Able Seaman William Patrick Young: The War never ended inside his soul

Interviews, WW2

By Pierre Kosmidis

Photos submitted by Bob Young

Able Seaman William Patrick Young fought during WW2 and survived a series of shipwrecks, dangerous missions under the nose of Italian artillery in North Africa and carried inside him the scars of war for decades, until his death at the age of 64.

The medals Able Seaman Young earned for his service during WW2
The medals Able Seaman Young earned for his service during WW2

This is the tormented life of a young man who fought in WW2, saw death, experienced all sorts of tragedies and brought back home the nightmares that scarred his soul.

Able Seaman William Patrick Young‘s life actually reflects the lives of millions of men who returned home and lived shattered lives, influencing their loved ones and carrying the burden of war, long after the last bullet was shot.

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The Medal records of Able Seaman Young

What we tend to forget is that war is a life-shaping experience. Long before the psychological trauma of warfare was thoroughly assessed, millions of young men saw their lives changed for ever. Not even their closest friends and relatives who had not been “there”, could understand what it meant to be part of the war machine.

Thanks to Able Seaman William Patrick Young‘s son Bob Young, www.ww2wrecks will make an attempt in putting the fragments of this personal story into perspective, showing how the biggest conflict humankind has ever experienced, shattered the dreams of millions of people, in the front line and at the home front as well, thousands of kilometres away from the battlefield, for decades after the war ended in 1945.

Tobruk
The bombardment of Bardia and the Italian coastal artillery

“I’d like to reflect honestly, to the best of my knowledge, his contribution during the war years” Bob Young says to www.ww2wrecks.com and adds:

“Dad was a victim of his birth year, he was 18 in 1939. He volunteered for the Royal Navy. He came from a poor family and I expected he felt that joining would improve his life.

I believe his first action was on HMS Khartoum which had sunk the Italian submarine TORRICELLI and then he served on HMS Kandahar in the Red Sea. He had a tattoo “Egypt 1940″ on his arm. 

The Khartoum sinking must have been hell for a 18 year old that probably had to swim the two miles ashore to Perim Harbour. One 17 year old seaman was killed swimming ashore.
“The HMS Khartoum sinking must have been hell for a 18 year old that probably had to swim the two miles ashore to Perim Harbour. One 17 year old seaman was killed swimming ashore”, Bob Young says

His next significant action was on HMS Ladybird, a famous ship that was about to become even more famous. Admiral Cunningham said that they should write a book about HMS Ladybird“.

HMS Ladybird went so far inshore in Bardia, North Africa, to bomb the Italians, because of their low draft the enemy guns couldn’t be lowered enough to hit them! 

The letter
The letter on the sinking of HMS Ladybird, with W.P. Young on board

I feel my grandad probably felt my dad, his son, was still on HMS Ladybird when it sunk. He would have written the article thinking his son, my dad, had survived the sinking. He would have read about the bravery of the crew of HMS Ladybird and sent the article to the Isle of Man paper. He had not heard of his son being injured or killed and assumed he had survived. That is my guess.

khartoum perim

He had actually spent 60 days in detention, reduced from 90 days and joined the Zoodochos Pigi.

After this period dad spent 2 months in Detention Quarters in Jerusalem for being absent, probably  for drinking and other activities.
The two months in detention would have been very hard. Sleeping on hard floors. Bread and water diet and a strict regime that was geared to improve a young man’s character! Detention was very hard and my guess is dad couldn’t believe he was in this position after being sunk on HMS Khartoum and 5 months bombing Bardia and the Italian held coast.
His next posting after detention was on the 170 ton Greek schooner Zoodochos Pigi. This probably was part of the Inshore squadron that did the Spud Run. Carrying supplies, prisoners, injured to and from Alexandria and Tobruk. 

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Zoodochos Pigi was famed for being the last ship to leave Greece when evacuating soldiers from the mainland to Crete and Africa.

After that, my dad spent 5 months on the requisitioned minesweeper drifter Victoria 1, which was sunk in the Mediterranean on 25 March 1942, the date my dad’ s service ceased.

He didn’t have much time for the Italians. He used to say in a rather colourful language that they preferred lovemaking to fighting!

After three shipwrecks and lucky escapes William Patrick “Bill” Young served on shore establishments up until 1943, when he found himself once again at sea, serving with HMS Keats.

HMS Keats and Arctic Star of W.P. Young
HMS Keats and Arctic Star of W.P. Young

During his service with HMS Keats, Bill saw the sinking of two U-Boats and participated in Operation Goodwood, a series of unsuccessful British carrier air raids conducted against the German battleship Tirpitz at her anchorage in Kaafjord, Norway, during late August 1944.

Whilst the War ended in 1945, William Patrick Young’s personal struggle did not end with it. Quite the contrary was the case, as his son Bob Young vividly recollects:

He was in the Merchant Navy for the next 20 years and we really only saw him when he came back to our house drunk. He would come home from the pubb at 4 a.m. and tell us, his young sons, we had seen nothing. He would then go on telling us in detail about bodies everywhere, heads over here, feet over there. 

Mum used to tell him a normal dad wouldn’t want their sons to see what he had seen. It was all very painful being young boys. Then the police would come to the house and take him at the station overnight. 

William Patrick Young with his two young sons, after WW2
William Patrick Young with his two young sons, after WW2

My mother separated from him in 1960, when I was 9 and I did actually build a little relationship with him before he took his life in 1986, aged 64.
Since then, I’ve been able to get dad’s service record and I’ve spent hours each day researching his time, especially his war years. Its saddened me it took me so long to understand what he went through. 

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Apart from the absence and 2 months in detention, his ability and conduct in the Royal Navy and Merchant Navy, nearly 40 years at sea, were very good. The price men like my dad paid for our freedom today was felt for decades.”

log2

“He used to bring us watches, encyclopedias and chocolate from his merchant navy trips. But seeing him was generally an unhappy time. We would occasionally see him sober, he was a nice man, with a good sense of humour! But he was bitter about the war. 

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I think he felt very undervalued, especially after what he had been through. I can imagine him in the pub with people who had not served. Especially as them people were giving their opinions about this and that concerning the war. God knows what he said to them if somebody said we would have been better off under the Germans! People say that sort of daft thing in pubs.”

William Patrick Young in 1956 with son Bob
William Patrick Young in 1956 with son Bob

“He always used to say “We are all on a one-way ticket”! That was his outlook to life”.