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Ken Blackman

Leading Seaman

 

Ken on his wedding day

And sixty years later

The War Service of  Leading Seaman Ken Blackman:
RN Ganges - Dido - Drake - Repulse - RAN Leeuwen - Magnetic Mine Range - Norfolk 
Back to RN - Drake - Snipe.

Ganges has been well documented we had a tough Gunners Mate as our instructor
Dido was a light cruiser used as a floating training ship kept on the trot at Plymouth
Drafted to Drake, Further training gas school etc, awaiting our fleet posting - I got Repulse.
This was before war had been declared, Repulse was just back from The Royal Cruise and still had the Royal Apartments on board, not certain but she had a refit to bring her back to a fighting ship and not a cruise liner.
We did a shake down cruise, Oban was one port we visited. War wasn't long in coming after that.
Remember the peacetime fitting going ashore for the last time. (Scapa)

Sailed into the North Sea with the Home Fleet, line astern, all the A.A guns covered in tarps and lashed down. Didn't know how fast you could get bounced in those day's, and we were!! Bombers dropped a stick, our guns never had tarps on them after that.
They lost one plane, we remarked "Don't cheer, there are people on board", that soon changed.
We where hoping the Jerry Fleet would be at sea. 
After that it was convoy escort work and the odd run ashore at Halifax.
We where on station in the North Sea, Had to have a boiler clean, Hood took our station and the rest is history.
I was on the Pom-poms in those days, Then moved about 20ft to join the Port treble 4inch as gun layer Still well out on the upper deck and we were always bloody cold 

 

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The gun crew. This is a poor picture taken on the gun deck .
The forward funnel was behind us, the canvas was a dodger we made to stop freezing, we got some heat
from the funnel, The ladder takes you onto the signal deck

Roll on the Tropics, that was a boob.
On to Durban, Jan Smutts talk and into the tropics, never cold after that.

Singapore.

Nothing was ever going to happen to upset the colonials, it was unreal going ashore it was as if we were invisible to the settlers. 
Even the first air raid the floating dock was ablaze of lights couldn't find anyone to put 'em out.
Our last fight has been well reported 
The action for me was seeing the first of many waves of sevens, after that it was hot and heavy going we were of course in action until she rolled.
We received a torpedo just under the gun, after that to train and lay that gun was very hard. I think she must have strained the mounting.
When Repulse started to roll the gun was unworkable, I climbed up the deck to the Starboard gun she must have taken some hits as some of the RM Crew were killed, I climbed over the side walked down to the blister, sat and said good bye to a new pair of shoes placed them on the side and in. I think quite a few of the lads did just that too.
The water was full of fuel oil, Electra was within swimming distance and I made it to her scrambling nets, thank goodness. I was given a glass of sea water and the sea got back most of the oil I had swallowed.

 

Back to Singapore and a good clean, up.

The survivors had a parade, which I may add, was short lived. We were strafed by fighters, I never saw a parade break up so fast. Some idiot was yelling for the parade to stand fast. He may be still on the parade ground for all we cared.
Was then sent into Malaya as demolition team, we were issued with a long Lea Enfield and 50 rounds each and sent up in an old commandeered lorry.
The installations were Jap machine shops couldn't remember where it was, but can remember walking through the paper-thin walls of some houses
Back to Singapore to an AA Gun, in Sine Rd Chinese cemetery.
I had picked up compound jungle fever, so into hospital.
Discharged to a Straits steamship Circe converted to a minesweeper, she was a coal burner manned by the Singapore Navy Reserve, she sported a very old 4inch gun with two Hotchkiss guns and a weapon I had never seen before, it was a tube. The idea: you dropped a grenade down the barrel and opened a steam valve, it was supposed to throw the grenade as an air bursting weapon, in fact one attempt saw the grenade just clear the deck. End of that weapon.
We sailed out of Singapore as the Japs were on the island. Seven mine sweepers were sailing, we were with Medusa, the slowest, and were coal fired. we always had smoke and sparks coming out of the funnel at night, it was like a roman candle. The other five were sunk.

 

Eventually we made it to Batavia, all the RN Ratings were all for transferring to HMS Exeter but no go, so on to Tilichap, busted steering had to be fixed in short order, the Japs had landed and were coming overland. We had to get back out of a very narrow winding river, and the hills along that river were an ideal place to spot a mountain gun.
HMS Exeter was sunk about this time.

[HMS Exeter was sunk on 28th February 1942 at the Battle of the Java Sea]

On to Australia and Geraldton, waiting for the pilot when a Dutch Sub surfaced,  it had been following us submerged. Her skipper told us if we were sunk, our breaking up would mask his run out, he was very lucky, we had a round up the spout and we were on target and trigger happy in those days, our Pilot nearly had a stroke! 
Landed our wounded in Geraldton and on to Fremantle and into the Australian Navy - that was the gunnery rates survivors leave. Anyway the pay was much better.
Cox of a powerboat and a Pearling lugger converted for magnetic mine work and a dive boat. Sailing out of Fremantle to the degaussing range which was off Layton Beach. West Australia.
Drafted to return to UK for a course Buzz-bombs were still flying. Docked in the Port of London.
The Australian Navy couldn't hang on to me so I returned to the RN and into Drake - Leading Rate, then waiting for a dive course finished up as an instructor in the swimming pool. 
The A bomb shut down the need for the course, so was drafted to the corvette Snipe.
End of the war.

 

I had married in Australia. My wife, unknown to me had written to Rear Admiral Frazer, trying to obtain a passage to the UK, the war was still on, She was fortunate and sailed on the Stirling Castle. We of course, had to pay for the passage. I must say the navy did look after its own, Joyce had a first class cabin. During this voyage a German U boat gave itself up to the convoy in the Atlantic. 
The German war was over by this time.

 
Peace at last as my wife was now in the UK. I obtained my discharge by purchase.

Ken Blackman
Repulse Survivor 

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Joyce and I on our wedding 
day in Australia 

Almost 60 years together back in Australia

Information and photo's kindly provided by
Ken Blackman

Edited by Andy Wade (Webmaster)