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15 October 2014
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A Christmas Cruiseicon for Recommended story

by Community Heritage Store

Contributed by 
Community Heritage Store
People in story: 
Cyril Copeman
Location of story: 
English Channel
Background to story: 
Royal Navy
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
20 January 2005

Cyril Copeman

I remember I was serving on ML 600 and we were tied up at Plymouth with our base ship, the Black Bat.

We had been bottling our tots of rum, and decided on Christmas Day that we would have a drink, and invite the Skipper down to join us. After a few drinks we were invited back to the Wardroom in ones and twos, as it was quite a small room. Of course we all went at once. It was very cramped! I remember being sat squashed on a top bunk with Jimmy, the First Officer.

Let’s just say everyone had more than they should, and it was a bit riotous. Someone even let off a Very pistol which was a bit silly.

Anyway, the Black Bat signalled us and asked the Commanding Officer to go over straight away. We went down and told him, but he didn’t go. They sent a second signal, and then a Wren Officer came across in a small launch, with a Wren Coxswain. They came alongside, and she asked for the Commander to go and see her. We went down and told him, and he basically said, “She can come and see me”. This went on two or three times, before she decided she would have to come aboard.

Jimmy then came up and told us we were going to sea. When you went past the Signal House, you usually lined up on the bow and saluted. We were allowed to lean against the wheel house! After a while, someone asked why we were towing a boat. The Wren coxswain was still there, clinging on for dear life, and white as a sheet. We had to stop and send them back, by then a distance of about two miles!

Our orders were to wait off the lighthouse, and report to HMS Conway. She had an old ship with her, and another ML on the other side. We took up position and set off. We spotted some German E-boats watching us, but they didn’t seem interested in taking any action so we carried on. We stopped that night, and when we woke in the morning we found we were on our own off some islands. We assumed we had been sent out as a punishment for getting drunk in the harbour. We waited there for two or three days, and then set off. We met back up with the others, and returned home.

It wasn’t until some years later when I was chatting about it to the Skipper that I found out it hadn’t been a punishment after all. We had actually been escorting the first Red Cross aid into the Channel Islands. The Germans hadn’t been prepared to let us go all the way into the harbour, hence us staying at sea all the time. The Germans had taken over the escort duties from us and taken the ship the rest of the way.

Apparently it was kept so secret because Churchill hadn’t told Parliament that he was sending the aid!

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