Chapter Four

Long Service & Good Conduct?


Hong Kong & towards Kure 

HMS Glory

Entering Grand Harbour

2nd Feb 1951

Courtesy David Page - NAVY PHOTOS

HMS Glory (R62) was a Colossus Aircraft carrier of the Royal Navy laid down on 8th November 1942 by Stephens at Govan. It was launched on 27th November 1943 by Lady Cynthia Brookes, wife of the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland. The ship was commissioned on 2nd April 1945, and left for the Pacific with an airwing of Barracudas and Corsairs. At Sydney it joined the 11th Carrier Squadron of the British Pacific Fleet as the war was ending. Glory came to Rabaul shortly thereafter on 6th September 1945 to accept the surrender of the Japanese garrison there.

After the surrender at Rabaul, Glory assisted in the retaking of Hong Kong, and then went to Australia and Canada in the British equivalent of Operation Magic Carpet. The ship returned to the United Kingdom in 1947 and was then placed in reserve. In November 1949, the ship was taken out of reserve and fully returned to service just over a year later in December 1950.

Glory then deployed toKorea in April 1951 for the first of three wartime deployments. The first deployment ended in September of that year, but Glory was back on station from January to May of 1952 and November 1952 to May 1953. After the very active service of the Korean War, Glory saw out 1954 as a ferry, troop carrier and helicopter base. 1956 saw the end of the ship's active career, as it was placed in reserve. In 1961 Glory was sold to an Inverkeithing scrap merchant.

--O--

 

(Above) Me in new Jungle Greens at Sek Kong 1949

 

Rear L to R Back Row: Bob West, John Byfield, Bunny Harriso, Ken Delooze, Buster Sisley.  Front row from lhs, Jack Horton, Piggy Horton, L/Cpl Bill Griffiths  

Bulling boots! Sek Kong 1949

Tents in background

  

Brother Bob, Khartoum 1946.  CO's Bugler (My reason for joining the KSLI)

 

L/cpl John Byfield, Cpl Bill Griffiths, Sgt Dez Lawrence. Shortly before leaving Hong Kong for Korea 1951

 

 

 Last view of Hong Kong aboard HMS Glory (Below)

 

 

 On the HMS Glory

Flight Deck: John Byfield right and me.

(Above) Me at Sek Kong Camp Kowloon HK. Showing off Second Stripe July 1950

  

(Above) Me Sek Kong 1949 Posing in Chinese Pyjamas

 

(Above) Me, Tony Preedy, and ?

Little girl who’s mother worked on camp, and me Sek Kong 1950. Notice the flashing of my first stripe on right wrist. 

  

As the days flew by we got more and more used to the climate, the mossies, and all the other little annoyances like having no electricity, getting a heat rash from the sun, finding frogs in your boots and so on. But, we were beginning to enjoy our new posting, and saw the fun side of life. After all, there was nothing to moan about, we were being fed, clothed, and paid. Did I say paid?  At this stage as a class one Private soldier our pay was about one pound ten shillings a week. This was not a great deal of money, but then, there was not really a lot to spend your money on anyway, only refreshments in the NAAFI, (beer, more beer, more beer) and of course the dreaded Blanco! !

Yes even though we were miles away from anywhere, we still had to keep our belts, gaiters and webbing packs in a high state of readiness for a ceremonial parade, not that we were likely to have one, but it gave our superiors something to shout about and keep us on our toes.  To keep us fit, apart from the routine physical training sessions, we were taken on cross country runs, and this involved running up and down some pretty steep hillside tracks in the nearby mountains. This was not easy even though we were just young lads, having said that, I would like to see some of today’s generation of lads of equivalent age take on what we had to do. I am not sure how it came about, but Major Long who ‘A’ Company Commander always seemed to be in charge when we were sent out on these mountain runs. I think he had a bit of a sadistic streak in him, and probably convinced the C.O. that he could produce a Battalion of supermen!

We were running up one particular mountainside when we passed a stream, and the rock formation in one spot formed a small pool. One of our lads, feeling hot and sticky, jumped in the pool. He came out only a few seconds later looking very refreshed, and seeing this, a whole gang of us jumped in to get the same treatment.

It was wonderful, and we wondered what old ‘Longy’ would say if he could see us. We found out when we got to the bottom again because when he saw our dripping wet bodies, he gave a wicked sort of grin and said, "That’s it, sweat you blighters, sweat. Get back up there, and go round again." He had not been up the hill himself so was unaware that we had found a ‘swimming pool’. We dutifully turned round and ran back up the hill to our own private little pool, had a dip, waited a while then ran down again covered so ‘Longy’ thought in sweat, much to his delight. We were sent up that same route many times after that, possibly because ‘Longy thought he was being cruel and sadistic, but we got to quite enjoy it, knowing that we were going for a dip and bluffing him into thinking that he was giving us a tough time.

With my progress as a musician, I was called in one day by the Bandmaster, and he told me that I was going to be promoted to Lance Corporal. This was great news as I would now be able to spend a bit more time talking to brother Bob. It also meant that I would have to take charge of, and be responsible for the men in one tent. There being only eight men to a tent, this was not too difficult, and anyway I got on pretty well with all the guys, and I think I was still receiving the respect I gained when knocking hell out of the guy that picked on me when I first joined up. See picture below of me and my men. This new responsibility also put me in charge of the Band stores, the music, the instruments and the maintenance of the Band Library. I also at this stage was told to start learning to play the saxophone, as the lead player in the dance band was shortly due for demob and I was to take his place.

Luckily for me I had taken ballroom dancing lessons before I had joined the army, and was quite keen on dance music, so it came to me quite easily and I was soon quite proficient at it. I can remember the very first dance I played for, and it was at Governor of Hong Kong’s residence. Quite a posh affair, and playing in front of a distinguished gathering gave me the confidence I needed. Very soon, we were being booked to play at different venues all over Hong Kong Island, and in clubs in Kowloon on the mainland. Having progressed now to playing solo clarinet in the Military Band, and lead saxophone in the dance band, I was promoted to the rank of Corporal. I was still only nineteen years old and promotion at this age was quite unusual. I still had the job of looking after the band stores and music, but was now assisted by Bandsman, a certain Joe Robinson.  Joe was not a youngster, in fact he was almost due to leave the forces, and probably about forty years old. But he was a great character, and not at all worried about working for a very young Corporal.

The only set back to playing with the Dance band, or even the Military Band for that matter, was the fact that we had posted in to us a Sergeant from another Regiment. He had apparently been on a Bandmaster's Course and failed. As a result of this he had been posted to us rather than send him back to his old Regiment where he might have been regarded as a failure. He was one of the most disagreeable guys I ever met during my service, and yes, you’ve guessed it. We did not get on well at all. His name was ‘Kelly’ it should have been ‘Nellie’ because that is what he was, a great ‘Nellie’ .  He really had a chip on his shoulder and was hell bent on making everyones life a misery.

I respected rank and superiority, but not much in his case.  Without trying to sound pompous, I had made very good progress in my job, and had reached a standard not too distant from his, musically speaking, and I think this upset him causing him to pick on me for the most trivial of things.

This new venture of playing in the dance band proved to be a real winner in many respects. First of course it got us away from camp out there in the New Territories, and gave us short breaks away from military training. We played in the Services Clubs for dances held there when the local girls were invited to come and join us.  We had many fun moments during these spells. One that really sticks in my mind is when we were travelling over to Hong Kong island on a ‘Bum Boat’ don’t know quite why they were called that, but they were quite tiny, very uncomfortable and a bit scary as well because we seemed so close to the water, and larger boats came far to close for comfort at times.

Anyway, on this particular occasion Sparkler Davies, our drummer was trying to adjust his seating and at the same time holding on to one of his drums, when the boat lurched to one side and poor old Sparkler dropped the drum into the water. You should have heard him scream, we thought at first he had fallen in. He was yelling at the boatman to steer towards the drum which fortunately was floating at this stage. He made a grab for it and was almost over the side of the boat. Someone grabbed him by the seat of his pants and hauled him back safely, and fortunately with the drum, wet, but otherwise unharmed. Just think, we could have lost Sparkler and the drum, and who knows, I suppose I could have been held responsible, me being a Lance Corporal, and in charge of all the musical instruments.

Wow! Fancy forfeiting the Long Service Medal for losing a drummer and his drum. I have been reminded of this episode on several occasions when watching films showing the old slave boats with the drummer on the bow beating his drum to keep the rhythm of the oarsmen. Not quite the same I know, but there was me, the Corporal (slavemaster) the drum, and my boatful of slaves.

Nellie was to become the victim of foul play, due to his unpopularity. One evening when the band were playing for an Officers Mess party, Nellie intended to show off his versatility by playing a solo on the Glockenspiel, a small sort of keyboard with metal keys which were struck with a pair of drumsticks. He was really a trombonist, and to be fair, was not too bad on that, but on this occasion he wanted to show off, and ordered the Glockenspiel to be set up in readiness for him out in front of the band in full view of all the officers. Well, I can’t say who got the instrument ready for him, but I can say that I was in charge of all instruments, read into that what you will. The time came for Nellie’s solo, which was to be a tune called ‘Bells across the meadows’.

It turned out to be bells across the Officers Mess, because the screws holding the instrument together had not been tightened properly, and as Nellie struck the first note, the whole thing collapsed in a heap in front of him, with bits flying all over the place. Boy was he embarrassed. The Officers cheered and clapped their hands, they were obviously well plied with drink and saw what they thought was the funny side of this performance. But poor old Nellie, he just went red in the face, fumed and spluttered and I am sure would have had the whole band shot if he had his way. Even the Bandmaster didn’t say much, I think he too was getting a bit fed up with Nellie’s attitude. He was heard to say, it’s your fault, you should have checked it before you started. Nellie fumed for days after that, and threatened to have every one of us locked up if anything like that ever happened again.

Well, we carried on in this way for some time and in the November of 1950 I had a particularly wonderful experience at one of the dances we were playing for at The China Fleet Club, a Services Club on Hong Kong Island. There I was introduced to the most beautiful young Chinese girl who was serving in the Hong Kong Defence Force as a Naval Rating. Her name, Nancy, I can honestly say that I fell in love with her straight away. She allowed me to escort her home after the dance, and we arranged to meet again as soon as was possible. What followed then is another story really because two years later we married and set sail for England. But a little more about that wonderful day a little later. You will just have to wait for that.

Our Military training had become a little more intense when the War in Korea broke out in 1950, and it was a certainty that the Regiment would be called on to take part in this.

It would seem that old ‘Longy’s' efforts to get us all fit was already paying dividends as the whole of the Battalion were now more or less battle ready, and even in some weird sense looking forward to it. But of course, as we were to find out much later on, this was going to be a lot tougher than we thought.

One morning we had been on muster parade when I had the men ready for inspection by ‘Nellie’, he went round with his usual long face, picking on the guys for the most trivial of things, when he turned to me and said, " Corporal Griffiths, you need a haircut, that means you are improperly dressed. I am going to put you on a charge. Do you understand?" " Yes Sergeant" I replied, muttering under my breath, "you miserable Sod" and with that we got on with our days work. Fortunately for me, Nellie could not have me charged until the following day, so that evening, I popped out to one of the local hairdressers, and asked for a very slight trim on the back of my neck.. " Gin Fahn, Siu Siu" I said to the barber, in my best Chinese, as near as dammit I think to just a trim please. The hair now being suitably tidied up, I was prepared for battle with Nellie the next day.

Sure enough, next morning I was sent for and was marched in to the Company Commander who promptly read out the charge, followed by Nellie giving his version of the state of my bonce. "Now then Corporal" bellowed the Major, "what have you to say for yourself?" "Sir" I said, " I have been a Corporal now for over a year, and you so far have trusted my judgement as a Corporal, and been satisfied with my performance as such, and I think at this time, I am not in need of a haircut".  "Turn around Corporal", the Major said, which did as smartly as I could slamming my foot down as I turned about. "Corporal, I agree with you" said the Major, " Case Dismissed, and you Sergeant Kelly, don’t waste my time in future bringing false charges". Well, you should have seen Nellie's face, if looks could have killed, I wouldn’t be here to tell this story.

And what is more, I would not have been eligible for my LS&GC in later years. This is beginning to sound like the story of a cat with nine lives…How many more to go?

I knew now that Nellie would be after me, so I would have to be very careful indeed and watch out for him at all times. I should not have worried though, because only a few months later we were given twenty four hours notice to pack our gear ready to be sent to Korea, and Nellie, being the sort of guy that he really was, immediately applied for a compassionate posting saying that his wife could not manage without him. Poor woman, in a way I felt sorry for her. He was given that posting immediately, and I am sure that everyone was glad to see the back of him, especially his superiors who by this time had also considered him a Nellie, and that we would be better off without him. But what am I saying? Twenty fours notice to pack ready for Korea. That means that effectively we are already on active service, and what about my little sailor girl, Nancy?

Time had flown by, and Nancy and I over this time had courted in the old fashioned way, that is to say we were proper in all respects, and we had become very close.

I had talked about marriage, and between us I think we were quite sure this was going to be the case, I had even been so old fashioned as to ask her Mother if we could marry, but now, here I was on a twenty four hour notice to abandon ship so to speak. No way, I was not going to be put off marrying my little sweetheart at any price.

We did not have the luxury of mobile phones in those days, in fact we didn’t have any type of phone. The only way I could get to speak to Nancy was to get to her house as quickly as I could to let her know what was happening, but of course we were already confined to camp and any attempt to leave would be considered as desertion and punishable by Court Martial.

I told a couple of my young Lance Corporals, (Listen to me, young, I was only twenty myself,) to keep an eye on things, and that I was going to break out of camp and try to get to Nancy. They of course said you bloody fool you’ll get caught and end up in nick. But I was not going to be put off, so out I went, over the fence, ran like mad until I found a taxi to take me to Nancy’s house, not knowing if she would be there or not. To my relief she was there, and I broke the bad news. But we remained calm under the circumstances, and I asked her to get in touch with the C.O. at our camp the next day and see what could be done to arrange our marriage on our return from Korea.

Nancy was at that time working in an accounts office in Hong Kong, and that together with her being a trained Naval Rating made her quite confident and very capable of dealing with this situation. I was certain that if anyone could fix it, she could.

My mission ended, I legged it back to camp as quick as I could. When I say legged it, of course I meant by taxi. I was not in the same situation as Bob and I had been some years earlier at Winsdor. I stopped the taxi some distance from the camp gates, got out and made my way back the spot I had got out earlier. I was lucky, although the whole camp seemed to be buzzing with activity I managed to get back to my billet unseen. One of my Lance Corporals, and old school mate Paul Collett told me that the Bandmaster had been looking for me, so I had to be prepared to come up with an answer. As quick as a flash I came up with the idea of going to him before he came looking for me again. When I got to his billet, I said "You were looking for me Sir, sorry but I have had a terrible upset stomach and have spent quite a bit of time on the ‘bog’"

"I know we are off to Korea" he said, "but you don’t have to start messing up your pants yet. We have to get there first. We haven’t even got on the ship yet. And by the way, I have just been told that we are to travelling on an Aircraft carrier, so make sure all the instruments are properly and securely packed. We leave late tomorrow morning". "Yes sir" I said, we are pretty close to finishing packing already. I have everything under control" "Good" he said, "Get back to it and come and let me know when everything is packed and ready" So off I went, relieved that I had been able to get away with my little escapade. Once again I seemed to have saved my bacon, and not jeopardised the possibility of earning my Long Service Medal. Although to be honest, at this stage of my career I wasn’t really thinking about that, as it was still some sixteen years away.

We were being sent out on an aircraft carrier apparently because space was not available on any other ship at that particular time. We didn’t mind at all, it was going to a great experience for about fifty of us who had been selected for this trip. We boarded the carrier HMS Glory the next day, and were shown to quarters below deck that were absolute luxury to that which we had on the Empress of Australia. We actually beds with blankets. Very posh indeed. We were made quite welcome by the Navy lads, although they didn’t have too much time to chat, they were all very busy doing whatever it was they had to do to keep the ship afloat and get us to our destination, which was to be Kure in Japan. We were not sure how long this first part of the journey was going to take, but some the crew had already told us that we were in for a nice ride, because of the speed they travelled.

We were now only about an hour into our journey, and we had already lost sight of Hong Kong. Boy was this ship moving. We were allowed up on to the flight deck, and made the most of this unusual experience, after all how many soldiers can boast having travelled on an Aircraft Carrier. The ship seemed to just glide over the water, hardly any movement at all, which was so different to the old Empress of Australia. By now, some of the crew had told us that this trip would not take very long, so there was not a lot we could really do, except sit back and watch the world go by. We did however catch up a little on our medical skills. We as bandsmen had been trained as stretcher bearers in the event of hostilities, and had been given lessons in the basics of attending casualties. Up to this point we had only ever treated this as part of our normal army training, but now it looked as if this had every chance of becoming a complete change in our daily routine.

I was particularly pleased at this time because we had got rid of that miserable Sergeant Kelly, and a Guy named 'Diz' Lawrence who had been posted in to us was promoted to Sergeant to take his place. Diz was in a different league to Kelly both in personality and as a musician. He played the trumpet and was particularly good at dance music. This was to prove a great asset later when we eventually arrived in Korea, where we were to play and entertain the troops. Someone shouted "Land Ahoy", no it wasn’t the ship's Captain, it was one of our lads up at the ‘Sharp end’ of the ship. He was pointing ahead, and we all rushed up to take a look. This Map shows just how close we were to Korea. It seems just a stones throw across the water, and here was so calm and peaceful. It was very difficult to imagine that not very far away bullets were flying and a full scale war was in progress. In some ways the sight of land was quite a nice sight, it meant that we would soon have our feet on dry land again. But on the other hand, it meant we had to abandon this lovely cruise ship we were on. It had, as I have already said, been a complete luxury compared to the old Australia. And wait till I tell you about our next ship!.

 

GO TO: Chapter Five