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William Gillan COPRA

by mcleanmuseum

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Archive List > Royal Navy

William Gillan of Greenock

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People in story: 
William Gillan
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Royal Navy
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11 August 2005

Mr Willie Gillan

I was called up for my medical in Oct 1939, I passed grade 1 but was allowed to finish my apprenticeship. I was called up for the navy on my 23rd birthday (what a birthday present).

There were quite a lot of Greenock chaps called up at the same time and all of them for the Royal Navy. We had a lot of Farewell Parties in various clubs. We had to wait for a few weeks for our Trade Tests, so we played football to pass the time. The wages while we were waiting was 2 shillings a day, in fact it was only 1 shilling, then it doubled. There was a PTI chap there; his name Toju. He was only about 4’ 10” in height but he was a black belt in judo and boy did he love to put himself about. When we were the in class room having a lecture he would come barging in and say he’d heard his name getting abused. He would then challenge the tallest chap in the room, so when he got no takers he put the numbers up to three, and some of our class were over six feet in height.

We were allowed out at night, one night a chap called Robert Miller a Joiner from Greenock, told us he heard that we were not getting out after this night, so he went out and we found Robert as full as a Lord lying on the pavement, so we took his rings off, all his money off him and put him in The British Sailors Society.
We went to breakfast the next morning and there was Robert, he said he got mugged. We said we all were very sorry for him. You should have seen his face when we gave him all his gear back.

I was transferred to Combined Operations Landing Craft. We bought our rations out the NAFFI, we catered for ourselves and we fed like fighting cocks, the best of everything except the sleeping accommodation. You had to be very lucky to get a place to hang your hammock.

The next step was Porchester Creek, it was like a desert island, anyway we only had one dinghy on board for a crew of about twenty so four of the chaps on board went out one night to explore the place. They came back a few hours after and said they found a little pub so the next night four went out then two rowed back so we carried on the relay until we were all at the pub except those on duty but it was some doing for the sake of a pint. The following night we saw a dinghy tied to a stake so we took it in tow and that was the problem solved as we thought. We used the two dinghies for quite a while until one afternoon the police came visiting us along with the owner. They asked us where we got the dinghy so we said we found it floating by, anyway we got away with it as we had repaired it all and there was no charge to face.

We moved about different creeks and waterways for training and then onto Gosport Harbour where we got a right blasting. I think Jerry threw everything at Gosport except the kitchen sink, of course he knew we would have sold it.
No one was allowed ashore so we knew it wouldn’t be long before we were on our way. We went to some other harbour to assemble and I never saw so many landing craft in my life, we could walk from one to another and not touch land.

We got a leave before we went to various assembly points, the English chaps got a long weekend at Christmas, and the Jocks got New Year. When I got my leave over New Year and it was time to go back I left Greenock, caught a train to Glasgow but when I got there and saw the crowds waiting for the London train I got a train back home. My wife was really annoyed but this happened three nights in a row so on the fourth night when I arrived in Glasgow there wasn’t much of a crowd but I was AWOL. so while in line waiting my turn this Naval Police came over to me and asked me where I was going. It was a good job he didn’t ask for my leave pass, anyway he said, “follow me” and took me right up to the train, put me in a carriage and said to have a nice sleep. I was sweating buckets.

When I got back to base I asked one of my crew to take the Duty Officer out of his office for awhile so I went in, put my pass in a corner of the office floor and left. The officer saw me a couple of days after and said I never left him my leave pass. I said he wasn’t in so I just left it on his desk so he said well it is all right you are back.

Before going to France everyone from P.O. up was given a holster and a revolver. When we said we are not going to kill many Germans with a revolver he said the revolvers are for deserters. After taking another really heavy air raid it was time to leave for France. It must have been a day before all the rest of the ships and landing craft left, as our landing craft was a converted “London Barge” with a speed of 4 knots maximum. When we arrived all the Battle Wagons were already there. Firing their heavy guns the noise was really frightening. There was some Germans firing from a Machine Gun Post but we made it to Sword Beach. Our job was to clear all the debris off the beach so that the ships could get nearer with all sorts of stuff (Petrol, Provisions etc.)
We were there about 4 weeks I think then one morning we heard someone shouting the craft is sinking but we made it to the beach. There were some soldiers there when we appeared soaking wet and all they were asking for was a smoke. It was amazing as the driver was a Greenock chap like myself and in fact he stayed in the next street to me, his name was Joe Gallagher so he offered to take me up to his camp. I accepted his offer but I told him I had to report to the Royal Marines camp but I wouldn’t be long.
I went to the Gunner’s camp, introduced to the Captain, had a big mug of hot tea and dried myself off and stayed for a short time. I said I will have to get back but he (the Captain) said just hold on for a little while and then it happened, I saw the Bombers going over to Germany. What a sight that was.
The skipper of our craft was a young Edinburgh chap, 18 years of age (a really great lad) but he should have taken a list of the survivors but he didn’t anyway he called on me (as one Scot to another) and showed a report he got from the M.P’s. They said they had arrested someone who they thought was a spy so I told the Skipper I would deal with it. I borrowed a couple of gaiters and put them on then I took a couple of sailors and went down to see the Military Police. As soon as I saw who they had I knew he was one of our crew. I let on to the M.P’s I was an official and I would put him on a charge so I signed for him and they handed him over to me and my escorts. He was a joiner with us and when the craft sank he rescued the Rum Barrel and when he got ashore he drank it. Is it any wonder they thought he was a spy.
We had to wait a few days for transport to Blighty. It was just as well as I got an infected blanket in the Marines camp and caught scabies from it so I had to stand in a basin and scrub myself with a hard brush until I was almost in raw flesh. It was just as well I got it cleared up or I wouldn’t have got my leave and I would have ended up in sickbay in England.

How is this for an experience. I went to France and slept in a hammock then a tent and then a bed on the American ship taking me to England. It was an American T.L.C. (task landing craft) what an experience that was everything was first class (We were called up for the wrong navy) and I could have sold my revolver ten times over if I had wanted to. We were treated like lords, we were handed cigarettes and everything we wanted, it was just a matter of asking. Really wonderful treatment.

We arrived back in Southampton and from there to Hayling Island to a base where we got our 28 days leave and when we went back from leave the Navy just let us lax about for a week and then it was back to normal for us. Down to the harbour to more craft and more discipline and more of the Warrant Officer, my favourite person.
Things came to a head between us so I asked for a transfer to another Flotilla but he refused my request so I handed him a written request for a welding course which I knew he couldn’t refuse. Instead of wishing me all the best after the work I put in he said after my course I would be getting sent to Dunoon which was for a Far East posting, so I said I will take what ever’s for me so we parted not the best of friends.
The welding course lasted six weeks. We were billeted out to private houses and we worked early shift and back shift. We did all sorts of welding.
One day one of the chaps dropped his torch and the flames ran right up and were heading for the main tank so we all ran out while the instructor ran to shut off the main tank. When everything had settled the instructor said to us “it is a good job we have an army”.
After our course was finished we were sent to Toward Point at Dunoon. Which at that time was one of the main bases for getting drafted to the Far East so I had visions of my ex Warrant Officer laughing his head off. It was nearly winter and we were sent down to some place near the water and we were told there would be an officer to give us instructions but no officer turned up. We were frozen stiff and soaking wet as the rain was on. This happened for over a week and we were at our wits end so we decided we had taken enough. We went down the next morning and stayed until mid day then we went back to our nissen hut and went for a sleep. We must have been asleep and then we were wakened by someone banging the door. Of course some bright spark told them to “F… off” and it was the Duty Officer so when the door was finally opened we had to pack all our gear and go to the Parade Ground, pack all our gear onto our backs and run at the double round the parade ground until we were exhausted and just about out on our feet. Then we were stopped and the Captain appeared and told us to leave the base at once as a Marine craft was waiting to take us somewhere. No one would tell us where “somewhere” was. We packed into the Marine craft and heading for where, no one would tell us and we passed big ships at the Tail of the Bank wondering if the next one was ours. We passed them all by and landed at Helensburgh where a lorry was waiting for us but we were still kept in the dark until we landed at Alexandria in Dumbarton. It was just a new base and at last we had struck it lucky after all the fuss at the Dunoon Base. The Captain promised to throw the book at us so he must have known he and his officers were to blame.
At last we were at a Base that we knew we were going to be contented. We celebrated the end of the war in Europe very quietly because we knew and believed that there was a Silver Lining up there.

We were at Dumbarton to build a new Navel Base. We had no Officers telling us to do this and not to do that, they kept out of the way and let us do the job our way along with a civilian and in fact it was quite enjoyable. I haven’t went into everything in details - it would end up as a book and I wouldn’t even have wrote this but it gave me something to do to pass the time after the wife passed away.

I got told I was to report to Portsmouth and I had no idea why but when I got there I was told I was getting my demob. I was given a suit, a hat and a raincoat and so many days leave and that was me demobbed in July 1946 and it ends the story.

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