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by Elizabeth Lister

Contributed by 
Elizabeth Lister
People in story: 
John of Poole
Location of story: 
North Atlantic, USA, English Channel, Far East
Background to story: 
Royal Navy
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
12 September 2005

This story was submitted to the People's War site by a volunteer from Reading on behalf of Les of Reading, whose own story is on the Peoples’ War website (“An Ear to the Wind”),and has been added to the site with his permission. Les also recounted this story which is that of his brother, John of Poole, Leading Seaman, Royal Navy 1940-1946. Les fully understands the site's terms and conditions.

During 1940-41, I served with the battleship HMS Revenge on convoy escort duties to and from Halifax, Nova Scotia, before the ship had to return urgently to Ceylon following the sinking of the battleships HMS Repulse and Prince of Wales by the Japanese. After that, I took a gunnery course at Whale Island, Portsmouth, before sailing to New York on the Queen Elizabeth to join a lease-lend minesweeper, HMS Chamois, being built in Seattle.

It turned out that Chamois would not be completed for several months. So, to make best use of the time, I took a profitable job in a flour mill and also got paid for donating blood at regular intervals. What with my basic pay, and all untaxed, I must have been making an Admiral’s pay!

Finally, HMS Chamois made her way to England through the Panama Canal and was immediately assigned to minesweeping duties in the Channel in preparation for the D-day invasion of June 1944.

In July 1944, we struck a mine off Sword Beach where we had been continuously clearing for several weeks. All those on deck immediately leapt overboard, with one exception — myself! As I couldn’t swim, I was searching out something that would float when the Chief Engineer appeared from below deck, like a messenger from Hell. He was furious, bellowing that the ship was in no danger of sinking! All those who had gone bathing were helped back on board by a man who had never even got his feet wet! In fact, our sister ship HMS Magic had sunk not long before after striking a mine and we had helped to rescue her crew. Our own ship was towed back to Plymouth.

I was reassigned to HMS Cleopatra, the flag ship for the Far East. I was at the helm when we became the first ship to sail back into Rangoon, Burma, and then into Singapore, following the Japanese surrender after the two atom bombs.

There, I shall never forget the sight of our prisoners of war returning from the Japanese camps. They were just walking skeletons.

When all was done, I returned to the UK and was demobbed in 1946.

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