Raymond Horace Fitchett
Known as Ray
1916/12/22 - Born Alberta, Canada
On September 1939 World War II broke out. Ray Fitchett was in England at the time and at the age of 22, he enlisted. He was put with the British Royal Navy and was assigned as a gunner. He was the firing pin man.
As a gunner, he spent most of his time at his battle station. His shifts were fours on, four hours off. If fighting was really bad he was on all the time. A few time the fighting would go on for three days. He never went to get his food. They would bring it to his battle station or sleeping quarters if the fighting wasn't really bad. When he had fours off, he would use that time to sleep. If he wanted four hours of sleep; he was best to sleep right there at his battle station. He'd use his life preserver as a pillow. The reason for this is that it usually took him an hour to get to sleep and then they'd wake him up an hour before his shift so he wouldn't oversleep. Also if fighting broke out he would be right there to help out.
While Ray was in his battle station he didn't see the ships he was shooting, but he saw their target on the radar. To hit the enemy they had to calculate their speed, the speed of the enemy, distance to fire, the height it should be fired, and weight of the ammunition the were using. This was done so they didn't waste any ammunition. If the calculated right, they got a direct hit. He said,"You know you were sinking them, but you didn't know how fast."
They managed to keep the ship,(H.M.S. Exeter) sailing quite a while. They got hit a few times convoying troops but were able to go to port and get repairs done to the ship. One time they went head to head with the German ship, the Bismarck. They managed to damage her but couldn't sink her before she went for repairs in France. The airforce navy finished it off.
After a few more battles, they had an encounter with Japanese vessels. There were eight Japanese vessels against five British. The fighting lingered on until the engine room of the ship was hit. While they went in to get the injured and dead out; the other engine room was hit. Ray found a gun shell that said, "1916 made in England" engraved on it. England had given it to Japan, to use on the Germans in the First World War. Japan didn't need it, and had thrown it right back to them. The H.M.S. Exeter, (8,000 ton Cruiser) started to take on water and was sinking. On March 1, 1942; 11:00 am, it was announced, "Every man for himself".
Ray was late getting out of his turret. As he got to the deck he saw his officers. Not sure of what happened, he looked out over the side of the ship and saw hundreds of heads bobbing in the sea. The Japanese had machine gunned all the life boats and dinghies. He then Jumped over the side of the ship, land in the sea. Since Ray used his life preserver as a pillow when he went to sleep, he had left it down in the turret. Floating in the sea, Ray saw a plank. The plank was a piece of the ship (3 feet by 3 feet). He swam to the plank and used it as a raft. Sharks don't like the noise from the fighting. He knew when everything settled down the sharks would be attracted to those who are injured and bleeding. In a matter of minutes the sharks would be there, so he laid on the three foot square plank. He kept his legs straight and arms out of the water for he knew if he had any part of his body in the water, the sharks would have a snack. As night went on, men slowly disappeared into the water below.
When morning came, his sea mates were fewer than when the night began. If there was a man missing, he was either killed int the explosion, drowned or eaten by a shark. The Japanese had just signed a prisoner Treaty (Geneva Red Cross), so they had to pick up survivors. They wanted to hit ships directly on. Not so much as to sink the ship; but if they got a direct hit, there was a less chance of survivors. If the magazine was hit the ship would blow up. In the morning the Japanese came around and picked up the survivors from the battle.
They threw Ray a lead line. A lead line is a thin line that tests the depth of the harbour floor. He tried to scale the line a best as he could. When he was almost up, he slipped and fell. They were going to leave him there in the sea because they didn't really want to pick him up. Another Japanese sailor threw him another line. He grabbed on to it and the Japanese sailor helped him up.
Once on the ship, he saw some of his sea-mates. A few of the men were in the engine room at the time of the explosion. They had survived the explosion and the night of prowling sharks. The men who were in the engine room, had burns all over their bodies. When the boilers exploded it acted as a pressure cooker and baked the men.
The Japanese had taken over a Dutch hospital ship the ‘Up Ten Noort’. Ray was put on there and shipped to Makassar, Java and put in a P.O.W. camp
1942/03/01 - Captured sinking of HMS Exeter
For nine months Ray worked on building a road through the jungle in Makassar.
Ray was then transferred to a Japanese troop ship in 1942/10/24 which was also transporting rare reptiles to a museum in Japan. When he slept in the hold he was beside the cages. Ray was put in a P.O.W. camp (no. 2) on Fukuoka Island, close to Nagasaki where he worked in the dock yards.
His next of kin got a letter saying, "Missing in Action". He was presumed dead for two years. This way if he was in the way the Japanese could do away with him and no one would know the difference. After 2 1/2 years the Japanese allowed him to write his family saying he was alive. He was in the P.O.W. camp for 3 1/2 years.
Japanese Index Card - Side One
Japanese Index Card - Side Two
Many things happened to Ray while he was in the P.O.W. camp. He had to work in the coal mines that where over fifty years old. It would take him an hour to go down and an hour back up. He didn't know if he would always make it back up because the shafts would collapse and he would have to find a different way up. He was down there twelve hours each day. Six box cars had to be pushed down the lines. Ray and some sea mates picked away at rock to get coal. They filled the box cars and went back up pushing them the whole way. It was hard to breath that low down in the earth and being under the sea the lines would often flood.
The guys in the camp also worked in the fields, on roads etc. Many men would get sunstroke and fall right where they were working. They had big straw hats on, but that didn't always work. Many got sick with illnesses. The most common reason people got sick was because of the lack of salt. The Japanese allowed them to boil seawater to get salt. They had a pot on all the time. When seawater is boiled a brown substance is formed. They would eat this substance. Ray also had a job feeding the pigs. He often would stuff peelings and other pig food down his shirt to take to the people sick at camp. He would get in trouble be the Japanese if he got caught with food. He tried anything to help his friends out. When he had a banana peel or another type of peel he would scrap the white off and put it on top of the rice.
Many things happened in the 3 1/2 years he was at the P.O.W. camp. Things like, coming down with malaria several times, getting a couple of tins of rice each day and seeing "The Fat Man"(atomic bomb) that destroyed Nagasaki.
On August 9, 1945 Ray and some friends saw a bomb falling from the sky. After it disappeared behind the mountains they felt vibrations like a small earthquake. They thought it was a tanker being bombed. He found out later, that the English and Americans dropped a heat bomb. It wight 10,000 pounds and killed 40,000 people. They only felt the vibrations from the bomb. The reason they received no heat was because Nagasaki is low and the trees and mountains kept the heat in.
1945/09/02 - Liberated
The Americans found the P.O.W. camp. They dropped food from the planes in metal drums. the pilots were too close to the ground when the food was dropped. The parachutes didn't have a chance to open and the drums crashed and split open. Ray and the men from the camp didn't mind! They ran to the food and scooped up vitamins and food with their hands and ate. This was the end of the war. Ray and the others were going home!
Ray went from Fukuoka over to Nagasaki. There was not much left of the city; about the only thing standing was a chimney from a steel factory. It was said that it was owned by Churchill and he didn't really want it to be bombed.
Ray went from Nagasaki on an American ship to Okinowo. He then flew to the Philippines and from there sailed to Pearl Harbour. He the boarded the Queen Mary and sailed to England. After leaving England at the beginning of the war, he once again stepped on home ground.
He had been gone for five years.
After the war Ray received a metal and a personalized letter from the King. He married his dream girl that he had been engaged to for five years but hadn't seen for that time period. This beautiful lady's name is Sonia. Sonia received only one of the letters Ray sent during the war. They eventually moved to Canada and settled in High River Alberta.
This is a true story of a veteran of World War II.
KEW:- WO 345/18, WO 361/1254