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Thursday, October 6, 2022
Writers’ Circle: Dids’ Story: The human truth about war

 This is the final of three parts. The whole story can be found online at under “featured columns.”

Richard West

NOTL Writers’ Circle                

We spent 1944 on Arctic Service and later supporting the D-Day landings. Then we went to the Indian Ocean to assist with operations there. At the very end of the war, our ship was part of a destroyer group that attacked and sunk the Japanese cruiser Huwago. This was the last naval action in the war involving naval gunnery. 

When the war was over, I returned to Downham and found work, as a freelance journeyman or doing small jobs as a contractor. In the late 1950s, I married Ellen and we moved to Bromley. People knew me as the smiling man who was never too busy to say “Hello!”


In 1960, my nephew was 11, and he had seen a movie involving a naval battle. I heard his excited talk about the movie. When I told him I had been in a sea battle during which the Scharnhorst had been sunk he was enthralled.

“Uncle, please tell me, what you did during the battle?’’ He pleaded.

After giving him one of my characteristic chuckles, I said, “I hid under the boilers until the firing stopped!”

I could see his surprise at this unexpected remark.

“It’s true! The Chief Stoker had everything under control and he knew how scared I was. I know he was scared as well, but he was in charge!”

“You should also remember what this was about. We were there to kill the Scharnhorst or to be killed by her. When she went down, more than 1,500 brave sailors went with her. This was a frightening thing to be involved with when you are 18 years old.  Everyone was very sad it had happened. But glad to be alive.”

I hoped my candid remarks would help set my nephew straight about how terrible war is. Not by blustering or lecturing, but by showing him how human all the people involved are. Those fighting the sea that night were probably not very different from me. No matter which side they were on.


Ellen tells me it’s 2015. 

A man came today and Ellen said he is my nephew.  

He asked me about when I was at the Battle of the North Cape. I could remember visiting India in a destroyer but had no memory of being in battles.

At 90 years old, I’m better off not remembering.  Even if there was a battle!

I chuckled and smiled at such a strange thought.

This story was previously published on