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Dad joined the Royal Navy in 1940 at the age of 19. He joined as a volunteer on a short service term of 7 years in the full time navy and then for 5 years in Naval Reserves. When asked why he joined, he said that it was Wartime and a lot were joining and he felt that he would be conscripted anyway, so he joined the Navy. Britain was also taking a terrible beating. German bombers had bombed Brown's Shipyard on the Clyde and convoys were being sunk in the Atlantic.
Dad's training lasted 2 to 3 months and took place at HMS Drake at Devonport Barracks and at Torpoint in Fast Cornwall. After training he was appointed to his first ship, the ill-fated HMS Galatea. The Galatea was a Light Cruiser with six 6 inch guns and four 4 inch guns and its home base was at Scapa Flow in the Shetland Islands off the Northern Scottish coast. After training in the south of England, Dad had to travel 1000 miles by train to Thurso. This was the length of Britain and took one and a half days. Unfortunately Dad left his case beside a
Tea trolley on the train and he never saw it again. At Thurso he stayed on board the HMS Cochrane or HMS Dunluce Castle, the depot ships. He was transported out to Scapa Flow on the HMS Rosyth. Berthed beside the Galatea was the HMS Hood, which was later, sunk in the Atlantic by the German battleship the Bismarck, for the loss of 1500 lives. The Hood was one of the largest and most important ships in the British Navy and it had many 15 or 16-inch guns.
The first assignment for Dad on the Galatea was on patrol in the North Atlantic in the Western approaches between Iceland and Greenland. It was dangerous as there were lots of German U Boats in the area and the Icelanders were pro German. On this patrol German planes which were disguised as RAF planes attacked the Galatea. The planes probably came from Brest in Northern France as the Vichy Government had done a deal with the Nazis.
After this the Galatea went to Norway to Sadisfjord and Arukria, taking supplies to troops in Norway. Dad's job on board was as an ordinary Seaman helping the gunners etc. Between patrols, Dad visited Devonport and Plymouth to find they had been badly damaged by enemy bombing. At this time, 1940 or 1941, Dad saw the HMS Achilles and the HMS Ajax. These ships were involved in the battle of the River Plate where the German Battleship, the Graf Spey , eventually scuttled itself. The British ships both had big holes in their sides from the battle.
Dad took part in one of the greatest battles of the Second World War, the hunt for the Bismarck. HMS Hood, the Galatea, Dad's ship, The George V, the Hotspur, and the Victorious were all in patrol in the Atlantic in search of enemy ships and submarines. A British Seaplane, a Catalina, spotted the Bismarck about 95 miles from the British Ships and radioed its position to the British. It was all alone. The British Ships pursued it and within 24 hours, it came into sight. It was between Ireland and France. The Hood engaged it but it was hit badly and sank. 1500 sailors were killed and only 3 survived. The George V then took it on but it too was badly damaged. However, the Bismarck had damaged its rudder in the encounter and it couldn't steer. It was then like a lamb to the
slaughter and 2 or 3 British Destroyers sank it with a huge loss of life. The Galatea did not engage it but it was on the port side when it was sinking. This battle is featured in the film, "The Sinking of the Bismarck". Altogether, the Galatea was on Manoeuvres in the Atlantic for 6 months before being assigned to the Middle East and Africa in 1941. Its main role was as part of a convoy, was to protect 15 to 20 Merchant Ships which were carrying valuable cargoes such as oil, lorries, jeeps, ammunition, food, etc. The convoy travelled at about 10 knots so that stragglers wouldn't get behind.
At Freetown in West Africa, Dad remembers going ashore and having to climb the quay because the tide was well out, making the boat low in the water. He and some other sailors lost their hats at this time. They were also very afraid of catching a tropical disease such as Malaria. He saw 8 or 9 airman being buried at sea after having died of Yellow Fever. Dad went on to Durban in South Africa. It was a beautiful harbour and was all lit up. He toured Port Sunlight and saw how shaving soap etc was made. He also remembers going to Simonstown, Port Elizabeth, and Cape Town and there he climbed to the top of Table Mountain. He was also aware of the Apartheid system in operation as there were different buses for blacks and whites.
Meanwhile the war was being stepped up in the Middle East with the Germans taking over North Africa and their Planes operating off the coast of Libya etc attacking British Ships. The Galatea's next mission was to patrol the Mediterranean Sea and it was based at Alexandria in Egypt. Dad remembers that the HMS Barham was sunk when it was on patrol with the Galatea with the loss of 1300 men. Some of the sailors who thought they had survived were sucked into a huge hole in the side of the Barham and subsequently drowned.
Dad's job on the Galatea was a Gunner's Assistant on an Anti aircraft Gun. The name of the gunner was McGillvery. He remembers being dive-bombed by a Stuka JU87 plane and a huge shell went through the deck of the ship.
The following incident is etched in Dad's memory forever. It is of the night of December 14th---15th 1941, when the Galatea was sunk by a German U boat with an Italian crew . Dad thinks it could also have been an Italian sub with a German crew. It was about 12 midnight and the ship was about 30 miles from Mesomatru in Libya and heading back to base in Alexandria. Dad was at the bow of the ship and had just gone down to the cabins to wake another sailor at the change of watch. There was a huge bang at the back of the ship. First there was one huge bang, and this was followed by two more loud explosions moments later. The ship went to one side and Dad went to the high side and began to climb over the railings. He was wearing a small life jacket and was afraid the ship would blow up. There was a lot of panic. There were no sirens to abandon ship. As he was going over the side, he made an agreement with another sailor from Glasgow that if one of them died, then the other would visit the relatives. Dad has forgotten the name of the sailor but he remembers that he had a beard. Dad slid down into the water, which was thick with oil and fuel. The plating on the ship was hot and the lifeboats were half submerged. I think they were full of sailors. In any case Dad grabbed hold of a Carley float (a cork float) and was in the water for a total of about one hour and a half. Everyone was crying out for help and one guy told them to shut up and save their energy. They were all afraid of depth charges going off under them. Dad didn't say any prayers as he didn't believe that he was going to die.
A British destroyer came past a few times but it didn't stop as it was also afraid of getting hit. Eventually they were rescued by the HMS Griffin a Destroyer. On board they were kept warm and given some rum. Dad took half a cup of neat rum and felt better. Another rescue ship was the HMS Hotspur. The Griffin arrived at Alexandria at 3pm the next day. As it turned out, 3 torpedoes had struck the Galatea hitting the bowels of the ship around the Officers Quarters and the Engine room. Of the 600 crew on board the Galatea, 450 were killed. Dad knew 12 of the men personally. He saw 4 of the dead buried at sea. They were wrapped in hammocks and heavy weights were put in to make sure the bodies sank. These were two 14pound live shells.
A telegram had been sent to Dad's family saying that he was missing in action and was presumed dead. This had gone to his aunt who was living in Wellington St. One had also gone to one of his brothers. As it turned out the man with the beard arrived back in Glasgow and visited Dad's family, as he had promised. He cheered them up by telling them that he believed that Dad was alive as he had seen him get off the sinking ship safely.
After the sinking, Dad went home before being posted to Devonshire Barracks. He was then posted on the HMS. Palamares, which travelled to the Suez Canal. It broke down due to engine problems at the southern end of the canal and sat for 4 weeks waiting for the replacement parts to arrive. Dad remembers the intense heat. Shortly after it was repaired the engine went on fire and the ship had to be towed into Massawa in East Africa by tugs. It stayed here for 2 or 3 months and dad settled into life in Massawa. The job he was allocated was to assist the
Harbourmaster. He also worked in the beer canteen. While based at Massawa, Dad went to the highlands of Eritrea to cool off at weekends. As it turned out, Dad didn't return to the Palamares but was posted instead to an MFV ( Motor Fishing Vessel) at Aden. The MFV 1170 was a communications boat.
On June 6th. 1944, D Day, Dad was on board the HMS. Brigadier, a one funnel cross channel pleasure steamer. It normally went from Dieppe to Newhaven. The invasion Armada consisted of every large boat that could be found in Britain. They carried hundreds of thousands of troops across the channel to the Normandy coast. The sea was very rough. Dad went to and fro across the channel for several days bringing troops and after at time he noticed bloated dead bodies in the sea. One soldier was suffering mental problems and threatened to shoot everyone.
Dad seems to have been a little bit hot headed in those days. He remembers having a fight and he had his pay stopped for one or two weeks. Dad was at Rothsay at Victory Day and the commanders wouldn't let any of the sailors go ashore in case they would wreck the place. In July 1946, he remembers going to a dance in the Fowler Hall at Tooban near Burnfoot in Co. Donegal. He stayed with his Auntie Rose. He wasn't in uniform and he met Mary McGlynn for the first time.
After the War, Dad was posted to the HMS Implacable, an Aircraft Carrier. On the Implacable in 1946, Dad remembers smuggling drink on board. As he was a Leading Seaman, and in charge of the Liberty Boat taking sailors ashore, he was able to get away with this.
Dad was demobbed in December 1947 at Corby in the Midlands. He was given a suit resembling that worn by Humphrey Bogart. He returned to Glasgow and put his name down with the employment exchange.
Wrtitten c1992 by James Kearney's son Brian