Looking through a Your Magazine some weeks ago I noticed a Reunion for HMS Ceylon for 1943-60 on the 26-29th April, 2002, naturally I was interested as I was one of her first Ships Company during the war period.
After doing a Gunnery Course at Whale Island I went to Stamshore RN Camp awaiting a draft which was to HMS Ceylon.
I remember most of her 1st Ships Company met in Portsmouth RN Dockyard and went from there by train to Glasgow almost alongside the ship at Stephens Yard, where I expect she was built. The date was 29th June 1943.
My action station was trainer of P1 Twin 4inch Gun, and to start off with I was detailed off as RPO’S messman.
After going through the Ships Trials and her modifications, such as having her plane and catapult removed and extra close range weapons in their place, in September 1943 we finally got underway to join the 4th Cruiser Squadron in Trincomalee, a far cry from my previous ship mine laying in the North Atlantic, the Denmark Straits and occasional trips in the Arctic. Our route was through the Med, but while at Gibraltar we had a sudden call out to sea after a blockade-runner, but nothing came of it.
There was not much of a Fleet there when we first arrived in Trincomalee but it soon started to build up with Battleships, Cruisers, Destroyers and three Aircraft Carriers. For a while we had the Saratoga a USA Aircraft Carrier join us, a huge ship bigger than our Fleet Carriers. So for the best part of the next two years, HMS Ceylon covered many raids and bombardments on Japanese Islands, installations and oil refineries.
We escorted a large American Troopship from Madagascar to Freemantle. She was enroute to the Pacific. On our return journey after a short leave in Australia we ran into the fringe of a Typhoon, it was a big one too. The ship was Ocean Stations at the time and my station was the Trainer of ‘A’ Turret but no way could you get there across the upper deck, we had to go down and up through the Shell Room to get there. I will never forget the crashing of the sea against the gun turret. However, we came safely through thanks to our Captain, but I heard that a number of ships were lost in that Typhoon.
We had a Floating Dock in Trincomalee harbour and were due for a refit but we were not dismayed when a Battleship going in or out of it damaged it, instead we went to Durban for our refit (and fumigation) and I had a great two weeks leave in Johannesburg. Then it was back to Trinco. In November 1944, HMS Ceylon joined the Pacific Fleet sailing from Trinco in January 1945 and taking part with the Fleet in a raid on Pankalan Brandan, but afterwards turned back on her own and started carrying out her own operations. The Japanese were now on the retreat in Burma and the Ceylon sailed up the Rangoon River to take part in the Rangoon Victory Parade now that the Japs had been driven from there and to supply AA Cover with another Cruiser. I went ashore for that parade.
Back in Colombo we had an ENSA Party entertaining us just like the crowd in (It ain’t half hot Mum). While talking to one of the party on the upper deck all the Ships in the harbour started sounding off their sirens, hooters and what not, the Yanks had dropped the Atom Bombs on Japan and the Japanese had now surrendered.
We next headed for George Town with a Battleship on whom the surrender of the Japs in the East Indies took place. HMS Ceylon then led the way back into Singapore through the Malacca Strait and I remember seeing several Hospital Ships leaving there with hundreds of POW’s, how we cheered them on their way. We now know of the extent of their ill treatment by the Japs.
Soon after this came our recall back to the UK. Carrying many Army Personnel as passengers. I felt sorry for them while crossing the Bay of Biscay, it was very rough and they were not used to it. My watch was in the Damage Control, as the Guns were no longer closed up. I could see the pendulum swinging in there over to 18 Degrees at times as the ship rolled. But one thing stays in my mind about this crossing, I had hung my hammock in the Torpedo Tubes Compartment in the ships waist and after climbing in after a middle watch there was a loud banging end crashing across the deck, a large Gas Bottle had broken loose and was crashing around the torpedo tubes. Fortunately there was a phone next to my hammock and on reporting it the torpedo men were soon there to secure it, had it exploded I don’t think I would be writing this now.
We eventually arrived in Portsmouth in September l945, almost two years to the day when we had left the UK.
HMS Ceylon had travelled some 125,000 Miles on her First Commission. I had spent 2 years on HMS Ceylon, she was a happy ship with a great Ship’s Company but as I was only 22 years old when I joined do not suppose there are so many of them around now as many were far older than me. Although the concussion of her guns has caused me a lot of hearing loss I have many fond memories of the time spent on board her and never regret the many experiences while sailing with her.
James Crowdy (A.B. 1943/1945)