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A Marine's Tale Part 6

by 1956baby

Contributed by 
People in story: 
William Cockburn ,Charley Guy
Location of story: 
Bonnie Scotland,a bit of canoodling and some scary moments at Milford Haven
Background to story: 
Royal Navy
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
10 May 2005

It was Sunday when we duly reported ,only to be informed that to reach G6 involved a ferry trip from Gourock and that as we could not reach there in time for the last sailing we were to stay in the nearby Sailors' home overnight and catch an early ferry next morning. So there we were footloose and fancy free with the Metropolis at our feet ... But we quickly discovered that Glasgow on a Sunday night was as dead as Belfast had been .But this time there were no young ladies to take us to tea.Charlie , myself and two others wandered around the silent blacked out streets for quite some time looking for something - anything - that might conceivably pass as entertainment when suddenly ,on rounding a corner , our prayers were answered.There in all its glory was a fine modern cinema with a long queue of Glaswegians formed up at its doors.Although doubtful of getting in placed as we were at the back of the throng we told ourselves to be patient and settled down for a long wait .Not a bit of it ! Within minutes the queue started to move and to our great surprise we proceeded at a brisk pace .We reached the foyer in no time at all to be further delighted when we found the paybox unmanned ,this entertainment was free !! The ground floor appeared to be full so we made our way up to the dress circle and took choice seats in the centre - very comfortable indeed !

When everyone had taken their seats the organ rose from its pit ,played the national anthem ,and sank down again.We settled ourselves and waited all agog as the house lights dimmed and the curtains opened - revealing a table at which sat 4 dignitaries , two of whom sported chains of office.The sad truth began to dawn , there was no film ,no singing or dancing ,this was a TALK !
To rub salt into the wounds it transpired that one of the men in civic regalia was the Mayor of Dover .He was the main speaker and his topic was ? His wartime experiences in that town .As Charlie and I had both served in the Siege Reg't. just outside Dover it proved to be very boring.Particularly as he was inclined to swing the lamp somewhat. Stuck as we were in the middle of the row we could not creep silently away but were compelled to wait for the interval when ,under the pretext of visiting the toilet we slipped out into the night.
The next morning we crossed from Gourock to Dunoon on our way to a place called Hopper's Pier which we finally reached after a further bus ride and a walk across a field to the lochside .I don't know who Mr Hopper was nor why he built his pier in that spot but I can only assume he liked solitude.
The war had presumably prompted the erection of the two nissen huts ,but apart from them the only man made structure in sight was the pier itself .The pier was really just a short ,ramshackle jetty ,but it was home to us and G6 ,which lay alongside.It would have been October 1944 and the weather was quite bleak as I recall ,but the fortnight or so we spent there proved to be pleasant enough.The bus service along the side of the loch to Dunoon was a bit haphazard so we tended to get a "Puffer " across the water to Rothesay .These puffers were sturdy little boats with one stroke diesel engines which literally puffed along .Rothesay was a friendly place and I enjoyed my runs ashore ,especially to a little pub called the " Why Not ". I remember that Charlie Guy had his birthday at that time and the watch ashore were all going to meet in the "Why Not"
to celebrate.I was doing a stint as Quartermaster that day so I was going to miss this shindig .The day of the party our " Jimmy" discovered he had left some kit at the hotel in Rothesay when his
wife had been up for a visit the previous weekend.So I was despatched by puffer to fetch it ,and while there to collect a pair of his shoes from the cobbler.
It was made clear to me that I must complete these errands in time to catch the teatime puffer back.If I missed the 5pm sailing I would be stuck there till the next puffer at 11pm.
On arrival in Rothesay and having got the cobbler to agree that the shoes could not possibly be ready before 5pm , I went to the hotel ,where the landlady's daughter offered to treat me to the local cinema followed by supper in the hotal afterwards.So after a free film show and an excellent Scottish high tea I arranged to meet this charming girl again the next day and proceeded ,armed with Jimmy's gear to the pub - there to find the festivities in full swing.I felt an overwhelming desire to buy Charlie a large Scotch to mark his birthday .Unfortunately when the drink was on the bar I realised I did not have the wherewithal to pay for it.To my amazement and pleasure the landlord let me have it on the slate.It was a very generous gesture on his part and on mine I swore that he would be paid the next day when I returned for my date.
However ,it was not to be .We sailed at first light, destination secret.On clearing the loch we commenced the worst voyage of our sea-going careers.The weather rapidly deteriorated and our flat bottomed craft was thrown every which way.The motion defied description , one moment she climbed up the side of a huge wave then teetered over the top before crashing down again.Occasionally the seas came at us at an angle whereupon we would slide sideways until the skid was reversed by a wave from the opposite direction .Hour after hour ,day after day we laboured to the south.Everybody was ill, not seasick but ill.The constant buffeting made conditions below deck almost as dangerous as those on top.To walk along the narrow passageways was an ordeal as one staggered off one bulkhead to another , we had bruises on our bruises.Eventually some kind soul decided that enough was enough and ordered us into harbour at Fishguard, hopefully there to stay until the storm subsided.But to our horror we put back out the very next day and G6 began pirouetting all over the oggin with renewed vigour.By now we were beginning to hate her and her inability to proceed in something resembling a straight line.We did not make much headway in the next 24 hours and once again were forced to seek shelter ,this time in Milford Haven.As G6 fought to reach the comparative safety of the anchorage we were told of an incident the previous year involving two craft of our type in that very place.

They had sailed from Belfast en route to Falmouth and the Med when the weather proved too severe and they ,like us ,were ordered into Milford Haven .Unfortunately due to a design error their forward sections had not been "decked in " leaving large well decks exposed to the elements .The seas came over their bows quickly ,filling their forecastles ,making them go down by the bows and consequently lifting their sterns out of the water ,thus putting them completely out of control and at the mercy of the atrocious weather .They went down with the loss of 73 lives plus 6 seamen from the HMS Rosemary who drowned while attempting to assist.Some bodies were never recovered ,others were taken home by families for burial ,some were buried in the local cemetary overlooking us as we entered the harbour safely.

We were not to go alongside but were to tie up to a buoy in the haven, as members of the foc'sle party ,a matelot and myself were to "jump" the buoy .I had never made this maneouvre before so my matelot oppo gave me a crash course in the approved procedures.The drill was for us to stand on the side of the boat and when the skipper brought G6 up to the buoy ,to step onto it clutching a heaving line ,attached to a heavier rope .We were then to pass the line through the ring on the buoy and then pass it smartly back aboard to be secured.Simple.It didn't quite happen like that .Although we were now in the lee of a headland there was still quite a strong sea running .This had two adverse effects ,one was to cause the buoy to heave about the other was to make G6 much harder to handle.My matelot chum told me to go first and he would follow bringing the line with him.This would give me both hands free and in a position to steady him when he came across encumbered by the heaving line. It did not quite happen like that either ! We approached the buoy at a fair rate of knots in order that the skipper could excercise a modicum of control over a wayward G6 .As we came up to it I leapt ( who said stepped ?) onto its flat top and lovingly embraced the ringbolt, my undignified arrival causing the buoy to dip and swirl .Thus it was a moment or two before I gave any thought to the next item on the agenda and looked around ,one arm extended to welcome jolly Jack Tar onto my precarious perch.To my horror there was no sign of him - worse still G6 was disappearing in an easterly direction.It transpired later that a sea surge had coincided with my death defying leap making it impossible for my fellow lunatic to join me .So the skipper had decided to go round again.Not knowing all this at the time I was a mite panic stricken.
On the second attempt I took the line and successfully passed it through the ringbolt and back aboard.These events remain vivid in my mind ,and when I heard almost 50 years later , that a memorial had been erected in the cemetary at Milford Haven to the memories of the lost crews of LCGs 15 and 16 ,and HMS Rosemary , and was to be dedicated , I made it my business to attend.

We never went ashore in Milford Haven and soon continued our voyage toward our destination , now known to be Falmouth .The weather was better but still rough ,but this time an escort was provided .The buzz was that it was standing by to pick up survivors if G6 foundered.

The big seas were coming in from the Atlantic so the most dangerous time occurred when, reaching a point off Land's End ,we changed from a southerly course to an easterly one for the run into Falmouth .This maneouvre was however accomplished without mishap and we duly arrived safely alongside.We had barely finished tying up when the bulk of the Marine detachment was ordered to pack up their kit and prepare to disembark.It transpired that a skeleton crew would sail G6 out East while the rest of us went by troopship .So ,burdened with kitbags large and small ,hammocks ,rifles and full marching order we shook the dust of Falmouth off that very day.

Our next port of call proved to be a small naval establishment near Plymouth known as HMS Foliot where we were to wait until our lords and masters could get us onto a ship going in the right direction.It was a nice comfortable billet with meals being cooked and served at the table by Wrens. We were not to be allowed to live in the lap of luxury for too long and immediately after Christmas 1944 we were once more on the move , by train this time - back to Scotland to the same area we had left not long before ! At Gourock we were ferried out to the Orion ,a massive P & O liner ,anchored in the roads. She was a fine ship and it must have been a great pleasure to sail on her as a passenger in peacetime .Now however she was a troopship and had been converted so as to maximise her carrying capacity, with comfort coming a poor second. Our draft was accommodated on the lowest level well below the waterline on one large open messdeck.The deckhead sported more hooks than any of us had ever seen at one time and the nightly slinging of hammocks was a chaotic business until everyone got used to which were their own pair of hooks.The washing and toilet facilities were inadequate for the number of men on our deck , queues were the order of the day and a number of us took to getting up before reveille to take a hot shower in one of the only two cubicles .As you might expect we washed in sea water using a special soap which not even the most energetic bootneck could whip up into a lather.These tribulations paled into insignificance when compared to the food of which the main component was usually a thin ,greasy stew containing a few bits of odd looking meat.To make matters worse by the time it arrived from the distant kitchens it was cold and beginning to congeal.

Apparently we Marines were the only ones on board with any naval experience so we were organised as Ship's police.This meant that when not engaged in trying to keep ourselves clean or fend off starvation we were required to man key points such as watertight doors and also patrol the various decks.My favourite stint was patrolling the promenade deck , this in common with most of the other upper decks was out of bounds to the other ranks.This was a rank injustice as it meant that 90% of the passengers had access to only 20% of the open deck.The reason I preferred the promenade deck was because the dining rooms ,bars , dance floors and other entertainment facilities were there.As a consequence I could enjoy the music etc ,albeit as an outsider looking in.We could also take perverse pleasure in breaking up romances between the officers and the nurses we had aboard .We would do this by discreetly hovering just within earshot as they canoodled at the ship's rail and then , making some loud comment about the dangerous chemistry of sex and the sea .
However by far the strongest reason I had for liking that particular duty was the fact that , in recognition of the effect four hours in the open air had on healthy young men's appetites it was decreed that we should receive a large sandwich in the middle of the night watches.At two in the morning on the upper deck of a great ship far out at sea and ravenous ,a corned beef sandwich washed down with a steaming mug of kai ( sic ) was a bounteous feast.

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