When my wife texted me yesterday saying she had bought me a surprise present I thought that I had finally worn her down enough to give in and buy me a Mustang. When I finally got home and didn’t see it all shiny and new on the driveway I thought to myself ‘Aah, she has parked it somewhere or we pick it up tomorrow, there is probably a picture of it in a card, or the keys are hanging up…
There were no keys. There was no picture. There was, instead, a little wooden box, with a couple of engraved plaques on. Now, I will be honest, I was a little bit disappointed (but not totally surprised) that there was no mustang, but on closer inspection this box could be a little gem all of its own.
The box is maybe 4 or 5 inches square with a large etching of Jerusalem on the lid, and at the front an inscription to the giver and recipient of this box. The inscription reads:
Presented to Vice-Admiral Sir R Halliday DGI
By M.G. E. Barak DMI/IDF
Hmmm. Vice-Admiral huh? Interesting! Was my initial reaction and an hour later I discovered that this Vice-Admiral was a WW2 Naval officer who earned multiple gallantry awards, was shot down by the Japs, rescued by royalty and went on to become a Knight of the Realm…
Roy William Halliday was born on June 27th 1923 studied at William Ellis School and University College School before volunteering in 1939 for the Royal Navy solely in an effort to avoid at all costs the infantry. His previous seagoing experience had been the hardship of a deckhand’s life in a Lowestoft fishing trawler. Initially entering service in 1941 as a naval rating at HMS Royal Arthur at Skegness, he was quickly offered a commission as an officer in the RNVR and asked to train as a naval airman. He immediately accepted without hesitation and probably didn’t make the connection that one telling reason for his quick promotion was the casuality rates for naval airman at this time!
Although not yet at war, the US was secretly providing training for British airmen. Halliday was shipped to Canada and then to the US naval air station at Grosse Ile, near Detroit, followed by highly intensive flying training at Pensacola, Florida, where he obtained his “wings” after 300 hours solo.
Pearl Harbor enabled the British at last to wear uniform. Halliday was appointed to a squadron of Grumman Avengers, a sturdy US-designed carrier-borne bomber, and joined the escort carrier Chaser in the Gulf of Mexico.
Three months of anti-submarine patrols in the Atlantic were followed by deployment to the Royal Naval Air Station HMS Sparrowhawk at Hatston in Orkney, as a guard against the escape of German heavy warships from Norway into the convoy routes.
Halliday’s squadron was then embarked in the large carrier HMS Illustrious, which arrived in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) in January 1944. It thereafter carried out bombing raids on Japanese installations in Java and Sumatra, as well as operations in support of General Slim’s 14th Army in Burma.
Halliday had transferred to the HMS Victorious by January 24, 1945, the day of the largest raid carried out by the Fleet Air Arm, on oil refineries at Palembang in Sumatra, which were bombed by aircraft from four large carriers. During the raid Halliday’s Avenger was shot up by a Japanese Zero fighter, and after a hair-raising flight, on fire, over mountainous jungle he ditched in the Java Sea and was picked up in his dinghy by the destroyer HMS Whelp, part of Force 63, a group of destroyers whose job it was to patrol the waters around Sumatra.
As the downed men struggled to inflate their life raft, and with the plane rapidly filling with water, the first lieutenant of HMS Whelp dispatched a rescue boat to haul them to safety.
In an interview with the BBC Halliday’s air-gunner in that plane, Norman ’Dickie’ Richardson, recounts the moment of rescue. “The first lieutenant was leaning over the rail and introduced himself as Lieutenant Philip,” recalls Dickie. He arranged clean, dry clothes for them, and ensured they were fed and watered. At the time, they had no idea who he was – but his friendliness and efficiency remained with them.
It was some time later that they were to discover they were rescued by Philip Mountbatten, Prince of Greece, soon to be HRH Prince Phillip.
Returning to HMS Victorious, Halliday found that his cabin mate had been shot down and was a PoW. He was one of nine British naval aircrew who were paraded in Changi Prison, Singapore, two days after VJ Day and beheaded, to Halliday’s great distress.
In the meantime, Halliday had continued in Victorious, taking part in raids on Formosa (Taiwan), the Ryuku islands and finally the Japanese mainland. Soon after the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atom bombs ended the war, he was shipped home in the troop ship Rangitiki, having been awarded two Mentions in Dispatches and the Distinguished Service Cross for his gallantry and skill.
More research needs to be done into exactly where/when/why/how he won these 3 gallantry awards, a quick check through the online London Gazette has come up blank, which is not surprising as the search engine is rubbish. A search of the National Archives list of recommendations for gallantry awards between 1935 and 1990 also came up blank, although not that many RNVR awards are in there…so I will have to keep looking!
He took up the offer of a permanent RN commission and was appointed as a test pilot to the experimental establishment at Boscombe Down, where an exciting tour meant that he flew the newest types of jet aircraft.
From 1973 to 1981 Halliday was part of the defence intelligence network, initially as Director of Naval Intelligence in the Ministry of Defence. His tour in Washington as head of the British naval mission and naval attaché had a high intelligence content — unlike the other two services the naval staff was based in the Pentagon itself.
On return to the UK in 1978 he was promoted to vice-admiral and appointed Deputy Chief of Defence Staff (Intelligence), in charge of the intelligence function of all three services. He was appointed KBE in 1980 and, as a mark of his undoubted acumen and his sound judgment about Cold War issues, was, unusually, continued in the quasi-civilian post of Director-General (Intelligence) as an under-secretary of state for a further three years, finally retiring in 1984. This period included the Falklands conflict. He was also chairman of trustees of the Burma Star Association and chairman of the British Military Power Boat Trust, which restores and preserves boats of historical interest.
So…an interesting character. It’s amazing what you can find in your local charity shop isn’t it?