Divine intervention at the wheel of a coach

Fleet carrier HMS Albion in dry dock in Singapore in the 1960s
Fleet carrier HMS Albion in dry dock in Singapore in the 1960s

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Peter Croft will never forget his drive through Japan.

A member of the ship’s company of HMS Albion, by then a commando carrier, he was behind the wheel of a naval 36-seater bus packed with Royal Fleet Auxiliary crew.

Peter Croft with his naval bus parked on the flight deck of HMS Albion. Apart from his hair-raising drive in Japan, he also drove it in the New Territories of Hong Kong and Hong Kong itself.

Peter Croft with his naval bus parked on the flight deck of HMS Albion. Apart from his hair-raising drive in Japan, he also drove it in the New Territories of Hong Kong and Hong Kong itself.

He was driving them from Kobe to Osaka in misty rain when the wipers packed up.

Peter, of Woolmer Street, Emsworth, says: ‘There was a small greasy patch and with my eye pressed to it and standing up over the steering wheel in the middle lane of the busy motorway, I drove almost by faith for 20 minutes.

‘The RFA crew fell silent and stopped their singing and I am sure they were ready to meet their maker.’

His passengers spent the day visiting a sake factory and were in high spirits on the return journey when Peter’s hat was passed around the bus.

‘Slowly, their singing died down. I didn’t know why and when they got off my hat was full of yen notes.

‘Taking the money out I saw written on the inner lining of my hat ‘‘Jesus Saves’’.

‘I’d written it there some time earlier so no one would pinch it.’

That was in 1969 and it was Peter’s second spell in the fleet carrier.

He first joined the ship in early 1960 which, Peter recalls, was her last commission as a fixed wing carrier – with Sea Hawks, Sea Venoms, four Skyraiders, Mk1 Gannets and Whirlwind helicopters embarked.

He also remembers an eventful passage through the Suez Canal.

‘When the Egyptian pilot took over the ship to steer her through the canal, he caused it to finish with a bent keel up front.

‘In dry dock the keel looked like a corner of a page bent over at a right angle.

‘Steering the ship all the way to Singapore, turning to starboard was a piece of cake.’

Peter also remembers being sent on to the flight deck in a typhoon.

‘I was crawling on my stomach, hanging on to an aircraft chock to check the lashing of the parked aircraft on the flight deck.

‘The wind was so strong it ripped off much of the paint on the deck.’