R.I.P. John Hall Jones

My father passed away at the age of 96. He'd been relatively well until recently, but as happened with my Mum, and others, he was taken into hospital for one thing, then other things went wrong, and in the end treatment for one condition exasperated another until it became clear that there was little left to do.

In his memory, here's a memoir of his from his time in the second world war.

An Incident at Sea by John Hall Jones

(as told to Gareth John Jones) After I joined the army, we trained for several months, in what had been in peacetime a “holiday camp” in North Wales. Our specialization was Field Communications. That winter (1940-41) was extremely cold, which meant that staying in unheated chalets (they were previously only in use in the summer) made our training twice as hard. Flu was rampant, and those who suffered from it were not helped by the repeated directive “Just get on with it!”. It was truly said that “there’s no room in the British Army for softness or sentiment”. Hopefully this attitude has mellowed at least a little these days. At last the training came to an end and we were moved to Colwyn Bay, a pleasant seaside resort. Not so pleasant a time for us, as the Army decided in July of ‘41 that we need to undergo a “toughening up” process. Long marches into the Welsh mountains, repulsing an invading force (actually Local Defence Volunteers, later to be known as the Home Guard). We were on good terms with the townspeople, and we remembered our time there fondly when the time came to move on. When we left to be posted overseas, the streets were lined with cheering crowds, waving the traditional flags and emblems. As we proudly marched, in full tropical kit, to the train station, we were not really considering the fact that many of us would not see “Blighty” again for five years – and of course, many would never return. On the train, as we left the town behind, most of us engaged in the traditional soldier’s pastime of catching up on sleep. The saying went “Don’t stand when you can sit, don’t sit when you can lie down. If lying down, go to sleep.” After three hours we were shocked to see the extent of the devastation as we pulled into Liverpool. Three nights of heavy bombardment had left debris everywhere, and warehouses flattened. Smoke was still issuing from many a building. We were marched to a giant troopship, the Warwick Castle, which was a hive of activity as war materials were transported to its cavernous holds. We had no time to gape, as the order was “Gildy, Gildy” – army slang for “Hurry up”. More raids were expected that night and we’d be the prime target if we were still around. Once aboard and having been allotted a berth, we all went to the ship’s rail to watch the stevedores working at an amazing pace. We slipped our mooring within the hour and silently began our journey. I have an abiding memory of a hail of envelopes being thrown to the dock with a last (and uncensored) message for families and loved one. Most had no postage on, and some fell into the murky waters below, but all of those that reached shore safely were picked up and sent on to their destinations. On rising the next day we rushed to the rail to see where we were. The sea around us was as calm as can be imagined, and remained so for the rest of the journey, something which we did not know at the time would be our salvation. There were 30 or so other vessels, forming a convoy. Our only protection salvation was a single Naval Corvette, circling the convoy like an eager Collie dog herding sheep in the Welsh mountains. We sailed for several placid days in beautiful weather, attending lectures, map reading, and of course doing Physical Training. The sixth day was much like the previous ones, and as we were ordered to our bunks a loud THUMP sounded from somewhere below. I will always remember the exact time, 9.55 pm. The ship shuddered, and we momentarily lost our balance. The sergeant bellowed “IT’S PROBABLY NOTHING TO WORRY ABOUT! GET INTO BED!” We were about to do so when we were flung across the room to the accompaniment of the loudest bang I ever heard, followed immediately by an ear-splitting shriek that seemed to go on forever. Total silence followed, to be broken by a voice saying simply “I think we’ve been hit, chaps..” “GET DRESSED! BOAT STATIONS!” was the bellowed order. We rushed to obey, but as we go to the cabin door an officer blocked our way. He calmly informed us “Step through that door and you’ll fall straight into the drink.” And so we learned what had happened. The initial “THUMP” was a torpedo hitting us, but luckily it had not exploded. But we were knocked off course and had wandered into the path of another troopship, which hit us at an angle of 30 degrees on the starboard side, ripping a great hole (the demonic screeching). The lifeboats and rafts were all destroyed, and our bow had sheared off. All engines stopped, and it was only the complete calm of the water that saved us from sinking. I could see the outline of the other vessel through the dark, and heard the peculiar “Hoot, hoot” of its Klaxon horn. Over a megaphone, this message was delivered: “Your position has been notified, God Bless you all!” The ‘hoot,hoot” sounded once again as they departed as swiftly as they could. Then, silence. Orders were to proceed as far to the stern as possible. Throughout the night loud banging sounds gave evidence that carpenters were doing what they could to replace or restore the damaged bow. Hour later, we heard the engines start back up, and we proceeded at between 4 and 8 knots, now heading westward. For around a week the elements were extraordinarily kind, a blessing since if there had been any swell at all, we’d have foundered. Eventually we reached Halifax in Nova Scotia, where we stayed for about six weeks awaiting the arrival of further transport. Our stay in Canada is another tale.