- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Jack Allen
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 13 December 2005
Continued from Part I - Story A7564124)
This story was added with Mr Allen's permission and he fully understands and agrees to the terms and condition of the site.
During the year 1941 I was ordered to the Ministry of Labour office in Devonport and informed that, although I was exempted from National Service, I had to take work of national importance and I must therefore leave Dingles and report to Devonport Technical College to undergo training as an electrical fitter to work in the dockyard. Therefore, despite the efforts of Mr J R Baker, the Managing Director of Dingles, I was forced to follow the order of the Ministry of Labour. Having reported to Devonport Technical College, I underwent just over 6 months of intensive training before qualifying, quite highly, as an electrical fitter but called a ‘dilutee’, much to my regret. Yet my appointment was not to Devonport Dockyard, but to Portsmouth Dockyard, which, of course, upset me as it meant leaving home for the first time, and finding lodgings somewhere previously unheard of by me.
I had no choice and, together with some others from my training school, off I had to go and thus started an entirely different outlook. I also left the Home Guard, which I had enjoyed, and took some time to settle in to an entirely different environment. However, I was young and quite efficient at looking out for myself and soon settled in to a different routine. I also soon became a popular member of a gang of workmen who were employed on the naval boats or craft undergoing repairs within Portsmouth Dockyard, which of course was like Devonport, an enemy target for German aircraft; I was soon to discover we were often targeted too.
Again I was on Order 7, became a firewatcher and had to devote at least one night in about fourteen to stay in some shop or store, wherever I was ordered to go. I vividly remember one night when we were alerted to take a shelter inside a pill-box, which appeared to be under construction and just about finished. The Dockyard came under attack and we knew and heard several bombs hitting and exploding quite near to where we were sheltering and thought ourselves fortunate to survive the night. We were mighty pleased when the ‘All Clear’ sounded and we could get out of the yard for breakfast a little afterwards. We came back to our ship to work when it became light and it was much to my surprise, when we came to the pill-box where we had shortly before taken shelter, to see that it was nowhere near finished, and the roof itself was simply a cover of only sheets of corrugated iron which could have been blown off by a simple blast if a bomb had gone off anywhere near it.
Some time later I was employed to fit emergency lighting in the cruiser HMS Achilles (from the ??? battle of recent date) as she was being refitted in dry dock at Portsmouth. Well, this was a great job for our gang to undertake, under Mr Camming, who was our manager, and I was given some points in the engine room to wire, and install the fittings to set up. I had gone back aft to take my break and left a bag of tools at the point of my job — it was quite early in the morning and my box and place of rest was in the tiller flat, right in the stern of the cruiser. To leave my job and move aft was most fortunate for me as it certainly saved my life, because I would probably have been killed if I had remained in the engine room. Such damage was caused when an explosion suddenly occurred which shook the ship so vividly, that all of us in the tiller flat really thought the ship would break apart from the supporting shores and collapse into the dock sides. Thankfully the shores held and the cruiser remained upright, but the bulwarks and iron sheets amidships were vastly damaged and many dockyardies in the vicinity were killed or badly injured. There was pandemonium and panic, but fortunately only dockyardies were involved, as the crew had been discharged some weeks before and scattered around to other duties. The boat was or course part of the New Zealand Navy and would have been re-commissioned when she repaired. Following the explosion there was, of course, a full enquiry and hundreds of top brass were called together with dozens of Admiralty experts and medical observers. We watched all day the removal of the bodies and the hospital orderlies and I was greatly perturbed about by job down below and my toolbag which held much of my equipment which I would shortly need as I had just before been told that I had been selected to go to the Isle of Wight, Cowes shipyard, where I was to help refit HMS Blyskawiska, a Polish vessel, and would be away from Portsmouth for at least 6 months. I was really in a quandary and did not know what I should do. After consultation with our group leader, it was decided to send me, with a couple of our group, to make our way forward to try to get into the engine room and retrieve my missing tools, if possible. It was very difficult to make my way forward, as the damage to the ship became exposed and I could see how severe it was. Along the corridors, the very massive doors had been blown through their very strong supports, and the consequent wreckage of the passageways was most severe — almost impossible to realise. All the carrier plates had been broken and cables were splayed everywhere and their boxes were strewn about all over the place. When we got back to the engine room, it was impossible to get into the normal entrance as that had been severely damaged and had been bunked off as unusable. The metal covering had been shattered, yet we could see through the wreckage to examine the shambles below. The large engine had been entirely blown off its mounting and lay upturned on the deck and the surrounding gangways normally used were all quite obviously unfit fir use, After some talking, it was decided to lower me by rope from the top deck to the bottom deck and for me to try to get to my working point. It was quite difficult, but after a struggle I managed to reach my point of work and found and rescued my toolbox. My mates pulled by up and we all returned to the tiller flat. I was therefore able to report for my transfer some few days later, and subsequently joined my new mates for a trip to Cowes. Fortunately, I knew many of the gang, as I found they were like me, dilutee fitters who had trained with me at Devonport.
My first day at work on the ‘Blyskawiska’ was very memorable as going along to my job I was suddenly attacked by the ship’s monkey, who obviously saw me limping along, and supposedly because I walked differently from other men, the monkey took an instant dislike to me. He leapt on my right leg and nipped me savagely. I was bodily injured and my leg bled profusely pending a visit to the ship’s doctor, who although able to bandage my wound, concluded that it would not be necessary to go to the hospital to have it cauterised. This had been suggested by the works First Aid manager, as the animal had been born in captivity and was not considered to be a ‘wild animal. He had been raised on human lines and therefore was not contagious. Not liking the thought of cautery treatment, I accepted the doctor’s advice and settled down to work, after a restful period. That monkey tried several times to jump on me and I had to watch him (and dodge him) carefully.
The ship became commissioned a few days later, but we had mixed feelings about the new crew, as we found they had little knowledge of naval matters. They were mostly Polish ex-army men, whom we had captured in the desert and made prisoners of war, yet gave them the opportunity to transfer to the Polish Navy, with their freedom. Most of course found this very acceptable - but then they were foreigners!
We found life on the island very acceptable as all commodities were available to us on pre-war favoured rations and of course the general public being excluded from visiting the island, most commodities , including food, were above that normally available to non-islanders. Beer, spirits and cigarettes were suddenly found to be ration-free!! I can honestly say I enjoyed my life during our 6-month visit and was sorry to leave when the re-fit was ended and we were returned to Portsmouth, where I returned to Mr Camming’s gang once more.
Shortly afterwards, I was sent for by my department to be advised that I was being transferred to Devonport Dockyard, particularly at the advice of Dr Kennedy of South Devon and East Cornwall Hospital, as he wanted to keep any eye on my polio ???. I had written to him sometime previously as he had suggested when last I had visited his clinic. I must say I was particularly pleased to comply and I duly returned to Devonport Dockyard and joined Ernie Hammond’s gang, being provisionally looked after by George Southcombe.
Thus began my final period of employment as an electrical fitter, employed on Royal Navy destroyers and cruisers, which had been mainly of short duration and frequently exchanged, giving me vast experience of likeable groups of colleagues and friends, whom I greatly appreciated.
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