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.