‘X’ Force consisting of HMS GLENEARN, and the empire ships now flying the White Ensign, Emp. ARQUEBUS, Emp. BATTLEAXE, Emp. SPEARHEAD, & Emp MACE, HMS LAMONT formerly s.s. CLAN LAMONT, which was taking the place of the Emp. BROADSWORD which had been sunk by a mine, 536 Flotilla was now on the Emp. ARQUEBUS as the Emp. CUTLASS had been damaged by a Doodle Bug (V 1) whilst alongside, Force X would be under Rear-Admiral Talbot flying his flag in HMS LOTHIAN, formerly the s.s. City of Edinburgh, Force X was to proceed to the S.W. Pacific, attached to the US 7th SW FLEET and under their jurisdiction, via New York and the Panama Canal, the force sailed from the Clyde on 03.08.1944. Frank Taylor had now joined Emp. Spearhead which accompanied ‘Glenearn’ for many months.
On approaching New York 14.08.1944 there was a heavy sea mist, a prelude to a very hot Aug. day, I was up in the lookout station by the bridge, could not see anything, not the deck below, nor the fo’c’sle, looking up it seemed a bit brighter, right ahead high up in the mist I could make out a vaguely familiar shape, I reported ‘Barrage Balloon Dead Ahead’ then ‘Barrage Balloon moving to Starb’d’ then the shape stayed above us still quite indistinct and kept station with us, as the mist cleared we could see that it was a US Coast Guard Blimp, I had no idea that these small airships were still in use, especially in any armed forces, as the visibility cleared we could plainly see the crew who were checking us out.
....‘Glenearn’ went alongside a pier, and a run ashore was like going to another planet; shops full of everything that we hadn’t seen in Britain for years, no shortages, plenty of everything, at night all the streets and shops lit up, neon lights, restaurants, bars etc. open until the early hours, there was no sign of war here, then stores were loaded on to the ship, we couldn’t believe it, ice cream, chicken, biscuits, luxuries we hadn’t seen for a very long time, they weren’t for us, several hundred US Army Air Force came on board, these were all aircraft mechanics and maintenance men, they were all sergeants, top sergeants, and every other sergeant, there were more stripes than a herd of zebra, to us they were all old men, must have been 22yrs to 25yrs old, also there were 6 young seamen, ( Gobs )17 &18yrs of age , they were going to the Pacific to reinforce a See Bees unit, but they hoped to get a ship, they spent a lot of time with us, there were two cold water fountains installed on board for the troops, while in port the US Gov. gave us an extra 50 cents a day for ‘cost of living’, it may not sound much but it was quite a boost to our pay, then we sailed for Panama, there was a hurricane south of us so we put in to Charleston, Sth. Carolina for a day or so, then on to Panama.
The troops seem to congregate in little circles, playing poker, all around , no one took any notice, gradually the games got less and less, but the seamen told us that the reason for this was that the stakes were getting higher and higher, you could not enter a game unless you had a $100 then later $500 then the games were hidden out of the way with the main participants paying guards to vet anyone who came too close, they would have been down on the troopdeck, or below them, the ‘Buzz’ was that the Paybob, had to borrow from them to pay the ships company as there was not much cash left in circulation on the ship, the main players had their own bodyguards as this was all cash, on arrival at Finschhaven they were given an armed escort ashore to bank the money by the US.
We still had our hot meal at midday, but the US troops had theirs in the evening, so at midday they were given sandwiches, the ‘fillings’ at times were quite strange to them, the first time they got corned beef they asked us what it was, naturally we answered ‘corned dog’ they were horrified, they knew that Britain was very short of food, but to be eating dog!! And to serve it up to them they were aghast!! we tried to tell them that that was our slang name for corned beef but I think they remained unconvinced as every time they asked a crew member what it was they got the same answer ‘corned dog‘, the ‘errins’ in’ drew some unique comments too !! And the young seamen who wore jeans tried to age them, they tied them on the end of a line and put them over the side all night, then laid them out in the sun to bleach them, so what’s new?
Through the Caribbean it was starting to get hot so we took our hammocks and slung them in the LCAs on the davits, we did this from then on in the tropics, on deck were rigged a couple of canvas ‘pools’ filled with sea water about 2ft 6in deep, that we could dip in to to keep cool, unfortunately one of our corporals dived in and broke his neck, he lived and was put ashore in Colon, the outboard LCAs were lowered and the davits turned inboard before entering the Canal, then ‘Glenearn’ entered the canal like a mother duck with her brood of LCAs following close behind.
LCAs following ‘Glenearn’ through the lakes in Panama canal
At Panama it rained like I’ve never seen before about 6in. in about 30 minutes, we stripped off and climbed up to the craft on the davits and pulled the bungs out in case they got swamped those craft following behind had to keep the bilge pumps going !! At Balboa the LCAs were hoisted then with Captain Hutchison as senior officer ‘Glenearn' and the 4 Emp. ships sailed on, next stop was Bora Bora; ‘Lothian’ and ‘Lamont’ were left behind for ‘repair’.
After sighting the Galapagos Islands, we headed out into the pacific, after about a week I was up on the davits idly watching the US troops draw their nutty ration, when suddenly it was pandemonium, the ‘PX’ had run out of Tutti Fruitis, in vain the PX manager tried to plead with them that in the middle of the pacific he could not get any more supplies, so they sat down on the deck banging their metal mugs and chanting ‘’no Tutti Fruitis, no war’’ they were on a sit down strike!! This went on for quite a while, then the Tannoy summoned the Top Men to the deck to hose down decks, as the hoses were turned on, not on the troops but a few feet ahead of them on to the deck the seamen slowly advanced and the troops quickly dispersed, you could say the strike was a washout.
On arriving at Bora Bora some of the US troops were put ashore, and we heard that there had been a mutiny on the ‘Lothian’ half a dozen stroppy matelotes had played up because there was an acute water shortage on board and the Admiral made them parade in clean pressed whites every day, also someone had painted Rear Admiral Talbot’s initials on his cabin door, in white paint, this is all that we knew about the mutiny, except that some of the mutineers were put into cells on Glenearn, I don’t know who guarded them, but we were forbidden to go near or to talk to them, I did not know any more until I read the book ‘’Mutiny in Force X’’ by Bill Glenton about 1995, then many things became clear, the ships company of HMS Lothian had walked off the ship at Balboa, we then pushed on to New Guinea as there was something big coming off and we were to be part of it.
Approaching Finschhaven at the end of Sept. 1944, ‘Glenearn’ was told to wait for a pilot, Captain Hutchison sent back ‘’I surveyed these waters before you were born‘’ and came in and docked unaided, the rest of the troops and the young seamen were put ashore, the something ‘big’ was the invasion of the Philippines, there were talks held with the top US brass, Admiral Dan Barbey the US officer in charge of landing craft was known as ‘’Dan Dan the Amphibious Man’’ who gave permission for us to take part as long as we only used US landing craft, LCVPs (Higgins Craft) which of course did not fit our davits.
X Force had over 100 LCA’s so could carry 3500 troops (seated) or more but were not required, a US sergeant drawled that it would not look good on the news “stateside” to see British landing craft at the Liberation of the Philippines after Gen. McArthur’s much trumpeted “I Shall Return", in Europe the LCA was the craft of choice for the US Rangers and Special Forces, because of its silent approach, low silhouette, and shallow draught.
X Force was broken up, and the ships spread around the Sth. Pacific, ‘Glenearn‘ and ‘Emp. Spearhead‘ were sent down to Cairns and Townsville to train the Australian Army for amphibious landings, at Palm Cove and Trinity beaches, it was on Trinity Beach that our orders were changed and we were instructed to practice re-embarking troops from the beach (when a fully laden craft hits the beach, the troops exit and the craft is lighter so no problem getting off the beach—an empty landing craft on the beach re-embarking troops becomes heavier therefore the craft has to be kept floating otherwise it will become stuck, even if this means going slowly astern, this we had to practice) for an operation on N’th Borneo in conjunction with the Australian Army, the USN had given us permission to take part as N’th Boneo was British Territory, we asked ‘what are they expecting, another Dunkirk?’ but we heard no more as Gen. McArthur needed all available ships that he could muster for the Philippine campaign.
I believe that this was part ‘Project Kingfisher’ the plan to rescue the 2400 allied POW’s at Sandakan, later the Aust. Gov. denied that there ever was such a plan, then why were we briefed? The Aust, paratroopers were to consolidate the area and the landing craft were to come and take the POW’s off, an ‘operation’ involving paratroopers was called a ’project’ there were 6 survivors all Australian, all escapees picked up by Z force.
We were told that the US had a policy of not liberating or operating in any territory that was under a colonial power if it could be avoided as they did not believe in empires, so as we were technically part of the US Fleet they gave us permission to take part in the N’th Borneo operation.
The Aussies enjoyed the ‘errins’ in’, a big change for them from their Bully Beef!! The other ships were sent to various destinations around the SW Pacific, and now as a unit of the USN we were given a number, HMS Glenearn became HMS PZ 47 or something like that.
The Australian troops came on board in their faded jungle greens and slouch hats, they had a yellowish tinge to their skins which they said was due to the anti malaria drug Atabrin that they had to take, one of the first to come on board was a bloke who stopped and looked around, then said ’I’ve been on this ship before, this is the ship that evacuated us off of Crete (1941).
Captain Hutchison had the troops and Ships Company assembled on deck to explain the programme, he started off by saying ‘I hate Australians!! A big silence followed this announcement ---- then said ‘I was waiting for my wife outside a West End cinema in London and these Australians asked me what time the last feature started,(this was in reference to cinemas having a uniformed commissionaire outside) this bought a bit of a laugh, and every one settled down, the troops were on board for a week at a time then back to port and embark the next lot, the first lot we ran in a bloke asked me how far out we were going to drop them off as on an exercise with the USN they had to grab “shorty” (4ft in high heels)before he disappeared beneath the waves, I said you wont even get your feet wet—they didn’t they could not believe it all ‘’dry’’ landings, a run ashore was different, the pubs closed at 6pm so about 5.45 everyone bought as many drinks as possible, lined them up outside on the footpath against the wall, when the doors were closed we kept drinking outside for another 30 min or so.
December 1944 saw ‘Glenearn’ back in New Guinea carrying troops to various places sometimes Australian troops, sometimes US troops, on the occasions when both were carried at the same time they had to be kept apart, they were not compatible, (no matter what present day politicians would like to tell us) we knew that ashore there had been many a punch up, and according to the Aussies a shoot out!! the Aust. troopdeck exited into the port alleyway, and they were allowed forward to the Fore Well Deck, the US troopdeck exited into the starb’d alleyway and were allowed to go aft to the After Well Deck, and at specific places marines were on duty to make sure that they didn’t come in contact with each other, a ‘’sorry this part of ship out of bounds to troops’’ was sufficient to turn them around, at times ‘Glenearn’ proceeded independently,.sometimes in company with the Emp.
Spearhead. Xmas 1944 was spent at Hollandia (now Jayapura) in Humboldt Bay, Xmas dinner was as near as possible normal fare, no plastic in those days, so the chickens were frozen in Hessian bags, some uncharitable soul reckoned the bags would taste better than the chicken I had no such complaint and enjoyed the day, in the Islands courtesy of the USN we were issued with two bottles of beer per month per man, only to be consumed while in port, in Nth New Guinea with temperatures over 100 degrees even a warm beer was like nectar from the gods, the few teetotal blokes had no problem swapping their bottles, what a difference from Xmas 1943.
Xmas day 1943 alongside in some far north Scottish town, dark grey granite stone quay and buildings, a very grey day, cold and blowing hard, I was Corporal of the Gangway, the place was deserted, not a soul about, just after mid morning the Officer of the Watch and the Quartermaster just disappeared so I went up to the next deck where I had a much better view of the quay and anybody approaching the gangway and partially out of the wind, from behind me came a seaman dressed in a faded boiler suit carrying two small galvanized buckets, I stepped aside to let him pass and saw that the buckets were about a third full with a dark brown liquid, he just grinned and continued on his way, later when I was off watch on the mess deck the Sergeant put up a new roster on the notice board, the Rum Locker had been broken in to so the marines had to stand guard on it until it could be repaired, the seaman’s or the stokers mess must have had merry Xmas 1943.
Also in the tropics fresh water was a problem, only salt water showers, so when it seemed the ship was heading into a rain squall we would scamper below, strip off and wait on the fore well deck for the squall to hit and with our soap lather up, the deck would be awash with soapsuds and we hoped the squall would last long enough to rinse off.
In the Pacific ‘Glenearn’ in addition to the landing craft also carried a small helicopter for submarine surveillance, a pad had been built on the port side, just aft of the fo’c’sle, partly over the fore well deck, it could take off from there OK but could not land. It was on floats and would land on the water near the starb’d bow, there was a lifting eye in the centre of the blades and it was then was lifted in board with the derrick, and made fast on its pad, also as part of the ships company there was a ‘Beach Party’ of RN commandos, these were sometimes put ashore on a dark night by LCA, then picked up again before dawn, by sunrise ‘Glenearn’ was well away, they never discussed their work, but it was assumed that it was clandestine beach reconnaissance.
For months we had scrubbed our web belts, and with salt water and a touch of Milton they were very white and clean, then the powers that be decreed that hence forth they would blancoed green and scaffold planks were set up on the after well deck ‘Blanco for the use off’ the deck being hosed down after, this was not popular as the blanco seemed to get into every thing on the mess deck, Cpl. Bates asked if everyone was willing to give him 2 bob so that he could buy up all the blanco in the canteen this we did, so the entire stock was bought up and dumped over the side, blanco not being available in the canteen any more we happily went back to scrubbing our belts.
In Jan. 1945 ‘Glenearn’ with US troops bound for Leyte called in to Manus Island, a signal was sent ashore with a request for water, the answer was ‘no water available for 24 hrs’ Captain Hutchison’s answer was ‘ enough water on board to last ships company 24 hrs, none for 600 US troops’, the water ‘barge’ was alongside in an hour or so, the ‘barge ‘ was a huge bamboo raft on which was a water tank, generator, and pump.
Taking on water Manus Island style.
Glenearn then proceeded to Leyte and landed the troops and returned to Hollandia, on the return the lookout reported ‘Smoke coming from the sea’ it was a submarines schnorkell, ‘Action Stations’ was sounded, ‘Glenearn’ went to full speed ahead, heeled over making an emergency turn to port, and raced to the position, the sub had dived, some depth charges were dropped, and debris from packing cases surfaced, the Japs still had isolated garrisons that had been leapfrogged, and were supplied by submarine, between Finschhaven and Hollandia the Japanese still occupied Wewak, as Glenearn passed Wewak we could see frantic activity ashore as the Japs manned their guns but we were out of range and watched as the shells splashed harmlessly into the sea.
There would have been hundreds and hundreds of ships in the SW Pacific, far from any major ports, fresh vegetables were a big problem, so we had de-hydrated potatoes, beef, onions, carrot, and apple?? Was that greenish stuff cabbage?? Who knows!! When word got around that fresh spuds were on board, everyone looked forward to dinner, we were like kids at a Xmas party, never was the humble spud so revered, the flour was full of weevils so the bread, pastry and duff contained plenty of them, not that all this worried us as we remained a very healthy and happy mob, so it done us no harm, extract from the ‘Glenearn‘ magazine Jan. 1945, ‘’the record breaking weevil from the bakery this week went to No 13 mess. Protests are being lodged at this favouritism.’’
The next convoy from Hollandia was a slow one to Luzon, Captain Hutchison said that this was our last ‘’run’’ for USN, ‘Glenearn’ was acting as vice-commodore, the convoy that had left a couple of days earlier had lost several ships, so lookouts were doubled and trebled, a lone LST going south passed the convoy, we heard later that it had been torpedoed in a position that the convoy had been in that morning, a couple of hours earlier, an Officer making his rounds asked me why I hadn’t reported something floating by, I said that I couldn’t see it, he thought I was having a go at him and put me on a charge pending the MO report, an eye test revealed that I was short sighted, so there was no more lookout duty for me.
Three or four days out there were three small freighters that could not keep up the 9 knot convoy speed so gradually they slowly dropped astern of the convoy, there was a huge steep swell running that seemed to toss the little ships in all directions as they valiantly tried to stay on course but gradually they fell behind, very vulnerable with no escorts, all we could do was wish them god speed, and hoped that they made it, these were in pretty dangerous waters.
The troops we were carrying were combat troops, ordinary everyday blokes, quite unassuming, and polite, if they approached us on deck, it was always ‘ pardon me sir‘, we found the ‘sir’ part disconcerting, nothing like the Tutti Fruitis mob, I don’t know if at times they had access to a drop of jungle juice or some trading with the crew for their tot, any thing was possible, but on occasion a small group would quietly break out into song, after Leyte ‘Glenearn’ was appointed convoy commodore, and headed for Lingayen Gulf in northern Luzon, ‘Glenearn’ usually zigzagged at the rear of the convoy, on arrival at the gulf ‘Glenearn’ surged ahead passing all the ships, the troops lined the rails giving each ship a huge cheer as we passed, probably relief at the end of a long, slow, monotonous convoy.
That afternoon the Japs were dive-bombing the capitol ships at the entrance to the gulf, but luckily for us left the transports alone. the troops were landed at Lingayen Gulf, there was a very heavy swell and the troops were beached with no problem, whilst being hoisted in LCA 994 (I think we may have had a different LCA by then, No1243 I think) L\cpr. Jack Danks got out of the cox’n’s cockpit before the davit had taken the weight, and was standing next to the chain holding the hoisting eye, it suddenly took the weight, the chain tightened, moved about 3in. and broke his thigh bone, there was quite a lot of shipping in the Gulf, very busy, another convoy formed up and with ‘Glenearn’ as commodore headed south for Hollandia.
A day or so later ‘Glenearn’ left the convoy and closed with the coast, sailing down the coast there was a huge pall of dirty grey smoke, mile after mile just lying above the tops of the trees like a thick fibre glass blanket, we then entered Manila Bay, and sailed around an island, was this Corregidor that Gen. McArthur had ‘’escaped’’ from? we could plainly see the camouflaged concrete bunkers, but there was no movement, all quiet, the Japs had left, and looking down the bay we could see Manila was burning, smoke was billowing and roiling from the great fire that was consuming it, a terrible sight, then rejoining the convoy 'Glenearn’ sailed for Hollandia.
At Hollandia personnel were embarked for passage to Sydney, among them were 3 very grateful British seamen, rescued from a Japanese Prisoner of War camp near Cabanatuan City on Luzon, in a daring raid by US Rangers 25miles behind the lines, they bought them all out safely, the directive from the War Ministry in Tokyo dated August 1944 which laid out for the annihilation of all POW’s, to stop them being rescued, was known.
Heading around Milne Bay then south ‘Glenearn’ ran into a Cyclone, this was with us for 2 or 3 days, the whaler stowed on the fore well deck was smashed to pieces, an LCA also came loose but the seamen managed to secure it before too much damage occurred but it was no easy task, Cpl Jones who was prone to seasickness under normal conditions, spent the days sitting on a bench outside the sick bay I believe they took him in at night, ‘Bung’ole’ for supper three nights as the galley had problems, then on to Sydney.
There was a strong “buzz” that the USN had awarded Glenearn the Philippine Liberation Medal, in the book ‘’In Time of War’’ by Alex.Aiken (the story of Glenearn from go to whoa) this was later confirmed at a meeting when Lt Bell RM, (543 Flotilla) was told by Admiral Lord Frazer that HMS Glenearn and two other RN ships had been offered the Philippine Liberation Medal, but that Admiralty policy dictated that it could not be accepted. 535 Flotilla was taken off of ‘Glenearn’ and put onboard Emp. Battleaxe for passage back to UK accompanied by the Emp. Mace, and Emp. Arquebus with Rear Admiral Talbot on board, they left Sydney at the beginning of April 1945. ‘Glenearn’ went back to the Philippines to join the British Pacific Fleet that had just arrived; the Emp. Spearhead spent some time in the Philippines.
I do not know what duties the other ‘Empire ‘ships were involved in, except that in Dec 1944 – Jan. 1945, LCAs from Emps. Arquebus, Battleaxe and Mace took part in a small but vital operation on the Jaba and Tekessi River, also monitored the mouth of the Tuju River on Bougainville, taking Aust. troops and stores up the rivers, LCVPs couldn’t be used as their draft was too deep, even with LCAs it was often the case in the shallows of everyone over the side and push, during this operation 2 Australian coast watchers were also rescued by 536 flotilla and one LCA was lost, I was told that an account of this operation was in the Sept 1945 Globe & Laurel, the operation was led by Lt Day RM, and was known as ‘’Dayforce’’ a letter of thanks was written by the Australian Army Commander to the Royal Marines thanking them for a job well done under such difficult circumstances.
LCA 223 was our oldest craft, was always referred to as ‘Old 223’and was a veteran of the Anzio landings, as the oldest craft it had something to prove and had just one speed – flat out, unfortunately this ended abruptly in Cairns (I think) when it hit some rocks, was too badly damaged and had to be left behind.
X Force would have been sent to the SW Pacific with the best of intentions, but on arrival the impression was that we were trespassing on someone else’s turf, the USN probably had everything in hand, and we were surplus to requirements, island hopping was finished.
Back on parade at West cliff the same drill sergeant that was there in 1943, he noticed about a quarter of an inch of green shirt cuff showing below the cuff of one marines battle dress and bellowed ‘you will not come on my parade in a non issue shirt’
Mne… It is an issue sergeant,
Serg… And just where would you be issued with a green shirt?
Mne… Up the river on Bougainville, Sergeant
Serg… Where is Bougainville?
Mne…. Some place you’ve never been to -------Sergeant
Serg… GET YER ‘AIR CUT
We were back
Captain Colin A G Hutchison, DSO & Bar, OBE. RN. Known on board as ‘Father’, it was said that he was one of the youngest captains in WW1, and one of the oldest in WW11, in his younger days he was part of a survey team that surveyed the S W Pacific, arriving at Finschhaven late one afternoon, was told that the harbour was full and so was told to anchor outside, with the knowledge that subs were in the area he took ‘Glenearn’ farther along the coast, thru’ a narrow opening, into a lagoon that lay behind the beach out of harms way, there was not enough room to swing, so the ship was made fast to trees on either side, and went out stern first in the morning. there is an island off of the Nth Queensland coast, and a reef off the Solomon Islands named after him, at one time the accuracy of the Admiralty Charts were queried, they said that he bristled and let it be known in no uncertain term that they were part of his work.
‘Jimmy’ was Commander R N Hardman-Jones, he was a very large man with an exaggerated plum in his mouth, at a ships concert when he was mimicked no one enjoyed the joke more than he did, he always went ashore with a bike, one of those big, heavy ‘no nonsense’ bikes, and when on watch as corporal of the gangway at night, it was not unusual to see one, two, at times even three ratings matelot or marine roll up at the last minute where the Commander had given them his bike so that they wouldn’t be adrift, he would walk up later and claim his bike, the petrol for the LCAs was stored under the marines mess deck, the tanks were in a compartment that was kept flooded except when refueling then it was drained, and unfortunately full of fumes, which permeated the mess deck, and the old geriatric fans had plenty of sparks as they were arcing continuously, on the 09.04.1945 there was an explosion with many casualties, Commander Hardman- Jones was killed in a second explosion while down on the messdeck rescuing the injured from the first explosion, there was also a small seamen’s mess under too, it happened at ‘stand easy’ my guess is that the fans were switched on to clear the air.
Actually I was quite surprised to hear of the casualties sustained in the explosion on Glenearn --- when 535 flotilla was on board and the landing craft were being refueled, Serg. Dixon stood in the starb’d passageway and absolutely refused to let anyone below stand easy or not, he gave me one minute to change for watch keeping duties, giving me the hurry up all the time, except for the two seamen who manned the ASDIC in their own steel cabin, when 535 left their place was taken by a landing craft maintenance group from a shore base in Sydney, they were possibly unaware of the danger.
Between October 1943 and mid 1945 Arnold Rose, Frank Taylor and I all served at different times on HMS GLENEARN.
Jack Eaves Bowman of LCA 994, 535 Flotilla HMS Glenearn.
Copyright Jack Eaves All Rights Reserved