Eric Such was born in 1924 in Smethwick, Staffordshire and was educated at two schools, at the second of which, Crocketts Lane school, he was appointed School Captain. On leaving school at 14, Eric started at an engineering company, training as a pattern maker, but wanted to join up as soon as war was declared, although he was under-age….
After a spell in the Local Defence Volunteers he tried to join up again and although still only in his mid-teens, Eric gave his age as 18 and was signed on for the Gloucestershire Regiment. After 18 months in the Army he decided that the infantry was not for him, despite being offered promotion, and was discharged after showing his birth certificate. Almost immediately, Eric volunteered for the Navy, being posted to HMS Duke at Malvern. Calls for volunteers into the Royal Navy Air Service (changed later to the Fleet Air Arm because the name ‘clashed’ with the Royal Navy Auxiliary Service) struck a chord with Eric and he qualified as a Telegraphist Air Gunner as well as Armourer for the Squadron, a natural role given his proficiency in gunnery in the Army. Eric felt that here, for the first time, he had found a role at which he excelled, and he made good friends while training.
Eric started on HMS Illustrious before joining HMS Victorious, which formed part of the Operation Pedestal convoy to Malta. Action on this convoy was unrelenting and his autobiography is vivid in detail from this period. After service on board the Victorious, Eric qualified as an Air Fitter and was sent to America, to Brunswick in Maine on board the Queen Mary.
Training in the States concentrated on the Avenger aircraft in preparation for overseas service in the Far East. His time in the States was a happy period characterised by overwhelming hospitality, including time spent with the Walkers who welcomed him as one of the family. However, subsequent service in the Far East was arduous and Eric lost many friends. The operations from the Fleet were largely against Japanese aircraft ashore, including Formosa; a Kamikaze base. At Palembang, Japanese barrage balloons and steel cables caused losses among the Avenger aircraft and the Corsairs acting as fighter escort.
After VE Day, Eric spent a frustrating time waiting for return to the UK and his demob. His first job post-war was with Guest, Keen and Nettlefold (GKN), and he remained a long-serving member of the Royal Naval Auxiliary Service.
The Second World War Experience Centre is honoured to preserve Eric’s substantial collection of photographs and memorabilia, including numerous photograph albums, his Flying Log Book, original diary, scrapbooks and uniform.
Extracts taken from Eric’s autobiography Tool of War, 1997, published by Square One Publications:
Whilst in Ceylon
Seven of us who enjoyed swimming set off in the truck to a nearby lagoon near Dambulla, taking with us two .303 rifles and some 50 rounds, just in case – dress negative swimming trunks. We carried plenty of fruit and a supply of lime juice, found a rough little beach and very soon it was into the lagoon in our birthday suits to enjoy a swim. The water was fine, the sun was hot and for perhaps an hour we lazed in the water.
Suddenly a warning cry rang out and I saw a big crocodile, about 300 yards away and heading straight for us. With no second warning, a shower of bare bottoms headed for safety. I speedily fed 10 rounds into a rifle while three others went for the other rifle. Heart pounding, I steadied my breathing and fired 3 shots at the visible head, the beast stopped and vanished under water, and now two of us waited, guns ready.
At about 100 yards, we sighted it again, still coming, so we retreated firing about 10 bullets between us. Its body was out of the water, and it flopped onto the small beach near our towels; it was a massive thing. I grabbed the ammo bandolier and fed in another ten rounds, my companion picked up 10 rounds and we all retired and stood just inside the jungle. On request I passed the rifle to Charlie Parker who blazed away, our second gun also firing until the magazine was empty. The Schneider croc. (we later discovered its name) was 17½ feet long and rarely – if ever – found in lagoons!
Each of us had a photograph taken with a foot on the beast, our appetite for continuing our swim faded, and after a quick visit to Sigiriya “The Lion Rock”, and a glance at some ruins, back to base we went. To the conservationists of today, let me say that we had no doubt we were in danger at that time. Since we weren’t far from village life and “that sort, stay in estuaries!” we helped some unfortunate villager to wash in safety.
On Christmas Day 1943 Rev Dudley Child asked Eric and two friends to celebrations at his home, together with a meal at a restaurant at Cape Cod – The hospitality offered to Eric while in America was overwhelming
I think the restaurant was wooden-built and very large – shaped, if memory serves, like a large bungalow. Tables had been laid and we all had place names. As we stood by our chairs, a gramophone played the Star Spangled Banner with us three at rigid attention, the Americans placing hands across hearts. Then ‘God Save our King’ began and all stood to attention. It was very emotional for me at least, thoughts of family and home were triggered within me, and my throat clicked as I swallowed hard and set my face with difficulty.
Then as we sat, Reverend Child asked for us to join in prayer and thanksgiving, saying grace for the forthcoming meal. I thought he did it very well, and it was very appropriate since he referred to our families, fitting my mood and that of others present. The service of the meal and the meal itself: Turkey and Christmas Pudding and cake, coffee and brandy, pleased every palate. Dancing followed – very spirited dancing, I may add! Just before dusk, the cars arrived and back to the house we went.
Post-war Eric wrote to the Reverend Child, remarking ‘I owe that man, who cared so much, a gratitude beyond this life‘.
Conditions on board for all concerned were arduous, working long hours to keep the aircraft in serviceable order, for example while on HMS Victorious in Operation Pedestal:
We were now concerned with ranging the Martlets for take off and I was lying on the deck holding onto a chock like grim death as the pilot brought up his engine speed, the back-lash threatening to blow me into the whirling propellers behind. No one needed to warn you of this danger!
Suddenly the order was ‘Chocks away!’ and I wrenched the chock from under the wheel, as my mate manhandled the other. The slipstream tore at us as we carried our little loads to safety. Then the eerie quiet began, before the first of our planes landed on, back to the re-arm, refuel and take off. The threats from the very determined enemy, were numerous and constant. Once again, our Hurricanes were landing on, keeping the batsman busy, while we waited on the stern for them to arrive. In a flash an Italian plane followed by another nearly took our heads off and as we made for side cover, a bomb exploded. Another bomb, quite intact, hit the flight deck and bits vanished in all directions over the ship’s side. The Eyeties gained height rapidly heading away, so out we came and carried on as before.
Eric Such Died in 2004
Inventory of the Donation – Accession ref – 1999-0209
- Flying log book
- Postcard album
- Various Magazines
- Stamp book
- 2 large photograph albums
- Scrap book including newspaper cuttings, theatre programmes and tickets, telegrams etc.
- HMS Illustrious
- HMS Victorious
- Box of naval badges
- Mouth organ
- Elements of uniform
- Second World War information booklets
- Manuals of seamanship