Thursday, April 25, 2013

Memories of a hero

Quite a few years ago my Dad, had my Pop's diary from WW II made into a book. It is something I dearly treasure and it gives me an insight into not only life on the destroyer, HMAS Napier,  during WW II, but an insight into the type of man my Pop was, to face fear head on, to admit to being scared, but fighting on anyway, for the love of his country and for the freedom of future generations, for people he has never met, who stand together each April 25th and thank soldiers like my Pop for their courage and sacrifice.

My Pop paid the ultimate price for his sacrifice, the war affected him until his death at only 64 years of age. His family paid the price of not having more time to spend with him. I wish that I had known him as an adult, so that I could truly understand and appreciate what he did for me, so that I could wrap my arms around him and thank him for his bravery, for putting his life on the line over and over again. I can't wait to tell my Pop one day that he is my hero....

But for now I will continue to remember....

June 14, 1942 - "High level bombers continued the attack. A low level plane raked our ship's sides with bullets; we dove under the gun platform. There was a few minutes spell and we had our first bite for the day. It was a few sardines on toast and a cup of tea - they had never tasted better. The lads were dirty tired and chatty; they felt the strain. Gerry did not let up. His bombers and torpedo planes kept our anti-aircraft gunners busy. We awaited dusk and hoped for the last attack; by morning we would be close enough to Egypt for fighter support. But the enemy had other ideas. As the sun sunk on the beautiful Mediterranean sea, the enemy planes came in from all directions. Tons of bombs rained down on our ships. It was an all-out effort from our enemies. A fellow hardly knew whether he was coming or going; there were planes and bombs everywhere. If there's a bloody hell, this is it. Yes it was hell on the Mediterranean."

Nov 25th, 1941- On the Napier the alarm bells summoned the crew to action stations, when a lookout reported unbelievably the conning tower of a submarine in the middle of the battle line. We heard a huge explosion but could not see what had been the cause. A second explosion was heard from the line of the battleships, then and only then did we realise the Barham had been hit by torpedoes. Within seconds she was listing and was about to roll over. The destroyers began a frantic search for the submarine; already lads from the Barham were in the water. This hindered the destroyers ability to drop depth charges. We turned about to pick up survivors; but we virtually stop in our wake when a terrific explosion rent the Barham asunder. There was a huge cloud of black and white smoke heaved upwards. Debris and sailors too were blown hundreds of feet into the air.... it didn't seem possible for any man to live through such an explosion. From the first torpedo hit it took only four and a half minutes for the debris and the men from the ship to be blown sky high and splash into the water. Above the Barham's debris hung a white-smoke-etched cross. It was huge. It was eerie. We had witnessed the worst naval tragedy of the war to date. No plane was shot down nor was the submarine brought to account. About 500 of the Barham's 1500 crew were rescued. What a tragedy. What a loss."

My Dad actually has quite a few war photos from Pop's time at sea, including a photo of the sinking Barham, with the cross etched perfectly in the sky. It is certainly an eerie sight. (Don't let me forget to bring the scanner next time and scan them onto a disk Dad! :))

Dad told me about the actual video footage of the sinking of the Barham on YouTube and so here it is.


Anonymous said...

Lovely blog post Simone.
It is truly sad that these brave men come home with not only body scars and wounds, but they wear them in their hearts as well.
My Pop died when I was eight years old.
He fought in France, and was gassed with mustard gas, and came home an invalid, and all I remember of him really is him always sitting in the sun. He died very young as well, and my Nan was a widow for over fifty years.
Love Lorraine.

Nettie's Blog said...

Wow Simone that is such an amazing piece of Family History to have blessed you and all his family are to have that diary...that War brought such sad time in so many lives especially his but what strength he has given his family by leaving his diary.

dad said...

beautifully put simone i am just as proud of you as i was of my father dad xx

Wheeler Team said...

Loved this post Simone, brought tears to my eyes. It will be wonderful to see him again & thank him for his legacy.