Following on from the memoirs by my father-in-law Geoff Cronin, The Colour of Life, and Milestones Along the Way, I thought I would end the year with part of my own father’s memoir about the family and in particular his life at sea from 1937 until he retired in 1971.
In part five my father shared his postings to Scotland in 1943 and Sri Lanka in 1944 and his encounter with and special commendation from Earl Mountbatten. 1943 – 1946 – HMS Forth and captured U-boats, Ceylon, HMS Woolwich, Earl Mountbatten
Part Six -Malta and the Far East 1946
The Electrical Branch of the Royal Navy was formed in 1946 and Collingwood was selected as the Headquarters, and School, for the New Branch. I was very lucky to be in Collingwood at this time of change and after about six months in an office it was decided to form a Radio section and there was a requirement for Radio Electrical Artificers. The first conversion class (REA 1) was made up of myself and one other CEA., three senior EA’s and eighteen newly qualified artificer apprentices. It was a long course, almost two years, spent mostly in Collingwood with a short spell in HMS Mercury. This period was the first time since we married in 1940 that Mollie and I were able to enjoy a normal married life. Shortly after the course finished, I decided to take the examination for promotion to Warrant Radio Electrical Officer, which I duly passed, and was promoted on 4th December 1948.
I remained in Collingwood for courses etc. and received my first appointment to join HMS Triumph on 1st March 1949.
Triumph was completing a commission in the Mediterranean, based in Malta, and I travelled out to join her in a passenger ship that sailed from Liverpool. Shortly after joining, we sailed for the UK to re-commission. We spent only a few days in Sheerness during which time Mollie came to Chatham for a short time. Back to Malta with lots of exercising and training and with the prospect of a two-year commission in the Med. Mollie and I decided to move the family to Malta, which went very well. After settling in, we were told that the ship was to leave for the Far East within the next few weeks. This was a very sad time but Mollie faced it in true naval wife style and when we sailed the family’s return passage had not been arranged. They eventually got home in a small cargo ship that took twelve passengers. I think they enjoyed it. Meanwhile we were heading east, with stops at Aden, Colombo, Singapore and finally we reached our destination, Hong Kong.
HMS Triumph – Wikipedia
We had only been in harbour a few days when a typhoon was reported in the area and in true naval fashion we sailed, to ride it out to sea. It was the worst experience I was ever to meet at sea. The ship did everything except sink and how it avoided that I don’t know. We survived and returned to harbour and spent some days clearing up the damage. There followed an extensive period of training and exercising with RN and US Navy ships and early in 1950 we sailed to Japan for a long visit.
We went into the inland sea and tied up in Kure, the main Japanese Naval Base. The Americans and Australians were very much in occupation and conditions were such that fraternizing with the Japanese was still frowned upon. Japan is a lovely country and being there in the spring it was at its best. The climate has both extremes, very cold in the winter and hot in the summer. We continued with training, with visits to other ports. We saw Hiroshima and at that time most of it was still devastated and it was a horrible example of nuclear war.
The time came for us to return to Hong Kong, in June 1950. As we left the inland sea we received instructions to return to Kure to take on stores etc. and then we sailed to the US Base in the Philippines where we joined up with the US Boxer, an American Carrier. Then, after all night meetings, we sailed to join in the Korean War.
The Korean War.
Boxer went to the east coast of Korea and we to the west coast, where our aircraft were quickly in action. We operated from Sasebo, a port in Japan and we were continually providing air support until October 1950 when we ran out of aircraft, mainly Seafires, our fighter aircraft ‑ our flight deck was not strong enough to operate the heavier Sea Furies.
We sailed for the UK, arriving in early November 1950. After leave, I was appointed to HMS Vengeance where I served until 10th September 1951 and then to yet another sea job, HMS Solebay, the Leader of the 5th Destroyer Squadron. I was promised only a short time in this job in view of my long time at sea ,and away from home, and, true to their word, I was appointed to HMS Mercury, the Communications School at Leydene House, on 3rd March 1952.
Lt. Commander Herbert Eric Coleman – January 12th, 1916 – April 5th 1996
As a family we travelled to Sri Lanka, still Ceylon in 1954 until 1956, followed by two years in Malta 1959 to 1961, and two years in South Africa from 1963 to 1965. So we as a family all enjoyed life on the ocean wave.
I hope you have enjoyed this part of my father’s memoirs – he rarely talked about his time in both wars and I think you have to read between the lines at times to understand that despite his brevity, he saw and experienced things that he still could not share. He lost his best friend, Vic Newell, which must have been a huge blow and he left ships that would later be sunk with great loss of life. That has to leave its mark.
I am so glad that we managed to get him to write his potted history of his life during the war years. He did write more in his memoirs about the rest of his career which took us all over the world, retiring from active duty in 1971 but returning as a reserve officer for another ten years until the age of 65. His role in that capacity involved being responsible for trials on weaponry on ships built for foreign navies, and my mother was lucky to accompany him on some of his trips abroad.
We assume that our grandparents and parents are going to be with us for ever and put off asking them to detail their own and their parent’s history. I think it is important that these stories are passed on before they are lost forever.
Eric and my mother Mollie on his 80th birthday in January 1996, a milestone he was determined to reach.
Thank you for reading this short series from my father’s memoir and I hope you have enjoyed and will be inspired to ask your grandparents, or even grandparents if you are lucky enough to still have them, about their lives. Thanks Sally.