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John Carpenter's Wartime Reminiscenes

by Warwickshire Libraries Heritage and Trading Standards

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Archive List > Royal Navy

Contributed by 
Warwickshire Libraries Heritage and Trading Standards
People in story: 
John Carpenter, Peter Scott
Location of story: 
Dover, Calais ,Tiernazen
Background to story: 
Royal Navy
Article ID: 
A4508219
Contributed on: 
21 July 2005

In 1943/4 I was serving with Royal Navy coastal forces based at E and S coast ports- Yarmouth, Felixstowe and Dover (HMS "Beehive"). Dover harbour in 1943 was empty of any other vessels except the coastal forces flotilla. It is strange to see the harbour now teeming with travellers, trucks, cars and cross channel ships and remember how it was in '43. It was within range of the German cross-channel guns which regularly bombarded Dover which was also devoid of many residents. The flotilla leader of one group of boats must have been a hunting man as every time he led his flotilla forces, usually at dusk, he played at full throtle on the boat's Tannnoy, "A hunting we wll go". They were enroute for the French coast to hunt down coastal steamers which were usually escorted by the formidable "E Boats", fast and reliable and diesel driven unlike our boats which were usally petrol driven and very vunerable to tracer fire.
One feature of Dover harbour was its large rise and fall of tide- twice every 24 hours- which meant we had to be alert to loosen or tighten the hawsers attaching the boats to the harbour. It was rather disconcerting to return to the ship after a run ashore and having had more than a jar of two, to find the craft one had stepped nimbly ashore from 6 hours before was now lying 30 feet below the jetty and to get on board required a hazardous descent of a swaying Jacob's ladder covered in dockside oil and grease!
In early 1944 our flotilla sailed to Weymouth to await the arrival of US soldiers who were travelling from the West Country to embark for Normandy. The harbour, unlike Dover in '43 was teeming with RN ships of all sizes, tied up 4 of 5 abreast from the jetty. Ashore soldiers filled the town and harbour.
One day walking about the harbour jetty, I met Peter Scott, the famous ornithologist and painter, who was a flotilla leader of MGBs and a Lieutenant Commander. Unlike the Coastal Forces boats which were simply known by an identifying number, Peter Scott characteristically sought and obtained Admiralty permission to name his flotilla after birds. His own boat was known as "Grey Goose".
Our jobs was escort and protect the ships carrying US troops to Normandy. Each convoy coming for E,S or W ports assembled at a large circular gathering area SE of the Isle of Wight known as Piccadilly Circus. From there the troop convoy and escorting warships headed due South for Normandy down swept channels.
As the expeditionary force regained territory in France our flotilla moved up the coast and were the first Royal Navy ship to enter Calais harbour after it had been evacuated by the Germans. We had opportunity to examine the huge guns which had been bombarding Dover where we had been based in 1943. The German troops had left a lot of their equipment behind in the gun turrets among which were Leica binoculars and Luger revolvers of excellent quality.
Later on the flotilla went up the River Scheldt and was based at Tiernazen , a small port half-way to Antwerp. The river was heavily mined. We stayed at this port until VE Day patrolling and escorting merchant vessels up the river to Antwerp. The local Dutch population were starving and every effort was being made by the RAF to drop food parcels.

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