Bolton Remembers the War Logo
Harry Higson - Royal Navy
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Harry Higson
Harry Higson



Harry Higson

8 June 2005

Harry was born at 116 Brandwood Street, Bolton in 1917. He was brought up by his grandparents and attended Brandwood Street School. He had various jobs and for a while was a little piecer at the Dove Mill. He volunteered for the Navy, his first ship being HMS Cotswold which was blown up by a mine off Sheerness.

Later he served on HMS Obdurate, a destroyer, which acted as escort for the vital convoys to Murmansk which were undertaken in freezing and arduous conditions. He graphically describes taking part in the brutal Naval engagement that became known as Battle of the Barents Sea. In 1989 he received a medal from the Russians for his service with these dangerous arctic convoys. After the War he worked as a miner in various pits and for some time was also a publican.

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A sailor's lot...

Well, I wanted to be in the Navy and I volunteered so I wouldn't go in the Army, and it's just what I wanted. I went for a medical and what... I'm in the Navy now, and at Devonport barracks, Plymouth, and they used to put chits on the table, like little chits with a number on for a draught to go to a ship or something. I've joined the Navy to be on a ship, not playing in the barracks. So, I pick this chit up, and what is it? It's the Cotswold, Hunt Class destroyer, brand new. We go up to Scotland, and it's brand new there... Scotstoun I think it was, the place where the ship was somewhere, where the ship was... commissioned it, like. It was brand new and all the new ship's company and working-up trials and we go to sea, like, and I was sick as a dog! I thought seven Hail Mary's next time it goes down, go straight to the bottom, don't come up! Oh, it's a terrible sickness, seasickness, but, you get used to it. So I was on that, and we were on east coast convoys, Channel. Be going through the Channel and they'd be firing from on the French side. You had the dive bombers coming up - E-boats chasing you, and I was on there for about what? From about 1940 to I think it was about '41 I got blew up with a mine.

They towed us in. The deck was awash, we were all sitting on the fo'c'sle and that being towed in, and beached over at Harwich. HMS Ganges, the boys' training ship. So I got kitted up. I was up to here with oil and water with Dickens, and he said I think we'd better go up on top' I said I think it's a good idea, Sir.' We go up and batten down. So when I go ashore I throw all my things away, handed in like. Now my vest and underpants, I throw em away because they're full of oil and water, you know. No good. But when I gets kitted up, I've got a little whatsit here, chit. One vest and one pair of underpants, I'm being charged for, and I've just... we've just saved millions of pounds of a ship, you know what I mean!

Returning from Murmansk...

When we get there, we re-fuel, and we got to come back then. Now when we were coming back, with all these casualties, some off the Onslow. You can smell rotting flesh and that, what do you call it? Gangrene and that, legs off and arms off and what... We had to bring em back. Some of the ship's company off the Onslow they had to stay in Russia, while they got repaired, you know what I mean? But we brought a lot of the survivors back home. The Germans were about forty miles away, and we got bombed like mad there, you know, in Kola Inlet, but we were dead lucky, really, really, it's amazing. Coming back home to Scapa Flow, where we spent all our time, in Scapa Flow. We sailed into Scapa Flow and we get the heroes welcome, all blowing their hooters and that you know, and we sail in like, heroes, because it was an outstanding thing, it was. And then after that, the King comes to visit the fleet.