Title INTERVIEW WITH TONY HORTON Description
Tony left Hemel Hempstead Grammar School at the age of 16 and volunteered to join the navy.
?I went to every continent in the world except America. I didn?t really understand anything about life but I was so keen and wanted to see the world.
I joined the navy under the ?Y? scheme. That was a fast track to becoming an officer. For most of the time whilst at the training base, I was a class leader, even though I was only 17 because I was the only one in my group who had any education beyond the age of 14 and mine stopped at 16. Some of the men I was in charge of were 35.
Our instructor took me on one side one day and said, ?Have you any connections with the navy or the sea?? I said, ?No?. He said, ?Well, you know what they?re going to do with you; you?ll be a beach master?. So many young men he had instructed had been involved in invasions in North Africa and then Sicily and the Italian ones. The navy went in first, dropped those young midshipmen and they were the ones to get mown down. So, I thought about it. A chap I?d met on the train going down had decided to become a radio mechanic, and as I had the necessary qualifications (though only just)in maths and physics, I decided I would do the same. But I was pretty hopeless and failed the course after 2 months. So I went to sea as an ordinary seaman on a destroyer, mostly convoy work, steaming at the speed of the slowest ship.?
Some time later Tony was transferred back on shore.
?I got taken off a ship because the Navy discovered that I had matriculated with distinctions in German, French and English. After D-day, they were taking so many prisoners they needed people to do interrogation of German prisoners of war (POWs. You didn?t need to be distinction level ? you were reading the questions and they demanded a single word answer. Depending on the answers you got from an individual he would go through that door and presumably end up in a POW camp or through the other door to be interrogated by Intelligence.
Later, I was sent on a course to learn Japanese and eventually joined an aircraft carrier, but by the time we reached the Pacific and long before I was proficient in the alphabet, the atomic bomb was dropped and it was all over. When I?m talking to my grandchildren about their university careers, I tell them that the navy was my university, the University of Life. You saw the world and met so many new people.?
An incident that happened whilst he was home on leave is still a vivid memory.
?A friend from the village (Kings Langley) was on leave at the same time and we were going to the Luxor or Princess cinema in Hemel Hempstead. When we got off the bus at the Plough there were a lot of people gathered round a man on a soap box. He was a member of the Communist Party and his theme was ?Start a Second Front Now? to help the Russians. The crowd was giving him a rough time and one man turned to us ? we were the only people there in uniform ? and said, ?Where are you two off to?? We said we were going to the cinema. He said, ?Well, you?re not going to pay today and you?re not going to stay here and listen to this rubbish? and he gave us a shilling each. Everyone was ever so patriotic.
Tony was in Singapore a few days after it was liberated and the suffering he saw was a dreadful experience. His aircraft carrier then sailed to Australia where he was angered by the destruction of brand new planes that had been destined for Britain under the American ?Lend-Lease Scheme?.
?It was Christmas Day 1945 in Sydney and we took on board a host of brand new fighter aircraft and our Fleet Air Arm members would be armed with crow bars and would bash holes in the aircraft. We?d go 20 miles out of Sydney and ditch them in the sea. Florescent lights would come on the planes (the lights were there in case the planes had come down in the sea and the crew needed to be rescued). You could see these dots of lights all over the sea. For 4 months we ditched American made aircraft that were made under the Lend-Lease scheme and were brand new. Under the terms of the agreement they couldn?t be given back to the Americans or used in peacetime. We finally re-paid our war loan to the Americans in 2007.?
Interview by Zoe Wills
Keywords radio mechanic, convoys, POWs, aircraft carrier, Pacific, Singapore, Lend-Lease Scheme Collection Overseas Battle Fronts Place Atlantic, Pacific, Singapore, Australia Year 1942 - 1945 Conflict World War Two File type html Record ID number 127
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