- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Ernest John Garrett
- Location of story:
- Norway 1940
- Background to story:
- Royal Air Force
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 23 November 2003
Dictated to me by my father, Ernest John Garrett, AB, RNVR,five years before his death in 1998.
"I joined the RNVR London Division in 1937 aged then 20. I did my naval training on HMS "President" at Blackfriars Embankment and sea duty two weeks each year on HMS "Rodney", a 16 inch gun battleship and on HMS "Curacao" .
At the outbreak of the Second World War on 3 September 1939, I was serving on HMS "Cairo" as Able Seaman and as gun crew member.
The "Cairo" at first did guardship duty as part of the Dover Patrol, being anti-aircraft cover for London, and subsequently moved to convoy escort duty in the North Sea, Sheerness to Grimsby, Grimsby to Rosyth, and Rosyth
to Scarpa Flow. Then we escorted several convoys to Bergen, Norway although, as Norway was then neutral, we did not enter Norwegian waters but waited for the convoys to come out before escorting them to Britain. Our only
air cover at that time was one Sunderland flying boat.
Towards the end of 1939, our last convoy out from Bergen having been escorted safely to British waters, we were ordered to proceed to Loch Ewe on the west coast of Scotland. This was a base for Atlantic convoys and our
assignment was to protect HMS "Nelson" which had been mined and was down by the bows. It was here we learned the news of the sinking of the "Graf Spee" which we celebrated as only sailors can in a hastily erected bar on the shores of the Loch.
After Christmas we resumed convey duties in the North Sea. At the outbreak of the invasion of Norway by Germany in April 1940, we were ordered to Norway as anti-aircraft cover for relieving British land forces for the capture
of Narvik. We transported forces from one fjord to another and escorted a troop convoy from Tromso to Harstad. We rescued stores and troops from HMS "Effingham" which had unfortunately run aground.
On the final assault on Narvik, I was a member of the gun crew on "B" gun midships. "Cairo" was heavily bombed and shelled. One near miss exploded on hitting the sea and showered us with shrapnel, wounding myself and one other
member of the gun crew.
One splinter of shrapnel hit me in the back in the region of my hip joint. I was taken below to the sick bay and given a shot of morphia. The wound was cleaned and dressed. Owing to its severity I was transferred the following day ashore to a small Norwegian hospital at Harstad where I was operated upon at least once. I have
no knowledge of how many operations I had, nor for how long I was there.
With the advance of the German army and the necessary evacuation of the Narvik region (including Harstad), the evacuation of the wounded began. We were each asked if we
could sit up in bed unaided. Those who said "yes" or demonstrated that they could do so were to be evacuated. I promptly said "yes", but, fortunately, was not asked to demonstrate it since those who could not sit up (and I
could not have done so) were likely to be left behind !
Within a few hours stretchers and lorries arrived and we were taken down to the small jetty and embarked on a small Norwegian fishing vessel where we spent some agonising hours before being taken out to the hospital
We were taken to Liverpool. I was then taken to three or four hospitals in Scotland. I was hospitalised for nearly two years.
I was then found unfit for further service, discharged October 1941. So my war ended. But memories of course remain:
The plump and cheerful English hospital sister in Harstad always wearing her tin hat.
Several air raids and near misses whilst lying in the Norwegian hospital.
Shattered windows and other damage to the hospital visible as we left.
The padre's visit - had my parents been notified ? (how could I have known), had I written to them ? (I was too dosed up and too weak to have done so). He suggested that he would write for me. I said just to tell them I was in Norway. He was aghast - this was
information of potential use to the enemy. I do not know whether he did - my mother only recalled an official Red Cross notification of my being wounded.
Being in a private room in the hospital in Mearnskirk,near Glasgow, with civilian doctors who removed a piece of shrapnel from my thigh.
My mother's visit, accompanied by my sister, from the East End of London to Glasgow - they had been notified I was on the danger list, having had several blood transfusions.
The heartfilled relief I felt when they entered this private room completely unexpected by me.
But also my mother's wish, expressed at that time to my sister and made known to me many years later, that if I was not to be able to walk again, she would rather I were dead.
Imagining, or hallucinating, I was in a green field, on a beautiful day with blue skies instead of a fishing boat waiting to be transported to the hospital ship, slipping in and out of consciousness. Did I almost go to the hereafter ?"
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