VETERANS TALK: WWII Navy veterans Joe Treers (left) and Ken Groves shared their stories with each other yesterday.
VETERANS TALK: WWII Navy veterans Joe Treers (left) and Ken Groves shared their stories with each other yesterday. Kevin Farmer

Toowoomba Navy Veterans recount time on the sea

IN A side room of the Toowoomba RSL, two World War II sailors spent yesterday comparing their stories from their time in the war.

Although similar, the two tales were also disparate.

British ex-navy veteran Ken Groves, 93, sailed the Arctic on a destroyer in 1944, while Australian ex-navy veteran Joe Treer, 97, spent a large portion of his time in the southern seas.

Mr Groves served on the Arctic convoys, guarding merchant ships carrying supplies from Iceland to Russia, skirting occupied Norway.

"It was one of the most horrendous convoys of the war, they lost many of the merchant ships," Mr Groves said.

"A day came in 1944 when we were hit below the bridge and the ship curled up like a sardine tin.

"A third of the crew disappeared that day."

Mr Groves said those who remained were told they would have to abandon ship in the freezing waters.

"They had blocked up the hole, but the ship started to keel over," he said.

"They put a sail up to right it, and then a Russian tug came out and towed us. It took four days for us to get back to Russia."

He said the temperature on the routes never rose above -20 degrees, the walls of the ship covered in thick ice.

"Joe and I were just discussing it; he was telling me how the tropics were too hot while I was out there freezing," Mr Groves said.

Mr Treer on the other hand spent 20 years in warmer water.

"I was on everything from heavy cruisers, to light cruisers, from destroyers to frigates, I worked in the engine room," Mr Treer said.

"I served in East Africa before returning to work with the Australian Navy in the Indian Ocean and the Pacific."

Mr Treer said one of his fondest memories happened while he was working on a merchant ship sailing from Townsville to Moresby.

"We would come back to Townsville, where the American firm Peter's Ice Cream had a factory.

"I went outside to get a breath of fresh air on the upper deck, and I could see two American Destroyers tied up next to a Peter's Ice Cream truck.

"And there were all the crew, returning to the ship with bricks of ice cream."