MEMORIES: WWII Royal Navy serviceman Ken Hayden pictured in his Hervey Bay home with photographs of ships he served on.
MEMORIES: WWII Royal Navy serviceman Ken Hayden pictured in his Hervey Bay home with photographs of ships he served on. Alistair Brightman

Bay WWII veteran reflects on what it means to serve

AT 17, Ken Hayden was watching thousands of men's faces march off his troop carrier landing craft, most of whom would never return.

It is those faces the London-born returned serviceman will think about during today's Anzac Day ceremony.

Now just shy of his 93rd birthday, the second and first world wars seemed to have existed in a different world from his cosy home surrounded by gnomes with his wife June Hayden in Hervey Bay's Golden Shores.

"My grandfather was gassed in the first world war. He was sent to Gallipoli at 16," Ken said.

"My memories of WWI are all those poor soldiers on street corners, they sell matches or play a banjo because they just got nothing."

The former Royal Navy stroker followed in his father's footsteps and volunteered for service on June 6 1944, a date also marked in history as the D Day landing in Normandy.

Ken was trained to be a seaman for just five months before boarding his first combat vessel. The training today requires more than a year.

During his career as a sailor, Ken crewed four ships and was responsible for the transportation of soldiers and equipment all over the world.


WW2 navy officer Ken Hayden.
WW2 navy officer Ken Hayden. Alistair Brightman

From English infantry to Dutch troops and Indian soldiers had a place in the ship's ferrying of war resources.

Top secret orders would send his boats to and from a place and only occasionally would a small sheet of paper circulate the decks with news of the war beyond the metal ship's sides.

Sea mines and enemy planes were navigated with a convoy of mine sweepers, destroyers and troop carrier ships.

Ken remembers hearing about the atomic bomb dropped on Japan on the voyage taking troops to Operation Zipper to invade Malay and Singapore.

"I remember off the Oran coast we experienced an extremely heavy storm, the ship was loaded with landing pontoons," he said.

"While this in itself was not unusual it was the first time I had seen the pontoons stacked three high which made the barge top heavy. The lot was lost and it took five days to get to Oran and two to get home."

In 1945 Ken sailed from Singapore to Java visiting Indonesian ports picking up prisoners of war and troops.

"The POW's included women and children, it was a bad time and not a pretty sight. Not one I would like to see again," he recalled.

"When I was demobilised I walked in one door as a StrokerP/KX 709050 then walked out the other door as "Mr" with a cardboard box and a bank book."

He then enrolled in the New Zealand Navy for six years and when he settled there he attended many Anzac Day dawn services.

"Anzac Day is part of the Australian way here," he said.

"I think it is important to pass on the stories for the next generation, but they need to be authentic stories. Stories from people who were actually there."

As part of that commitment to the future, Ken attended Anzac Day services at local schools as one of the last in Queensland to represent those who worked on the landing boats.

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