Veteran Stories:
Hal Roberts

Merchant Navy

  • Left to right: 1939-45 Star; Atlantic Star; War Medal (1939-1945) and three medals recognizing Mr. Roberts' contribution to the Norwegian Merchant Navy.

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"Our job was to be up there and tank up the destroyers and cruisers in case the big boys came out."


My name is Harold Roberts, know as Hal Roberts to all the veterans. I was born in England. I was in England of course in 1939 when England declared war on Germany. I was still in high school. I was fifteen at the time, and I had my first service with the military. I joined the LDV – the Local Defence Volunteers. That was the forerunner of what became the Home Guard later. We used to get paid very well. I used to go on guard two or three times a week, but the only problem was I used to fall asleep in school. Anyway, that was the star of it. I left school the end of 1940. I went down to Liverpool in December and registered for the British Merchant Navy. Due to the results of my medical, I did not enter the apprentice business and I ended up at the radio school, and I took the PMGs – Postmaster General Exams – and then I went to sea as a junior radio officer. I served with the British Merchant Navy first, and then in 1942 I was with the first ships around the coast of Britain, and then on the North Atlantic convoys over to this side of the world. In 1942 I joined a naval tanker – the Royal Fleet Auxiliary based at Scapa Flow – and we were involved with the so-called Murmansk Run – supplies to Russia. We were involved in the operations after the infamous PQ-17 convoy, where thirty-seven ships, only eleven got through. With our effort going up, we were involved with convoy PQ-18, and QP-14 on the way back. Our job was to be up there and tank up the destroyers and cruisers in case the big boys came out. Our operation altogether… those two convoys, there were four submarines sunk, about five damaged. Forty-one aircraft shot down, and sixteen merchant ships were lost, and one tribal class destroyer Royal Navy, HMS Somali, and our sister ship the Grey Ranger. We weren't allowed to come ashore to study or anything – we had to study at sea. When you came into port you could write an exam. I got the equivalent of my peacetime ticket. You could only sit in second class at that time. So at the end of '42, I was the Chief Radio Officer at eighteen. My second was twenty-eight, and my third was thirty-two years old. They kept me in shape, one way or the other.
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