- Contributed by
- CSV Solent
- People in story:
- Sidney Walter Petherbridge
- Location of story:
- Background to story:
- Royal Navy
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 13 November 2005
This story was submitted by Nina Goergen, a volunteer on behalf of Mr Petherbridge and has been added to this site with his permission. Mr Petherbridge fully understands the site’s terms and conditions.
How did I come to join the Royal Navy?
I was 16 years old when the War broke out. I had been living with my uncle for a couple of years but had not been happy there so I put my name down. I knew from my father what life in the army and the trenches was like; I knew it wasn’t for me. I loved the Sea however, had grown up close to the coast. I joined on 4th September 1939. I missed the first 22 hours of the War.
HMS Vincent was my first ship; after 3 days in Gosport I was sent to the Isle of Man where we stayed until about March 1941. We had orders to join the Queen Elisabeth in the Mediterranean. At around July 1941 I was transferred from the Queen Elisabeth to HMS Barham. On 25th Nov 1941 at 20 past 4 in the afternoon the ship was torpedoed by U331; she blew up within 5 minutes. I was knocked unconscious and only woke up in the water; the lifeboat had not been blown up, so I got on the raft and hung on for an hour until another ship came alongside. As a crew member I was sent to Alexandria.
In 1942 America came into the War. I was sent to the old American destroyer “USS Plunkett” (Destroyer of the Benson / Gleaves class) and on to the modern destroyer “The Mayrant” on which I crossed the arctic circle as a wireless operator. It was June 1942 when I joined the Queen Elisabeth. Her duty was to collect prisoners that had been captured in the desert. We travelled down the Red Sea stopping in Cape Town and South America before dropping off the prisoners in New York. Afterwards I went back to the Clyde working various jobs including moving aircraft on HMS “Air 1 A”.
It was around May 1943 when I was transferred to the destroyer HMS Keppel (Shakespeare class destroyer). I stayed there until September 1943 when we rammed the U331. We went to St Johns in Newfoundland where the repairs were made; I was then transferred to “HMS Towy” (a river class frigate), and back on Atlantic convoys. In 1944 I changed to HMS Kent (Kent Class Heavy Cruiser). On a trip to Norway we ran into 11 German ships; we managed to sink 9, one got away and one run onshore. I was delegated to other ships which were on the Russian run. I went to Pollyanno near Murmansk. It’s bitterly cold up there; I saw women and children with virtually nothing to eat.
In 1945 I was off to the Pacific where the Japanese were. I was in Hongkong at the end of the War. By this time I had been wounded in 7 places and operated on with no anaesthetic because they had run out, in a place called Ras.El.Tin near Alexandria. I was never happy there; I developed stomach ulcers, and then came back to the UK where I spent some time in hospital and was finally discharged from the navy. Back in Civvy Street I met my wife while she was living in a prefab in Winchester with her mother. My wife had been working in an aircraft factory in Southampton. One day whilst she was at work a bomb destroyed her house, she then moved to a prefab in Winchester. She worked later at local post offices and was very efficient. I have been married now for 56 years.
After I was discharged from the Navy I went to the dole office and they offered me a job to work on a weather ship in the North Atlantic; I told them politely where to go. I had been on the ocean for 6 years and had no wish to go out there again. Fortunately there was a job going at the Winchester railways. During the 39 ½ years that I worked on the railways I worked in Southampton, Basingstoke, Bournemouth etc and often also on the weekends to get the deposit for my house together. After I retired I worked at local post offices.
In 2001 I was interviewed by a gentleman from the Imperial War Museum. My experiences as a telegraphist on HMS Barham in 1941 can be accessed over the database of the Sound Collection. Next year will be the 50th anniversary dinner of the Barham Survivors Association. I believe it will be the last time as only 8 of us are left.
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