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Royal Navy veteran gets impressive tour of Portsmouth dockyard

14 March 2017
A Royal Navy Veteran has been reliving his wartime experiences whilst serving on HMS Indefatigable during a special visit to Portsmouth, to see the Dockyard’s new Aircraft Carrier facilities.

Les Wills (90) first came to Portsmouth in November 1944, as a young seaman after joining the Royal Navy the year before. Posted to HMS Indefatigable, he was destined to be part of the British Pacific Fleet and much of his time in the Dockyard was busy preparing the Carrier for an operational deployment to the Far East.

 “I remember us being the only aircraft carrier in Portsmouth,” said Les.

"We were getting ready to sail to the Far East and fight the war against Japan with the Americans. We met up with the other Ships of the Fleet in the Indian Ocean and we were soon heading for our first Action."

HMS Indefatigable was one of six Fleet Aircraft Carriers that made up the biggest task force of British ships ever assembled; more than 200 Warships and over 500 aircraft sailed for the Far East to help the war against Japan.

“After a stopover at Trincomalee in Ceylon, we sailed for the Dutch East Indies, what is now Indonesia.

"Up until then we’d exercised on the Ship; fire drills, crash on decks and all manner of practicing, but the mood soon changed, we were going into ‘Action Stations’ for real now, as we set up for the raids on the Japanese oil fields at Palembang.”

It’s absolutely incredible and marvellous what they’ve done here; I can’t believe it’s the same place I helped fit out HMS Indefatigable back in 1944.

RN Veteran Les Wills (90)

For many this was their first engagement and there was a lot of anticipation of what to expect from the enemy. “The initial raid into Palembang took the Japanese by surprise, but not so the second raid a week later when we lost many aircraft and their crews.”

Months later when the Fleet moved north, they started raids and attacks on the Japanese mainland and the war took a nasty turn for Les and his crewmembers on Indefatigable.

“By simple logic, the closer you got to the enemy, the closer they were to us! The Kamikaze attacks started and we were shocked that they believed that if they died in action they would be serving their Emperor.

"With a pilot in a guided bomb, the chances of hitting our Ships were that much greater, it was frightening.”

Les survived the war and stayed in the Royal Navy, for much of the 1950’s, where he served in Portsmouth as a Boat’s Coxswain in the Dockyard. “It’s unbelievable to be back, I didn’t know what to expect, it’s definitely changed with all the new buildings and Jetty improvements.”

Looking over the New ‘Princess Royal Jetty’ undergoing a multi-million pound upgrade and will be ready to receive The Royal Navy’s newest Aircraft Carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth later this year, Les was certainly impressed by what he saw.

“It’s absolutely incredible and marvellous what they’ve done here; I can’t believe it’s the same place I helped fit out HMS Indefatigable back in 1944.”

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