I joined the British Navy at the age of 17 in 1944. I had lived with my parents in Markyate, a village between St. Albans and Dunstable off the A5, where I completed school and started work at 14. I soon got bored of it and signed up for the military at the age of 16. I got the call a year later to join the Royal Navy.
I received instructions on HMS Ganges, the training ship that served as the establishment for coaching boys for a career in the navy. In addition to normal training, I was given special lessons on the maintenance of torpedoes and explosives, dealing with high and low powers. Training completed, I got 10 days leave to go home, with the briefing that I was to join HMS Milne which was part of the Arctic convoy. The gear sanctioned for the assignment were intended for winter. Just about a week later, I received a telegram that I must report to the barracks immediately. As soon as I reached there, I was asked to collect tropical gear. The same night, we boarded a train and travelled all night and we finished up in the morning in Liverpool from where we boarded a troop ship heading for an unknown destination. We didn’t get off the ship till 4 weeks later when we landed in Sydney. We were a few thousand men from Britain.
From the Sydney harbour, we were carried in a lorry to Warwick Farm Racecourse which had been taken over by the Americans and now was housing the Royal Navy as it prepared for the final push against the Japanese in order to get all the islands in the Pacific back. I spent about two months in Sydney till I was called away.
The aircraft carrier HMS Indefatigable had run short of a torpedo man. I was barely 18 and there I was being taken on a truck and then a boat, all alone, to join the crew on it. It was early in 1945 when Indefatigable set sail. We called on Manus island and then cruised on to Ulithi1 to join a huge American fleet. The fleet turned out to be a task force for the invasion of Okinawa. We found 27 US aircraft carriers anchored in the Pacific. I had never seen so many ships together before. There were a couple of oil tankers ahead of us. At Ulithi, we were joined by other British aircraft carriers, namely H.M.S Illustrious, Indomitable, Formidable and I believe, Implacable. Also in the support group were many other ships-cruisers, destroyers, frigates, submarines and others. I have no idea how many, but there were a lot.
I was hand held the first few days as someone guided me through the norms of rolling up the hammock and hanging it in a corner and then taking it out to sleep at night. We were 20 of us in a small room but that was alright. The food was good and there was little to complain on the deck two floors below the captain’s. Apart from the bombs, torpedoes, we had to take care of all electricals and telephone lines as aboard the ship. There were three different lots of fighter aircraft on board the Indefatigable –‘Seafires’, naval equivalent of Spitfires, single-seater American seagoing fighters called ‘Fireflies’ and ‘Avengers’ which were bombers carrying torpedoes and bombs. We stayed in this area until the end of May with our planes attacking anything Japanese daily.
We seamen never got any shore leave. We were allowed to spend a few days at an American dock at Leyte in the Philippines and then we were back to sea. On the 1st of April, we heard a huge bang. A Japanese ‘Kamikaze,’ had hit the top deck, barely 30 feet away from the bridge where the captain stood. There were 14 dead and many injured. Quite a bit of the ship was damaged but within an hour, the bombers were taking off and flying. We were cruising on the sea most of the time and were anchored in Ulithi only for a few days. We sailed back to Sydney at the end of May arriving there early in June. After serving for about 18 months, I was promoted to the rank of an Able Seaman.
We left Sydney at the end of June 1945. Our planes attacked Japanese mainland for the first time. One day, early in August, we were warned that something significant was about to happen. We had no idea what that might be. We were then informed about the dropping of the atom bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We must have been too far away to hear anything of the bombs. In the middle of August, ‘Cease Hostilities’ towards Japan was announced by the captain of our ship.
On the 25th of August, on my 19th birthday, we ran into a typhoon which lasted a few days. After this, we had collections on board of anything that would benefit British prisoners of war held in Japanese camps. Cigarettes, food, soaps among other items were put into canvas bags and dropped on the camps by our planes. From where we were, on a clear day, we could get a glimpse of USS Missouri aboard which the Japanese Emperor signed the Instrument of Surrender on September 2.
The war over, we cruised back in September 1945 to Sydney where the celebrated and much decorated Admiral Philip Vian joined our ship to lead a good will mission to New Zealand. It was a lovely experience and I remember our ship docking at the ports of Wellington and Auckland. An unforgettable memory is of a troupe of Maori performers in their traditional wear dancing to their own tune which I came to realise was adapted to the now popular song, ‘Now is the hour.’ I also will never forget what Admiral Vian said: ‘I hope the next ship, I as the Commander-in Chief, have to raise a flag on, I can spell the bloody name.’ Indefatigable was not an easy one!
Following the goodwill mission, we were assembled as the Captain greeted us together. We were going back to England and we were chosen to be the first carrier to take on jet aircraft. Then orders were changed and we were to be used as a troop ship bringing home personnel from naval bases in Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Singapore, and a small contingent from America, back to Portsmouth. We sailed to Norfolk Virginia in the US and spend two nights at the naval base where the local staff really put themselves out to take care of us. We returned to England and again sailed for Sydney with 130 British brides who had married Australians together with their children.
We brought back to Portsmouth 1000 RAF ratings, wrens and VADs plus several cases of food and gifts from the Australian people. Our last trip to America was to collect the British crew of an American carrier which we had borrowed during the war. On return to Portsmouth, I was sent to Chatham where I was eventually demobbed at the end of 1946.
All in all, it was a great experience and I would hate to have missed any single moment of the Great War.
Albert Rodd lives in Cambourne