A Secret VE Day Mission

I have so many tales I could share of an old beloved family friend William ‘Bill’ Ballantyne and his service in the RN in WW2. As a young child I used to go sailing with Bill and listen to him spin seemingly endless entertaining and enthralling dits about his time serving in the fast mine-layer, HMS Apollo.

Bill’s service took him from the icy waters of the Arctic to the beaches of Normandy and eventually to the Far East, including a quite incredible visit to Hiroshima only days after the bomb was dropped. However on the eve of the 75th anniversary of VE Day I thought I would share Bill’s very unique experience in early May 1945.

On the 7th May 1945, Bill was at home on leave in Edinburgh. Along with the rest of the country he was preparing for the VE Day celebrations when he received a telegram instructing him to return at once to his ship in Milford Haven. The following day, with the nation celebrating the end of the war in Europe, Bill said his goodbyes again and travelled South to rejoin his ship. HMS Apollo sailed shortly after Bill returned and headed up the East Coast with her tasking and destination shrouded in secrecy. When the Ship’s Company were eventually mustered on the upper deck to enter harbour, landmarks started to appear in the mist, one of which was a gasometer that Bill recognised straight away. It was the Granton Gasworks, just a few miles from Edinburgh, somewhere Bill had spent time fishing with his father years before. HMS Apollo was heading up the Forth estuary to Rosyth. Bill had taken an incredibly round about way to end up only a short bus ride from home!

But why the secrecy? All would become clear not long after their arrival alongside when Crown Prince Olaf of Norway came onboard and the Ship’s Company were informed they were about to convey their distinguished visitor on his historic return to the now liberated Oslo.

So 19 year old Bill, a veteran of the Artic Convoys and of D-Day, missed the VE Day celebrations, hurried away from his family in secrecy. He would end up a stones throw from home only a few days later without being able to pop home and say hello. But he would not regret this missed celebration as instead, he, along with his Apollo Shipmates, would soon experience a very unique run ashore and 10 days of celebrations in Oslo marking the return of Price Olaf, from which he recalls a lot of handshakes, lots of partying and lots of bread, jam and margarine from the thankful locals.

Bill’s marvellous stories of life at sea and of the adventures and sacrifices of his war service in no small part inspired me to join the Navy myself, 64 years after Bill entered the gates of HMS Royal Arthur for his basic training. I look forward to passing on his many tales to my own children one day and I’m proud to share this tale as the nation marks the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe.

Submitted by Submitted by C Campbell

Photo: AB William Ballantyne, 1943-45

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