- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Jack Stokes
- Background to story:
- Royal Navy
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 13 December 2005
Jack Stokes left St Saviour’s School in 1933 at the age of 14 to work for a milkman, Mr Rand, who had a Dairy at the corner of Westbury Road. He worked seven days a week for 12 shillings, so when he was offered a job by a grocer, Mr Scott of Essex Road, (where Jack lived) for 14 shillings a week, he took it.
As soon as he was 16 he joined the Navy - that had always been his ambition. He went to HMS Ganges, a naval training ship, where he was happy, although life was hard. His next ship was HMS Ramillies, which was not quite such a happy experience. He recalls scrubbing decks in bare feet at Sheerness in December and wiping them down with cloths wrung out in sea-water, which was freezing cold. When he finished training he joined HMS Galatea, the flagship of the Mediterranean Fleet. He was at Chatham Naval Barracks in September 1938 when the Munich crisis occurred. “In the middle of the night all the lights were switched on and we were told that in the morning we would all be drafted to a ship”. He was drafted to HMS Whirlwind. It was considered to be a false alarm, however, so the ship was paid off.
When war did break out in September 1939 he joined HMS Resolution, but once more, because of the “phoney war” the ship was paid off. Then came real crisis time - in February he joined HMS Veteran, which in a very short time became involved in the Norwegian Campaign. At first they were engaged in bombarding German positions - on one occasion he was on B gun deck, when a plane came over. He saw all these little black specks descending and suddenly realised that it had dropped bombs. “I thought I’d had it”, he said.
But the bombs fell harmlessly in the water and did no damage. We blasted away at him,” he said, “but I don’t know whether we got him!”
An even more frightening occasion was when a torpedo was sighted on the beach of a fiord. His captain thought it would be a good idea to try to collect it to take it back to England, so that it could be examined by the experts, so the sea boat, of which Jack was coxswain, was lowered and they set out to retrieve the torpedo. Suddenly there was a slash in the water near by and they realised they were being fired on - he says they felt a bit conspicuous, a somewhat understatement it would seem. However they successfully retrieved the torpedo and it was brought back to England.
The Veteran later helped with the evacuation of Norway - for three days and four nights they went up and down the fiord taking off survivors before being ordered to search for the Glorious, which had been sunk. They found thirty men who had been in the water for four days and were suffering from frostbite and were in pain.
Later they helped with the evacuation of France and throughout the summer of 1940 were at Harwich, preparing for invasion. In October 1940 the ship was ordered to Liverpool from where Jack served on Atlantic convoy duty until February 1942. It was a dangerous time, for the U Boats had the upper hand and the convoys were no match for them. He says he was never on a voyage where they didn’t pick up survivors from hips, which had been torpedoed. The ship was not suitable for suck work - it leaked like a sieve, he said and they didn’t have modern equipment. Later he was transferred to HMS Duncan, which was vastly superior.
Naval wives had to be ready at the drop of a hat to set off to meet their husbands when they came into port and then stay in digs whilst the ship was being prepared for sea again. Jack’s worst nightmare nearly came true at Christmas 1940.
The ship was due to come into Liverpool, but it arrived almost immediately after the major raid that had done so much damage so instead of docking, they were sent off again for another ten days. Jack knew his wife, Edie, would have been in the city during the raid. When the eventually docked, he set off to find the place where she was to have stayed, only to find that it had been demolished. He feared the worst. Seeing an air raid warden, he asked if he knew who had been in the house. The warden said that he would have to go to the Town Hall, where they had lists of casualties.
Fearfully, he set off - only to meet his wife coming up the street towards him. She had not been in the house at the time of the raid, but community centre helping to serve lunch - a Christmas lunch, which as it turned out had to be “Scouse.”
After serving in the Atlantic for 18 months, he went to the Mediterranean on the destroyer Whirlwind through the Suez Canal to the Far East to become part of the British Pacific Fleet. By this time he was a Petty Officer Gunnery Instructor On VE Day he was off Okinawa, at action situations, in full anti-flash gear with the hatches down. They were told the news by the officer of the watch and heard about the rejoicing and jubilation of Britain. He said that his greatest regret was not being able to see the German submarine fleet surrender. When VJ Day was declared he was on his way to Sydney. “My first thought was, I’m alive,” he said.
One of his tasks was to collect some Japanese suicide squads and take them to Hong Kong. He wrote to his wife from Hong Kong.
Just before I turned in I was shown a signal, which stated that we were to proceed to Picnic Bay to collect Japanese Suicide Boat Squads. On the following morning we first embarked three Japanese Officers and an interpreter, all typical looking Japanese. When we arrived at our destination we sent a bout inshore to arrange the embarkation, our AA guns were fully manned and armed sentries were posted round the ship. My job, with the aid of another Petty Officer, was to search each prisoner as he came aboard and to disarm them. As each prisoner stepped over the gangway, he was covered by two sailors, armed with carbons. Searching each of them was a very tiring job (there were 150 of them) and I was perspiring freely. The officers very reluctantly handed over their swords, one of which I have now. Each officer as he came over the gangway, bowed to me and was very helpful and docile. Having fully embarked them and collected all their baggage we set off back to Hong Kong.
We kept them well guarded and were well prepared for any trouble. They were a very unimpressive group and their weapons were very old, dirty and badly maintained. The officers were very docile and obviously tried to impress us with their willingness to co-operate, but we bore in mind how they would have acted had the situation been reversed.
On arrival at Hong Kong, we disembarked them and the loaded some of their baggage onto a lorry, the remainer we made them carry. Their officers gave the orders, whilst we made signs showing what they wanted. We then set off for the camp, which was half-a mile away. I made them double, which delighted the Chinese. On arrival at the camp they stacked their baggage and then we set off to collect the remainder. Despite the heat and the heavy loads they were carrying, they kept going and must have been very fit. They were all very young and about five feet tall. Their uniform was khaki with puttees such as worn by our soldiers in the First World War, all had a wristwatch and a wallet well stuffed with banknotes.
After they had moved all their gear (which took four journeys) they marched off to their quarters. Before doing so the officers lined up and collectively bowed and saluted me, saying, “Thank you, thank you.” I then made it clear by signs that I would like one of their swords and to my surprise one Officer stepped forward and, with an elaborate bow, handed one to me.”
Jack said that he kept the sword for many years, then his wife insisted that he got rid of it because of the thought of what use may have made of it whilst it was in Japanese hands.
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