Anzac Day: Hit by a torpedo, waiting for rescue

By Tom Doudney

John Carr's war medals. Photo / Geoff Sloan
John Carr's war medals. Photo / Geoff Sloan

At 15, John Carr felt "very, very lucky" stepping ashore in Belfast, Northern Ireland, after the sinking of his merchant navy oil tanker, The Stratford in the Atlantic Ocean during World War.

Now 92, and Templeton RSA's oldest returned serviceman, Mr Carr's thoughts will drift back to those years and his fallen comrades on Anzac Day.

He remembers well the night in September 1940 when his ship was hit by a torpedo while travelling in a convoy on the way to Jamaica.

"It was about midnight, we were asleep in our cabin and there was an almighty thud which woke us all up. I looked out of a porthole and I saw a reflection of flame and I thought it was another merchant ship in the convoy but it was us on fire because we had oil bunkers and we had been hit there," Mr Carr said.

"Two people in the engine room were killed outright and we took to a lifeboat. It was very, very cold."

Some of the crew were suffering from hypothermia by the time they were picked up a few hours later by a naval vessel.

In May 1943, when he was 18, Mr Carr joined the British Royal Navy with which he served for the remainder of the war.

In April 1945 his naval party landed in Ostend, Belgium, as the Allies pushed towards victory.

"We stayed in Holland for a while and fed the children, they were starving to death, and we went right through to Germany. Our object was to take the Blohm & Voss U-Boat yards in Hamburg which we did because we thought the Russians might have been coming down the Elbe river and taking all the secrets of the Germans," Mr Carr said.

"We were successful, we got all that, and I stayed in Hamburg for nearly two years after. I was in Hamburg for the Armistice Day and all that."

John Carr proudly wears his WWII medals. Photo / Geoff Sloan
John Carr proudly wears his WWII medals. Photo / Geoff Sloan

He remembered the end of the war as a great relief.

"We were still alive, that was the thing. We had come through it."

After the war, Mr Carr and his wife emigrated from the United Kingdom to New Zealand and he joined the newly formed Royal New Zealand Navy.

Anzac Day still means a great deal to him.

He said it was important that the children of today were aware of what they had been fighting for: freedom and democracy.

- Christchurch Star

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