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We now move onto the first of the scousers to leave our story. As Reg Woods takes us through the rest of his time in the Navy.

 

After returning to barracks I received some good news, because I'd been at sea since the beginning of the war, I was eligible for shore work at a naval camp and this was to be my home for several months. The work was quite straightforward and after a few weeks I began to wish that I were back at sea. I was stationed in and around Felixstowe and the whole of the area was full to bursting point with all manner of weapons, tanks, guns and trucks; literally all the open land for miles was full of machinery.

As the months rolled by we knew the invasion of France was on the cards, it was just a question of when we'd be invading. At the time I had no idea that I'd be changing my duties as the day of the invasion drew nearer. About 6 weeks before it began I was transferred onto a minesweeper and once onboard the skipper told us that we'd be getting involved with the actual invasion landings. Therefore, for the build up to operations our crew worked flat out, practising the duties we'd be performing on the day of action. 

I can still remember the invasion, it was the most breathtaking sight I shall ever see. The entire ocean was full of ships with thousands of planes escorting them. As we sailed across the Channel I couldn't help myself to thinking back on how the pendulum had swung our way. I could still vividly recall the feelings of despair some years earlier when our Armies had to pull out of Dunkirk. There was no chance of the Germans stopping this Armada and I felt honoured to be a part of it. The first couple of days in the battle were frantic to say the least; we constantly swept the landing areas and harbours for mines. In fact we had the honour of being one of the very first ships into the port of Brest. Whenever we had no minesweeping duties to perform we'd sail back to England and escort fresh troop transports across the channel. On one such occasion quite a shocking tale comes to mind. We'd escorted a merchant ship over to France and it was full of American soldiers. By this time the allies had managed to push quite a way into France so the port was seemingly quite safe. However, our feelings of safety were soon shattered when a deafening scraping noise came from the hull of our ship, we'd run over a wreck that had been sunk in the fighting for the harbour some weeks earlier. For some reason no one had bothered to leave any kind of marker buoy over the site. We received quite severe damage from this incident, which meant going into dock for repairs.

Whilst our ship was in dock I was put on a picket boat in the harbour at Cherbourg, our skipper ordered me to go and collect the mail that had come in on a merchant ship. On my way back to the dock I passed an American warship, I can't remember her name or class, but I could see a group of sailors on the upper deck. It appeared to me that they were skylarking with one of their mates. I couldn't have been further from the truth. In what seemed a split second the man who'd been jostled and pushed around by his mates flew straight over the ships side into the water. This horrified me, but I also thought it was just a bit of fun that had gone terribly wrong. I immediately altered course heading flat out to pick him up, on approaching he appeared to be unconscious; this would give him virtually no survival time. It took me a matter of seconds to reach him and as soon as he was alongside the other matelot with me reached out and turned him face up to try and get him breathing. After this we hauled him onboard.

While we'd been pulling him up I'd been aware of a lot of shouting from the Yank ship he'd been on, once I gathered myself and he was seen to start breathing properly I began to listen to their gesticulations. It was something like. 'Throw the bastard back let him drown'. I couldn't believe it, they'd intentionally tried to kill one of their own men. In addition, they had no remorse for their actions, even going as far as to manning one of their AA guns; threatening the pair of us on the picket that if we didn't throw him back, they'd open fire. I couldn't take any more and told them in true naval tongue what they could do, adding they'd better sink us, as I was going to make a full report to the Admiral. After this, except for a few idle threats I never heard anything else from them. I reported to Lieutenant Blarney who was our officer of the watch giving him a full rundown of the incident. He immediately contacted the skipper who I suppose must have been in immediate contact with the American brass as the next thing that happened in this episode still has me dumbstruck. After an hour or so the officer of the day sent an order for me to report to him on the quarterdeck. On approaching I could see a piece of paper in his hand, he offered it for to me to read; I can still remember the full contents of the brief message "Anyone reporting anything of the alleged man overboard incident to any persons ashore will be Court Martialled immediately". The signature on the bottom scared the living daylights out of me being penned by the Supreme Allied Commander General Eisenhower. I was never to find out firstly what the man had done to receive such treatment and secondly what became of him as when we'd given him over to the Yanks, he was still in a terrible way and didn't look like he could survive. It was an unbelievable incident.

 

Shortly after this we went back to the UK and I was to have my final draft onto Motor Torpedo boats. In which, after finishing my working up stint I saw my very last piece of action. We were sent to the Channel Islands to help with their relief. We pulled into the main harbour of one of the islands; fully expecting trouble, as a machine gunner I thought I was going to have a busy time. To my amazement the men who tied us up in port were German soldiers waiting to surrender. After Japan's capitulation I stayed in the Navy until 1946, by this time, I was glad to leave as I had a wife and family back home in Liverpool and I wanted to spend my time with them. But I made and lost some marvellous friends during those 6 years. Thankfully some survived especially from the Repulse and Coastal Forces, two associations I still play an active part in whenever they meet at my local RNA. I still feel a great sense of loss for Repulse, most probably because we never had a real chance to show our true worth. She was a fine ship and in my memories will never die.

Reg Woods awaiting commencement of the 1996 memorial service. Click to view a larger version of this picture (opens a new window) (26691 bytes)

Reg Woods awaiting commencement of the 1996 memorial service, in memory of his lost shipmates. Its an honour to know Reg and I wish to take the opportunity in thanking him for his help and support during the compiling of this story.
(Footnote: On Thursday November 18 1999, after a long illness, Reg Woods passed away. A great friend who will be sadly missed) 

 

Royal Marine John Garner speaks for the final time in our story; he tells of the happy discovery of a lost shipmate some 50 years after they parted company under the direst of circumstances, on the Island of Singapore.

 

There’s no denying that things definitely took on a far easier pace on my returning to Britain; in fact this was to remain the case for the rest of my time in service. Although I have one upsetting memory of my life in the Marines and if this hadn’t come about then I’m certain I’d have never have returned to civvy street.

As the war reached its conclusion I asked to be put forward for a physical training instructor’s course, as I was a man who enjoyed hard training and kept myself in good condition. My name was put on the list and out of this a final group of men would be picked to go on the actual course. To say I applied myself to training on the lead up to the selection would be an understatement. I worked hard every day until the selection was upon me. On the day in question I went in front of our C/O to hear his verdict, although I was quite confident, I’d also made my mind up that if I weren’t picked, then I’d carry on training and re-apply when the next vacancies became available.

All of these points went clear out of my thoughts when he gave me his decision and to be fair to the man I could see he wasn’t happy in having to give me this news; in fact he apologised before offering his speech. I was informed that as I’d broken some small bones in my hands during my time as a boxer, they couldn’t take a chance on giving me the opportunity of attending the PTI’s course just in case the problems I’d already mentioned reoccurred during training.

I was devastated and it was the death knell of my time in the Marines, I could never have found sufficient motivation to carry on after this disappointment. However, when all said and done I loved my time in the service and I’m glad I chose to be a Marine. As for my life on Repulse the one lasting memory I have is of our old skipper Captain Tennant. Without doubt he is the person that all the men who survived the sinking owe their lives to, for without his great skill our casualties that day would have been even higher. Our ship wasn’t the only group of people who admired him, as after the war he became the Sheriff of his native Worcestershire and in the grounds of the Church at Upton-on-Severn is a bust of Admiral Tennant. It is a fitting tribute for a truly gifted and honest gentleman.

 

The bust of Admiral Sir William Tennant Click to view a larger picture (opens a new window) (37041 bytes)

The bust of Admiral Sir William Tennant

 

I’m pleased to end my tale on a high note, but to be able to do this I’ll have to take the reader once more to the desperate battle we fought against the Japanese in Singapore. It was a night action and things weren’t going too well, as we couldn’t stop the Japs from advancing. I was operating the wireless and had just received some fresh orders. I took these down and called one of our runners over giving him a message that had to be taken to as near the front line as safely possible. The lad I handed it to had served on the Repulse with me, he was a Marine bugler named Charlie Gomery, who also hailed from Liverpool and he was only about 16-17 years old. Just after he left the Japs launched a major push against our positions and we had to retreat, I never gave any thought over Charlie for a couple of days until things had quietened down somewhat. I then came to the conclusion that the advancing Japanese must have killed him, as this was a fate that befell many of our regiment. However, I received the greatest shock of my life when the survivors from both ships met for the first time in 1991 to form our present day Association.

Glancing across the room in the Crest Hotel Liverpool I couldn’t help myself and shouted Charlie by the nick name we gave him onboard Repulse, “Hey Sticks did you get that message to the lads then.” It was incredible. Here he was, 50 years later on and I made straight for him. He told me that a couple of days after this incident he was on a minesweeper that was captured by the Japs. Subsequently he was kept as a prisoner for the remainder of the war, but he looked well and it was a pleasure to meet up with him again. This is something we now do on a regular basis, when the association meets for its annual reunion.

This finally concludes my story; I hope its been of interest and thank everyone for taking the time to read it.

 

Royal Marine John Garner and Alan McIvor from HMS Prince of Wales Click to view a larger version of this picture (opens a new window) (41472 bytes)

Two men different ships, same sense of loss. Left to right, Royal Marine John Garner from HMS Repulse and Alan McIvor from HMS Prince of Wales. They are pictured at the memorial service held at St Nicholas Church in Liverpool on the anniversary of the sinking.

Ted Matthews now draws his story to a close with a short summary of his life in submarines.

 

On beginning my basic training, I knew I ‘d made the right decision, as I felt at home straight away. After my initial 3-month training period I’d done well and passed all my exams, with quite good results. Shortly afterwards I went on my first training boat, which I think was called HMS/M Cyclops.

 

I was to be a Gunlayer, this meant I’d be in charge of the usually 4-inch gun, mounted on the upper deck and soon found out that I had quite a good eye for a target and because I was keen to learn encountered no problems with any of my instructors on her or any other boats I initially served on. After a few patrols in the North Sea on various boats I went to a gunnery course in Chatham, this I feel was one of the first courses that modern day flight simulators and such like had their beginnings in. We had to simulate firing the gun in make believe sea swells; I found it very interesting and it was certainly of benefit in allowing me to become more efficient in a shorter time.

 

The next draft I received was the best one I ever had and I stayed on her until the end of hostilities with Japan. She was called the Sleuth, and I went to Cammel-Lairds shipyard, Birkenhead to stand over her in the final part of fitting out. This would be for all key personnel, such as the Coxswain, Second Coxswain, Torpedo Layer and Gun Layer to have their specialist equipment set the way they wanted. It was an enjoyable couple of weeks and I think in part what made it even better was I met our new skipper at the dockyard. He was Captain Ken Martin and throughout my time with him in some very sticky situations I never once doubted his ability. In my eyes he was of a similar mould to Captain Tennant. My new skipper also had a brother on boats and we were to serve with him on small wolf packs.

 

HMS/M Sleuth Leaving Cammel Lairds ship builder’s Birkenhead on acceptance trials Click to view a larger version of this picture (opens a new window) (39314 bytes)

HMS/M Sleuth Leaving Cammel Lairds ship builder’s Birkenhead on acceptance trials. Captain Martin and myself were onboard at this time.

 

Before briefly telling you of my active service on subs, I feel one tale shows the massive difference between discipline in boats and on surface ships. It was just before we finished our working up period with the Sleuth and we were moored in Loch Long. As you will be aware I certainly wasn’t a quiet sort of bloke in my younger days and this night ashore was no exception.

I’d been out with a shipmate, Jock Hastings, and as we came onboard a drunken argument started as to who was the best shot. This was soon put to the test as I still had the keys to the magazine in my pocket. In the blink of an eye we went below and brought up to the conning tower a Tommy gun with two clips of ammunition and promptly began firing straight into the land based accommodation huts. For such was our  stupor, we thought the shots were going to the seaward side of the harbour. Thankfully no one was hurt in the incident, but on our return down below I soon realised we could be in severe trouble.

The following day we went on a practice shoot and I can never understand why, but I was in fine form and through pure luck managed to actually hit the pole that had the marker flag tied above it. This meant we won the shoot, but make no mistake it was a one off shot and I never repeated it. On our return I was told that Hastings and myself had to report to the depot ships Captain. Our own skipper had made a report of the incident; I thought I’d be losing my rating, and most probably be thrown out of submarines.

 

We stood in front of the Captain and he said. “I believe you got drunk last night with near disastrous results.” Well what could we say. In the next breath to our disbelief he said “That will cost you 2 days stoppage of pay and a further 2 days loss of leave.” I couldn’t believe it. On a surface ship I would’ve been sent down for a spell at the very least, I’m sure to this day that Captain Martin must have put a word in for us. The main difference between boats and surface vessels was if you continually messed up whilst in action you’d be out on your ear, as unlike a large warship with the limited amount of man power on a boat no one could be carried by the others. However, it was also made clear to me that if I had acted in that way again, I’d be out; but only a fool would step on the skipper’s toes twice.

 

Shortly after this we set off for the Far East. I was told to expect a busy time as a lot of our action was hopefully, going to be seen by our 4-inch gun, our main orders being to search out any prey that was too small for torpedoes. We were going to be serving under the Americans whilst in that part of the world; they’d built up a fine reputation for themselves, inflicting severe losses on the Japanese over the last couple of years. The American Admiral in charge of all operations in the Far East was I think, named Fife and he had a great love for submariners. So we set off, our first port of call was Gibraltar, then through the Med onto Malta, Suez, Port Said and after sailing through the canal we eventually ended up in Trincomalee. From this point on we had to be on our guard as the Japanese still had many surface ships operating in these waters.

 

However at this point I have to pay tribute to the Americans we served under. We’d been on patrol for some 42 days when pulling into Exmouth Gulf, Western Australia. We had no provisions of any kind left and alongside us was an American sub called the Hard-Head. Her crew soon became aware of our situation and after conferring with our skipper, immediately began to stock our cupboards with all manner of food. We even had ice cream from them. What also has to be remembered was although their boats were far bigger that ours this crew had already been at sea for some 64 days. This just shows how well prepared their submarine force was and they were a great bunch of blokes to mix with. 

 

It would take forever to cover my whole time in the Far East, but one particular encounter gained certain other crewmembers and myself a Decoration. I actually received the DSM from this action and the circumstances surrounding this incident have stayed in my mind over the years, so much so that I feel it worthy of mention. We’d been sailing in the company of our skipper’s brother for some time and as he’d held his rank for longer than ours he had seniority. Having patrolled an area for several days with nothing much happening we came across some Japanese merchant ships. Great care had to be taken in this sort of situation as many of them had anything up to 6 inch guns hidden along the decks and if we got things wrong then one hit off them, once we surfaced would seal our fate. Our skipper made the shout and we began to surface, with some fifteen feet or so to go I’d open the hatch that led to my gun, subsequently in a matter of seconds I’d be ready to fire. All this went to plan and the order came down from the skipper to engage the ship. I got my first round off and hit her straight away; as I took aim again all hell broke loose. Her decks were full of oil drums and they started to explode, she was also trying to fire back, but we soon suppressed their guns.

 

I must have hit her about 7-8 times and by now she was an inferno, reports came back that Jap soldiers were trying to jump off the stricken ship. I had too many bad feelings about previous encounters with them to worry of their fate from our machine gun fire. I was then horrified as once again I took aim, only this time different figures could be seen running on the deck. Women and children who must have been let out of cargo holds were trying to get off the ship, but the fire and constant explosions from the oil drums were taking a heavy toll from them. Our skipper immediately ceased fire and we sailed close by to help with rescue work. 

 

By now several of our crew had swum across to the ship to help these stricken people, I still remember one man hanging onto an anchor chain and despite the intense heat he wouldn’t let go. Eventually he couldn’t stand it any longer and fell into the arms of one of the lads. Another man could be seen floating in the sea holding a baby, once again, a crewmember swam over to them, but as he took hold of the baby the man sunk like a stone. He was already dead and the buoyancy from the infant must have been keeping him afloat. Both subs were taking on survivors who were all Javanese; we later found out that the ship was taking them to forced labour camps in Japan. I began to help some of our lads put an injured survivor on a stretcher, he had bad burns, but was still conscious. We’d just finished strapping him up, as he’d have to be lowered vertically through the hatch when an aircraft warning went off. We had no option but to leave him on the deck and execute an emergency dive. It was a terrible thing to have to do and obviously he had no chance of survival, but if we’d been attacked whilst on the surface everyone would have been killed. I have to admit; it took me quite a while to get over that incident.

The blazing hulk of the Japanese transport ship; its a miracle anyone survived.

Shortly after this incident we left the scene and within a matter of hours the Javanese women had begun to clean the whole of the boat. We didn’t make them do it, but they were all so relieved to be away from their captors that this was their way of thanking us. After a day or so the word kept on going through the boat that one of the men we rescued was a Jap and he’d scared all the others into saying he was Javanese. The man in question was living the life of luxury with our stokers, but during the course of the day someone started to ply him with rum. It wasn’t long till his true colours came through and he could be heard shouting that we’d all soon be dead and Japan couldn’t lose the war, I couldn’t stand it and I went after him with a knife. The other lads onboard soon restrained me, but I honestly feel that I would have attacked him if I hadn’t been stopped. The skipper never questioned me over this as he despised him as well as the rest of us. Later that evening we set the Javanese on a small island with some food and provisions, but the Jap was to stay with us till we returned to Exmouth Gulf. Once docked a couple of Americans came onboard and with a broad smile on their faces said to him. “Come on pal your holidays over you’re not with the British any longer.” His face was a picture.

 

The rest of my war was spent in this part of the world, We had many dodgy moments, but Martin always got us through. Once the second bomb was dropped on Japan we made our way to Hong Kong, it was horrific to watch all the recriminations being carried out by the Chinese on their own kind who’d been collaborating with the Japs during their conquest of the island. Trams were pulling up outside the docks and men and women were being pulled to the side of the gates and shot dead. The Marines off the battleship Anson had the unenviable job of pulling the dead bodies back inside the docks, this procedure was carried out for days on end. 

We were put on patrol duty in Hong Kong and I have to make a confession to the British government. The reason why the Japanese flags weren’t in the Fleet Club for the planned officially filmed surrender was because we got drunk and stole them before you arrived. And when all your Dignitaries turned up with the Royal Marines escort for the Official Ceremony we were already on our way back to our depot ship. As far as I remember the flags ended up with the depot ship Captain and my mate Mickey Elliot. No need to thank them.   

Soon after the surrender; this Japanese soldier’s defiance is clearly evident Click to view a larger version of this picture (opens a new window) (32706 bytes)

Soon after the surrender; this Japanese soldier’s defiance is clearly evident.

Unfortunately I was unable to enjoy a home coming party with the crew of the Sleuth, as I had to go on another boat for my journey home, the Seline. The reason for my transfer was she’d lost her Gunlayer through illness so I had to fill in for him. There was one high point to this change of boat and that came when entering the harbour of Alexandria, the skipper told me that we were to be visited by Admiral Tennant. This pleased me immensely and he spoke to me at some length about what I’d been up to since the demise of Repulse. In return I asked how he’d fared when his cruiser the Newcastle, had been torpedoed by MTB’s whilst operating in the Mediterranean. The total sincerity I remembered of him was still to be seen, and it was good to see him fit and well once more. 

 

After returning home I was married, and the rest of my story really is just about staying on boats until I finished my time, this had to be extended because of the Korean War. The circumstances of my departure from the Navy however, were quite sad. My wife had by now given birth to our second child, but she died when only 3 weeks old. At the time I was off the coast of Lisbon serving on the Alliance (she is now on display at the submarine museum in Gosport) making matters worse was one of our crew had contracted Polio. This meant we had to go into quarantine, being finally allowed to sail home a couple of weeks later. Once back in port the doctors and social workers soon understood my dilemma and in a mater of days I’d left the forces on compassionate grounds. It was a good life and at the time I wouldn’t have done anything else. Repulse was without question the finest surface ship I ever served on and her crew’s efficiency was second to none. If she hadn’t sadly been lost I would have been more than happy to serve all my 14 years at sea onboard her. I have never forgotten my mate I had to leave on the deck of Repulse and when attending the Memorial Service at Plymouth in 1996, the first thing I did was to look for his name on the Hoe Memorial. 

 

However, it would be a shame to end my story on such a sad point, so I feel it worthy of note that also in 1996 I happened to be in Portsmouth when one of my sons and a friend of the family, Ray Killelay, arranged a surprise meeting. They contacted a man I hadn’t seen since 1945 and it was the biggest shock of my life when duped into walking up the path to his house. The man in question was my old skipper Captain Martin. We were both overjoyed to see each other again. In our day you had to become friends with your skipper on boats otherwise things would never have worked out. I’m glad to say that after speaking to him for a matter of minutes it was as if we had never lost touch. I owe my life to his skill and determination.

Fifty-one years later; Gunlayer Ted Matthews meets up with his old skipper Captain Ken Martin Click to view a new version of this picture (opens a new window) (38839 bytes)

Fifty-one years later; Gunlayer Ted Matthews meets up with his old skipper Captain Ken Martin.

Ian Hay now takes you to the end of his service in the Royal Navy. This was to go far beyond his war time years. It truly was a life at sea.

 

After my survivor's leave of 14 days, I returned to Plymouth, thinking I'd have an easy time for a few weeks, but alas that wasn't about to happen. Almost as soon as I set foot in Drake barracks I was given what was commonly known as a 'Pier Head Jump'. In layman's terms this meant going straight to a fresh draft and so it was that I went up to Middlesborough and joined the old V&W destroyer Vansitart. We'd be sailing into the Atlantic to serve in destroyer escorts under the overall command of the famed U-boat hunter, Captain Walker. 

The allies had already weathered the main offences by the Germans and the tide had turned in our favour as the losses being sustained by the Kriegsmarine were mounting every month. It was hard work and we did manage to sink I think it was either 2 or 3 submarines during my time on her. We also gained a bounty for towing in a merchant ship that had developed a major engine fault. In those days it was quite a good pay day, I received just over £5. This kind of operation would have been impossible 12 months previously as both ships could easily have been sunk, but by this time the U-boats would only attack if they were certain of a kill. 

One such incident where they did succeed was in the sinking of the merchant ship that brought me back home to Britain several months earlier, the Ceramic. At the time of her sinking she was transporting a large consignment of Wrens; they were off the coast of South Africa when disaster struck. I don't think anyone survived. My stay on Vansitart was brought to a premature end whilst off the south coast of England in June 1943. The old girl finally give up the ghost, her boilers blew and this was the last time she ever put to sea. I was paid off and made my way back to Drake. Once here I applied to join subs and also passed my leading seaman's exam, although I was destined never to serve on boats, but ended up going to Gibraltar on a depot ship that served these vessels. 

I stayed here for the remainder of the war and on my return to Britain I had a series of minesweeping duties on several different ships. I still loved the life and stayed on after the Korean crisis, being involved in a life saving operation whilst serving on the aircraft carrier Implacable. Thankfully the lad I helped pull out of the drink 'Gamblin' made a full recovery. Time drew onto 1957, by then I'd passed out as a P/O, but had no further interest in the peacetime regime of the Navy and left on August 15, 1957. 

After 20 years association with Her Majesty's Navy I needed a change and this came in the guise of the merchant Navy. I'd been at sea too long to be able to return to civvy street working in a 9-5 capacity and in general feel I made the correct choice, as I stayed in this line of work until my retirement in the mid 1980's. It had been an interesting and in the main, enjoyable time at sea and I know it sounds repetitive, but for myself I'd never have thought about reliving my time in the Navy if it hadn't been for the honour and pride I felt whilst serving onboard HMS Repulse. It was without question the finest ship I ever had the privilege of serving on and the friends I made on her; although some are now sadly no longer here with us, were the greatest shipmates I ever sailed with. 

My story is dedicated to the finest crew that ever served in the Royal Navy.

Scotsman Ian Hay Click to view a larger version of this picture (opens a new window) (33626 bytes)

The man who began our story; proud Scotsman Ian Hay

 

 

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