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4.1/2 years on a Flower Class Corvette

by Action Desk, BBC Radio Suffolk

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Archive List > Royal Navy

Contributed by 
Action Desk, BBC Radio Suffolk
People in story: 
Archibald Mayes - Ships Company
Location of story: 
Sierra Leone; Russian convoys; Iceland; Murmansk; Archangel; North Africa; Newfoundland; Lisbon; Gibralter; Malta; Tripoli; Alexandria; Port Said; Sicily; Normandy; Reychjavic; Londonderry; harwich.
Background to story: 
Royal Navy
Article ID: 
A5031992
Contributed on: 
12 August 2005

On Septembber 1st 1939 I was called up as a reservist to R.N Barracks Chatham. After a month in barracks I was drafted to R.N Hospital Chatham for medical training. Six months later I was sent to HMS Wildfire, a boys training ship at Sheerness, and from their I took part in bringing the troops home from Dunkirk, and many other duties during the Battle of Britain. In july 1941, I got a draft to join HMS Starwort. I was given 48 hours leave to get married, and was married at Seaton Road Methodist Church, Felixstowe.

Then was off on a convoy to West Africa to join HMS Starwort - a Flower Class Corvette, where I served 4.1/2 years as a Medical Assistant.

HMS Starwort was the K.20, built at Clydeside by J.Inglis and completed on May 26th 1941. She was a ship of 1.060 displacement tons, 205 feet long, oil-fired boilers and a maximum speed of 16 knots, and built for convoy duty. She was armed with depth charges, one 4inch gun, one 2 pounder gun, Asdic (a submarine detector). Following refits, she was fitted with a hedge-hog (multiple mortars), 6 single 20mm guns, a F.D.F. (radar). She carried a crew of 70-80 including 6 officers.

There were no home comforts on board; we had no laundry, fridges or freezers,all crew members shared an open shower, and the Heads (toilets) had no doors!Clothes washing was done in buckets (if you were lucky, the chef would let you boil some on the cooking range)then dried in the engine room. There was no ships Doctor, so they had to put up with me! I was known as Doc, and called many other things as well!

"Messing" arrangements were 'self-catering'. A caterer was nominated each week in the mess, and he purchased and prepared the food in the Mess, then he took it to the galley to be cooked. Many weeks we had 'Corn dog'; corned beef and tinned food. An allowance was paid to each man to cover this food, and if any mess had what was called 'Big Eats', it was deducted from their pay!

Pay days were few and far between, maybe 2 to 6 months. Fresh food ran out after a few days at sea. Often in rough weather, the mess decks were awash with sea water and garbage

Most of the crew slept in hammocks. You must remember we were young ladsin those days and life on board was not always bad, we had our good times and the comradeship of the mess-mates was outstanding. One convoy duty out of Freetown , a troop ship was torpedoed and the Starwort picked up 240 survivors. We spent 9 months working out of Freetown on convoy duties. In march 1942 we were called home for a refit at Tilbury.

Our next mission was on the dreaded Russian Convoy. We joined the convoy PQ16 at Siedisford, the West coast of Iceland, with 35 merchant ships. For me, this was the worst experience of the war. We were threatened by U-Boats,some 500 JU 88 dive bombers, with no air cover ourselves.; also the German battleships. We lost many ships and picked up 71 survivors, whose life expectancy in the icy waters was very limited. We arrived at Murmansk battered and out of ammunition, then went further North to Archangel before being able to make our way home.

We next had to escort a huge convoy for the invasion of North Africa, during which HMS Starwort sank U-Boat 660, and picked up 45 members of her crew.We then spent sevsral months escorting convoys across the Atlantic to Newfoundland, taking up to 3 weeks at a time.

We next did a further Russian convoy known as the Kola run, but with a very heavy escort which reduced the air and U-Boat attacks. We spent 4 weeks at the Kola inlet. On the way home we experienced very heavy gales, the worst ever experienced, and the convoy PQ 17 had to scatter. However, we arrived safely back at our base at Londonderry. This was the time of the Battle of the Atlantic, and at its peak, 17 ships on one convoy were lost!

We escorted many more convoys around European waters until finally returning home to Harwich to take part in the D.Day invasion of French beaches.

By May 1945 the war in Eurpe was over, and the tired Starwort was laid up in Londonderry before being sold, in 1946, to become the Southern Broom, a whaler operating in Northern waters. In 1967, 20 years later and after such strenuous service, she was broken up in Bruges.

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