- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Charles Bowman
- Location of story:
- HMS Glengyle & other ships
- Background to story:
- Royal Navy
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 15 March 2004
CHARLES BOWMAN: SERVICE IN THE ROYAL NAVY 1939-46
War was declared on Germany in September 1939. I was then employed as a measure cutter at Ideal Clothiers, Wellingborough.
In the latter end of September, the Royal Marines advertised for vacancies in their tailor departments. As I was fully qualified to fill such posts, I asked my employers whether they would be willing to release me. At the time the business was making uniforms for active servicemen, and were in the position of not releasing employees. As I was the only one from the firm to apply, the manager gave me permission.
On 2nd October, I had notification to go to Dover Hall, Northampton for an interview. The officer incharge, said that I was just the man they wanted, but I would have to sign for 21 years. This I might say was out of the question, as I was only prepared to serve for the duration, until the end of hostilities. I then asked where the Royal Navy Recruitment Office was, and was accepted on condition that I passed a medical test.
The winter of 1939 was very bad, that necessitated the suspension of volunteer recruitment for training. In February 1940, I received notification to report to HMS Royal Arthur, Skegness, which was a Butlins Holiday Camp, taken over by the Government.When I arrived, I was put in Class 136 for initial training. The Petty Officer in charge was a man who had done 21 years, and was brought back because of his reserve period. Named O'Halloran , he was quite a character, and liked his 'tot' because he was under the weather quite frequently. As I was a qualified Scout Master, and could read and write, he appointed me as class leader, mostly to help out with a number of forms he had to complete, such as the number of dependents and their allotment of pay..I was quite surprised then that a number of the men were living with a woman, but were not married to them. The forms asked where each would like to be stationed in the various barracks throughout the Country, such as Portsmouth, Chatham, Plymouth etc. I requested Portsmouth, as it seemed to me on the route most direct to home, should I get leave. The weather was still very bad in Skegness, and we were only billeted in huts, made mostly of plywood. A lot of illness came about the camp, and some recruits died, one who was lady MP's son, that caused quite a stir in the Press and in Parliament. Every morning, we had to 'double' around the Camp to the tune of 'Roll Out The Barrel', played by the Royal Marine Band, to get our blood working before going into class for instruction on seamanship.
I spent three weeks at HMS Royal Arthur, and was then sent to Portsmouth for further training, which mostly consisted of gunnery and marching in the most disciplined recruitment and training establishment in the Royal Navy - Whale Island. You doubled here and doubled there wherever you went, and was put under a GI (Gunnery Instructor), who I am sure we would have shot, had we been able, he would have been one of those who would have been lost in action. I remember him saying, when we were given a few moments of relief, 'this place is the finest gunnery school in the world, mostly for the Royal Marines. At Galipolli, in honour of the bravery shown by the Royal Marines, a special March tune was made for them, and I don't suppose you know of any other regiment that had such an honour?' Some idiot at the back said, 'I know one Sir, at Skegness we had one, Roll Out The Barrel.' I am afraid the GI nearly took-off, 'for that silly remark, you can shoulder arms and run round the parade ground till I tell you to stop.'
I had just three weeks at Whale Island, and was glad to get back to Portsmouth, where we were told we would be entitled to leave. To my horror, France capitulated,and we had just finished our training, we were given the job of housing them in our under-ground shelters, and other places they could reside. My duty was on the main gate, to let only the servicemen through, that knew the password. Really there were so many Frenchmen, you could not tell what rank they held, and whether I had to give a salute to any of them, who looked like an officer.
We had trouble concerning what we were going to do, some of the Frenchmen wanted to stay in this country while others wanted to go back into France. We had to put them all down the shelters with a maxim gun at each end so they would sort themselves out. Some joined Petin, and other De Gaulle. We gave those going back to France three ships, but I am afraid not many got back there as 'Gerry' put that right. After this trouble was sorted out it came to our turn to be sorted out.
We were all assembled on the Quarter Deck at Portsmouth Barracks, and detailed off to our various parts of the Navy. They consisted of General Service, Combined Operations and Submarines. There were no volunteers then, after a medical we were allotted to our various establishments for further training. My allocation was Combined Operations, it was a relief that I missed the submarines by two. I was sent for training to Northney Camp, Hailing Island (1). Training was on MCL's (Motorised Landing Craft), and then ALC's (Admiralty Landing Craft),which were designed by Adiral Keyes, and laternamed LCA's (Landing Craft Assult). The first eight were used for the evacuation of Dunkirk, and we received some of them at Hayling Island. At this time our officer in charge was Lt Paget RNVR, who was an advocate at the Nuremberg Trials at the end of the War. He will be remembered as a Socialist Member of Parliament for Northampton. He was well liked by all the Ratings and as he came from near my home, we did have some talks about our county.
After our training we were taken over by another retired member who had done his full time in the RN, and who was brought back by the retired list. His name was Ward, we called him 'Sharkey' . He was actually the Mayor of Berwick, and he was with us for some time during our service at home and abroard. After our training we were sent up to Scotland to become part of the crew of the HMS Glengyle, that had yet to be commissioned, and we were on board during her trials. This ship turned out to be one of the happiest ships in the Royal Navy, and I stayed aboard until May 1944.
HMS Glengyle had been under construction at the outbreak of war. Conversion to an Infanry Assault Ship 9,865 tons, with full economy diesel engines and a speed of 18.5 knots. Originally designed as a fast cargo carrying vessel, with a conveyor in the hold with two lifting derricks, one forward one aft. These were used when neede to lift out the MLC's, there were in total 12 LCA's and 1 SLC (Support Landing Craft), with 12 special heavy duty davits to carry the LCA's which could be used as lifeboats if the ship was in danger of sinking. The Glengyle was a strongly plated ship of thick steel, made to take a buffeting; that proved important during its service, during its historic duty of the war years.
PHASE ONE: SEPTEMBER 1940 TO APRIL 1942.
HMS Glengyle was commissioned at the George V dock, Glasgow, on 10th September 1940, when I formally joined her. She was known as a Landing Craft Carrier. The First Officer was Captain Villiers RN. He was, as I remember a monacled Skipper, whose appearance did cause some amusement amongst the crew. The ship proceded to Invarary to train the original commandos and for the next three months alternated between Invarary and the Clyde. At the end of this period, she embarked the 4th and 7th Commmandos, and the late Lord Keyes came down and gave a farewell speech to all personnel aboard. Captain C H Petrie RN was then put in command, and the sons of Lord Keyes and Mr Winston Churchill were amongst the embarked officers.
The intended operation was a landing on Rhodes Isand, but on arrival in the Mediterranean, after a trip round the Cape, events caused the force to be diverted elsewhere. General Wavell's army was on the offensive, and Glengyle was ordered to make a landing at Barrilia, which was being used as the main supply depot of the enemy. A Polish submarine lay close inshore, and directed the ship to the 'dropping' position, for the landing craft to take to the beach. The raid was a complete success, petrol dumps and communications being destroyed.
In April 1941, Glengyle arrived at Suda Bay, Crete, shortly after a human torpedo attack on HMS York, which was lying aground in the Harbour. The evacuation of Greece had started, and the ship proceeded to Raphis and brought about 4,500 troops back to Crete. She then went to Rathina and took the same number back to Alexandria. It was during this trip that the ship had a very near miiss, by the port bows. The day before the German invasion of Crete we landed a battalion of Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders with stores and ammunition at Sphakia, to try to hold the Island. As we left to return to Alexandria, we came in for several hours of heavy bombing, but through luck, held good and we got away safely. Finally, it was decided we should evacuate Crete, and the Glengyle returned to Sphakia and performed the almost incredible feat of taking away 8,000 troops in one lift to Alexandria. You can imagine how we were packed-out, there was no sleep for any of the crew, and we went several days without any. With these numbers on board, the state of the ship can well be imagined. All craft on the davits were manned by those troops fit enough to do so, who assisted with small arms to beat off air attacks, which were almost non-stop. Many casualties were received amoungst these men but we did not receive any damage, and soon became known throughout the East Mediterranean as a 'lucky ship'. On this trip especially the medical and supply branches of the ship worked night and day to look after this huge number of men. After a short spell at Port Said, we embarked 'C' battalian of 'Layforce' and proceded to Syria to carry out a landing by the Litani River. The objective of this was to hold a bridge, to assist the allies in their northward advance. This was completely successful. From August to November 1941, we took part in the training of many thousands of British Australian and New Zealand troops in combined operations in the Bitter Lakes. Once the training had been completed the ship proceded to Alexandria for a short refit.
On the 5th January 1942, we left Alexandria for a high speed dash to Malta. The Glengyle was loaded with a varied cargo of bombs, shells, powdered milk, foodstuffs, coal and coke. Malta was then heavily beseiged, and our arrival after three days of air attacks, our ship was loudly cheered by hundreds of Maltese on the Baracca, as she was the first ship to arrive for a long time. During the stay in the Harbour , the ship was under constant attack from the air, and we the ship's company, with tin hats on worked night and day to unload the ship without assistance. Congratulations on this effort was received from Vice-Admiral, Malta. After unloading the ship was placed in dry dock alongside the Aurora, to give some repair to the port bow, sustained during our Greek campaign. At one time both ships were straddled by a stick of bombs and the upper-deck was strewn with debris. We left Malta on 25th January, carrying some Naval personnel,and some German and Italian prisoners arriving in Alexandria on the 28th. During February and March we again entered the Suez Canal area, during which time, General Wavell paid us a visit. In April 1942, we returned to the United Kingdom via the Cape, and arrived in the Clyde the next month, it was great to be home.
PHASE TWO: MAY 1942 TO MAY 1944
After a short stay in Glasgow, we returned to the Isle of Wight for more intensive combined operations training. During this time we carried out our largest practice landing operation in home waters, off Bridport, after which we retired to Cowes where Lord Louis Mountbatten addressed the Ship's Company. Captain DS McGrath RN, had now assumed command of the Glengyle. IN August 1942, a large number of Canadian troops came on board, and after being disguised as a tanker we joined a big force up Channel and took part in the world famous Dieppe raid on 19th August 1942. At dawn we sailed from the Isle of Wight with 500 Canadian troops of the Hamilton Light Infantry, and were unfortunate to run into a into a German convoy of transport ships. With the Canadians knowing where they were going, before the operation, not helping, the arrival of 'Jubilee' was hardly a surprise.The crews of the LCA's and MCL's, however, did not know where they were landing until we were out of the 3 mile limit. At 02.30 the Glengyle dropped our craft with the 500 Canadians and then returned to Southampton. Our craft had to return under their own power to the English Coast. Apart from 2, in all 9 returned to Newhaven with their crews, but only 50 surviving Canadian troops. The operation was planned to provide information for future operations, enemy preparedness and to relieve the Russians who were seriously pressed in the East.The Glengyle boats were given 'White Beach' to land their troops, this was the closest beach to the centre of Dieppe. It was complete murder for our troops, most never got off the beach. The tanks that were landed (Churchills), did not have time to open fire before they were knocked-out, the Germans mamed them and fired at our boats from the ones that did land. Some tanks never got off the Tank Landing Craft. In 9 hours of carnage and horror, the operation became a disaster. A combination of over-rigid planning, inadequate supporting fire-power, and in the final hours before, sheer bad-luck. One of the worst defeats in a war that was already going badly. Only Lord Lovat with his fine band of commandos reached the objective planned for them. The whole of the 2nd Division Canadians had a bloody disasterous failure. Of the 5,000 that took part, 3,500 were killed, captured or wounded. On that one August morning the Canadians suffered 906 men killed or lost, more than the whole 20 months of the subsequent Italian Campaign. This was also such a loss of young life, most of the Canadians were in the age group 19-20 years, having just finished their training in England. It has been reported that these men volunteered only because they had become fed-up with inactivity. Many lessions were learned by planners, munitions manufacturers, and the men themselves.
Later in the same year, we returned to the Mediterranean, with assault forces for North Africa. An assault on Oran and Algiers then took place under Admiral Cunningham. The Glengyle carried United States troops to Oran, landing on the beaches in the small hours of 7th November. On the 11th, French resistance in Africa ended. We had little trouble, except when we were at anchor, battery shell fire was aimed at us from mobile guns manned by the French foreign Legion. The American troops could not locate them, but we sent out our British commandos who soon put them out of action. This mission was called "Operation Torch". The North Africa campaign was to relieve French North Africa from the clutches of Pitain, who was an enemy of our cause.
After the North African campaign, the Glengyle was then included in the Fast Assault Convoy, as she did Operation Torch. The invasion of Scilly took place at 02.45 am on 10th July 1943. In all 115,000 British Empire troops and 66,000 American soldiers took part, they were supported by no less than 2,590 warships, merchantmen and landing craft, over 1,600 of which came from the British. As with Operation Torch, the maritime forces were proportionately British. The 9th and 10th July produced strong winds and a nasty sea, which severely taxed the crews of the many landing craft. Many of the Army men were violently sick. We had men of the Eighth Army on our ship, they had been brought back from India after serving two years. Some of them were very despondent, having been promised home leave. One had not seen his baby son who was now over two years old. Once we had landed our troops, on returning from the beach we heard whistles, and found some of our troops in the sea with gliders, which had been released from US Aircraft before they reached the shore. They were paratroopers, who said the gliders had been released as soon as the flack went up from the enemy guns ashore. Had they found any Americans, I am sure another world war would have broken out. There were a couple of bottles of neat rum in the boat that had not been consumed by the out-going troops because of their sickness, needless to say, we did the necessary to help our mates in this case. Owing to the severe weather, the enemy believed that no invaders would land in such conditions, and relaxed their precautions, therefore our troops got ashore with very few casualties. Syracuse was captured on the same day, Augusta, two days later. Meeting stiff resistance in Catania, General Montgomery switched his advance West around Mount Etna. The result was the end of "Operation Avalanche".
After this operation, I was one of the Boat Crews to be transferred to a former Dutch liner, 'The Van-San Aldigon', our boats were the lifeboats, the duty of the ship was to take prisioners back to England. The guards were all American, as they could not trust the Dutch seamen to do this. Because most of these Dutchmen did not know what had happened to their families once Hitler had invaded their country. On the way back to England, we were attacked by a Dornier bomber, and one of the prisoners opened one of the portholes, with the light shinning out to otherwise complete darkness. Luckily it did not prove fatal and the Dutch Captain of the ship, who had lost his family told the guards that they should have emptied their tommy guns on the whole of the prisoners. Nevertheless we took off the prisoners at Liverpool. We Escourts had to wear our tin hats because the Dutch Crew bombarded the prisioners with everything they could lay their hands on. No need to convey what the Dutchmen shouted, I could not understand Dutch anyway, but I had a good idea of what their sentiments were.
Back in the United Kingdom, the British Escourts were transferred. I went to the British "Orontes", lying in Liverpool Docks, again with our boats to act as lifeboats. The Merchant Navy crews had the option of signing-off , or remaining on board for the next trip, about 90%, after looking at our boats, signed-off, so there had to be a new crew from the reserve list. It was quite a coincidence that one of the crew who came on board was a Wellingborough man, I have met him many times since in the Wellingborough Branch of the Royal British Legion Club. This man was quite a gambler and card-player, I watched him quite a lot, he seemed to take plenty of winnings off the American troops we eventually had on board. We next sailed for the Mediterranean. Initially we were not aware of what our duty was to be, but we soon found out. On the way out we had several exercises of abandon-ship. The Americans, knowing it to be an exercise very often did not co-operate, which did not please the Captain. He eventually gave the order that non-participants would be immediately put in 'irons', which soon livened up attendance.
We made the assault on the Italian mainland, we were detailed to land the troops at Salerno Bay, about 30 miles South of Naples on the 3rd September 1943. The United States troops did not make the success of the landing they should have done. They did not, "get their heads down", as our men would have done. On my way back to the ship, the US General signalled me to pick him up. He was fumming, and his language was awful,"----suckers", was mentioned several times,saying to me, "for Gods sake Jack, take me ashore where those -----suckers are all running about like a bunch of lunatics". "What Shore?" I said. As they were of different colours. "Any,", he said, which I did without hesitation. "Thanks Jack", he said, as I lowered the ramp, and he went ashore like a rocket. The landings in the end were successful, and the Orontes sailed into Naples on the 3rd September, being one of the first ships to enter the Bay. Vesuvius, was looking as if it would erupt at any time, which it in fact did in the not too distant future.
We came back to Britain, all the LCA Crews were sent to Baseldon near Southampton. There was more extensive training of troops in full battle gear. We did have some casulaties, some got out in rather high water, turned over and drowned, owing to the weight they were carrying on their backs. We also had training in aircraft recognition, largely because of the experience at Dieppe, where it was claimed by the RAF that friendly aircraft were shot down owing to the RN order to shoot at any aircraft flying under 2,000 feet. That was automatically considered to be the enemy. Unfortunately at Dieppe some of our aircraft came much lower, and were brought down by our own gunners. To avoid this tragedy on the 2nd Front, white rings were marked on the allied aircraft wings. No leave was given to the boat crews, but the station personnel were allowed to leave as usual. We the Crews, got together to find out in the perimeter to where an outing could be managed, when it was possible for a few men to get home during the week-end and return the next day to report for Divisions. This was found and a very few - about 3, got away on a Saturday, and returned to be able to report on Monday morning. During the Sunday Divisions that were not checked as they should have been, defaulters names were answered by someone else. We called the escape route the 'Burma Road'. We had a shock one morning, when the Officer who was taking the Aircraft Recognition Course said, "you need not worry chaps, I know the Burma Road exists". He was as good as his word, and did not give the game away. The same officer was on duty when I was put in charge of the sentries on the Main Gate of the Camp. It was a known fact that at weekends, the Ambulance was used by the Senior Cook, the Vituals PO, the Camp Chief PO and others to take stocks of foodstuffs packed in their bags that had come from Camp Stores. This had been going on for some time, and never had a check been made. "Strip that Ambulance", he said, "I am going to have it searched and it is your duty to do this thoroughly". I just had to carry out the order with the help of the guards. To cut a long story short, all of the personnel in the Ambulance were put on a charge immediately. I have found out since, they were all demoted to the lowest rank. The practice of selling food was done regularly in many towns by many servicemen and was called "rabbits".
We left Baseldon and were sent to Southampton, to pick-up a draft of United States personnel from a ship called the "Empire Spearhead". It was not long before we came to the conclusion that something "big" was going to happen. Troops were coming in from trains in their thousands to the docks where we were mored. Ships were being stored, and troops allocated to their various vessels. On other parts of the Coast, the large landing craft, such as LCTs and LSTs, were being loaded with tanks and heavy vehicles. On 2nd June 1944, we sailed for the Solent, off the Isle of Wight. The area was covered with ships of various sizes. The King and Queen inspected all the the craft in line ahead, for miles along the coastline. Afterwards, we were all given an extra tot of rum, which was given to all ratings taking part, applying the term,"Splice the Mainbrace". The invasion of Normandy, code named "Overlord", was about ready to take place. On the 5th June, owing to poor weather conditions, it was postponed for 24 hours. At the apropriate time, I was duty Coxswain and was given the message to this effect: to take around to all ships stationed in the Solent. The boat I was given was supplied by the US Navy, and it was a beautiful craft, which was easy to navigate for this special duty. It broke my heart the next morning, 6th June, when we sailed. I had to release the boat from our ship, for it to be torn to pieces by the oncoming vessels; such is the price of war. In all my experince of action this was the most difficult task to carry out. When we arrived just outside Arrowmanches, there was a whole fleet of tank landing craft, containing rocket launchers that were constantly assailing the French Coast. I assumed nothing could have lived on the receiving end of that assault. The Mulberry Docks were in place and it was an easy proposition landing our troops. Within a few hours a landing strip had been made at the top of the cliff for aircraft. The troops who had been wounded were flown back to Britain direct, in rotation, there was no delay. After we had carried out our duty, we returned to England along a 'pathway'; of bouys, which were set out like a road, inward and outward routes being marked. These 'lanes'had been specifically cleared by minesweepers. When we arrived to pick-up our next consignment of troops, we were informed that the weather had so deteriorated that we had to wait until 22nd June, before we could again depart with our next consignment. We noted that cargo vessels had been blown on the beaches through the storms that had prevailed during the previous days. Cargoes were salvaged, the storms had even destroyed the Mulberry for Omaha Beach, code-named Gold Beach, where we previously landed our troops on Day 1. This was our last trip in, and we sailed back to England where the 51st Combined Operations personnel were disbanded, and all the British Crews and maintenance staff were put into general service. The "Daily Sketch", a newspaper of the day, sent down their photographer to record the flotilla from the "Empire Spearhead", and they inscibed a large shield inscribed with thanks by the Nation for 4 years of active service in the various ships, not forgetting the overall importance of "Operation Overlord&". I have saved a photograph and a photostat of a letter from Montgomery of Alemain dated 18/12/46 to the Managing Director of the Glen Line, stating that without ships like the Glengyle we soldiers could never have won our battles, indicating the superb gallantry and devotion to duty of those who served in ships like the Glengyle, whose ship's company were a shining example of what can be done by human endevour in time of war.
Thus ended my time in active service, being one of the lucky ones who 'made it'. The Crews sent to start their time in General Servicewent to Brighton and were housed in Courtney Gate Hotel, on the beach side of Hove. My duties mostly consisted of taking our lads for medical treatment at the Grand Hotel, that had also been taken over by the Royal Navy. Usually after marching the men down to the Medical Centre, I was then free to do the rounds of Brighton. I took the opportunity to have my dear wife Norah stay in a hotel. At last, after 5 years to be near me and to enjoy at last a little time together, after a period when only correspondence kept us together. I only had a few weeks in Brighton, before being sent in charge of Naval Ratings doing farm duties at Farrington, Berkshire. The time was December 1944, and we were housed under canvas with no heating and only our blankets to keep us warm. These were damp, owing to the inclement weather at this time of year. Our duties were to pick up Swedes, Potatoes and Sugar Beet. We did have a place where we were supplied with good food and hot drinks, and a place for assembly, but at night we had to return to the marquee accomodation. The Officer in charge lived locally and was quite happy with his position. Many of the ratings contracted very severe colds, and two had to be taken to hospital with pneumonia. I had made several efforts, through the Officer, to get things changed, because I nearly had a mutiny on my hands. However, I called them together just before I was coming home on week-end leave, and told them that if they supported me and did nothing tragic, I would send a letter to my local MP Wing -Commander James (whose son had been killed in the Royal Navy), of our plight at this camp. He must have made good use of it, because we were transferred to a new establishment forthwith. One thing that hit us and caused an upset, was that Italian Prisioners, doing the same job were living under four walls and a roof with an abundance of heat. Because of my letter, I was soon in trouble with the high command of the Royal Navy. There was a signal sent to Farrington Barracks, where we were sent, for me to report to Portsmouth Barracks, and to see the Defaulters Officer. When I was interviewed, he made me feel I had committed a crime of an outstanding importance. According to the Kings Regulations, a rating was not allowed to contact his MP. I was put under a warrant, with possible arrest, due to see the Barracks Admiral the next day. When I arrived at the Defaulters' Room, I was put at the back of men who were shackled. I wondered what I was in for. When it was my turn to enter the room to see the Admiral, the Master at Arms looked through the small hole in the door and said to me, "By George old chap, the powers to be are having your case well discussed". On arrival in the room, I was asked if I had given instructions for the letter to be sent. I replied that I had and gave my full reasons, seemingly, I had upset the Admiral at Chatham Barracks, whose officer was in charge. The Admiral at Portsmouth said that he had received a letter from Chatham saying that I was unfit to be in charge of ratings, and that I should be dealt with severely. At the end of proceedings I was put on possible arrest, and sent to Fareham, where procedures would be concluded. After a couple of days I was to report to the Administration Office where I would loose my good conduct stripe, but my Leading Seaman position would remain. Of course, I did loose the extra cash that I had for this award, but was quite happy with the result. It was not long before I was again required at the Regulation Office, to learn that the Admiralty regreted my loss, that my position would be restored, all lost monies recovered, and all records erased. It has since come to my attention, that such rules have been changed. Perhaps my case helped in this respect. It was not long before I was given another draft to go to HMS Hinstock, a Royal Naval Airstation, at Wellington, Shropshire, to be given the position of Regulation Officer. I was responsible for the rum ration and discipline in the Camp. Every evening when I was on duty, I took the patrol out to walk the town to see that the ratings were out of the Public Houses on time, and that if they caused any trouble, were put under arrest. The patrol liked to be out with me, as I told them to take off their gaters and enjoy a pint or two, before formally seeing to the ratings. I remaind at Wellington until I was de-mobbed, but I did have a great deal of trouble, many times the Police came to see me, some incidents were rather bad, on one occasion a woman had been raped, but many other serious cases came to my attention. These ratings had never had any seatime, and were only in the service for maintenance and cleaning duties, and were not used to the seamans' discipline. I had the power with the Officer in charge, to give a few extra hours leave to the ratings if they had trouble getting a train home. If a rating had a good working record, I gave them this privilege. There was always one who would take advantage, and I had one. He came to me as he had done in the past, and was given a privilege several times. I then received a bad report of his behaviour and working ability. He came to me again and I said to him that he would not be granted a pass this time. He gave me some abuse, saying,"you seamen give me the shits". I put him on a charge, and he went before the Officer. The said gentleman asked me what I should give him, and I said that I would give him 10 days no IO's Sir, and that I will make it my duty to take him. He did, and I am glad to say that after I had carried it out in true seaman like manner on the parade ground, his next report was good. I do believe I gave him the shits!
VJ Day, and hostilities came to an end, I knew I was near my time to be de-mobbed, so to catch-up with the leave owing me, I put in for VE and VJ Days together with the rest, and was given a months leave. By this time it was October 1945. In November, I returned to HMS Hinstock and was surprised to find another rating at my desk. After asking what this was about, he said. "Are you Bowman?" "Yes", I replied. "You should be de-mobbed now", he said. Apparently, this was because I volunteered at the start of the War. You can gather how this affected me, "I was over the Moon", with delight. I went to my cabin on the site, packed up my belongings, returned my uniform to the stores, and with the help of tipples from the PO's Mess and my own rum ration, took a cycle from the store and reported to the Medical Officer whose surgery was quite a distance away. I do not think I took a straight line! The Doctor examined me, and commented that I had been celebrating the end of my active service. This is an excuse for your blood pressure being a little high, so I will not fail you on this, only to wish you all the best in Civvy Street. You are A1.
This was the end of my voluntary service with the Forces, I am glad God was with me, or I would never have made-it.
ACTIVITIES BEYOND ORDINARY OPERATIONS
I was drafted on to the ship Glengyle, 10th September 1940, which (as was mentioned before), was a new invasion ship, built on the Clyde just past Glasgow. We were on her during the trials before being commissioned in the RN, which tookplace on the Clyde. Our ship's First Officer, was a retired Captain named Villiers RN. The Officer in charge of the Flotilla, as appointed was L/CNR (Lieutenant Commander) Lowe RN who had been a Captain in the Merchant Navy previously. There were also several other Sub-Lieutenants and also RNVR's (Royal Navy Volunteer Reserves), who joined us. Being the first crew formed for operational purposes, we were given the number of 51st. I presume the first 50 was put on to confuse the enemy, and persuade them that we had many invasion ships.
We made our first trip on the Clyde, soon after the ship was commissioned to Loch Fyne, Invarary. The Duke of Argyle's Castle overlooked the Loch. We dropped anchor in the Loch, where another Glen Line ship, the Glenhern joined us. It was not long before we knew what the move was about. Several British Regiments (including some Scotts members), came on board to be trained on our invasion boats. It was a long and hazardous task, which gave the troops some really hard tasks, by climbing the small mountains which surrounded the Loch Fyne area. I do not think most British troops will have fond memories of Invarary. I have subsequently met many who had completed service in the Army, who spent some time on the exercises in our boats at Invarary.
I was an O/S (Ordinary Seaman), as were most others. There were a few who had long service records, but the majority were 'Hostilities Only'. We had lessons in seamanship, parts of the ship, sailing, navigation, shackles and cables, knots of various kinds, and especially discipline, which is number one in Royal Navy. I studied my Seamanship Manual that was given us when we were at trainning barracks in Portsmouth. We were taught by a Bosun named John Allsbrook on board. He was on the ship, the whole of the time that I was. He was responsible for passing AB's (Able Seaamen). I am pleased to say that I passed the examinations with very good marks, and this helped me go for promotion in later years.
After a few months at Invarary, we sailed for KGV Docks Glasgow. One day, during that time, a message came over the ship's Tannoy System. I was told to report to the Ship's Captain. It was quite a shock to be called for by the Captain, but what followed was quite a relief. He said that he had been looking into my records, and found that I was a tailor by trade, and that my home town was Wellingborough. He started telling me about his education in the town, as a boarder at Wellingborough High School. This was the Public School, known to locals colloquially, as the 'Plumb School'. He continued to say, that why he had asked to see me, was because of my trade, and that I could help him. He wanted the white sleeves of his shirt to show one inch below his tunic sleeves. He had long arms and most of the shirts were made too short for him. So I would need to sew another piece into the arm of the shirt. He gave me one of his shirts and another to cut up and use the pieces. I told him that it would take me some time to do the alteration by hand. He suggested that I ask the Yeoman of Signals, whether I could use his sewing machine. That was the only machine on board ship. This I did, but the Yeoman told me in no uncertain terms, what I could do. Suggesting I go to Hell. I did sew the first shirt by hand, and on presenting this to the Captain, told him what the Yeoman had said. The Captain, then asked me whether I had a light machine at home. If so, he said he would grant my request to have it brought on board. He would also give me several days leave to go home to arrange for the machine to be delivered.
You can imagine what several days leave would mean, like music to my ears, as we had not had any leave for many months. I informed my wife Norah, who was Secretary to the Manager of Wellingborough Co-operative Society. She promptly managed to get the machine packed up at the Office, and sent off to the address I had given her. It was a grand few days leave, and when I got back to the ship, the machine was already there. The reception I got from the rest of the ships' company was something else. However, the machine was duly unpacked and placed on our mess-deck, where I could work and do the necessary repairs etc for the rest of the time I was on board the Glengyle.
In another case, to relieve me of part of the ship's duties, LT/CDR Lowe our Flotilla Officer asked me whether I would be kind enough to act as his steward. He was not happy with the ship's duty stewards. It was not a hard task, as he was very tidy, which I presumed was as a result of his being an ex- Merchant Navy Captain. He was also a very brave man, during the time I was with him, he was decorated twice (DSO with Bar). Whenever we went on a job, he was the first to get on the beach, and took a line off, to steady his boat with the Bow-man. He was well liked, and the crews were all for him, his being an unusual practice for an officer. LT/CDR Lowe had a facial likeness to Churchill, and he, so I am told, as a Merchant Navy Captain (pre-war), ruled his ship with vigour. He always instilled strict discipline. At times when on evacuation duties, he was the Officer, who settled the troops in the correct parts of the Ship, to get as many on board as could be safely accomodated. LT/CDR Lowe made me his messenger, and called me his 'shadow'. On the occasions that I occupied this duty, I did not go out on the boats, as it was my duty to assist him housing the troops. The job of making troops as comfortable as possible, was even more difficult during periods of attack.
Away from operations, the Crew elected me as their representative on the Canteen Committee, this was to look after their interest, so far as the NAFFI was managed. I was also the Captain of the Ship's Cricket and Football Teams, as I had considerable experience from Civvy Street. Having played a great deal of amateur sport, representing Wellingborough Town in its Cricket and Football Teams. I might say, at this point that we did have two good teams, which proved themselves very successfull against teams from other ships, as well as various groups of Army and Air Force personnel.
Even beyond the sports arena, taking all the Ship's Officers and Crew, we had a talented lot of fellows. Two of the officers, who in Civvy Street, were employed at the Windmill Theatre in London, managed to get together a good group of entertainers, who gave valuable service entertaining the rest of us, and any troops who were on board, during periods of relaxation. On our mess-deck, we also managed to get a piano installed, well battened down and secure against all weathers, we had two ratings who were very good pianists. With so many activities taking place, I was often busy making costumes, and helping produce the many garments that were required for these types of entertainment productions. I even made the garments, required and used in the Ship's Ceremony, when crossing the Equator. The ceremony was called 'King Neptune's Revenge'. The Doctor's outfit was made in black hessian, as a full dress coat. We stored these and used them time and again when our duties took us across the Equator.
The Ratings, used the top of my sewing machine as an ironing table, so I asked the Captain whether he could find a place where I could carry on my work, as it seemed quite an asset to the Ship, and I wanted the machine to be kept safe. He did give me a small messroom, which was really kept for non-commissioned officers to dine in. It was excess to requirements, so I was able to carry out garment repair and other sewing tasks for the Officers and Ratings. Besides these duties, I was acting as steward for LT/CDR Lowe RN, and officially a member of the boat crews. So with all these duties, the time went quickly. I did not even have much time to think, which was a great help, as we were only told from time to time, what operations the crews of landing craft would have to perform.
Once, the Officers who were in charge of a Platoon, who were making landings on enemy beaches, were given a silk map, showing the whole of the beach heads and inland roads. I was told to find a place on their uniforms, where these maps could be sewn-in. The Battle Dress Blouses, was the place chosen, where these maps could be well hidden, but where they were easily accessible, if the need were too arise . Should the Officers be captured by the enemy, these maps were unlikely to be found. I was given cotton, the same as was used in the original manufacture.
The work required some careful unpicking. I took out the stitching that held up the top of the belt, noted the size of the stitching, and the amount of stitches to the inch. Inserted the folded maps, pressed them as flat as possible, and re-stitched the back of the belt. This could easily be unpicked with a knife, razor-blade or pair of scissors.
When the United States Troops landed in North Africa, as instructed on Oram beach. The French would not allow our troops in, the reason that was given was that, the British had shelled a naval ship that was stationed in the Harbour. However, the true version that was told to us was that the French started to fire on our fleet first, and unfortunately we responded, and killed quite a number of French citizens. To make the landing with less casualties, Petain agreed only to allow the United States troops to land. Each of the men, had to have a 'Stars and Stripes' sewn onto their uniform sleeves. I had the duty to help with this. The US people had been given the material with the flags, and it was each soldier's job to sew on his own flag. Of course, they soon got in touch with me, to help them out. I willingly did the work, and was given some monetary tips for my trouble, some of which were quite large, considering the job. When I came home, I was able to buy my wife Norah, a new bicycle.
The Officers also took advantage of my abilities, and I was regularly asked to sew gold braid, on to their uniforms, and also carry out some repair work. I did make a complete uniform for CDR Blake RN another officer who had been employed by the Glen Line in peacetime. This was, to my knowledge, the first officers uniform, ever to be made on board ship in the history of the Royal Navy, for which I am justly proud. It must be remembered in context, that there was never a rank of Ship's Tailor. The only person on board to have any similar skill was the Yeoman of Signals, responsible for working with the flags, and it was the first Captain who gave me permission to have a small sewing machine on board. On all the ships, the Captain has considerable discretion to give orders - whatever they are. In this case as events turned out, the order could be argued to have been in the interest of a functioning ship. I considered myself lucky enough to be able to continue my trade, to keep-my-hand-in, as it were, and this gave me an additional interest during the long months at sea. When I was demobilized, I was grateful that I had been able to keep up with my trade. This continuation helped me in my decision during the early post-war years, to set-up my own business.
After the evacuations and the successful landings (including Greece, North Africa, Sicilly, and mainland Italy), in the Mediterranean. The Malta Campaign, and the Dieppe Raid on the French Coast, with the HMS Glengyle, I was transferred to the Orontes, late in 1943. It was a converted passenger liner, which during peacetime had been mainly used on the Liverpool to Australia route. I managed to get my sewing machine packed-up from the Glengyle and sent home, which then ended my time as a Navy Tailor. My duties on this new ship, were as Leading Seaman / Coxswain, to the Landing Craft that were used as lifeboats when at sea, as replacements for the usual lifeboats of the Merchant Navy.
We picked-up the Orontes M N, just off Southampton. The Lifeboat positions on the ship, housed our LCA's, instead of the normal lifeboats as carried on the Merchant Navy Liners. The Davits, supporting the LCA's had to be specially strengthened to carry the extra weight. We picked-up a miscellaneous list of passengers, including military prisoner types, some from the Navy, who had refused to go to sea. They all came on-board shackled, to be released when the ship was outside the ten mile limit. There were also some RAF personnel, who were to be dropped-off in South Africa, for Rhodesia, where pilot training was carried-out. In addition, a large number of ENSA theatrical personnel, to be taken to various parts of the Middle East, to entertain the troops. The rest were United States troops that were bound for the Mediterranean as reserves. In charge of us was an RN LT General, a 'service man', a two 'straight-ringer', who was concerned only with the discipline of the Naval Ratings on-board the Orontes. Our own Officers, were part of our crews, all RNVR's. One Lieutenant was in charge of boat crews, and the others (RNVR Sub-Lieutenants), were subordinate to the above, holding the senior rank. It was not long before the senior man made an impression. On his rounds, he was extremely particular about the cleanliness of the Crew's Mess-deck, and examined it as if with a fine toothcomb. Even to the extent of placing his hand over the superstructure, which was right near the deck-head. If he did get a little dust on his hand, he made the Crews clean the Mess-deck from top to bottom again. I am afraid to say, he was not at all popular with the Crews, perhaps he was a little jealous of the many 'outings' the Crews had been through. He being a service man, whereas the Crews were hostilities only ratings. In general we did come in for quite a lot of bad feeling from Regular Service personnel. Quite a large measure of punishment was measured-out to crew members at Tribunals over really trivial matters. At one time, it looked very much as though we were going to rebel, on this ship. When making his rounds there was a considerable amount of hostility against this man. Eventually, as a result of this dissent, this Officer called the crews together, and told them they were on the verge of a mutiny. He issued the order that, the following night, we would have to take off all the holding gear on the landing craft, and then replace them to his satisfaction, whilst obviously still at sea. This was considered, not only unnecessary and unwarranted, but also quite dangerous considering the night-time activity and the motion of the vessel, whilst still at sea. Anyway this task was accomplished, which took us all night. The rest of the time, we endeavoured to please him. Our own Officers played a considerable part by seeing that we carried out, in a reasonable manner, all the duties alloted to us. After this, we did have a fairly good relationship with this superior officer in charge of naval personnel. He may have seen a red-light, who knows? During our stay on the Orontes, when we were heading for Southern Africa, the naval defaulters, who boarded, at Liverpool, shackled, raided the Lifeboats for supplies, and took away quite a large part of the store. These supplies had been specifically set-aside for use with the boats in an emergency, and the whole matter was seen as quite serious. The episode was dealt with according to naval custom. The guilty were taken to the upper deck, with a Gunnery Petty Officer in charge, and made to 'double' around the deck with a rifle held above their heads, until they were ready to drop. The RAF Officers on-board, were disgusted, at the way the punishment was carried out. It was, in their estimation barbaric. However, it had to be pointed out to them the seriousness of the offence, and to consider the fact that they might have to abandon ship, in those very same boats.
In South Africa, we dispatched the RAF personnel, and the United States troops, and took on-board a large number of South African troops, complete with a black military band. The band was housed in the lowest part of the ship, what might be called 'the holds'. At frequent intervals during our trip to Alexandria, they were brought on to the Upper Deck to play music to entertain the passengers on-board. The main contingent of South African troops, were to be given the duty to relieve our existing troops for the next military operation, which turned out to be the invasion of Salerno, on the Italian Mainland. For this campaign, we took on-board a large number of US troops. After concluding this operation, we remained in the Bay of Naples for a while. I was able to visit Visouvius, and it was looking as though it might erupt at any time. It did erupt later, soon after we arrived back in England. Thus the activites of the 51st Flotilla in the Mediterranean, came to a timely and successful end. We actually spent some three-and-a-half years in this area (having been through the Suez Canal some 28 times), that concluded with a very proud feeling that we had done our duty.
Responsibility and development
During my time in the Navy, I gained increasing responsibility, reading a great deal about seamanship to improve my position and responsibility. All this background work was relevant to my current position, and connected with the running of the Ship's special duties as an Able Seaman. Regarding the special duties, as part of Combined Operations, attached to ALC's, I studied Morse, Semaphore and Navigation. So much so, that by the time I left the Glengyle, I had passed-out as Coxswain AB. When I arrived back in England after the Mediterranean, at the first opportunity given me (by the officer in charge of the Flotilla), I was sent to Portsmouth, to take the examination for the position of Leading Seaman. One of the main parts of the examination was, 'Power of Command'. If one could pass this, he had a chance of reaching the required rank. The test was to take command of a contingent of ratings on squad drill, on the Parade Ground, with a Royal Marine band playing a marching tune. To do this was no mean task, if I may say so. Anyway, I passed-out. I had 87% for Power of Command, and 78% for Seamanship, which put me near the top of the passes, for seamen who took the examination. The rank of L/S Coxswain, gave me quite a promotion, which helped me later on when I was in the 51st Flotilla (I actually qualified in 1944). I had a boat and crew to look after, and be responsible for them. Furthermore, I was put forward for additional promotion to Petty Officer, which would mean another set of examinations.
Being recommended for promotion, was very satisfying to me. After the 'Second Front', and for the rest of my time in the RN, I mostly took the duties of a Petty Officer (PO) in the Administration Department of General Service. I entered this after 'Empire Spearhead' (the Second Front), operation. The conclusion of which saw Combined Operastions disbanded - for obvious reasons. I was transferred to the Fleet Airarm Station, Honstock, at Wellington, Shropshire. My main duties were disciplinary, because the condition of the Station in this respect, was very much under par, relative to disciplinary conduct in the Royal Navy. I am afraid I had quite a task, as the Police were frequent visitors to the Station. After a few months, I managed to get things working better, within my area of responsibility. Sometimes, I suffered a rough ride, being attached to the seaman branch, I was often given the name 'Seaman Bastard'. One of the duties I did myself was to take charge of the Naval Patrol Service rounds. This consisted of making 'Rounds' of the Town, to keep order amongst service personnel. Most of the trouble was when the Fleet Airarm Ratings had a few too many drinks. I was able to recommend to the Officer in charge, a system for granting leave. Recommending extra hours of leave for those personnel who had difficulty getting home on a normal weekend pass. I was also responsible for a part in the 'grog' allocation, done on a daily basis. 'Grog', is the Rum allocation - the Officers were measures were 'neaters', and the ratings had three parts water added. Once this was set-up, the Master At Arms actually made the allocation at mid-day.
I have now come to the end of the explanation of my duties in the Royal Navy from 1939 to 1946. My last leave, almost exactly coordinated with my de-mobilization, being one of the first to leave, on the first-in-first-out principle. Most of my time as a 'Hostilities Only' serviceman consisted of duty in the Glengyle, during my service as a crew member of LCA's. In my lifetime, I will never forget the years I spent in the Royal Navy. It was, and is a great service, which serves our country well. Being attached to a Special Service (Combined Operations), I think was a lucky chance. Formed after France capitulated, in the early part of the War. Fortunately, my luck held out, and I came home without a scratch, for which I am most appreciative still. I give thanks to the Lord above.
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