Please, tell a bit about yourself, where you were born,
how you became a Navy seamen.
I was born in West
Kirby in Cheshire
in 1922. As a boy I wanted to join the Navy and my father was against it.
When the war started I was on the way but my father refused to let me (refused
to sign the paper). As soon as I was 18 I volunteered in Liverpool
to be a telegraphist. I was not called up till
July 1941 and then was sent to a former holiday camp at Skegnes Mess (HMS Royal Arthur). We did six weeks of
seamanship and drill and then I was sent down to London.
I was put to live in a private hotel and we did the first part of our wireless
training at a commercial wireless school in Highgate,
After that when we moved
up to HMS Scotia which was located at Ayrshire
(west coast Scotland).
We finished our training there and went down to barracks in Portsmouth.
Then I was drafted – it was a big draft - and went on a special train to
and we pulled in Greennock on the River Clyde
where the Scylla was moored. She was a brand new ship with a brand new crew
and she did some of the working up and speed trials and all that. Then we
went to Scapa Flow and
did our sea trial. We were to go on what we knew as a foreign operation…
In early September we set
out and went to Loch-Ewe (NW of Scotland) which was an assembly point for
the Russian convoys, and from there we went to Iceland
where a conference of the senior officers was held. When the convoy was
already on its way we went up to join it. Before we joined we went with
a number of destroyers to Spitzbergen, refueled
and on Sunday the 13th September
1942 which was the day I will always remember we were coming up
behind the convoy. I was on the frequency 500 kilocycles which was the commercial
frequency and I picked up during the course of the watch three signals from
merchant ships reporting periscope sightings. When we reached the convoy
three merchant ships were missing…
Please, tell about your feelings towards Germany in the beginning of the war. Was their
only a desire to protect your homeland from the enemy or some ideological
Before the war we knew what
was happening in Germany,
our politicians felt it was of no consequence, we had Moseley – a man in
black shirt – people treated him as just a bit queer. Anyway, the war started,
we knew that we had to fight them. I don’t think any of us really had any
bad feelings towards the German people, but we did have it against Hitler
because he was kind of a mad man, he wanted control over all Europe
and then it would have been the world, wouldn’t it? And we were not happy
As to my experience, I felt
that the German servicemen were very courageous. Their airmen attacked our
ships and really had a go… I suppose ours were the same, but – you know -
I felt admiration for them.
Please, tell with a bit more detail what did you think
about Russia before the war, then during the Hitler-Stalin
pact and after the German invasion into the USSR? How was it changing through the war?
was somewhat an unknown quantity, really. We knew it was a communist country
and there were all sorts of stories about communism. I never had an opinion
about her (Russia
- VK) because I did not know enough about her. There were bad feelings about
communists. There was a chap nearby who was a postman. He was a communist
and went over to Spain
to fight [against fascism – VK].
Did you know
him personally? What kind of a man was he?
He was kind of withdrawn,
did not mix with people at all. He seemed rather strange to us, but I never
really had any kind of opinion about him. His children went to the same school
as I did but he withdrew from people. He came back all right, he was not killed.
We knew that the German aircraft were supporting them [the fascists – VK]
but we never got the full story.
I always tried to keep an
open mind on things, you know… Although we called Stalin “Uncle Joe”, I suppose
he murdered tremendous amount of people – terrible thing. Life is far too
What kind of
ship did you serve on? What was your duty?
I served on the Russian
convoys on a light cruiser Scylla (Dido class), 5500 tons.
Pretty high speed – she had four propellers. Once we did 43 knots, which was
not that bad for the ship. The Dido class main armament consisted of 4 twin
114-mm guns plus two 4-barrel Pom-Poms and 8 20-mm Oerlikons. She was primarily
an antiaircraft cruiser. She was a great ship: I never served in a better
one and I never served with a better skipper – he was really brilliant. My
duty when I first joined her was an ordinary telegraphist.
After PQ-18 we took part
in the North African landings. Then, when we were in Algiers
I took my next step telegraphist exam on the
cruiser Aurora. We did various jobs in Mediterranean
and got a lot of sprung plates because it all was riveted: near-misses had
a lot to do with it and we had to go into dock. We left Algiers
in late December 1942 and on the 1st of January 1943 we sank
a merchant ship on the way back in the Bay of Biscay (it was
German blockade runner "Rhakotis" (6753 т displacement) on
its way back from Japan - VK). We went into dock
for four weeks and after that we sailed back to Scapa Flow. Out of there the ship joined
JW53 which was another Russian convoy. It was very quiet – it was not too
Unfortunately, in May 1943
with me having passed to a higher rate I was relieved by an ordinary telegraphist and I went back to barracks. Then I joined
a little French ship – a small destroyer “Laflore”
based in the Holy Loch on the Clyde to work with ASDIC
ratings doing their final training. There was no enemy action. We used to pull out of the Clyde
estuary every day, do exercises with submarines and then back to the moorings.
I was up there for 12 months – I was a senior telegraphist.
How did you
communicate with the Frenchmen? Did you know French?
There were only two French
engine room artificers in the crew. It was an ex-French ship incorporated
into the Royal Navy. Amazing but I met one of them here in Australia
only two years ago.
How did you
get along with French? Did you feel any resent because they had pulled out
of the war too early?
I think the French were
still fighting Napoleonic Wars (George laughs –VK). They would go against
anything if Britain
was involved. We tolerated them, you know, but they were rather anti-British.
I had certain feelings but not to these two. You know, they joined the Royal
Navy and this particular one stayed with the Royal Navy for quite some time
after the war, married an English woman and now they live over here (in Australia
– VK). He is a nice little bloke - Gil Maury. But, you know, we took De Gaulle
in and fitted out his Free French troops and all the rest of it and after
that he was so damned arrogant! When he went back to France after the war
he was said to be the Liberator of France. He was a very arrogant and self-opinionated
man and when he became the President of France he would do anything against
So, there was a classroom
built on the forecastle – two long benches with ASDIC repeaters on and thirty
boys on at a time. We played war games. Each trainee was given a term in finding
himself a submarine, getting a repeater signal and calling the ship onto
the target. They would throw hand grenades over the stern and then the skipper
of a submarine would report how many “hits” they had had.
The signalman and I were
recommended for leading rate. We went down to Portsmouth
barracks and on the eve of D-day I joined an American-built frigate “Lawford”. After the landings on D-day we went on patrol
leaving out at dusk and returning to anchorage at dawn. We did it the first
night, we did it the second night and on the way back the pilot of a rocket-firing
Typhoon aircraft thought we were an enemy ship and put two rockets into
the starboard side and strafed us with his cannons…
We had to wake up for watch
a person one rotated with as there was not enough room for accommodation onboard.
I was late on watch because I was sleeping and they could not find me. They
found me at about 4.30. I left my wallet, left everything behind and went
quickly, took over and at
it happened.All the lights went out, of course and
sub-lieutenant in-charge said: “Switch the emergency lights on”. They came
on. The wireless office door was twisted and jammed, so we had to go through
the escape hatch. There were about twenty of us. We formed a queue and I don’t
know how we did it but we did. Someone asked me afterwards that how I felt
standing in that queue: “Were you afraid?” – “No”.
– “What were you thinking about?” – “I was wondering how I would notify
my mother that I was all right before she heard that my ship was sunk”.
After the invasion I went
back to signal school, did my Leading Hand course and got drafted to Colombo
where I joined the destroyer depot ship HMS Tyne and came
out here to the Pacific.
Did you take
part in any anti-Japanese operations?
We did not get into any
action. We went to the Leyte Gulf.
There we had sentries all around the deck because the Japanese frogmen were
still operating: swimming, trying to stick mines to the sides of the ships.
The lads were given rifles and hand grenades and were told that if they saw
anything moving in the water to shoot at it or throw grenades on it. During
the night periodically you would here metallic bangs and the sentries did
not hesitate to throw grenades into the water! It was amusing!
The Americans never acknowledged
what we did in the war. They entered it two years late because the Japanese
dragged them into it… We did quite a lot out here but nothing was said about
it. Our aircraft carriers were involved in the raids on various islands.
We had a fleet in the Indian Ocean tackling the Japanese…
When we held our Memorial ceremony on the Monument Hill our chairman of the
Royal Naval Association said that either through lack of information or ignorance
most of Australians don’t even know we were out here. But over 500 British
warships and about 25000 men served here. We had a submarine base in Fremantle,
but, anyway it’s all beside it…
Did you visit the USSR yourself during the war? Did you encounter
the Russians and, if yes, how did you get along with them?
On JW53 which left early
February 1943 we hit one of the worst gales which ever happened in the Iceland
area. The Sheffield had the roof of one of the gun
turrets folded back! We lost the aircraft carrier – she had to go back for
repairs. Really apart from that it was reasonably quiet. There were a few
Condors which came over to spot us. We pulled in Polyarnoe
and anchored there. On the return one - RA53 – once we were out of range
enemy aircraft – we were told that there were wolf packs waiting for us. I
was on watch on the bridge and saw a Condor circling the convoy well out of
range of the guns. He would dip and come up again. The skipper was speculating
what he was doing and one suggestion was that he was dropping mines. As we
kept on sailing and keeping an eye on him there was a merchant ship sailing
immediately behind us and her guns opened up. We looked out and saw them shooting
into the water! And then – puff! There was a circling torpedo and it still
hit the ship – it sank.
That was the only time I
got to Russia.
We did not go ashore in Polyarnoe and I had
no chance to mix with the Russians at all. It was a bit disappointing but
I heard that the conditions on shore were really bad as the German airfields
were only in about 14 miles away from Murmansk. It was bombed constantly.
It was rock bottom in regards to accommodation and all those sort of things.
Those who had to go into makeshift hospitals were sleeping on boards with
very little covering. Hospital staff was very much overworked. I only heard
that from some of the guys who went ashore.
We had a Russian oiler which came alongside and it was crewed by women!
And what then?
laughs – VK)! Actually they were very tough-looking women and I should
imagine their occupation had made them big and strong, you know. I don’t think
they were allowed to communicate with us. Some of the guys would probably
have tried but I wouldn’t.
Which day of
the war do you still remember most? Please, tell about it.
It was September the 13th 1942
when the torpedo bombers came in and the 8th of June 1944 when we were sunk.
Were there any
casualties when you were sunk?
I think it was about 80
lost – half of the crew. When we got back to the combined operations base
we got four days leave and we were wondering what happened to the other half
of communication group. The Wrens (Women Royal Naval Service) which were part
of the staff came in the courtyard of this old country mansion. They were
crying, saying how happy they were that we were alive (we only lost one of
about 20 of the communication staff). It appeared that the rest of them had
come up earlier and gone on leave and we got back later. We all met in Southampton
when we came back off leave, went to the pub and had a good session.
I had an uncle in Portsmouth
and one of the blokes knew him and told him: “I don’t think George made
it” and put him very quickly out of nerve. I had to let him know soon that
I was all right.
We were kitted out and mastered
in the courtyard and the Captain (he was in charge of Group 1 Force J which
was covering Juno Beach) stood there, walked up and down telling how fine
men we were, how proud he was to serve with us and all the rest of it. He
said: “I’m going back and want you to come with me. If any of you feel that
you would rather not – don’t worry I won’t hold it against you – just take
one step forward – I will understand”. We all knew we were going anyway and
we all took a step forward – we were bloody well going whether we liked it
or not! We had a laugh.
I believe, you read the books “The CruelSea” and “HMS Ulysses”. Did you like them?
Were they realistic?
Yes, I read both books and
I liked them. When I read HMS Ulysses I thought it was about
And the conditions
during the Arctic convoys were really as bad as described in the Ulysses?
When we were within the
range of the aircraft the attacks were really constant and as communication
staff we could not drop down to the second rate of readiness. We got really
tired as we had only half an hour off watch each day. Somebody would bring
food from the galley, it usually consisted of baked
beans on toast with a cup of hot chocolate. Outside the main office there
was a big open area what we called a “flat” and there were cramped lobbies
with very minor space to sleep. As soon as you close your eyes somebody would
wake you up and say: “Come on. Back to watch”.
We were like zombies after nearly a week of this. But we were not wet as opposed
to the destroyers which really had hard times. Although we had condensation
ice on the ceilings and walls and it was cold in the living quarters.
Did you to chip
ice off the deck?
I didn’t. It was seaman’s
work. I was in communications and we worked only in our department. If we
were on the punishment we had to do duties.
If we return
to “The CruelSea” and to the situation when a U-boat was depth-charged and the survivors
in the water died, do you reckon it was justified?
You’ve got to know all the
circumstances. As it was depicted in the film – yes, not so much you could
do because that submarine was a menace, and there were occasions during the
war when life was sacrificed.
During our convoy duty in
the Mediterranean we were attacked in 80 miles from
used to bomb hell out of us – Stukas and high-level
bombers. And on one convoy – I think we were leaving Bone – we were attacked
and lost a sloop. We were not allowed to stop to pick up survivors because
you put you ship in jeopardy. We went back there with a destroyer which was
either the Meteor or the Milne. We started
pulling the survivors aboard. They’d been in the water for 5 -6 hours, maybe.
And when they saw us they started to sing a song or a ballad, cheering as
best as they could since they were very weak. While we were pulling them
aboard Jerry came over. They dropped flares and we were a sitting duck and
our skipper ordered us away. And as we left they called all the “rotten bastards”
sort of things. I’ve never found out what happened to them.
When we came to Gibraltar
we came across the Americans straight out from the States and asked: When
are you guys going to do something in this war? The war had dragged on for
two years before they came in.
So, you had
some bad feelings towards the Yanks?
Yes, we were nor very happy
about them. They came to England,
they took over. Same things happened here (in Australia).
You go to a dance, ask a girl for a dance: “Oh, no, sorry”. And next thing
she would with an American.
So, the girls
were after the Yanks?
Yes. Money talks. Unfortunately, we had a few little rows
with them. But I met some very nice blokes as well. You can’t paint all with
the same brush.
Were you aware
of the situation on the Eastern front during the war?
Well, when it happened Russia
became an ally. We all were very conscious of what was happening there and
we wanted the Germans out…
Did you have a chance to see your former enemies and
allies after the war? If yes, what kind of atmosphere did it occur in?
I have met one or two Germans
after the war, we never discussed it. They were very nice blokes. There
was just one here in Perth who
used to brag about having been in the Hitler Youth. He left his wife and
lived with a young women. He was obviously that
way inclined, you know. Once we had a drink and a chat and the next day he
came to my place and said: “George, you have a very nice daughter, but she’s
very naïve. I think I’ll take her out for a night to show what it is all
about. I told him: Bill, do you see my hands (George showed his
pretty big hands – VK)”. – “Yes”. – “If I
catch you looking sideways of my daughter they will take you apart. When
I finish with you won’t be interested in women”.
When I watch
some documentaries it seems to me that some of the Germans still regret that
they did not win the war. They say: It’s a pity we didn’t take Cairo… It’s a pity we didn’t
sever this British-Russian link…
Quite a few of them do.
whatever you wish to tell about the WW2.
I enjoyed my time in the Navy. There were some bad times but I remember
mainly the good times which were more frequent. War is no good to anybody.
Nobody wins. Russia was devastated, Britain was virtually bankrupt after the war, France would not be much better off and Germany either. Money that could be spent on people’s welfare
had been wasted and that I do not agree with. I would rather see no wars.
But again Hitler would annex a country and then say: No further claims in
Europe. Then after a while he would annex another country.
It was an ongoing thing. Chamberlain came back on one occasion with a piece
of paper saying that it will bring peace in our time. But all that
was not going to be stopped by appeasement. After a while they would take
another country. Something had to be done. There are times you have to go
to war. God knows what would have happened to the world had they won.
The Japanese made a big
mistake – they attacked Pearl Harbor. The Americans
were dragged into the war. They made a lot of money out of that war. They
sold supplies, weapons and materials to people at war. I have heard that they
were selling weapons to Germany
at the early stages of the last war. But America
would be the final target if Germany
took control over Russia
War is senseless. But if
you have a situation like we had with Germany
you have to fight. What’s the use of turning another cheek? I used to do it
when I was a kid and got the other one slapped too…