- Contributed by
- Peter Walker
- People in story:
- PETER WALKER
- Location of story:
- Background to story:
- Royal Navy
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 20 August 2004
TO AND AT GIBRALTAR JUNE 1942 to FEB1943
This story records some of my recollections during WW2
I was at HMS Osprey the anti-submarine School at Dunoon in Argyllshire Scotland having qualified as a higher submarine detector "H.S.D ".and was told that I was to be drafted to the drafting pool at HMS Cormorant the base ship at Gibraltar.
Soon afterwards I was advised that I was to take passage in a troopship. When the time came I believe that I went by ferry from Dunoon to Gourock the other side of the Clyde where I reported to the naval embarkation officer. The Troopships used to anchor in the Clyde off Gourock The Anchorage was known as the "Tail of the Bank". The naval draft went by launch from Gourock out to the troopship. Some of the draft embarked but some of us had to return to Gourock and go by another troopship.. Apparently an order had just come out that so many naval personnel had to go on each troopship and that there were not enough naval personnel for the next troopship so I returned to HMS Osprey to wait for further instructions.
Eventually I embarked on the troopship RMS Narkunda. There was not enough accommodation on the troop decks so we were accommodated in the detention quarters and isolation quarters up in the forward part of the ship. We were told that there had been trouble at the boat stations on the troopships and that we had to sleep on deck by the Lifeboats. We were detailed off as a senior rating and two junior ratings for each lifeboat. As a leading Seaman I was in charge of one Lifeboat Station and and was issued by the ship's officers with a pistol and was briefed. We were told that we would have to sleep by the boats
It was very cold at night in the Atlantic when we left the Clyde but having slept rough on deck round an Anti Aircraft gun as a boy on HMS Rodney earlier in the war it did not worry me. When we got into the Bay of Biscay it was much warmer and we arrived safely at Gibraltar where I disembarked.
On the troopship there was no freshwater for washing or showers. The water was sea water and we were issued with salt water soap which did not give a very good lather . For shaving. I went to the galley and scrounged a mug of hot water.
HMS Cormorant the base ship was a floating hulk (once an old warship ) and was short of accommodation. There was shore accommodation in a brick-built blocks on the shore nearby. Hammock bars were provided in the dormitories for slinging our hammocks.
The Spanish had put an embargo on potatoes ,so instead of potatoes the cooks provided fried rice balls instead. But on Sundays we had a tinned potatoes.
I was allocated to the Base Anti Submarine officer to work with the Base Anti Submarine Staff giving base assistance to ships coming in and out of Gibraltar.
The work consisted of diagnosing faults and are making repairs or replacements. Mainly major spares such as transducers, motor alternators, transmitters and receivers, and switchgear not caried on board ships but held by the base as strategic spares.
We had a workshop on the South Mole adjacent to the dockyard and where the ships docked or berthed. We also had a tool store made from an aircraft packing case.
Early one morning I was woken by someone shaking my hammock. It was the Base Anti Submarine Officer. He said Lord Luis is coming through at the Straits on the Kelly. He requires base assistance to repair his asdic ( sonar.) He wants you to go out and meet the Kelly in the pilot boat. and repair it on the way in
As soon as I boarded Kelly I was taken to the bridge to meet Captain Lord Luis Mountbatten. He said are you the technician, I confirmed that I was. He said there is something wrong with the bridge recorder .I am going in to Gibraltar to take on water and fuel and will be sailing in half-an-hour and if you have not it repaired it you will go to sea with me. He then went into his sea cabin adjacent to the bridge.
Kelly had met bad weather when crossing the Bay of Biscay. As a result the bridge recorder which was only splashproof had suffered from ingress of sea water and there was low insulation on one of the cables leading from the bridge recorder to the asdic control room..
Lord Luis returned to the bridge a short while later to find out how I had got on. Being a communications specialist he was familiar with electrics and electronics and said that the ship's staff would take over and told me to go down below a get some breakfast.
At the time Lord Luis was a Captain RN and "Captain D" in charge of the destroyer flotilla. Kelly was the leader.
Kelly went on to Crete and i was sunk by aircraft.
Around that time many damaged ships came in to Gibraltar for repairs. I particularly remember one, a cruiser I think it was the Penelope which came in with her decks awash and docked in one of the dry docks just in time. To save the ship her captain had ordered all watertight doors and hatches to be closed which was the proper practice for damage control. The ship was saved but many men were trapped below.as they could not get out in time I think it was in the hundreds
There was a smell of oil fuel . putrifying bodies and rotten meat. The torpedoes had ruptured some of the oil fuel tanks and the cold stores . The dry dock near the bows of the ship was piled up with quicklime.to dispose of the mess. The men who had to remove the bodies etc etc wore oilskins and were given plenty of rum .
On one occasion I had to take the place of the H. S . D of the Corvette HMS Spiraea while he was in hospital. Spiraea was a modified Flower Class Corvette much more advanced than the early flower class. she had a Giro compass and a more up-to-date asdic set. She also had hedgehog antisubmarine mortars which fired projectiles over the bows of the ship.
I only participated in one convoy. The weather was a very rough and we did not detect any submarines.
I do not recall any air raids the only threat was underwater swimmers and human torpedoes from Algeciras.who attacked ships at anchor in the outer harbour in the bay.To protect the inner harbour explosive charges were dropped at random at the entrance to the inner harbour about every half-an-hour.
Working parties were transported to and from the dockyard by open-top lorry. There were always hawkers selling grapes at the dockyard gate. There were plenty of things and to buy in the shops that were then unobtainable or in short supply in the UK. Nylon stockings were a popular buy to send home to wife's ,sister's ,and girlfriend's.
For entertainment and recreation we went to the Winter Gardens, the Universal Club .and sometimes the Cathedral to listen to organ recitals. Bands played in the Winter Gardens on Sundays when all the shops and clubs were closed.As well as the bands there was a small outdoor dance floor.I believe the "Rock Apes" were nearby We also went to the Watergate at the entrance to the Garrison to watch the" Ceremony of the Keys" similar to the changing of the guard .The Universal Club was a popular retreat and was for ratings and other ranks only. There was another club for officers further along the main street. The resident band and at the Universal was Ivy Benson's Womens Band . Entertainers such as flamenco dancers, chorus girls , ventriloquists and magicians , and music hall acts would come over the border from Spain. The favourite tipple was San Miguel beer or a John Collins. A squad of Royal Marines used to moonlight as bodyguards to escort the girls to and from the dressing rooms and the stage .
One other thing I particularly remember is that around Christmas Day 1942 there were snow flurries.
The number of damaged ships coming back to Gibraltar for refit or repair increased so it was necessary for a dockyard mobile squad to come out from the UK. Initially they were accomodated at Little Bay camp. They complained about the conditions so they were given our accommodation and we had to go to Little Bay Camp. It was an ex army camp for prisoners of war and had been condemned by the Swiss Red Cross. There were open-air ablutions and kitchens and the place was infested with cockroaches and flies. Gibraltar flies bite .I do not remember if we lived in tents or army huts .We had army beds on which we laid our hammock mattreses.I put empty tins under each leg of the bed and half filled them with creasote to deter the cockroaches.
My final assignment ashore concerned the installation and commissioning of an Asdic set in HMS Minnna in dry dock .On completion her captain wanted me to stay with the ship .I jumped at the chance to get away from Little Bay Camp.
HMS Minna is the suject of another WW2 story
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