- Contributed by
- CSV Solent
- People in story:
- David W
- Location of story:
- The Nelson
- Background to story:
- Royal Navy
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 24 May 2005
This story was submitted to the People’s War website by Marie on behalf of David and has been added to the site with his permission. David fully understand the site’s terms and conditions.
HMS Nelson had meanwhile been on operations and seen some action off Sumatra. When she returned the four of us were able to join as her senior Midshipmen - not an all together comfortable translation for us or for those already there.
Built after WW1 she and Rodney had been designed to be much bigger but were limited under the London Treaty. As a result they were rather odd to look at. Forward they had three triple 16” turrets but none aft. The bridge, which was nicknamed Queen Anne’s Mansions after a large government building in London which was of a similar tall octagonal shape, was a huge tower behind the turrets and after that there was just room for the funnel, a mast and a small area of deck. Unlike QE she had little modern anti-aircraft defence with an assortment of 6” and 4” guns which were none of them suitable for the job.
Nelson had a very different atmosphere. The Sub Lieutenant of the Gunroom was what we called A.P. - Admiralty Pattern. That meant that he did everything by the book - unlike the greatly liked Don Morison in QE who was pleasantly relaxed. It was not a happy Gunroom. One of the oddities of hierarchy in the Navy was that in with the Midshipmen aged 17 and 18 were wartime, 'Hostilities Only', Sub Lieutenants with specialist skills - radar, Japanese interpreting, secret intelligence and so on. Most were graduates, some as old as 40. This mix worked reasonably well even although the officer in charge, the Sub of the Gunroom, was younger than most of them.
My happiest memory of Nelson is of our soirees musicales. Under one of the smaller gun turrets there was quite a large empty space through which the guns' ammunition loading mechanism passed. In this space was an upright piano. Around this piano we all gathered. Perhaps nine or ten of us and at the piano was one of the Special Sub Lieutenants. I suppose he was about 25 and was intending to go into the Roman Catholic priesthood after the war. He would bring bound books of music - Beethoven Symphonies and Concertos arranged for piano, Schubert songs, Chopin and much else. 'What shall we have this evening?' The choice made, the book would be opened and he would play...... An extraordinary virtuosity. After we had liberated Singapore he and a tenor called Barton performed on Singapore Radio.
Our Captain was called Caslon. A short, dapper man with great charm he had qualified as a Signals Officer, a specialist in communications. Because my father was also in Signals he treated me - and a couple of others with fathers in the Navy - a bit specially. When an Admiral visited it was usual for the heads of departments, rank of Commander, to be introduced to him, lined up on the Quarterdeck as he arrived. Another Midshipman and I were told to join the line. It was odd but I was the Senior Mid and another was top of his group.... When the visitor reached us we were introduced as the sons of our fathers — ‘This is So-and-So’s boy…’! My chum’s Dad was already an Admiral and later was the Queen’s representative in Jersey.
This so hurt our pride that we decided to form an association of others treated like us. We called it the Old So-and-So's Boys and worked out Articles of Association which included some irreverent qualifications for high rank. The only one I remember was 'The Ability to Grow Hair in Unusual Places' which was merely a matter of observation.... We met the CinC, East Indies Fleet, Admiral Sir John Power and Lord Mountbatten, also wearing a full Admiral's uniform and currently Supreme Commander, Allied Forces, South East Asia.
It was to rankle for many years. Indeed it was not eased until I heard Admiral Sir Charles Madden describing how he had attended a Memorial Service in St Paul's, for an ancient and very senior naval worthy, dressed in the full dress uniform of an Admiral with the blue sash and star of the Order of the Bath. As he came towards his place an elderly Admiral picked him up, saying 'You must come and meet Admiral of the Fleet XYZ' When they reached the old gent, already seated, he said 'Sir, I thought you would like to meet Charlie Madden's boy.' His father, too, had been an Admiral. I co-opted the younger Admiral as our Honorary President on the spot.
The Commander (second-in-command) of Nelson was called Matheson but I have only a vague memory of him (as a nice man) even although I was his Doggy (messenger). My Action Station was with him in the alternate command position - if the Bridge was knocked out we would take over. We were deep inside the strange octopoidal tower which dominated Nelson (and Rodney, her sister ship) behind thick armour with only small slits to look out.
Before we joined in Trinco, Nelson had been on an operation in which two Japanese aircraft had made Kamikaze attacks on the force. One minesweeper was hit and sunk. The other aircraft missed and crashed in the sea close enough to shower a destroyer with debris - these were suicide attacks and the whole aircraft was rigged to explode on impact.
Two days before we joined, the Americans had dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Unlike virtually everybody else the idea of an atomic explosion was not new to me. Well before the war, probably in 1936, Professor Andrade amended a boys' book called Engines based on his Royal Institution Christmas lectures of 1928. He added a forward look to my edition which included a speculation on nuclear power and even referred to the possibility of nuclear weapons. I had been given that book in 1942 and immediately remembered his forecast. I still have the book. It must have worried the Security boys…!
The Bomb, of course, changed everything, as it was intended to do. For us, the preoccupation had been the expected invasion of Malaya - our earlier operations had been preparations for this invasion. The liberation of Burma - Myanmar - was coming to an end and now the Japanese were under attack at home from the Americans and British fleet in the Pacific. Should the invasion go ahead as planned? In the event it was easier to stick to the original plan as troops were all readied and ships loaded.
The Japanese were slow to surrender even although at the Potsdam meeting of Russia, the US and the UK they had been warned of unrelenting assault and reminded of the allies demand for unconditional surrender. A second A Bomb was dropped on an even bigger city, Nagasaki, two days after the first, and at that point the Nips capitulated. One part of me was disappointed that I was to see no more action. Another part knew that the Bomb had saved us from further attack, had saved our lives.
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