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15 October 2014
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My Wartime Years

by epsomandewelllhc

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Gerry Viewing
Location of story: 
Ewell, Surrey, Fareham
Background to story: 
Royal Navy
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
12 April 2005

Mr. Gerry Viewing : My Wartime Years

Mr Viewing has agreed that his story can be added to the BBC's People's War PRoject

My father and mother came from London (Waterloo). They were married in St John’s Church, Waterloo, in 1922 and emigrated to Australia and I was born in 1925. Dad ran a garage but business was bad and jobs scarce. He was offered a job with S. Railways as an electrical engineer and came back to England to live in 19 Fulford Road, Ewell in about 1928. The area was only just developed then — the road outside was muddy and the milk was delivered from Scotts Farm, by horse & cart.

From the age of three, I grew up here. I went to Pound Lane school, with my friend Vic Austin who lived opposite and we walked through the bridle path to get there. I had a very nice first teacher called Mrs. Law. I stayed there until they started up Lintons Lane Central School where I moved at 11. My best subject was Art and Writing and I wasn’t keen on Maths.

The situation in the world was becoming very disturbed and following further education was not such an option then. Therefore as I had a fancy to work in the printing business, I got a job with Associated Newspapers in Fleet Street. I became an Advertisement Copy Clerk which involved dealing with all advertising going out to all the provincial newspapers owned by Northcliffe Group and once the war had started, we were working amongst the bombing in the middle of London.

At home in Ewell, I was a firewatcher in Fulford Road. We took it in turns house by house to be aware and awake and if there was a raid, we went out to make sure everyone was all right.

At the end of Fulford Road, at All Saints Church, we had what is now called a Youth Club. We used to meet once a week and play table tennis or darts and sometimes a dance with the girls. We did some acting and sometimes held mock trials, where one person agreed to be the accused and others were the lawyers, jury etc. Afterwards, on our way home, we used to get fish & chips from Mr. Jelly in West Ewell.

You could get fish & chips during the war, although it was dangerous for the trawlers to go out because they were vulnerable to attack. In fact many of the large trawlers from Hull, Grimsby, Lowestoft and other fishing ports, were taken over by the navy as minesweepers and the Captains were taken into the Navy as RNR (which is not the same as RNVR).

The lad who ran the Youth club was a friend called Norman James, whose parents ran an ironmongers on Jubilee Parade. That premises is now a window fitters. At weekends we would go on rambles with the club. There might be about 20 of us. Our favourite was to get a bus to Leatherhead and then walk up to a footpath up the hill, with our sandwiches of course. We would walk all the way up that ridge of hills and come out at Box Hill station. Then we would either get a train from there, or walk over part of Box Hill and come back from Dorking.

Our lovely Youth Club was spoiled when the hall was taken over as a British Restuarant where people could get a meal without rations. Because of keeping the food secure, they shut down all other activities, including our club. Some of us used to take turns to meet at each others houses. The Mums never minded and we used to play games or have a sing song because most homes had a piano.

Once Danetree Road School was built, that became our Youth Club venue. It was then run by a very nice man called Mr. Payne. Some of us who were older came along to help run it for the younger members.

The BBC really shone at that time. They could be relied upon to be absolutely accurate and put out such interesting programmes. Listening to the radio was always worthwhile.

Two friends and I joined the Home Guard, the East Surrey Regt, 56 Bat, B Company, at 16. Jim Davey and Jack Hobby and I joined men who had survived the First World War and they were very knowledgeable and skilled, giving us great confidence. We attended twice a week and at the weekend as well on Sunday mornings or sometimes all weekend. Before we were allowed to have a rifle, we trained for about 6 weeks at the Drill Hall (where the TA is now, at the Organ Inn lights). We had a ‘range’ to practise firing our rifles and throwing hand grenades, which was at the bottom of Box Hill where the chalk cliff is. Then we were assigned to Platoon 6, 4 section as our unit. Although I should have been in 3 section, I was allowed to join 4 section with my friends. The area of responsibility covered from the Spring Hotel to Ruxley Lane, with the west side of the Hogsmill River marking our boundary. On a number of occasions we were put on standby, but in fact nothing happened which required us to go into action. We were issued with a rifle when we were assigned to the unit, plus ten rounds of ammunition. Usually we hid the bolt of the rifle when not in use, so that it could not be stolen. Although we were only 16, we were quite responsible enough to be armed.

On a couple of occasions, we were given an alert which meant that I had to go to work in my uniform with my rifle so that I was already prepared.

I went into the Navy as a volunteer at 17. There was a scheme by which you could be accepted a year early and choose the arm which you wanted. I and my friend Jim Davey chose to join the Navy. I was actually called up on 17 Dec. 1942 and drafted to HMS Collingwood at Fareham, Hants. We had four divisions there: Quarterdeck, Foretop, Maintop and Gunnery. The first three took people for basic training - mine was in Maintop, and then moved on to Gunnery. Basic training was 13 weeks and I found that the Home Guard experience helped very much. During training we did aptitude tests and I was selected for RDF (Radio Direction Finding, the fore runner of RADAR). Together with my friend Sid Webber, on return from our first leave, were drafted to HMS Valkyrie on the Isle of Man under Jon Pertwee the actor who was our divisional officer!

Basic training was on sets on Douglas Head. We were trained on two sets, one was the 271 which was a surface detection set and the other was the 286 and 291 which were aircraft detection sets. These were sets for small ships which we were pleased about. Then we were sent to Chatham to be assigned to a ship. We were taken down the Medway by trawler to join HMS Wrestler, V & W class destroyer, at Sheerness Docks completing refit.

I was with that ship until we hit a mine on D-Day. We were able to put the fire out and get her home, but she had to be broken up. Still, we were at least able to get the crew home.

While serving on that ship, our first convoy was to the Sicily landings, accompanying troop ships. We did several more from Liverpool to the Middle East and helped secure the Azores under lease-lend. After that, we started on Russian convoys and were close escort to the main convoy at the time the Scharnhorst was sunk. We were on those for six months and then came D-Day.

After the Russian convoys, we refitted in Glasgow and had a pom-pom gun fitted on the bow and were repainted into our D-Day colours and came south to join the fleet in the Solent. After doing a few cargo convoys along the coast, we set out on the evening before 6 June with the rest of the fleet. There was complete radio silence, so therefore no RDF and no work for us to do.

Upon arriving near the French Coast, one of the LCTs in front of us lost his rudder and veered out of the swept channel. We went after him and brought him back but then saw another one drifting off. It was when the Captain decided to go after him that we hit the mine. It blew a hole in the ship’s bottom, from the bow to the back of the foc’sal bottom the ship near the bow, but fortunately although it was under the forward magazine, the ammunition fell out into the sea without blowing up and we were able to limp back to England with our bow down low in the water. The crew had bravely fought the flames and quickly put out a very severe fire and make hatches, flung open in the blast, secure and watertight. The crew were unaware that the explosives had already gone to a safer place.

On arriving at Seaview Pier, Isle of Wight, after our wounded had been taken off, the proprietor of the Seaview Hotel who was a retired Naval officer, he took us in and gave us all a blanket and let us kip down on the floor of his games room for the night. The next day, we were taken from the beach by tender back to Portsmouth to our barracks. We looked quite a bunch of pirates, all covered in oil and torn and tattered, but we were marching back to our barracks. As we marched along, there was a tremendous amount of bomb damage, and standing proudly in the middle of all the devastation was a pub! The Leading Seaman ordered “right wheel” and into the pub we went for a beer. Having had one, when we were about to leave the Landlord kindly called us back and told us the next was on the house. Then on to the barracks we marched, causing the very smart Gunnery Officer we passed to lose his monocle with shock at our appearance! Never mind, “Wrestler, march to attention” ordered the Leading Seaman and we all strode along despite our scruffy appearance.

I was not assigned to a ship after that — I managed to join a concert party which was rather fun and travelled around the South of England entertaining the troops.

After Christmas 1944, I did training on the new RADAR equipment in the Isle of Man and Yeovilton and was then posted to the Far East on HMS Enterprise, but by the time I arrived at Colombo, the Japanese war was over.

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