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Hazardous days at sea
Cyril Claridge lied about his age to join the Royal Navy.
His birthday was October 1, but he told the Navy it was September 1 so he was accepted a month short of his 18th birthday, the minimum entry age.
When Navy officials asked for his birth certificate, he said his mother couldn’t afford one.
After training as a wireless operator, he joined HMS Tracker, a small aircraft carrier with 12 Seafire aircraft and 12 Swordfish bombers.
Her task during the Second World War was to escort convoys of merchant ships bringing vital supplies to Britain across the North Atlantic, protecting the vessels from attacks by German U-boats in an area where there was no Allied air cover.
Mr Claridge, of Hockmore Street, Cowley, recalls: “Once a convoy had air cover, we would pick up a convoy going in the opposite direction.”
His job was to monitor radio messages between the U-boats and their bases in Germany, and it was a hazardous life, with the constant threat of attack.
“We slept with our lifebelts on in case the worst happened.”
HMS Tracker was one of many vessels involved in the D-Day operation in the English Channel.
Her aircraft were involved in many sorties to drive the Germans back from the French coast.
But her role ended after about 10 days when she was in collision with a Canadian frigate.
Both vessels were damaged, the frigate so badly that some of the Canadian sailors were killed and others were hauled aboard the aircraft carrier which was able to stay afloat.
Mr Claridge recalls: “The frigate was apparently chasing a U-boat when the collision happened. Unfortunately, you can’t stop an aircraft carrier very quickly.
“I believe there was a court martial, but we never heard what happened.”
After repairs in Liverpool, HMS Tracker became a supply ship, mainly in the Pacific.
Based at San Pedro and San Diego, the crew’s first port of call was Pearl Harbour, scene of the devastating attack by Japanese bombers in December 1941.
“Our first sight was of the sunken warships with masts protruding out of the water.”
Later, HMS Tracker proceeded to Guam, Saipan, the Marshall Islands, Marianas and finally to Manus, a naval base near New Guinea, crossing the international date line several times.
Mr Claridge recalls: “As we returned to the UK across the Atlantic, we saw all the ships had lights on. The war in Europe was over.”
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