Water Polo

Lester May writes:

My father was Able Seaman (LTO) Wally May – known to some as Stripey May, as he was a three-badge AB, and had joined HMS Wager, on 16 Jun 44. He was 38 in July 1944 and had been in the Royal Navy since 1923 during which time he had boxed for his ship(s) and been a goalkeeper in football matches, although he was only 5’7″ (170cm) tall.

Competitive sports between ships and flotillas were encouraged by captains, and any sport in, or on, the sea was, of course, the easiest when in a safe anchorage with other ships in hot climates. Indeed, often ‘hands to bathe’ would be piped, affording the opportunity for jumping over the ship’s side for a swim and a lark in the water.

My father also played water polo, a seven-a-side game obviously suited to these circumstances. He told me that, while in HMS Wager he had played in a friendly – but competitive! – match of water polo against a team from sister ship HMS Whelp, with whom they were often in company.

Apparently, kicking an opponent further under the water is used to gain an advantage over the other team, and Dad told me that he had kicked down ‘the Greek Prince’ who was in the other team. This, of course, was Lieutenant The Prince Philip of Greece RN, who was First Lieutenant of HMS Whelp throughout the ship’s time in the Pacific. Prince Philip went on to become Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten RN and then, in 1952, Admiral of the Fleet His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh. My father did not end up in the Tower of London!

I had always thought that this water polo match had taken place in Tokyo Bay, around the time of Japan’s signing the surrender document on 2 Sep 45, but it may have taken place at one or other safe anchorages in 1945, such as at Manus Island or Guam.