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Minesweeping in The Thames

by actiondesksheffield

Contributed by 
actiondesksheffield
People in story: 
By Ray Kent
Location of story: 
Burncross, Sheffield
Background to story: 
Royal Navy
Article ID: 
A3797850
Contributed on: 
17 March 2005

This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Bill Ross of the ‘Action Desk — Sheffield’ Team on behalf of Ray Kent, and has been added to the site with the author’s permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions.

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I started as an engineer in the navy; for 18 months based on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent. Initially, I was stationed at HMS Wildfire in Sheerness, then transferred to HMS St. Tudneo. This was a liner which travelled between Liverpool, the Isle of Man and Ireland in peace time, but it was commandeered and affiliated to the mother ship. The Minesweepers were responsible for keeping the River Thames open. Having been stationed down there for a year and a half, I now get an invitation from Isle of Sheppey people at Sheerness, to visit every year.

As war broke out, we delayed getting married against my wishes. When I got a posting, I realised I could take the lady to Sheerness if I got married. We rented a house there which I shared with another engineer who was from London, and his bride. They got married too. The lady of the house had two children and she used to go every night, an hour before dark, with her kids, to her mum and dad’s house, only 200 yards away. They slept in an air raid shelter throughout the night, realising one hour b4 darkness and until 1 hour after daylight, seven nights per week, 365 days per year, the sirens were on alert. This was because the Germans were flying over the Thames and flooding waterways with mines, which they released on parachutes. To get shipping into London, the river had to be kept as clear as possible, so this daily dropping of mines at night and clearing a passage for the ships the next day, went on continuously throughout the war. The husband of the lady I lived with was a regular navy man. He was recalled from the Mediterranean. The lady went with the kids to see her husband’s ship which had been away for approximately 6 months. It had returned for a refit to Chatham dockyard. During its transit up the Thames, it struck a mine; the lady’s husband was literally killed on his own doorstep.

On limited occasions I got all night leave. My colleague and I could associate with our wives and enjoy their company. We could also say on these occasions, that along with my wife and lady companion of my colleague, we never went into the air raid shelter. Whenever possible, we carried on a normal life and approximately after 15/16 months, I was transferred back to my main Chatham barracks, as was my colleague, leaving both our ladies; mine to return to Sheffield and my colleague’s wife returning to her parents at their London home.

I was de-mobbed on St Patrick’s day in 1946. I’d been held back for some months after the end of the war because they had to get a replacement chief engineer. They were few on ground. There was a process of de-mobbing which was related to rank. You were allocated a number. The higher your rank, the lower the number. They’d issued monthly reports on which numbers were going to be released in the next month.

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