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Journey through life.

by derbycsv

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Archive List > Royal Navy

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Alec William George Penstone
Location of story: 
North Russian Convoys
Background to story: 
Royal Navy
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
04 July 2005

I lived in Tottenham in London as a child,my Father had died in 1939 having served in WW1.I left school at 14 and started work in a factory making duplicators for Gestetner,but when war was declared it went over to making munitions.When the blitz started I volunteered as an ARP messenger.One day,I remember I had to help search an Anderson shelter that had been bombed.There was a very small opening at the back of them,and because I was the smallest,I had to go in.There were dead bodies in there.When they were bought out to go to the morgue a foot was missing off one of them,so I had to go back in and look for it.I was 15 years old ,just a kid.
I joined the Royal Navy at 17 and became a Submarine detector on HMS Campania.I did a 6 month course on the Irish and North sea patrols and then joined the Russian Convoys.Winston Churchill said it was the most horrendous journey in the world,and he was right.I did about 10 convoys up there.One time we were under attack from an enemy submarine,I could hear the whoosh of the torpedo coming towards us,but it must have been our lucky day as it swerved and missed us.In Russia we were only allowed 2 hours leave on shore and if we tried to get past the sentry box,the guard ( who incidentally was a woman),would fire a warning shot in the air.If you tried to go further the next shot meant death.
One of my jobs was helping to put bodies over the side,but first we had to stitch them inside their hammock.When we got to the dead man's nose a stitch would be put through it,a very old tradition.A chain would then be fixed to their feet,so when they went overboard they would be standing up.In the Navy death was called 'Crossing the Bar'.The terrible thing was these men were my shipmates.We were coming back from Russia once during a force 12 gale,it was off the scale.We battened everything down,for three days it was like it,and on the fourth day at exactly 4pm we were told to make a full turn around.90 foot waves swept over the ship,lockers broke uo,food spilled everywhere.The petrol pipes cracked spilling fuel on top of the water on the ship,then a ventilation fan caught fire and the only thing you could see was fire sitting on top of the water.How we got out of that I don't know,but there is a saying about the spirit of British sailors.
The Germans would have cursed,
The Italians would have cried,
But British Sailors laughing,
Got away with it.
One of the men I knew got torpedoed along with quite a few others,they got picked up by another ship,but that too was sunk.Him and another chap survived to be picked up again,and be sunk for a third time.
I became Coxen of a 16ft motorboat taking Rear Admiral McGregor to conferences.We had to go into restricted areas sometimes,and even though we were flying the Admirals flag and the white ensign we still got fired at.I was in port in the North of Scotland with the boat being lifted out of the water.It had a massive hook and slings to lift it up the side of the ship.For whatever reason the boat got caught in the ships armour plating and tipped up.The slings broke under the force and the boat fell 25feet back into the water.I plunged down with it and was knocked unconscious and broke my nose.I was picked up and had to report to the 1st Lieutenant the following day.I was charged with,breaking and entering a ship,losing a 16ft motor boat,losing a sheepskin jacket and losing a set of lights.There was a full enquiry and three of the charges were dropped.I was fined £6 8s 3d for losing the set of lights.
I returned to my barracks to be told we were going to the Far East.We were given 5 hours leave,We sailed from Liverpool and came back exactly 1 year later.I was demobbed in September 1946 and although I was on the reserve list for a while,I never got called back.
During my time with the Royal Navy,and when on leave I met a girl named Gladys.She was a dancer in pantomime,and I should have gone to see her on the opening night,but it was very foggy and by the time I got there she had left.I met her the next day for lunch,which was Spam and chips.We got engaged in October 1944 and married in July 1945,and so we too are celebrating our own 60th anniversary this year.
This story was told to volunteer Kathy Brady and written with Alecs permission.

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