BBC HomeExplore the BBC
This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.

15 October 2014
WW2 - People's War

BBC Homepage
BBC History
WW2 People's War Homepage Archive List Timeline About This Site

Contact Us

Service on board H.M.S.Subtle

by rayleighlibrary

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Arthur Brady
Location of story: 
East Asia
Background to story: 
Royal Navy
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
06 December 2004

Being born in 1924, I was just 14 years of age and had just started work when the war started. We had been issued with gas masks and had been provided with plenty of information in order that civilians could protect themselves and their homes in the event of air raids. Very early on I had wanted to join the Royal Navy but I was slightly too young to enter full-time so I joined the Sea Cadets to smooth the way in when the time came. To fill in time I started work at Siemens Brothers at Woolwich and when the air raids did start, our war work, such as making aircraft parts and degaussing coils for ships, was very often interrupted while we took shelter in shored-up basements of the factory.

When every night Londoners sheltered at home from the German bombers, I used to patrol the streets as a fire-watcher dealing with incendiary bombs that rained down on us in hundreds. Being so near the Woolwich Arsenal, (I lived in that Borough), and the London Docks we were subjected to a lot of bombings.

In January of 1943 I went to Worcester as a Sea Cadet to train as a Wireless Telegraphist. Whilst as Worcester they put me, along with three other ratings, to spend night times right up in the belfry of Worchester Cathedral in case fire bombs fell on the cathedral roof. Fortunately they never did.

I was drafted very early on to serve in submarines where there was a shortage of wireless operators. I trained at H.M.S Dolphin at Gosport and H.M.S Elfin at Blyth, Northumberland, finally doing sea training in H44, a first world war submarine working off Londonderry.

Following sea training and all the necessary class work, for all seaman ratings on submarines do jobs other than their substantive grades, such as steering course, depth keeping, and loading torpedoes etc., where necessary, I was ready to go abroad to join my first boat. It was when I was waiting to go abroad on leave that I met my wife during an air raid at a dance in Welling, Kent. After that I met one evening we never saw each other again until after the war when I came home, as skinny as a rake and extremely pale through spending days and nights cooped up in a boat. She later married me in 1947 and I am glad to say that she is still with me after 67 years.

I went on a Troopship to Ceylon, now called Sri Lanka. I joined H.M.S Subtle, a submarine operating from Trincomalee and patrolling the Malacca Straits above Singapore. We were there to sink Japanese warships and other vessels that were supplying Japanese forces in Burma. We also plotted minefields, carried out secret missions and surveyed the coastline for possible invasion landing sites. Sometimes, on a patrol, we were employed on air-sea rescue missions doing watch on, watch off, in case bombing aircrews had to ditch in the sea.

Life on board a second world war submarine was anything but comfortable with very severe water rationing, “hot bunking”, which in reality means sleeping at all times of the day or night wherever one could find space, on the deck, on a table, or on a locker, and keeping watches at sea for up to one month in enemy waters. I did four patrols on board H.M.S Subtle.
Eventually, after being severely depth charged on May 8th, VE Day back home, we attacked a Japanese cruiser, The Haguro, which was finally sunk by a flotilla of destroyers. This was the final bog destroyer battle of the war. We returned to harbour and were signalled by Aldis lamp that we had “returned to harbour on a momentous occasion” — it being VJ Day, something we knew nothing about! We celebrated that “momentous occasion” on board H.M.S Wolfe, our Depot ship, with a few tots of rum and several celebratory bangs.

We sailed back to the UK where several flotillas of submarines were laid up in readiness for any flare-up of hostilities. Our flotilla consisted of 16 submarines anchored out in the River Orwell at Harwich. These were sailed with skeleton crews around to various shipyards to be modernised or scrapped according to condition.

I was finally demobilized at Portsmouth after sailing H.M.S. Scout around to Chatham and was fitted out with civilian clothing right down to cuff-links, braces and a tie. After the war I returned to renew my interrupted apprenticeship under a government scheme at Siemens Brothers. After following an engineering career, I finally became the Chief Design Engineer at the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment at Foulness, Essex, an offshoot of Aldermaston and their Trials Range.

© Copyright of content contributed to this Archive rests with the author. Find out how you can use this.

Archive List

This story has been placed in the following categories.

Royal Navy Category
Indian Ocean Category
icon for Story with photoStory with photo

Most of the content on this site is created by our users, who are members of the public. The views expressed are theirs and unless specifically stated are not those of the BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of any external sites referenced. In the event that you consider anything on this page to be in breach of the site's House Rules, please click here. For any other comments, please Contact Us.

About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy