Better Lucky Than Rich – Bill Alty — 9th June 2014

Bill Alty, a young 91 old, recoun­ted his time in the Royal Navy during the Second World, War and his exper­i­ence during the D Day land­ings.

Bill came from a very poor back­ground, his father being out of work for the first two or three years of his life.

On the 3rd of September 1939 Bill was 16.1/2 years old, a boy scout and trav­el­ling in his scout master’s car to camp. The car had a radio, which was a luxury in those days, and the pro­gramme they were listen­ing to was inter­rup­ted by the announce­ment of the out­break of war with Germany. The scout master imme­di­ately turned the car round and they headed back home. Bill was enthused by the whole pro­spect of war and in June 1940 he tried to enlist into the Royal Navy at his home town of Halifax. He was asked whether he had a job and what it was. His applic­a­tion was refused because his was in a ‘reserved occu­pa­tion’. He tried to enlist in the Merchant Navy but got the same rebuff, so he went to Leeds to apply for the Royal Navy again. When asked about his occu­pa­tion he was more than a bit eco­nom­ical with the truth, and was accep­ted for train­ing as a sig­nal­man.

He was posted to Farnham for his basic train­ing. Saturday morn­ing was ‘bull’ time and to get out of doing menial tasks he reli­giously pol­ished a cycle which he had noticed propped against a wall. Each Sunday morn­ing they had church parade on the parade ground, and one such occa­sion two German planes came over and strafed the assembly killing many recruits.

When he fin­ished his basic train­ing he was asked whether he wished to be posted to a big ship or a small one. He chose a small ship on the basis that he was likely to be the only sig­nal­man.

He was posted to Lowestoft for fur­ther train­ing and was bil­leted with two or three other naval rat­ings in a house with good food and clean bed­ding, run by a land lady with one spe­cial request. She required each rating to spend half an hour each day on the ‘net’. She made cam­ou­flage nets for the armed forces for which she was paid well, and rather than making them her­self, she got her lodgers to do it for her.

He then spent two three weeks on the Firth of Forth at a mine sweep­ing base before being assigned to HMS Hildena, a fish­ing trawler that had been con­ver­ted for sweep­ing for acous­tic mines. After a short period he was trans­ferred to HMS Resound, a con­ver­ted French trawler whose cap­tain was illit­er­ate and relied upon sig­nal­man Alti to read and write for him. The Resound, unlike the Heldina, was con­ver­ted to sweep for con­tact mines. This was done by towing a long cable to stern and to port which had ser­rated cut­ting blades attached to it to cut through the teth­er­ing ropes which held the mines in place. The mines then popped up to the sur­face and were then exploded by shoot­ing at them.

An oppor­tun­ity came for the cap­tain to recom­mend sig­nal­man Alty for officer train­ing. He passed the ini­tial inter­views and went to Scotland for train­ing, which was so phys­ic­ally demand­ing he lost 2 stones. He was then posted to HMS Nelson to learn the finer points of etiquette of being an officer. It was during this period that he heard that, during his absence HMS Resound had been sunk.

He was then sent to Salcombe and put in charge of a land­ing craft and prac­ticed, along with many others, at land­ing on vari­ous beaches under varied sea con­di­tions. The land­ing craft and crew then sailed to Southampton where all the ships were gath­er­ing for D Day: from there they sailed to Haven Island. On the 4th of June they were put on Benzedrine, to keep them awake and alert, and on the even­ing of the 5th June they sailed across the English Channel, their only guide being a small blue light on the stern of the ship imme­di­ately in front of them: a case of follow my leader.

During the fol­low­ing few days of the land­ings he fer­ried stores and ammuni­tion ashore from the ships out at sea.

I am sure over the many years since that period in his life; Bill, like many others, has thought it “Better to be lucky rather than rich.

More about Bill can be found here.