Nov 14 2012 by Michael Pringle, Airdrie & Coatbridge Advertiser
The nation fell silent on Sunday to commemorate those who fell in armed conflict across the globe.
For pensioner Tommy Sneddon (87), like so many other ex-servicemen, it was a time to reflect on his personal experiences during World War II and remember those who never returned.
“There were quite a lot of people from this area who never came home,” he said. “I grew up with a fellow by the name of Shiels Gillespie who lived nearby; he was an only son and he was shot down.”
Tommy, who now lives at Mossywood Court in Airdrie, joined the Royal Navy voluntarily as a 17-year-old cabin boy in 1942.
The former able seaman who has, apart from his years in the military, lived his entire life in the Clarkston area, was stationed on board the minesweeper HMS Pickle which cleared the English Channel in preparation for the D-Day landings in 1944.
The sailors may not have come face to face with enemy troops but their duties were still fraught with danger as Tommy told the Advertiser: “We had to contend with U-boats and submarines that you couldn’t see. We sent what they called a ‘ping’ down with the ship’s sonar — you could hear the subs in the depths.
“The Japanese also devised these mines and the minesweepers couldn’t cut through the cables holding them. We had to stop and bring them in; you had to throw a rope over them and get them to the surface and then blow them up.
“I was on the same boat all through the war and during the D-Day landings we were there for about a week clearing the channel. We once took a convoy all the way from Falmouth to Ceylon and didn’t lose one vessel.”
Tommy did witness some harrowing sights during his time at sea that have remained with him. He continued: “We were minesweeping and came across a load of bodies floating in the water but we weren’t allowed to stop.
“Most of us on board thought it was cruel that we just left them there but once we finished sweeping we turned back and removed their dog tags. The men were from an American ship.”
It wasn’t only the enemy that posed a danger.
“We were in the Indian Ocean and it was a rough passage. You could feel the ship dropping down and then come back up slow and then drop again.
“Our cabins were below the water line and the noise was terrible. I remember lying there wondering if the ship would come back up again because the sea was so rough.”
Even at the war’s end celebrations were muted for Tommy and the crew.
“We didn’t really hear anything about what was going on,” he recalled. “When the war ended the cheers went up but we were in Burma and the war wasn’t finished there; we were still there over a year later.”
Following the war, Tommy worked as a lorry driver and married his wife Ella. In July this year they celebrated their diamond wedding anniversary. They went on to have seven kids and now have 21 grandchildren.
Tommy’s granddaughter Mairi Arnott (19), who contacted us to tell us of his exploits, developed a keen interest in World War II during her time at Caldervale High and has visited Belgium and Normandy.
Mairi said: “I attend the Remembrance Sunday parade every year while my papa watches the events at home on television.”