Title INTERVIEW WITH MR ERIC SUMMERS Description What were your experiences of war like?
I didn't see any action. We were in the zones. The ship never fired in anger. We were only patrolling - that's all we were doing. I was in the Fleet Air Arm. The ship I was on was HMS Venerable - an aircraft carrier- and we were doing sorties - just patrols. We never fired in anger at all.
Would you have preferred to be fighting - in action?
I joined the Navy in '43 when things were getting a little bit better.
Can you tell us something about what life was like aboard an aircraft carrier?
We had all the facilities. We had Chinese people on board and they did our washing and ironing and aircraft carriers were the only ships that had bakers aboard and we used to bake our own bread. We always had a destroyer with us and we used to supply them with bread and we had white bread. You civilians only had brown bread and wheat meal bread. Aboard an aircraft carrier it was more like a hotel really. The only thing was we didn't have beds - we had hammocks. We had a hammock every night and in the morning we had to lash it down and store it.
Was it a friendly experience -did you get on with everyone on the ship?
You had to be friendly. You were all ship mates. It didn't pay to get nasty with anyone - it was one big family.
What kind of aircraft were on the ship and how did they operate?
We had Seafires - they were fighters - we had Barracudas - they were torpedo carriers - we had American Corsairs. The majority of the pilots were Kiwis - New Zealanders - and Canadians as well. They were good. Me being a steward, I was looking after them. I was like a batman - an army batman.
What did your duties consist of?
I think I had three pilots to look after - lay their clothes out, make sure their room was clean and tidy, make their beds and, when they came into the wardroom, you took a menu and they told you what they wanted and then you went to the counter to get what they wanted and you took it to them.
What were your thoughts about the enemy - what were your worries and fears?
We didn't like to know that we had to kill someone but we knew it had to be done. We never had to fire in anger but we would have done it if it needed to be done. What amazes me now is that I was out in the Pacific fighting the Japanese and I'm driving a Japanese car. Doesn't make sense does it?
Except time has passed - memories fading perhaps
In an aircraft carrier did you feel very vulnerable to submarines?
Yes. We were. Although we never fired in anger, we were always at action stations when we were on patrol. When the Japanese surrendered we were at sea and we were going in to Sydney Harbour and we had the radio on and we could hear the people in Sydney all going mad. We thought we would get ashore and we didn't. They turned us round and we had to sail to Hong Kong because they thought the Japanese were going to shoot all the prisoners. We had to go up the Malayan Straits and that was all mined. We had minesweepers in front, sweeping, and the marines were on the flight deck popping the mines off and we were wearing our life jackets all the time. And when we went into Hong Kong we had a battalion of marines aboard and they went ashore and some of our sailors were trained to go ashore. There wasn't any trouble anyway.
Did you prefer it to the Pacific?
It was more or less the same. You were sweating all the time and if you can imagine what a steel ship is like - it's like a hot house all the time. We wore our shorts and nothing else.
Did you never go on the mainland? Did you spend your entire time on the ship?
The only time was when we got shore leave returning to Sydney. The chap that I palled up with had relations in Sydney.
Do you have particularly fond memories of your time in the service?
Not really. I was doing a job. We had a job to do and that was it.
Did you feel a strong sense of duty to your country?
That's why I volunteered because you were born in a country and you had to fight for your country.
Was there a reason for volunteering for the Navy?
I had a twin brother - he died a few years ago. He joined the Navy first and he was on HMS Ceylon. And my father said to me, "Why don't you join the Navy?" And you know what he said to me - he said, "I think you're yellow." I never thought of joining the forces - I was having a good time in civvy street. But when my father said that, I went straight to the recruiting office and joined.
How old were you?
Seventeen and a half. I went in at seventeen and a half; I came out when I was twenty two so I went in as a lad and came out as a man. It was an experience anyway and I saw the world and it didn't cost me a penny. I joined the submarine depot ship and I thought - in Holy Loch where the Polaris submarines are - and it was quite nice up there but I thought this is not for me so I put in for a draft and I got drafted within six weeks and I got drafted to a squadron that was just forming up and I went to HMS Blackcat in Warrington - shore-based. We were formed up there and when they got everyone - that is all the ground staff - we moved to the Orkney Islands and it was winter and I've never seen snow like it. You know Nissan huts - well we went to bed one night and when we went to get out of the hut the next morning we were absolutely snowed in and we were there - we were supposed to be forming up training - for, I think, about two months and we couldn't do a thing. We had corned beef and biscuits dropped to us by aircraft because nothing could get into the Orkney Islands. Anyway, we got over that and we went to Scapa and picked up the aircraft carrier and then we did a few trials and we went from there to Gibraltar, then to Malta With an aircraft carrier, they always drop the aircrew and the aircraft ashore and they do a bit of training. We were in Malta for quite some time and then we left Malts and sailed for Ceylon and went to Tricomalee - that's a big naval base there and we were there for some time. Then we sailed from there to Sydney and that's where we stopped. We operated out of there all the time until the end of the war. I believe HMS Venerable was sold to the Argentines and I'm told she was used in the Falklands against us - or they were hoping to use it but they couldn't get out anyway. I'm told now that it's scrapped. It's like all the big ships now - they don't want to know do they?
Do you have any more recollections of experiences on the aircraft carrier?
There was one pilot - he was flying a Seafire - and he hit the deck and swung round. There were two blokes in a gun position - he went over and they lost their eyes. That's put down to an accident in training. We had another one when we were up in Scotland - they used to do dummy torpedo runs - they were concrete blocks and this particular pilot - it was a Barracuda and they had a pilot, an observer and a gunner- and this pilot and observer were the two officers I used to look after and I was very friendly with the gunner - and they went straight into the sea. I don't know what happened. And that was it. I have been up in an aircraft and landed on an aircraft carrier - I have had that experience. The Yankee carriers are like hotels and these two carriers that they're building, they're going to have everything on them like the Yanks. They'll have shops, cinemas and what have you. But what's the good of that when we haven't got any aircraft? I'm very against this government and this country at the moment because this country is in the same state we were in 1939. Anyone can walk in here and take it over. We wouldn't have a chance. All the troops that should be in this country are fighting in other countries. That's my opinion anyway. Anyone can walk into this country. We couldn't defend ourselves. I was only a youngster in 1939 - I'd just left school but we had nothing. The only army we had was the Terriers and they went into France - the British Expeditionary Force - and they got chucked out at Dunkirk. I think we were very, very lucky. And another thing is, "Are they still teaching History in schools?" You talk to some youngsters and they don't know about Dunkirk, they don't know about the Second World War, they don't know about the First World War which was going to be a war that would end wars. You've never had wars anyway but there's always somebody wants to come in and take over. I'm 86 now; if I go tomorrow, I've had a good time.
Interviewed by Rosie Hoskins, Ashley Needs-Mayos and Mr J Ross
Keywords Fleet Air Arm; aircraft carriers; HMS Venerable; HMS Blackcat; Orkney Islands; Malta; Gibraltar; Hong Kong; Sydney Collection Overseas Battle Fronts Place UK; Mediterranean; Far East; Australia Year 1943-1945 Conflict World War Two File type html Record ID number 214
Can you add any more information to this resource?
If so please complete this form and we will be in touch