Title JOHN WRIGHT - INTERVIEW Description
I volunteered when I was 17 and went into the navy in November 1942. The reason I volunteered was that everyone was being conscripted into the army, navy or air force; well I thought it was my choice so I thought I would jump the gun and get in early. I wanted to go to sea and see the world, you know, but I was sent to a shore base, HMS Collingwood in Hampshire. I did my initial training there for 3 months and then I thought, ?Oh good, now for the big ships.? I joined the navy because I like my bed! We carried our beds around with us all the time ? a hammock! I didn?t want to sleep in ditches or under canvas. I was sea sick in the early days. In a small craft the boat is going up and down all the time and if you?re looking at the horizon it does make you feel queasy some of the time. You get over it in time.
There were good times, going on shore with the lads, though I was a boy seaman for much of the time so had to be back on board by 10pm. The older men (aged 21) could have all night passes. You didn?t get your rum tot until you were 21.*
THE D-DAY LANDINGS
I was trained as a coxswain on board LCAs (Landing Craft Assault). We did landings in different places in England to practise for a couple of years ? Clacton, Poole in Dorset, The Isle of Wight, Hayling Island. It was different shorelines you had to get used to. We were on small craft ? LCAs. On board there was a coxswain, 2 seamen, 2 stokers and a gunner but we used to carry about 30 army men when we were making a landing.
We didn?t know any details in advance (about the D-day landings). It was kept very, very secret. We knew it was going to happen but didn?t know the exact date until about 24 hours beforehand.
In 1944, 6th June I went over to Normandy. I was on 503 Landing Craft. I landed on Juno beach with the Winnipeg Rifles at 8 o? clock in the morning, having left our sister ship at about 7 am. I was in the first wave. I was a bit nervous because I was steering the boat. You go in very slowly and as soon as you feel the bottom you start putting it into reverse and that holds you just long enough to drop the ramp and get them ashore.
Juno beach was a very level straight beach; very sandy, but they had a lot of shore defences. There were lots of bangs. The navy was firing shells over our heads and there were big armaments on the beach head. We were fired on as we were going in. Even some of the bigger craft were turned over with the explosions and because they had mines on the beach. They had big ?scaffold? poles on the beach with mines attached, so if you touched one of these .....! The sea was very choppy so you had to be a bit careful. You didn?t want to end up on one of those scaffold poles. All I had was a .38 Colt revolver ? that was really small arms. I don?t think I would have been able to hit anything with it. We had a small Bren gun on the back of the LCA. The soldiers were all armed, however. The Canadians went in with fixed bayonets and knives. They meant business.
It was marvellous when I looked around. There were thousands of ships, all shapes and sizes, the invasion fleet, it was. Amazing sight! We went back and got more people. I can?t remember how many times, but quite a few. It was a big responsibility. I was responsible for the lives of all the people on the craft and I was only 19. In Combined Operations we were the forerunners of the SBS (the Special Boat Service), the navy equivalent of the SAS.
We took the beachhead and went into canvas tents. I was there until August. We had shelling every night from Le Harve landing on our tents and there were a lot of injuries from shrapnel. I was lucky.
They had a roll of old merchant ships called the gooseberry harbour. Prior to having mulberry harbours they sunk merchant ships and made a temporary harbour for small craft such as us. We were billeted there for some time whilst we were taking supplies and such stuff ashore. I didn?t advance on into France because I was in the navy. I was glad about that.
I went back on the 50th anniversary in 1994 and got a medal from Mrs Mitterrand (the wife of the President)
THE FAR EAST
I was disappointed that I wasn?t on the big ships but I did get there eventually. In August we came back to the UK and picked up an LST* in November 1944. We commissioned it off the American navy and picked it up in Scotland. It had an LCT (Landing Craft Tank), the smaller tank carrying craft on our decks and we went out there to India, to Cochin, and they launched that off the side. They let the ship roll over onto its side and it just slid off. Then we went up to Rangoon in Burma taking supplies to the army and bringing back POWs and suchlike. This must have been about December 44. Then I went back to general service in the big ships. HMS Sussex was a First World War cruiser. We did bombardments down in Java and then went to Darwin in Australia. The Dutch East Indies were having a bit of trouble and we were helping them out. I always wanted to travel and Normandy wasn?t far enough for me. I think I preferred the Far East.
Singapore was an experience. We had a kamikaze attack in the straits of Malaya. It was frightening but luckily he had unloaded all his bombs before he hit us so it was just structural damage he did. It was just on the port side. We had guns going to bring him down but he made a straight line for us.
HMS Sussex was the first ship into Singapore harbour after the surrender (of the Japanese) and we did the guard of honour for Lord Mountbatten when he accepted the surrender and the keys (of Singapore) from the Japanese. The Japanese were still there when we got to Singapore. In fact we had quite a few Japanese POWs that we used to help load up different things (on the ships).
There wasn?t much damage (in Singapore). We went ashore a few times but we were quite busy. We had to load the ship with things like LSTs. We took supplies up to Bangkok and such places. We didn?t have much to do with the civilian population. We were on the ship on our own more or less.
I like hot weather so the heat didn?t bother me and you didn?t have to do anything too strenuous apart from painting the ship or something like that. We had films on the fo?c?stle (the front of the ship). We got chairs to sit out there and they put up a big screen. The food was pretty good. We had a hot breakfast in the morning ? tomatoes or beans on toast were common. The main meal was midday and we had tea in the evening, a couple of pieces of bread and butter with jam and a piece of cake and cups of tea.
THE BURMA CAMPAIGN
The Burma campaign was nasty. We didn?t have much to do with the actual fighting but we did do a landing at Rangoon. The fighting was going on further inland. We took some of the POWs who had been working on the Burma Railway. They were suffering from malaria, dysentery and other tropical diseases and starving. It made us feel angry and even a bit cruel to the Japanese POWs. When loading the ships they had planks up and we would put big bags of rice on their shoulders. Just for devilment we would jump on the planks and make them lose their balance ? just for spite you know. They were different altogether to us in those days. I think they were very uncivilised people. Whereas today they are civilised. It?s a different world now.
We were in the Straits of Malaya when the A bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We heard it on the wireless and we all cheered. It brought the end of the war closer. I think the Japanese would have hung on for quite a while after without it. We were getting a bit fed up of being out there. It was months after the European war ended.
THE VICTORY PARADE
I came back to England in 1945 and my port base was Portsmouth. I went into barracks there for about a year. During that time I was sent for training to take part in the big victory parade through London in July 1946. That was a great day! We marched from Hyde Park Corner down Oxford Street, through Trafalgar Square and up to the Mall. The crowds were cheering.
I was demobbed in August 1946. I was 22. It (serving in the navy) was a good experience and it learnt me discipline which I think a lot of the youngsters could do with today. It was a good life for a young man.
* Landing Ship Tank ? a US navy ship class
** Men serving in the navy were entitled to a shot of rum every day.
Interview by Fiona Wright and Pippa Carr
Keywords D-day; Juno beach; Winnipeg Rifles; Special Boat Service; gooseberry harbours; HMS Sussex; Burma; Singapore; Kamikaze attack; Burma railway; A-bombs; victory parade in London Collection Overseas Battle Fronts Place France; Far East Year 1942-1946 Conflict World War Two File type html Record ID number 196
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