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Joe's Fags Part 1

by weymouthlibrary

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Archive List > Royal Navy

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Derek Mander
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Background to story: 
Royal Navy
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Contributed on: 
28 February 2005

I joined the Royal Navy in 1941, a boy seaman at H.M.S. ‘Ganges’ and after an R.D.F. (Radar) course at H.M.S. ‘Valkirie’ on the Isle of Man I joined a group of other ratings to train as a specialist unit. Led by a very clever ‘Boffin’ (Lieut Hallett); we were to go to the South Pacific and search out, with our listening gear, the frequencies of any Japanese Radar — if they had Radar! That was the mystery that was worrying the Allied Command in the South Pacific and it was all going to be solved by this gang of eighteen year old youngsters and a ‘Wavy Navy Boffin.’

‘We started our expedition to the Pacific War Zone in August 1942 from Greenock, Scotland on the troopship ‘Mataroa’, and after an adventurous trip by way of Sierra Leone, Cape Town, Durban and Pietermaritzburg, South Africa and Melbourne and Sydney, Australia, we met our partners in this great escapade to rid the world of the deadly ‘Yellow Peril’ — the Yanks, whose contribution to the effort was to be a sole Naval Chief Petty Officer and two ‘Catalina’ flying boats and their crew of the U.S. Navy who would fly us exceptionally well trained ‘Radar Operators’ over the Japanese occupied islands of the South Pacific; searching and listening for any unknown frequency noise that was being transmitted by enemy Radar.

That was the plan and within a week of our arrival in Sydney the corridors of power put it into operation, but with one, as far as I was concerned, huge snag! Before any of the unit would be allowed to fly on any of these assignments, we had to pass a fit to fly medical, and yours truly failed his test because of a perforated eardrum. And that was it, I help the boys load their equipment onto the ‘Catalinas’ in Sydney Harbour and waved them goodbye as they sped down towards the Sydney Heads, on their way to Darwin in the Northern Territory, never to see them again. To say I was crushed is an understatement! I was totally in shock. Here I was, up a bloody, god-damned creek, twelve thousand miles from England, without the well-known proverbial paddle. As I stood on that jetty on Garden Island, panic filled my racing heart — what was I going to do? A tap on my shoulder from the Aussie Petty Officer who was in charge of the draft routine for the unit that was, by now, winging its way north.

“Come on son,” said the P.O. “You’ve got to report to the Duty Officer at the barracks."” Then we arrived at ‘Rushcutter.’ The Duty Officer calmly informed me of my fate, and I was told that I would be put on the next boat back to R.N. Barracks Portsmouth. That was easier said than done, because I waited almost two months for that next boat. And during that time I met an Aussie girl and we became very close, nevertheless my draft finally came through. A New Zealand cargo-liner by the name of ‘The Rangakiki’ left Adelaide with your intrepid warrior aboard, back to ‘Blighty.’

When I arrived home from Australia, and after having my foreign service leave, I was posted to R.N.B. Portsmouth to await another ship, shorebase or whatever, but I was soon cheesed off with barrack life in England. All I could think about was being in the Pacific Theatre of War, back in the Kings Cross area of Sydney and a girl called Sylvia.

What a romantic fool I was, by breaking the matelot’s code of ‘Never volunteer for a draft.’ I went to the Drafting Office and did just that. Knowing the R.N. were assembling a large Pacific fleet I assumed they would welcome me with open arms!

Into the office I marched and said to the duty Petty Office, “I want a draft!” After everyone in the office got off the floor, stopped laughing and generally recovered from the shock the P.O. answered, “Yeah, and where do you want this draft to?” Innocently I replied, “Australia, Chief.” Another burst of hysterical laughter filled the office. The P.O. who by now was blue in the face, yelled at me, “Listen son, for the last two months this office has been trying to fill ‘Golden Hind’ drafts. Now after we have at last got them together, you come along wanting to volunteer! Give me your name and number and get out.” Timidly I gave the brute my credentials, about turned and retreated from the office and its jeering staff as quickly as possible. As I walked back to the mess, I muttered to myself, “You blew that buddy boy!”

To help me recover from my ordeal, I did what all matelots did, I went ashore with some mates from the mess and got ever so slightly drunk!

During our drinking session, one of the guys observed that, as I had committed the cardinal sin of asking for my draft, my name and number was prominent on their list of future drafts and I would get a draft within days, ‘A bad b*****d at that!’ Sure enough, two days later, over the barracks tannoy system, came the dreaded statement, “Able Seaman D. Mander report to the Drafting Office!” More laughter filled the Mess Decks. You know, I was beginning to believe I was the resident clown of R.N.B. Portsmouth. Now I had learned why it is said, ‘Never volunteer for anything!’ Scared and with great trepidation I reported to the Drafting Office.

“Ah!” cried the Petty Officer, “Here he is, the kid who wants to go to Australia!” Peels of laughter filled the office again and I though, ‘Here we go again!’

“Have we a draft for you! How about Canada? You’re a Radar RCM rating right! Well they need one of your kind to teach them RCM (Radar Counter Measures) on one of their destroyers.” I immediately thought, Canada, that’s alongside the USA and the U.S. Navy’s main concentration of ships is in the Pacific, so the Canadians are bound to be involved in that theatre of war too. To the amazement of the Petty Officer and his motley staff I said, “Great, that’s fine, that’s just where I want to be!”

“Oh yeah” said the P.O. smirking with delight, “You’ll pick up the destroyer ‘H.M.C.S. Assiniboine’ in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, which is forming a Canadian flotilla of nine destroyers to assume North Atlantic convoy duties.” ‘God!’ I thought, ‘I’m dead!’ With an evil grin of satisfaction, he finished, “Take your seven days embarkation leave, then report to this office in ten days time for your draft chit and travel warrant and behave yourself on leave, I’ve heard all about you!”

“But Chief!” I pleaded.

“Get out!” he stormed. Even his cronies were quiet now so I retired gracefully, cutting through an atmosphere as thick as dense fog, cursing the RN and all its Petty Officers. As I walked away, the old matelot’s beer drinking song came into my head (and I’ve sung it many times). It goes like this:

Oh I wonder, yes I wonder.
Did the jaunty make a blunder.
When he made this draft chit out for me.
For I’ve been a barracks stanchion
And I’ve been to ‘Jago’s Mansion’
But I never thought I’d go to sea.

Back in the mess, I wondered, ‘What have I done?’ Who in their right mind would want to spend the rest of the war in the North Atlantic, where it’s always winter, dodging German U-Boats! Not me, I wanted to be in the Pacific, with nothing to worry about but Japs in the air and sharks in the water, well at least the water is warm down there!

Continued in Part 2

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