Victor Freeman and his War Stories
We met Victor in the Cooper’s Arms, near Crowborough. He was in the Royal Navy during World War II, and enjoyed greatly the sea shanties we were singing that night. “Adieu Sweet Lovely Nancy” was his particular favorite. Victor tried toget us singing “Heysborough Light”, but we couldn’t quite follow his melodies. We will look into it further.
What Victor told us…
was the D-day flotilla, of which he was part, that landed at Juno beach. One of the officers on board, “the best of them all”, was Cedric Dickens, who was ‘the spitting image of his great-great-great-great-grandfather.” We were told how Cedric had met his wife, Elizabeth, when falling off his bicycle at the Portsmouth Docks.
The boat they were on was the Bleasdale, a destroyer LSO, Hunter Class. All destroyers in the fleet at that time were names after Hunts in Britain, which tells us something of the link between the Naval establishment and the landed gentry, perhaps. “O, a hunting we will go” sung Victor…
Victor’s was the first ship back into Portsmouth after the landings – “something odd had happened to British Summer Time” he told us, and soon after, on the Destroyer Faulkner, he saw Mongomery come ashore. He watched him on deck as he sailed in past the Boom Defence (built to keep U-Boats out), and then watched as he was transferred onto HMS Kelvin (“to hoodwink the enemy – there were enemy spies everywhere!”)
Victor told us that it was a German agent in the Cooper’s Arms who learned, from the garrulous Canadians stationed nearby, of the Aug 19 1942 Dieppe raid.
Victor saw de Gaulle, as part of the Free French Fleet, aboard the “Combattante”. “He was a great big chap” we were told. “When the French saw that ship come in, well then they cheered, cos it was their own lot, and they knew they were free at last.”
He recalleda man he met, who ran off the “Combattante”, and who jumped aboard his own ship, shouting in a Cockney accent “anyone got the News of the World?” – he was half English and half French, and when it came to decision time, he threw his lot in with the Free French instead of the Royal Navy.
Victor loved being in the Navy: “wonderful cameraderie” – and he had joined back in 1941, in Derby market. He had previously been in the Chelsea Sea Cadets. He told us how he ‘stepped up to the recruiting officer, and said “I’d like to join for 22 years”. “You must be stark raving mad” the officer told him.
He was paid £1 per week, which was about the price of 3 pints of ale. But he didn’t drink. He saved up all his tots of rum, and put them in a bottle in his locker, and one Christmas, he drunk half a bottle. “How they laughed, the others, with me in the mess all laughing and bleary – cos they hadn’t never seen me like that before.”
Victor had found love, when he met a young lass at the Queen Cinema in Portsmouth, when on shore leave. He was 20, she was 19. She wrote to him twice a week: “a lovely little girl”. Then one day the letters stopped. “Well, i knew what had happened. She lived on the Sultan Way, all old houses, and i walked along there, and sure enough, her house had been flattened by a bomb.” Victor got misty eyed, distant in his memory, and silent for a moment. “Poor little darling. That broke my heart that did.”
After the war in Europe was over, Victor and his ship was sent to the Far East. They were “scared shitless”, of the Japanese, the diseases, the Kamikaze. They thought they’d won the war in Europe, only to go and die in Asia.”Then it was all over, quickly, of course, and we were bloody glad.”
Victor told us that many years later he visisted the graves in Dieppe, and he said it made him cry to read, on one grave, the message: “Tread carefully, my son lies nearby.”
He then wished us good luck, and said it was a pleasure to hear the old songs sung, and wished him the same.