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Mr West Goes East

by derbycsv

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Archive List > Royal Navy

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Roy West
Location of story: 
Indian and Pacific Oceans
Background to story: 
Royal Navy
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
17 August 2005

This story was submitted by Alison Tebbutt, Derby CSV Action Desk, on behalf of Roy West. The author has given his permission, and fully understands the site's terms and conditions.

I was called up into the navy when I was 18 and a half years old in 1942 and trained as an air mechanic (airframes) for the Fleet Air Arm. A new squadron, no. 1839, was formed in Northern Ireland. We went to Belfast where we joined H.M.S. Begum, which was a U.S. built light escort aircraft carrier, converted from a merchant ship hull. The ship was fitted with bunk beds and was very comfortable. The one hanger was filled with our Grumman Hellcat fighters. The flight deck was filled with Fairey Barracuda torpedo bombers.

The ship sailed in a small convoy with another carrier and a troop ship. I had no idea where we were going but we had all been issued with cold weather clothing. We sailed south and went into the Mediterranean Sea, passing through the Straits of Gibraltar at night. We could see lots of lights on the sea, off the coast of Morocco, which I was told were Spanish fishing boats. They must have reported us to the Germans, because the next day we were bombed by Stuka dive bombers, fortunately without damage.

We went through the Suez Canal to Aden and then to Columbo in Ceylon, where the ship took on more oil fuel. Next we went to Madras in India. We transferred to a shore base with thatched roof buildings and one concrete landing strip. While we were there we acquired a monkey as a pet. We named it ‘Stupid’ and it stayed with us till we returned to the U.K. Two months later we moved to Trincomalee and Columbo in Ceylon, and were billeted at the race course.

From there the Squadron was embarked on H.M.S. Indomitable, a large fleet carrier, as part of SEAC under Mountbatten. The ship was operating against Sumatra, carrying out bombing raids.

There were 2000 crew and the living conditions were very cramped. We were divided into ‘messes’ of 17 men and each of us had to take turns preparing the days food for the rest. The heat was terrible and it was far too hot to sleep in the hammocks. I regularly slept on deck, with my lifebelt as a pillow, or on the floor of an aircraft hanger, under the tail of a Wildcat. The ship was always short of fresh water. Many times I was lathered up, having a wash, when the water would be switched off. Very often we couldn’t even have any to drink.

The ship then went into the Pacific, operating against Sharishima, Gunto, Leyte and Okinawa. The ship was attacked by Japanese ‘Kamikaze’ suicide plans, several times. Whenever there was an air raid the ‘Tannoy’ would play the tune ‘There’s a bogey over there!’ The ship was hit by a Kamikaze once, when 80 men were killed.

We sailed to Sydney, Australia for a rest and were given shore leave. The city was full of Americans so 3 of us decided to go inland to a place called Wallangong in N.S.W. All the pubs closed at 6.00pm and the only places to get a drink were the ‘Diggers’ or ‘Union Jack’ clubs. While we were inside an Australian came over and asked me where I lived. I told him, ‘Belper.’ He then asked me if I was Arthur West’s lad. I told him I was and he said he was Fred Naggs and they had been at school together. He had emigrated after WWI. I spent the rest of my leave at his home.

I then went back to sea and we operated against Manus in the Admiralty Islands and Luzon in the Philippines. After Japan surrendered we went to Hong Kong. At first the ship couldn’t go into the harbour because of mines. There were sunken ships sticking out of the water all over the place. We eventually got in. Lots of us were sent ashore, working with U.S. Marines, rounding up Japanese soldiers.

One of the ships’ hangars was converted into a hospital for Allied P.O.Ws. so we could take them back to Australia. We had to push lots of our aircraft over the side into the sea to make room for them. They were in a terrible state. Once we got to Australia I spent some more time with Fred Naggs. He promised he would come and see us in England, and he did, in 1949. We sailed back to England in October, 1945.

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