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15 October 2014
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MINESWEEPING MEMORIES

by BBC Southern Counties Radio

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Archive List > Royal Navy

Contributed by 
BBC Southern Counties Radio
People in story: 
JAMES CLARK, LT. RNVR.
Location of story: 
ENGLAND FRANCE AND BELGIUM
Background to story: 
Royal Navy
Article ID: 
A6797064
Contributed on: 
08 November 2005

This story was submitted to the People's War site by Georgie Scozzi on behalf of James Clark with his permission and he fully understands the site's terms and conditions.

I was in a restricted occuptation at the outbreak of war, but was called up in June 1941 at the age of 27. I didn't want to go into the Army as I wanted to help save life not take it, so I joined the Royal Navy and was assigned to a Fleet minesweeper, HMS RHYL as an ordinary seaman, a month later. Minesweeping was a daytime job, with five or six ships in a flotilla, and once we swept from Felixstowe towards occupied Holland where we destroyed at least 100 moored mines, the most I can remember in one operation in a few days. Eight months later I was commissioned as a Sub Lieutenant and by September 1942, I was sweeping in HMS MARETTA in the Dover Straits. I can remember how we were in more danger of the falling shrapnel from our own land guns firing at doodle-bugs, than we were from any mines we found! Also, the huge German guns across the Channel were trained on the high tower of the brewery in Dover itself, and on a clear day, you could see the flash from the fired guns and knew that in about twenty seconds time the town would be hit. I was always surprised that there weren't more fatlaities than there were, given the size of those big shells.
In 1943, I was transferred to Motor Minesweeper 56, (MMS), a purpose built wooden ship, which like HMS MARETTA, carried a Captain, a Lieutenant, and a Chief Petty Officer but had a smaller crew of fifteen men, mainly fishermen and hostilities only ratings. I was the Number One (Lieutenant) on board and we were a happy bunch, more like a family, as it was more relaxed than on a Fleet minesweeper. Just before D Day, we had a special sweep fitted for river work, and in October 1944, we were sent to Arromanches, at the mouth of the River Seine, to begin our job of sweeping the river up as far as Rouen. This was so that the Allied liberty ships could get supplies through to the Army. Imagine how we felt as the first Allied ships that the French people had seen since the occupation; the local people would ring bells and offer us drinks when they saw us.
In November 1944, we were sent to the Hook of Holland, to sweep the River Schelde up to Antwerp. It was pretty dangerous as the Germans were still resisting in N. Holland and they were firing the awful V2 rockets which had one ton of explosive in them. We came close to being killed once, as a V2 landed almost alongside us on the river bank. Luckily, it had been raining so much that the rocket buried itself in the bank, and showered us with mud instead of injuring us severely! After the war ended, we were transferred to Sheerness and swept the Thames Estuary. Unfortunately, in October 1945, I suffered a broken knee cap when anchoring in a storm and was invalided out of the Navy in May 1946.

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