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My Life My War - Chapter 10b

by actiondesksheffield

Contributed by 
actiondesksheffield
People in story: 
Bernard Hallas, Sir Charles Madden, Gunner Albert Hallas, Oriel King, William Joyce, Snaky Snelling
Location of story: 
Crete, Suez Canal, Alexandria, Red Sea, Indian Ocean, Aden, Ceylon, Singapore Straits, Ko Ko Po, Rabual, New Britain, The Pacific, Manila in the Philippines, Pearl Harbour, Honolulu, Seattle
Background to story: 
Army
Article ID: 
A4134548
Contributed on: 
31 May 2005

Chapter 10b - The Catastrophe of Crete (Cont.)

For the next few weeks we were fully employed making the ship seaworthy with temporary repairs. It was unfortunate that when the repairs were almost completed, we had another air raid; this time it was a near miss. On the night of the 23rd of June, a 1000 lb bomb hit the water on our starboard side and detonated under water alongside the forward turrets.

Once again the ship was shaken from stem to stern. It would appear that the enemy had a personal vendetta against Commander Madden. He was flung across the armoured conning tower, covered in glass and sustained a strained neck muscle. The ship fared slightly worse. The anti torpedo bulges and the plates beneath them were badly damaged and flooded for over eighty feet, and one of our motor boats was destroyed.

It is now the 25th of June and despite our injuries, we were off to parts unknown. We had said goodbye to our friends in the General Hospital ashore in Alex’, I doubt if most of them could hear us, it would be most difficult, swathed from head to foot in cotton wool and lying in a waterproof bed, soaking in Saline.

One peculiarity that we discovered was the fact that most of them had broken ankles. It would appear that the blast of the bomb, hitting a standing body at its widest part, spun the body so violently that the weakest part snapped. We live and learn, but at what a price. As we said goodbye, the nurses told us that as their patients were war casualties from the fleet, they were something special, and although beer was in short supply, all the female staff had donated their ration to those who were well enough to enjoy it.

Leaving the harbour at dusk, we made our way to the Suez Canal, arrangements had apparently been made to keep it clear to enable us to travel at speed and be well out of sight of Alexandria by dawn. In the narrow confines of the canal, this caused havoc, as the many fishing boats lining the sides were washed ashore. We were now in the Red Sea and it was as hot as ever.

The stokers (I cannot understand why they are still referred to by that name, (shovels and coal were dispensed with many years ago) were stripped to the waist. On the deck of the starboard wing engine room beneath the Royal Marine barracks, there were large vats of lime and barley water. As fast as they drank, it came out again through their pores.

Our destination was still secret and travelling southwards gave no clue at all. As we entered the Indian Ocean, the world was our oyster. South west to Capetown, around South Africa, to England, across the Indian Ocean in a southeasterly direction to Australia or due east to India or Singapore. Where the hell are we off to? It soon became apparent however that we were in fact steaming eastwards, Aden lay off to our Port side, and it was anybody’s guess.

At least we were more or less in a safe area. It was only necessary to have one watch on duty plus the full lookouts, we could spend most of our afternoons lazing around or playing the odd deck sports. It was no surprise when the latest news came around. The lookouts had reported that they could see over the horizon, a huge sign, which read “Ceylon Tea”. To those of us who had been this way before, it meant only one thing, “Colombo” in Ceylon. Travelling in secret, as we were, the only person allowed ashore was the postman.

As we had “Hove To” over the horizon, he had at his disposal the “Skimming Dish”, a small fast speedboat. In no time he had made the return journey and delivered his precious cargo to the mail office. News from home was always given priority and today was no exception, as each name was called out, there were many eager cries of, “Here”. As usual I received my fair share, they were all from Ruth, eight letters, all were numbered to be read in turn, but all giving the same loving message, “Please be careful, come home soon, I love you.”

Well, we could be careful, we could return that love, but, ‘come home’, that was in the hands of the gods. In the meantime, it was, “Where are we off to?” If that was the first lap, where the hell were we? Do we make for Aussie? Only the next few days would tell. Now we became interested in the heavens, every morning we went on deck at dawn to see which direction our bow was pointing in relation to the rising sun. It was always east.

Day after day, until we eventually arrived in Singapore Straits, only then did I realise that here was a possibility of seeing my brother Albert. For the past four years, he had been incarcerated in the gun battery protecting Singapore from a sea borne attack. Eventually I plucked up courage and approached The Major of Marines for permission to see Commander Madden and obtain his permission to go ashore and surprise my sibling.

I knew it was a big thing to ask, there was no one other than the postman going inshore and strict secrecy was being enforced. Commander Sir Charles Madden was most sympathetic; he waited for a second or two and then said, “Yes of course, go and see your brother, but bear in mind that you comply with the Official Secrets Act and that you return with the mail boat at 1800 hrs.” I was delighted.

Arriving at Jardine Steps in Singapore Harbour, a sergeant in the Military Police took me in tow and commandeered a taxi, and I set off for Jahore across the Causeway. It was a hot afternoon and apart from the sentries, the whole garrison was in the middle of their siesta. The long black Humber car drove up to the half hidden sentry post. All that the sentry could see was a white-topped cap with a red band, he jumped into action, “Guard, Turn Out”.

The guard sergeant was on his toes, he dressed the guard gave them a cursory inspection and then turned to me. He took one look and let forth, “Who the bloody hell are you, and what are you doing here?” I could see that he was not too happy at being awakened from his afternoon nap, and after six years in the Marines, I knew how to deal with the situation. “I’m really sorry Sergeant, I only have thirty minutes to see my brother after four years and I would really appreciate it if you could show me where Gunner Hallas is as soon as possible, I have to get back to my ship.”

It worked. “Bit of a bloody laugh wasn’t it? I shall have the balls off that sentry.” His face broke into a smile, “Orderly, show this Royal Marine where Gunner Albert Hallas is.” It was only a short walk, almost under the huge barrels of the naval 15” guns, of which he was a crewmember.

I searched round the room and found him in the far corner, a gentle shake and he opened his eyes. He was as astonished as his sergeant. “Where the bloody hell have you come from?” Servicemen have a novel way of expressing themselves, we shook hands and I sat on his bed, I had more up to date news to tell him. He wanted to know all about home and what sort of a girl Ruth was. We pored over the few photographs I had with me, and in no time at all, we had to say goodbye, it had been short and sweet.

We parted at the guardroom gate and I entered the taxi that was to take me back to Jardine Steps. As I looked back through the rear window to watch him waving, I had no idea that that was the last vision I would have of my elder brother.

He was captured and starved to death in Death Valley Prison camp in Ko Ko Po, Rabual, New Britain, another “cock up” that the Government of the day would have to answer for. Over 60,000 men were ordered to surrender and become the victims of a sadistic race of people who had no idea of the normal behaviour of human beings, and treated their prisoners worse than animals until they died from disease or starvation.

I arrived back on the jetty in plenty of time to stock up with a basket of fresh limes for the mess. Unfortunately I put my trust in a native basket and one handle came off tipping the precious limes into the waters of the harbour, thankfully they were rescued amid much laughter by the children swimming around the steps. Returning on board, I made it my first priority to thank Commander Madden for his generosity in granting me that very important privilege.

Leaving Singapore, we were still going east. It was fairly obvious now that we were going across The Pacific and when we were well out to sea, we were at last informed that our next port of call was to be Manila in the Philippines. The information was correct and it was well received. The first place of interest was of course the cigar factory, and there we were treated to the pleasant sight of watching the really expensive cigars being rolled. First measured and de-stalked on the work bench, and then hand rolled on the warm moist thighs of young Filipino girls; it would turn anyone into a cigar smoker. And then of course, being with American Marines, we had to visit the sleaze joints.

The eagerness with which we had come ashore was now wearing a bit thin. Visiting heroes with money to burn, forget it. There were ten “Yanks” to every girl and the prices of everything were well out of our reach. I did manage a box of fifty genuine Manila cigars and a few beers. Our hosts were more than generous with their hospitality, but it went against the grain to accept too much and most of us were contented enough to go round the bazaars just looking. It was fortunate that we only stayed for two days, this gave each watch one trip ashore and then once again it was, “Prepare for sea,” and we were off once more.

I have to say that although the voyage was most interesting, the food situation was getting worse. We were not short of anything but it was mostly coming out of a can. Powdered potatoes powdered eggs, powdered cabbage, tinned herrings, and Spam etc, etc. If there were any submarines in the Pacific, they only had to follow a trail of empty cans and there we were. But I’m getting carried away from the main point of interest, and that is where we were going to next.

We were not left wondering for long. Even now I can hear the Commander’s voice and imagine the smile as he came over the tannoy. “I suppose you are wondering about our next port of call, I am pleased to tell you that,” and there he paused, on the mess deck there were mutterings of, “Get on with it.” The voice then carried on, “In a few days we shall be dropping anchor in Pearl Harbour, I hope you can enjoy yourselves in Honolulu, we shall stay for four days, there will be leave to both watches and we will partly provision ship. Have a nice time.”

On the first available liberty, I was there, best tropical rig and money changed into American dollars. I needn’t have bothered; the Americans had been waiting for this famous wounded battleship to arrive in their base. The United States Marines in particular were lined up on the jetty; they intended to show the Royal Marines just what was what in the way of hospitality. Our money was useless.

They showed us the town from A to Z and their favourite bars, reserved just for Marines, they took us on board their ships and showed us a style of living that took our breath away. Launderettes, a Barber shop, a soft drinks bar and well spaced sleeping accommodation. Each evening they took off their tropical uniform, handed it in to the cleaners and the next day, there it was all cleaned and neatly pressed.

The day passed all too quickly and come the evening it was the favourite pastime. A casual stroll around the “Cat Houses”. To the uninitiated, that means “brothels”. No one intended that we should partake of the amenities on offer, but my newfound buddy, by name of PFC, (Passed First Class) Oriel King, of the United States Marine Corps, informed me that special arrangements had been made with the “Madams” that anything that the visitors wanted was “On the House”.

To be honest, although there were one or two English girls in their teens, who supplied us with free drinks during our stay, and did their very best to raise the temperature, and our emotions, just by being what they were and by moving in close, kissing and cuddling and exuding very strong perfumes. It was very difficult, but I have always been frightened off, mainly I suppose by the enforced lectures, which we attended during our training and the lurid descriptions of the horrible consequences that could follow ten minutes of carnal pleasure.

Our new friends with the promise that on our next day ashore we would have a real day out, because that would be their payday, helped us back to our ship. "God help us." After a day of rest on board, talking over our experiences, we were ready for our next foray and it proved even better than before.

They had arranged a special meal on board the battleship, I think it was the Virginia or the Minnesota, I honestly can’t remember. I do recall that the cookhouse had entered into the fun and provided a banquet, after which, we went ashore. During our conversation I explained to my escort that I had left my girl friend with a world map and all the main ports had been numbered from one to twenty, the number of kisses on my letter would say where I was at the time of writing, although the censors working hard, cut out names and any reference to other ships or even temperatures, they never interfered with the love and kisses.

Unfortunately I never thought that I would go past Singapore, consequently she had no idea where I was, and not receiving her usual quota of mail, she was a very worried girl. Added to which was the fact that William Joyce i.e. “Lord Haw Haw” the British traitor, had broadcast on the radio that HMS Warspite had been torpedoed and sunk in the South China seas.

My American friend was not only sympathetic, but also very helpful. He bought a picture postcard of Honolulu and wrote, “Dear Ruth, last night I had a pleasant night out with a mutual friend of ours. Bernard sends his love and said to tell you not to worry.” There must have been one very relieved girl back home in Crawshawbooth. As for our young American marine, he was a great guy and it was a sad moment when his sister wrote some time later to tell me that he had died during the treacherous attack by the Japanese on Pearl Harbour.

The “Holiday” was over too soon, there were many fond farewells on the jetty as we piled into the boats taking us back to our ship. As usual we prepared for sea and on completion, the ship’s company lined the sides, and the Royal Marine Band played us out of the great harbour. We could hear the haunting strains of “Goodbye Hawaii” and see groups of Hawaiian dancers swinging their hips to the sound of the music. It was one of those moments that live on in your memory long after the event.

We were now fully aware of our final destination and it seemed that a dream had come true. We were to go to the port of Seattle on the Pacific seaboard of the good old U.S. of A. But first we had to get there and that meant, “Crossing the Line”. The ceremony of crossing the Equator is one of the oldest customs in seafaring history and is still practised today. The King “Father Neptune” and his retinue of “Mermaids” come on board and initiate all those who are passing over the line for the first time.

Blindfolded, the victim is subjected to different trials, swallowing mystery concoctions is one, running the gauntlet is another and different “courts” invent an assortment of events that are supposed to please the King (Colour Sergeant, Snaky Snelling”) so called because of his very tall thin stature, before he his satisfied enough to return to his domain below the waves.

You then receive a signed certificate to prove that you are a member of “ Father Neptune’s Court”. The war now seemed a long way off, however the broadcast that we had been sunk in the South China Seas intimated that the enemy had some idea of our whereabouts. It was essential therefore, that although there was no apparent danger from capital ships, there may be the odd submarine somewhere in our vicinity. With no necessity for the main armament gun crews to stand to in their turrets, there were plenty of spare bodies that could be employed as lookouts and we crossed the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean with no incidents whatsoever.

Pr-BR

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