Sunday, 8 November 2015

My father and I

I had my doubts
Before I go on, I'd like to set the record straight - my father and I never got on - for what reason, I never knew. I do have my theories, but that is of no consequence. 

At this point, I would like to say that although I found my father lied to me for years - I do understand why - it's a family matter (enough said).

War record
Some things my dad told me about his war record never added up. In later years, I came to understand his reasons for lying.




Blackpool
The first discrepancy is he said he was posted overseas after doing his squad-bashing at Bloomfield Road, Blackpool. He told me that he sailed on the RMS Empress of India and saw HMS Rawalpindi http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ww2peopleswar/stories/84/a7068684.shtml sank by the Scharnhorst http://www.scharnhorst-class.dk/. I checked online for many years, and there is no record of a ship of that name registered. The last Empress of India had been scrapped many years before the war started. 

With help from my friend, Julia, in Seattle, I did locate a ship that was due to be named Empress of India but she never took her new name. 

In my research, the first item of discontent was the geography of the sailing. I thought why would a troopship sail around Ireland after leaving Blackpool? This action is not only an excessive length of a journey. The best route is the Irish Sea between Ireland and Wales. The journey would risk meeting a wolf pack - the term used for a collection of U-boats.

My research brought up further errors, by his admission, my dad sailed from Blackpool in August 1944. The incident involving the ships took place in the September of 1939.  By December 1943, the Scharnhorst was destroyed by the Royal Navy during the Battle of the North Cape off the coast of Norway

The second Kriegsmarine vessel in the involved was the Gneisenau. To this day, it is unclear why the Rawalpindi - no more than an armed freighter should take on two of the largest vessels the German Navy built. Was it bravado, or stupidity? 

The captain had been ordered to surrender his vessel. No captain likes to do that, but his actions cost the lives of his crew. His duty was to report the sighting, beyond that no more could be expected considering his opponents had his ship outranged and outgunned. Rawalpindi did get two hits on the Scharnhorst; they did no more than scratch the surface. The battle - if you can call it a battle - was over in less than an hour, and 238 men died. 

By August 1944, the fate of the Gneisenau had been long ago sealed. After returning from Operation Cerebus, she hit some wreckage in Brunsbuttel harbour, while awaiting repairs she was sunk by the Royal Air Force on 26th February 1942.

Further investigation raised more doubts about the truth. The incident happened in the Faroe Islands, this had me thinking. There is no way a ship leaving Blackpool bound for India is going to sail around the north of Scotland

Of my father's service in India, there is no doubt, I have photos of him on leave from the old station at RAF Poona. Like many bases - including my base at RAF Laarbruch, Germany - the base has been taken over by a civil airline.

Times were different in the 1940s, what is acceptable today was a disgrace and needed to be hidden in them days. While I can't forgive the lies, I can understand the reason for them - and in a way that is forgiveness.

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