An Anzac Story: Ian

Ian is a resident at our Elanora aged care home in Brighton, Victoria. He served during World War II, and was kind enough to share his incredible story with us for Anzac Day.

Ian joined a survey corps in the Australian Army in July 1941 and transferred to the Navy in 1942. He completed the officer’s training course at Flinders Naval Depot, and passed out with top marks in his class. He was the sent to serve with the British Royal Navy.

His first posting was to HMS Royal Sovereign, a battleship active in the Atlantic and based in Norfolk, Virginia.

In late 1942, he was assigned to HMS Impulsive, a destroyer devoted to accompanying Russian convoys across the Atlantic and the North Sea. This was a dangerous assignment as the convoy had to proceed at the speed of the slowest ship (about six knots). Convoys took eight days to take transport, guns, ammunition and railway carriages to Murmask or the White Sea in Russia.

“Often we would change course to dodge submarines – a lot of ships were lost and one of the great dangers was the extreme cold”, Ian said.

Ian’s ship took an active role in one of the most significant events of World War II, the D-Day invasion at Normandy. Instead of the expected duties of bombarding the shoreline and then escorting commandos onto the beaches, Ian’s ship was assigned to pick up two Army Officers, Brigadier Browning (Commander of Airborne Corps) and General Sir Miles Dempsey (Commander of the Second British Army) and their staff and act as a floating command post to assess the progress of the landing by travelling along the Normandy beaches.

“We left Portsmouth at 0430h on 6 June and headed for Ouistreham. It seemed that everything that could float and everything that could fly were in the action.

We passed literally hundreds of ships and craft formed up in almost continuous convoy right across the eighty or so miles across to France. When we came in sight of France most of the warships, including some big battleships were blazing away at batteries and other targets on shore, filling the air with noise and smoke.

The first night was a series of air raids with guns firing all night. To see our bombers and fighters go over in all their numbers and all their glory was the prettiest of sights”.

After the easy targets close to the shore had been taken out a forward observation spotter would go ashore and travel inland. Having found a vantage point the spotter would, by Morse code, relay map coordinates of the location of enemy resources to the Bombardment Liaison Officer so the ship could bombard with devastating impact from a distance of up to nine miles.

Following D-Day, Ian was involved with the liberation of the Channel Islands and reintroduction of British rule.

He was promoted to Lieutenant at just 22 years of age.

Of all his wartime experiences the memory that most haunts Ian is the night a new destroyer, HMS Mahratta was sunk, just 200 yards away from their position. In the middle of the night, 72 degrees north and surrounded by small icebergs, the ship was struck by torpedo twice and quickly began to sink. Ian’s ship was first on the scene and made ready to assist survivors. In the freezing Atlantic waters, men could only survive for a few minutes. Of the 242 men on board, only 16 survived.

Apart from the dreadful memories, Ian did get at least one good thing from his wartime experiences. Whilst in England he met Joyce and they married on 9 August 1945. “Then they dropped a bomb on Hiroshima on 15 August so instead of re-joining the ship I had a ten-week honeymoon.”

When the war was over Ian returned to Australia and continued with his Naval career for six months while he waited for his wife Joyce to arrive. The Navy arranged passage for Joyce in the aircraft carrier HMS Indefatigable. Her birthday is on Anzac Day.

When Ian left the Navy he went back to work at ICI Australia, where he had been employed as a sales clerk from 1940-1941.  With the prospect of a family to support, Ian soon branched out on his own to commence a successful career in furniture manufacturing.

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