- Oliver, Cdr (E) H.G.D. , RAN
- Biographies and personal histories, WWII operations
- None noted.
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- March 1984 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
The last story I wrote for a magazine was about a punitive expedition in HMAS Adelaide to Malaita in 1927, after a bold, bad black, blighter called Bassiana had murdered Mr Bell, the British District Officer. And that gave me the idea for this article.
One does get some queer jobs in ‘The Rigimint’. And not all of them afloat, but in unusual places such as Malaita, Tobruk, Navy Office and Garden Island.
One of the first things our term was told, on joining the Navy about 36 years ago, was that a naval officer was expected to be able ‘to go anywhere at any time to do anything for anybody’. That struck us as a rather tall order at the time, but subsequent years have proved it not so far wide of the mark. While on that track, there is – or was – a great scroll over the main entrance to the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, bearing the words, ‘There is nothing the Navy cannot do’. Early in the last war, in conversation with a doctor friend whose work was mostly obstetric, I mentioned that scroll. He twinkled at me and said, ‘Ha, my boy, there is one thing the Navy cannot do.’
But I sensed the drift of his remark and cut in with, ‘Ho, yes. Doctor, we can even do that now. We have Wrans in the Navy.’
Soldier-carting has been my most frequent queer job. This would not be classed as ‘queer’ in LSTs or vessels primarily designed for passenger and freight work, but a modern destroyer is a most unsuitable vessel for soldier transport. However, ‘needs must when the Devil drives,’ and soldier- carting in destroyers would be less queer than nurse-carting from Corregidor to Fremantle in a submarine, which some brave American sailors did once.
Late in 1941 it was required to change over an English and an Indian brigade between Haifa and Famagusta. Destroyers were given the job, possibly because we had then acquired much practice in the work, from Crete and to and from Tobruk. Two shuttle teams were organised, each of six ships. One team loaded Indians at Haifa from noon to 4 p.m., and the other embarked Englishmen at Haifa. Each party sailed at 4 o’clock, on routes by which we did not see each other (to make any enemy submarines giddy, perhaps) and proceed at 30 knots to the other place.
Arriving at midnight, we unloaded English/Indians, loaded Indians/English and whistled off again at 4 a.m.
We kept this up for a week, by which time the ships hardly needed any navigating, they knew the tracks so well.
Though a queer job, that was a pleasant one. The weather was fine, there were no bombers, and we did not have to worry about submarines. And it gave us another angle on the grand old firm of John Bull and Sons. On completion we all romped back to Alexandria, each ship wearing a pendant with the name of a well-known firm of carriers – Mayne Nickless, Pickfords, Beard Watson, etc. My only regret was that, being in the Famagusta middle watch flotilla, we didn’t see Famagusta. A pity as it’s an attractive spot.
That moan – if moaning is permitted – applies also to Tobruk; in five visits to that famous citadel, I saw it only once, on a night of uncomfortably clear moonlight. The routine there was to arrive at 11 p.m., or after, and sail again at 1 a.m., or earlier, or else! But soldiers who had seen it assured me it was not at all attractive.
I haven’t had much Air Force carting, except in the Shropshire in 1946 when we took the Victory March Contingent to England. That contingent included all ranks and ratings of both sexes of all Services – a queer job de luxe! But early in 1942, three destroyers collected a Fleet Carrier off Cape Guardafui and escorted her to Aden where she landed part of her outfit of aircraft. Then we wheeled her up to Port Sudan – half way up the Red Sea and hot as the hobs – where she loaded 48 Hurricanes, in crates, and their pilots, all from the Western Desert. Between Aden and Port Sudan, both ways, we practised fuelling at sea from the carrier. We needed to. Then off we all went across the North Indian Ocean. A lot of steaming to do, and it was mighty hot, but a pleasant change from the everlasting bombers of the eastern Mediterranean. Epidemics of Japanese submarines used to occur in that area in those days, but there was a lot of water, too, and we didn’t see any subs. About every second or third day each destroyer had to fuel from the carrier under way. We got quite skilful at it, but one day there was a slip in the drill and a destroyer received pure seawater through the hose instead of fuel. In those vessels the same pipe that took the fuel fed the boilers and the resultant blackout was sudden, arresting, and conducive to much seamanlike language!