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Ernie Holtbys War

by Lancshomeguard

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Archive List > Royal Navy

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Ernie Holtby
Location of story: 
Various locations
Background to story: 
Royal Navy
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Contributed on: 
29 June 2005

This story has been submitted to the People’s War website by Jenny Graham of the lancshomeguard on behalf of Ernie Holtby and has been added to the site with his permission

Myself, Eric Pickering and Fred Harvey were all in the Navy during the war; we were at Chatham Rating Barracks, three shipmates together aboard HMS Swiftshore, which along with HMS Penelope was Blackpool’s adopted ship.

I remember the brand new ship was commissioned in June 1944, just a bit before D-Day. We first went Newcastle and then sailed to Scapa Flow, to work the ship up. From there we went to Rosythe nr Edinburgh, down to Plymouth, where we picked up the first Lord of the Admiralty; he was top man of the ship or the Government for the navy and once he was on board we sailed for the Mediterranean; going round ports in the Algears, Alexandria, Malta, Naples, Gibralter and Plymouth. We were only eighteen and although we had done a years training learning about ships this was an experience way beyond our training, like nothing we had ever seen before.

We sailed to the North Cape, where we were to protect an aircraft carrier that was bombarding a radar station in Northern Norway. Unfortunately, it was too rough for us to manage it so we sailed back to Plymouth, a journey that took us ten days in extreme bad weather. We sailed again through the Mediterranean and the Suez Canal where we called at Aidan, what is now called Yemin. From there we travelled onto Ceylon, (Sri Lanka) and then round to Trinkhomalee, at the other side of Ceylon and then finally we set off for Freemantle, Australia. It was when we reached Freemantle that it was announced that we were to form the British Pacific Fleet; four carriers who were guard shifts, joining up with the American fleets to invade Okinawa sometime between April and June. We escorted the carriers that were to bomb the Japanese battleships and bombard Taiwan.

After the invasion we joined more ships that were bombarding the Truck Islands, and from there we sailed onto Sydney. We were in Sydney harbour the day the war ended. We were loaded with red cross equipment and although the celebrations were well under way; bunting lining the streets, music coming from all the windows and secretaries waving at us and cheering, we were by no means allowed to stop and join in. Our orders were to sail straight to Hong Kong where the army was liberating and rounding up Japanese prisoners. It was here that three of our ship mates were killed, three of our very close mates. Myself, Eric and I have just come back from a memorial trip to Hong Kong where we visited their graves in the Saiwan Cemetary. The authorities had to move all the graves to a new cemetry, but they've done a good job and although it was very emotional, bringing back memories good and bad, it felt right to be able to pay our respects.

It had been terrible when we sailed into Havisaki, just six weeks after the bomb had been dropped. It was devastated. We were only allowed to travel in trucks down the streets - you couldn't walk anywhere because of the threat of the radiation. It was horrendous.

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