A sailor's memories of the Second World War
Harry Card joined the Royal Navy when he was just 17 in 1943. He wanted to join the British Army, like the rest of his family, but they rejected him on the grounds that he was too young. At the time, he was doing an electrical engineering apprenticeship and he wanted to make his life a bit more interesting. Little did he realise at the time, what drama, excitement and tragedy lay ahead.
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Initially he was posted on to the HMS Swift, a brand new ship captained by John Gower (uncle of the international cricketer David Gower). Their first mission was joining the Arctic convoys, which transported essential supplies from Europe across the Arctic Circle to Russia. At the time, Norway was occupied by the Germans and so as well as surviving sub-zero temperatures, they were constantly at risk of attack from torpedoes.
Harry was then deployed to a Scottish island, where, unbeknown to him, he and his crew were trained to take part in the D-Day landings.
Harry sailed on the HMS Swift, which arrived at Normandy on 6th June with around 5,000 other ships for the D-Day campaign. It was the lead ship and the first to open fire in the campaign that changed the war’s outcome. Each night, the S-class destroyer would go out to help protect the Allied fleet from German torpedo ‘E-boats’ and magnetic mines, which would attach themselves to the base of the boats before exploding. On the 24th June after three weeks duty, HMS Swift was hit one morning at 7.30am by a mine. The ship sank quickly and 17 men were killed immediately. Forty more died later of their injuries out of a total crew of 200. Harry swam away from the sinking ship as quickly as he could so that he wouldn’t be pulled under by its current and was rescued onto a landing craft ship tank (LCT). He was pulled out of the water by someone known as ‘Buzz’ and the two men have remained friends throughout their lives and are still in touch today, 71 years later. Harry had three fractures, several gashes was smothered in oil, but was taken to hospital in Orpington, where his leg was replastered and he went on to make a full recovery.
At the end of 1944, Harry was told that he was being transferred to another training school and after completing an anti-aircraft course was posted onto the HMS Odzani an anti-submarine and anti-aircraft frigate. Its role was to escort oil tankers refuelling the fleet between England and Australia. The frigate travelled backwards and forwards across the world until the end of the war when it was diverted to Hong Kong.
Harry and his fellow crew were on one of the first landing ships to arrive in Hong Kong after the liberation of the territory from the Japanese. ‘There were fireworks and fire crackers everywhere when we arrived celebrating liberation,’ said Harry.
Chaos reigned at this time. The British were there to make sure warehouses were locked and to prevent pirates in the surrounding waters, who included human traffickers, drug gangs and criminals from looting and stealing everything that they could.
Harry was also present at the liberation of the Stanley internment camp in Hong Kong Bay where 2,800 British and other non-Chinese enemy nationals, including men, women and children were held for 44 months from January 1942 to August 1945. ‘It was awful, I’d never seen human suffering like it,’ sighed Harry. ‘There were rooms no bigger than a toilet cubicle where three people were expected to sleep.’
‘It was too much and we were struggling to police ourselves, so in the end we had to rely on the Japanese – even though they were the defeated nation – to help carry on policing Hong Kong if order was to be retained.’
Harry remained on the HMS Indefatigable and his final role in the war was transporting British and Australian troops back home. ‘I heard some stories. I was only too glad to get home in 1946. I’d seen everything I wanted to see. I’m not too proud of some of the things I did, but there are no winners in war. We just did what we had to do.’