This Anzac Day we are paying tribute to Veterans by sharing the story of one of our residents, Philip Hannah, a decorated World War II Veteran who served in the British Royal Marines from 20 October 1942 until 28 November 1944.
At 93 years old, Philip looks forward to Anzac Day. His medals are laid out in preparation, including his prestigious Legion of Honour medal, ready for him to proudly wear on Anzac Day when he joins the Royal Marines Association at the Maritime Museum, Brisbane to take part in an annual parade.
It’s a time of reflection for Philip, a special day where he pays tribute to the Australian forces who helped in the war effort to relieve not only Britain from being taken by the Germans, but to also help other nations in Europe under German occupation.
Philip was only 15 years old at the time Britain was in danger of being invaded. Studying as a builder’s draftsman, he decided to try out for the Home Guard as in Philips own words, “he wasn’t having his country invaded.”
It was not until Philip recently read his Home Guard release service record that he realised that he had actually increased his age to be accepted.
After two years with the Home Guard, Philip decided to try for the Royal Marines and much to his dismay was knocked back because of his height.
Determined to get in, it wasn’t until his third attempt, as he stretched himself out to his full height and rocked forward on his tiptoes, that he heard the words he had been waiting to hear… “I’m sure you’re tall enough.”
Joining the Royal Marines in Plymouth, England, Philip recalls the gruelling 9 months training as he says, “they did their best to try and kill us” to ensure the recruits were good enough for the elite fighting force known as the Royal Marines.
Philip’s world soon consisted of learning safe use of arms, firing light machine guns, endurance tasks, forever having big packs on his back, living off the land and returning to inspections at base to make sure he was fit for purpose. Philip was also sent on a course of navel gunnery and seamanship.
After months of rigorous training and being deemed fit for duty, Philip was sent to Trincomalee in Ceylon to defend the naval base there until orders changed as ship crews were urgently needed and he was sent to sea instead.
Philip found himself on a minelaying ship surrounded by 360, 1 tonne mines, any one of which could blow the ship to smithereens. Their mission was to roll them out the back of the stern to cause disruption to enemy seaborne traffic.
Most of his time at sea was on convoy duty, protecting the merchant navy ships, and hunting and being hunted by German boats.
Fast forward to the days in the lead up to the D-Day landings, where Philip’s ship put them ashore on the Isle of Wight to stretch their legs before the assault on Normandy. Philip clearly remembers being engulfed in silence and hearing the “cuckoo” of a bird. Thinking to himself “I wonder if I will ever hear that sound again,” he instantly made a promise to himself that he would never ever complain about a bird’s noise again should he live to see and hear it.
Eerily chilling, Philip had to get back on the ship as they set off for the Normandy beaches filled with apprehension at what was to come. It was then that all hell broke loose. Philip said the noise “was enough to send you mad” with guns going off everywhere. Philip said when daylight came it was like a lunar landscape – everything had been shattered and battered to pieces.
It was when Philip was protecting the landing craft, and to this day he’s not sure exactly what happened, but he found himself with a collapsed lung and his time with the Royal Marines came to an end.
Looking back on his service Philip has no regrets and feels extremely proud that he was able to participate in helping to liberate Europe.
Philip’s attitude to life is to “love life wherever I am, each day is a bonus and I am alive!”
Philip we honour you and your fellow Veterans this Anzac Day. Thank you for going into battle to safeguard the freedom we enjoy today.