- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Harry Hyman (Jnr)
- Location of story:
- Middle East
- Background to story:
- Royal Navy
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 20 December 2005
"This story was submitted to the People's War site by CSV/BBC Radio Nottingham on behalf of Harry Hyman with his permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions"
Leaving school at the age of 14 in August 1938 meant having to look at the loss of many pressures of our young lives. Soon we were to see the first conscripts, young men we knew not only leaving but actually returning from the BEF from Dunkirk older, wiser and all of us facing rationing, doom and gloom from here to Singapore. All school friends were being called or volunteering and when my best mate was called up I decided to volunteer to join him in the Royal Navy. We never met again from 1942 to 1946. My Dad and myself were active in the British Red Cross 17th Detachment, Dad a captain and gas instructor me ordinary, a good pretend casualty but I earned two certificates and a third year proficiency medal in two years. This and a letter of commendation from the BRC Commandant were enough to get me in as a prospective sick birth attendant Royal Navy. That was the easy part but the wait for call up seemed endless, not coming through until September 1942.
HMS Glendower was the furthest I had ever been, like a foreign posting to start with, here for a six week spell kitting up marking every item, seamanship and discipline with Leading Seaman Percival as our guide and mentor.
Now P/SBA HYMAN H. P/MX 111169 Hostility Only
Rating Volunteer (until the end of present emergency)
P/SBA — Probationer Sick Birth Attendant
P — for Portsmouth Depot
MX — Miscellaneous Rating
111169 — Official Number
Quite a change from filling sandbags, fire watching, Red Cross Duties, helping the war effort cigarette working or just lying in the family air raid shelter listening for the Dornier drone or the Heinkel hum.
Portsmouth really looked war torn HMS Victory was home for 3 weeks then to Royal Naval Hospital Haslar for the 5 month training and learning. During the whole of this introduction one factor was constant, from the first night at Glendower I had made a friendship which was to last until his death in March 1998 I had known a perfect gentleman we were so close Ken Drew a real shipmate.
Our learning experience was to live and work in conditions from so called luxury of a land base (concrete frigate) to the smallest or the largest ship in the fleet. In artic or the tropical waters in teams or by yourself the marching Rifle drill, boat drill etc was all about how to serve in Halsar the intensive training completed the picture — in day and night duty, through post mortems, medical, surgical, genital urinary operations — something of everything we may encounter.
After 7 months of training, every aspect of which could provide their own story we were to learn our fate and I have a copy of the sheet on which Ken’s and mine were included.
Hyman H P MX111169 Passed SBA
No 70, 71, 723 etc and on to
Drew K P MX 111180 Passed SBA
Those in between included
AN Other failed transferred to stoker
: failed transferred to writer
: failed transferred to steward.
: transferred to Fleet Air Arm
: For possible commission and so on.
At least it showed that there was a standard something unique about our role (earned us the nickname of “doc”) Doctors were referred to as quacks not very nice really.
The first draft sent Ken on Atlantic duties with the Algerines and myself to the Middle East. From the railway carriages inside HMS Victory we spent an overnight vigil trying to locate our movement. Finally the first scouse reported with local knowledge that we were in Liverpool.
Berthed awaiting for us was the troopship SS Donnater Castle, our home until we docked in Port Said, each day it seemed that the ties with home were being severed and you became very aware of being on your own, hundreds of us feeling the same no doubt. Final contact was lost when Tom Griffin who had told my Dad he would look out for me was unloaded on draft to RN Hospital Bhigi Malta.
For the rest of that trip we now know that the Italian Navy had surrendered with a special ceremony in Malta but unfortunately the deadly mines kept finding casualties in men and ships. This was to continue even after the war. October 1946 HMS Saumarez & HMS Volage were mined and 44 crew lost. One event was when HMS Carlisle limped into Alex stern first because everything from the forward gun was gone gun crew and bows and every ship in the harbour sounded off a welcome.
My service included 2 years and 6 months in the Mediterranean out from Liverpool to Suez on the troopship SS Donnater Castle through Gibraltar taking in Egypt, Malta, Italy and Greece and returning via the Medloc in January 1946. Port Said, Alexandria, Valetta, M’sida, Taranto, Bari, Poreaus, Athens and Salonika. The round trip included HMHS Maine, Royal Marines Camp Blandamura, HMS Nile, Fabius, and Canopus with 2 runs on the Italian destroyers Legionnaire and Fusilier.
My worst experience was in May 1944 when anchored in M’sida creek I was informed that my mother was dangerously ill and her subsequent death, there was no question of getting home! The next was to learn that my school friend Earnest Stuart had died in the Failaise area near Caen.
From Port Said we entrained, we never knew where we were going HMS Nile, where’s that? Well it turned out to be Sidi Bishr just outside Alexandria. A transit camp, which we quickly acknowledged as a camel resting place, turned down by the Red Cross as unsanitary infested and unfit for humans but all right for the Navy. We didn’t help it one bit under canvas ants like grasshoppers, flying armoured beetles and gyppy tummy (diarrhoea adlib) you had to count the blessings i.e. the heat up to 106 degrees did harden the excrement which the local natives had to scrap out of the rear trapdoor of the loo. We had a run ashore local train to Alex bingo and beer in the Navy club, had our first altercation with apartheid South African whites separated from coloureds.
Within a few days, draft to HMHS Maine the hospital ship in the harbour my home until May 1945. First we learned that the ship was to be dry docked for a week for boiler clean and fumigation and leave for the whole ships company which consisted of mainly Maltese and Greek Seamen and a complete hospital staff, the only complete hospital ship afloat, the No 1 Naval unit mentioned in combined Atlantic and med fleet 1931 who’s who in the Royal Navy. There was a mess deck for SBAs and L/SBAs a petty and chief officers and a wardroom for officers. Accommodation for crews were in the bow section and the wards mid section within 3 decks — Upper deck officers, below was medical surgical and genitourinary wards and an isolation unit and 2 padded cells. Dental x ray and laboratory unit and 2 operating rooms and a mortuary made up the main provision. One ward on the main deck near to the donkey engines and cranes was the main reception and resuscitation area for active service casualties.
First the seven days leave, some for Jerusalem and others for Cairo, I opted for Cairo with one priority to get a photo at the Pyramids and the Sphinx just like my Dad in 1917 — mission accomplished. Later I followed my Dad’s footsteps when landing in Salonika.
With clean boilers no rats and no cockroaches (yet) we left and spent Xmas at sea, destination Malta, or Maltese mates were to see their home for the first time since the Maine had been ordered out of the Med after being attacked by Italian bombers and crew members killed. Down the Suez Canal for safety. From Valetta harbour we were ordered to take position in M’sida Creek and we were quickly in full hospital use with a pontoon, ship to shore. Passing through the rows of invasion craft I shouted to 2 from home Doug Wyley from school days and George Lewis from Players factory (see them later) After this routine hospital work we were to get moving — but where to, first to Taranto then Bari and Brindisi we were loaded with a complete army hospital and 4 RN Alexandria Nursing Sisters — they caused a stir but we knew their value later. Soon it started to look like something big with the link up, The Orion, Ajax, Oakham and Anson Gunboats Aphis, Scarab and Cockchafer. The Greek King George Battleship, minesweepers, motor torpedo boats, water boats, everything going in for the liberation of Greece. We had warnings, I think from Oakley that our black out was not up to standard but weren’t we supposed to be lit up? Ours not to reason why etc. first call Piraeus where the ‘welcome English’ Welcome sons of Byron and Zeto Elas (Greek Guerrillas) banners and slogans were everywhere. Peace certainly seemed the order of the day. After a few days we had an afternoon leave to the Acropolis where the swastikas were all being dismantled. Then to Salonika only picking up a few casualties and admiring the islands and waters. Returning to Piraeus about 3rd December, we were given active service duties, apart from duties where required. I was on that main reception and ward, receive and dispatch alive or dead, a state of emergency was declared — Orion shelled Athens, a bit of hell had broken loose. Two thousand casualties later on 11th January 1945 a peace pact assured a Greek democracy and the Maine — on duty from October 1944 to February 18th 1945 was allowed to leave Greek waters. High in the water completely empty of fuel and supplies we limped into Alex without enough fuel to carry us into Port Said. With sheet anchors we rode out a terrific storm for a full 24 hours before entering Alexandria harbour. Re fuelled and re stocked we returned to Malta and M’sida Creek. In May I made Leading SBA and a transfer to HMS Fabious. Taranto via Italina destroyer Fusiliere to Blandamura with 23 Royal Marines and a Navy Special Service Lt (they were my responsibility) and our role was to safeguard some ‘Guns of Navaronne’ which were vacated by the Germans.
The end of the European War meant many ratings would now be free to transfer to the Far East but my Medical Officer a Dr Draper said if I stayed with him he would try to get me home for Xmas. He almost did it on the 18th December 1945 I started for home.
Jeep from Blandamura to Taranto
Italian destroyer Taranto to Valetta
Troopship on the Medloc system Valetta to Marseilles
Train Toulon to Dieppe
Isle of Thanet ferry Dieppe to Newhaven and train to HMS Victory Portsmouth.
Home on leave 6th January to 12th February then draft to HMS Shrapnel (cricket) to 5th October Class A release and demob.
Note: May 2001 received certificate and Medal form the Greek Government for service rendered.
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