I live in the foothills of the Sierra Mountains in Northern California. I have very vivid memories of the Prince Robert and the trip we took in 1945. I was the physical training instructor and organized all sports and recreation for the crew. I would like to share stories and memories with survivors from that trip.
I was born in England and was brought to Canada as a young boy. My father was a Royal Marine in WWI. I was the youngest of three boys. We were brought up in Windsor, Ont. I joined the Sea Cadets at age 12. My older brother, who was already in the Sea Cadets, joined the navy in 1939. My other brother joined the army and I joined the navy when I was 18. I was sent to Cornwallis, Nova Scotia, where I went to physical training school, after which I was sent to Sidney, Nova Scotia, in early 1945. I then volunteered for the South Pacific and was sent to the west coast at HMCS Naden in Victoria.
I went to Comox, BC for combined operations training. The train we took from Victoria to Comox we called the Silver Streak because we could get off the train and walk beside it. We went through the training for Combined Ops. The shoulder patch showed an anchor, a gun, and wings designating the three branches of the military. The army ran the camp. We were put through rigorous live ammo training, going aboard a landing craft with full gear and being put out at sea and having to swim to shore. We were also trained about booby traps. All in all it was quite an experience.
Returning to Victoria, a couple of us went to the shipyard to check on the Robert in drydock. We were told that it was ready to go. We also heard a rumor that one of the sailors, who was chipping barnacles off the hull, had put his chipping hammer through one of the plates and they replaced that plate. We looked at one another and said we did not believe that rumor. We then proceeded down the shipyard and my buddy kicked one of the kegs that was stacked there. We heard a slush and when we popped the bung out came some rum. Wow. Apparently all the kegs had been sitting there for years with the cold and the heat. The rum had soaked into the wood. We filled up several coke bottles from the coke machine nearby. Oh boy : )
We boarded the Robert, soon it was launched and we forgot about the plate incident. We went on a shakedown cruise and all went well. Orders came to proceed to San Francisco. We tied up at Treasure Island to get refitted for bofors. The Americans called these guns Chicago pianos. We spent a couple of weeks there and then headed for Pearl Harbor. Arriving in Pearl we anchored mid stream and noticed a troop ship anchored nearby. It contained a large group of Australian troops on their way home from Europe. We where not allowed to go ashore that day but we found out why the next day. The Aussies had rioted and had beaten the American sailors. When we went ashore the next day all we saw were black eyes and split lips.
While we were ashore the ship was refueled and provisioned. When shore leave was over and we returned to the ship, we weighed anchor and made our way out of Pearl Harbour. The captain got on the horn and told the crew that we were now attached to a USA task force. We hooked up with the task force and cleared the harbour. The admiral of the task force signaled that we would cruise at 22 knots. Our captain signaled back that we would cruise at 18 knots because 22 knots was our flank speed. After several signals back and forth the task force admiral signaled for us to proceed independently and the task force sailed off into the sunset.
We were now on the open sea. By day we gathered on the deck for instructions from the gunnery officer. This took place every day and the gunny warned us repeatedly not to shoot ourselves. We split up into six-man squads -- each composed of one leader, one radioman, and four riflemen -- and we trained every day. We found out that we were headed for Subic Bay in the Philippines.
When we pulled into Subic the whole task force was there. We then refueled and took off for Sydney, Australia, where we were when they dropped the bomb. We immediately returned to Subic Bay and awaited our orders. We got shore leave and went to Leyte where we found overturned landing craft and thousands of turkey carcasses washing up on the beach. There was a huge artillery gun on the island and a couple of guys put their heads in one of the barrels. That's how big it was. We returned to the ship and prepared to get underway.
The task force came with us and we headed for Stanley Harbour and Hong Kong. The task force was all American and slowed to a stop and ordered the Robert to proceed into the harbour. They signalled the Captain to be on the lookout for kamakazi boats. These were speed boats loaded with explosives that would ram the ship. My mind went back to the dry dock and the rumor about the chipping hammer incident. Fortunately the only green boat we saw was the one that our captain hoisted aboard to take home.
As we were proceeding into Stanley Harbour I thought about all the ships that were in Subic Bay when we went in there in the dead of night. We woke up to see hundreds of ships. The captain had done a masterful job of navigating but now we are steaming into the harbour all alone. The US Navy refused to enter the harbour because it and Hong Kong were British possesions. I can only assume that this was planned in advance.
We maneuvered into a jetty in Kowloon. The jetty was a shambles -- timbers piled all over the place. We tied up to the jetty anyway and all of the squads went ashore. There was only had one mishap and that was when a gunny tripped over a timber and shot himself with a sten gun. They sent him to sick bay to be treated.
We were told that there were many Japanese in the hills outside of Kowloon and to be on the lookout. We proceeded to the main street of Kowloon and captured a Japanese soldier. Our leader took him back to the ship for interrogation by our captain. The rest of us went to the train station and ferry building and took up posts. The train station sign said "Kowloon to Canton Railroad." The Robert was the only ship in the area and we could look across the harbour and see the City of Hong Kong. As night fell we took shelter in the YMCA building on the main street across from the Continental Hotel that was pretty badly damaged.
The following morning the squads set out to find the Japanese that were still in the area. One of the squads had a leader that was a very tall guy -- his nickname was Pony. When he approached the Japs and demanded their weapons they complied. I believe that the photographer took his picture talking to the Jap soldiers.
That evening I was stationed in the railroad station and a platoon of Jap soldiers led by an officer who could speak English marched up to the YMCA building and asked our leader if he knew where the ashes of many Jap soldiers were. He said they had been put in the ferry building. As I was across the street I did not know what they wanted but when our leader told me I knew what had happened to them. The Chinese had pushed the whole load into the harbour.
We patrolled the area outside the city and disarmed many Japs. I went back to the ship to eat and rest when I heard that they had found the POW camp and they released the prisoners. They were escorted aboard and all they wanted was guns so they could go back and kill the Japs. The captain would not allow them to have guns. They were assembled on the fantail and I never saw a more horrible site. Five years ago these were men. When I saw them they were skeletons. I still get emotional and hesitate to describe the atrocities I saw. All in all, the Robert was in the harbour for two weeks all alone.
When the Robert maneuvered from the wooden jetty to the new cement jetty location, also in Kowloon, our captain made one of the two mistakes he made on the entire voyage. He signaled to the engine room to go to full astern from foward and in doing so lost water in two boilers. The tubes in the boilers twisted and we lost them both. It took two weeks to repair them. The engine room guys worked night and day to make the repairs.
The British started to show up after we had been there all alone for two weeks. The HMS Swiftsure and the HMS Exeter tied up about fifty yards from us and the crews immediately started to loot. They brought the loot back to the ships in a truck they had commandeered. This was the time that our XO kicked the XO of the Swiftsure off the Robert.
We then left the jetty and anchored midsteam. About this time the HMCS Ontario sailed into the harbour. They had come all the way from Grennock, Scotland and all the provisions they had were tea and spam. Needless to say, the first place they came to was the Robert. Our cooks had been notifyed and laid out a huge spread of food and drink. The crew of the Ontario really appreciated the feast. The cooks threw the scraps overboard and almost created a riot. The captain put a stop to that practice. Then a sampan captain came aboard with a chit signed by the captain of the Robert in 1941, allowing this man to collect all the ship's garbage. Our captain honored that chit and this guy got all the ship's garbage. These scraps were better than what they were eating before by a factor of 100.
The British more or less took over and I watched the city of Hong Kong come alive. When we first went ashore we encountered very few people. We were not allowed to stay in the city after sunset but every time we went back things were starting to open up. Merchandise that had been hidden for years appeared in the stores and sidewalk stalls. The British had brought in the Hong Kong police and the rule of law once more was restored. The surrender was signed and after a brilliant fireworks display we received our orders to depart.
We shared our provisions with the Ontario since we were still attached to the USA task force and our captain knew we would be able to get more supplies on the way back. We were paid in American dollars from the time we left San Francisco. We headed for Manilla and the captain threaded his way through ships that had been sunk. He went ashore in his yacht but we were not permitted to go ashore. We took on fuel and then headed for Pearl Harbor.
When we left Manilla our captain got a signal that there was a typhoon in our path and he wisely chose to skirt it. Even then we experienced "big green ones," as they were called, huge waves that broke over the entire ship. Shortly we entered quiet waters and the trip was smooth all the way to Pearl.
When we arrived in Pearl we pulled into a dock and lowered the gangplank. I went ashore to check on the sports and entertainment for the crew. As I looked back at the ship I saw a blue and white camoflaged vessel. When I returned around 1200 hours I saw a battleship-grey ship! Apparently the skipper told the crew that before they could go ashore the ship had to be painted and it sure was.
A few of the crew who did not want to go to the bars accompanied me to a place called Camp Andrews. We took a narrow gauge railroad train and headed for the camp. When we got there it turned out to be a very nice place. The beaches were great. One was pure pure white sand and the other was black lava sand. The camp was laid out in streets and avenues and given state names like Michigan and Ohio. All 48 states were there. In the centre of the camp was a huge tent which housed a casino with roulette, dice, and black jack tables. The tables were all run by American naval officers. There were also other activites at the camp. We all had a good rest and after a few days returned to the ship to head home. We got underway and headed to Victoria. All the ammo was thown overboard. We were all happy to get home and as we docked many of us were at the railing and in the rigging. This was when the Movietone News crew filmed the arrival. We were home in Canada at last. All that remained now was to get to our various home towns.
I notice that you didn't name the XO in the photos on the PR site. His name is Atwood and he was from Montreal. In civilian life he was a shoe salesman. He was a very good XO and kicked the XO of the British ship HMS Swiftsure off the Robert when he came on board without permission and threatened to shoot any Canadian looters.Atwood ordered him off the ship and threatened to shoot him. He left the ship under escort.
Does anyone know that a Movietone news crew was present when we pulled into port and this is how my wife and mother knew that we were back home. They were at the theatre and saw the news reel.
The only other person I know who was on that trip lives in Windsor, Ontario. His name is Gordon Cornwall. He was an ERA.Ron Suddick
See Ron Suddick Part II
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