FOLLOWING FATHER'S FOOTSTEPS
(The Life and Career of a former Ganges Boy)
by Roy Pickard
My father, Harold Pickard, was born on 3.2.1908 at Byker, Newcastle-on-Tyne.
His father, Thomas Pickard, from Alnwick, was a soldier in the Royal Northumberland
Fusiliers. His mother was Mary Elizabeth Buttle, from Stockton-on-Tees,
who was 'in service' at Newcastle before marriage. My father was the eldest
of 6 children; he had 5 sisters. He attended elementary schools until
the age of 14 when he became a messenger for a local shop, delivering
orders by bicycle. His father wanted him to join the Army but Dad wanted
to join the Navy so he asked his mother to sign the Papers to go into
PRELUDE TO WAR:
On 18.10.38 he joined the Tribal Class Destroyer 'HMS Gurkha' which
was commissioned at Govan on the Clyde on 21.10.38. During November she
received final fittings and repairs then went on final trials. In December
she sailed for Malta arriving 20.12.38 where she joined 'HMS Alfridi'.
They worked mostly together, I understand, on contraband duties.
Dad became a Control Rating 2 on 15.2.39 and on 23.2.39 the 2 ships sailed
to Gib for Med and Home Fleets combined exercises from 28.2 to 3.3.39
and again from 6.3. to 10.3.39 which were followed by Staff Conferences.
On 18.3.39 the fleets began to disperse. The Home Fleet returned to the
UK for Easter. 'HMS Gurkha' was despatched to Almena and Cartagena
to visit British Consuls, then returned to Gib and was joined by 'HMS
Sikh' to sail to Palma and Malta. During this voyage they carried
out towing exercises but they collided causing minor damage to both ships,
which were repaired at Malta. On 7.4.39 'Alfridi' and 'Gurkha'
went on separate contraband control duties but during April and May 'Gurkha'
sailed around the Greek Islands for the Albanian Crisis. On 7.7.39 'Gurkha',
'Alfridi', 'Mohawk' and 'Sikh' visited Athens to accompany
the Aircraft carrier 'Glorious'. They returned to Malta at the end of
July. (It was during these times in Malta that Dad again visited my Uncle
Cyril who by now had 4 children and had lost his wife. Dad started procedures
to adopt my cousin Emma, who was 3 years old.) In early August 'Gurkha'
took part in exercises off Crete and Cyprus. On 15.8.39 'Alfridi' and
'Gurkha' with 'Mohawk' and 'Sikh' escorted four 'G'
class Destroyers through the Suez Canal and down the Red Sea. Then on
3.9.39 the ship's Tannoy blasted out "TOTAL GERMANY".
THE WAR YEARS:
The four ships on escort duty made a fast return to the UK and Dad was
made AIPQ on 6.9.39. (The War put a stop to the adoption procedures for
Emma because all passenger voyages were cancelled.) These four ships joined
the Home Fleet for Blockade Controls and Convoy Escort duties in the North
Sea - part of the Humber Striking Force based at Immingham. 'Gurkha'
then went on to the Atlantic for more Convoy Escort duties until December
when she escorted 'Rodney' to Liverpool for repairs to her steering
gear. But 'Gurkha' developed turbine trouble with her engines so
sailed round to Southampton for engine repairs at Vosper Thorneycroft.
Mother took Wendy and me to Southampton to see Dad and I can vaguely
remember walking from Woolston Station, past VT, to our B&B digs for
several weeks. 'Gurkha' rejoined the Home Fleet and on 8.2.40,
with 'Nubian', went hunting for U-Boats off Scapa Flow and on 12.2.40
another U-Boat hunt off Norway while escorting a Convoy. On 21.2.40
'Gurkha' caused the destruction of U-Boat No 53 jointly with the French
Destroyer, 'Le Fantasque'. On 8.3.40, during a snowstorm at sea,
'Gurkha' and 'Nubian' were escorting a southbound Norwegian
convoy off Shetlands when they met a northbound Norwegian convoy and 'Gurkha's'
propeller gashed a hole in 'Kelly's' bow. On 7.4.40 'Gurkha'
sailed from Rosyth with 'Alfridi' and a force of Destroyers
and Cruisers meeting up with the Home Fleet on 9.4.40. They were later
detached to attack Bergen but were recalled. At 1400 hours the force was
attacked by German Bombers. The violent weather prevented adequate AA
defence. 'Gurkha' came round onto a better course which promised
better results but it meant that she became detached from the convoy and
out of the smoke screen. The enemy aircraft immediately concentrated on
her. One of the bombs hit aft blowing a 40ft hole in the starboard side.
At 19.00 she rolled over and sank. (I eventually made contact with Bill
Parkes - through Navy News - who was a US with Dad on the 'Gurkha'
and he told me that they were in the sea for 4 hours. A submarine
surfaced, fortunately British, and took the officers on board - that was
'HMS Seal'. The men were told that a ship was on its way. 'HMS
Aurora' picked them up and took them to Thurso. They were all put
on a train the next morning and were taken direct to Devonport, arriving
late evening, where a fish and chips supper was ready for them.) This
was the first of 7 such Bomb/salvo/torpedo incidents that Dad encountered
during the War. Incidentally, Bill Parkes later joined 'HMS Hermione'
and was eventually posted to Canada.
RETREAT FROM DUNKIRK:
Although the survivors were now based in Devonport, this meant that they
were available for any emergency...and they didn't have to wait Iong.
Operation Dynamo (Retreat from Dunkirk) needed all the men that were available
and there wasn't time to keep service records up to date. But I remember
my Mother telling me that Dad was there and that the ship he was on sank
because a bomb dropped down the funnel and blew up the Engine Room. During
my research I borrowed books from the Library and soon discovered that
this was the Destroyer 'HMS Keith'. The survivors were picked up
by the Admiralty Tug, 'St Abbs', which was sunk an hour later (2nd
and 3rd incidents). The remaining survivors swam to the wreck of the 'Clan
MacAlister' and were picked up 11 hours later by the Tug, 'Sun Xl'
and taken to Dover - Dad amongst them, presumably, and he eventually
returned to 'HMS Drake', but I don't know when. However, his service record
does show that he was made substantive P0 on 6.9.40 and qualified as a
Control Rating I on 28.11.40. Dad was soon at Sea again for more action.
The Battleship 'HMS Prince of Wales' was commissioned at Birkenhead,
on the Mersey, on 18.1.41 and sailed to Rosyth on 28.1.41 anchoring in
the Firth of Forth. Dad joined her there on 15.2.41. She sailed up to
Scapa Flow in the Orkneys on 24.2.41 for "working" exercises.
This lasted only 7 weeks because an emergency arose. Several civilians
were still on board, employees of the Gunsmiths, setting the guns which
were not yet ready for action. However, the German Battleship 'Bismark'
and the Cruiser 'Prinz Eugen' had been spotted leaving Bergen
heading for the Atlantic. They laid in wait in the Denmark Strait, between
Iceland and Greenland, ready to attack convoys of supply ships from USA
to Britain. The 'Prince of Wales' and the 'Hood', along
with Destroyers' Electr'a, 'Echo', 'Norfolk' and 'Suffolk',
sailed from Scapa Flow on 21.5.41. 'Bismark' was sighted at 1930
hours on 23.5.41. Action commenced early the next morning. 'Prinz Eugen'
hit 'Hood's' Magazine amidships so she exploded and sank in two
minutes with only 3 survivors, who were picked up by 'Norfolk'. 'Prince
of Wales' guns were still not set properly so kept missing 'Bismark'
but did manage to score one hit which damaged her rudder and caused
an oil leak. 'Prince of Wales' was hit 7 times by 'Bismark',
one salvo going through the Bridge killing several officers. Because of
the bad weather conditions, Dad was on the Air Observation Platform to
do the Range Taking for the A & B turret guns, so he was stranded
for a while (his 4th incident). The attack was eventually aborted and
'Bismark' slipped away. 'Prinz Eugen' managed to escape
to Brest. 'Bismark' was spotted again on 26.5.41 by Catalinas of
Coastal Command and she was leaving an oil trail. She was eventually sunk
by 'HMS Dorsetshire' on 27.5.41. 'Prince of Wales' later anchored
off Hvalfjord, Iceland for repairs and oiling before going on to Rosyth
for repairs to the Bridge from 30.5.41 to 19.7.41, when she then returned
to Scapa Flow until the end of July.
ATLANTIC CONFERENCE and OPERATION HALBERD:
On 1.8.41 she was fitted out as a Flag Ship ready for Churchill joining
her on 4.8.41 for the famous Atlantic Conference with Roosevelt. The ship
paid a courtesy visit to Reykjavik on the way to Placentia Bay, off New
Foundland. After the Conference, they returned to Scapa Flow arriving
on 18.8.41. Not for long, though, as she sailed for the Med. on 15.9.41
to take part in Operation Halberd as an escort for the transport of troops
and supplies to Malta. On this voyage they were attacked by Italian aircraft
but returned safely to Scapa Flow on 6.10.41. Then on 20.10.41 they took
on ammunition and supplies before sailing to the Clyde.
DANCING WITH DEATH & THE END OF THE BATTLESHIP ERA:
Admiral Phillips boarded her on 23.10.41 at Greenock and she sailed for
the Far East on 25.10.41 calling at Freetown and Cape Town where, as she
sailed in, the Aircraft Carrier 'HMS Hermes' sailed out of Simon's
Town. Meanwhile, the new Aircraft Carrier 'HMS Indomitable' was
'working-up' off Bermuda, making ready to join 'Prince of Wales' at
Singapore, but she ran aground and was diverted to Florida for repairs.
The question was, "should 'Hermes' have been diverted to Singapore?"
but, I now understand, she was too small to be considered suitable. My
mother took me to the Cinema often to see the Newsreels for news of Dad's
whereabouts and we saw one of the 'Prince of Wales' arriving at
Cape Town and another of Dad getting off the ship and he waved to the
camera. Meanwhile, 'HMS Repulse' was at Durban before going on
to Ceylon, where later, she was joined by 'Prince of Wales'. They both
arrived at Singapore on 2.12.41 and were joined by the other ships that
were to form Force Z - Destroyers 'Electra', 'Express', 'Tenedos',
and 'HMAS Vampire'. On 8.12.41, after the Japanese attack on Pearl
Harbour, Force Z set sail for the South China Sea because of reports that
Japanese troops were landing at Kota Baharu on the north-east coast of
Malaya. They were without air cover but the sky was cloudy. Force Z kept
changing course due to varying reports of sightings. 'HMS Tenedos'
had to return to Singapore because she was short on fuel. On 10.12.41
the cloud dispersed just as a Japanese Bomber Squadron flew overhead.
Both the 'Prince of Wales' and the 'Repulse' were sunk off
Kuantan. Dad survived again (his 5th incident). 'Prince of Wales' survivors
were rescued by 'HMS Express'; 'Repulse' survivors were
rescued by 'HMS Electra' and 'HMAS Vampire'. Whilst this
was happening, the Japanese Squadron Leader flew back over the scene and
dropped two wreaths over the site of the sinkings. Survivors were taken
to Singapore and became part of the Naval Base, 'HMS Sultan'. Dad,
sent us a telegram but it took a long time to reach us in Plymouth. Years
later I was told that there was a queue of about 2000 waiting to send
a telegram. Dad did Guard Duty at 'Sultan' for a while before being sent
to Singapore Docks and he just happened to bump into his cousin Tommy
Pickard. The situation in Singapore gradually worsened and on 12.2.42
Dad became one of the crew of a requisitioned boat, the 'Kung We',
to evacuate mainly civilians and nurses.
ESCAPE FROM SINGAPORE:
The 'Kung We' belonged to the lndo-China Steam Navigation Co. managed
by Jardines. It sailed at midnight along with two other requisitioned
boats called 'Lien Kuang' and 'Kual'.' Another 3 left later
that night - the 'Ping Wo', 'Shuan Quan' and 'Mata Hari' -
similarly requisitioned. All 6 were sunk by Japanese fighter bombers the
next morning (the 6th incident). Survivors of the 'Kung We' managed
to get to Benku (Bengkoe) Island by lifeboat, whilst those from 'Lien
Kuang' and 'Kuala' got to Pompong Island, but as some of them
were climbing up the cliff face, Japanese fighter planes swooped in and
shot them. Their story can be read in more detail in Geoffrey Brooke's
book 'Singapore's Dunkirk' - ISBN 0-85052-051-7, which has recently
been re-published (but maybe with a new ISBN?). Singapore fell on 15.2.42.
However, the remaining survivors were rescued, after one week on the islands,
by the Sultan of Jahore's Yacht, and taken to Dabo on Sinkep Island where,
on 21.2.42, they were transferred to river boats which took them up the
lndragiri River, eastern Sumatra, arriving at Prigi Raja on 22nd and at
Lambilahan by midnight, continuing on to Rengat on 23rd, arriving at Iyer
Molek on 24th. The rest of the Journey across Sumatra was by road to Sawaiunto
and then by train to Padang. The full story of this journey is also given
in Richard Gough's book 'Escape from Singapore' - ISBN 0-7183-0655-4.
Geoffrey Brooke has since retraced this journey and has given me photos
of each of the overnight stopping points.
PRISONERS OF WAR:
At Padang, it was hoped to get on board Naval vessels from Ceylon but
the Japanese bombers were waiting until the boats were full and sank them
after they left harbour, thus no more ships came into Padang, leaving
500 men and women stranded. These were all taken prisoners on about 5.3.42.
Most, including Dad, were taken by road to Medan and interned at Gluger
Camp (there are various spellings of this name). I belong to the Far East
Prisoners of War Association and since moving to Southampton have attended
meetings but there are no Naval members so I have often attended meetings
of the Portsmouth Branch. I met Len Williams there and he was in the same
camp so was able to tell me that they were kept busy from 6.OOam to 10.OOpm
every day on slave labour, firstly building Pagodas for the Japanese to
use for their worship; loading and unloading ships at Medan's port, Belawen,
and on building a road to Banda Aceh in the far north-west corner of Sumatra
(the area of the Dec 2004 Tsunami disaster). This was intended to be a
'jumping off' point for the Japanese to invade Burma. However, a few days
after the road was finished, the Monsoons came and broke it all up. (Divine
intervention?) I am grateful to Len for this information - and there is
more later. Len did not know Dad but pointed out that they were all so
tired when they got back to their hut, they just went to sleep, so did
not get to know many of the other men in the same hut. Life in the camp
continued with daily hard labour but there were some lighter moments because
one of the official prisoners was a dog called Judy ( mascot on 'HMS
Grasshopper') who helped to outwit the Guards on several occasions.
Her story is told in another book - 'The Judy Story' by E. Varley
- ISBN 0-285-62121-1. She was awarded the Canine VC after the War.
THE HELL SHIP:
One of the quirks of War was that, because the Japanese refused to sign
the Geneva Convention and thus did not fly the Red Cross Flag when carrying
prisoners of war on Transport Ships, 13 of these were torpedoed and sunk
by allied submarines, ships or aircraft. Such was the case with the 'Harukiku
Maru' (formerly the 'SS Van Waerwijk') scuttled by the Dutch
but refloated by the Japanese. Late on 25.6.44, the prisoners at Gluger
Camp embarked on this ship which was part of a convoy heading for Japan.
The next morning the British Submarine 'HMS Truculent' fired 2
torpedoes, one of which sank the 'Harukiku Maru'. This was recorded
in the Log and the Sub dived. Unknown to them, the second sank one of
the fuel tankers in the convoy a few minutes later. Many of the prisoners
lost their lives including Dad. This was his 7th incident but it was not
a 'lucky 7' for him. Len Williams was on deck for exercise when the torpedo
hit; he saw it coming and jumped over the side. The survivors eventually
managed to struggle aboard the other ships in the convoy, some with the
help of Judy bringing pieces of floating materials to those who were struggling
in the water. The remaining ships went to Singapore where orders were
changed. The Burma railway was finished so the Japs were moving all the
Engineers and equipment to Sumatra. The prisoners were also taken back
to Sumatra, down the east coast, and were put to work on the Pekanbaru
Railway until the Japanese surrender on 15.8.45. Apparently, the railway
was finished 3 days before the Surrender but was overgrown by the jungle
again within 3 months. (Incidentally, Len later served on 'HMS Amethyst'
and was involved in the Yangtse incident. He ended his career on the
Royal Yacht 'Britannia', as did my friend Tony Grimmer of the Ganges
AFTERMATH OF THE WAR:
When the War ended in August 1945, surviving Prisoners were in a terrible
state of health (like walking skeletons) and needed medical treatment
for malnutrition and Tropical Diseases for at least 3 months, in most
cases, before they were fit enough to be brought home to Britain. As men
arrived home in early 1946, we were still waiting to hear news about Dad.
Eventually, we were told that he was 'missing' - then later that he was
'missing presumed dead' - and then that, on reliable information, he had
died whilst a prisoner of war. Several men who returned visited mother
to tell her how he had died with the sinking of the 'Harukiku Maru'
but there were three varying accounts: 1) that he was in the part of the
ship that got hit by the torpedo and could not have survived; that he
was helping to save other lives and either, 2) got so badly covered in
oil that he died from skin suffocation or, 3) left it too late to save
himself, so was drowned by suction when the ship sank. They were kind
and meant well but we were still not sure of the real situation, except
that he died with the sinking of the 'Harukiku Maru'. However,
the latter story (3) was confirmed by a Dutch Naval Officer, Lt D. Herstel,
who wrote to mother in 1953. When we were eventually sent official confirmation,
in August 1946, it was more than 2 years after his death. The cause of
death on his Death Certificate is 'Killed in Action.' His official grave
is the Naval War Memorial on Plymouth Hoe, but his real grave is the wreck
of the 'SS Van Waerwijk' ('Harukiku Maru') at Lat 3.1 SN, Long
99.47E in the Malacca Strait, off Tanjungbalai. The wreck is regarded
as a Shipping Hazard because the masts are visible only at low tide -
according to information received from the Dutch Navy.
1. The 'Prince of Wales' carried two Walrus Seaplanes and their
crews on board. The 'Repulse' carried only one which was catapulted into
flight a short while before the Japanese attack on Force Z. After reconnaisance
over the east coast of Malaya searching for troop landings, the pilot
returned to the scene. Noticing the carnage he had to divert to Singapore
but ran out of fuel 60 miles short, so had to be towed the rest of the
way. The Walrus Seaplanes were built in Southampton just a short distance
up the River ltchen from Vosper Thomeycroft, where 'HMS Gurkha' had
her turbine engines repaired.
2. Whilst researching my father's Naval Career, I made contact with a
member of the crew of 'HMS Truculent'. He had responded to a notice
I put in the Navy News and informed me that after sinking the Hell Ship
the Japanese dropped Depth Charges and one of them damaged one of their
engines. One of the crew had worked for the firm who had made the engines
so he volunteered to go outside the submarine, in diving gear, to have
a look at the damage. He found that the casing had a hole in it so went
back into the submarine to find material to block the hole. This he did
with a block of wood and they were able to return to Colombo, in Ceylon
but it took them 3 weeks. It was on arrival at Colombo that they learned
about allied prisoners being on board 'Haruiku Maru'. (177 died
- but 543 survived.) The Captain of the submarine had a nervous breakdown
and eventually committed suicide over the experience - according to the
crew member, Eddie Brown, who contacted me.
3. Four of Dad's sisters were in the Services during the War; (Lucy was
Bessie and Nancy were in the WRNS - both married sailors; Jean and Joyce
were in the
WAAF - both married Airmen. Joyce is now over 80 and lives on Jersey.
4. Details of ships' movements were taken from Ships' Logs at the Public
Records Office, except for 1941 in respect of 'Prince of Wales' and
'Repulse', which were lost with those Ships.
It was hard for us as a family watching other men come home to rejoin
their families - and mother's income dropped drastically. She had to go
out to work to earn enough to raise my sister and me while our Grandmother
looked after us during the day. This was the same for many War Widows.
Mother got moral support by joining the War Widow's Guild which was formed
by the Head of the Community Services Council in Plymouth. She also joined
the Far East Prisoners of War Association, when it was formed in 19S4,
after the survivors were well enough to organise things. Now, in 2005,
the organisation has officially disbanded but former branches continue
to meet for informal social gatherings and I consider it a privilege to
be accepted as an associate member of their fraternity. I still attend
meetings occasionally at Plymouth and Portsmouth, but more regularly at
Prepared - December 2005 - Roy Pickard
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