- Contributed by
- RALPH W.HILL
- People in story:
- AIR-GUNNER DONALD NASEY STEVENS, LIEUTENANT SHEEN, MIDSHIPMAN SANDEMAN, KARL FREDERICK GAUSS, YEOMAN HUGHES, RONALD LITTLEWOOD, LIEUTENANT-COMMANDER THORP, SAMUEL SHORTER, ABLE-SEAMAN NORMAN CRITCHLEY, TELEGRAPHIST ALFRED GREEN
- Location of story:
- LONDONDERRY, LARNE, STRANRAER, NORTH ATLANTIC, LARNE, ICELAND.
- Background to story:
- Royal Navy
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 03 August 2005
THE ATLANTIC STAR - 2
On March 6th 1944 in Londonderry we moored alongside at No.9 berth, and I went ashore at 1600 for a bath, haircut and feed at Lower Foyle College, before calling on the Thompsons. They gave me a good supper and I stayed the night in a sumptuous room with crisp Irish-linen sheets on the bed. On the 7th I went home on leave at 1300, taking with me items then in short supply, - 18 eggs, 6 lbs of soap, 2 bars of toilet soap, and 300 cigarettes. I noted that the ferry sailed from Larne at 1900 and arrived in Stranraer at 2145, and I arrived home just before 1300 on the 8th.
During this leave the situation arose which is described in my story, The Kiwi.
During the daytime when on leave I used to visit my friends and relations, Grandma Jessie Davies first, Aunt Amy & Cousin Edie, Uncle Tom & Aunt Lizzie.
Donald Stevens, my perpetual classmate throughout all my schooldays, and fellow-chorister and server, had been accepted to train as an R.A.F. Pilot, but this meant that his call-up was deferred. Perhaps he became frustrated when he saw me and other friends already on Active Service, because he re-applied and was accepted for training as an Air-Gunner. (Ph4,11/12) Sadly, Don had just been reported missing. I visited his mother. He had been on a mission to bomb Leipzig, but they fell foul of bad weather and never returned. Thus it was that two schoolfellows discovered that enemy action was not the only threat to life during War, though I escaped but he did not. My early poem, Resettlement Reflection, was written with Don in mind. I had to leave on the 13th in order to be aboard late on the 14th, so my nominal seven-days leave gave me only five at home, but I found 21 letters awaiting my arrival.
I spent my alternate off-duty nights at the Thompson's. I took them a dozen boxes of matches, as they could buy only one per week, and when I showed an interest in the Irish coins, which seemed to circulate there freely with ours, and which all bore the pictures of animals, the younger daughter, Pat, assembled a whole set+ for me, from the farthing to the half-crown. I played their piano, and one afternoon amazed old Mrs.Thompson by opening it, removing the action, and giving it a thorough cleaning with her vacuum-cleaner. I knew little about the troubles, except that in 1939 there had been a few bombs in pillar-boxes in London, but they related to me how Mr.Thompson had been on a train one night when the I.R.A. came aboard and began searching for possible enemies. He happened to have a revolver in his case, and he knew that if they had discovered it they would have shot him.
I celebrated St.Patrick's Day, Friday March 17th, appropriately, in Ireland, by passing the examination for Signalman T.O. (Trained Operator), and soon had my new badges sewn onto my uniform - a star above crossed flags. Lieutenant Sheen, a new permanent Captain, had just been drafted to Watchman. That evening Pat and her sister took me to tea with their Cousin Kathleen. My pay was then 4/3d per day plus 1/- hard-layers, plus £2-4s-6d per quarter Kit Upkeep Allowance.
On the Sunday, the libertymen having returned aboard, we slipped at 1500 and arrived in Moville at 1700. All the Fleet oilers seemed to have the first name Empire, and that day we patronised the Empire Control. We sailed at 2200 and joined a coastal convoy as a Local Escort. The merchantmen gradually drifted off in twos and threes to enter various ports, Liverpool being the chief, and by 0730 on the 21st we were back in Londonderry, where I had an unpleasant surprise.
I was called to the bridge by the weedy Midshipman Sandeman, who shewed me a letter and asked me whether I had written it. I acknowledged that I had, and he said that since it contained censurable material he would consign me to Captain's Report. Next day I was arraigned before the Captain, who waxed indignant, gave me a lecture about putting my shipmates' lives at risk, announced his regret that regulations prevented him from having me shot at once, and asked me if I had anything I might wish to say. I had. I said that I had presumed that the system of thus posting letters unsealed into the Ship's box for inevitable examination by the Duty Officer meant that no possible harm could be done. He apparently considered this answer as worthless and awarded me 14 days' Number 11 Punishment. I was much dismayed at this, since it meant that I should forfeit all leave for the next two weeks, which would curtail my enjoyment of the Thompsons' hospitality. I should also be put to various punishment tasks every hour of the day except when on duty, and it would be a black mark in my record, which inter alia might well prejudice my chances as a CW Candidate. It was technically open to me to request to see the Commodore to complain of injustice, and I felt that, since I was quite sure that no verbal nor written instruction nor advice controverting my presumption had ever been given us, I had justice on my side. However, under K.R's and A.I's, (King's regulations and Admiralty Instructions) I would have finished serving the punishment by the time I would have been granted a hearing. I suppose that if my complaint had been upheld, to avoid any possibility of subsequent victimization I should have been removed from Watchman and drafted elsewhere, though I might have carried with me the dangerous reputation of one who had dared to question a Captain's judgement. Moreover, in the interim I should have remained subject to the whims of an offended Captain. By such means, contrary I suspect to the spirit of justice inherent in Civil Law, and conforming more nearly to the standards of our enemy than those we were fighting to maintain, did the Officers of the Royal Navy contrive to browbeat the common sailors. We were still in the age when an order could be prefaced, Officers and their Ladies, Non-Commissioned Officers and their wives, Ratings and their women -.
I had to report at 0630 and at mealtimes and during the evenings for five hours' extra work every day. The tasks I was set included sweeping, scrubbing, painting, and correcting Signal Books, but on the 24th I contrived to steal ashore at 2330 to see the Thompsons and explain.
To protect a steel ship against magnetic mines, electric cable is fixed around the interior of the hull and kept charged whilst at sea, and this deGaussing neutralises the magnetism of the ship (Karl Frederick Gauss, 1777-1855), and on the 26th we shifted to 4 berth for a deGaussing test. Another way to defeat magnetic mines was to build ships, especially mine-sweepers, of wood or other non-ferrous materials, but to defeat these precautions other sorts of mine were invented - acoustic mines, sensitive to the sound of propellers, and pressure mines, sensitive to the pressure-wave of a ship under way. Since mine-sweepers could be equipped to detect, bring to the surface, and destroy all these types of mine, mines were subsequently fitted with counters, which would allow a set number of ships to pass safely over them, including mine-sweepers, and then activate to destroy that one ship whose number, literally, was up. In my next chapter you may read how I was present when this happened to a ship at anchor off one of the D-Day beaches.
On the 28th we sailed for compass-correction and returned, and sailed at 0345 next day with Pasley to escort the S.S.Empress of Russia, carrying troops, to Iceland, on a fast zigzag, 14 to 17 knots. In most respects this convoy was the most pleasant I had partaken in, but punishment is not interrupted nor mitigated merely because one is at sea, war or no war. On Wednesday 29th, keeping the Middle, Forenoon, and First Watches on the bridge, and put to punishment work all the afternoon and both dog watches, I had only three hours' sleep in the 24.
On Friday March 31st we steamed into Hval Fjord and anchored after oiling in Reykjavik, which lived up to its name (foggy inlet). Being still on punishment, I was not allowed ashore with the others. We sailed again at 2200, still with Pasley and the Empress, mean course 164O. (The mean course is the resultant course taking the zig-zagging into account.) On April Fool's Day we encountered a Swedish ship, Cueros, bound for Buenos Aires. We altered our mean course to 140O at 1130 and advanced our clocks one hour, left the convoy on Palm Sunday and set course for Londonderry. However, after oiling and anchoring out at Moville we were sent on exercises with aircraft and Submarine H28, whose Signalman, at their mooring, shewed me around. He told me that their drill, when captured and boarded, was to remove the last ten feet from the foot of the conning-tower ladder and connect the rest to an electrical charge which, coming from batteries, was direct current and would therefore hold rigid the muscles of any who touched it. I gather also that the first action of a boarding-party was to drop a grenade down the conning-tower, so it was a case of dirty tricks all round.
I found an Irishman out there selling beautiful fresh milk in waxed cartons. Tea and coffee with condensed milk is very welcome at sea, but I had always been fond of fresh milk, and had missed it very much, so I bought three pints and drank them all, one after another. It is a feat I shall never repeat. It lay in my stomach like a lump of lead, and it was some time before I could move.
I finished my punishment at noon on the 5th, and on the 6th we sailed up to Londonderry. I was 'rated' Trained Operator by the Captain, and for the next ten days I spent alternate days on duty and visiting the Thompsons. We went for walks, to church on Sundays, and to the cinema, and played Monopoly and Lexicon. I bought the music of several popular songs of the day - such as Pony Express, Deep Purple, Bottle Party, and So Deep Is The Night. About this time Yeoman Hughes, of whose health the Russian Convoy had taken its toll, was in sick quarters, and his relief came aboard. On Low Sunday we went to evensong at the Cathedral and the Choir sang the Hallelujah Chorus. Next day, the 17th, the Captain told us that we were going on four days' intensive training in order to prepare us to take part in the Invasion of Europe.
We had gunnery-practice at sleeves, - spray-throwers towed by Motor Launches. They threw a large fan of spray, and I suppose the gadget which caused it would be little damaged even by a direct hit, so they were probably more economical than the sight-screen-carrying rafts. They were certainly faster, and therefore good practice against E-Boats.
Sailors then referred to benevolent citizens who invited them into their homes as up-homers, and I began to write in my diary that I had been up-home for the evening. They referred to all gifts bought or otherwise acquired for taking home on leave as rabbits, and gash was either the contents of the gash-bucket, - garbage to be thrown over the side, - or some desirable item, of food usually, going spare.
At sea a large square metal funnel was lashed to the deck-rails, and hung over the side. It ended in a canvas chute which almost touched the water, and into the funnel we emptied our dirty dish-water and all our rubbish.
On the 20th we enjoyed a mass-attack by Fleet Air Arm aircraft, high- and low-level bombing and machine-gunning, and next day we had the first instalment of our Invasion Jabs - the inoculation of a 100% dose of TAB(T).
We sailed at 0630 on the 22nd in command of Starwort, Dahlia, Prescott, Baddeck, Rimouski, Balsam, and Camrose, and arrived in Larne Harbour at noon. On St.George's Day we were put through some tough exercises directed by Philante, formerly a yacht of Tommy Sopwith's. We had two submarines attacking, Motor-Launches pretending to be E-Boats, and aircraft in waves of four firing live ammunition, so that we could see the bullets ripping into the water very close to the ship, and we were all vaccinated at 1500 on the 24th.
We were back in Londonderry by 2000 on the 26th, and next day I went aboard Helmsdale to speak to Ron Littlewood, and Lieutenant-Commander Thorp assumed command of Watchman. At that time my oppo Sam Shorter (Yorky) had left us. On the 28th we left Londonderry, passed Milford Haven at 1600 on the 29th, arrived in Falmouth on Sunday 30th at 0736, and moored at Number 4 Buoy in Carrick Roads. It was very hot, and Hands to Bathe and Skylark was piped. I saw that Conqueror was there. She had been a millionaire's yacht, and I knew that my childhood friend and neighbour from 8 Courtman Road, Norman Critchley, was on board. I asked him via the duty Signalman by lamp-signal to meet me ashore, and he replied, 1630, dock gates, tomorrow. I went to the cinema in the afternoon with Alfie Green, met Norman on the jetty just before 1700, had a feed and went to another cinema, and came out to a big supper, and was back on board by 2230.
(A copy of this chapter was deposited amongst the archives of the Department of Documents in the Imperial War Museum, Lambeth Road, London SE1 6HZ, in 1995. In his letter of 15 5 1997, Stephen Walton, Department of Documents, writes: The copies which are now assembled in the archive will provide a rich source of information for researchers, and I would like to thank you once again for your generosity in making your papers available to the museum.)
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