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Some recollections of service afloat during WW2 - Part 1

by AgeConcernShropshire

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Archive List > Royal Navy

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Lieutenant Commander Edward Walker - VRD ,RNR ,Rtd.
Location of story: 
UK , North Atlantic , Mediteranean and East Coast of India
Background to story: 
Royal Navy
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
17 January 2006

This story is transcribed by me , Graham Shepherd , from notes following discussions with Edward Walker, and will be added to the site with his permission . He understands the sites terms and conditions .

I was born in Edgbaston , Birmingham on 29th May 1920 and in due course was educated at Solihull School in what was then Warwickshire . There I obtained a modest School Certificate , was awarded my First X1 Cricket Colours and , in the OTC passed the examination leading to “ certificate A “ . Thereby I became eligible for consideration for a commission in one of the Army Reserves .

On leaving school in 1937 I entered the world of Voluntary Hospital Administration and based on the Cert. A , applied for a Commission in the RNVR . There was , it appeared a long waiting list which still applied for me on the outbreak of WW 11 .

My first effort to join the RN for war service came to naught as I was considered to be in a “ Reserved Occupation “ . Nothing daunted , I pulled a few strings and was finally accepted in June 1940 , until the end of the present emergency , as an Ordinary Seaman ( HO ) — Hostilities only .

My basic training was undertaken at HMS Raleigh , a purpose built shore Establishment , but in those days with hutted accommodation . Here , in the few short weeks mid-June to mid- August , in company with several hundred others I was taught the ( very ) preliminary “ nuts and bolts “ of RN life , largely instructed by Pensioner Chief and Petty Officers , most of them having served 22 years to Pension . All credit to them — they did a magnificent job .

During this period each member of his class was given the opportunity to “ drill his Squad. “ and here my experience as a SGt. In the school OTC stood me in good stead and I soon Found myself selected as Classleader . As such I was required to march the Class everywhere it went , and just as important to be responsible for ensuring that “ our hut “ was maintained in a seamanlike manner , but without any real authority — an early experience of man- management .

Each “ young seaman under training “ — young was a bit elastic — was interviewed by his Divisional Officer Regular RN in my case , when due notice was taken of the education I had been fortunate to receive and my Cert. A . I was told later that my papers would be marked as provisional CW candidate ( CW short for Commissions and Warrants ).

I thoroughly enjoyed my time in “ Raleigh “ , the high spot being our Division’s Passing Out Parade when my Class was selected as Commodore’s Guard . As Classleader I was out in front .

I was one of those allocated to Devonport Division and as such I joined HMS Drake , the barracks being accommodated in the CW Mess with several dozen other hopefuls .

Each “CW” was required to spend a minimum of three months seatime before he could hope for a Commanding Officers recommendation to appear before a Selection Board . The CW Mess was therefore a wide selection of characters , some waiting for a seadraft , others arriving back from sea and on their way to the Selection Board at Portsmouth .

Came the invasion scare and in RN Barracks it was a case of Clear Lower Decks with all available personnel mustered into Infantry Companies in a form used by the Military at the time of the Boer War .

I found myself in a Lewis Gun Section and , as No.2 of the gun was responsible for the spare magazines and spare parts . The No. 1 , a recently qualified Seaman Gunner 3rd class ( who thought himself God’s gift to gunnery ) was disinclined to listen to my statement that not all spares were to hand and that I was not prepared to “ fight on the beaches without them “ .

This discussion was overheard by a passing Gunner’s Mate ( Senior Gunnery rate ) who asked me what I knew about a Lewis gun. Here my OTC training came in once again and my offer to strip the weapon and reassemble was accepted . The spare parts were forthcoming , but soon afterwards we stood down and resumed normal routine .

Early in September “ My number came up “ and on reporting to the Drafting Office found myself a member of “ Adventure “ draft , which embarked on 17th September 1940 — my seatime had commenced .

HMS Adventure was a Cruiser — Minelayer of 6740 tons with an outfit of mines arranged along four sets of rails — 2 port and 2 Starboard . She was also armed with four , .7” HA/LA guns and multi — gun Pom Poms , with a speed of 28 knots .

Of her Ship’s Company of about 440 only 40 were HO so this was my first encounter with men on Regular Engagements and wonderful shipmates they turned out to be , and if prepared to listen and learn , most helpful .

Lining up outside my Regulating Office to be given my “ Watch and Quarter Bill “ duties I overheard the duty Petty Officer say to the AB in front of me “ Bosuns Mate 1st Watch “ to which the AB replied “ Not me , give it to someone else “ . In a moment of inspiration I realised that this was a Watch keeping job on the Quarterdeck in harbour and said “ I’ll take that “.

For about half my time in the ship I carried out Bosun’s Mate duties in harbour and at sea and gained an insight into the working of the ship’s routine . For the remainder of my stay I worked “ Part of Ship “ , in other words , general duties .

My mining station was on the after part of the mining deck , helping , with others to haul the mines towards the release trap . At our usual mining speed the ship had a peculiar movement which called for a strong stomach .

Our first base was the Kyle of Lochalsh and then at Milford Haven . We must have been laying mines in northern waters and then somewhere around the English Channel .

It became known that there were in fact six CW’s aboard , but apart from considering that we were off our rockers , it made very little difference to the attitude towards us .

In fact several of the Chief and Petty Officers gave up some of their dog watches to give us extra instructions , whereby I learnt to take a cutter away under sail and , from the sailmaker who was one of the Leading Seamen in my Mess , how to sew in canvas .

Came Christmas Day and , as a member of the Duty Watch on the Pom Pom , I missed the usual “ fun and games “ at dinnertime . However , shortly afterwards Members of my Mess came onto the mounting offering “ Sippers “ ie. A sip of their tots of rum . Somehow or other my father who was the Superintendent of our Church Sunday School , had arranged for all sorts of goodies to be sent to the Mess . It really was a wonderful display which was thoroughly enjoyed by all hands .

Early in the New Year I was interviewed by the Captain who told me that I had satisfied him and that I was to proceed to HMS “ Victory “ then the name of RN Barracks, Portsmouth .

I arrived on 9th January 1941 and of course joined the CW Mess — a similar arrangement to that at “ Drake “ although there were more of us waiting for the Selection Board .

On 10th January there was a serious air raid when the Guildhall went up in smoke and RN Barracks was badly damaged . I was on duty on the roof of one of the accommodation blocks armed with a tin hat and a whistle which I was ordered to blow if I saw any incendiary bombs . By about 23-00 there was no pea left in the whistle and I was on the end of a hosepipe, but without a supply of water with which to quench the flames . Not an amusing experience . During that part of the war there were many such instances .

Appearing before the Selection Board was a daunting experience , with “ lashings of gold lace “ and senior Officers asking loaded questions to which an appropriate answer was required . Having been told to wait outside , after an interval , I was re-admitted and informed that they were “ prepared to take a chance “ with me and that I might proceed to HMS “ King Alfred “ for Officer training .

At the outbreak of WW11 the new swimming bath and restaurant complex at Hove was almost completed and was sited adjacent to the Sussex Division RNVR . The complex was an ideal location for development into an establishment for the training of the Temporary RNVR Officers which were to be required during the subsequent years and was commissioned as HMS “ King Alfred “ on 11th September 1940 By the time of my arrival the establishment had expanded to include the requisitioned Lancing College . ( It is interesting to note that at first the scholars were taken to Denstone and Ellesmere Colleges and then to premises in Ludlow ). Later in the war there were further expansions , but that is another story .

Cadet ratings — distinguished by the white cap band — went to Lancing for the first 6 weeks of a very intensive course of study including inter alia Gunnery , Torpedoes , signals navigation and Pilotage . There was much made of OLQ ( Officer like qualities ) not actually defined but a reality and failure to live up to standard resulted in a speedy return to RN Barracks !
Then down to Hove for the final workup to the exam which was no pushover . During this time uniforms were ordered ( to be paid for on Commissioning ,after the Exam.) A final appearance before the Selection Board to be told — if all had gone well — of success and a dash to digs to put on the coveted uniform . There was a final two weeks — no relaxation and then leave pending appointment .

I was appointed to HMY “Altair “ based at Wallasey Dock , Birkenhead and joined early May as she was about to proceed on A/S patrol in Liverpool Bay .

Before being requisitioned for war service “Altair” had been in the ownership of a shipping magnate and was called “Venetia” . A change of name was called for as there was a “V & W” destroyer of that name in service .

Many of the peacetime crew had joined the RN on special engagements and two of the Officers , the First Lieut. and Chief Engineer wore the distinguishing stripes of the RNR . The remainder of the wardroom were either permanent or temporary RNVR . The Commanding Officers in my time were either RN (Rtd ) or RNR .

Our Patrol line was between the Great Orme Head and Liverpool Light Vessel . On the last night of that first patrol we heard enemy bombers making their way to what proved to be the first of a week long air raid on Liverpool , which as we came up the Mersey during the forenoon was not a pretty sight . For most of the week we were secured alongside Woodside Stage — not a comfortable position to occupy .

I spent my 21st Birthday keeping my watch at sea and , on returning to harbour a few days later I found my close family awaiting my arrival . My father , it seems , had a nose for these things .

As a A/s patrol vessel , the main armament was an outfit of depth charges , but there was a 4” B.L gun of ancient vintage and two Lewis guns on the Bridge . RDF equipment later known as Radar , was coming into service and in order to give the Radar Ratings basic instruction a number of Hotels and Boarding houses on the front of Douglas IOM were requisitioned and commissioned as HMS “Valkyrie” ( much on the same lines as HMS “ Raleigh “ . Four yachts of which “ Altair “ was one were secured alongside the outer mole and provided seagoing experience of operating the equipment .

Work was of a fairly routine nature although an A/s sweep was maintained when at sea . Life became interesting when there were gales between NE and SE for life alongside became untenable an we put to sea and made our way to Peel on the West Coast for shelter — usually north about .

We enjoyed excellent hospitality ashore , indeed some wives “ came over “. For my part I found shelter with a family who managed one of the hotels just off the seafront .

My story is continued in part 2.

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