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Recalling two wars at sea

Posted: 9am 21 Apr 2021

The sound of the waves and smell of the sea will be with World War II and Korean War veteran Peter Craig as he takes his place among those gathered for Redcliffe’s Anzac Day Dawn Service on Sunday.

Mr Craig, who served with the Royal Navy and then the Royal Australian Navy says it is an important reminder of the perils of war.

“It makes you think that you hope it never happens again. War’s no good for anybody,” Mr Craig says.

“It’s not a bright outlook to see men go away and not come home.”

The 98-year-old, of Kippa-Ring, served with the Royal Navy during World War II hunting German U-boats and was in the English Channel with “thousands” of ships waiting for D-Day before heading to Tokyo Bay where he would anchor while “peace was signed”.

His service came after two previous attempts to enlist, as an 18 and 19-year-old. On both occasions his application was refused because he was in a reserved occupation.

“I was building houses for the air ministry, namely the Rolls Royce workers in Glasglow,” he recalls.

When he tried again at the age of 20, he finally had his chance to follow his father and older brother into service.

“It was just the fashion when the war started. All the young fellows thought they’d be brave,” he says.

“It was hard in the Royal Navy, four years, at sea most of the time. You never know if you’re going to be hit with a U-boat or anything, but we went hunting for them.

“I don’t know whether you were scared or what. You never knew what was going to happen, when you were chasing U-boats … especially when they used to operate in packs, maybe six, seven or eight all together so they could get in amongst convoys and cause havoc.

“When you go to sea, you’re on edge all the time. We used to spend three weeks at a time at sea.”

Vital role at sea

He was posted to the HMS Woodcock and recalls the moment the crew destroyed a prized German U-boat which was vital to the German attack.

“We picked the U-boat up just before dark at night on the 4th of November and Captain Walker ordered us not to attack it. He said conditions were perfect, leave it til dawn,” Mr Craig recalls.

“Well, we sat on top of that U-boat all night. At the precise moment, in the morning, he said, ‘fire now’ and that was it … down went the torpedoes. It was one io Hitler’s big supply submarines, so that was a prize.”

On Mr Craig’s 21st birthday, the Woodcock was badly damaged during a battle in the North Atlantic and, on another occasion, she was accidentally rammed by the HMS Venus and again had to be repaired in Hull.

“We left Hull, back up near the north of Scotland, this time went down to Liverpool in England. Then they said you’re going to the Pacific,” he recalled.

“We got to the Pacific and Manus Island and were there when the British Pacific fleet came up from Australia and the fleet started moving north into the war zone.”

Celebrating the end of the war

The ship was in the Philippines, when they received word the war was over.

Woodcock up anchored and headed straight off to Tokyo Bay. In Tokyo Bay, there were lots of ships and the three Americans on board were taken off the Woodcock and they went straight to the battleship Missouri where peace was signed,” Mr Craig recalls.

“That afternoon, Woodcock entered Yokohama and we were the first British ship to tie up in Japan after the war.”

He recalls the crew standing on the bow saluting prisoners of war as they were transferred to waiting ships.

Mr Craig returned home after the war and back to his old job and was considering re-joining the Royal Navy, when he heard the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) was looking for 4000 former RN personnel to join its ranks.

“So, I said to myself it’s a bit warmer out there than around here. I joined the Australian Navy, commissioned the first aircraft carrier, brought her out (HMAS Sydney). I saw service in Korea on the Sydney,” he says.

He was with the RAN for six years and also spent time as an instructor for National Service recruits.

His final posting was on the HMAS Tobruk.

“I enjoyed the Navy. In the Australian Navy, I had a good time. It wasn’t very good in the Royal Navy because you were at sea all the time,” he says.

“I always had a fascination for the sea. I respect the sea very much. People don’t realise the perils in the water.”

For a full list of Anzac Day services across the Moreton Bay Region, head here

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