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From Scarpa Flow to Sicily

by Harwich Society

Contributed by 
Harwich Society
People in story: 
Eric Dobson
Location of story: 
Scotland, Mediterranean
Background to story: 
Royal Navy
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
14 July 2004

I was born in Harwich in 1921, and joined the navy as a motor mechanic in about 1940. My first vessel was M218 and we were based at Scarpa Flow in Scotland. From here we were engaged in anti submarine patrols along part of the Arctic Convoy route, and sometimes down the west coast of Scotland. On one occasion we were training some Free Polish Officers to do landings from boats.

Our skipper at the time was Hugo Brassey, a millionaire nephew of Lord Gowry, the then Governor General of Australia. I remember one Christmas the skipper ordered up a crate of champagne from London. It was a tradition that on Christmas day the youngest member of the crew swapped places with the skipper, and so when the rum ration was given out, this lad went round topping everyone’s mugs up with champagne.

During the day we would often shelter in Wide Wall Bay, and then undertake the patrols at night. One time, the weather was so bad we were stuck in the bay for a week. All our supplies ran out, and we only had corned beef left. The skipper went up to the crofters cabin, and bought a sheep, which he proceeded to kill for us.

One New Years Eve, the skipper was invited aboard our base ship, the Iron Duke. At the end of dinner, he de-bagged the padre and wrote “Merry Christmas” across his backside with mustard. He was sent home soon after!

Our new skipper was Alan Hollidge, and we found ourselves at Poole in Dorset undergoing a refit, from which we headed to the Mediterranean. I remember at one point we were being trailed by a Fokker Wolfe, which must have been flying from Spain, even though it was a neutral country. One of the ships shot the plane down, but not before another one had been sunk. On the way past Gibraltar, we saw the Queen Mary.

We found ourselves at Algiers. I can remember one day shopping in the Kaz-bah, and buying some cheap records, one of which was “Your tiny hand is frozen”. We used to play it on a small wind up gramophone. I still have the record somewhere. I also recall a couple of women walking past. The wind blew, and their veils were momentarily lifted. I remember thinking what beautiful eyes they had, but then seeing tobacco in their mouths!

We patrolled the coast of North Africa. On Sunday the 13th June 1943, we were rather surprised to discover that the King was visiting, and we had to have an impromptu inspection after the church parade.

On the 9th July, we were in the Grand Harbour at Malta, and the Captain spoke to the crew. He told us that Sicily was being invaded, and that we were to escort the Highland Division of the 8th Army, part of the 2nd Landing Force. The next day we arrived off Sicily. There was no opposition in two places, but heavy fighting in a third. We were at Action Stations on and off all day. There was heavy bombing. On the 11th we discovered that there were 2500 ships taking part in the operation. We had air raids at 16:00 and one at 22:00 which lasted 2 hours. I could see tank landing craft stuck on the shore. On the 13th we had reports that we had captured a town ten days early. The crew went ashore and picked grapes in the vineyards. The next day we escorted a convoy to Syracuse.

We then moved up to Part Augusta, a huge port with a long causeway. There were intermittent raids and patrols. We discovered while here that we had water in the fuel tanks, and we therefore had to pump it out. This meant using a hand pump on each of the five tanks, until the water was all out. At this time, a tanker in the harbour was hit. We went to help. Men were jumping into the sea, some getting smothered in oil. We laid men around our desk to take them to the first aid post. There was one lad, only about 19, who was laid near the engine hatch. I heard a noise and went up. He said nothing, but just died. I have seen many men killed, but this one still …

We went up to Naples, where we saw Mount Vesuvius erupting. The deck of the ship had an inch on ash all over it. While here, the Captain took me to one side and told me he was sending me home for a commission. I was dumbstruck. I went back on the HMS Strathnaver, and landed at Liverpool, before going to college in London to learn about my new vessel. The V1s had started in London, and I wished I had stayed in Italy!

My new ship was LST 162, a landing ship, and you can imagine my surprise when I discovered that the engineer was another Dovercourt lad! We spent some time landing supplies on the Normandy beaches after D-Day, before moving up the coast to Norway and Oslo. We were being refitted in Belfast for transfer to the Far East when the war ended.

After the war, I kept in touch with my former skipper, Alan Hollidge, and even met up with him a few times. I was invited to attend his funeral some years later, where I met my replacement on the ship. I told him that I had wished I had stayed aboard. He told me that after I had left, they had sailed up the Adriatic. They had come across a pack of E-Boats, and had had an almighty fight. A shell had gone straight through the engine room. The Skipper had even got a bravery award for it, but he had never spoken to me about it. That’s the kind of quiet, unassuming man he was.

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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 - Re: Scapa Flow to Sicily

Posted on: 16 July 2004 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Dear Eric

Your eccentric skipper (he of the mustard pot) brought a smile to my face :-D



Message 2 - Re: Scapa Flow to Sicily

Posted on: 16 July 2004 by Trooper Tom Canning - WW2 Site Helper

Eric -

as Peter has said - this tale is a smiler - and why eccentrics should be sent off for non conforming is quite beyond me - we needed them to give us a modicum of the Canadian who made a small tree into a catapult and slung many stones over to the German lines - when the Germans gathered around to try to make sense of it all - he changed the stones for hand grenades - or Alf Goddard shooting down the German's Chimney pot at the Senio River and starting a wholesale massacre of Chimney pots, thankfully - we were able to laugh !


Message 3 - Re: Scapa Flow to Sicily

Posted on: 17 July 2004 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

I think he must have been sent off for incompetence. Given the date, had he written 'Happy New Year!" he might have got away with it. :)


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