- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Thomas Coates Tooley
- Location of story:
- Scapa Flow, Plymouth, North Atlantic
- Background to story:
- Royal Navy
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 14 July 2005
On Sunday 1st October 1939, H.M.S. Enterprise was lying at anchor at Scapa Flow, in the Orkney Islands, when a sudden announcement said we had to make ready for sea immediately. This entailed frantic action by the engine room staff, lighting boilers and trying to raise enough steam to drive the engines. Orders had been received to proceed to Plymouth with all despatch (as quick as possible). No further explanations were given.
Rumours circled like wildfire. But, whatever it was, it was taking us away from the monotony of the Northern Patrol, which was between Shetland and Iceland, with all its hardships and constant stormy seas. By the middle of the next afternoon, we had passed the “Old Man of Hoy”, a precipitous column of rock that rises sheer out of the sea, providing mariners with an ideal landmark.
At 23.30 on October 3rd, we dropped anchor in Plymouth Sound. At 07.00 next morning we weighed anchor and proceeded into harbour, tying up at No.6 Wharf.
It soon became apparent that something unusual was afoot when the area around the ship was cordoned off by armed soldiers. Speculation and rumour was partly allayed when the ship’s company was mustered and issued with tropical kit; white suit, white shorts and white stockings. Surely, it could only mean the Far East. Little did we know it was part of a subterfuge to prevent any hint of the ship’s real destination leaking out. Ship’s movements during wartime were very top secret, otherwise, there would be a welcome committee of U-Boats waiting.
Our captain had been ordered to attend a conference, along with four other ships’ captains, and had we been privy to the conference we would have known the contents of a secret message, handed to each of them, which read. “Two million pounds in gold bullion is to be embarked in each ship, for transportation to Halifax, Nova Scotia. A railway truck is expected to be placed alongside each ship at 0100 hours on October 7th. Each truck will contain 148 boxes, each weighing 130 lbs. (59 kilos). Armed guards are to be put on each truck on arrival at the ship. Embarkation is to commence at 06.30”.
At 16.45 that afternoon we sailed, in company with H.M.S.Emerald (our sister ship) and at dawn next morning we rendezvoused with the cruiser H.M.S. Caradoc, and the battleships H.M.S. Revenge and H.M.S. Resolution, all carrying gold bullion.
And so began the transfer, two million pounds each trip, of the Nation’s Gold Reserve.
If Hitler’s armies had invaded these shores, which was a very real possibility at the time, he wasn’t going to get our gold!
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