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John Mills: Chapter 22

by BBC LONDON CSV ACTION DESK

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Archive List > Books > John Mills - Memoirs

Contributed by 
BBC LONDON CSV ACTION DESK
People in story: 
John Mills
Location of story: 
Indian Ocean
Article ID: 
A8888485
Contributed on: 
27 January 2006

“Able Seaman Mills the Captain wants you on the bridge!! Look lively”.

You can imagine what was going through this 20-year-old “Hostilities” only rating as he ascended the ladders to the bridge.

The was in the Indian Ocean had been over for a couple of weeks and on H.M.S. Volage, a destroyer, the discipline had been tightened up, both with spit and polish and rig of the day. (Set uniform for all ships company to wear on a day-to-day basis, in harbour and at sea. As to war time any rig at sea.) Volage commissioned at Cowes (I.O.W.) on May 15th 1944. Serving with the Home Fleet, escorting the battleships and aircraft carriers for strikes off the Norwegian coast, including Russian convoy escort. Transferring to Trincomalee (Ceylon), Sri Lanka in late January 1945. Had had a charmed life (Some damage and loss of life by 6 inch shells) as any destroyer had in those war years, and not been sunk, as 136 destroyers had been victims in six years of W.W.II.

In the Indian Ocean operated with carriers making air strikes on enemy (Japanese) oil installations on Sumatra, bombarded railway installation at Sigli, Sumatra, searched in wide sweeps around Anderman and Nicobars Isles for enemy ships supplying Jap Burma army. Had been hit by 6in shells while laying a smoke screen, saving two other destroyers “Saumarez” and “Rapid” from possible destruction in Stuart Sound, North Andaman Isles. Another time with other units of 26’ destroyer flotilla in the sinking of a Japanese ships’ convoy, also in the Indian Ocean.

This time, mid September 1945, H.M.S Volage was deployed as escort to the battleship H.M.S. Nelson flying the flat of Vice Admiral Walker (Hookey to serving sailors as he had a hook in place of his left hand) plus carriers, cruisers, two assault ships “Princess Beatric” and “Prince Albert” with 500 marines aboard and other destroyers and frigates. A Fleet code-named Zipper, which had been planned to make an assault on Penang Island and mainland Malaya and Singapore if war had not finished, but now was to take over from surrendering Japanese forces. There was some doubt as to whether or not Jap commanders would surrender locally, hence a Fleet of some strength assembled.

Sailing from Trincomalee two days previously, the Fleet visited the Nicobars Islands, then on to Penang. Suspect Jap minefields on our way, H.M.S Volage was ordered to a position in the front of H.M.S Nelson with Admiral Walker on board, hence forward mess decks were cleared in case of Volage hitting a mine, destroyers were always considered dispensable.

Next morning a Jap gunboat was sited, Volage to close to escort the gunboat to Nelson, we were told it had Jap minefield plans to hand over to the Admiral.
As A.B. Mills climbed the last ladder to the bridge thinking “Why me”, being met on the bridge by Petty Officer Yeoman of Signals, then taken to the Captain Commander Durlacer of Volage present as well as Vice Admiral Walker, who had come on board that forenoon, to be on board Volage as first ship into Penang Harbour at action stations in the event of retaliation from surrendering Japanese.

I stood smartly to attention in front of Captain Durlacer, “Mills! Admiral Walker wishes to Review the Fleet! I want you to pipe the side. Carry on Yeoman”.

Petty Officer Yeoman of signals positioned me high up on a platform starboard (right hand) side of the ship, explaining to me the procedure I was to follow. The day was still with little wind, the sea a light swell and bright sun. Being at sea and underway was very pleasant, not as down in the mess deck, all battened down, very hot and uncomfortable in the Tropics.

The Fleet formed up line ahead, (single line bow to stern), H.M.S. Nelson followed by carriers, cruisers, destroyers, assault ships frigates etc. We in Volage were to proceed in reverse direction to pass each ship along the line in turn.

We were now a senior ship (with the Admiral on board), which mean that H.M.S. Nelson would pipe “Still” on Boson’s pipe first, ship’s company standing to attention, Officers saluting. Then senior ship would reciprocate, myself piping “Still” with Admiral saluting. As ships’ sterns passed, senior ship piped “Carry On” (left to my discretion) ship’s company standing at ease. Junior ships repeating the procedure. Volage passed down the line of ships each in turn piping “Still” and “Carry On”, our ship responding as previously mentioned. With the Fleet Review completed, Fleet sailed on to Penang.

Myself, duty done, proceeded back down to my mess deck, thinking of us, a destroyer, being senior ship to a battleship and the like, “Marvellous”.

Down in the mess deck shipmates were having a moan as to the number of times having to stand to attention with all the ships of the Fleet. Telling my tale of duty done, grunts and groans considered, I was swinging the lamp (tall tales), they still do not believe me even today, fifty-six years on.

Why me, chosen to pipe the side on that occasion. As a young Ordinary Seaman on commissioning ship, my duty in harbour was messenger with clipboard and had to get Officers signatures of various signal messages that they had to read from S.D.O. (Signals Despatch Office).

One duty was to approach our Captain Commander Durlacer in his cabin, request him to be acquainted with signals. Later on in harbour my duty was to change to Quartermaster on the gangway and had the duty of piping him Captain Durlacer aboard ship.

I could only come to the conclusion that Commander Durlacer by asking me, A\B. Mills, to pipe the side on the occasion of Admiral Walker wishing to review the East Indies Fleet knew it would be a memory for the rest of his life.

Yes I have remembered that occasion still. Not a brave deed, just a duty done.

Ex A\B John Mills
For the next chapter in John's story go to: A8888331

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