Radar operator played key Second World War role
Royal Navy veteran Kenneth Geary is one of the last surviving heroes of the Second World War.
Kenneth, 95, who lives at Yorkshire Housing’s Sherwood Court extra care scheme in Wakefield, won five medals for his service.
The radar operator has the Atlantic Star, Burma Star, Pacific Star, the 1939-45 Star and a Victory medal.
And he is the sole surviving member of the Wakefield branch of the Burma Star Association.
Kenneth has lived at Sherwood Court, off Sherwood Drive, Kettlethorpe, for nearly five years and has been a Yorkshire Housing customer since the 1980s.
Widower Kenneth gained the Burma Star for his service in the Japanese-occupied Dutch East Indies in 1944.
He scanned for enemy sea-born vessels and submarines from high up a radar tower on the famous HMS Valiant battleship.
It was part of a fleet that bombarded Japanese oilfields to stop them refuelling aircraft and ships from what is now present day Borneo and Indonesia.
Kenneth, who joined the Royal Navy aged 18 in 1942, was transferred to HMS Valiant after serving on HMS Malaya and HMS Eggesford.
An operation against the Tarakan oilfields in present-day Indonesia on HMS Valiant proved to be Kenneth’s most important mission.
The Japanese were producing 350,000 barrels of oil a month from Tarakan in 1943/44, making it an important refuelling hub for their navy.
An Allied fleet including HMS Valiant and American aircraft carrier the USS Saratoga bombarded areas around Java, Sumatra and Sabang.
Destruction of the oilfields and tankers meant the Japanese had to use unrefined crude oil in their aircraft carriers for the subsequent Battle of the Philippine Sea.
The internal damage caused by using unrefined fuel led many Japanese aircraft carriers to fail, helping the Allies to a vital victory.
Kenneth helped make that possible as a radar operator by warning the fleet of any dangers during the Tarakan operation.
He said: “We were sat in front of a set looking at a screen and if you saw a blip, you reported it to the bridge.
“If you were lucky, you could pick out the periscope of a U-Boat. And if the officers thought it was serious enough, they’d send a destroyer out to check on it.”
He worked rotating shifts of four hours at a time and intense concentration was required.
Conditions were cramped, with 1,000 men on board mostly sleeping in hammocks hung from metal bars that ran from the bulkheads.
It was also noisy as HMS Valiant had 15in guns that could fire a one tonne shell about 18 miles.
Kenneth said he was not scared and also played down his heroism.
He added: “It never bothered us. I was 20-years-old at the time and it was just something we did.”
After the war, Kenneth, formerly of Wrenthorpe, Wakefield, married wife Agnes in 1946 and had two sons.
One of them, Malcolm, 68, also served in the Royal Navy, servicing jet fighters as an electrical engineer on HMS Ark Royal in the 1960s and 70s.
Kenneth’s later career took in bus conducting and bus driving and he also worked for an engineering firm.
He and Agnes lived in a Yorkshire Housing property in Wrenthorpe for more than 25 years until she sadly passed away from dementia in 2014.
Kenneth was her carer and they were due to move into Sherwood Court for extra support when she died.
Sherwood Court has 45 flats based around a central atrium and has on-site care staff available round the clock.
Facilities include assisted bathing suites, hair salon, library and attractive gardens to help residents retain some of their independence.
Kenneth said: “Just before we were due to come here, Agnes suffered a stroke and only lasted 10 more days.
“But Yorkshire Housing said they also had a one-bedroom flat available and it was mine if I wanted it.”