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The Buccaneers/London Navy

by BBC LONDON CSV ACTION DESK

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Archive List > Royal Navy

Contributed by 
BBC LONDON CSV ACTION DESK
People in story: 
Mr A.E Brentnall, Mr J. Middleton, Sir Peter scott, Leslie Thomas
Location of story: 
Newhaven-Weymouth, Cherbourg-Dieppe, Alding French Coast, Alderny Isle.
Background to story: 
Civilian Force
Article ID: 
A5567178
Contributed on: 
07 September 2005

This story was supplied to the People's War site by a volunteer on behalf of Mr A.E Brentnall and has been added to the site with his permission. Mr A.E Brentnall fully understands the site's terms and conditions.

My story begins in 1938 when as a 17yr old boy, I joined the Royal Navy volunteer reserve, based in London on HMS President which was and still is moored at Kings Reach.

When the war began on the 3rd September 1939, I was 17 and was not yet old enough to be transferred immediately to a battle ship. I therefore remained on board HMS President with another young rating named Leslie Thomas and was employed as telephone watch.

At the time, there was a shortage of ships and therefore guns were installed mainly on cruise ships to act as escorts to convoys which sailed from the UK to various parts of the world. Being 17, I was not even old enough to be rated as an "ordinary seaman". However, thanks to boy scouts, I was able to play the bugle and was therefore put on one of the converted cruise ships, then known as "armed merchant cruisers" (AMC's). The ship had seven 6" guns on board.

The "Dunvegan Castle" ship was employed as escort to convoys from the UK to Freetown, Sierra Leone via Daker, a French port, and returning to Belfast. The Dunvegan Castle was torpedoed and sank on the 12th August 1940 - many shipmates lost their lives including, Leslie Thomas. There had not been enough lifeboats, and consequently many of the crew had had to jump over the ship into the cold North Atlantic Sea. I was one of these people along with Leslie Thomas.

We managed to swim to a raft which was not made to withstand over 100 "ratings" who reached it. We were therefore unable to board the raft and had to cling to the side of it with most of our bodies immersed in the cold water. Some people floated off and were lost at sea since it was 6 hours before the rescue "HMS Primose" arrived. I don't remember being picked up, as by that point I was unconscious. I came too some hours after the rescue, when the HMS Primose was heading for Greenock where we were offloaded.

We were put on a train to London and went on to Chatham to re-stock on kit and were then sent on survivors leave for 14 days, only then to be sent back to join another ship.

I was then posted to HMS Elfin which was a submarine base in Blyth, Northumberland. After a few boring months ashore as base staff, I volunteered to join the "coastal forces" which was a force of motor torpedo boats, motor launches, motor gun boats and steam gun boats (SGB's) which were used to sail to enemy coasts to prevent attacks by enemy ships on convoys that were bringing cargoes to the UK.

I became a "Buccaneer" (referred to in the book "The Buccaneer's" by B. Cooper) and was put aboard a steam gunboat. By then, I had become a leading seaman and eventually became a Deputy Officer. However, during my service on the SGB, I was mainly employed as Captain of the Gun on a 3 inch gun. The SGB I was sent to was called "Grey Seal" and the senior officer of the flotilla of steam gunboats was Sir Peter Scott, the son of the great explorer, Scott of the Antarctic, who named the flotilla of steam gun boats after grey wildlife:Grey Goose, Grey Fox, Grey Wolf, Grey Seal etc.

We crossed the English Channel almost every night to seek out the enemy, and returned at dawn. We were also used as escorts for commando raids such as the Dieppe landing and D-Day landing in Normandy.

An interesting incident occurred whilst on Grey Goose at the Dieppe landing. Peter Scott turned back towards the French coast to seek any survivors who needed rescuing. Lo and behold, there was a landing craft personnel (LCP) with only 2 Canadian commando’s aboard heading out from France. At that moment German planes were chasing the ships that were returning to the UK and attacking them. P. Scott told myself and a rating named Jack Middleton to get aboard the LCP to take in the tow.

Jack and I leapt aboard and took hold of the tow rope. While we towing, a German plane decided to attack the Grey Goose. Consequently, the tow rope was detached while Middleton and I were still aboard the LCP. We began to prepare ourselves to be taken as prisoners of war. Fortunately however, the Grey Goose returned to pick us up, and we both leapt aboard as the LCP was destroyed.

After the Dieppe raid, I was sent to Grey Seal, where I resumed my duties as Captain of the Gun on the 3inch gun. It was during this time, fighting against enemy ships, that I was seriously wounded and had to be transferred to a destroyer, “HMS Bleasdale”. I was taken to R.N Hospital Hasler near Portsmouth.

When my wounds had healed, I was sent back to S.G.B Grey Seal and soon learned that I had been mentioned in the despatches. It read: “..devotion to duty, courage and resources whilst in action on the French coast…” This made all my wounds worthwhile.

Instead of continuing to serve as a “buccaneer” in coastal forces, I was posted to an American built ship, “HMS Bentley”, which was designed to be used at the forefront of an invasion with Japan.

By then the war in Europe had ended and the Japanese invasion was to be my next adventure. I was sent on indefinite leave while the finishing touches were being made to HMS Bentley in Cardiff. I was told that we would probably not survive this war. However, the Japanese invasion was not to be, as the atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and so my war experiences were to end here.

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