Part of the Acorn Archive
Hearts of Oak
Dad’s Diary 1941
Transcribed by Sue Twyman
proud daughter of
Lt Philip Bray R.N. [1912 –1988]
March 1942 April 1942
March 1st 1942
We have had a day of terrific air raids, carried out by a great many enemy bombers and fighters. It started at 10 am and did not cease until midnight, even after that we had some raids.
I have never spent a day of “wondering” so much, wondering if my turn had come, for I never go to a shelter, and I know I am stupid not to, especially as I cannot get rid of this very real nervous feeling.
I went ashore at 1, just before raid had started, and was caught out in it. A very heavy bomb, hit the water and burst horribly, only 20 to 30 yards from the boat I was going ashore in! The nearest escape anyone could have had!
It shook us all up badly, but hurt none of us—but God alone knows why. Oh I am a very lucky devil!! I’ll never forget it.
Took me an hour to get to Kaths, but we were able to eat our dinner without getting up. And then they poured all their fury on us. Kath and Co and I had no shelter, and had to lay on the floor!
Bombs whizzed down all around and some were very close, and filled sitting room with fine dust. Large pieces of shrapnel came through the hall and missed us by inches.
I could stick it no longer, and I had to go outside and watch, not because I am brave, but because I am mad I think, and very nervous of being, ”down below” like in a ship!
I saw wave after wave of big JU88 bombers diving for us, I watched the bombs leave them---but I couldn’t move an inch! Oh, I do wish I had never got like this. Damn, damn, damn, war, its vile, so vile, but us humans, how stupid we were to cause it
We were like that until midnight, Kath and kiddies worn out—me, not far off—but I’ll never give my last little bit of spirit up. Come on England!!
They were bombing anything, and hit churches and houses, shelters and whatnot. We lost 3 fighters—but damaged 2 bombers and 1 ME109.
March 2nd 1942
The heavy Blitz started again and almost lasted all day, with many, many bombs around. Do not mind when I’m on board, for we hit back at them, and we used every gun in the ship today, fired such a lot of ammunition!
And above all, at 4 this afternoon, good old Aurora shot down an enemy bomber. We have made a name for ourselves here! Malta would miss us if we went!
Today I was chosen as demolition party, in event of invasion here. My job is to place explosives and blow up the dockyard sky high! If ever I do carry this out, I shall be made a prisoner of war, unless worse! Buts it’s all in the game.
March 9th 1942
We have some Spitfires here now, and this morning they shot down a lot of enemy fighters, and the result is that we have only had about 3 air raids all day.
March 13th 1942
Friday the 13th today, but nothing out of the ordinary happened. We had the usual raids all day, but the Nazis do not like our Spitfires. They drop their bombs from high altitude now, instead of diving. Cannot understand why we have no balloon barrage here.
March 17th 1942
The enemy bombers came over with force today and gave the island plenty of bombs. We had about 8 blitz raids all day, and night too. At one time 50 enemy aircraft attacked. Bombs fell around the ship in several directions.
The work of repairing Aurora is going on now, and it seems as if we may be coming out of dock in about a week. Then what? I suppose we shall do plenty of sea time then, and none of us are looking forward to it. I dread it, because I cannot get over the shock of when we were mined!
But it is just as bad for the enemy, and soon the Italians will feel the hit of the Aurora’s guns again—that will make them stop sending supplies to Libya!
Oh how I’d love so dearly to go home soon—there is a chance—but a very slender one. It is nearly a year since we were on leave now.
March 21st 1942
We had a terrific blitz from 10 this morning until 11—the enemy used 50 dive bombers and dropped scores of bombs all over the place. Kaths husband Fred’s Army Camp took 4 direct hits in this raid—heaps killed and camp out of action!
They carried on raiding us all day, and I went ashore to Kaths at dinner time. At 3 this after noon the enemy raided us with 75 dive bombers, and dropped bombs all over the place. I saw one bomber dive straight at us—Kath and Co in the house.
I saw huge bomb leave the plane—and just had time to run in and throw throw Kath and kiddies on the floor—me on top of them.
The bomb hit the building dead opposite, and it was one of the heaviest 3,000lbs. Blew the roof of Kaths house in, and all the windows, doors and hall fell in!
We all got out alright but were suffering shock for some considerable time!
We went into shelter while raid increased for an hour—heaps dead and injured. The house was impossible to live in, so packed Kath and kiddies up to neighbor for few days, until they get another flat.
March 23rd 1942
I got early leave and went ashore to help Kath pack up flat—but heavy blitz stopped us going until 3 o’clock.
The enemy used 75 dive bombers, on the harbour and convoy which our sister ship “Penelope” brought in. One of the convoy was sunk—I saw survivors—and one of our little destroyers sunk too! Terrific gunfire and bombs all the time, and we shot down 8 enemy bombers, 10 more damaged. What a hell Malta is now!! It’s a miracle they have not hit Aurora in dock!
March 24th 1942
Red Letter Day
A day of sunshine------What a day!!
At noon the enemy sent over 140 planes and heaps of bombs—a real Blitz this time and at long last, they hit our ship Aurora!! Good old Aurora, with a 2,000lb armour piercing bomb!!
What an explosion, almost as bad as the mine going off. I knew they would get us. It also blew half the dock side up and water is pouring into the dry dock at a rate of tons a minute!
We have only three casualties—goodness knows why not more! It looks like these repairs will take a time now—what a mess we are in.
Huge rocks weighing tons and debris was hurled onto our decks. Port Pom Pom gun torn off, torpedo tubes damaged heaps of buckled plate.
I’ve never seen anything like it. Twice in past two days I have missed death by inches!! How can I expect to always miss it, but I do hope and pray so, with Gods help.
After the bomb fell I was detailed to take charge of a rescue party, for a destroyer of ours, sinking a mile off the beach. We arrived at spot as she was breaking in two—but water was so rough we could not help them. All the chaps were taken on board another destroyer, just a moment before she broke in two, and then I watched her sink!
As this was going on JU87 Stuka dive bomber attacked the destroyers, and bombs fell close to them—about 30 bombs altogether.
As my party were standing on beach, we were fired at by an enemy bomber rear gunner, and cannon shells hit the water 50yards from us—missed again, thank God!!
March 26th 1942
A nice sunny day, but what a hell of a day it has been again We had no raids until noon. Then the enemy sent in 15 dive bombers and heaps of fighter.
They aimed for us ships and they hit one of the convoy that came in the other day. She burst into flames and we had to scuttle her as she had 70,000 shells and 64—4,000lb bombs on board, would have blown Malta to bits!
At 4 o’clock we had 2 hours of non stop bombing. First 30 JU88’s came in and they hit the other ship from the convoy, which sank in harbour!
Then 30 JU87s Stukas dive bombed all our ships, “Penelope” had near miss and one fell close to Aurora.
The destroyer Legion, laying near us, hit with two bombs, and rolled over., and sank
Another ship Plumleaf was hit and heeled over. Another was hit on the stern and gun crew killed
Then 9 more came in, and another 6. All I have seen today, and felt in the bursting of heavy bombs. One gets so fed up with it and I feel so nervous now—but won’t give in and go to a shelter—I can’t in any case
We shot down a lot today—do not know score—but we fired thousands of rounds with our guns!
We had the Legions survivors onboard for supper tonight.
The surprise of my life today we went out of dock, as we were a good target for the dive bombers. We have been told we are going to sea soon, in spite of the damage we have. Oh I wonder where we are going—dare I hope!
We took on board heaps of ammunition, and stores, and the dockies have left everything as it is!! We worked so late that it was too late to go to Kaths---how she will be worrying.
We are laying alongside where the “Legion” went down. We had raids all day, and we were the target. They bombed us a lot and at 2 this afternoon, I was on deck when 3 bombs burst only 20 yards from our stern---we shuddered a bit!!
During the raids I went ashore to say ”Cheerio”, as I have heard we may leave Malta tomorrow!
March 29th 1942
Today we had raids but not so heavy, only about 12 bombs anywhere in our vicinity.
We took on heaps of stores, mail, and survivors on board, about 150 of them, so it seems we are going to Alexandria! But some chaps say it is Gibraltar and then home!
Oh goodness dare I let myself think so. Anyhow we are going somewhere today.
Yet the ship is not in a real fighting state
Carried on working, getting ship ready for sea, heaps to do in such a hurry.
At 7 this evening we left Malta and the Commander then told us we are going to Gib!?
Oh my wife, it looks as if at long last, I am on my way home to you—Oh I pray it is so, I feel like crying, really I do---for we have been through so much—almost more than one can bear. Some of our chaps nerves have broken---they are in a bad state!
At present we are going at high speed towards Pantellaria, we call it, “Bomb Alley” and we expect trouble there.
March 30th 1942
We have been steaming at high speed towards Gibratar all day, near the African Coast. Feel very nervous to be at sea—in fact I now jump at any noise—it’s disgusting of me.
At 3 this afternoon, we sighted 3 enemy torpedo bombers, and fired all we had at them, and their torpedoes missed us.
We were attacked like this for 3 hours—had 15 torpedoes fired at us—but all missed, thank God! Increased speed to 28 knots.
March 31st 1942
We were joined by 3 destroyers at daybreak, our escort, we are still at high speed towards Gib—should reach there this evening.
I do pray we shall go on to England.
Machine gunned by German planes this afternoon—but we only had 2 casualties!
Steamed at high speed and sighted Gib at 7 this evening, but fog bank stopped us entering until 11 tonight.
Well we have arrived here, and now we are praying hard, that we may go on to England
Must keep my chin up after all we have been through.
April 1st 1942
What a wonderful surprise for the first day of the month. The Captain told us this morning, that we are sailing for home tonight!!!Oh, I think I’m the happiest man alive—I know I am.
All day we took on ammunition and oil fuel, and survivors of ships who are taking passage in Aurora.
The C in C of Med Fleet sent us a signal of “AuRevoir”. He said, “Well done. We shall miss the Aurora who has fought and menaced the enemy so fearfully, and with such good results”
Admiral Vian sent to say he was deeply sorry to lose such a fine ship from his squadron.
Well we certainly did shake the enemy up—and no ship in the Med, has such a good name for fighting efficiency. Well done Aurora
At 4 o’clock a German spy, under sentence of death, was brought on board—for England!
At 6 this evening we said “Fairwell” to Gibralter and have just left it astern of us.
April 2nd 1942
A calm sea, for which I am glad. We steered out into the Atlantic at good speed of 23knots. At noon we sighted a small ship and expected some excitement, but it was only a Portugese ship. We are keeping a good lookout for U boats as there are plenty about!
In the midst of joyful excitement of going home, I have had time to thank God, with all my heart. I’m so fortunate to be alive and going home to my wife and daughter.
April 3rd 1942
Weather pretty rough but we carried on into Atlantic and North at high speed. Commander told us this morning that we should arrive at Liverpool on Sunday, April 5th.
I have begun to pack my stuff for leave as we shall go almost as soon as we get into port.
April 4th 1942
Very rough sea and we have been rolling pretty heavily all day. We are leaking badly in some of our compartments, and some bulkheads are giving way. Hope we get into Liverpool okay
Oh I am so excited, and so very happy now. I still have bad nerves, do hope I don’t show it at home! But the very slightest bang makes me jump. But I am lucky to have got away with it so lightly. We have earned our leave so deservedly after such a hell as the last 6 months. Off coast of North Ireland now.
April 6th 1942
Very Rough today and we are speeded up to our highest 32knots. We came into the Irish Channel this morning and we carried on rolling heavily until we reached Liverpool at 4 this evening.
We landed all the survivors, and now I am duty. I sent Ethel a telegram.
April 7th 1942
Got up early, very excited but felt rather ill with flu. Caught train at Liverpool at 10 o’clock. We had a busy day of travel, and I arrived HOME at about 6 this evening.
My darling met me at Pompey!
END OF DIARY
Am ending diary here, as when Dad got back to England
he spent several months on Gunnery Courses,
and other courses, before joining another ship.
He fulfilled his goal of becoming an officer
after his lowly beginnings of T.S. Warspite.
And on retirement he had served the Royal Navy for 38 years.
Poem found at the back of the Diary
Do not be afraid of life, the grief and the strife
Do not shrink with fear and dread, from the things that lie ahead
Do not be afraid to try, for no goal can be too high
For many fail but don’t complain. You can always try again.
Don’t be afraid to speak, to adventure and to seek
Don’t be afraid to be master of your destiny
Fear can paralyze the will, and can weaken, and can kill
The desire to challenge fate, to progress and create
Do not be afraid to live, Fortune has rich gifts to give
To the one who does not shirk, thankless tasks and weary work
Sacrificing other claims, to achieve the highest aims
If of this you do not tire, you will get your Hearts Desire
Dad after WWII
Mum and Dad in 1952
Thanks to Sue Twyman