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John Mills: Chapter 5


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Archive List > Books > John Mills - Memoirs

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People in story: 
John Mills
Location of story: 
England — Cowes, Isle of Wight
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
27 January 2006

Commissioning a New Ship
HMS Volage Destroyer 13th May 1944

Coming back off 7 days leave, had to spend one night in HMS Victory Pompey Barracks. Slinging and twisting in one’s hammock with boots under pillow, money belt on, navy hat chin strap tucked in brass handle with padlock on kit bag, small case in side same. Hoping that wouldn’t be split open, contents taken, could not trust rag tag characters you were with in large halls of early vintage of eighteenth century holding up wards of a 100 men.

Next morning I joined two hundred other rating with kit bag, hammock, small case and boarded a tug in Portsmouth dockyard, were told destination Cowes, Isle of Wight. To commission a new destroyer HMS Volage.

On arrival transfer baggage, hand to hand, heaped up on destroyer, hammock in another pile. Mutterings among older ratings, what’s this one funnelled b….. going to take us. Who’s the Captain, Durlacher someone says, another Gun HO type I expect shouts another.

Lining up on deck, (dockyard workers everywhere) collect small ships book with duties enclosed, myself Starboard watch, mess deck No 1, DSO Messenger in harbour, (Despatch, Signals, Office).

Leaving and entering harbour, foc’sle party, cruising stations Blue Watch, B Gun Defence Stations Starboard Watch B Gun Action Stations A Gun.

Ship company given afternoon for make and mend, meets fellow messmates, Leading Seaman (Killick’s) and three badges (21 years service) first choice of locker and position of hammock slung on deck head (ceiling).

Chief Mess man voted for to organise mess vitals, menus etc.

Small ships, each mess given an allowance that could be spent each month per shipmate. Months end, overspent, pay extra, mess saving, share out. A Mess man too tight with money, no big eats.

Were told lighter with ammunition would be alongside in the morning 0600 hours, no shore leave, turn in early. So turn in early after evening cocoa (Pussers Kye). Being more acquainted and changing familiarities with new messmates.

At approximately 12.30 am (0.30 hours) quartermaster came through the ship piping (with boson’s pipe) shouting all hands scatter ashore. As we all run over the gangway, were told that an air raid was on and to stay in the dockyard. Pubs were closed 10 pm each night, open only if they had any beer, no point going out.

Having no ammunition as yet, could not fight back, sitting around talking and passing time as bet we could until all clear.

All hands to ammunition ship at 6.00 am even though we had an interrupted sleep of two hours, which was nothing when we got to sea! Some 600 rounds of 4.7 in shells of 56lbs weight, 600 cartridges in brass cylinders to go into shell room and magazine. Boxes and boxes of ammunition for AA close range guns, for pom poms, plus orlickon guns. Torpedoes eight in number, some eighty depth charges for anti submarine counter attacks. Plus any amount of stores, oil for ships engines.

Little time for midday dinner “up spirits” called for rum tot was executed, all hands were tired out that evening.

With awakey, awakey, six thirty next day, we lash up our hammock and stowed in hammock bin. Breakfast over, three messmates detailed to prepare midday meal for some twenty men, scrub and clean mess, squeegee floor. Plus duties meal times of serving meals wash up, make tea or cocoa. Turn and turn about with other messmates other days.

A naval ship is born from an order by the Admiralty given to a ship building firm to execute. Samuel White’s having taken on the contract order No 1924 for the yard. Through offices, draftsmen, tradesmen of all trades, laying of keel, development of hull, up to launch 15-12-43 named VOLAGE.

White Foster boilers two, known efficiency, engines, superstructure, guns, torpedo tubes, 1001 items to be fitted.

Volage had been given a heart, for a new ships company to set her pulse beating.

Behind Volage on the fitting out yard floated No: 1928 Cavilair launched 7-4-44 (Residing now at Chatham dockyard a historic ship). Across at East Cowes on the slip ways, stand No: 1929, No: 1930, to be destroyers, Carysfort, Contest.

For a new naval ship comes the first pipe (order) for sea. First of many of its probable commissions, each lasting eighteen months to two years.

So on the Fifteen day of May 1944, the pipe “Special sea duty men to your stations, close all x. y doors, suttles and dead lights” for leaving harbour, “All men out of the rig of the day off the upper deck” (Type of clothing specified according to duties and weather that day).

Stokers had lit boilers some hours before, foc’sle midship and quarter deck men were at their positions ready to cast off port side two.

We had notice that the ships builders and dockyard men were gathering dockside. Captain Commander L G Durlacher O.B.E. gave the order “Let go forward, let go aft, slow ahead both”.

HMS Volage started to move under her own power for the first time slowly ahead, away from the jetty. A great cheer rang out from all those on the jetty, as they see the ship that they had built moving, a wonderful achievement and pride of job well done.

Myself was up on the foc’sle lined up with other seamen, ordered to attention, to reciprocate the cheers that we and their ship was receiving.

Down river we proceeded passing West Cowes, people about their business stood to look at us, and then the ship slipped into the Solent turning to starboard. Out in the Solent it was apparent that the build up of the D Day armada of ships and landing craft had begun. It seemed that it would be possible to walk from Southsea to Ryde, without getting one’s feet wet. Just leaving a sea way for us and other boats to steam through.

Out off Spithead and Bembridge (I.O.W.) trial started with working up ship engines to full speed, other checks were made, all types of equipment including radar, asdic’s compass calculation etc. We had some dockworkers aboard on hand if any defect. Talking to them, who stated they wouldn’t go to sea with this ship, as three of the destroyers that they had built for the Navy had sunk in the war.

Talk about putting the wind up us young lads, first time to sea, will we survive this war. Afterwards we found that to be true. HMS Havant sunk 1-6-40, HMS Jersey 2-5-41, HMS Kingston 11-4-42.

Anchoring that evening off Cowes, starboard watch was piped, for shore leave, saw myself parading for inspection, jumping into the motor boat and heading to the public jetty. Three of us decided that staying in Cowes, our chances of getting a pint of beer could be slim, owing to a great number of servicemen in town.

Clearly Newport could be the better chance of a pint, which turned out at the “Vine” correct. Us knowing that we had to be back on board before 10 o’clock (2200 hours) to collect our ships book, which we handed in on leaving. If not, duty Petty Officer, knowing not collected rating would be A.W.O.L. I turned in hammock immediately as “Out pipes, out lights” had gone.

A new day, through Spithead to Chichester harbour sea ways for test guns. Orders to load ‘A’ gun (that’s us) one round fired from direction control, likewise with ‘B’, ‘X’ and ‘Y’ guns. AA close range weapons next, a few rounds from four twin orlickons and four barrelled pom pom, more tests of equipment, back through Spithead sea way to anchor off Cowes.

With Captain signing acceptance of ship from Messrs Samuel Whites HMS Volage was now a Royal Navy ship. Shore leave for Port Watch. I turned in early knowing going to sea early next day.

Morning came, Special Duty men piped, anchors weighed, proceeded through Needles Channel, past Portland Bill, heading past Lands-End through Bristol Channel, Irish Sea, ship at cruising station, ‘B’ gun manned, lookouts, radar, asdic’s closed up, destination Scapa Flow (Orkneys). Always at sea the possibility of the enemy making a surprise attack.

Dawn followed night, a vigilant watch throughout.

Passing through at dawn Scottish Hebrides Islands, scenes of lasting memories, through the Petland firth notorious for rough seas, Scapa, not a place for jack tar.

Before joining home fleet, HMS Volage had ten days of evolutions out to sea with other destroyers, testing, mock trials with British submarines, shooting aircraft towarding douges, shore bombardment, night exercises, with aircraft carriers flying off and landing aircraft, oiling at sea etc.

All completed, HMS Volage now ready to be of service to the Royal Navy and to the war.

EX A B Lofty John Mills


Clackers and Duffs
Pastry and Puddings

No 1 mess on HMS Volage, 1944/45 we had the good and bad clackers and duffs. Some messmates never could make same.
One birdsnest West was one, through thought his was the best, rifles were looked up on board, but considered putting him in front of Orlickon or 4’7in to put on end of our grones.

Along side Polygavnoe jetty September 1944 RA60 his clacker came back from galley for jam and custard for Manchester tar, it was like a board, it was suggested to give it to the Russian boys at the gang way. My Oppo thought he would get some discuss practice in, a boy caught it and cut his finger. Was the first clacker to draw blood in R.N.

Durban Harbour May 1945, same birdsnest West his duff treacle pud was doughy when it came back from the galley, condense milk didn’t make it more appetising. Birdsnest put a lump on a hook, slung line over side and behold caught a ten pound fish. Fish and chips, Pusser Peas, hands to dinner next day.

EX AB HO Lofty John Mills

Regulating hair cut couldn’t control birdsnest hair, handy for wire brush on deck head of mess.


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