I grew up being fascinated by old photos and this album was my favourite for two reasons: it was purely my dad’s and it showed me a whole world that I had no experience of – serving in the Royal Navy in the Far East during World War II. It was one of the things that inspired me to take up photography.
Dad was an aircraft electrician in the Fleet Air Arm. He signed up when he was just 18 in 1943, even though he was in a reserved occupation building planes in Coventry. He spent most of his naval career on HMS Emperor, a US built aircraft carrier loaned to the Royal Navy under the Lend-Lease agreement.
It’s an album full of images of messing around on board ship, sailing through the Suez Canal and visiting far flung places, which must have been amazing to someone who’d grown up in a small Warwickshire village.
There’s more serious stuff too, like this Hellcat that crashed on deck during the invasion of Rangoon.
Seventy years ago today on VJ Day 1945, HMS Emperor was in harbour at Trincomalee in what’s now Sri Lanka, so Dad’s VJ photos show his view of the fireworks from on board ship. (I think they improvised with distress flares.)
But his war wasn’t over quite yet. And it’s these last few photos that are the most interesting. I didn’t understand their significance when I was a child. They were taken at the surrender of Singapore on 12 September 1945. Dad was in the crowds watching Admiral Louis Mountbatten walk into the Municipal Buildings with Japanese General Seishiro Itagaki. Apparently, all the servicemen who took their own photos were ordered to destroy them so only the official photos remained. Clearly Dad, quite rightly, was having none of that so must’ve hidden these ones! I’m glad he did.
And I’m glad too that he took the time and trouble to put his photos in an album, properly labelled so now, all these years later, I still know what they are. A lesson to us all. (I have boxes of photos that I need to do that with!)
Dad survived the war but his war service did take its toll as he passed away in 2000 from mesothelioma, most probably caused by the asbestos he’d been exposed to on board ship. Miss you Dad xx