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15 October 2014
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by cambsaction

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Contributed by 
cambsaction
People in story: 
Edmund Miles Rank
Location of story: 
English Channel
Background to story: 
Royal Navy
Article ID: 
A6649275
Contributed on: 
03 November 2005

Ed Rank December 1944 on Promotion to Chief Electrical Artificer

This story was submitted to the People's War site by Mike Langran of the BBC Radio Cambridgeshire Story Gatherer Team on behalf of Ed Rank and has been added to site with Ed Ranks permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions

I was eighteen years old when War broke out. I volunteered but was told by the recruiting officer “To stop wasting his time and get back to my job!” I worked at W. G. Pye in Cambridge as an instrument maker which was a reserved occupation. We made tail drift sights for bombers, air speed and course calculators and fuel tank inspection lamps for looking into the fuel tanks to see if there was any damage.

In 1941 when I was twenty, I registered for military service as we all had to do. I got my postcard stating the date of my medical which you should show to your employer, if you were in a reserved occupation, he would take the necessary information and arrange for you not to be called up. Although I was in a reserved occupation I was more interested in serving and did not show him my postcard until the day of my medical, as a result I was called up and served in the Royal Navy. There were three naval bases: Chatham, Portsmouth and Devonport-I went to Portsmouth. As I was an instrument maker, the Royal Navy trained me as an Electrical Artificer. I was in charge of the electrics in the 16th minesweeper flotilla which consisted of 8 sweepers. I was based on the Qualicum. The record of my service states “Borne for flotilla duties”

On one occasion our liberty boat engine blew up and the engine room artificers knew about steam engines but not internal combustion engines. As I knew about such engines I volunteered to the Captain to repair the engine, he accepted. I needed a piston which I obtained from an Army depot in Newport, Isle of Wight but it was too tall, I skimmed a little off the top and rebuilt the engine and all was well.

The biggest operation I took part in was preparing for D-Day. The 16th Minesweeper flotilla was allocated to the Americans and came under the command of Rear Admiral Kirk on the cruiser Augusta. We swept for Omaha and Utah beaches. Our job was to sweep the English Channel to clear it of mines in preparation for the assault craft to cross to the landing beaches. We couldn’t sweep in daylight as the enemy aircraft would see what we were doing. Fitted to our main masts were “black box’s” that were connected to our RDF system, when switched on, they scrambled the German RDF screens. We began the sweep at 20.00 hours on 4th June 1944 but the weather was so bad we had to abandon the sweep at 22.00 hours. As a result, the whole operation was put back 24 hours. We began the next sweep at 20.00 hours on 5th June 1944.

Two to three weeks prior to D-Day, the Germans laid a small minefield in Lyme Bay off Lyme Regis. Our flotilla was sent out to clear these mines. My ship, the Qualicum was first into the minefield. As we finished one sweep and hauled in our sweeping gear, up popped a German mine, our cutting gear didn’t cut the mooring wire. We attached a Dan Buoy so it would be identified by HMS Vernon staff that was to investigate why our wire cutting equipment hadn’t cut the wire. When they arrived and got this mine inboard, up popped another mine! The staff of HMS Vernon found that the mooring wire was made of armoured wire and our equipment couldn’t cut that. Our wire cutting gear was re-designed so as to be able to cut such mooring wire.

Ours was a mundane job but none the less very necessary. I have never considered myself as a hero. We did the job we volunteered to do and we went where we were sent. The heroes were the lads who didn’t come back.

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