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15 October 2014
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My experience during the 1939-45 war

by Newcastlelibrary

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Fred Leathard
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04 August 2005

At the outbreak of war in 1939 I was fifteen years old and living with my parents in Blyth, Northumberland. I had left school and was working as an apprentice ship draughtsman. The Blyth yard was building frigates, corvettes and mine sweepers for the Royal Navy. It was also a repair yard for submarines. During this time I started a course in Naval Architecture, Mathematics and Applied Mechanics at Rutherford College, Newcastle upon Tyne. This was an evening class course two nights per week. At the age of 15 years I was called into the Home guard and served in an 3.7" gun crew on anti-aircraft defence.
The battery was the 175H.A.A and was situated at Whitley Bay five miles south of Blyth. The battery consisted of six guns, four manned by regular soldiers and two guns by Home Guard personnel. There were nine personnel to a gun i.e. No 1 a sergeant (myself in charge) No2 was in charge of the gun elevation No3 controlled the bearing, No4 the fuse setter and No5 the loader. The rest of the crew consisted of ammunition carriers.
During a practice shoot on a Monday morning we were to fire over St. Mary's Island on a fixed bearing out to sea.The controls were of the twin crank shaft type. The elevation layer was holding the right crank in one hand and was resting his head in his left hand with his elbows on the left crank. He missed hearing the order to fire and consequently lost control of the cranks so that the elevation of the barrel began to drop. Firing rate of this type of gun is quite high so that before the gun could be stopped firing, several rounds were discharged and the elevation continued to drop. The last round fired just managed to clear the lighthouse on St. Mary's Island and the mnagazine on the edge of the coast. Needless to say the gun layer was severely reprimanded,. This was a one off incident which never occurrred again.

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