rain. We couldn't walk on the icy road, but had to take to the
grass verges and got back covered in ice.
We had a 'C' painted on the
tails of the aircraft, that meant we were due to go on board Courageous, but
she was sunk in the channel, so this was changed to an 'L' the recognition
letter for Illustrious.
Some time during this period we went down to Cardiff and did some flying training, but I can't remember that part. Also at this time we were at a place near Littlehampton, but once again I can't remember dates although I do remember meeting a girl there. I was eighteen then. She was lovely, but we were only there for a few days and we only met twice. I can see her now only as a vague shape and her name which was Kathy, but she remains a happy memory of those days.
Then probably as now we never
knew what was happening until we got orders. We moved by train to a little
camp near Plymouth and we knew then that everything had come together.
For me, my fist ship: first time to sea. I was very excited. We travelled into Plymouth dockyard and there was this great 22,000 ton carrier alongside.
And so we embarked. It was the greatest thrill of my life you would have to be on a large warship to sense the atmosphere; the hum of machinery, all the passageways, the noise, the smell.
Anyway we settled in, were
allocated to mess decks, acquainted with ships routine and orders etc.
It was the 7th June 1940, and she sailed that night. We straight away ran into some very heavy Atlantic weather, so much so that the forward bulkheads, were stoved in and had to be shored up.
The ship had a flared bow making her liable to this in heavy seas.
At Worthy Down the ex RN lads were always ribbing me. 'Wait til you get to sea, you'll spew your ring up'. Ha! As soon as the air craft had flown on board we started to fly anti-submarine patrols. This entailed loading the A/C with 1,000lb a.s. Bombs. Normally two of us lifted these onto the bomb racks, but Gissing Bonner and MaCauly were all comatose with sea sickness leaving new entry Richard [me] to do the loading. I was seasick too. Felt bloody awful in fact. I was always sea sick every trip if the sea was rough although I never vomited. After a few days we all recovered though and it was quite an experience being borne for the first time on those huge Atlantic rollers.
We eventually arrived at the Bermudas mostly to do on and off flying exercises.
One day, it was decided that there was enough wind to operate the aircraft whilst anchored in harbour. Fine. But then the wind dropped,. All the Swordfish managed to land back on OK, but of the Fairy Fulmers [fighters] one tore out its arrester hook and went over the side. One crash landed on the golf course and one went somewhere else [can't remember].
Well, it was all quite
relaxed. The sun was warm, we were wearing our tropical whites, there were a
couple of runs ashore in Hamilton and the war seemed a long way off.
Captain Boyd cleared lower deck and gave a little pep talk in which he expressed the view that he was looking forward to seeing any bombs bounce off our 4 inch armoured deck. A bit prophetic that - only they didn't bounce.
All this of course was to work the ship up for everybody to get acquainted with all the various facts of a aircraft carrier in war time.
After a couple of weeks we sailed to join the Mediterranean Fleet passing Gibraltar and going on through to the Eastern Med. and eventually came into Alexandria, which was to be our base of operations.
This was a fascinating [to me] sight. Blue sky, the glare of the desert and the smell and craft of all descriptions in the harbour with five British battle ships: the Valiant, Queen Elizabeth, Barham, Revenge and Resolution. There was the old French battleship Lorraine, the aircraft carrier Eagle, cruisers, destroyers Egyptian fellucas. The natives in Burnooses and skull caps. We couldn't wait to go ashore!
However as always the aircraft
flew to the RAF base at Aboukir, we followed and did a couple of weeks
exercising there. I was amazed at the antiquated air planes the RAF were
using; old biplanes, even more ancient than our Swordfish.
I remember seeing lizards poking out of holes and sand dust and palm trees, but with a gap of nearly 60 years, a lot of the everyday trivia are are lost to memory.
In due course it was back to the ship and off to sea again. Whenever we put to sea, there was always an operation on. Sometimes it was to escort an incoming convoy, or to carry out a bombardment as we did against the Italian positions at Bardia just before the 8th army attacked and captured it.
Shortly after this engagement, we disembarked to Dekalia, and were flown in the Swordfish to Bardia which was a make shift landing strip in the desert.
I had no clothes. I remember sleeping under the stars that first night. Boy it was cold with dung beetles, sand and scorpions for company. Still it was good fun for all that.
Eventually things got organized, blankets, tents etc, but of course we were helping to cover the advancing 8th army. As they advanced we moved up behind them and for the short time we were at Bardia, we had the opportunity to to sift through the clutter of an entire retreating army.
There were masses of weaponry of all kinds and laying around some unexploded 15” shells from our battleship's guns. There were trenches and dugouts, clothes; personal belongings of all kinds, and somewhere there's a photo of me wearing Italian insignia.
We used to sail
out through the Med. Usually the seas were calm and the sky clear and sunny.
We were normally at 2nd degree readiness and called to action stations if any nearby ships were signalled or enemy air craft sighted, and the ships tannoy system always kept the crew acquainted with what ever was going on around.
We frequently closed to action stations against high level Italian bombers. All the guns of the Fleet would bang away, then would come sticks of bombs happily exploding between the ships. Otherwise we would be busy doing maintenance, loading bombs, depth charges, torpedoes, or whatever. We had to fly anti-submarine patrols all the hours of daylight, so we were kept busy one way and another. When we were off watch we could exercise walking up and down the flight deck which was over 850 ft. We could smoke or relax in the mess and there was always washing, ironing, letters to home and so on.
Sometimes when the ship returned to Alex, the air division would remain on board, or fly off to Dekalia depending I suppose on operations.
On board Illustrious Western med, it was customary for aircraft carriers to fly the aircraft off to an airfield ashore, in order to keep pilots flying and in general to carry out maintenance.
When we finished work for the day there was a NAFFI canteen we could use, but we often went to the canteen, obtained a bucket [or two] of beer and would take it back to the tent and dip our cups in the bucket, passing the time, swapping yarns, writing letters telling jokes etc.
In the first week of January we were due to re-embark on the ship for another sweep to the westward.
We duly embarked and the Fleet sailed, this time to pick up an east bound convoy from Gibralter. On the 10th Jan we were off Sicily as narrated previously when the ship came under heavy air attack. 'Oggy' was one of the gun crew on one of the multiple 2lb guns on the port side. It took a direct hit from a 1000 lb bomb killing all of the gun crew. 'Oggys' mother was living at the time.
In November 1940, we sailed as usual but this time we flew on board six Swordfish from HMS Eagle. Something was on.
We soon learned learned that the air group were to attack the Italian naval base at Taranto, and we were soon busy getting as many aircraft as possible serviceable. All the ammunition was brought up from the magazine and with torpedoes, bombs, and extra planes on board it was pretty crowded.
We worked 18 to 20 hours a day to get it all ready, then on the night of Nov 11th one by one off they flew. It was a dark night with no moon, all the stars clear and bright as they are in that part of the world.
Once all the planes were away the ship cruised some 200 miles from Taranto. We all waited anxiously, then after a couple of hours came the first roar of a Pegasus engine, than another, then finally all had returned but two, one of these being Lt Commander Williamson CO of 815.
The next morning we were elated when RAF reconnaissance showed one battleship sunk two more heavily damage, and other damage.
Well, this was what we had joined for, but later there was a price to be paid. Funny I don't remember Christmas 1940 at all. But we were ashore at Dekhalia at the beginning of 1941 doing our usual maintenance and flying routines, plus having a swim in the sea on Xmas day. The only time I'd ever done that.
On about the 5th
or 6th January we embarked on the Carrier, for what was to be the
last time. When we were on board, as always we read orders of the day. There
was a message from the C in C commenting that units of the German air force
had been sent to air fields in Sicily and we might expect rather more
activity than hitherto.
We arrived off Pantaleria and things started to hot up. The ships tannoy system kept us informed of events as they unfolded. The cruiser Bonadventure engaged enemy units to the westward, the destroyer Gallant struck a mine and had her bows blown off.
standing in the well deck, a grey sea surging past. There seemed to me to be
an eerie, still air over the ship. I have often thought about that since.
Fear? Apprehension? Premonition? I know I had a very strange feeling.
Suddenly all the guns of the Fleet opened fire. Two seaplanes launched a torpedo attack as a diversionary feint. The tannoy told us that large numbers of air craft were in the air over Sicily.
The ship was all closed up at action stations; and then all the ship's guns opened up.
The steel box of the hangar was like a huge sound box. The ship kept jumping and shaking; several large bombs hit the ship aft; the after hanger was on fire.
The noise was indescribable. My baptism of fire. All that sticks in the mind are impressions.
I was standing more or less in the centre of the hanger. A chap came through down from the flight deck. His rubber suit was full of holes, blood leaking from all of them. I helped carry him down to the casualty station in the wash room flats.
The surgeons were busy. The blood washing from side to side with the sway of the ship. I returned to my action stations in the hanger, the ship continued to rock and sway.
I looked up, I must say with fear and apprehension. Then there was an almighty flash as a 1000lb bomb pierced the armoured deck and exploded in the hangar. I was only aware of a great wind, of bits of aircraft, debris all blowing out of the forward lift shaft. There were dead and wounded around My overalls were blown off. I had small wounds on the back of my head and shoulder.
The hanger by then was burning all over. The ships commander came and said 'Come on lads, close the armoured doors', and overhead prays then flooded the hanger.
The ship started to sink by the stern, everybody had to blow up lifebelts. A spot of humour in all the chaos. Corporal Gater came through a side door, white as a sheet saying, 'I wish I hadn't bloody joined.'
The battering carried on for some six to seven hours. I don't remember many details of that period. There were many of us congregated in the canteen flats, where there was some open space.
There were many wounded piled up. The after surgeons station had been destroyed and the forward station were unable to cope quickly with so many casualties. Capitan Boyd finally steered with the engines into Malta. The ship was quiet at last.
morning we cleared lower deck and a roll call was taken. An announcement on
the tannoy ordered in case of further attacks on the ship all hands other
than gun crews etc. should go over the side an dive into the big caves in
the hillside. No sooner said than over they came again, so over the side we
That same day all air maintenance ratings were dispersed. The surviving 815 & 819 squadron people were shipped on the cruiser Orian back to Alexandria there to reform as 815 and where we operated under under RAF command for the next two years.
There were three air craft in the air when Illustrious was damaged. But there were spares at Dekhalia, and some were sent from the UK and we were soon fully operational.
My last memory of Illustrious was clearing lower deck and lining the ships side to pay a last salute to the destroyer carrying our dead to sea for burial.
The rows of white ensigns lay row upon row. The crew were at attention as we were.
Words are inadequate to express our feelings.
Once again back in Dekhalia we were soon back in the swing. Dekhalia was the old Egyptian Airline field; there was a large hangar a mess hall, canteen and a few other buildings. There was no living accommodation and we lived in tents, which we dug in to protect against possible air attack. The air was warm, and the field bordered on the bay of Alexandria, so it was a pleasant enough location.
On another occasion, 1942 in Dekhalia, I was with another of my oppo's 'Dobbo', who was from Coventry. We were walking into the canteen one evening, just approaching the steps, when Dobbo stopped suddenly, went white and said, "I just saw my dad standing there".
occasional raids on the fleet in Alex. There was an AA battery at
Agamy Point adjacent to the camp and this made an awful clatter at
times but it was more noisy than dangerous.
After a little while, we had orders to move to Cyprus to operate against the Vichy French. Some of us flew in an old Bombay Bomber.
We located at Nicosia civilian airfield. Apart from a contingent of
Green Howards, we were the only English on the island. We were
accommodated in a 1st class hotel in Nicosia each with en-suite
bathroom and shower, it was like being on holiday.
The meals were a little exotic too: roast pigeon with stuffed
cucumber etc. When we arrived at first, an old RAF corporal appeared
from some where bearing a large map and after the officers duly
studied this with a bit of a conflab, a number of Cypriot workmen
arrived and proceeded to dig at X marks the spot ! Then lo and
behold, up came 250lb. bombs and other clutter, the only snag being
that this magazine was all WW1 vintage and had probably been there
The bombs were all MK 1 GP. They had a hollow tube through the
middle and needed a special arrangement of exploders and detonators
to prime them for use. No one had a clue what to do with them - that
is except me.
I remembered one of the old army instructors at the training school
at Eastchurch describing these types and we had taken down all the
details. I had kept all my notes and they were in my kit over at
Alexexandria, so I was flown over to pick them up and subsequently
we were able to assemble the armament as required.
We were operating against the Vichy French forces in Syria, Lebanon and other targets within range of our Swordfish. One time we had orders to locate and destroy a ship in the area that mustn’t reach it’s destination. Eventually it was located inside a Turkish port and one of our planes attacked it there but I believe the torpedo ran on into the town causing a bit of mayhem. I wonder if that little episode ever found it’s way into the history books?After a little while air attacks on Nicosia air field caused us to be moved to an emergency field in the olive groves near Limasol where we set up our own tented camp.
There were no
facilities, we lived on tinned rations but there was plenty of
water, the weather warm and sunny. Quite a pleasant way to run a
war. There were no places to visit ashore but we did manage to visit
the local cafe from time to time and partake of the local brew.
As always we had orders to move; went down to Famagusta to board a
navy sloop. Leaning over the side was my old mate Arthur who I
joined up with. That was good for a tot or two of rum below.
We lost a plane or two on Cyprus, other wise it was a fairly quiet interlude apart from one of the nights it was my turn to stand guard. Aircraft were sited around half a mile from our tented accommodation. They were dispersed around the perimeter of the field in sandbagged bays. The routine was to have a patrol throughout the night around the airfield.
On the night it was my turn for duty I was a leading hand and in
charge of the watch. I elected myself to the midnight watch 12-4 am.
Some time during the watch I was sitting on an oil drum thinking of
nothing in particular, when away in the distance from the direction
or our tents came the sound of footsteps. It occurred to me that
this was one of the officers coming to check out the sentries, so I
got ready to show him I was on the ball.
On came the footsteps at a steady pace. It was a brilliant moonlit
night you could read a newspaper. I peered, the steps were like
boots on tarmac, yet there were only dirt paths! The steps come
closer, I couldn’t see anything then suddenly they turned and came
towards me, coming it seemed quite close. I was by this time,
apprehensive. I shouted ‘Halt who goes there?’ no answer, there was
no one to be seen. I challenged again, the footsteps seemed almost
upon me ‘Halt or I fire!’ Feeling a bit stupid I opened fire, all 5
rounds in the mag. The steps came up to me - through me - and
disappeared in the distance. A voice in the distance shouted ‘No
one’s here.’ I didn’t know of any other units around, none of my
watch or anyone else heard a thing. To this day I still don’t know
whether it was an Hallucination.
Back at Dekhalia we were soon organised; since we were in support of the desert army we traveled up and down all the time operating against submarines and surface craft.
I think through all the campaigns we sank some 150,000 tons of enemy shipping. Quite a bagful.
The first place we settled at was Mersa Bagush, about a 150 miles west from Alexandria, the Cyrianatian desert wasn’t big rolling dunes, it was sand and dust on rocky ground with some sparse vegetation intermingled.
Occasionally when the Khamsine wind blew it was pretty hellish for the dust got into all the body orifices and smothered everything and made difficulties for keeping the aircraft weapons in good trim. When we first arrived the water wells had been poisoned and water had to come up from Alex by tanker. We were only allowed 1/2 pint of water a day each and that went into the communal mess for tea and cooking. However the Italians had had a good supply of bottled Vichy mineral water and as there was a fair bit of this kicking around it made things a bit easier. We used to clean our teeth in it but we were unable to wash or clean our clothes.
Food was all
tinned, even Huntley & Palmers hard tack biscuits. Still, there was
tinned bacon, tinned fish & chips, we did alright.
We were plagued with flies, fleas, scorpions, huge centipedes and
camel ticks which we had to burn out with a cigarette. All the same,
it was a fee and easy existence, our only clothing a pair of shorts
and of course the lovely warm sun.
It was at Mersa one day; I was in the cook’s tent getting a lecture on how to make scrambled eggs from our cook, who in civilian life had been a chef in the Savoy hotel in London. All of a sudden came a terrific commotion, we dashed outside, there were German Messerschmitt's all over the place shooting up planes, tents and everything else. There were planes on fire and blokes diving all over the place; the cook and me did a hasty scarper into the nearest slit trench until it was all over, just like on the telly. This raid was a bit unusual, the German lines at that time were a long way to the west, but these jokers had fitted long range fuel tanks to give them the range. We were always kept busy, I don't ever remember being bored, a great adventure really.
After Cyprus it was back to the desert operating from Mersa-Bagush. We had orders to pack, ready to evacuate.
The next air strip on was Bagush. Same set up, sand and scrub. We were there for a little while; the first thing we did at a new location was to dig a slit trench. near where we lived and worked as there was always the risk of enemy planes diving in from nowhere.
At Bagush, I decided one time to have a go at them. I carefully dug a deep gun pit, and erected a gun mount fitted with twin Vickers Mk quick firing guns from one of the planes and made up the ammo with tracer incendiary and armour piercing bullets. ‘Ha’ I thought ‘that will give the bastards something to think about.’ Well - the next night there was an air raid. Out I dashed to have a moment of glory...My gun emplacement was crammed full of bodies cowering from the raid. I shouted and hollered but not a one would shift, so I had to find another hole to dive in.
Another night at Bagush, there was a severe raid going on against another airfield a few miles up the coast. We had three Swordfish due to land from that patrol. The routine was for the flare path to be briefly switched on then our job was to hop out and guide the aircraft to it’s dispersal point. This night as soon as the flare path came on, the enemy aircraft up the road decided to have a go down our way. I was out on the runway to guide my plane in when all hell broke loose, bombs bursting everywhere, really pretty too, just like a huge firework. A bit of quick dashing about then I can tell you.
Germans were invading Greece, we were sent there to a small airfield
just outside Athens. At first this was pleasant, we were able to
have a couple of runs ashore in Athens. In fact I met a nice Greek
girl, another budding romance. Well not quite....The Germans
invaded…I had no luck!
Just before we left I was ashore with a couple of oppo's. We had a hotel room for the night. During the night, there was this almighty bang, huge cracks appeared in the walls, furniture fell all over the place. We made a big beeline down to the cellars serving as an air raid shelter. I was impressed by the stoicism of the Greeks. There had been an air raid on the Piarreas [Port of Athens] that night and they had hit an ammunition ship, the train loading ammunition along the quay had also been hit and was on fire. These two had exploded causing the big bang.
The port was
an absolute shambles. A few days later, we evacuated and saw all
this, witness to the sombre faces of the populace who knew what we
were leaving them to.
From Greece, we boarded a little steamer and travelled down to Crete. That had a sombre atmosphere. We landed at Suda Bay. The old cruiser York was sunk in the harbour from air attack, her guns sticking up out of the water.
There was this long jetty, where we disembarked. A wizened old Chief
Petty Officer came up and said ‘there's two sorts here lads, the
quick and the dead so you better be bloody quick.’ Quite a welcome!
One time we moved up to Derna, a little town there quite deserted of course and ransacked where the armies had passed through. There was an airfield close to a little bay and we operated from there.
laying around was unbelievable, weapons, uniforms, etc. A good time
was had by all. Plenty of firing at all sorts of targets, no
drinking water, no water to wash with, we were a crummy lot.
The problem with all the Italian camps were the fleas, big and black and hungry. If you poked your head into an abandoned tent or wherever there was a zzzzzzzzzzzzz as these blighters descended on you.
several large wooden huts around, so we were able to use these as
living quarters. Also in the huts were several very large vats of
red wine; manna from heaven. By drinking enough of this brew at
night it was possible to get off to sleep without suffering from
flea itch too much. Otherwise it was a blanket over the head and
decimate the blighters with a lighted candle.
Life on these desert airfields was much the same one from another. They were always close to the coastal road and it was possible now and again to hitch a lorry and get a swim in the sea, which enabled us to clean up now and again.
It was at Derna that Giss [Gissing] had a bad attack of Pleurisy.
There was no penicillin in those days, so he was being treated with
sulpha drugs, he was laid out on his bed very ill.
One night we were gathered round his bed cheering him up when we heard the sound of an enemy plane passing over. We could always recognize who was what from the sound of the engine. Anyway, this joker came back and started to circle; we knew then that he had spotted our tents and was going to have a go. There was an immediate dash for the nearest slit trench, which was about 100 yards away. Well - old Giss did the 100 yards in about 10 seconds flat, easily beating the rest of us. We were all a bit bomb happy by that time and always kept an ear upwards.
We were in Bagush when Montgomery’s 8th Army began the big retreat from Tobruk.
The coastal road ran by the airfield and for days we watched this huge column of troops and all the other paraphernalia of war moving along the road.
We had orders to pack the lorries; we put demolition charges in the ammo dump gradually the line on the road petered out.
The C.O. was waiting for orders to move out and fly the aircraft off
while groups of tanks squared up and started firing. Eventually we
got the order to go and we got onto the road and started back to
Quite a journey that was, groups of soldiers burying their mates by the roadside, wrecks and gear cluttered the roadside. I saw a poor old dog dragging its hind legs behind him. All the detritus of a retreating army.
We got to Fuka, which was a huge re-fuelling dump; there were about
20,000 vehicles waiting to refuel, it was fortunate the Germans had
no air power or there would have been mayhem.
We arrived back in Dekhalia to scenes of panic, guns were being dug in around the air field perimeter, all the buildings had been evacuated, gear scattered everywhere. ‘The Germans are just up the road,’ they said ‘well, we’ve just come 200 miles and didn’t see them’ we said but pretty soon they were at El Alamain and the next bit we were flat out.
Swordfish would carry six 250lb. bombs and we were busy dawn till dusk arming the loading the planes. The front was only a few miles up the road, it was a quick turn around.
As soon as the army advanced we followed, eventually the army advanced past Tobruk, past Benghazi and things became fairly stable.
After 6 months in the desert you were sent back to Dekhalia to be
de-loused. Scabies crabs and ticks being the worst problems. Then
you were due for a two week leave in Cairo.
I had a fortnight in Cairo but I can’t remember a thing about it. There can be some awful gaps in memory.
I remember one early morning I had to fly in an old Australian
Walrus push propeller aircraft. I had only had time for a weak cup
of tea and I was violently air sick but I can’t remember where I
went or why........Strange.
By the end of 1942 all the original squadron ratings had been drafted back to the UK and of the ones who had started at Worthy Down I was the only one remaining.
By that time, I was rated to Acting Petty Officer and it was my turn to come home. I went to Port Said and took passage on an old cargo vessel the SS. Destro through the Suez Canal, down the Red Sea. We called in at Cape Town.
Once back in England, I took an air
gunnery course at Whale Island, I went to Dunfermline, joined 1850
squadron, then went to Jacksonville Florida to train on corsair
Came back to the UK and embarked on the light aircraft carrier Venerable. After a short while, we transferred to Vengeance. We then sailed to join Indomitable, Glory and Colossus to form the 11th Aircraft Carrier Squadron. We sailed to Malta, arriving there on VE day 1945.
From there to
join the British Pacific Fleet via India, we were only a short time
in Sydney, Australia when the Atom Bomb on Hiroshima ended the war. Indomitable and Vengeance then sailed to Hong Kong.
Admiral Harcourt on Indomitable gave the Japanese 24 hours to surrender. He took over as Governor, then Indomitable sailed off to other climes leaving Vengeance to take control of the Island.
We formed a company of four platoons of armed sailors. Being a P.O.
Gunners mate, I was in charge of 4 platoon of 24 sailors and we had
the job of taking over and securing Victoria Barracks the old
After clearing up there, we moved to Kowloon the mainland taking
charge of some 2,000 Japanese Prisoners of war who had voluntarily
shut themselves into the prisoner of war camps, to protect
themselves against Chinese bandits who were roaming around.
Whilst in Victoria barracks I used to set a watch from my platoon around the perimeter of what was a very large area. One night my officer and myself were wandering around when we came across a quite large circular building with a typical Chinese roof. It was boarded up and surrounded by masses of barbed wire. No way in at all. My officer, [I can’t recall his name] and I decided it was our duty to investigate this.
Eventually we made an entrance through all the obstacles and got into the building. Lo and Behold ! it was an Aladdin's cave stacked from floor to ceiling with wonderful Oriental ceramics etc. Well, he and I decided to take a souvenir and before long word got around and others started to help themselves. Eventually the Governor put a stop to what was really looting. Any way, the only thing I had taken away was a large Chinese vase highly decorated.
I went from China to Sydney, then to
Fremantle and embarked on the
SS. Britannic to travel back to the UK.
We called in to Bombay en route but crossing the Indian Ocean I had
a very funny feeling about the Chinese vase.
I felt that it had an aura of very bad luck, so much so that I
heaved it over the side.
Two days out from Bombay and an
Artificer with whom I had shared a
mess with on Vengeance contracted Smallpox. The poor chap was shut
away in a temporary hut on the forecastle. He eventually died. The
rest of us were battened down below, vaccinated and only allowed out
when we arrived in Liverpool.