- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Bernard Hallas, Lieut. D. L. Peyton Jones, Sergeant Russell, Captain Terry, Right Hon’ Sir Charles Madden
- Location of story:
- Salerno, Chatham
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 31 May 2005
MY LIFE MY WAR
Chapter 13d - We Bombard Salerno (Cont.)
By now my time was up and I was posted back to Chatham barracks.
I boarded a troop ship and met an officer whom I had last seen in nineteen thirty-six, on board H.M.S. Resolution. It took some time to really convince myself that he was indeed the very first Young Royal Marine Officer that I was to look after, way back in 1936 when the two of us went to sea for the very first time.
Lieut. D. L. Peyton Jones, now a Captain, looked a bare shadow of his former self. After we had said hello, how are you, and the usual small talk, he looked as though he didn’t want to discuss anything else, and wandered off. I met him only once more during the trip. I had developed a large sceptic swelling on my thumb, which I think went under the name of a “Mother in law’s blessing” and it was sheer agony. Fortunately my ex officer took me to the cabin of a young army doctor who was taking passage and he had a very sharp scalpel. One quick slash and it worked wonders.
The trip home was uneventful, after all, the war was at an end; true there was a lot of mopping up to do in the Pacific, but here at sea, the dangers had ceased to exist. I eventually arrived in barracks and immediately went home on leave. We did all the normal things that young married couples do and had a wonderful two weeks together.
Reluctantly I returned to Chatham and once again started the dull routine of guard duties, fatigue parties and taking the squads of recently joined recruits to drill. I could now look back at the more interesting aspects of life at sea. There was the time when we were closed up on the six inch guns and we received an order to “Train all guns on the beam”. I immediately ordered the trainer to train the gun to seawards, that is, at a right angle to the ship’s side. Within minutes, the order was rescinded, “Train all guns fore and aft”.
We returned to our secure position. As we did so, there was a roar from the Commissioned Gunner who had just arrived in the battery. My last order was, “Train all guns fore and aft”, he bellowed. “Standing around like a lot of useless bastards.” I didn’t bother to explain that we had received another order, I was so angry. I left my crew in charge of my number two and approached the sergeant gunnery instructor.
I was fuming, “I want an apology off the Commissioned gunner”, I managed to get out. “I want to be taken in front of the Captain of Marines”. Sergeant Russell was all in favour and we went to the Royal Marine office where I made my request again to my C.O., Captain Terry. He was a little put out by my unusual request. “You can’t do that Hallas, Commissioned gunners come up from the ranks, it’s the way they are when reprimanding ratings.” I was adamant, I insisted. “Very well Hallas, Commanders, at 0930 tomorrow”.
The next day, all bright eyed and eager, I stood in front of The Right Hon. Sir Charles Madden and stated my case. He listened intently and said, “Yes, I agree, the Commissioned Gunner will apologise to you at 0900hrs in the Starboard battery, with your gun crew, tomorrow morning.”
At the appointed hour, our gun drill was halted and we were stood face to face with an obviously unwilling gunner. “Corporal Hallas, I apologise to you and your crew for my remarks in the Starboard battery.” My reply was a short: “Thank you sir,” upon which he turned about, and accompanied by the Chief Gunners Mate, marched off to the mess, no doubt to have a stiff drink.
That night I was checking the magazine keys with the sentry, at the same time as the Gunner, and as he marched away I heard him say, “I’ll get that bastard yet.” I decided to let the matter lie. However there was a very unusual sequence to it.
In the next letter from my loved one, she was full of news. “We have moved, Mum and Dad have bought a small draper’s in Offerton, and guess what, the lady next door has just told me that her husband is on the Warspite, and he is the Commissioned Gunner”.
That was just one of the memories that I can look back on; there are others not so pleasant. As I have stated previously, my duties as corporal of the watch consisted of patrolling the ship in the night. It was tedious walking around the decks in the dark with only a faint glimmer from the security lamps. I had to enter all the toilets to ensure that there was no funny business going on and I can assure you that in all my years of duty, I never saw anything untoward, except for one unpleasant incident concerning an officer.
As part of my duties connected with the Ward Room (officers’ mess) I had to enter certain cabins, and on one occasion, I called on the cabin of the ship’s chaplain. To me, he was an unpleasant person who gave the impression of being a cross between the actor Peter Lorre and that other obese character Sidney Greenstreet.
Thinking he was at dinner, I knocked and entered the cabin. He was standing by the bunk, interviewing one of the very young boy seamen that we had on board. Nothing peculiar in that, except that the chaplain was wearing a very loose dressing gown and the bunk was covered with dozens of pornographic post cards of the very worst kind.
I left the cabin, leaving the door open and waited outside. The young seaman followed me and went below decks as fast as his legs could carry him. I chose not to return to the cabin and decided not to do anything further. I think the chaplain was a very worried man; he always avoided me whenever he could and I did likewise.
Going back to the incident concerning the Commissioned Gunner, fortunately we never met on leave. Ruth’s parents moved again before I next went home. Back to reality, life in barracks was beginning to get more comfortable. I was offered and accepted the position of commandant’s clerk; a 9 to 4 job and no more guard duties.
Responsible for keeping the records of all serving marines, it was a job that I could really get my teeth into and providing that I could afford the travel, I could get a week-end pass whenever I chose to do so. Ruth’s mum was quite helpful and the odd postal order would find it’s way in our correspondence.
After a time, it was obvious that we had to make some sort of a decision. Ruth would not leave her parents and live with me in married quarters, and I was probably a bit hard on her. She became more and more upset as time passed and I finally decided that if I was to save our marriage I had to leave the Marines.
As I had not completed my full 12 years, I would have to apply for “Discharge by Purchase” The Adjutant was not very pleased, He tried to convince me that I was already a ‘Passed’ Corporal. Upon my re-engagement for a further nine years, I would automatically be promoted to sergeant and of course on completion, I would receive a pension. I had already completed the hardest part of my service; I had survived the war and it would be a shame to throw all this away. It was a big decision and one that I have regretted ever since, but I took it and I can say honestly that I never blamed anyone but myself for taking it. Ruth was certainly very happy.
What can one say about life in ‘Civvy Street’? For a time we owned and ran a small café, it was not my cup of tea and I made the decision that with help, Ruth could manage the business and I would go out to work. I obtained a job at Metropolitan Vickers and became so efficient at building electric motors, I was transferred to maintenance and travelled the country repairing them. To Ruth this was as bad as my being in the Marines. It was apparent that she was a home lover and to her that meant the two of us being together and doing everything side by side. I tried to compromise by leaving and obtaining various positions that would give me more time at home. Eventually I settled down in the supply department of Imperial Chemical Industries (I.C.I.) where I stayed for the next twenty years.
As an outlet for my surplus energy, I joined my local party and became their secretary and even offered my services as a candidate in the local elections. For three years I tried in a ‘Ward’ that was controlled 100% by the opposition, and although I managed to reduce their majority, I was not very successful in obtaining a ‘Seat’.
I served for a time as a school manager for three of the local schools, and for a time was accepted on the Civic List, leading of course to invitations to the Mayor’s dances and luncheons, which both Ruth and I enjoyed immensely. But, what should I do with my spare time?
I decided that it would be better for the community if I became a Special Constable and duly enrolled in the Manchester City Police. Some years later, having left Manchester, I transferred to North East Cheshire, and it was at the very small section house in Hyde, where I was stationed, that the prisoner Ian Brady, the moors murderer, was first charged.
The tapes were brought in and everyone was horrified. Once or twice, I accompanied volunteers to the moors to search certain prescribed areas with probes. On my visits we were not successful, it was a miserable and thankless task.
The happiest time of our life together was when Ruth gave birth to our daughter, it had to be another Ruth, and she was beautiful, we were both extremely proud. Studying hard, young Ruth made it to her ambition of becoming a teacher and eventually to the headship of the upper school, in our local school.
My lovely wife has now left me. August 19th 2000 will always remain in my memory as the day my life split into two. I still have the love of a daughter who cares, and I have many friends .So with my interest in the Royal Naval and Royal Marine Associations, and at this moment in time, the oldest P.R.O. in the business, I keep my interests going.
There are still some memories that I cherish. On the special parade for the forgotten fleet, held in Portsmouth, all spick and span and standing with the naval veterans, I was wearing my medals, all eleven of them and they attracted the attention of H.R.H. the Prince Philip, who is the Captain General of the Royal Marines.
“That’s a nice show of medals”, he said “Where were you on V.J.-Day?” (Victory over Japan) I replied that I was in the Indian Ocean. “Were you indeed?” said H.R.H. “But that’s a long way from the Pacific and I see you are wearing the Pacific Star.” With that rather demeaning retort, he turned, and with his hands clasped behind his back, walked away. I was fuming. The Admiral of the Fleet, “Jock” Slater, asked me what was the matter. I couldn’t contain myself. “If that ignorant prig had asked me where I had earned my Pacific Star, I would have told him that while he was in Tokyo Bay, protected by the largest air armada ever formed and the largest fleet ever assembled, I was in the Pacific when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour, and when he was in short pants I was landing with my detachment during the Spanish Civil War”.
However, much later, when the story was brought to life in a Royal Naval newsletter, His Royal Highness was decent enough to write me a personal letter, explaining that at the time he was not aware that there were any British warships in the Pacific in 1942/43. I have attended many more parades since and I have fulfilled an ambition to write a book of poetry, under the title of “Soldiers of the Sea”. On the inside of the cover there are comments from Major General Whitehead, Royal Marines, Admiral of the Fleet Sir Roy Newman Royal Navy and other senior officers, all of whom have read the book and praised it’s contents.
That then is a somewhat brief outline of my life. A life during which I have both loved and been loved and that is all any man can ask for.
On the fiftieth anniversary of the War the President of the Greek Republic awarded me the Greek war medal. The Commonwealth Office has approved two other Medals recently awarded. The Russian Convoy Medal And The Malta Defence Medal, I received the Malta Medal from the Maltese Consul in London.
In contrast to the latter two medals being approved, the Greek Medal has not been given the same consideration and veterans have been told that they can accept it but they cannot wear it, which I consider a stupid state of affairs.
As the Publicity Officer for the Royal Navy in York and districts, I am at this moment in time fighting for it’s recognition. On the many occasions that we parade in York, I am proud to wear the 39/45 Star, the Atlantic Star, the Africa Star, the Italy Star, the Burma Star, the Pacific Star (Clasp) the Defence Medal, the Malta George Cross Medal, The Spec. Constabulary Medal and the Victory 39/45 Medal, the Greek Medal I am holding in abeyance. Until I get the letter giving me permission to wear it.
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