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A child on Naval Shore Wireless Station HMS Flowerdown

by Brian Hewitt

Contributed by 
Brian Hewitt
People in story: 
Leo Hewitt, Lily may Hewitt, Brian Hewitt
Location of story: 
HMS Flowerdown, Winchester
Background to story: 
Royal Navy
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
27 January 2005

Brian Hewitt aged six at HMS Flowerdown

I was born in May 1934, at my grandmothers in Wallasey. My father was a serving sailor in the Royal Navy and had originated from Liverpool and his mum now lived in Wallasey. Dad joined the Royal Navy at Shotley Barracks in Suffolk as a 16 year-old boy in the early 1920’s. He became a Wireless Telegraphist and spent all his early naval life at sea. This included a spell in the submarine service, and he spent three years out on China station on HMS Oswald. Oswald was a brand new boat that Dad ‘stood by’ at Vickers yard in Barrow — the year 1928. After sea trials Oswald sailed from Portsmouth, in company with three other O class boats, to Wei Hei Wei in China, up close to the Korean Border. The function of the submarines was to help protect shipping in an area notorious for pirates. Dad stayed there three years after which time the crew, or part of the crew, were sent back to the UK. Dad eventually met and married Mum in Weymouth. She was a tailoress altering sailor’s uniforms and her father kept a pub overlooking Town Bridge in Weymouth. The combination looked irresistible.
I think Mum was probable one of the reasons dad joined the Naval Shore Wireless Service and was posted, in about 1936, to HMS Flowerdown a naval wireless station on the outskirts of Winchester. HMS Flowerdown had been a RAF Electrical and Wireless Training Establishment for aircraft apprentices but the RAF moved out to RAF Cranwell and the Royal Navy moved in. (By coincidence I joined the RAF in 1950 as an Aircraft Apprentice at RAF Cranwell)
We lived in Married Quarters which were wooden huts with the minimal of creature comforts by today’s standards but considered adequate for the time. Mum had to cook on a coal fired range and Sunday lunch took all morning to cook. Groceries were delivered by the Home and Colonial van, which came once a week from Winchester. We also had fresh milk and bread deliveries and as far as I can remember we seemed to live pretty well. I started school in a primary school at High Walls in Winchester in April 1934. Dad took me for the first day in the child’s seat mounted on the crossbar of his bicycle — no off-road 4-wheel drives in those days on the school run. After that I took the school bus every day.
I remember little of school except the daily bus ride and swallowing halfpenny from my bus fare one day and being rushed to Winchester Hospital. Every body seemed very concerned but nature took it’s time and the next the coin duly passed through. I was a bit upset that I didn’t get my money back — perhaps it was part of the hospital fee.
The war came quietly, it made little difference to us children except that instead of Cowboys and Indian’s it became English soldiers and German soldiers, and mum and dad spent lots of time making sure the blackout was observed. There were already underground air raid shelters built on the wireless station and I think we all went down into the shelters, for the first practice air raid, the day after war broke out. It all seemed a bit of a laugh really and life seemed to go on much as it had done, dad went to work, mum cooked and cleaned and I went off to school every day.
The photograph shows me in the middle with wooden rifle, aged about six.
One thing did upset me early on in the war was the start of sweet rationing. I had got used to getting a halfpenny wrap of sweets from the corner shop near the school, then suddenly no more sweets without coupons. I believe sweets were one of the last things to come of the ration; I must have been a teenager by then and more interested in Woodbines than Mars bars.
Most food went on ration but I don’t think we lived that badly. Dad had an allotment and he also set snares for rabbits all over the Wireless station. A large area of the station was open grass land with blackberry bushes. We often depended on dad to snare Rabbits to have meat on a Sunday, but he was a bit squeamish about the skinning and gutting — a job for the mum the cook.
The war really came home to us in the air war during the Battle of Britain in 1940. We could see all the aircraft contrails to the south of us and the papers were full of our brave fighter pilots victories in the air against the menacing, evil German Luftwaffe.

The night time was frightening for me because I often heard the sound of German flying over; the bombers had a peculiar drone partly because they de-synchronised their engines to fool the sound location systems. At night, when they flew over, I used to cry for dad and he would come in and say lie quiet and they will soon have gone over. Mostly they did but one night the naval station did get bombed and I think a couple of people were killed when a bomb hit one of the married quarters. There was talk after that of the children being evacuated to Canada but it came to nothing.
Life was very simple really we were the goodies and the Germans the baddies and there were no shades of grey. I was only six and one day I asked Dad what would happen if we lost the war and he got very angry with me for even suggesting that there could any winner but Great Britain. The truth was I suppose he really was not sure we would win, the rest of Europe was overrun by the Germans and it was only a question of time before the Germans crossed the channel. Early on the naval station became a temporary home for servicemen evacuated from Dunkirk and they mostly had only the clothes they stood up in.
The Navy had built static water tanks on Flowerdown to be used as emergency water supplies in the event of fires after air raids. I remember me and my pal climbing the ladder on the outside of one of the tanks to look for tadpoles. I of course fell in and since they were 5 feet deep could well have drowned but my pal yanked me out by my jacket collar. There I was saturated from head to foot, half drowned but all I could think of was — my mum will really go to own on me coming home soaking wet. She did have go when I got home, the marks where she smacked my leg probably still show.
My grandmother was bombed out of her bungalow (where I was born) in Wallasey and came down to live in a rented cottage in Littleton, close to Flowerdown. She was my fathers mother had been widowed when granddad William had been killed in World War 1. We, the children called her ‘Nanny Stalker’, she had married twice more after William was killed and her last husband was called Stalker. She out lived all her husbands and died eventually in Liverpool in the late fifties. I think life in Hampshire in 1940 was a bit more peaceful than life on Merseyside.
Both my sisters and brother were born at HMS Flowerdown and it was a tradition that each new child had a tree planted complete with name plaque, as I remember Horse Chestnut trees. I last visited the site about 1990 and then Flowerdown site belonged to the army so I wonder if the trees are still there. The old main entrance to the site was then a public road and original RAF 1920 guard room and brick built married quarters were private houses.
Early in 1941 the Royal Navy moved Dad and us to the Burnham-On-Sea so that dad could serve at Burnham Radio Station, which I believe had become the Royal Navies main ship-to-shore for the North Atlantic.

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