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Life Onboard a V and W Destroyer

by jboore

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Jack Boore
Background to story: 
Royal Navy
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
22 November 2003

One month after the outbreak of WW2 I celebrated my 17th birthday and left my job as a messinger in the West End of London where I met many interesting people , even royalty!
A typical job was going with Logie Baird and wife to the opening night of a play at the Lyric Theatre, Shaftsbury Avenue. Anna Neagle was playing the part of Queen Victoria in “Victoria Regina” and royalty was attending. All I had to do was, because of crowds expected and no car parking in the area, go with the chauffeur and , on the Logie Bairds leaving the theatre acknowledge them and then run to get the car and driver which were parked at the top of the avenue.
Whilst parked during the performance the chauffeur had instructions to take me for a meal at a local restaurant, and after taking the Logie Bairds home to Kensington deliver me to my home in Battersea. I also got a £1 tip (nearly double my wage) so I have loved T.V. ever since. (Logie Baird invented T.V.).
I had a call one day to report to a hotel in Picadilly to meet a Mr. Stone, little did I know how interesting the next few weeks were going to be. Mr. Stone was resplendent in red frock coat black trousers with gold braid , and to my amazement informed me that, owing to the coronation of King George VI, messengers were required to liase between Buckingham Palace and various embassies and dignitaries that were in London for the ceremony and I had been chosen to work with him to carry out those duties. I was given a red armband to place over the sleeve of uniform O.H.M.S.was on the armband. This period of my life left me with lifelong memories of
This period of my life left me with lifelong memories of meeting many important people of fame, also going through thousands of people outside of Buckingham Palace, into the Palace to deliver various letters and parcels for the King’s attention, also I got a taste of luxurious living, Mr. Stone made sure I got a good breakfast each day, I think it was as much as my family got in a week.

After the Coronation I was presented at a ceremony in St. Martins-in-the-Fields with the Coronation Medal by Sir Philip Game Commissioner of Metropolitan Police, for services to the crown. (No tip but a medal)!!!

A week later I had to take an urgent letter to Sir Charles Craven, (boss of Vickers Armstrong). His residence in London was in Knightsbridge. The head porter offered me a job at 27/6 weekly, I was now 15 years old and the wage was double my income, I accepted. So it was off with the old uniform and go to St. James Street for measurement of a splendid outfit of full evening dress, ie: frocktail coat gold braid trousers, fancy waistcoat, white front with bow tie, also white gloves. Clothing was port wine colour.

The residents included, Lords, Admirals, Generals, M.P.s and many more notable people including Arthur Sainsbury, who used to give me 10/- now and again to bet on one of his racehorses.
A couple of happy years were spent there, very often serving drinks etc at socials given by residents, many times going home with lots of sandwiches , vol-au-vents etc,(leftovers). I also became John, not Jack.

Putting that all behind me I became a lathe machinist at the Projectile Engineering Co. The factory at Wandsworth produced various sizes of bombs and shells, I was put on a machine on a section producing the 25lb anti-tank shell, a vast change from my previous life. After a few days I aquired the know how of the lathe and got onto the magic of piece work. My wage now jumped to a fantastic average of £14 a week, my father was earning approximately £4 weekly, so you can see imagine my jump to wealth amazed me.
Life those days were very grim, the Germans were bombing London frequently. I was on was on shift work and after a while we ignored air raid warnings and carried on with our job until bells started ringing, warning us of danger, i.e. that bombs were dropping in our area, and only then we took shelter.

Two of my brothers were in the Army and two younger ones were evacuated to Devon, so getting fed up with the bombing etc, I volunteered for the Royal Navy.
Taking a day off work I went to a recruiting office and signed up, awaiting a medical and call up at a later date. On reporting for work the next day I was asked by my foreman why I was not at work the previous day, on learning the reason, gave me a ticking off and said “you are on urgent war production and cannot join the Navy”. Life was not very happy at that time, you could be prosecuted for not turning up for work, or could be called up for the Army. After a while I was called into the office and given permission to join the Navy.

May 1940 there was a broadcast from the government for civilians to join a unit called Local Defence Volunteers, later named the Home Guard. I joined the Projectile Engineering Co. Section and served with them until I joined the Royal Navy. Our uniform badges was of the Kings Royal Rifle Corps. That’s how I got the defence medal.

I must have been crazy to leave a £14 weekly job for 2/-(20p) a day as 2nd class stoker. I reported to H.M.S. Duke, a shoe establishment at Gt. Malvern, Worcs, to learn the rudiments of naval life.

My 19th birthday I spent square bashing, not a very good day! Six weeks later came reality, posted to Royal Naval Barracks, Chatham.
Introduction to H.M.S. Pembroke came as a shock, thousands of sailors in barracks and on ships in the dockyard, whistles blowing if you happened to be on the wrong side of road, i.e. officers only area, yelling orders and doubling across massive parade ground, fire fighting school, gas school, working in boiler or engine rooms that were on the ships in dockyard and many more tasks I never dreamed of. After a period in this chaotic routine I was posted to a mine sweeper at Grimsby. The boat was in the midst of a refit, pipes wires and hoses cluttered the decks, my vision of a sleek modern destroyer or cruiser was shattered, the ship was filthy, so, as you can imagine I was not a happy sailor. Four days later the German air force bombed Grimsby naval area, a bomb fell next to the ship causing damage so, once again pack bag and hammock and return to navy barracks at Chatham. That was the only time in my life that I was pleased to see the Germans.
A few weeks later ordered to drafting office, 5 of us were posted to H.M.S. Woolston, a 1917 destroyer based in Scotland, so I packed my kitbag and hammock and was off once more. We travelled all night and arrived at Inverkeithing the next day.
H.M.S. Woolston was at sea, we were put onboard H.M.S. Cochrane, a depot ship in Rosyth. A few days’ later plans were changed, H.M.S. Vortigern was to be my assignment, I packed my worldly possessions and went to Vortigern, unpacked my gear and settled down in my new home (so I thought).
A few days’ later plans were changed !!! H.M.S. Woolston arrived in harbour, lots of activity in harbour, ships getting ready urgently to go to sea. I was ordered to join H.M.S. Wolston, once again pack my gear and board my original ship. We were topped up with oil and ammunition.
The German battleship “Tirpitz” had left her base in Norway and all available destroyers in our area were dispatched to intercept her. A chase at full speed up into arctic waters then began. Not a nice initiation into life in the Royal Navy, (the thought of Bear Island still makes me shiver).
Fortunately we never sighted the Tirpitz, apparently she got information about a fleet at sea to intercept her and Tirpitz, to our relief returned to Norway.
Shortly after our return to Rosyth we heard the tragic news that H.M.S.Vortigern had been torpedoed by German E-boats off the East coast and out of a crew of 212 only 12 survived. Lady luck was with me.

About 60 destroyers were built during the First World War, the ships were named with the initials of V and W. Modesty and privacy was soon forgotten as soon as you arrived on these ships, washing facilities consisted of 5 hand basins in a room of no bigger than a broom cupboard, and toilet, 5 stalls (no doors) for the ratings of about 160, fortunately being engine room branch our clothing was minimal i.e. a boiler suit over our underwear when at sea. Washing was done in a bucket and put to dry in the boiler room above the boilers. The seamen very often never took their clothes off on putting to sea. Life was horrendous, trying to get along the deck to get to your area of duty, boiler or engine room during rough seas, or trying to have a meal when sometimes the side of the ship was above your head was beyond description. The stokers mess deck was forward on ship, down a round hatch about 36” diameter, 22 ate and slept in an area no bigger than an ordinary living room, if action stations sounded there was a mad rush to get out of that area as soon as possible.

When in northern waters condensation poured down the side of the ship, thus giving permanent damp conditions , if in the Mediterranean area the air conditioning was insufficient to keep cool, so one went from one hell to another, it wasn’t unusual to be in Arctic waters one month then in the Mediterranean a month later.

H.M.S Woolston was my home for three years. Atlantic convoys, Arctic, North Sea Convoys, patrols in Northern waters, Mediterranean,North Africa, Italy and the Sicily Invasion.

Joining as a 2nd class stoker 2/- a day (20p), leaving as a Leading Stoker. I returned to Chatham and later got posted to H.M.S Suffolk a 10,000 ton cruiser going out to Australia.
War ended as did my 4 ½ year service in the Royal Navy. For my efforts I got £83.

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These messages were added to this story by site members between June 2003 and January 2006. It is no longer possible to leave messages here. Find out more about the site contributors.

Message 1 - HMS Wolston

Posted on: 22 November 2003 by paul gill - WW2 Site Helper

Firstly can I say I've read a lot of Naval history and much of my working life has been spent on Navy aircraft systems but the latter part of your article contained a lot of material which was completely new to someone who hasn't been at sea. Thanks for that.
I didn't know you could be prosecuted or demoted to the army for not being at work but it doesn't surprise me.

I liked the details on the training. I worked on the design of ship simulators up to 20 years ago so it rang a few bells! Did you do any coal training or was it just oil? Was the training specific for your ship type?

I'm writing bit by bit my dad's story on this site. He had the pleasure(?) of being on Malta for 3 years and could only wash with sea soap when Messerschmitts permitted. This caused skin problems. Did you have similar problems with not changing clothes or was that minor compared with the Germans!

In the Arctic, when you weren't on duty, was it possible to keep warm?
Finally, did hammocks solve all problems sleeping in Atlantic gales.
Bet you were thrilled with £83!

Once again thanks



Message 2 - HMS Wolston

Posted on: 02 December 2003 by Harry Hargreaves

I really enjoyed your factual account of life in a V and W. As I spent most of the war in the Wallace, she was designed as a leader for the V and W flotillas I can certainly confirm your experiences. Unfortunately many entries on this site are prone to ridiculous exaggeration. If you go to the web site "" you will see a copy of my book "It wasn't all Mayhem" which goes into detail about the V and W's.Regards

Message 1 - wages

Posted on: 15 March 2004 by Rogerg

Just a small detail. The old 2 shillings equates to 10p not 20p

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