Gosport is part of the complex that is Portsmouth, one of the royal navy’s three main depots, the other two being Chatham, on the River Medway and Plymouth in Devonshire. Portsmouth guarded the South coast, Chatham the approaches to London, and Plymouth the south-west. It is an unlovely place of docks, warehouses, and barracks. The shore station to which I was assigned was called H.M.S. St. Vincent. As I recall, it consisted of a large dining-hall, a gathering-place where one could relax with a beer and buy duty-free cigarettes, dormitories, and a large parade ground, in the middle of which was a tall mast which was held vertical by ratlines. I mention this because, when we were at a loose end, some of us, the more energetic, spent time and energy scrambling up and down the ratlines.
On arrival we were directed to slops, where we were kitted out with sailor uniforms and ditty bags, canvas containers, in which to keep our bits and pieces, and were assigned to a dormitory bed. We were given a physical examination, an injection, and then referred to the paymaster, who issued us with a paybook, and told to keep good care of it, otherwise when payday came around, we would get a nor’easter, that is a not-entitled, and be turned away. In the dormitory, we were shown how to make up a bed, what was acceptable and what was not.
It soon became clear that the purpose of St. Vincent was to convert civilians into service-men, and this was to be done by a strict and exacting regimen. Lights out in the dorm was early; one was wakened at break of day by a cheerful petty officer with a cry of “Wakey, Wakey, Heave-O, Heave-O, lash up and stow. Come on, my hearties, hands off cocks,, on socks.” Of course, we could not lash up and stow, since we were not sleeping in hammocks, but we didn’t waste any time, for if you were late in rising, the P.O. would tip your bed over, with you in it. After a quick breakfast, your squad assembled on the parade ground for a couple of hours of drill and marching, learning how to get into line, number off, form fours, advance in a column of fours, about turn, mark time, stand at ease, stand easy, and so forth. After a few days, when we had reached a degree of proficiency that satisfied our drill petty officer, we were called out of the ranks, to take over his job, and drill the squad. We were judged by the efficiency we showed in controlling what could become a disorganized mob – the smartness with which we gave commands, knowing when to give them at precisely the right moment, and, of course, giving the right command, and, on occasion, become paralyzed by nerves or forgetting the commands themselves. Most did well, but there was the occasional disaster. I remember the occasion when the rating in charge, for whatever the reason, and having set the squad on a course away from him, down the parade ground, stood mute as they marched in the distance. Evidently he had forgotten how to give the ‘About-turn’ order. The Petty Officer marched for some time. Finally turning to the hapless creature, he shouted, “Well, say something, even if it’s only goodbye.”
The parade ground was a busy place as a number of squads practiced their drills, the air filled with shouted commands. Soon we learned to march smartly, all in step, and in-line, and then we were marched round the town. The rest of the day was given over to a variety of activities; we were given lectures on various subjects, among them naval discipline, naval history, the dangers of contacting v.d., rowing a whaler round the harbour, having a conducted tour of H.M.S. Victory, Nelson’s flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar, where, in 1805, he had caught the combined French-Spanish fleet off Cape St. Vincent and routed them.
We were allowed shore leave on designated days, and it was pleasant to get out of the barracks for a spell. Shore leave meant that you could stay ashore overnight. We would walk to the ferry that criss-crossed the harbour between, Gosport and Portsmouth, and head for Aggie Weston’s, that is Agnes Weston’s Home for Sailors. There you could get a cheap meal, and book a bed for the night. Then you were free to do what you liked. A group of us used to go to a pub in Southsea, named “The Goat”, a navy favourite. On return you were assigned a cubicle and, having arranged for a call in the morning, turn in for a good night’s sleep.
My Certificate of Service shows that I was transferred to H.M.S. Daedalus on May 26th, 1940, my rank at that time being Naval Airman, Second Class. I should explain that the group I was with consisted of bodies who were earmarked for consideration as officers, mostly university graduates and public school types, and were being transferred to Daedalus, which was an airfield at Elmdon, near Birmingham, for air training in Tiger Moths. My stay there was brief. After a couple of introductory lectures on theory of flight, we started our flying training accompanied by an instructor. I had never been near a plane before, let alone in one, and I suppose I was slow on the uptake. Anyway, it was not long, with about 8 hours; I was called from the programme along with several others. I was disappointed. I was not used to failure, but the pressure to produce pilots meant that you learned quickly or else you were out. Looking back, it was a decision that probably saved my life. Successful graduates of the programme were commissioned as Sub-Lts. R.N.V.R. (Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve), and after further training, were assigned to duty in aircraft carriers, flying Swordfish, which were out-of-date, slow-flying bi-planes. Flying from aircraft carriers was dangerous in itself. Taking off and landing was difficult, and there was always the danger of getting lost and being unable to find the mother ship. In addition, Swordfish, though hopelessly out of date, provided the main torpedo strike force. In fact, they achieved some outstanding successes.
In one action they sank a number of Italian naval ships at anchor in Taranto harbour, a remarkable success, and it was a torpedo from a Swordfish that damaged the steering mechanism of the German battleship, Bismarck, so that it could only move in circles, and led to it’s destruction by a British naval task force.
So, on the 17th of June 1940, a group of us were transferred to H.M.S. Raven. H.M.S. Raven was the airfield at Eastleigh, which is now Southampton International Airport. At that time, Raven occupied one side of the airfield with its Swordfish, and Fairey Fulmars, together with maintenance facilities, and huts for the personnel; on the other side was a cluster of buildings occupied by Vickers, the manufacturer of the Spitfire. Planes were constantly coming and going, and I suppose that as it was a repair facility, it was protected by barrage balloons which were raised when there was an aircraft5 warning, and lowered after the all-clear was sounded, in order to permit the arrival and departure of planes from the Vickers plant.
I was to be stationed here from June 2nd until December 5th. During this time several important developments occurred in the progress of the war. The most important was the Battle of Britain, which was fought out above our heads in August and September. Most of the time we were spectators, as we watched the vapour trails of the planes, heard the noise of the engines and the putt-putt sound of the machine-gun fire. Occasionally, a trail of smoke indicated a falling plane. However, there were occasions when the war was brought home to us.
One day, we were, for some reason, on the airfield at Fareham, near Portsmouth, when a flight of Stuka dive-bombers arrived and began to circle high above us. Suddenly, one by one, they dipped into a steep dive and hurtled towards us, the sound of the engines and their scream-making devices creating a fearful noise. Then their bombs exploded in the middle of the runway. It was a frightening few moments, my first experience of being bombed. The overwhelming feeling was of utter powerlessness and overwhelming fear.
Another incident occurred at Raven. Since there are a lot of false alarms about impending air attacks, sometimes workers were sent to shelters needlessly, resulting in a great deal of lost working time. In order to deal with this problem, if German aircraft were in the area, but not a direct threat, a system was introduced whereby work would continue under a yellow signal, and lookouts were posted to look out for enemy planes, and switch the signal to red as needed. Only then would the workers stop work and go the shelters. The system worked well until one morning, the sirens went off too late. I remember running outside, hearing a very loud sound of engines, looking up and seeing a flight of Junkers 88 going over very low. My immediate thought was that we were being bombed, and I flung myself on the ground. What happened was that they flew over us, across the airfield, dropping bombs there and on the Vickers factory, where they did considerable damage. There was a heavy loss of life, and the plant was put out of commission for some time. This was the second time I had been bombed, and I relished it no more than I had the first time.
The Battle of Britain was virtually over by the end of August. Goering had thrown the power of the Luftwaffe against the south of England, and had failed in the attempt to destroy the R.A.F., and so open the Channel to an invasion. In September, rumours kept flying about a possible invasion. It was known that the Germans had assembled a large number of troop-carrying craft in the harbours of the French ports opposite Dover, so all the armed forces were put on alert. It was rumoured that the Germans had already tried landing but had been burned to death by burning oil piped out from the shore. There were rumours that there were spies at work, and that flashing signals were being sent out at night. Lots of rumours, everybody on edge, and little in the way of facts. I remember being sent as a member of a party sent to Shirley, a suburb of Southampton, to carry out a reconnaissance exercise at night to look for any suspicious activity.
Night-bombing had now begun. The Germans had given up their attempts to get control of the Channel, and now diverted their bombers to the bombing of cities. London was the prime objective at first, and as we were on the fly path, we had planes passing overhead most nights. But we could never be sure that we would not be a target, we spent many nights in the shelters. These were crude affairs; a trench dug in the ground and then covered over, with corrugated iron and soil. As autumn turned into winter, eight hour stretches in them became very uncomfortable. The barracks themselves were little better. They were wooden sheds, with no insulation, and heated by a pot-bellied stove in the middle. People with beds at the end of the room got no benefit from the fire. It was a wretched time.
I was at Raven from June 28th to October 29th, 1940. During that time, my naval identity had been changed from Naval Airman II to Ordinary Seaman, and, as such, I was transferred to H.M.S. Orlando, arrived on October 30th. The H.M.S. Orlando turned out to be a peacetime Billy Butlin’s holiday park. It was situated just outside Ryde, on the Isle of Wight, and a couple of miles across Spithead, on a park of the Solent, from Portsmouth. There seemed to be little or no organization here. All I can remember is how we lived in the chalets, this because when we were at a loose end, some of us, the more energetic, spent time and energy scrambling up and down the ratlines.
On the 5th of December 1940, I was moved to H.M.S. Victory, Portsmouth. I think I must have been given some leave prior to December 5th because I recall being on a train pulling into Portsmouth station and seeing debris all over the place. The place had just been bombed; and I recall shortly afterwards being part of a large contingent of sailors preceded by a naval band that marched all round the town. From December 6th to January 20th, 1941, I was in the huge Portsmouth barracks, one of thousands being re-assigned from one ship to another. Most of us were at a loose end, waiting really, but, to keep us occupied, we were given chores, and there was a lot of marching on the great parade ground. I soon learned from the old lags I met that there were ways of avoiding a lot of this. You could go to any office where there was a waiting list, the doctor’s or the dentist’s and join the queue. If you were dodging a marching practice, you could get around with little chance of being found out providing you were carrying a piece of paper in a conspicuous manner. It was a tense time. As were on the flight path of bomber stream flying northward, we would get a yellow warning siren almost every night, and it would go on for hours. Sleep did not come easily as you lay in your hammock listening to the steady drone of German bombers.
It was at this time that I suffered my first long period of bombing. One night, early, we could hear the crump-crump of sticks of bombs exploding, and shortly afterwards the sirens sounded and we heard the direction over the loud hailer to go immediately to the shelters. The shelters were a maze of tunnels under the parade ground, but not very deep; I thought about a couple of feet, and I wondered what would happen should we get a direct hit. I was petrified at first. My knees were shaking, and there was nothing I could do to stop them. So there we sat hour after hour until the dawn came, listening to the scream of bombs coming down, and hoping that your name was not on one of them. The explosions, near and far, told of the damage that was being done. As for my knees, they stopped shaking of their own accord, as the night wore on, as fear gave way to tiredness, and one came to the conclusion that there was nothing one could do, anyway.
So, it was with no feelings of regret that I was summoned to the office of the Master-at-Arms (in naval speak the Jaunty) and informed that I was being transferred to H.M.S. Amazon effective the 20th of January, 1941; in other words, immediately. The Amazon was a destroyer assigned to convoy duty in the North Atlantic. She had recently seen action off the coast of Norway, where she had been subject to heavy aerial attack by German aircraft. When I joined her she was in dock in Fairfield’s yard on Govan, on the Clyde, undergoing a refit. Things looked chaotic when I first saw her, workmen and their gear all over the place.
The Captain was Lieutenant-Commander Nigel Roper, R.N. He was held in high regard by the crew. He had brought them home safely from Norway, where he impressed them with his skill and coolness under heavy bombing attacks.
I soon became part of the crew. I had thought of life aboard a man-of-war in a rather romantic light, Westward-Ho, my hearties, and all that. I was soon disabused. The crew were a raw lot. We had quite a lot of Glasgow R.N.V.R. types, a really rough lot, and we had a lot of 12-year men, that is, sailors who had served for 12 years, and had then left the service for civilian life. Most of them had become postmen. When war broke out, as they were on the reserve, they were immediately called up. Some of them had a chip on their shoulder, and all of them knew how things worked, all the scams.
The ship was one of three destroyers built by Thorneycroft in 1926 – Amazon, Achates, and Ambuscade. They had powerful engines, but were not unqualified success, frequently experiencing engine problems. We carried a crew of about 200. The seamen lived on the main deck in six messes. A mess consisted of a table, and each mess was responsible for feeding itself. There was a rota for each mess, whereby each had cooks for the day; so every so often, it became your job with your partner, to get the supplies for the day, prepare a meal, and take it to the galley, and give it to the cook, who put it on the big stove with all the others. Space on the stove was limited, so you were restricted on what you could put on it, and the restrictor was the cook. Occasionally you were allowed space for a dessert, a duff (steamed pudding), or clacker, (pantry). The stokers lived on the deck below us, in the bowels of the ship. We had portholes, which gave us light, but only in harbour, but the stokers had none. Their duty was in the engine room, also in the bowels of the ship, tending the great boilers and the machinery that powered the ship. We saw little of them. The ratings all lived forward; the officers lived aft. They had their meals served by stewards who had their own galley.
Soon the repairs were complete, tests were carried out satisfactorily, and we proceeded to Northern Ireland to await the convoy we were to escort. It was on this short trip that I had my first bout of seasickness. I had eaten a slice of bread and syrup, and drunk a cup of tea. As the ship rolled heavily in the boisterous sea, I held on to a stanchion to steady myself. Gradually I felt that the ship was beating me; I began to sweat, and then to be sick. That seemed to inoculate me. I was not sick again until one time three years later when lying off Alderney, in the Channel Islands.
We duly packed up the convoy and set out into the Atlantic. Convoy duty is very tedious. The convoy sails at about 8 knots, spread out in long lines. We zigged and zagged on the outside of the convoy. The other escorts, H.M.S. Bulldog and a few corvettes did the same. The crew was divided into 3 watches, red white and blue. There was always one watch on duty. The watches were the forenoon watch from 8 – 12:00 a.m., the afternoon watch 12:00 – 4:00 p.m., the first dog watch from 4- 6 pm, and second dog from 6-8 p.m., the evening watch from 8:00 – midnight and the middle watch from midnight to 8:00 a.m.
So, you did one on, and two off. For example if you did the middle watch, you got the afternoon and first dog off i.e. 6 hours; then you had the second dog and evening watch off for another 6 hour; then you had the middle from midnight to 8:00 a.m. and soon. The result was that we became sleep deprived. You only got 8 hours every three days.; that and fighting against the cold and the constant movement of the ship. At the end of a watch, it was a great pleasure to strip off your top garments and grabbing the overhead bars, hoist yourself into your hammock and quickly fall asleep, swinging with the ship’s movement.
The best conditions were pretty poor, but when a bad storm blew up, they became appalling. The mess deck was covered with an inch or two of seawater, mixed with the scattered convents of rubbish buckets, vomit, bits of food, and so forth. It was extremely slippery as this horrible mess swished from one side to the other, and one had to be very careful. Anyone who slipped was slammed from one side of the mess deck to the other, colliding with stanchions and benches in the process. To be cook of the day was difficult, indeed; to serve food to those off watch, and to save it for those on watch was almost impossible.
On watch one was assigned to a duty. I kept watch as part of the pom-pom crew. We sat on the gun platform whatever the weather. Everybody in that particular watch had a job. On the bridge with the officers in charge, there were lookouts, and signalmen who were on hand to flash signals to other ships. The Asdic rating sat in a little cabin, on one corner of the bridge; his job was to check for submarines; he operated an instrument that sent out a signal, with a pinging sound; when the sound echoed, he could decide whether he had a contact. If he did he reported to the officer in charge of the watch. As he turned a wheel, he covered a different part of the ocean. He sat there hour after hour – ping – poing – ping – poing – ringing in his ears. Asdic ratings were reckoned to be a bit eccentric. Little wonder.
For the most part, life was boring and routine. When things happened they happened quickly and with no warming. Suddenly, a ship would explode, then perhaps another. Bells would ring in our ships summoning us to battle stations. Mine was to go down below and hand up ammunition, with torpedoes whizzing about, it was a dangerous position, below the waterline. The captain would take over and start a search for the attacker’ the duty Asdic rolling would scan the ocean looking for a contact. If he got one the order was given to prepare the depth charges, and the captain maneuvered the ship into an attacking position, al the time receiving information from the Asdic ratings. For an attack, the ship had to attain speed so that when the depth charges were rolled off the stern, the ship was well clear when they exploded. Depth charges were big steel cylinders packed with explosive. The deeper they were when they exploded, the more powerful the explosion, due to the increased water pressure.
We and several such encounters, but never brought a U. boat to the surface. On occasion, oil and debris came to the surface, but that was no proof of a kill. It was common practice of U. boat skippers to release such material in order to fool their attackers. Meanwhile, other escort vessels went to the aid of the survivors. They were injured, suffering from shock, and covered with oil, which attacked their eyes, and made breathing difficult. If the attack was made in the night and there was no moon, it was difficult to find them, and many must have been left to die. The convoy moved on, as it had to do, the ships keeping their place in line.
For us , it was a wake-up call, a reminder that danger was all around, and in an instant we could be torpedoed ourselves. Some of the crew lost their nerve, and refused to go below decks. They camped out where they thought they were safer. But on the whole, fear was not foremost in our minds. As the days went by, our main concern was to get as much sleep as possible, and exhaustion overcame fear.
We stayed with the convoy for about eight days; then we left it and directed our course to Iceland. We needed to refuel, and food supplies were running low. It was a nice change to clip along at a good speed, after the days spent wandering about with the convoy. Soon the coast of Iceland hove into sight and we entered the harbour of Reykjavik.
I was to go ashore there and stay for several days. What happened was as follows. The day before we set sail from the Clyde, one of my fellow seamen fell ill with the mumps and he was set ashore. That night I experienced a sharp pain in the neck and jaw, and wondered whether I had mumps, too. so I reported to the Medical Officer. He listened to what I had to say, but I think he must have determined that I was malingering, hoping to avoid sea time. Anyway, he said I was O.K. The next morning, after we had put to sea, I awoke to find that I did indeed have mumps. Obviously I had to be isolated from the rest of the crew before more damage was done. So I was isolated in the sick bay, the place where the M.O. carried out the sick parade; which meant that instead of being interviewed or examined in comparative warmth, they had to do this outside, exposed to the elements. Quite an inconvenience for them, while I spent my time in the bed there.
When we arrived in Reykjavik, I was sent to hospital together with three others who had developed the disease. There we stayed for the next five weeks. It was a strange place. Formerly a leper hospital; how it was full of sailors of every nationality you could think of, survivors of merchant ships that had been sunk by U. boats. The four of us were put in the same ward, in the care of a very strict nurse. Soap and water was brought at six in the morning. We ignored it. Why did we need to be up at that hour? We weren’t going anywhere. Our beds were untidy. She made them up, and so tightly that you could hardly breath. We had a pack of cards. We divided it into four, and threw one part to each. She disapproved of that. We were glad to get better, when we could get outside and walk around Reykjavik.
It was a small place, not very interesting, and crowded with American G.I.’s. This was in April or May 1941, long before the U.S. entered the war on December 7th. Other examples of American presence were the American warships, some of which were already doing convoy duty.
We were glad to join the ship when she next came into port. We proceeded to Val fjord where our supply ship, H.M.S. Hecla was stationed. She provided us with provisions which included meat and freshly baked bread. Also H.M.S. Hood was anchored there, a magnificent –looking ship, the pride of the Royal Navy. A few weeks later, she met with the German battleship, Bismarck, was hit and blew up. Out of her crew of 2100 men, only three survived.
Having provisioned we left Val fjord and picked up a convoy and slowly made our way to the Scottish coast, to the comparative safety of the Hebrides. There we left our convoy and set off for home at a good speed. Soon we were speeding up the Clyde with Ailsa Craig in view, and a short time after that we were anchored at the tail of the bank in Greenock. We uncorked the bottle of neat rum that we had accumulated while at sea, took our mail, and retired to a quiet place just to relax and feel at peace with the world. Many wanted to get ashore for a bit of excitement, but I was in no hurry, preferring to savour the peace and quiet.
I did not stay in the Amazon for long. As I said before, I was one of those who were tagged as possible officer material, and, of course, we were watched. I was assigned to the charthouse, where I worked with a midshipman. We had to have the admiralty charts out for the area. We were in, ready for use. We also had the job of keeping the charts up to date. As minefields were laid or energy minefields discovered, the admiralty sent us the information, which we then copied to the charts. This was a full-time job as the signals came in most every day. For this post I was given the title of navigator’s yeoman, and, on entering and leaving harbour, when the call came “Special sea duty men to your stations” I repaired to the charthouse, where others had to line up on the upper deck, whatever the weather.
The German battleship Bismarck, which had sunk H.M.S. Hood in the Denmark Strait between Iceland and Greenland, was engaged by positional naval forces and sunk on May 27, 1941. It looked at one time that the Bismarck had shaken off her pursuers, and that she might be able to find refuge in German-occupied French ports, but she was spotted, and, in attacks by Fleet Air Arm Swordfish aircraft, her steering was disabled by a torpedo hit, and she lay at the mercy of the British ships. We were with a convoy on that part of the North Atlantic, and were hoping that Bismarck would not turn in our direction. With her fire-power she would have been able to wipe out the whole convoy, and its escort. We were given a running commentary, by the captain, who was receiving minute-by-minute information from the Admiralty in London. It was a great relief when, shelled and bombed, and reduced to an inferno, she was torpedoed and sank by the cruiser Dorsetshire.
While we were in Glasgow, I experienced my second and third nights of bombing. One night I was on duty aboard ship. The bombing started early in the evening, and went on all night. We were lucky to suffer no damage, though there was plenty near us. The next night, we had a repetition, but this time I had shore leave. I was friendly with a fellow called Skett, who was engaged to a girl in Birmingham who had a sister living in Baillieston, a suburb of Glasgow. This sister’s husband was the manager of a cinema there, but also an emergency policeman, so he was called out for duty when the bombing began. His wife took over his job at the cinema, and Skett and I went along for moral support; so I spent hours in the cinema. The droning of planes, the din of anti-aircraft fire and the noise of exploding bombs filled the air. The roof of the cinema seemed a mile wide. I expected a bomb to come through it at any moment. It was a nightmarish experience, sitting there, looking at a film, not being able to concentrate on it, and thinking how it was divorced from the reality of the moment.
The wheels of the Admiralty grind exceeding slow, but they grind exceeding fine. I must have been one of thousands being shuffled around. Anyway, I was summoned to H.M.S. Victory in Portsmouth on October 21st, 1941, and there I lingered until December 5th, when I was transferred to H.M.S. King Alfred.
King Alfred was a land-based station for the training of officers. It was, in fact, a converted swimming pool at Hove, near Brighton, which had just been completed when the war broke out. It was taken over by the Navy, a floor was built over the pool, the underground parking was made into sleeping quarters, and the rest was converted into classrooms.
We were kept pretty busy. The course was short and intensive. There was drill, of course. A bane to me because of chilblains on my hands, which were very painful, especially when they cracked. I went to see the M.O. and he advised me to go to the washrooms, fill two adjacent bowls with water, one cold, and the other hot, and plunge my hands alternately in the cold and the hot. It helped, but not a lot. And there were classes in navigation, signals, including semaphore, and Morse code, Seamanship, boat handling and naval discipline.
The living conditions were pretty bleak, but that was compensated for by the bright lights of Brighton. Our only worry was whether we would graduate, so we enjoyed the pulses and fish-and-chip shops, and all the fun of the fair. Not all graduated. Some did not have the all-important O.L.Q.’s (officer-like qualities), or took liberties that could not be overlooked. The actress Bea Lillie’s son and the promising young actor, Robert Newton were kicked out for wearing officer uniforms before they had completed the course. By a remarkable coincidence, I met an acquaintance from Crewe Hall. Frank Kidd was in the same year as I in the university. He was one of the Durham contingent, hailing from Sherbourne near the city of Durham. He was in the intake a week before me, and I saw him in his officer’s uniform. Sadly, the next I heard of him was that he had been killed in the North African landings in 1943.
At this time, I heard of other casualties. Edwin McNulty, who lived at the top of Markham Road and who had a job in London in the civil service, had joined the R.A.F., and was killed in a crash in Silloth in northwest England. He and I used to walk together, and in 1938, had gone on a walking tour of the Lake District. Also, Tug Wilson had joined the RA.F., and he, too, had been killed. There must have been many more, but they did not come to my notice.
The final days came, and we had to appear before a board of superior officers. I’m sure that they had the recommendations of our instructor officers before them as they asked a number of questions. Then I was asked in which branch of the service I would like to work. I was not enamoured of big ships, cruisers and above, where there was too much red tape and what seemed to me to be unnecessary discipline, and I certainly did not relish the though of more convoy duty, so I opted for small craft; and, fortunately, I was granted my wish. And I now graduated on the 19th of February 1942, according to record of service: “Granted temporary commission as Sub-Lieutenant R.N.V.R.” I was a one-ringer in the wavy navy. Our uniforms, ordered earlier from Gieves or Moss Bros. were ready and we shifted from our sailor suits into the new rig.
Your mother and I kept up a correspondence, and it must have been about this time that I spent time with her at Brocco Bank. We would sit on the couch in the dining-room into the short hours talking about future, mainly. She was fully employed in the drawing-office at Firth, Brown’s where your grandpa was chief engineer. She also did fire-duty. Sometime, in 1941, Sheffield received the treatment I had experienced in Glasgow. Bombs dropped near their house; the front door was blown in, and there was other minor damage. During the raid, as fire-crew, she was on duty with a pail of water and a pump ready to extinguish incendiary bombs. It must have been a terrifying night, but she seemed to take it in her stride. She was more concerned about the dog than anything. Our relationship was maturing, but we saw each other only on the rare occasions when I had leave, and then only for a short time.
The country had now been at war for a year and a half and had little to show in the way of victories; the Battle of Britain perhaps the only one. The Germans had triumphed in Poland, then in the spring of 1940, in a surprise attack, they occupied Norway and Denmark, and then turned their attention to France. They drove through Belgium and Holland, outflanked the British and French armies in a blitzkrieg campaign, and suddenly Britain was alone, except for the Commonwealth, facing an enemy stretching from the English Channel to the border with Russia. By a small miracle, a fleet of small boats assisted the Royal Navy in rescuing 350 thousand British and French troops from the beaches of Dunkirk.
For the civilian population, life was grim, especially those living in the cities. Food was strictly rationed; the blackout was in effect, the German bombing attacks continued. London was visited continually as were Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham, and other industrial centres. One could not see an end to the war. One had to focus on the present and the immediate. Strangely, there was no talk of losing the war, grim as things were. Winston Churchill, who had replaced Neville Chamberlain as Prime Minister in 1940, rallied the nation with his speeches in Parliament and talks on the radio. If it was a hard time, it was also a magnificent time. The courage of ordinary people made one proud of the country.
Although there was a dearth of victories, there was some light at the end of the tunnel. On June 22nd, 1941, Hitler attacked the Russians on a wide front. The Russians were not ready for the attack, and the German armies drove rapidly into Russia, taking hundreds of thousands of prisoners. Their northern armies soon arrived in front of Leningrad, the armies of the centre before Moscow, while the southern armies drove into the Ukraine. Hitler was convinced that the war was virtually over, and was jubilant. But he had defied an axiom of German military doctrine – never fight a war on two fronts – which in the end it was to be his downfall. Britain, while yet unable to launch an attack on Fortress Europe, was growing its military strength, especially in the air. It was being supported by the United States with essential supplies of food and war material, and would eventually be the platform from which the invasion of Hitler’s Europe was launched.
By Christmas, 1941, the German armies had their first taste of a Russian winter. They were ill-prepared. The soldiers did not have winter clothing or adequate shelter in the freezing cold. Their machinery – trucks, tanks, and weapons – did not function well, and they had become bogged down in the Russian earth roads. Leningrad was shelled continually for months, it’s dead lay in the streets, but the city held. The Germans never got to Moscow. As they had retreated, the Russians had destroyed anything that might profit their enemy. And now, to avoid German bombing, factories were dismantled, and moved wholesale into the vast Russian interior.
Further encouragement came on the 7th of December 1941. On that date, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour in a surprise attack. Churchill had long hoped that the United States would enter the war. Now his dream was realized, that the tremendous economic and military resources of the United States would be brought to bear against Hitler. Roosevelt declared war on Japan; Hitler, who had an alliance with Japan, immediately declared war on the United States.
The war was far from won, but, at last, things were moving in the right direction; and the first military victory over the Germans came at the end of October, 1942 when British, Australian, South African, and New Zealand troops under General Bernard Montgomery defeated the German African Corps. Under Erwin Rommel at El Alamein. Egypt, the Suez Canal, the oil riches of the Middle East were saved, and after El Alamein the Germans were set on a course of retreat which culminated in their depot and surrender at Cape Bon in 1944.
I arrived in Weymouth on the 17th of February 1942, a newly-minted sub-lieutenant R.N.V.R., not knowing quite what to expect. I only reported to the headquarters of the Motor Gun Boat flotilla at the King Edward Hotel, where I met the Senior Officer, Lt. D.F. Johnson, R.N. He was a small man, probably about 5’6”, hence the rest of the officers – Peewee, knew the nickname by which he . He was slight in build. The most striking thing about him was his eyes, large, pale blue, and protuberant. Later I was to learn that he was authoritarian, and something of a bully. His First Lieutenant was a little New Zealander, Ollie Hooker, and Johnson seemed always to be chastising him. Later, I came to the conclusion that he was not particularly happy with his posting. Here he was, a career naval officer, locked in with a lot of temporary, hostilities only types serving in coastal forces. His opportunities for promotion would have been much greater in bigger ships. That may have been the root cause of his petulance, which earned him the dislike of his officers.
The flotilla consisted of 6 motor gun boats, M.G.B.’s 51, 52, 53, 54, 55 and 56. They were 70 foot Scott-Payne boats, powered by 3 Rolls-Royce Merlin engines, the same as were used in Spitfires and Hurricanes. The ornament consisted of a turret on either side of the bridge, each one containing twin Browning .5 machine guns, and on the stern, a twin Oerlikon 20 millimetre canon. Each had a crew of fifteen including a commanding officer and a first lieutenant, or Jimmy. The crew lived aboard, while the officers lived in a nearby row of houses.
I was fortunate in my posting. I was assigned as first lieutenant to Basil Robinson. He was an easy-going sort, but very thorough. He must have been very patient while I learned the ropes. He had been at school in St. Edward’s, Oxford; his father had been a Canon in the Church of England and his widowed mother lived retired in Bournemouth. I found him to be very ignorant and quite naÔve about most of the country, of places like Birmingham, or Sheffield, or Liverpool. He knew only about places like London or Oxford. When I talked about unemployment or people living on starvation wages, he could not believe me. It was a closed book to him.
I soon got to know the other officers; Barry Leith, senior office after Johnson, a West-end car salesman in Civvy street; a snob and a bit of a bully. Raybold, an Irishman, his Number 1; Gordon Clark, from Manchester, a main chancer courting the daughter of the biggest coal and fuel company in Weymouth, and shortly to marry her, Ennis, given, for some reason, to wearing an Egyptian fez and wearing a glamorous dressing gown, Robert Atkinson, swarthy, good-looking, reserved, and probably homosexual; Pegler, son of a Church of England functionary, and a rebel at heart, a questioner and non-conformist.
Our job was to patrol the Channel Islands, just off the French coast, for German E-boats. They would come to our coast looking for the opportunity torpedo coastal shipping. We were to intercept and engage them. This was the easy task. They were much faster than we were, powered by a pair of super-charged diesel engines; they were also better in a rough sea than we were. Usually, we would set out at dark and steer for Alderney. This would take a couple of hours. Three boats would form our arrowhead, the lead boat having a boat on each quarter, riding its wave. To keep in this formation required a deal of skill. Frequently, in the dark with no moon, it was difficult to see the wave of the leading boat; to get too far away was to lose touch and break formation; to get too close was to hit the stern wave and be thrown off course. When we arrived on station, we cut engines and put the hydrophone in the water, and listened for the sound of E-boats. We might lie there for half an hour with engines cut, and then start engines and move a few miles, and do the same again. Mostly, the night passed without event. Very occasionally, we engaged E-boats in a flurry of star shell and tracer bullets. These encounters lasted just seconds, but seemed longer at the time. Sometimes we ran into R-boats, which were heavily-armed trawlers. We started home before first light, not wanting to be caught by the Luftwaffe in mid-channel. Our navigation was a bit hit-and-miss, because the currents near the Channel Islands were very strong, and, on return to the English coast we fund ourselves miles away from Weymouth. On return from patrol, and before turning in, we had to refuel the boat, and take on ammunition, if needed. Occasionally, we were called upon to go out that night, but generally, we went out on alternate nights, unless the weather turned bad. Our boats were almost flat-bottomed so that when a certain speed was reached, the boat planed on the surface of the water.
This was only possible in reasonably smooth conditions. If we were caught at sea in rough conditions, we could only like in the water and flounder our way back to harbour. When that happened the person conning the boat from the bridge would be soaked, literally, to the skin, despite the fact that we wore a lined oilskin suit, and wrapped a towel or silk stocking around the neck to prevent water getting in. It helped but it didn’t stop water percolating through.
We were not one of the hot spots for small boat action. Most of our work was routine and uneventful. The boats based in Dover and Ramsgate continually saw action in the Straits of Dover, while on the East coast. Felixstowe and Lowestoft were busy. We were sent occasionally to Ramsgate; cruising along the south coast, I felt the exhilaration of the freedom and speed. eastward along the coast; by Durdle Door and Lulworth, by Worbarrow Bay to St. Aldhelm’s Head; and the Needles guarding the entrance to the Solent ; then leaving the Isle of Wight to starboard, by Spithead and Portsmouth, and Selsey Bill to Brighton and Beachy Head; on to Dungeness and Dover, and so to Ramsgate. Dover was a real hot spot. I was stationed there only once, and that for a few days. No sooner had I brought the boat alongside than there was the muffled crump of a heavy explosion, a German shell fired from France and landing near Dover castle, the local naval headquarters. It appeared that this was a regular occurrence. A short time later, with no warning a Messerschmitt came screaming over at a very low altitude, machine guns firing. I was glad to get out of Dover. Too much action there.
After a year or so, I received promotion to Lieutenant, and was given command of my own boat, M.G.B.53. Eventually, I was transferred to M.G.B. 6 while 53 was in dock for extensive repairs. I remained at Weymouth until the end of 1944, when I was sent to Rothesay to take charge of a boat under repair. It had been badly damaged as the result of an incident that occurred near Fort William. The boat was engaged in night manoevres in the Caledonian Canal when it ran aground in the Corran Narrows. The badly-damaged boat was sent to Port Bannatyne near Rothesay where it was to be repaired in Malcolm’s yacht yard. The crew was billeted in the Hydro, and I found lodgings in Rothesay. This was an easy time. I had nothing to do but tend to the welfare of the crew and monitor progress on the repairs to the boat. Repairs took a long time; progress was slow because of the difficulty of getting the necessary parts. It was to be June 1944, until the repairs were complete and the boat tested and everything completed. Meanwhile I was in comfortable lodgings with a widow, Mrs. Breeze, her spinster sister, and their mother, a feisty old lady.
During this period, Jean and I were married, on January 3rd, 1945. It was not a spending affair, wartime conditions did not permit of that, but we were married in St. Augustine’s, Brocco Bank before a goodly gathering of friends and relatives. I had two weeks of leave. We spent the first week in Baslow at the Crown Hotel. We met some strange characters there. There were some teachers from a school that had been moved there; there were also two elderly sisters.
After dinner, we would gather in a sitting-room for the evening, and were entertained by the sisters; one played the piano while the other was a siffleur; in other words, she whistled. We spent our days walking. The inn was close to Chatsworth House and its extensive grounds. The countryside was very beautiful and very quiet, with practically no motor traffic. We would walk, return to the hotel ready for some refreshment, go into the snug where there was a good fare going, and a parrot to entertain, and enjoy a drink.
The days passed quickly; we returned to Sheffield to catch the train for our next destination Glasgow, on the way to Rothesay where we were to stay with the Breeze family. We ran into difficulties, which in retrospect were amusing but at the time proved quite embarrassing. We arrived at Glasgow Central Station, but missed the connection to Wemyss Bay, and there was not another until next day. That meant that we could not get the Rothesay ferry until then. Where to spend the night? We located an office that helped people find accommodation, and explained our need. They asked for ID. They did not seem happy with Jean’s. She did not have a marriage certificate, and her ration book was still in the name of Jean Bool. I ought to say at this point that Glasgow Control was well-known as a pick-up spot for hookers and service men. So in the eyes of these ladies we were dealing with, here was a young naval officer and a woman who claimed to be his wife. They did not condone immoral behaviour, but, on the other hand, they did not want to victimize innocents. In the event, they gave us the benefit of the doubt, and found us a place to stay in Sauchiehall Street. All too soon, our days in Rothesay were gone, and it was back to duty for me, and back to the office for Jean.
Eventually, the boat was ready. I was awaiting a signal about deployment; so I was very surprised to receive instructions to pay off the boat after all the time and expense that had gone into her. Anyway, orders are orders, so I took the boat across the Clyde to a little place called Fairlie, and tied up at a small jetty there right next to a kipper-curing shed. The ship’s supplies were checked I got a lorry, and filled with the stuff, and sent it to the nearest depot at Ardrossan. I got travel warrants for the crew and for myself, and that night caught the train for Glasgow. I was to report to H.M.S. Victory in Portsmouth forthwith. That must have been June 5th because when I awoke the next morning, to find a huge headline in the paper announcing the invasion of Europe. I reported for duty on arrival in Portsmouth, and was assigned to a pool of reserve officers, who were to be available to replace those killed or injured in the invasion of Europe. As it happened, the casualty rate was low, so we mostly spent time in barracks awaiting the call. I did get a commission on D plus 6, which was to command a motor launch escorting a number of landing craft carrying American troops to Omaha beach. The ground was an incredible sight, lines of ships as far as the eye could see, and overhead the sky full of planes.
The trip went without incident. I dropped off the Americans, black troops, at Omaha beach, and thought that as I was now free, I might as well go over to the British and Canadian sectors for a look. Here was Mulberry, an artificial harbour made of ships sunk to provide a roadway, so that supplies could be unloaded quicker. Part of it had been destroyed by heavy seas, but a part still remained functioning. So, having cruised around a bit, and taken a look, I set course for home. A few days later I was directed to go to Brighton on a mines and torpedo course. The classes were held in a famous girls’ boarding school, Roedean.
The story goes that on the first night that the school was occupied there was a great ringing of bells. On investigation it turned out to be caused by the fact that a bedside message still remained: “If you need a mistress, please ring.” I did not sleep on the school premises. I went into digs in Rottingdeen, a mile or two away, in the fourth floor of an old house. It was there that I heard my first V-1, the doodle bag. The engine made a rough, gravelly noise, so loud that it’s vibrations caused my room to shake and rattle as though it would fall down. Fortunately, the engine continued, because when the engine cut, that was when the explosive fell to the ground and exploded. By the time I finished the course and returned to Portsmouth, I had become quite used to them; and just as well, since streams of them passed over on their way to other targets.
In August, I was posted to Oulton Broad, just outside Lowestoft, to take command of a boat being built there. It was not quite ready to be handed over to the navy, so I had a few days in which to get to become familiar with it. The day came when the boat was handed over, and I assumed command. It was a big boat, much bigger than the M.G.B.’s I was used to. It was 118 feet in length, carried a crew of 28 ratings and 3 officers. It was powered by 4 Rolls-Royce engines, had a fuel capacity of 4500 gallons of gasoline. Its armament consisted of a 6-pounder forward, twin-Browning turrets, twin-Oerlikon 20 mm cannon amidships, four 18 inch torpedoes, and, at the stern, two rows of one hundred pound depth charges.
When we came to move the boat to Lowestoft, we found a snag. Between Oulton Broad and Lowestoft Harbour was a bridge, and it was found that the boat was an inch or so too wide to pass through so the boat had to be taken inland on the River Yare and from there to the sea at Yarmouth, a few miles north of Lowestoft. It was a very delicate operation; the river was but a shallow stream, and we had to proceed slowly and with the utmost care to avoid damaging the propellers. And so we came to our berth in Lowestoft. There were a number of D-type Fairmiles there. They were operating along the Dutch coast, harassing coast-bound shipping.
Before a ship goes into active service, it is customary in the Royal Navy, for it to have a working-up period in which the crew learn their duties by means of drills and exercises. So, almost immediately, I received instructions to proceed to Holyhead for this purpose. The trip was long. Our course took us south to Dover, and then along the whole of the south coast to Lands End, and then north to Holyhead. This gave us practice in various skills, particularly navigation, since although we were in sight of land most of the time, we had to find our way into a number of harbours and bays where there navigational hazards. In other words, you could easily run aground.
The most memorable part of the trip was the passage through the Strait of Dover. The Germans were now sending a stream of V-1 weapons to the London area. These passed over the Strait on a set course, so artillery had been massed to attack them. When one came in view, the air was filled with the sound of hundreds of guns, shells exploding in the sky, and of course, the flatulent sound of the V-1’s. The guns were remarkably effective, and we saw quite a number of kills. All this was going on above us; suddenly we noticed that pieces of shrapnel were falling all around us, so we hastily put on our tin hats. No harm was done; we came through unscathed.
Holyhead was a dull place. We did our Manoevres operating in the area of the North and South Stacks, two pieces of rock that jutted out of the sea. In our spare time, we walked to the nearest villages, Penrhos and Trearddur Bay. I felt a stranger in this part of Wales. The people were not welcoming; they spoke Welsh amongst themselves, and one was never sure what they might be saying about us to one another.
During this time, I was getting to know the officers and crew. My number one was a Lieutenant Marlborough R.N.V.R., a small chap with a ginger beard. He had spent some time in Freetown and Takoradi on the east coast of African. He was remarkable for his fund of funny stories. . The navigator was Sub-lieutenant E.D. Porter, a Canadian from Regina by way of Toronto. He was a gentle giant of a man, tall and well-built. He took quite a ribbing for being a Canadian, but took it all in good turn. His mother sent parcels of delicious home-made food and sweets which he generously shared with us. A special treat was Ma Porter’s fudge, a great delicacy. The coxswain was a regular navy petty officer, Knowles by name, a first-rate sailor in every respect. The engine-room was run by a petty officer engine-room artificer. A tall, fresh faced man from Bristol, very dependable and honest as the day is long. These were the basis of a happy ship. We respected one another, and worked together.
We returned to Lowestoft and to active service. We worked with sloops along the east coast intercepting E-boats. The sloops had sophisticated radar equipment that enabled it to spot E-boats early, and Vector us on to them. We also operated with other D-type boats in our flotilla against shipping along the Dutch coast.
It was not late 1944. Allied forces were making progress in France. The German army was in retreat, harassed on the ground and from the air. Germany itself was being bombed continuously from the air, the American Flying Fortresses by day, and the British and Commonwealth Lancasters and Halifaxes by night. Its industries were dislocated by thousands of bomber raids; the cities were steadily being reduced to rubble. The strength of the German forces had been undermined on the Eastern front, by huge losses in men and material.
At Stalingrad, after a desperate battle for the city, the German army had been surrounded, and eventually, short of food and essential supplies, had been forced to surrender. Over 300,000 men were taken into captivity. In 1943, the battle of Kursk broke the back of the German army. In the biggest tank battle every fought, a battle stretching over a thousand miles, the Germans were decisively beaten and the back of the Wehrmacht was broken. So, the retreat began toward the homeland, which was to culminate in the occupation of Berlin.
After the years, when the news had been almost all bad, and no end in sight for the war, these developments were very satisfying. We began to think about the end of the war, and what that would bring.
In November 1944, we were sent to Ostend in Belgium, to operate along the Belgian and Dutch coast, which had been liberated by British and Canadian troops. As the Germans retreated they blew up all the harbour facilities of each port, thus denying the allies the ability to use them to bring in the supplies needed to sustain the advance. In only one case had they failed to do this. The great port of Antwerp was left with everything intact, and now it was being used to bring in troops and essential supplies. So there was a brisk coastal traffic making for the West Schelde, the entrance to the river to take them to Antwerp. But German E-boats were stationed a little to the North, and they would come out at night to attack the stream of liberty ships. Our job was to patrol the waters in this area to foil these attacks. We sailed into Ostend to reach our base, which was situated near the railway station. All the way up the harbour, the Germans had blown up the basins on either side where boats were moored. We reached our station and moored alongside. We had been preceded by a flotilla of small M.T.B.’s manned by Canadians.
We soon became accustomed to the routine. At dusk, we left harbour and steered north past the resort towns of Blankenberge and Zeebrugge as far as Flushing. All night we kept watch in this area; then, at first light, we put into Flushing, and stayed the day there, returning to Ostend the following night. Flushing was a mess; the harbour was full of sunken ships; the railway ties in the marshalling yard had been ripped up by a hook pulled by a locomotive; the town itself, a pleasant place of neat houses bore witness to recent savage fighting; the houses were pockmarked with shell and bullet holes. The people were starving.
We were in Ostend for Christmas. Some of the crew asked permission to go ashore to look for food for Christmas dinner. Our rations were pretty dull. We did do a business with the little fishing boats that went out each day. We gave them some cigarettes or some chocolate, and they would fill a bucket with small fish and hand it up to us. In the event, I did give permission for a party to go and try to find some extra rations. They did quite well, came back with geese, and fresh vegetables. We were off duty on Christmas day, the cooks got on with preparing a splendid dinner, and the crew relaxed.
Unfortunately some of them relaxed too much. As the day wore on, more and more got drunk. When dinner time came, they were past caring, for them all the work and planning that had gone into the dinner was a complete waste.
I went on leave at this time. On January 3rd, 1945, Jean and I were married. I have a photograph of the bride and her father at the entrance to St. Augustine’s Church; and a couple of photographs of the wedding reception; friends, parents, relatives there to wish us Godspeed into our new life together.
I returned to Ostend a couple of weeks later to find that in my absence, there had been a tragic accident. A fire broke out in one of the Canadian boats, and spread quickly to the other boats moored alongside. The inferno was fed by thousands of gallons of gasoline carried by the boats, and the ammunition. The whole flotilla was destroyed; a number of sailors were trapped by the rapidly-spreading flames. Our boats, moored some distance away, were not involved, thank goodness.
The war in Europe ended on May 8th, 1945. There were great celebrations in London. I was in Lowestoft, and on duty. I remember feeling no particular joy or excitement; more, perhaps, a sense of relief, a kind of numbness. I was soon given orders to take the boat to Portsmouth, where it was paid off. The stores were all checked and returned to base, I said my goodbyes to the crew, and was ordered to report to the Royal Naval barracks in Chatham; the naval base on the River Medway. This was the beginning of the demobilization process for me. It was to take a year. At the end of the war, the Americans just packed up and went home. Our government was much more careful, not wanting to unload thousands of service men on to so-called “civvy street”. The country was still in war-time conditions. Rationing was in effect on everything, food, furniture, clothing, petrol, even whiskey. There was also a shortage of housing, unlike the United States, which had profited greatly from the war, and had a surplus of everything. So British servicemen were released at a controlled rate. Preference was given to older men with families, then to younger men with families, and so to younger married men, and single men. The result of this was that there was a huge reservoir of men being held in barracks. I saw this as soon as I arrived in Chatham. Squads of men were being given jobs to do, make-work jobs to keep them occupied. The place was bulging at the seams. I was billeted in the officers’ quarters. In a room that was designed for one, there were four of us.
I soon received a new posting. Somebody must have been looking at my resume, for I was ordered to report to the camp at Chattenden, a little way out of Chatham, as the education officer. Chattenden turned out to be a collection of wooden huts, which was being used as a holding facility for men awaiting demobilization. They were not much interested in education, but some of them were interested in getting some entertainment going.
The Windmill Theatre in London was a great draw in those days. The Windmill girls put on a great show of dancing. Our entertainment committee thought it would be a great idea to get them to come down and give us a show, so they wrote to the owner, Vivian van Damm, to ask him if he would do this, and to our surprise, he agreed. That created a lot of activity. Designing and making sets, setting up lighting, and so on. The arrangements were all made on time, the girls came and the concert was a huge success.
It was while I was at Chattenden that I developed dyspepsia. It came on suddenly. At noon, as usual, I had a sherry. Then I noticed that I had a funny feeling in the chest after eating, and also a feeling of the need to burp. It did not go away, so I went to see the M.O. He gave me a mixture to take. I remember the name of it to this day – misa.sad.sol. I had had the conditions for months. I thought I was going to have it for life. I had it when I went on leave in August. I was in Sheffield when news came through of the atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and Japan’s subsequent surrender.
My next move was to Lancing College as an education officer, and from there to Exbury House on the Beaulieu River not far from Southampton. Exbury House was owned by the Rothschild’s, and had been taken over by the navy for the duration. It was a fine big house in extensive grounds. One of the family had been interested in azaleas and rhododendrons; there were hundreds of varieties of this species growing on the estate gathered from all over the world. There were also extensive greenhouses used for the breeding and cultivation of orchids, the products being exported to the United States for precious dollars. The place was used for the final preparation of officers. Accordingly, discipline was pretty strict. The staff officers were housed in the building; we were very comfortable in these luxurious surroundings; the trainees occupied temporary buildings, and classes were there, but everybody gathered for dinner each evening, a formal affair, black tie, and the royal toast. The house was in a historic environment, very close to the Solent, and on the edge of the New Forest, where the oak trees grew that provided the timber for naval men-of-war. Close to us and on the other bank of the Beaulieu River was Buckler’s Hard, where many naval ships had been built. Also, quite near was Beaulieu Abbey, once a religious establishment, and now the home of the Beaulieu family. One of them had started a collection of antique motor-cars, which was large at that time. Today it is the greatest in the world.
Inevitably, and finally, my discharge papers came through. I was kitted out with a suit and a hat, and a pair of shoes, and given a small sum of money, 85 pounds as I recall, and sent on my merry way. That was at the beginning of April 1946, 6 years almost to the day. I was now free to resume my civilian life.