- Contributed by
- CSV Solent
- People in story:
- David W
- Location of story:
- The Nelson
- Background to story:
- Royal Navy
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 24 May 2005
This story was submitted to the People’s War website by Marie on behalf of David and has been added to the site with his permission. David fully understand the site’s terms and conditions.
Just over a week after joining our new ship, on 17th August 1945, we sailed on Operation Jurist. Ahead of us were slower ships - minesweepers, oilers, supply ships and so on - a rapidly formed force assembled to meet a swiftly changing situation happening before the planned invasion force being loaded round the Bay of Bengal was quite ready.
By the 20th we were steaming up and down a line, almost a groove, to the northeast of Great Nicobar as the Japanese havered and dithered over their surrender. About all they achieved was a concession that the Emperor could remain on the throne although his political power was removed. Otherwise it was 'unconditional surrender.
The big ships stayed on the move because nobody trusted the Nips not to try some desperate, face-saving, suicidal attack. Eventually we anchored in Trinkat Champlong, a bay in the north of the island, on 26th August. Next day we weighed and steamed overnight to arrive 20 miles north of Penang. Most of our force anchored but a destroyer patrol watched for surface and submarine threats and one of the small carriers provided air cover.
That afternoon, 27th August, a small fishing boat came bouncing its way out from Penang against a large swell. It carried a small white flag and a large Jap naval ensign which, perhaps symbolically, came unstuck and dragged in the water as they neared the ship. Onboard were two relatively junior officers, a Commander and a Lieutenant-Commander, plus an interpreter, who had come to make arrangements for a formal surrender ceremony.
Over the next three days progressively more senior officers came onboard to pass over details of their forces, where the minefields were and so on. Quite what the Japanese thought they achieved by stalling we do not know - their Emperor had told them to surrender. On 2nd September Admiral Walker finally lost patience and issued an ultimatum to the Admiral in Penang: 'Be onboard tomorrow morning to sign.' He sent messengers back saying that his CinC at Singapore had told him not to. They were sent back with very clear instructions that he was to be onboard by dusk and at seven o'clock he was. However he said he could only sign in his own name as his Commander-in-Chief was still holding out. Having done so he boarded his boat but quite soon returned saying that he now had permission to sign on behalf of his boss, presumably a quick exchange of signals having taken place.
Our Royal Marines were the first to land next day under Lt Tuck to take charge and prevent looting — or a takeover by the Communist Resistance. It was very hot. On 6th all the ships landed contingents to march through the streets of Penang. Carrying rifles, we marched several miles in the heat after many weeks cooped up onboard. Still it was a great deal better than being shot at.
On 8th September, at 0500, our force set sail for Singapore. Passage down the narrow mine-swept channel was complicated by an electrical breakdown which took out our gyroscope. As a result our steering was difficult enough to cause us to stop in the midst of a crowd of landing and troopships. However by dawn next day we were with the invasion force at Port Swettenham.
37,000 men were put ashore on the first day. They had to be. In crowded troop transports they had had to accept pretty awful conditions and were readied to land and fight. Fighting was no longer needed, which was just as well, and they could not stay onboard. Reconnaissance had found good firm beaches but had not registered that beyond them were mangrove swamps. Maybe there were, as Mountbatten said, only three strands of barbed wire but that was because nobody in their right minds could be expected to choose such a landing site, especially for tanks! In the first few days 100,000 men, mostly from the 14th Army that had liberated Burma (Myanmar), were landed in Malaya.
The quiet of that invasion beachhead and anchorage remains with me. Stillness amidst so much hurry and bustle was eerie.
We did not linger and next day went on down towards Singapore. Next astern of us, a ground mine, probably British and fitted with a counting device to avoid being swept by the preceding minesweepers, blew up under the bows of the French battleship Richelieu which had hurried out to join us so as to be in at the end of the war. It could so easily have been our turn rather than theirs. Richelieu was not seriously damaged except that her wine tanks up in her bows were said to have been smashed, quite enough to put a French ship out of action. In fact she came on down to Singapore but a day or so later she turned about and made for France - hors de combat!
On 11th September the force anchored off Singapore. Next day several thousand men were landed to line the streets and provide guards of honour for the ceremonial surrender of all Japanese forces in South East Asia. Count Terauchi submitted to Lord Louis Mountbatten, Supreme Allied Commander, South East Asia. Lord Louis made it clear to the Japanese that they had been properly beaten even if those locally had not had to fight our forces because of the surrender following the dropping of the two A-bombs.
One day I was officer in charge of the Clifford Pier patrol. The Pier was where all the sailors landed and came back to return to their ships. It was that return which I supervised and it was a very unpleasant experience. Many were drunk, a lot had fallen in the gutter on their way back and a number were unconscious and looking awful. What I did not know was that much of the hooch they had been drinking was Japanese methyl alcohol and lethal. In three days 21 died.
We entertained some of the Australian POWs who had been released from Changi gaol. They were emaciated and we were warned not to be over-generous with drink or food. We also had the Bishop of Singapore who had endured unspeakable tortures. Solitary confinement, no furniture, naked and fed only rice. He was forced to kneel on bars and pulled back on his heels with a triangular bar behind his knees. This sometimes lasted 12 hours at a time over 8 months as they tried to get a confession of working with the underground. He seemed to hold no bitterness and was quite impressive. Later he was Bishop of Birmingham.
At the end of September we started on our way back to UK. We were being used as a troopship to take home those who had served longest and so were due for demob ahead of others - our numbers would eventually reach 2,500 of whom 650 were the crew running the ship. Having collected large numbers of demob-happy men in Trincomalee and Colombo we steamed west not to Aden and the Red Sea but to Mombasa in Kenya to meet HMS Howe, another battleship, to take off her low-numbered demob men. Demobilisation was organised so that those with longest service got out first. Low numbered Groups had priority.
It happened that Nelson's operations had not taken her across the Equator - Singapore is just north. Mombasa is some 3 degrees south so, on 16th October, in the cool of evening the ship was slowed down and then The Line was sighted! Neptune's Herald challenged us from some watery place: 'Ship Ahoy!' He was invited onboard. Until now most of the ship was in darkness but as Dolphinus and the Bears appeared through a wall of spray (holes punched in firehose slung overhead) and announced that King Neptune and his Court would come onboard next day the whole fo'c'sle was a blaze of light. Innocents and malefactors would be dealt with when the King arrived. He adjured the Captain not to leave two loose ends when the ship crossed the Line and then they left.
Next day it seemed as if the whole ship's company were there to watch as the Royal procession arrived. Various dignitaries were given awards, various miscreants were convicted of heinous offences and then the innocents were processed - those crossing the Lines for the first time. For this, the canvas swimming bath had been fitted with tippable shaving chairs. I had crossed the Line a number of times in QE but I was still caught as an 'innocent'. The bears dragged me to the barbers who 'shaved' me, stuffed a foul soap 'medicinal' pill in my mouth as I was tipped backwards into the bath where the bears ducked me several times before releasing me to go and dry off.
Probably the first Crossing the Line after war ended, it was an excellent way to give this ad hoc ship's company a sense of community.
In due course we berthed in Kilindini, the port for Mombasa and met up with the 16” battleship Howe. Those nearest demob transferred from Howe to us for homeward passage. Ashore, we were able to buy all sorts of goodies that were unobtainable or rationed in Britain. Especially welcome to my siblings when I got home was a large tin of wrapped boiled sweets. For my mother and grandparents boxes of Ceylon tea were as acceptable.
When I declared the tea to Customs the officer said 'Are you sure of the weight? Did you see them weighed?' I admitted that I hadn't. 'Oh! I expect they diddled you....' he said. Evidently I had declared more than was allowed under the strict rationing still in force. He was gently helping me evade the rules - not the last time I was dealt with kindly by Customs.
Marmalade, tinned fruit and other tinned food including butter and dried fruit - rationing in Britain was as harsh if not harsher than during the war - were all sure to be welcome. As well, I bought green oranges which had ripened by Christmas and may have been the first the family had after the war.
From Mombasa we made our way past Aden and up the Red Sea to Suez, through the Canal, on to Malta, Gibraltar and home.
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