Bill Laity served on destroyers for most of the war.
That’s some of the ship’s company and that’s all that’s left now. That’s a diesel electric frigate â€œThe English that I finished up on and after that I went to an LSC, a big land ing craft for the Japanese invasion. When we were steaming through the Red Sea, they dropped their atom bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima and I’m very pleased about that. We carried tanks with 2 Oerlikons either side of the bridge. That was sent by one of the survivors off one of the ships and it says from an unknown survivor look. Yes, I certainly had some very, very lucky escapes.
This is an illustration, but was it rather like that?
Yes, it was like that. We were all on the upper deck and they came alongside and took us off. The decks were that hot, you couldn’t stand there and I went down the engine room and got Harry Hayes up out the scalding water. I got burnt getting him up and he died on the upper deck in agony, and he was just like a bit of bacon; that poor bloke he did suffer, I’ll tell you that. I have bloody nightmares every May about it.
Where were you born and brought up?
I was born in Burnside (?) in Cornwall, near Cambourne, not far from Penzance – Truro area, on 7 June 1921. My father was farming.
Myself was the oldest, then John, then Herbert, then Godfrey (?)
Your father was a farmer and presumably you were expected to help out from a pretty early age?
Oh yeah – on the horses. I used to be a very good rider in my young days. I’ve ridden in 2 point to points in one day; one for my uncle and one for my father.
Were you working on the farm from when.
When I was about 15, or just under, my old man gave me a bloody good hiding and I ran away and joined the 15th/19th Hussars up at York.
Why did he give you a hiding?
My old man was a brilliant horseman. He was very kind to a horse but if I had a bad one, I’d give him hell and the old man caught me and he give me a good hiding so I ran away and they didn’t know where I was for 6 months.
Where did you join them?
Up in York.
So you’d gone quite a distance then.
Yeah, but I joined in Truro I think, and then went to York and I was due to ride in the Leeds tattoo but when you’re on parade at times, they pick one with a message for the adjutant, and I got picked and he said, â€œWhat is your name Trooper? and I said, â€œLaity and he said, â€œThat’s a Cornish name. Do you know a William Laity? and I said, â€œYes, that’s my father, and he said, â€œWhat’s his address? He was my major in the First World War when I was a lieutenant. So about a week later he sent for me and said, â€œDo you recognise this? and I said, â€œYes, it’s my father’s, and he said, â€œHow old are you? I said, â€œ18 Sir. He said â€œYou’re not; you’re not 16 yet and your father wants to claim you out; under age. So with respect to your father, you go and pack your bags and get home. and that was it. So when I was 18, I joined the Navy.
Did your father talk about the First World War?
He very seldom said anything about it.
But he was on the Western Front was he?
What made you join the Navy?
I don’t know. I couldn’t bloody swim either and when I was doing my training, I thought why did I ever join the Navy?
Why not go back to the Army?
The adjutant said to me, â€œWhen you’re 18, you can come straight back in; we’d be delighted to have you. But, when I joined up and was doing my training I thought why did I join the Navy? I can’t swim. So every night I went to Pitt Street Baths and I learnt to swim and a good job I did because when the Kashmir got sunk, I was in the water from 3 minutes past 8 til quarter to one and I finished up..I went in the water with overalls, shoes, the lot on. I never had a lifebelt. I kicked my shoes off; got my overalls off and I got picked up with one sock and a pair of under pants and I always wish I’d kept one of those socks!
Where did you have to go to join up for the Navy? You’d come back from your brief stint in the Army..
When the war broke out I joined..
So you joined up pretty much as soon as war broke out did you? In 1939?
15 January 1940 I joined the Navy.
You’re the oldest. Did any of your other brothers join up?
Working on the farm, you could have been excused?
Yes, but I was never a coward.
Did you see ityou felt you should go and join up?
Yes. My father was alright when he was sober but when he was drunk, he’d leather us kids and beat my mother and when I was about 17I was a very good boxer in the Navy; I was champion of the Mediterranean fleet in 41 and 42 and I’ll tell you what, I fought a very nice Australian bloke off the Perth and he was a professional, middle weight champion of Australia and ..how I came to take up boxing, when you’re doing your training, these PTI’s are all pretty hand y you know and there was 18 in the class and I was the last one. We didn’t have a ring; we were just in the gym and the very words he said to me was â€œRight you long-armed bugger – you’re always back of the queue – I’ll teach you a lesson. Put the gloves on and he belted me and I thought, â€˜I’ll bloody kill you.’ I got stuck in and I hammered him all round the gym. I knocked him down the first time and he got up like an India rubber ball and I thought, it’s going to take a bit longer, but he didn’t bloody get up the second time. When I fought that Australian in Singapore, in amateur boxing, you’ve either got to knock them out or win on points; there’s no draw in amateur boxing and he was a judge this PTI I hammered and he got the verdict and turned round to the referee and said I didn’t win that fight. He said, â€œAfter the war, you should take that up. I’m used to going 10 and 15 rounds and that’s the hardest 3 rounds I’ve ever fought. I had quick hand s and I was quick on my feet but I didn’t want to box, I said. I only started because that referee, the PTI, and what he wasn’t going to do to me and he put the gloves on and hit me before anything happened and I said I hammered hell out of him.
Was that the first boxing you’d ever done?
Yeah. I had 26 fights and I won every one of them but I didn’t get the verdict on the last one. I said when I got beat, I’d never put a pair of gloves on again.
But you’re after the war now Bill.
I never saw him again ’til I was a petty officer and I was in Singapore and in the fleet club and I was with another PTO. And I said, â€œYou see that coxswain over there? When he goes out of here, I’ll take the bugger apart and put him together again. He said, â€œYou’ll get court martialled and stripped down to a stoker. I went over to him and there were two of them – and they always called me Harry in the Navy because when I joined up, there were six Bill’s in the class. They said, â€œWhat’s your second name? I said, â€œHarry. So I went over and he said, â€œHello Harry. I said â€œDon’t you Harry me you two-faced bugger. When you get out of here, you know what you’re going to get? The other bloke said, â€œThere’s two of us. I said, â€œYou can give him a hand if you like, it doesn’t worry me. This one turned round and said, â€œDon’t have anything to do with him; he’s bloody lethal! I never seen him go and if I met that bugger in town tomorrow, I’d still flatten him today.
So going back a bit – where did you join up?
I can’t remember.
In Cornwall somewhere though?
Do you think that being in Cornwall, surrounded by the sea had anything to do with it?
No, because he couldn’t swim.
I’m glad I never joined the 15th/19th Hussars because after I left, they got mechanised and they went to France 800-strong and only 39 of them come back. So if I’d have been there, probably 40 of them wouldn’t have come back, so I’m bloody glad.
You didn’t have thoughts of joining the Air Force?
What about training? At what point do you become a stoker?
You do your training; you get so many weeks training on a course; basic training and then you go to a ship. You start off in the boiler rooms with a petty officer, and a leading stoker and two stokers.
Why were you not above decks?
I didn’t know nothing about the Navy did I, so they put me in the engine room first. The petty officer I had was brilliant. That bloke could cut machinery in half and draw it, and he had the best idea ever out because on top of the boiler it was all lagged with lagging and it’s hotter than hell with the door shut up there, and he would tell you something; explain it to you. And he wouldn’t ask you again for about a week or so, and then he’d say, â€œHarry, tell me how that works. And you’d forget. â€œGo down and draw a pot of Driscoll. That’s that white paint there, and start at the back and walk forward each side, and if one drops down here, you’ll be up there again the next time. I’ll tell you, you never damn forgot, and when I was a petty officer, that’s the way I trained mine. The earliest you can become a first class stoker is nine months, and I was made one nine months to the day, and every stoker I had under me as a PO also passed because I used to say, â€œYou’ll wish you’d never joined the Navy. The same words that PO used to me.
Can you remember his name?
Gerald Connor; great bloke he was.
When you joined your first ship.
First ship was the Kashmir.
and you knew absolutely nothing about what was going on?
Nothing at all. But on my papers you’ll see, it starts off â€˜Satisfactory’ and every one after that is â€˜Superior’ right the way down through and do you know, I had the chance to go through for engineering officer, doing a 6 months course, and I didn’t want it and the Commodore said to me, â€œThe day will come when you’ll regret this; you’re an idiot. It’s only one in a million that get this chance and you’re throwing it away. I wish I had my time over again – he was right. You come to a crossroads and you make a decision. How often do you turn the wrong way? Quite often, and that was one of those times. When the Jackal had her stern blown off, my action station was down the engine room whereas anything happened on the bridge, they see her come down there. They phone down to you and you put the degrees port or starboard or whatever. Well, being that I never had my lifebelt on when the Kashmir was sunk, I run along the upper deck, right aft from the action station. I got by the 4 inch gun deck ooh, no lifebelt. I turned round and run down the mess deck; got my lifebelt; run along the upper deck to getup went the stern. Christ that was close.
Because you’d have been there wouldn’t you?
Engineer come and said, â€œWhy weren’t you at your action station? I said, â€œI forgot my lifebelt, Sir, and after being in the water from 8 til ¼ to 1. He said, â€œYou’ve got nine lives, you have. Wherever you’re going to be in future, I’m going to be right beside you.
What was life like on the Kashmir? The first time you were on there, were you apprehensive about sailing off to war?
I was sea sick as hell the first time.
Where did you leave and go to?
We was in the Med at first and then we got sunk at Crete.
But when you first joined the Kashmir, was that at Liverpool?
Were you a replacement or were they forming a crew?
No, you do your training and you get sent to different ships in the fleet, look.
I don’t know much about the Kashmir; how old was it then?
The K class destroyers, they were built in 1939.
So it was pretty new?
They were great boats they were. Marvellous ships.
Yes; ours was the fastest in the fleet. It could do 36 knots, comfortable.
Had you joined that by the end of 1940?
Yeah. 15 January 1940 I joined.
But when did you join the Kashmir?
About 8 weeks later. We only just did the basic training look.
Were you involved in Dunkirk?
We were in dock in Hull when Dunkirk was evacuated. We got damaged in the channel.
How did that happen?
We got hit by another ship. It was foggy and although they got radar and all that, I don’t know how it happened but that’s it.
Can you remember in 1940, you were patrolling home waters. Can you remember thinking we could be invaded? Did you feel Britain was seriously threatened?
We often thought about it but you’re there to fight for your country and you do the best you can don’t you?
But was it a worry? Worrying about those back at home?
You worry if you die and worry if you don’t, so why bother?
Was there a daily routine?
The morning watch was from 4 to 8 and then from 8 til 12 and 12 til 4 – you had one on and 2 off and from 4 o’clock to 6 was a 2 hour one and 6 til 8 was a 2 hour one and then it went to 4 hourly.
How often would you be on in a 24 hour period?
If you went say from 4 in the morning til 8, then you’d miss from 8 til 12 and from 12 to 4 and go on at 6pm – 4 til 6 rather you’d go on. Then you’d miss 6 til 8 and 8 to 12 and you’d go on what was called the middle watch from midnight til 4 o’clock and that’s how the routine went.
How many in the engine room on a K Class?
In the boiler room there’d be a petty officer, a leading stoker and 2 stokers – 4 of you. In the engine room there’d be an articifer, a leading stoker and a stoker.
That’s not a lot really. Literally, a stoker – you’re just shovelling in coal and stuff?
No, it was all oil fuel. The American frigate I was on was diesel electric. You could go on there in your best suit. Lovely little boat that was.
So what did you actually have to do?
You’ve got your boiler and you’ve got air locks in there you see. You have a fan that keeps the pressure – if you didn’t have that, you wouldn’t get any fuel and you’ve got a fan. The PO stands by his fan and a leading stoker is on the fuel pumps, so the more you open upgo and you’ve got to watch the fan to make sure you don’t make smoke the enemy can see. You either make black smoke or white smoke. If you haven’t got enough fan, you make black smoke. If you’ve got too much, you make white smoke and old Connor the PO, he could steam that right on the 300 mark, 300lb psi, and it comes through super heaters see and then goes through the condensers.
So it was your job to make sure the pressure remained constant?
Yeah, and when I was a PO I was good, just like old Joe Connor; he taught me well. I could steam that boy.I remember one day we were out one day, chasing an Italian ship. It was making smoke and the skipper ran down and shouted, â€œWho’s that down on watch in the boiler room? and he said â€œPetty Officer ? and he said â€œGet him out of there and send Laity down there!
and what would you do in between – presumably you’ve got to sleep at some point?
You’ve got your hammock.
Where was that?
They were swung – you’d swing your hammock and they’d roll with the ship.
Down near the mess.
Was the boiler room crew in a cabin?
In one space.
How many would be sleeping when you were off duty?
Was there a special cabin for the boiler room boys?
No, no cabin.the mess deck. Ours was below you see, for’ard and one watch was this side and one the other; there was 2 messes on the mess deck and there’d be about 40 down there.
Would you always have the same hammock?
Oh yes, you had your own hammock and when you got out you done it up and wrapped it up and stood them in hammock racks.
Did you have somewhere to store your clothes?
You had lockers.
Did you take much away with you? Did you have pictures from home or.
Oh yesour mess deck was down there look and the seamans’ mess deck would be above us and that’s the boiler room; that’s the engine room and gear room and that’s the tiller flap where when the Jackal’s bloody stern was blown off, I was supposed to be down there. But I was there look when the stern went up.
So you’d get your head down on the hammock and presumably you’d only get about 6 hours, if that would you?
When you was due to go on watch, whoever was on watch, the PO would send the stoker up to shake your relief.
Bill, you also ate in that mess didn’t you?
Was it a question of getting food when you could?
The cook did all the food and the ? of the mess would detail one off duty to go and fetch the ???
If you’re constantly rotating around on a 24 hour period of being on duty, regular meals would go out of the window wouldn’t they?
No, you’d have set times but if you were in action, that was forgotten about til afterwards.
And the food was ok?
The food wasn’t bad at all. I remember once in the old Russian convoys, it was that rough they couldn’t go on the upper deck and I was on watch down in the engine room from 4 in the morning til bloody midnight; no sleep, nothing. Ice cold. Bloody terrible.
When did you do your first arctic convoy?
After I’d been in about 8 months I suppose.
Before the end of 1940.
Freezing cold, and dangerous too?
Oh yeah. They had a rail running along with ropes hanging down with a knob on the end and if it was rough, you’d have them to go along with so you didn’t get washed over the side. That time on that Russian convoy, it was that bad – they had water tight doors – they were all shut and kept shut. Water tight compartments every where and no-one could go along the upper deck.
For much of the time, presumably, if you didn’t have to, you didn’t have to go on the upper deck?
No, you’d stay on the mess deck. You’d have tables and your lockers were all along there and there was like a padded cushion along the top; you could get your head down there.
On the arctic convoy, the boiler room was warm?
Oh yes the boiler room was warm. You didn’t want to be down the tiller flap when it was rough; that was terrible there.
Really – in what way?
That was where if anything happened on the bridge, they’d see it from there and, of course, they always had someone down there who was reliable and they could trust me so they put me down there.
Presumably you must have made pretty good mates?
Oh yes, friends for life.
You must get friendly with other people as well as fellow stokers don’t you?
Oh yeahI think there’s only 3 of us alive from the Kashmir
Linda talks about get together in Fordingbridge and sinking the Kipling in the swimming poolif you’d like it verbatim, please let me know!
At the time, when you’re not sleeping, not eating, there’s got to be banter, playing cards
What do you do to amuse yourself?
Play cards; write lettersto my darling!
When you were on Russian convoys and coming in to Belfast, I would only get a pile of letters when they got in.
So you were already together were you?
We got married after the Jackal. We’ve been married 61 years.
And it don’t seem a day too long!
When you were in North Africa ?
You were in the TORCH landings were you?
Yeah, I lost 2 destroyers and the stern blown off of one. I come back in the barracks; had 33 days leave; walked back in and I was a leading stoker then and a leading stoker on the North African landing was taken ill and was in hospital. When you reported back off leave, you reported to the joining office and drafting office and I walked in the drafting office and North African landing – I landed in Algiers. As we landed, they were fighting up in the town and our officer got landed on another bloody beach with 20 blokes and I had about 40 or 50 and I was a senior hand , and they said, â€œWhat are we going to do? We all had rifles. There was a big empty shed in there
So why were you being landed?
We were landed to help take over Algiers.
The North African landings.
I know about that but I’m just wondering why you as a stoker were involved.
They drafted in all sorts.
I thought it was mainly Americans
Anyway, I marched them all in the bloody shed, see, and we were issued with rations and they were like bloody sweets. We eat all ours before we landed! It got to about 4 o’clock, 5 o’clock and everybody was getting hungry and I think it was a seaman, a big Welshman, he said, â€œI’m going up in the town. I said, â€œYou’re not. He said, â€œWho’s going to stop me? I said, â€œI’ll bloody stop you. He put his arm on me and I belted him flat on his back. I said, â€œGet up you Welsh bugger; I haven’t started yet! He said, â€œThat’ll do! So after about 10 minutes when I’d calmed down, I said, â€œRight, I’ll take a dozen of you up and if we don’t come back, stay where you are. So we went up and of course, I didn’t drink, and we went in this pub and we went in one door and it was a long, narrow pub, about from here to the end window, and we were all armed with rifles, and I said to the landlord who spoke perfect English, â€œWe’ve got British Military Authority money here. You can take my official number and we’re told that there’s 300 francs to a pound. They can have one pint each and no more. â€œRight, he said, â€œand what are you going to have? â€œI’ll have a lemonade, I said, because I never drunk. I remember the captain of the Jackal sent for me once and it was when I was boxing and they used to gamble and he said, â€œRight Laity, what would you like to drink? I said, â€œI don’t drink. Do you know what he said to me? He said, â€œYou draw your tot. I couldn’t say no, I don’t, so I said, â€œYes, I know, Sir, but that isn’t to say I drink it! I find if I am on duty and I give my tot to somebody, I’ll go ashore – he’ll do my duty for me!
I can’t understand why, if you were in the North Africa landings in a destroyer, you would have been escorting the troop shipthe troops should have been doing all that. I can’t understand why they should have dropped you lot.
I know, I know..
What happened after.how did you come..
I had 6 months out there and then I got sent home.
What, in the Mediterranean?
Yes. I got sent home from the Mediterranean and then I got sent to an LST and we got sent out to the Japanese invasion you see. Well, we never would have landed because they would have blown us out the water before we ever got to shore, because all the armament we had was one Oerlikon one side of the bridge and a pom-pom the other side. No 4-inch guns or anything, like the destroyers; they had 4.7’s, twin turrets, 2 for’ard and 1 aft and a 4-inch gun aft. No, they had nothing but when we were steaming through the Red Sea, they dropped the atom bombs. What they done, they’d fit railway lines in there and we was carrying rolling stock from Rangoon and Chittagong back to Singapore. We did that for 6 months and I got sent home.
So tell me about when you first got sent out and joined the Mediterranean fleet.
We was on the Kashmir then and we got sent to Crete. When we got sunk, we were taken to Alexandria. Then we got sent up to a rest camp
When you got sent out to Crete, were you already in the Mediterranean or were you hurried out from Britain?
We were in the home fleet and we sailedThere were battleships, cruisers and destroyers.
Just travelling down the Mediterranean was pretty dangerous.
Did the whole J’s and K’s go?
In our flotilla, there was the Kelly, the Kashmir, the Kipling, the Kelvin, the Kingston and Kandahar, and it was just Kandahar that wasn’t with us. There about 14 destroyers, I suppose.
Did you know what was happening in Crete when you were heading out there?
We knew we were heading for bloody trouble, but that’s all. They didn’t tell you
You didn’t know it was going to be an evacuation at that point?
No, we didn’t know.
Were you hit almost as soon as you got there?
They had dive bombers – Stuka dive bombers.
You were bombarding the aerodrome.
We served a few rounds at a couple of Kayaks along the way.
When you reached Crete, could you tell the battle was raging? Was it a fairly confused situation?
We were quite a way off shore. You couldn’t see a lot and I saw bloody less because I was down the boiler room.
When you’re in the boiler room, can you hear the guns firing?
Oh yes. Fortunately for me, my watch was over; I’d changed watches and come up to the mess deck, and I suppose about 10 minutes later, she got hit.
Was there any warning? The Stukas were coming over – could you hear them from the mess deck?
Bloody gull motors – you can hear them Nazi bastards.
When you were hit, you were still on the mess deck were you?
No, I was on the upper deck, fortunately.
Why was that? What made you go up to the upper deck?
Well, I happened to be on then upper deck.
Was there a reason why you went up there?
I’d just come off watch.
So you went up to the upper deck to see what was going on?
And that’s when you were hit?
Thenbad days. Then there’s another saying, isn’t there? The devil takes care of his own. I was lucky. You don’t think about it when you’re doing it. If your mate’s injured, you try and help him. It’s only after you think, what a bloody idiot I was. Someone said to me on the Jackal when I went down to get Harry Hayes up, â€œDon’t go down there mate; you’ll never get back up. It’s scalding down there. I said, â€œHe’s my friend and I’m bloody going down there.
You said because of the bombing that all the pipes had burst.
Yes, all the steam pipes burst and the superheated steam, that’ll travel 25,000 feet per second, and that’s faster than light isn’t it?
So you managed to keep yourself afloat in the water all right?
I was a very good swimmer actually, funny considering. There was an island and captain measured it on the range-finder as 5 mile, and they put 3 motor boats down. And I suppose there 20, perhaps more, started off swimming. Only 4 reached the 5 mile, and we turned round and swam back. Only the skipper and me managed it, and we must have been swimming all bloody day, I think. I’d just about had it when I got back, but the skipper got back and showered and changed and he was up on the upper deck when I got back.
It must have been pretty cold?
No, it wasn’t cold. It’s on the bloody Russian convoys you worry about that.
Did you often go on the upper deck just to have a look around?
Yeah, yeah. At the time, I never used to smoke, but they’d go on the upper deck and have a smoke and, of course, I never smoked, I used to hate smoking
Where was all the toilets?
They call them heads.
On the upper deck?
They were undercover.
Yes, but you had to go up to them.
There were no doors to them and then you had the urinals as well.
But if you were in the mess, you’d have to go up so you would have possibly been up then. When you say there were no doors, could you see who was sat there then?
Yes, I think there were 6 toilets in a line, or maybe 4 and 3 piddle kilts, you knowYou should never bear malice, but I’ll never have any time for the bloody Germans. We were on that ship, we were escorting a carrier and one of the planes off the carrier shot down a German bomber and there was ten in the crew and five of them survived including the skipper, and he was a right Nazi bastard, he was. They signalled for us to pick up survivors. We had a young midshipman only joined us the night before we sailed; never been to sea before; a cadet officer and an officer stood on the upper deck and said, â€œHelp that man in, boy. So I got hold of him, and I said to the boy, â€œCatch hold of his legs and one, two, three, want to see him land in the middle of the deck. And just as he was going through the air, he turned round and he said, â€œWhat do think you’re doing? And I said, â€œAre we fighting this war or nursing these Nazi sons-of-bitches? He said, â€œDon’t you talk like that – you’ll be up for a captain’s report! The skipper had lost a ship at Crete and I went in front of him and he said, â€œLaity, I sympathise with you. I’m not going to punish you. If I had my way, we’d haul them in port side, I’d have tried them, found them all guilty, shot them and thrown them over the starboard side, but I’ve got to stick by the Geneva convention. They’re going to be on here for nine days, so bear that in mind and avoid any more trouble. Anyway, this German skipper, big bugger he was, he lined his four men up one day, â€œHeil Hitler! and the king was on the throne then and I said, â€œYou don’t heil Hitler on one of His Majesty’s ships. If you ever do that again, I’ll put you over the bloody side. Two days later I was going along to get a couple of seaman to do some jobs and
You were a petty officer by this stage?
Yes; I hadn’t long been made a PO and he put his shoulder out like that and I just pushed it to one side and I bloody belted him and he went flat on his back. I said, â€œGet up you Nazi bastard. He could speak better English than me. â€œNever do that again, he said. But after that, if he saw me coming, he’d step back and no heil Hitler!
Was it Crete that really sealed your dislike of them? Because a lot of people were rather indifferent
They were out to sink us and we were out to bloody shoot them down, but when we were in the water and had nothing to hit back with, they machine-gunned hell out of us. I held a young seaman up for about half an hour in the water, and he got hit in the shoulder by a bullet and I never had a lifebelt and you could trace the blood. And he died, and I just had to let him go. Now you don’t forget things like that. They went back and re-armed and came back and had another go at us and that’s why I bloody hated them and I still hate them today. And if I had a chance to run over a bugger in my car, I would.
What did you make of Cunningham?
He was a good bloke, Cunningham.
Did you ever meet him?
I never met him personally but I met St Clair Ford; he was a perfect gent and a brilliant officer. When they picked us up, we dodged 80 bombs and he had a stop watch and he’d look andand he broke his stop watch and he said after, â€œI was lucky to miss those!
You went to his funeral, and that was how Bill met up with the Kipling group.
Lyn talks about a Kipling plus group reunion in London..
When I was on the Jackal, whenever we went anywhere where there was likely to be trouble, they’d always put me in charge of the bloody patrol.
What did that involve? You had to go ashore?
To see that none of the sailors caused any trouble.
If they were out having a drink, they’d put a patrol out.
I suppose they knew that you didn’t drink and if there was any trouble you could have decked anyone. I expect that was why. Did Petty Officer Connor get off the Kashmir?
He wasn’t on there Bill was he?
Yes, he went down with the ship. He was a very clever man. A perfect gentleman and what he didn’t know on the ship wasn’t worth knowing.
Did you get hot meals?
Who was the one who always cooked a pudding because his granny always did it? and where were you when they said there’s been an explosion; there’s no kitchen; you’ll have to cook a meal and you cooked potatoes in an oil drum?
I can’t remember; my memory isn’t what it was. If you ask me what little blond I knew at the ? I could tell you that…When we came into Alex, the whole fleet cleared onto the lower deck on every ship and the sirens were blaring; they give us a real heroes’ welcome.
That must have been an emotional moment wasn’t it?
It was. Through a friend of mine ashore -this might offend the wife – when we got sent up to Aboukir, we got given so much money and we were playing cards. The first night, I won quite a bit of money and bought a beautiful camera off a bloke. The next day, I lost it all; I never had anything and we hadn’t been ashore in Alexandria then, only we landed there and got kitted up and got sent up to this rest camp – bloody tents in the desert at Aboukir. I said to Billy, he hadn’t got no money, so I said, â€œI’ll tell you what, I’ll take this camera and pawn it ashore, so I go ashore and there’s no pawn shops in Egypt. I walked round and come to a gunsmith’s shop and went in and I looked and there was a Purdey there. I said, â€œYou don’t often see Purdeys on display, and he said, â€œDo you shoot? I said, â€œYeah, my father’s a farmer and I carried a gun since I was twelve. I’m a fair shot and I’m also a marksman with a rifle. That why I got cross guns and got so much every day for being a marksman. â€œWhy I come in, my ship’s just been sunk and I got no money; I wonder if you’d lend me 300 peastres. There’s 300 peastres to a pound. â€œYes, he said, and I gave him the camera. â€œOh no, he said â€œI can’t take that. By the way, I’m going on a shoot on Friday. Would you like to come? I said, â€œI’d love nothing better but He said, â€œOh, it won’t cost you anything, after what you’ve been through. We’d have been invaded by the Germans if it hadn’t been for the likes of you blokes. Be my guest. I said, â€œI’ve got to ask permission. He said, â€œWe’re leaving at 2pm and we start shooting at 3pm. And as far as the eye could see, it’s just water that deep and there’s patches of rushes. You set decoys around and get back in the rushes with your punt and if you’re anything of a shot, you couldn’t miss â€˜em. He gave me an old hammer gun and the barrels are quite thin and there’s an Arab in the punt with you. This gun got hot – I was bringing these down right and left. Presently I see another boat coming. He put me as far as Longbridge or maybe to Pickford’s away from everybody. He didn’t know if I could shoot so to make sure I couldn’t kill anybody, he put me down there and sent me a beautiful gun. This was the first shoot and I went back with a load of ducks; bloody feathers were everywhere. I gave some to the commander for the ward room; he was delighted and he said to me, â€œI’ve got an estate in Scotland. Is there any chance you could get me a day’s shooting? I’d pay whatever the cost is. I said, â€œI’m going ashore tonight. He said, â€œGo ashore now Laity! And let me know in the morning. So I went and Louis Bonnet, he treated me like a son, this bloke. I said, â€œI’ve been put in a funny position. The skipper’s got an estate in Scotland, so I imagine he’s a fair shot and he’s wondering if there’s any chance of having a day’s shooting. I don’t like to ask you – put you in this position. He said, â€œBy all means; it won’t cost anything – he’ll be my guest. There’s one condition – if you don’t come, he don’t come either and tell him that.
Was he English?
No, his mother was Italian and his father was French and he treated me like a son, and when the Jackal got sunk later on and we got sent on ten days’ rest at Cairo, right opposite the sporting club – he gave me £20, which was more than we’d have in six months’ pay, and a note to go to the bank if I wanted any more. We went to the races and a big Turkish gentleman came along and said, â€œHow are you boys doing? â€œNot very well I said. â€œ3 races – 3 losers. He said â€œBack Tsunami, that black horse there in the next race. Put on all you’ve got and all you can borrow. I said, â€œI’ve only got 300 peastres left. That was a pound. I said, â€œDo you think he’ll beat that chestnut then? He said, â€œYou’re a very good judge of horse flesh, young man. That’s the fastest horse in Egypt, but it won’t win today. I said, â€œHow do you know? He said, â€œBecause they’re both mine. And he put his hand in his pocket and gave me £30 to put on. He said, â€œPut that on and it will not get beat; I promise you. And it won and I offered him his £30 back. â€œNo, put it down, he said. He did tell me what he had on; it was about a thousand pound or something. Anyway, I came back and said to the skipper, â€œI’ve been told by Mr Bonnet to give you this message and these are his words, not mine: Yes, he’s welcome and he’ll be my guest but there’s only one condition, if I don’t go, you don’t go. â€œThat’s all right,â€œ he said. â€œAnd we’ve got to be there at 2 o’clock. â€œNo problem, he said. We couldn’t get a taxi from alongside the ship in the dockyard, but he could. Down come the officers steward about 1 o’clock in the morning. â€œCome on, he said. â€œYour breakfast is ready in the ward room. I don’t know what bloody Navy you’re in – stokers having bloody breakfast in the officers mess! I had breakfast in the ward room and went ashore; had a damn good shoot; I shot 80 duck from 3 in the morning til 11 o’clock.
That must have come at just the right time for you, when you needed a little bit of light relief?
That gentleman I met at the race course – didn’t we have a marvellous time in Cairo and when I come back, everyone was borrowing money off me; I’d never had so much money in my life. He said to me, â€œYou been to ? race course? I said, â€œNo, never been there. He said, â€œWhenever it’s racing on, I’ll always there. As long as you’ve got the money to get in, come and see me and you won’t go away empty handed. And I never saw him from that day to this and I never had his address.
Mrs Bonnet, she was Italian, she said to you 3 sailors when you went there for a meal that her maid would tell your fortune.
Yes, tea cups. She gabbled away in Italian and Mrs Bonnet said, â€œShe don’t want to tell your fortune. And I said, â€œIs she going to tell me I’m going to get blown up? She said, â€œNo. I said, â€œI can take it. She said, â€œYou’re going on a long, dangerous journey on water and you’re going to go through terrible action and most of your comrades will not come back, but you’ll be one of the lucky ones that will come back. Nothing could be more right than if she’d been there watching us.
And she told the other two.
She said, â€œI don’t want to tell you your fortunes. â€œI’m a big boy, he said. â€œYou going to tell me I’m not coming back? â€œYes, she said, and he bloody didn’t. I would never have believed itrubbish but
When did you move to the Jackal?
When the Kashmir got sunk I was given a very good job driving the captain of the fleet’s motor boat but I was very friendly with a little girl ashore and her father owned a yacht and the yacht was over by ?? palace. If I wanted to go for petrol, I used to go. Used to tell the coxswain I was going. I went for petrol at 9 o’clock and she said, â€œMummy and Daddy’s going to Cairo for the weekend. Can you get to the yacht? â€œYes, I said. So I went down for petrol and tied up on the ? side of the fleet and got back at 3 o’clock. Of course the coxswain came at me, â€œWhere’ve you been? â€œI broke down and drifted over by the yacht. â€œThe commander wants you! The commander said to me, â€œYou were recommended by your captain as a very trustworthy young man; you’ve let him down and you’ve damn let me down. Let me see your hands. Where did you say you were? â€œOver by the. â€œWhat time was this? â€œ9 o’clock. â€œThat’s funny; the tide was going out so you should have drifted out to the breakwater and not over there! I never thought of that!
He was with a girl!
He said, â€œI’m going to give you a draft. I said, â€œI wish I could go to another destroyer. I know what I’m doing on there. He said, â€œHaven’t you had enough? I should have thought you have had enough on the Kashmir. I said, â€œNo. He said, â€œThere’s six destroyers coming this afternoon. Which one do you want? I said, â€œCan you tell me their names? I’d like to go aboard the Jackal; I’ve got some friends on there. â€œRight,. he said. â€œHave your bags packed and be down at ?? So we sailed and the very next damned day she had her stern blown off and my action station was down the aft..
You were on the Jackal a day?
Yeah, my first day. We were playing cards on the mess deck. When the action station bell goes, you drop everything and you’re gone and they were pretty honest on our mess deck; if you had anything there it would still be there when you come back. I ran along, got to the 4 inch gun deck – oh no, lifebelt – turn round, run back and got my lifebelt and got just by the ? when up went the stern.
What had hit it?
Bloody dive bomber. Chief stoker said, â€œWhy weren’t you? I said, â€œWell, I was nearly there, but I’d gone back to get my lifebelt. If you’d been in the water from 8 o’clock til quarter to one with no lifebelt. He said, â€œWherever you are, I’m going to be right beside you!
So then it was back to Alexandria again?
It didn’t affect the steering. We managed to get back under our own power but slowly. They built a new stern on. We had a good time – we were along side. I got made engineer artificier then so I never had any duties; I could go ashore every night if I wanted.
So you stayed in the Mediterranean for quite a bit longer?
When the Jackal got sunk, I had ten days at Cairo and then I got sent home..
You’ve jumped Billas it the Kipling with you when the Jackal got sunk?
They sunk the Kipling.the Lively went first.there was 4 of us
Were you part of Force K then? Wasn’t the Lively part of Force K?
They were part of the 5th Flotilla and the 14th flotilla. The first to go was the Lively, then the Kipling
What date was this?
23rd and 12th of May (?)
’41 was the Kashmir and ’42 was the Jackal.
Were you escorting a convoy at the time?
No, we was doing a patrol.
Was the Jackal sunk by a torpedo?
No, the Jackal was bombed and bombed.
When we had our stern blown off, it was done by a torpedo. We had 2 come in that way and 1 come up the stern. We dodged those each side but the one hit us up the stern.
You left the Navy as soon as the war was over?
I bought myself out. I bought myself out – my parents got divorced and I felt sorry for the old man so I bought myself out. By the time I got home, he’d given up the bloody.he was farming on the Duchy of Cornwall on a big farm, and by the time I got home he’d bloody sold out and bought a small holding. It wouldn’t be enough to support a family. I was that bloody mad, I could have turned round and gone straight back in the Navy but I took a job as a dairyman in Somerset.
You could get a house then. The after we came to Mr Gillings farm at Bowerchalke, then we went to Joe Waters at Stoke Farthing.
21 years dairyman/foreman for Joe Waters. When I was a PO in the Navy, I never run anyone in for fighting, but if they thieved anything, I’d throw the book at them.
Do mind me asking how the 2 of you met?
He was with a girlfriend of his in ? dance in Salisbury, this was in 42, after the Jackal, he had a bit of leave.
Why did you come to Salisbury?
I was engaged to a girl there.
There was this drunk American, and we were working, serving you know and he was saying, â€œHey babe, what’s your name? Bill was on soft drinks.
This bloke turned to me and said, â€œDo you know her name? I said, â€œLook that’s my sister, so if you know what’s bloody good for you, you’ll
Afterwards I said, â€œThank you. We could come down for a bit of dancing, change and come down because the men on the men’s cloakroom would have to drive us home in the van. We were dancing and I had a dance with Bill, and it was the Lambeth Walk of all things. Then he said he’d see me the next day, so we did.
I went in the gents and this yank was in there. He said, â€œYou had a lot of mouth in there. Let’s see if you can back it up. I said, â€œNo problem! Bang, bang and that was it. I laid him out.
Then you went to the North African landings.
He said, â€œWhen I write to you, take the first letter of each paragraph..so it was..At long last I’m able to write to you. Little did I know when last we metgive my love to your mum and dad. I..something.whatever it was, it spelt Algiers, so I knew he’d landed in Algiers.
Were you on the Inglis by this stage?
No, this was before I went to the Inglis.
But the Jackal had been sunk by this time?
So what ship were you on when you went out to North Africa?
A troop ship.
Oh I see. You were a stoker on a troop ship?
No, no, just drafted on there for the voyage.
Oh I see. Sorry, I misunderstood. What did you make of Algiers?
Not very nice for the 2 ships that went into the harbour that night.
So then you wrote.
Yes, we wrote and then he came home on leave, then got married.
She was the prettiest little thing I ever saw; her eyes used to shine; she was lovely.
And you got married before the end of the war?
We got married before the Inglis; before you went to the Far East.
That’s right but I went to the Far East on the LST.
But I was trying to think what you were doing on the English.
We were escorting a carrier when we shot down that German bomber
What a lovely photograph.
We’ve been married 61 years and it don’t seem a day too long; you couldn’t wish for a better wife if you searched the world over.
Were you ever on the Malta convoys?
He got a Malta medal.
Were you on Pedestal?
Oh I don’t knowthey were just convoys to me.
You mentioned the fortune teller, but did you ever have any kind of sixth sense that you were going to survive? When you were in the water for all that time – you must have wondered if you were going to pull through?
I was a very good swimmer, but when I was in the water with that lad and he died, that really took all the will to live out of me. If I hadn’t been near the KiplingI suppose half a mile away from the Kipling, I would have never, ever made it.
So you saw the Kipling and went for it, did you?
Did they have little sort of whalers come out and pick you up?
No, no, they just dropped nets down.
That in itself must be hard work; you must have been really tired after being in the water all that time.
You were the last one to be picked up.
I was; the very last one to be picked up.
Because you were dodging the bombs. You said at one time, the screws almost touched you.
Yeah, the bows pushed me away. I got hit on the shoulder by the bows but fortunately the bows pushed me away and the screws was away over there. If they’d have gone the other way, I’d have been
Is there a sense of being frightened, or does a sense of fatalism take over?
I don’t think you think about it. You’re concentrating on what you’ve got to do and you do it to the best of your ability.
You scrambled up the nets and some of the Kipling boys pulled you over.
So there’s obviously a very strong, determined streak in you.
I’ve always had the attitude – you’re not going to beat me.
Even if we play a game of dominoes at night
It’s a competitive streak but also, from what you’ve been telling me about people who push you about or people who step out of line, you fight your corner and I sense that you treated being in the water and Germans shooting at you in rather the same way.
I’ve always been like this – if I think I’m in the right, I’ll never back down, but if I find I’m wrong, I’ll always apologise. But no way would I if I think I’m right. I’ve always wanted to win; never to be second at anything.
But more than that, there seems to be this bloody mindedness to you if you don’t mind me saying so where if someone’s challenging you, you think, right! And you obviously dig a bit deeper.
You’d have to bloody kill me to stop! If I’ve got a friend, he’s my friend and I’d give my life for my friend. But if he’s my enemy
Don’t cross me.
He was sitting there the other day and he said â€œPlease Lord, cleanse my soul of all this hatred. The next day you hate their guts (?)
I can understand it, when you’ve seen what you’ve seen
It’s all right for people to talk, but it leaves a scar – you can’t remove it.
Generally, you served under pretty good commanders did you?
Are you aware of whether a ship’s commander is good or not?
Our captain of the Kashmir, Commander King, was a marvellous skipper and so was the commander on the Jackal. Every commanding officer I’ve been under, they’ve all been very efficient.
Lord Mountbatten, when you were working on the estate, he came along and invited you to go to lunch with ?? (a captain) but you had such a bad back and you were going to the chiropractor, so you couldn’t go.
What did you think of Mountbatten?
He wouldn’t send anyone where he wasn’t prepared to go himself; he was no coward. That’s what I liked about him. He was rash mind, but there was more fire there than there was smoke here.