Oliver, Ernest Alfred
Dundee Courier 27 September 1965
Fighting pirates in the China seas - on the beaches at Dardanelles - in the thick of it at Jutland - instructor on the Mars
The many adventures of Ernie Oliver
The morning of Friday, February 1, 1901, was cold and grey as the funeral cortege bearing the body of Queen Victoria wound slowly from Osborne House to Cowes harbour.
Among the silent mourners were the crew of the Royal yacht Victoria and Albert for whom Her Majesty had a special soft spot.
One of their number was a youth of 18, Ernest Alfred Oliver.
Though born and bred in Portsmouth,Ernie declares himself a "naturalised" Dundonian.
He has lived in the city since 1922 when he was appointed an instructor on the Mars training ship.
"My first ship was the Royal yacht," recalls Ernie.
"The old Queen was a regular visitor especially during Cowes season.
"Then she would grant funds for new rigouts for all the crew.
"A short, stern figure dressed severely in grey, Her Majesty often had a kindly word for the crew.
"I can remember the Queen shaking my hand with the words 'God bless you.'
"Not long after the death of Queen Victoria I was transferred to the battleship Vengeance which was engaged in clearing pirates from the China seas.
"The waters round China were riddled with pirate junks which terrorised the villages on the coasts and islands.
"Looting, burning, torture and rape were rife.
"We could straddle the pirates' bows from a great distance.
"If they bolted we'd sink them or set the cruisers after them."
After period spent on several ships Ernie joined the battleship Queen.
"In 1915 the Queen was ordered to the Dardenelles.
"Some of my worst memories haunt me still from those days when so many young men were sacrificed in vail.
"As we lowered the boars carrying up to 100 men over the side, not a word was spoken. The lads knew what was waiting
"The beaches were a mass of entangled wire right down to the water's edge.
"The Turks were entrenched in the cliffs above.
"Not even our fire could shift them.
"As our boys reached the shore the Turks opened up with murderous machine-gun fire.
"Whole boatloads of dead soldiers floated in the surf with no a single survivor reaching the beach.
"I was in ship's crews who went ashore to help the wounded.
"A friend of mine won a medal.
"Though an ordinary seaman he had the sense to slit the throat of a young Aussie shot in the throat and unable to breathe.
"His action saved the lad's life and my mate carried him to safety under fire.
"One of our ships rolled right over after being struck by shell fire.
"An explosion in the magazine ripped the guts right out of her, and over she went.
"We took to the small boats immediately and managed to pick up about 200 survivors, but over 300 were lost.
"I was ordered the join the cruiser Galatea just in time to be used as bait before the Battle of Jutland!" he smiled ruefully.
"When Admiral Beattie's battle cruisers came into contact with the enemy, we did not turn but headed right into them.
"Only brilliant manoeuvering saved the Galatea time and again.
"We zigzagged as the shells fell round us."
After 20-odd years' active service in the Royal Navy, Ernie came to Dundee to act as instructor on the Mars training ship.
"you know looking back on the Mars many people say it was tough but fair and made men of the boys who were sent there.
"But to be honest it could be more than tough - sometimes it was brutal.
"I remember once I almost got the sack because I didn't force the boys to walk about 20 miles from Newport to Elie.
"We had gone out to clean up a rat-infested granery in Elie, and by the end of the day some of the youngsters were really exhausted.
"Faced with the 20-mile walk back to Newport, I decided to hire a lorry and drove them back.
"I was warned that I'd be sacked on the next such occasion. I should have made them walk - they said.
"Don't think I'm against discipline for youngsters. Indeed, I believe the birch should be brought back for some of those gangs of goons who cause so much trouble.
"Fines are no good when you consider some of the wages youngsters earn nowadays."
when the Mars left the tay for the breakers' yard at Inverkeithing in 1929, Ernie decided his navy days were over.
Hi next job was chief porter at Caldrum Jute Works - a post he held for nearly quarter of a century.
"During 25 years at Caldrum's I never once took a Christmas or New Year off. I felt I might be needed in an emergency."
Ernie's war years have left their mark and although remarkably alert for his age he is to be admitted to the Lady Erskine Hospital in Glasgow. His home is at 87 Craigie Avenue, where he lives with his wife.
A transcription of his service record
|Duke of Wellington I||Domestic 3rd Class||31 Jan 1900||2 Mar 1900|
|Duke of Wellington I||2nd Cook's Mate||3 Mar 1900||10 May 1900|
|Osborne||2nd Cook's Mate||11 May 1900||30 Oct 1900|
|Osborne||Cook's Mate||31 Oct 1900||17 Nov 1902|
|Duke of Wellington I||Cook's Mate||18 Nov 1902||22 May 1903|
|Excellent||Cook's Mate||23 May 1903||21 Dec 1903|
|Tamar||Cook's Mate||22 Dec 1903||15 May 1904|
|Humber||Cook's Mate||16 May 1904||10 Dec 1905|
|Humber||2nd Ship's Cook||11 Dec 1905||14 May 1905|
|Hecla||2nd Ship's Cook||15 May 1905||8 Jun 1905|
|Vengeance||2nd Ship's Cook||9 Jun 1905||27 Aug 1905|
|Victory I||2nd Ship's Cook||28 Aug 1905||18 Oct 1905|
|Nelson||2nd Ship's Cook||19 Oct 1905||10 Jul 1907|
|Sapphire II||2nd Ship's Cook||11 Jul 1907||18 Jul 1907|
|Victory I||2nd Ship's Cook||19 Jul 1907||19 Aug 1907|
|Hindustan||2nd Ship's Cook||20 Aug 1907||30 Jun 1909|
|Hindustan||Acting Ship's Cook||1 Jul 1909||4 Oct 1909|
|Victory I||Acting Ship's Cook||5 Oct 1909||26 May 1910|
|Victory I||Ship's Cook||15 Mar 1910||Slight correction to service record made here|
|Latona||Ship's Cook||27 May 1910||11 Feb 1911|
|Victory I||Ship's Cook||12 Feb 1911||15 Feb 1911|
|Good Hope||Ship's Cook||16 Feb 1911||31 Aug 1912|
|Good Hope||Acting Chief Ship's Cook||1 Sept 1912||23 Dec 1912|
|Victory I||Acting Chief Ship's Cook||24 Dec 1912||5 Mar 1913|
|Victory I||Chief Ship's Cook||6 Mar 1913||8 Apr 1913|
|Dido||Chief Ship's Cook||9 Apr 1913||26 May 1913|
|Duncan||Chief Ship's Cook||27 May 1913||3 Jun 1914|
|Queen||Chief Ship's Cook||4 Jun 1914||13 Feb 1917|
|Prince of Wales||Chief Ship's Cook||14 Feb 1917||5 Apr 1917|
|Victory I||Chief Ship's Cook||6 Apr 1917||28 Aug 1917|
|Galatea||Chief Ship's Cook||29 Aug 1917||16 May 1919|
|Galatea||Chief Petty Officer Cook||17 May 1919||29 Feb 1920|
|Victory I||Chief Petty Officer Cook||1 Mar 1920||9 Apr 1920|
|Hercules||Chief Petty Officer Cook||10 Apr 1920||20 May 1920|
|Victory III||Chief Petty Officer Cook||21 May 1920||8 Jun 1920|
|King George V||Chief Petty Officer Cook||9 Jun 1920||30 Sept 1920|
|Orion||Chief Petty Officer Cook||1 Oct 1920||30 Jun 1921|
|Conqueror||Chief Petty Officer Cook||1 Jul 1921||30 Jan 1922|
- Service Record indicates that he was never drafted to the Royal Yacht Victoria and Albert
- Service Record indicates he was born 7 May 1881 Landport, Hampshire
- Service Record indicates that his first ship was HMS Duke of Wellington on 31 January 1900
- Service Record indicates that he joined HMS Vengeance on 9 June 1905 and left her on 27 August 1905
- Service Record indicates that he joined HMS Queen on 4 June 1914 and left it on 13 February 1917
- Service Record indicates he did not join HMS Galatea until 29 August 1917 (Battle of Jutland was 31 May to 1 June 1916)