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Tom's Story -Part 1

by nutterfam

Contributed by 
nutterfam
People in story: 
Thomas Nutter
Location of story: 
Royal Navy - HMS Belfast. Japaneze surrender
Background to story: 
Royal Navy
Article ID: 
A4024405
Contributed on: 
07 May 2005

The Wartime Memories of

TOM NUTTER, O.B.St.J., ESQUIRE

M.I.P.M., M.I.I.S.O., A.I.T.O., (Rtd.)

2nd November 1916 Born in Rawtenstall, Lancs.
Father was a talented musician with his own orchestra, teaching all
bar two (Tom being one) of his nine children to play instruments.

Leaving school at 14, he had been a good scholar, very
successful at sports, captain of cricket and vice-captain of football. Became a good sprinter at 400 yds. 800 yds. and 1 mile.

At 16 he was signed as an amateur player by Chester City and subsequently Everton. and Shrewsbury Town football clubs.

Also played cricket for Sir Alfred McAlpine’s Marchwiel Cricket Club.

Joined the Cheshire Constabulary aged 22. Played football
and cricket for the H.Q. teams.

Married Nancy Houghton on 20th June, 1942.

Joined the Royal Navy in July, 1942.

2nd January, 2000 Tom died. Nancy died on 10th July, 2001.

Tom and Nancy’s sonIan has given permission for the following story to be sent.

This is the wartime story written by Tom Nutter as part of his memoirs. He returned to HMS Belfast to take part in a BBC film of the Ship.

Tom was a successful Police Officer in the Cheshire Police where he worked until his retirement.
He became a Knight Commander of the Order of St. John

The following chapters relate his wartime experiences
in the Royal Navy, taken from his memoirs.

My Service in the Royal Navy

In July, 1942 I ‘joined up’. I had to report to HMS Collingwood, a training establishment in Hampshire, not far from Portsmouth. I was to be for the rest of my Service a ‘Pompey’ rating.

There were three Divisions or Depots in the R.N. in those days - Portsmouth, Chatham and Devonport.

On arrival at HMS Collingwood I joined a squad of 30 other Recruits (26 ex-policemen, the other 4 being what was called ‘C.W.’ candidates, that is ‘Commissioned Warrants’ or prospective ‘officer material’!!).

Our training at HMS Collingwood was to last for three months. I was, as soon as I had settled in after joining and being issued with all a sailors accoutrements, sent for by my Divisional Officer. Wondering what I had done wrong and in some trepidation I was taken to his office by a Petty Officer and politely told I was expected to play football for the Ship.

Of course I had to and I was also selected to play for the whole Portsmouth Division against an Army team. I played quite a bit but during one of these games I received a rather nasty cut running down my right leg. It did not bother me immediately but a week after the injury was sustained it turned septic which resulted in a large lump under my right armpit and I developed a fever.

I was taken to the Naval Hospital at Haslor near Portsmouth where I was operated on, spent three weeks in Hospital and given seven days sick leave on becoming fit.

I spent a very happy week at Runcorn with Nancy and then returned to Collingwood.

I remember reporting in to the Regulating Officer who on ascertaining who I was told me I was to join up with a new Squad as my own Squad had done a months training in my absence.

I was not too happy in the new Squad as they were all ‘Civilians’ - no ex-policemen in it. However, I did quite well in training and again played football for the ‘Ship’ and division.

A couple of weeks before the passing out parade I was again sent for by the Divisional Officer as men were then being sent to holding camps to await drafts to ships or other establishments and he offered me a draft to Collingwood the training camp where I was to remain on the staff there and eventually train at a P.I. Instructor with particular attention to playing football and cricket.

As a very Ordinary Seaman (all recruits are ranked ‘Ordinary Seamen’ - it’s the lowest rank in the Navy), this was a golden opportunity to remain in a sheltered and comparatively safe job - but not for me - I, like the vast majority of recruits, wanted to get to sea to do our bit to defeat the Axis Powers. So I was drafted to a transit camp - a very lonely place in a wood, miles from anywhere, so it seemed, and not many of us there and nothing to do except clean up our billets. I got very despondent and fed up and thought I had made a mistake in not accepting the offer to remain at Collingwood on the base staff. But my draft came through and I had been assigned to HMS King George V, (commonly known by R.N. personnel as K.G.V.). She was one of the latest and largest Battleships, her sister ships were HMS Howe, HMS Anson and HMS Prince of Wales, the latter being sunk by the Japanese out east before she had time to do much work.

So off I was sent to join the K.G.V. at Scapa Flow. I left Portsmouth at 6 a.m. and after a long, weary and tedious train journey, arrived at the Naval Base at Scapa about 4 p.m. the following day, my journey taking some 30 hours.

Weary and fed up I was taken by a small launch to the K.G.V. who was anchored in Scapa. Very quickly ran through the joining ship routine and given my Mess Deck, Working Station, and Action Station as the ship was under two hours sailing notice, and sure enough early evening we put to sea. Once through the Scapa Boom Defences we were ‘closed up at Action Stations’ - I had to be shown where it was as there had been no time for me to see around this very large beautiful Ship sporting her massive 14" and 5.25" gun turrets, plus what seemed dozens and dozens of smaller close range anti-aircraft guns.

My Action Station was that of a cordite handler below the turret of a 5.25" duel purpose gun known as P.3 (there were 4 twin gun turrets to both Port and Starboard - 16 guns in all and this was referred to as the secondary armament, the 12 14" guns being the main armament).

I was quickly shown my duties and having been trained on gunnery at Collingwood it was quite easy for me to do, when the occasion arose.

This was my first trip into vast oceans and in a Battleship like K.G.V. a tremendous experience. From the moment I boarded K.G.V. I was classed, like all seagoing personnel in the R.N. as ‘O.A.S.’ (meaning on Active Service), and for the rest of my Service in the Navy - until August 1946, I was continually ‘O.A.S.’.

To understand what O.A.S. means is simply that of all the personnel in the R.N. only those who actually went to War to fight in Ships were entitled to the privileges it carried - they were few, but there were some - like the Army and R.A.F. the greatest number of personnel were echelon troups, those behind the front line who keep the front line men supplied with their needs, a lot being shore based, like I would have been if I had stayed at H.M.S. Collingwood. I must make it clear the we O.A.S. could not have functioned without these people.

My first experience was into the Barents Sea where German forces were attacking a convoy bound for Russia (Mermansk), the convoy being very bravely defended by destroyers. We arrived in time to fire a few rounds from the 14" guns, we on the 5.25" guns were not in range to fire and before we got close enough the German Forces, seeing the K.G.V. accompanied by other capital ships, cruisers and destroyers beat a hasty retreat, but not before having inflicted heavy damage on the convoy and the escourting destroyers. One destroyer, H.M.S. Onslow was the particular hero, taking on much superior forces and holding them off until help in the shape of the Home Fleet of which K.G.V. was the Flag Ship (carrying the Admiral) arrived. Much has been written about the bravery of the Ships Company of H.M.S. Onslow - typical action of the Nelson touch.

We returned to Scapa and within a few days were off to sea again, covering another convoy to Russia. One has to experience going to sea in the arctic circle. It is invariably rough, very cold (ice formed inside the gun turrets), and to put it bluntly, very uncomfortable.

When at sea and closed up at Action Stations we only left our positions to go to the toilets (called ‘the heads’ in the R.N.) and then only when relief was found for you. The cooks in the galley brought out food to us on large trays, always chunks of corned beef and bread, the sweet was invariably chunks of jam tart. What kept us going without a doubt was the daily rum issue and the gallons of a chocolate (like cocoa) drink, steaming hot, laced with bromide and a thick skin of fat floating on top. There was no restriction on the quantity we were allowed, but it was a godsend to us, tied up like this for about five days and nights, continually going to full Action Stations as aircraft or submarines were sighted or thought to be nearby - no sleep, just dozing off between closing up, no washing or shaving - it was always a relief to get back to Scapa as dreary and isolated as it was.

On my next trip I had been upgraded on the guns and made a ‘loading member’. My job was in the turret now and the man who actually loaded the shell into the breech.

The Gun Captain, a Petty Officer, gave me a full forenoon drill on the gun whilst in harbour at Scapa. It wasn’t as simple as placing shells, each weighing 85 lbs. into the breech, I had to give certain orders to the other members of the gun’s crew, with the Gun Captain watching and supervising. The 5.25 guns were dual purpose. That is they could be used for surface attack or for anti-aircraft attack and different shells were used for this purpose, consequently I had two shell hoists to watch, surface attack shells came up the hoist vertical, anti-aircraft shells horizontal and they both carried different markings. When fitting anti-aircraft shells I had to press the nose of the shell into an automatic fuse before lifting them onto the loading tray, at the same time the cordite loader would place the cordite behind the shell and I would (in a loud voice) direct the movement of the now loaded tray into the breech mounting and tripping release gear to position it. Once lined up I had to order "Run" and press lever, and shell and cordite were automatically rammed home - when the breech closed I had to speedily give the order to withdraw the now empty loading tray and turn to the hoists for the next round of ammunition. This was done very quickly - I forget now the rate of fire, but believe me it was quick, so quick I often had my fingers crushed by the shell whilst placing it in the loading tray and would finish the action with blood all over my gloves - we had to wear anti-flash hoods over our heads and gloves on our hands which stretched up to our elbows. Anti-flash gear was made of a cotton material, soft, got warm, but very light.

There are a few incidents I would like to record whilst serving on the K.G.V.

My very first step onto foreign soil was in Iceland. British forces had taken the island to safeguard it from falling into the hands of the Germans as it was a very important strategic position. If the Germans had held it I cannot imagine many convoys getting through to Russia. The Icelanders though, at the time, looked upon us as invaders and counted us as enemies. They completely ignored us and walked past us as if we were not there - it was a peculiar feeling to be treated this way (I suppose the Germans and Japanese must have been treated in this fashion in the Countries they over-ran). The British Diplomacy, however, must have got to work and the Icelanders must have realised it was also to their interests that we had had to occupy their homeland before the Germans did and they later became very friendly and hospitable.

One of the worst Arctic storms occurred on one of the trips we made covering a convoy to Russia. I remember K.G.V. being the Flagship in the lead with a sister battleship, H.M.S. Howe astern and a few cruisers, one of which was H.M.S. Sheffield, and destroyers. Winds were gale force, Arctic fog descended and the seas were mountainous. I do not exaggerate when it just seemed like being in a city road with towering buildings reaching high above us. These tremendous seas crashing down on the ships which were being tossed about like corks. Because of the fog each ship in the line ahead screened a fog buoy - this was a buoy with a pole at its top trailing some cubic length (200 yds) astern of the ship to indicate to the following ship its position. As and when the fog lifted a little the fog buoy had to be hauled inboard and when the fog descended again, let out. This happened frequently and I was one of the party of about eight men to attend to this duty as we had been stood down from the guns as there was no fear of enemy action either by aircraft or surface craft in a storm such as this, which lasted almost four days if I remember correctly.

It was a hazardous business recovering and screening the fog buoy in this raging storm. Lifelines had been erected on the upper deck as the upper deck was awash with sea water as the ship pitched, tossed and rolled. On being piped to the fog buoy duties we left the gun turret and slid down what had been an iron ladder but was now all twisted and bent by the force of the storm, to the upper deck, and attaching our own lifelines to the upper deck life lines, made our way hand by hand to the quarterdeck. A motor mechanic would man the hoist and we others would guide the steel cable in carefully, as the bows of the ship rode into the huge waves, the weight carried it down beneath the sea and the quarterdeck would rise steeply, then as the ship ploughed through the waves the bows would rise high out of the water and the quarterdeck sank beneath the sea and water would be up to our thighs and we held on the life line for dear life.

It was during one of these times that I saw one of the bravest acts I was to see in the War. As the quarterdeck sank and sea water came rushing in on us one seaman lost his grip on the life line and was bodily thrown into the water. As the quarterdeck rose the water poured like a torrent over the sides, carrying the seaman with it, and he would have lost his life but for the bravery of a Royal Marine in our party who quickly released himself from the life line, dived towards the seaman and grabbed him by his legs just as his head and shoulders were over the side of the ship and grabbing hold of a broken guardrail managed to hang on to him until the rest of us could go to their assistance as the quarterdeck rose out of the water. If that seaman had gone overboard he would have lost his life. Ships did not stop to rescue men in these waters, for he would have only survived for two minutes in those freezing Arctic seas. That Royal Marine should have been awarded a medal for he risked his life doing what he did - a very brave man.

Several men were lost overboard from the Destroyer during this storm. Damage to all ships was extensive. One Cruiser, H.M.S. Sheffield, had one of its forward gun turrets completely torn away from its mounting. On K.G.V. every ladder on the upper decks were twisted and broken like bits of wire. Every boat was smashed and most of the Corey floats washed away (Corey floats were a raft type life boat). All lower decks were flooded and the ships pumps were hard at work pumping away. We were in an awful mess, and so was the enemy. On two occasions ‘U’ boats were forced to the surface and were fighting for dear life to keep seaworthy, no one bothered about ‘enemies’ - the sea and the elements were everyone’s enemy.

To our relief we were ordered to make for shelter and we put back to Iceland, and then home to Scapa.

Soon after we set off again, but not to our intense relief, to the Arctic but to the Mediterranean.

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