Skip Navigation LinksAlumni » Oh what a lovely war

Oh what a lovely war
During the Second World War, teenagers were encouraged to join a youth training group, (Army cadets, Air cadets, Navy cadets) and I joined the newly formed Navy cadets in my home town, Crewe.  
This led to a desire to join the Royal Navy, so in 1944 when I was in the lower sixth form at the local Grammar School I joined the Royal Navy under a youth entry scheme at the age of 17. Basic training was at Butlins Holiday camp in Pwllheli, North Wales and afterwards on H.M.S Defiance (pictured left) the torpedo school in Devonport.
I always thought seamen torpedo men were the brightest of the lower deck ratings because they had to have knowledge of torpedoes, mines, depth charges, explosives and basic electricity on board a ship as well as seamanship.
After training I travelled on a beautiful cruise liner,
The Strathhaird (pictured right), overseas to Ceylon, probably to man the landing craft to attack the Japanese held territories.  After a few weeks in jungle camp near Columbo (Just like the TV show, It ain’t half hot mum) we were back on a ship being taken to Bombay (now Mumbai) in India.  I spent two years ashore in Bombay and lived through two monsoons, I even learned a few useful words and phrases in Hindustani. After years of living with a blackout in England it was wonderful to be in a city that had all its lights on and no signs of the war that was raging in Burma. 
I do not think that there were many British ships in that part of the world. Winston Churchill was wise enough to keep home fleet ready to repel any invasion across the English Channel so I had a simple job on shore with plenty of free time.  There were several Navel barracks but I was lucky enough to find myself living in a block of offices which the Navy used to house sailors working in the Naval Headquarters just around the corner. The building also housed a fleet canteen and sleeping accommodation for sailors on shore leave. I was not involved in any action or conflict (I was there if wanted, but I was not wanted).
The nearest I came to any action was when the Indian Navy Mutinied and fired their Oerlikon shells across the city. We were sheltered by another office building. Our captain, with a party of Royal Marines, soon sent them packing to their Barracks. With plenty of free time we found other things to do. I went swimming quite often in the European swimming pool. Sometimes instead of a bus ride the dispatch riders took us on their motorbikes. I organised and ran a cricket team. I played tennis, badminton, table tennis and snooker. The only gambling allowed in the Navy, in those days was Housey Housey (Bingo) so that was played on occasions.
Menial tasks like cleaning and cooking were done by the locals employed for that purpose. There were concerts to go to and cinemas showing the latest films. The cinemas were as good as, and in some cases better than those back home. Although the tropical heat was sometimes unpleasant a trip to the Regal Cinema was always very comfortable because the building was air conditioned. So my war was quite pleasant and when the atom bombs were dropped on Japan and the fighting ended it probably saved my life.
The next trouble was the Indian demand for independence. One by one the barracks were emptied and closed down. I found myself in Sassoon Barracks with three other sailors, doing a worthwhile job. We had an M.F.V (Motor fishing vessel, a Pinnace) and a task of finding 30 Infantry landing craft which had broken there, while mooring cables in the monsoon weather. Some of them had drifted up to ten miles across the bay, then we had to tow them back to Sassoon Dock.  There were too many exciting incidents for me to write about here, it was very rewarding work and, at times, exciting and difficult. At last I had a worthwhile job of work.
So my war was quite pleasant and there was nothing to worry about until after the monsoon in 1946, and the Hindus and the Muslims started killing each other. We were all confined to barracks for safety.
large.jpgWW2.jpg
© IWM (FL 25017)                                                  © IWM (A 20683)

January 1, 1947, the British Navy left India and I was transferred to a ship. H.M.S Eastway (An L.S.D - Landing ship Dock, pictured above) used for transporting infantry landing craft with soldiers, to places of conflict). This ship had a laundry and an ice cream making machine, things not usually found on British Ships. We were hardly in port for more than a few days in the next six months. Singapore, Madras, Trincomalee, Colombo and Bombay again and then we sailed to Malta for a few weeks. 
The ship was then taken to Piraeus (The port of Athens) where we handed it over to the green Navy. A passenger liner, The Highland Princess brought us back to England and I was demobilised three days after my 21st Birthday. It was my uncle’s suggestion that I should apply to become a teacher, like my cousins. So I applied under the emergency scheme. The interviewing board accepted me but recommended that I take the normal two-year course at a teacher training college. Chester College accepted me and I had very enjoyable and hard working two years, from 1949 to 1951.  Like many Cestrians, I taught in various schools and eventually became a head teacher. After 21 years as a head teacher I retired in 1988.
 
Ivor Nichols