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For Ted Matthews and the three other men with him fresh orders awaited them on their arrival in Colombo.

 

We had a couple of days to get ourselves sorted out, after this our fresh draft came through, which meant we'd have to travel by train to Bombay, our next ship was to be the cruiser HMS Capetown. Before we left a naval officer handed us some special documents that we had to deliver on arrival at the docks. These were kept under lock and key in grey heavy bags. (These appear to be similar to the bags that Ian Hay described were carried by an agent he left Singapore with).

The journey lasted 4 days, and we travelled in the lap of luxury our accommodation being in 1st class carriages, after a most relaxing trip we arrived in Bombay and released the documents to an army officer. He told us where we'd pick up the Capetown. On seeing her it was obvious that she was under repairs in dry dock. We soon found out this was as a result of battle damage sustained in the invasion of Madagascar. As we couldn't actually live onboard, we were given digs near to the Salvation Army headquarters. For the next three months our daily routine would be to report to the ship every day and get drunk most nights. 

I was to be a gunnery rating on her and my duties would be on one of her 6-inch main armament guns. Once repairs were completed we set off for the Persian Gulf. It's quite funny to remember that we didn't worry about the Japanese submarines known to be in this area. The ships complement was mainly made up of survivors from battles that had taken place against the Germans in the Mediterranean and the Japanese in the Far East. The end result being no one gave a toss about discipline. Some of the lads hadn't been home since the beginning of the war with Germany and they desperately wanted to see their families. It was after about 4-5 months of patrols that Mickey Andrews who'd been with me for the entire time since the loss of Repulse found out that all four of us were reported missing presumed dead. This horrified us as more than 6 months had passed since the battle and we obviously felt certain, that armed with this misinformation our families would have given up hope on us by now. Eventually we managed to get a message back home so at least our families knew we were safe and well. The skipper was to some degree losing his power of command and one incident that occurred with my main oppo Jock Macbeth, possibly highlights his lack of authority. We were on night manoeuvres and the skipper shouted down an order to Jock, who never heard him. A few seconds later he shouted down again! This time venting his anger on the Captain of the gun, telling him to kick Jock up the backside. This comment Jock heard loud and clear and I still remember his reply. Firstly pointing at the Captain of the gun he said "He'll no be kicking anyone." Then staring directly at the skipper he retorted. "And you'll be doing fuck all like that as well." I thought he'd be in for it, but the skipper's bottle had gone and he just turned and went back into the Bridge.

It was obvious that something would have to be done about the lack of discipline and morale onboard; this was remedied by one of the finest Admirals in the war. He was the leader of Force H and his name was Admiral Somerville. A lot of men on the Capetown had served under him in the Med, they told us he didn't mince his words, adding he was a great character and spent as much time contesting Churchill's orders as he did fighting the enemy. On approaching the end of our patrol we heard that once docked in Mombassa the Admiral would be addressing the ships company. None of us knew what to expect, but it was obvious our skipper must have requested him to speak to us. Little did I realise that this was to be one of the best speeches I ever heard, purely because he spoke our language. 

We cleared lower decks and he began his address by saying he understood how homesick most of us were, but at present he couldn't do anything to hasten our return. Then speaking of the actual condition of the ship he said, "Will you look at the state of this thing.' (With reference to the terrible job the Indian dockyard mateys had done in painting her in Bombay) You look like a fucking orange box. I am going to send you away to get properly worked up and next time I see you I want you to be all one fucking colour". The entire crew fell about laughing, for you have to be aware that all through this address he had a smile on his face. The man knew how to deal with sailors, and after this speech we did as ordered and went off to get fighting fit. What a man, I'd loved to have served under him in Force H.

After this I had one pleasant spot of leave when docking in Durban, having a great time as on this occasion I went up to Johannesburg on 7 day's leave, staying with a family who'd volunteered to help allied servicemen by giving them free accommodation whilst they were ashore. Shortly afterwards I took my leading seaman's exam and managed to pass. I was pleased over this, but was also beginning to realise that I'd never find a ship that gave me the same sense of pride as Repulse had done. I could see no solution to the problem, as on several occasions I'd had trouble with our skipper and a more hardened officer would have thrown me in the Brig. The answer came just after being informed that we'd be making our way back to the UK, (when we took on some fresh ratings onboard in Colombo). I heard one of these lads talking to Jock, as they were both from Scotland he was able to let him know what had been happening during the 2 years we'd been away. We talked, filling him in on the situation onboard, and I made it clear that I was fed up with large ships and told him that when we got back home I was going to see if I could get a draft on a destroyer. He informed me that he was spare crew for submarines and suggested that if I was disenchanted with surface ships why didn't I put my name down to volunteer for subs. I'd never considered this type of service before but the idea struck a cord, particularly when he added the discipline was administered in a different way, a point which finally swayed me down this path. 

We arrived home in September 1943, and I wasn't sorry to leave the Capetown, although I was grateful that she saved me from the carnage of the Far East. We were allowed 3 weeks home leave, it was great to be back in my hometown, but this was tinged with some sadness as the lad I'd been with since Singapore would now be going their separate ways. We'd fought and stole for each other for nearly two years and I felt we'd become as close as brothers, in particular Jock and myself became inseparable during this period. 
I spent my leave seeing all my relations and generally having a good time, at that period in the war Wrexham was quite a rough place as the Commandos were based here. It use to make me laugh to go into a pub at night and watch them playing darts with their knives. I don't remember any landlords trying to stop them. After this break I was quite happy to return to barracks, as I knew that I was hopefully to have a career change. 
On billeting I put my name forward for submarines (boats), I realised they were very short-handed, but the speed with which they acted, caught me out. It was only a matter of a couple of hours after putting my request in that they called me up.

In many ways this is a sad point in my tale. Jock was with me when I received my fresh draft and as usual I had no money, but again he came to my rescue giving me his last £1; this was the last time I ever saw him. I've tried on numerous occasions to try and trace him, but to no avail, So if he is reading this, I have never forgotten my small debt or more importantly the good fortune I had on gaining your trust and friendship. During the 52 years since wars end I have, and never will, meet a more sincere and genuine person. There is no doubt that I was dealt a good hand in life when fate crossed our paths. He will remain to my last days the finest man I have ever known. 

Within a matter of hours I was on my way to Blythe in Northumberland to start the final chapter in my career and what a marvellous time it was to be.

 

We now move onto the continuing story of Ian Hay, as he describes his final escape from the Japanese and the sad death of a close friend.

 

We'd been sailing up the Jambi River for a day or so, when the wireless operator received a coded message from Colombo. They expressed some concern over the safety of a nursing sister who was staying in one of the villages along our route. We were to find out at a later date that she was more than a nurse, in fact she'd also been doing surveillance work for the allies. P/O Pascal enquired as to the whereabouts of the village and to our dismay we'd passed it several hours earlier. But such was the need to prevent her from falling into Japanese hands that he asked for volunteers to return down river on P12, leaving the other boat to press on at a reduced speed until its return.

Michael and I put ourselves forward, I think about 6 of us volunteered, not really knowing if the Japanese were just behind. If that did turn out to be the case then we'd be in real trouble. All the way downstream we had to keep under the edge of the trees on the river banks, as an endless line of Japanese planes kept on flying overhead. Thankfully the light soon failed and with it our hopes of escaping detection grew stronger. It must have been close to midnight when we reached the village and there she was bags all packed and waiting to go, she thanked the villagers for their help and we were quickly on our way. Having a very smooth run back up to meet our other boat, the entire exercise taking about 18 hours although it took a further 2 days to reach our destination of Tjilatjap. On arrival we received a radio message to turn the boats over to the Dutch authorities. This was quickly accomplished and the Major in charge of operations asked us to report to his house where we could have some food and a change of clothes. We took him up on the offer and whilst we were with him P/O Pascal asked whether he thought they could hold the Japanese off. His answer really shocked me. He said that although they had no hope of warding off the Japs, he felt safe in the knowledge that he'd be okay, he was certain they'd need him to run the plantations in the surrounding countryside. I couldn't believe how naive he was. The Japs were now killing anything that moved and he thought they'd show him respect. I still wonder what became of him, but one thing was for sure, he was about to receive a very rude awakening. 

Having made the above comments about the Major I must add that he treated us well, even allowing our group to take two vehicles with us, namely an old Dutch army wagon and a staff car. The use of these would be of great benefit, as we didn't share his optimism about the future conduct of the Japs. Although we drove through some of the most breathtaking scenery I've ever witnessed, we had no real time to enjoy it because we'd been warned about fifth columnists hampering the escape of allied troops. So at all times we had our eyes wide open with little time to relax. However, we did have one light moment, when it was decided to hide the vehicles and take a swim in a lovely stretch of water. After 20 minutes or so bathing in the clear pool we noticed a young native boy. He saw us and shouted 'crocs' we darted out only to find he'd stolen our clothes, we chased him until he came to a halt in some thick undergrowth, when catching up with the other lads who'd cornered the little bugger I had a heart stopping moment. I heard a tremendous commotion in a tree directly above me and thought he'd led us into a trap and my number was up. Suddenly, out of all this noise a baby orangutang fell right into my arms. I could have died through laughter. It transpired that it belonged to the young lad so we had a bargaining point and quickly managed to get our clothes back. 

 

After this jaunt we were soon on our way and after many miles we finally came to a railhead, at this point it was decided to see if we could get some sleep for the night, then if possible jump a train at first light. This shouldn't have been a problem except that the Mayor of the village insisted we hand our weapons in before sleeping in any of the buildings. Our P/Os soon put him straight, although he wasn't very happy over this, but short of outright confrontation he had no choice in the matter. 

The next day we immobilised the vehicles and got on the train, after much chasing back and to we reached Pedang. Once here Pascal got a coded message off to Colombo and the reply came back within an hour or so. At first it seemed to be the answer to our prayers as he told us that a British warship was coming into port to pick us up. True to form later that evening she arrived. Once onboard the reception from the skipper was less than welcoming. Firstly he told us that we were scum that had deserted Singapore. Then he informed us not to mix with any of his crew, but the worse thing of all was he said that he was taking us back to Tjilatjap.

None of us could believe it, we'd struggled for months while this old bastard had been onboard ship having good meals totally isolated from the real world. Then to be informed by him that we were returning to a place we'd done our best to get out of several weeks earlier was a bitter disappointment which ran through all of us like a sharp knife. True to his word on docking at Tjilatjap he made us leave, although I think the main point that really got to me was that the two agents we'd risked our lives for on numerous occasions were allowed to stay onboard. In fact they'd been offered privileged treatment from the time they'd boarded the ship. Neither of them had at any time during the short voyage tried to plead our case with this old salt, I couldn't believe people could be so ungrateful.

Once ashore Pascal came into his own, badgering up and down everywhere to see if he could get us on some sort of vessel that would get us out of the city as the whole place was a shambles due to heavy bombing by the Japs. On numerous occasions he could have got himself a ticket out of Tjilatjap, but refused to leave us, our hopes were finally raised when we had the offer of a sea-going tug. It was a Dutch vessel and the reason for the offer was they had no experienced sailors to man her. This wasn't a problem to us and in no time our engine room artificer went below, reporting that she was in good fettle and would make a sea crossing no-problem. We took as many extra people as possible with us and that evening set off, our final destination was hopefully Australia. Everyone contributor to Sailors' Tales has a memory of how lucky they were to survive, I think I've had more than my fair share, but the next one is maybe the luckiest escape of all.

 

We'd been at sea for a couple of days and as you can imagine we had lookouts posted everywhere, it'd been a quiet enough day and as evening drew near I'd finished my watch and was about to turn. Michael was to relieve me, as he took over I commented that during my watch I'd seen flashes far on the horizon, but thought it was tropical lightening. I couldn't have been more incorrect with my assumption. I have no real idea how long we'd continued steaming on the same course as by now I'd got my head down. The next thing I remember was being woken by Michael, he told me that Pascal had come to his look out position and was mortified when Michael tried telling him the flashes were bolts of lightning. Pascal stared out to sea for a couple of minutes then ordered a complete change of course; it was at this point Michael had woken me. Apparently, the lights on the horizon were from gunfire, at the time we didn't know who'd been firing these guns, but we soon found out. Next day our wireless operator picked up a message that informed all allied shipping to take extreme care as Jap warships were in the area. The flashes we'd seen were from Jap cruisers engaging a force of allied warships, you will know it as the Battle of the Java Sea. Once again Pascal had saved our lives. 

We had an uneventful journey from here to Fremantle, in some ways it was enjoyable as Michael and I were looking forward to having some female company once we docked, although our initial welcome in Australia was hostile to say the least. We pulled into the harbour and tied up, expecting the dockers to be all over us, but this wasn't the case. Their country had suffered terrible losses during the fall of Singapore and as soon as we set foot ashore a barrage of insults flew at us. This persisted for a good few minutes until; I heard one voice amongst the many shout out 'For god's sake, they're only bits of kids, leave them alone.' Gradually hostilities died down and they started asking us what had happened in Singapore and how had we managed to escape. After 10 minutes or so we were having cups of tea and all manner of food from them.

From here we were sent to a hotel to get cleaned up and have a good feed, then we had a few days in barracks, once pronounced fit and well, the Authorities informed us that we'd be going by old paddle steamer to Sydney. I was very pleased with the prospect of a few nights ashore in a big lively city, and on arrival was busy making plans to get out on the town that evening. I asked Michael if he was going ashore, but he declined. I can't remember exactly why, but he was adamant that he was staying put. I knew from past experiences with him that if he'd made his mind up over something then I wouldn't change it, so I left saying I'd fetch a bottle of beer back for him.

During that run ashore as I was dancing with any woman brave enough to let me stand all over their feet, a massive explosion ripped through the paddle steamer. It was thought a Jap sub might have been responsible. I heard of the sinking on my way back to the ship. Michael would never drink the bottle of beer I bought him, as he never survived. I kept expecting to see him on the quay the following day telling of his miraculous escape, but he never appeared. I have never been more upset over any incident throughout my entire life, as from my first day at Ganges he'd been with me (except for my brief spell on Revenge). And I couldn't accept he'd died, particularly under these circumstances, I've never got over Michael's death and still know I couldn't have survived the fall of Singapore if it hadn't been for the totally unselfish way he acted on my behalf on numerous occasions. Therefore, every word I've spoken in the compiling of this tale is dedicated to his memory; I was never to see his equal again.

After this terrible loss all of our party sat in the harbour for a couple of days, with no motivation to do anything, but as the saying goes 'life has to go on' and we had to get back to Britain. Therefore, some 5-6 days after the loss of Michael, we joined a merchant ship named the Ceramic. I was to be a DEMS. Gunner for the duration of our homeward journey, the prospect of returning home cheered me up somewhat as I'd been away a long time and was desperate to see my family for the first time in over 12 months. It was such a shame that Michael's family wasn't going to have the same pleasure as mine. 

So it was that in July 1942 after being on the other side of the world and seeing the pride of the British Navy sent to the bottom of the South China Sea I returned to my home in Glasgow. It certainly was good to be back.

 

Derek Jones now begins his final passages in the book where he deals in brief with the rest of his time in service up until the end of the war.

 

After spending a most enjoyable fortnight's leave with my family the time came to return to Plymouth. By this time I wasn't worried as to where I may eventually end up in the world as my experiences during the past couple of years had prepared me for any eventuality, and after a train journey lasting several hours I arrived in Drake barracks.

For my first few days I was on stewarding duties in the officers mess, this was easy work and in no way as arduous as similar duties would be whilst at sea. I soon received more orders being sent to HMS Derwent a destroyer whose engines had been removed; she now spent her time as a mother ship for motor torpedo boats being moored in the actual docks at Plymouth. This was to be my home for the next 10 months or so and it was a very enjoyable time; the life was good and the atmosphere between all onboard was excellent. This phase of my career finally came to an end in March 1945 when I was drafted for the last time, being destined to finish the war on Minesweepers. 

I enjoyed myself on this vessel, although it was in some ways a bit worrying, as we knew the war was almost at its conclusion, but you had to keep reminding yourselves that danger was still all around and a slip-up could easily mean death. Everyone is well aware the hostilities drew to a close firstly with Germany and then later on in the year Japan finally surrendered. The sense of relief was fantastic and I was pleased to have come through all of it unscathed. Like everyone else who lived through those terrifying years I have good and bad memories, thankfully these days its far easier to recollect the good times. Therefore I think one small story should be told before I hand the rest of this yarn over to my shipmates.

 

I was eventually demobbed in April 1946 and soon found work, settling back into back into Civvy Street with little difficulty. Although one thing always nagged at me throughout the years and that was trying to find out about my best mate's (Ray Kent) family, but it was a hopeless situation. As you will recall I couldn't even remember his surname, so had nothing to base a thorough search on. The first part of my jigsaw came together when Alan Matthews informed me that a headstone for Ray was in the churchyard at Marchwiel, Wrexham. It was a very touching moment for myself when on the anniversary of the sinking in company with my wife I laid a wreath on his memorial stone. I would have been happy enough with this poignant ending as obviously Ray's parents would now sadly have passed away; but it didn't end there. 

In early January 1997, I received a phone call from a lady who asked whether I'd had my photograph taken in Durban with a stoker from Repulse in November 1941, I said 'yes' on remembering having a picture taken with Ray. She asked to come and see me, I agreed and a meeting was arranged. The lady turned out to be Ray's younger sister and she brought the photograph along that you see at the end of my story. She went on to say that until her mother died she'd kept the picture at her bedside and had always wondered if the steward sitting next to her son was the one he always wrote of. I was at least able to confirm this to her daughter and went on to tell her of the great times I'd spent with her brother. Sadly she had only been 14 years old when he died. Although I was able to let her know what a great and happy ship we'd both served on. I now have my own copy of the photograph and thankfully have nothing, but good memories of the time I spent on Repulse. 

As for Ray, sadly fate took him away too quickly as our friendship had only just begun. I have never forgotten him and now at least I can go to a place to remember him. For myself this has been a good enough reason to tell my tale. I hope it has been of some interest to people who have read it and dedicate my contribution to the souls of all my old shipmates whose final resting-place is the South China Sea. Thank you for reading my tale

  Ray Kent and his ‘oppo’ Derek Jones pose with a native Zulu in Durban, November 1941 Click to view a larger version of this picture (opens a new window) (35579 bytes)

Two Pictures that span 55 years. Top - left to right, Ray Kent and his ‘oppo’ Derek Jones pose with a native Zulu in Durban, November 1941. Below, the wreath laid by Derek at the headstone of his lost friend on December 10, 1996

The wreath laid by Derek at the headstone of his lost friend on December 10, 1996 Click to view a larger version of this picture (opens a new window) (40701 bytes)

 

 

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