Royal Navy veteran Carl Whitby, of Mickleover, talks to Jane Goddard about his service in the Far East during the Second World War.
WHEN he thinks about all those who did not come back from the Far East campaign during the Second World War, Carl Whitby knows that he is a very lucky man.
During more than two years with the Royal Navy stationed in the Tropics, he saw no fighting and the most critical incident his ship had to deal with was swelling rice in its hold!
Even at the age of 89, Carl’s memories of those long-gone days are as sharp as if they had happened yesterday.
And he treasures these rare photographs taken during his time sailing between the likes of India, Singapore, Malaysia and Burma.
Born in Canal Street, Derby, in 1923, Carl attended Ashbourne Road and Kedleston Road Schools before following the well-worn path of many Derby lads in those days to become an apprentice at the Loco Works.
He was signed on as an apprentice fitter and turner in November 1937. When the war started, his job was on the list of reserved occupations so it was not until 1943, aged 19, that Carl volunteered for the Navy.
He said: “My Dad was a sailor in the First World War and he was very much against me going in the Navy. Me and three other lads from A Shop at the Loco Works – Harry James, Bill Moran and Louis Smith – went to enlist at the same time and I forged my dad’s signature on the papers.
“We were sent to Chatham Barracks for our six weeks basic training at HMS Collingwood.
“During this time, we all signed up to be air fitters but, when they found out we were heavy engineering fitters, they said they were short of engineering artificers and asked us to sit a trade test.
“We were sent to London Polytechnic and did a lot of school work and time in the workshops.
“We all passed our tests and became Engine Room Artificers (ERA), which meant we got paid a bit extra money.
“I was then sent to HMS Marlborough in Eastbourne to train as an ERAE (Engine Room Artificer Electrical).
“A group of us were asked if we fancied doing a course on submarines. We did the course on HMS Dolphin but, at the end, only two out of seven of us decided to go on submarines.
“I decided it was not for me.”
Carl then had to wait for his movement orders and underwent several courses back at Chatham.
He was eventually drafted to Penarth, South Wales, but was immediately sent on leave because his ship, a US Navy landing craft LSD 157, which had seen action in Normandy, was being refitted to carry a smaller LCC landing craft and was not ready for its crew.
When Carl finally joined the ship it was to learn that the crew had been detailed to take it to Manila in the Philippines where it was to be handed back to the US Navy.
The ship left Penarth in 1944 on its long journey to the Far East via Portsmouth, Gibraltar, Port Said, Port Suez, Aden and on to Cocanada (now Kakinada) corr and Visakhapatnamcorr, both in India.
At this last port, a landing fleet was being assembled and it was here that Carl’s ship “dropped off” its smaller landing craft.
From there, the ship set sail for another Indian city, Madras, were it underwent a refit. Here it was loaded up with transport and set sail for Port Swettenham in Malaysia.
It was then back to sea carrying supplies between a number of ports.
Carl said: “We went to Calcutta, Bombay and Rangoon before Singapore and back to Madras.
“We also went to Bangkok in Thailand because Singapore was running short of rice.
“We loaded up with rice in Bangkok and then set sail but soon realised that there was a leak in the bow doors. We had to send an emergency signal to the Merchant Navy.
“The rice had started to swell so it all had to be dumped and then we had to go back to Bangkok to get the doors mended.
“It was good news for us because it meant we got extra shore leave.”
LSD 157 finally arrived in Manila where it was handed over to the US Navy and Carl was sent back to Singapore on a troopship.
From there, he was assigned to HMS Magicienne, corra minesweeper, for three months before receiving his demob orders in late 1946.
He returned to Britain on a Royal Navy LSD, calling in at Naples, Italy, on the return journey.
Carl said: “I was very lucky. I never saw any hostile action during my time out there. My time in the Navy was an experience I would never have missed. I made some wonderful friends because the camaraderie on board ship was amazing.”
When he returned to Derby, his job at the Loco Works was waiting for him.
The works had continued to pay his wages while he was away in the Navy and his mum would collect them every month from the Roundhouse offices.
On his return from the Far East, Carl married his sweetheart, Freda, whom he had met during the black-out when he gallantly offered to walk her home after meeting her outside a pub on the corner of Green Lane and Victoria Street.
Carl said: “We arranged a date for the following day but neither of us knew what we both looked like because it had been so dark when we met!”
In 1958, Carl was made workshop supervisor and then inspector and, five years later, moved to become temporary bay foreman in the erecting shop.
He applied for and was given a job with diesel testing in 1973 and stayed in this department until he was made redundant in 1988, a few months short of his retirement.
In all, he worked at the Loco Works for 50 years, apart from his time in the Navy.