Born in Dublin in 1921, two years after his father returned from four years fighting in the first world war, Fred spent the next decade of his childhood in India. Europe and Ireland were in deep financial depression after the first world war and his father – faced with unemployment – took the opportunity to manage a coffee plantation there.
When his father died, ten years later, of an illness resulting from his time in the trenches, the family had to return to Dublin, penniless. Fred's mother took many jobs, including playing piano for silent movies, to keep the family. Fred completed his education in a charity school for sons of war victims in London.
After school, Fred was lucky enough to lodge with an aunt in London and studied engineering. He started work as a rep for an engineering tools supplier, but in 1941 volunteered for the Royal Navy, when the second world war was esalating.