- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Roland Clarke
- Location of story:
- account of time in the navy, from England to France etc
- Background to story:
- Royal Navy
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 25 August 2004
With the approaching Fifty - Fifth anniversary of our wedding, I thought it time to come clean to Barbara and the girls, as to what I got up to whilst being away, so soon after November 5th, 1941.
A diary from memory of events 1941 - 1946
Observations from the not so Lower Deck
Dedicated to Barbara and Other Servicemen's Wives who had a raw deal
Acknowledgements & Thanks
Most grateful to Eric Eardley for the saga of a Jack Dusty which prompted Barbara to suggest I could do likewise
Mrs Betty Brown for her assistance
The Imperial War Museum
"You're late, the bus has been waiting here an hour", was the welcome from the Draft Petty Officer. "Fall in outside the Station in some semblance of order with your baggage, and in future, don't forget the Royal Navy always keeps to time. In future, when you have shore leave, for those ratings who are entitled and not backward swimmers, you will be expected to catch your bus, and on time, at Portman Road, and there are no intermediate stops before Shotley, H.M.S. Ganges. It had been a long day, the train had stopped at every station since Grantham. The Petty Officer then had not quite finished - "Get a move on, it's the 28th December, our duty people have had to forego their Christmas leave to pull you lot in".
We arrived at the annex where in darkness, we stumbled our way around different billets to unload our gear and then proceed to the mess for a late meal.
The next two or three days, or was it a week, during which fifty items of kit was supplied, phew ! ! You are taught in no uncertain terms how to salute and when the onus is on you to salute, when passing or being passed by an Officer, or addressing or being addressed.
Your Commanding Officer is Captain W.H.G. Fallowfield - Second in Command. The Commander is Commander H.G.L. Harvey.
Saturday being the day to enter the Main Establishment and be attached to one of the Divisions - "Hawke" - "Blake" - "Grenville" - "Benbow" an Officer for each being concerned with your welfare and your many activities during the period of training (LT. Gibson).
37 Mess - The Short Covered Way, was my abode with 48 ratings in all, divided into two watches, with a Seamanship and Gunnery Instructor in charge. Units were responsible for cleanliness of specified areas including the Messes where you sleep and a rotation of other duties when they would be available and required night and day.
"Hoisting the Colours" at Divisions takes place at 09.00 daily. On dismissal, classes are formed either for Seamanship or Gunnery, the Instructor for the latter being a survivor of the armed freighter which took on a German battleship in defence of a convoy early in the war in the North Atlantic - the "Jenvis Bay" - he commanded a lot of respect from the lads. Initially a large amount of drill on the Parade Ground with and without rifles - the way to build discipline. It being winter, so you would jump about a bit smartish and be encouraged to climb the 90 foot mast on the edge of the Parade Ground, in a pair of shorts and plimsolls.
Shore leave to Ipswich was dependent on the amount of bus transport available. It may have to have been staggered or even curtailed. Liberty men to Harwich could proceed by service boat on specific dates during course. The times for liberty men to fall in was 13. 15. and 16.00 hours and if you were a non swimmer 17.15 hours owing to the fact that the hour swimming tuition was after normal instruction.
The rate of pay on joining was 2s.6d. per day with an additional 3d. per diem in lieu of grog if you were over 20 years old, approximately 3d. per day was credited to all ratings for the upkeep of their kit. 10s. was given the day after you arrived and you were told not to forget, this will be stopped from your pay which is fortnightly. The reason for the use of your cap as a table on which to receive your pay is so that both witnessing Officer and yourself can see the amount of money you get.
Owing to the fact of our arrival date, part of the ships company was still on Christmas leave, the other half were awaiting the New Year. So the working ship part of the routine which happens before starting the course, seemed to be prolonged. I was detailed as messenger to a blonde Officer Wren Lieutenant until she realised I didn't relish being a walker for her white french poodle or to sit and read a book until required. It wasn't difficult to lose that job. For the following two weeks my oppo and I were given a bicycle each to ride out to "Ewarton Hall" where the Commanding Officer, Captain Fallowfield and his family lived, to help the Cox'n Bridget and WRNS'S etc., in their duties in running the house.
So everyone returns to duties at H.M.S. Ganges and we can start our course, the reason for us being there at all.
Gun drill was a laugh, especially in the afternoon after the Instructor had had his tot. He would complain that someone wasn't paying attention and load him up with a six inch shell to carry around to different locations on an apparent pre-arrangement.
The boat pulling in a ships dipping lug cutter with eight oars, all pulling together. I think it was to stop us absconding to Harwich that we were always secured to the jetty. We were called out in a panic one night to man the trenches on the foreshore owing to the arrival in the channel of three German Battleships. The hand lead line was a piece of cake with anyone with a bit of nerve, but some of the young lads, when it was swung almost overhead, would duck and could finish up with almost drastic results, although no one was fortunately crowned. The dash up the channel was 12.2.42 "Gneisenau",
"Seharnhorst", "Prinz Eugen", 6 Destroyers, 10 Torpedo Boats and large number of S. and R. Boats.
Whilst at Ganges I was informed that the Tribal Class Destroyer, H.M.S. Matabele, had been sunk with all but two survivors near the Kola Inlet, Murmansk, and my elder brother was missing, presumed dead, on the 17th of January, three days before his twenty seventh birthday. He was a C.W. Rating.
I found the Seamanship instruction very interesting, Buoyage, Bends and Hitches, Anchors and Cables, Rules of the Road, Rope Splicing, Navigation, Block and Tackle, Semaphore, all to become very useful in my later sailing days after the conflict, but I plumped for Gunnery. If I was going to be shot at, I wanted to be able to shoot back, and was put forward for St. Mary's Gunnery School at Chatham.
The days at Ganges came to an end. We had to return all our loaned gear to the store and that even meant the bed mattress the day before, with a very uncomfortable night to look forward to. However, a couple of pints for someone who had been teetotal, soon smoothed out the wires.
We left early morning, direct on train from Shotley to Chatham, 19.3.42.
Our arrival at H.M.S. Pembroke at Chatham was without ceremonial as you would expect, I didn't rate the place myself. As soon as we could, after being given a billet, we had to take all our kit down to the delousing tent, as if we had all been riddled with the plague. After arriving back in the mess, our duty already worked out for us, the night would be spent in the Dockyard fire watching in case of air raid, the following night would be in the tunnel. The day was spent having medical and night vision tests as gunners destined for Coastal Forces, then being put on a rota for your individual Mess in the school proper and working party prior to joining St. Mary's Barracks. As aforesaid fire watching caper, it was a very cold night - March 20th - with hammocks slung in this brick enclosure eighteen feet square, walls nine feet high, but the flat corrugated roof eighteen inches above top of the brickwork, naturally it was warmer outside. Our billet in St. Mary's was like facing a row of arched tunnels (nothing to do with tunnel mentioned previously) about one hundred and fifty yards long, above was a balcony the whole length behind which, and over the tunnels was purpose built Chief and Petty Officers Messes. Apparently ages ago these buildings were used by the "Royal Engineers" and the arched tunnels below were for stables - this was now our Mess, but with painted brickwork and parquet floors, a window at each end, it was quite comfortable.
There was quite a number of trees in the vicinity and I was sure the idea was to find a team the continual job of sweeping up the leaves whilst waiting to go on course. You always have a Smart Alec who suggests a job with the idea of getting out of the place if possible. Someone would volunteer to paint the Dining Mess with paint which is unobtainable. If we use the handcart to take two refuse bins (empty) down to the Dockyard, to collect lime, if asked by the Dockyard Police, whilst down there purloin the required amount of paint from whatever ships, top the bins up with lime and return. That was the P.P.P. and managed quite well until starting course.
On the parade ground - "Markers", "Parade Fall In", "Open Order for Inspection", "Fall Out the Officer", "Parade Ready to Carry On", "Parade will Turn Left to March in Column of Route", "By Divisions Quick March". This being the only time you march on the Parade Ground, at all other times "Run at the Double". We march down to the school in the morning and after lunch with a swing accompanied by either the Naval Pipe Band or the Royal Marines. On being dismissed you are taken over by a Gunnery Instructor very purser, shown around this fine array of armaments from Six Inch down, Four Point Five, Bofer, Rolls Gun, MK. V111 POM-POM, MK. 11 POM-POM, 2 pdr Hodgkiss, 20 mm Oerlikon, Vickers .05, Lewis Gun, Tommy Gun.
Then comes the drill in proper sequence and to order - "Guns at First Degree of Readiness", "Action Stations", "Guns Crew - Close Up", "Guns Crew Closed Up and Cleared Away", "On Target" - "Fire" - if no stoppage carry on firing until "Cease Fire", "Check - Check - Check", "Half Cocked". That's all very well but it is knowing where to stand - how to move. If there is a stoppage - what to do, where to look, all the parts have to be known by name and be capable of stripping down and more important , being assembled - in correct order. By the time your course is over in Eight Weeks you have learned quite a lot but is it enough ? - you have not been put to the test in action.
The Dome Teacher was quite a novelty, the entire inner surface was a cinema screen, projected on this was film of aircraft attacking and manoeuvring. You are standing in the middle inside the Dome with a cartwheel sight and an imaginary gun, the results are filmed and scrutinised at a later time.
Still at St Mary's Gunnery School our class had the honour of being an armed Guard to King George the Sixth.
The leaves did get cleaned up eventually and the mess deck painted, but after our first fortnight it being left for someone else to continue.
Our journey by train to Fort William seemed endless. Thursday, 21st May, early morning start, arrived early evening the following day at H.M.S. St. Christopher. The only thing I remember was the stations for refreshments all laid on and most of all the Jam Jars containing tea. I wouldn't advise anyone to visit there in May - we were there for three weeks and it rained continuously, except the Sundays. Our billets were Nissan Huts in the grounds of the Highland Hotel (St. Christopher). The Hotel was officers quarters and classrooms for instruction on the routines and living and working on small craft. The half dozen Fairmile Motor Launches and a Motor Torpedo Boat on Loch Linnhe were for the ratings and officers to aquaint themselves with, as these craft were to be their home for the duration. We would assemble on board in the morning after being marched down to the jetty to the tune of Bagpipes. The M.L'S would set off S.W. down the Loch, turn to starboard up through the Sound of Mull out into the open sea above the Isle of Mull. We would be having instruction on Stokers duties in the engine room, how to deal with Depth Charges and how to set. Keep in touch with Semaphoring. Taking Tricks at the Helm. Knowing the duties of a Lookout and the correct way of describing and position of what you have seen. The Gunners would have a shoot at an odd wreck or two with a prehistoric breech loading Hodgkiss Two Pounder Gun. Aircraft recognition of friendly and enemy. Silhouette shapes of surface craft. How to deal with collision damage. The tasks were many but interesting.
After divisions on Sunday the rest of the time was a free day and what ! it was fine. I was still with my two pals I had made at Ganges - Jinks and Woolerton. So we set off on each Sunday down the Vale of Nevis and up the footpath to the summit of Ben Nevis. On the third Sunday we were very lucky, we had just arrived at the summit when there was a blizzard, it did make it difficult to descend. All that came to a halt, for the following Saturday, the 12th June, back on the train at noon to H.M.S. Bee which was still at Weymouth, just dropped in nicely for Sunday tea, with a draft chit awaiting me also for the next day to ? ? Felixstowe.
The little auburn haired gentleman, yes there were such people in the Navy, who went under the name of Chief Regulating Petty Officer, whose job
was in the office at the Main Entrance to the Base, said that I should have arrived the day before, but understood that I had just travelled down from Scotland, so I was in order. Petty Officer Brewer read my instructions and repeated - "So you are replacement Gunner for the boat that flies the Brown Ensign, Motor Gun Boat 67. Your Commanding Officers will be Lieutenant Rodney Sykes and First Lieutenant Dudley John Dixon. I will give you instructions as to the whereabouts of boat, but you will be living in the crews bungalow quite near to the Basin, but I would advise you to get along there a bit sharpish as the boat is one of those down for sea. I met Lawrence Fletcher in the green wooden bungalow, who was at this time doing duty as cook. I was allocated a bed and a locker and managed to get my gear unloaded, prior to rushing off to the loan clothing store - two submarine frocks, pair of sea boots, a one-piece oilskin waterproof sort of boiler suit with a hood and a warm capok filled lining sea boot stocking.
With half an hour to spare before the order on board to "Let Go Springs" - "Let Go Forward" - "Ahead Port" - "Let Go Aft" - "Starboard Wheel" - "Ahead Starboard" - "Amidships" - "Ahead Centre" - "Take Her Out Cox'n" - "Get those Fenders in and lines Stowed Away" - "Hands Fall In on the Fo'c's'le" - when out past the Jetty where Commander Kerr takes the Salute and through the Boom, it is "Hand to Sea Stations" - "Uncover Guns".
The first trip wasn't a particularly interesting one. Out past the Estuary there are quite a few wrecks with the masts out of the water, where the gunners are allowed to test the guns and a practice shoot.
I had a pair of Vickers .5s in the Starboard turret. Fletcher was my loading number and also his job was to set the Depth Charges when required. Johnny Prescott was in the Port turret, his loading number being Jock Johnson. Bill Langley on the Oerlikon 20mm. aft with Yorky Hodgkinson - Stoker - as his loader. Bill Woolidge was Petty Officer Cox'n, Leading Stoker Gibbs and Petty Officer Motor Mechanic George Owens, Bunts was Geoffrey Newton. We went about three quarters of the way over to the Hook of Holland on what was called a z-z's, stopped all night doing a hydra phone watch listening for engine noises, entering a target area or returning, but there was nothing to report.
The Sixth Flotilla of Gun Boats was commissioned at Fowey twelve months before, in its early days and in later successes established the name of Motor Gun Boats and almost alone kept the Gunboat flag flying. The crew were always proud to relate how on the 19th November 1941, M.G.B's 64 and 67 took part in an action where an E Boat was stopped, and after it was abandoned and rediscovered again, 64 went alongside and boarded and 67 joined her. Charts, Log Books, German Flag, W.T. equipment, revolvers, picture of Hitler. After a while the order was given to Abandon. Shortly afterwards its bows rose vertical and quickly disappeared.
67 was not always so fortunate, earlier in her commission she had a new bow section built on owing to a ramming, when she rode up over the stern of Motor Gunboat 62 which sank. We had done quite a few operations of the z-z-s type for convoy protection in the North Sea and by this time the Eight Flotilla Boats were starting to arrive at "Beehive". Lieutenant George Bailey came in 74 and Lieutenant Commander Hitchens was looking for a suitable man to take over S.O. of the 6th. as he had been doing it himself along with the five new boats of the Eighth Flotilla. George Bailey was offered the job, but although being loathe to give up his new command, accepted. He was relieved in 74 by Rodney Sykes, our C.O., and George Bailey came to us as Commanding Officer and S.O.
There had been a strong force of E Boats off the Devon coast of late and the five Eighth Flotilla Boats were immediately called away as ten vessels including escorts had been sunk.
Operations came and went, under our new C.O. but the one I will never forget was the 29th July. Our nightly patrol had begun at about 21.00 hours, all crews on board by 20.30 hours - 67,61,60 slipped from the harbour in line ahead, out past the boom defence and the V formation with nine engines three quarter throttle, the roar vibrating for miles around, past the cork and then the sunk light vessels, wrecks in sight - "Action Stations" - and a practice shoot at the sunken masts. The order to keep a sharp lookout as soon as we are well over our shipping lanes, darkness falls about 23.00 hours, leaving us with roughly 90 miles to go to the Dutch Coast Imuden, 30 miles to go from here we go on silencers, no smoking, even that light would be noticed miles away. Closing in now to enemy coast and gradually turning to starboard to start a patrol down to Ostend, past the mouth of the "Shelt" - nothing to report down the coast, still on silencers. At Zeebrugge we stop engines and lower the hydra phone, all is still and quiet except for the occasional wave as it laps the side of the boat. A report - engines can be heard on the hydra phone - all is tense - disengage silencers - Start up engines Full Speed Ahead. We make towards Ostend - at 2.15 hours we spot a faint blue light. "Action Stations" - in we go, carefully but fast, speed is the thing, but evidently we were not the only ones looking for trouble. We were challenged and apparently had met two of our own M.T.B's under Lt. (Harpy) Lloyd, also intent on destroying the Convoy, which could now be seen silhouetted in darkness.
Lloyd goes in from seaward and fires both fish, hitting the first merchant ship with both. 61 and 60 go between shore and convoy to distract attention from us, 67, who went in until not a gun on the merchant man could bear on us, as soon as were under her bows, Fletcher turned the key on the Depth Charge and away it went on its deadly mission. That finished the second vessel, now for the Flack Trawlers. At this time they were in line ahead and we were going straight for them, with 61 and 60 attacking from their rear.
What the remaining crew did not know was that the Cox'n, C.O. and 1st Lt. were wounded and the boat was careering along on its own with the port .5 turret on fire, taking the hydraulic power from my turret, a fire in the engine room and a hole in the bows at the waterline a yard across. Bill Langley - Oerlikon gunner killed, a spare officer who was acting as my loading number and a war reporter also killed, Prescott, Fletcher and Hodgkinson all had stomach wounds, also Johnson. The C.O. had forty odd pieces of shrapnel in the bottom and the 1st Lt. Sid Prike, Telegraphist, had a .5 straight through both thighs, Cox'n lost toes and I had shrapnel in the hands and bottom. Realising I had lost power in the Starboard turret, as I was about to extricate myself and sit on the top, two shells went through the backrest between my legs and took part of the magazines with them - the officer lay behind me. Bunts and myself gave all the wounded morphine, still not knowing the Cox'n was hit. The boat careering away at a rate of knots. I have a lanyard and a bucket catching the spray from the wake to put out the fire in the port turret. Not even knowing yet that the mess deck below was half full of water. Bunts and myself covered the dead. Took Bill Langley down from the harness of the Oerlikon. The fire in the engine room was dealt with by George Owens and Gibbs. We made Cox'n Woolidge comfortable in the wheel house and Sid Prike in the W.T. cabin. All this done, we took the Helm and Mess deck pump in turns, George Bailey, the C.O. gave us the course for home, and providing the three Rolls Merlin's kept turning, we would have sufficient speed to keep the bows well up. The C.O. must have been spot on with the course, we hit the sunk light vessel at 05.30 hours, entering harbour with a crash stop, with wire hawsers, fire tender, pumps and ambulances standing by.
Both Barbara, my wife of eight months, and I, had arranged with the Police and Security for her to visit Felixstowe the first week in August, and was to stay with another elderly Clarke couple of Beach Road West. Owing to the action of the 29th-30th , I called to see Mrs Clarke on the Thursday, after having my wounds dressed again at the R.A.F's sick bay. She told me that my wife had received a telegram stating I had been slightly wounded and would be arriving a day earlier. As M.G.B. 67 was now on the slips in the hanger for repairs, to enable her to be towed down the coast to Brightlingsea, I was able to get permission to welcome Barbara off the train and of course she was surprised at that. The hangers, for interest, were used by the Sunderland Flying Boats, who used to fly from here to India. I was able to have most of the weekend off duty and the afternoon and evening during the following week. We had a few trips into Ipswich and surrounding villages. I remember the film "Black Magic" with George Burns, who has just died a few months less than his century. When Barbara travelled back home I escorted her to Ipswich and saw her onto the train. It's quite a decent walk to Felixstowe when you can't get transport.
The minor repairs were completed on 67 and preparations made for the following day to be towed by small paddle steamer to Brightlingsea. Leaving her there by the Jetty to the dockyard mates to deal with. We, the three of us, were transported back in a R.N. truck to Felixstowe, "Beehive". A weeks sick leave was on the cards and very acceptable to.
Before the week was over I had occasion to ask for an extension of leave - we had been waiting for a house for ages and were told number eleven was vacant. It's not so easy as you would think, I had to return, for the purpose of being given another 72 hours leave.
It was early in September before the crew were back together. Bunts and I had been doing voluntary trips on operations after the leave, on different boats in the Flotilla. Hodgkinson, Prike and Cox'n Woolidge did not return to us. There were a few decorations and awards - Mention in Despatches to Prescott, Johnson and posthumously to Bill Langley, Fletcher and Cox'n D.S.M. George Bailey D.S.O.
I was the only new boy along with Bunts, give him a name, Geoffrey Newton. Cox'n was replaced by Chief Petty Officer Tom Hartland (Tom Dollar) to his friends D.S.M. who, the senior Cox'n of the Flotilla was until now Lt. Comm. Hitchens D.S.O., *D.S.C.** Cox'n Hodgkinson replaced by Nobby Clarke (Stoker). Oaks was to replace me in the starboard .5 turret, while I took over the Oerlikon aft. Everyone was back fit and well. The boat was ready, all were transported down to Brightlingsea, (by the way there were no pickets there then). Had a look over the newly painted boat and it looked really good.
We came back under her own steam, the Rolls engine as good as ever. We had several Skippers and up until late in 1943, Lt. John Colvill, a tall ginger haired gentleman.
By this time "Hitch" had arrived back with his now complete Eighth Flotilla and getting his way regarding the idea of replacing the single Oerlikon with a twin on a lightweight mounting.
I was the experimental gunner, the new mounting was placed on 67 and a pair of Oerlikons plus a sprung cartwheel sight, something I could manage without for obvious reasons. Lt. Woods, the Gunner at "Beehive", not being satisfied with this, also had the foredeck strengthened and a "Blacker Bombard Spigot Mortar" installed - when you hit anything with the bomb it was devastating. We did quite a few operations with this armament and successfully.
Lieutenant Commander Hitchens had tried to get permission to assist the M.L's in their mine laying jobs. As the Eighth Flotilla were now contemplating having their own Torpedo Tubes fitted, it was the Sixth Flotilla who were given the chocks to carry caustic mines. That done we were soon across at Harwich to collect the mines - we had long black cylindrical objects and the M.L's loaded up with Bubble type horns. These expeditions were repeated for some time without any interference, until starting our normal routine. On the occasion when swinging the compass one time we were towed round this buoy by the wr'ns boat and of course it became very foggy. The wr'ns were sent back to harbour, it became really thick, causing us to stay out there for two days with no victuals, when along came the ghostly shape of the destroyer H.M.S McKay, inviting us on board for food and was most welcome. Eventually we were able to get back to base and Johnson, whose birthday it had been before going out on this manoeuvre and was invited around the Flotilla for "Sippers" had just sobered up and being unaware of the late performance.
It came round to December, Barbara had intentions of paying another visit to Felixstowe and had arranged to stay with a Mrs Green. She was coming down just before Christmas and while she was there it was time for the boats drying out period on the "Slips". That made things very convenient, no sea time and could have all night leave, which fitted in with Barbara's idea of becoming pregnant. On the fifth day of her stay, we were given leave over the Christmas and New Year. It was late in the evening when I managed to get away and no way could we do the journey on the East Coast Rail Line at that hour, so going through London was the obvious route. What a marvellous Christmas and Barbara with her Christmas Box.
In the new Year most of the activity seemed to be in the channel and we heard a buzz that we would shortly be going that way ourselves. We eventually made for "H.M.S. Aggressive" at Newhaven.
The actual base there was on the Railway Station Ocean Terminal and along side the river. They were exceptionally busy and regular nights and quite a long trip to Cherbourg. Shipping was sneaking out of the harbour there, taking advantage of the deep water to hug the coast within a mile off shore. We were further out than that when we saw the flash of coastal guns and shells fall around with uncomfortable accuracy. They were followed by star shells, five or six together, clustered and shining like moonlight, picking us out in black and white for the gunners ashore. Then came more shells bursting in the water and raking the decks with shrapnel and more star shells at intervals. We had no luck in finding targets, but chased German shipping from Cherbourg, including two destroyers, until they ran into an area covered by another patrol. Poaching on another flotillas water was prohibited - you might easily have been mistaken for an E Boat. The crews were living on board and at this busy period we were given breakfast ashore on coming in from sea, whilst the wr'ns busied themselves on board, generally cleaning up and alas cleaning guns and ammunition ? ? which only happened once. That evening we went to sea, when I was testing guns as usual after leaving harbour, I should say attempting, both barrels went over the side.
The night came when the Cox'n "Tom" was celebrating his Twenty First Action. We had three separate actions that night, the third was with a unit of E Boats returning from offensive patrol on the East Coast. We had broken off and were returning ourselves to base. The Cox'n had been relieved at the helm for a period and I was doing a trick in his place, after a while the Skipper wished to speak to him, he took the wheel whilst I went below. There was Tom lolling on his bunk with the Rum Jar celebrating his twenty first - "Have a drop of this Nobby" - it being my thirteenth, which I did and hustled Tom back to the wheel house sharpish.
67 was knocked about quite a bit, whilst at Newhaven we went into Littlehampton for repairs. I remember it was a Sunday, we had no spuds for dinner, volunteered to go to East Preston, half way to Worthing for a bag, no transport. Arriving back at the boatyard to find Johnson and Fletcher being attended by Johnny Prescott and Oaks. There had been a fire in the paraffin galley stove and the pair of them were overcome with the result of pyrene fire extinguisher fumes. So much for Sunday lunch.
These small jobs being completed we were to carry on along the coast to Dartmouth, look at the Channel Isles who were being supplied with small coastal boats. Our base and that of a Free French Flotilla of coastal craft was an old paddle steamer, each Flotilla being tied on either side. It was a beautiful place if only you were allowed to enjoy it.
Early one morning 67 broke down with two engines just off "Sark" and in daylight we were just crawling along. We were to be given aircraft escort, by the time they arrived we could see the Isle of Wight. We went into Gosport "H.M.S. Hornet" for repairs and as the E Boats were now concentrating on the East Coast again, it was good-bye to Hornet and Aggressive and hello Felixstowe.
In February, one of Hitch's flotilla 79 was lost by fire in an action. David Jones was C.O. and was taken prisoner after an aborted rescue by Hitchens himself, who three months earlier had to abandon his own boat. On the night of April 12th - 13th the life of the 34 year old S.O. of the 8th Flotilla, Lt. Comm. Robert Peverell Hitchens, D.S.O., D.S.C., came to an abrupt end. Attacking flack trawlers near the Hook of Holland, he was breaking off the action and was hit by a stray explosive shell in the chest and died instantly. 67 had been duty boat in the basin and I was on board when "Hitch" was brought up the steps, ashore, that Tuesday morning. I went to assist the gunners to get the guns to safe and clear up, everyone was devastated. He was buried in the cemetery at Felixstowe and I was one of the Guard of Honour.
There was two nights I remember when the boats were on "C" notice owing to the weather. Fletcher had a young lady ashore at Ipswich and had chanced going to meet her. 67 was duty boat, there was a flap on, we were called out before "Fletch" could get to us - he waved to us from the dockside as we left the harbour.
Another occasion, "C" notice again, 67 duty as usual, a concert party with Evelyn Laye giving a show in the cinema in the base, August 5th, Thursday. E Boats had come cross in the vicinity and had sunk the trawler "Red Gauntlet". We were called out to look for survivors but found nothing. Returning next morning, the concert party had stayed on to give us the show we had missed. The sequel to that is in recent years, I had called at the "Sparrow Nest" Patrol Service Museum at Lowestoft and relating about this to the Curator, he could tell me through his records that survivors had been picked up.
There had been some particularly bad weather. 67 had suffered some cracked ribs and the "Chine", both Port and Starboard had become dislodged and to have the repair achieved it was necessary to be slipped again, owing to it being close to our drying out period again it was decided to continue in one operation. However, I had a telegram to say Barbara had given birth to a daughter on the 29th September. I was granted forty eight hours leave, to see this beautiful baby girl.
On returning to "Beehive" the boat was back in the water. John Colvill was about to leave and replaced with Lieutenant Neil Watson.
The new 35th Flotilla was now being formed at Power Boats, Hythe, Lieutenant Dixon in M.T.B. 449, Rodney Sykes 448, 447. I only remember the Motor Mechanic who was Willis Lees. Dudley Dixon was promoted to Senior Officer. The boats were not yet fitted out with torpedo tubes, the armament was a Mk. V111 Pom-Pom, forward. 20mm. twin Oerlikon aft and two pairs of Vickers .303 machine guns either side of the Bridge.
The crew of M.G.B.67 arrived at Hythe on the 25th of November to commission the latest edition of the 35th Flotilla - M.T.B.453 - complete with tubes and the first with the Six Pounder Gun forward. On completion of trials for engines and guns at Coastal Force Main Base H.M.S. Hornet, we had a fairly rough weather voyage to H.M.S. Bee, Holyhead, for running up. Leading Stoker Gibbs was replaced with Mick Foyle.
Setting off for Dartmouth on the first leg, leaving the Needles on the western limit of the Isle of Wight, it was like hell let loose, crockery and fittings smashed all over the place. Making Dartmouth at nightfall after two attempts at the entrance to the harbour, two more were also made on successive days to leave here for Newlyn, on the journey the gale did abate slightly. After replenishing stores and crockery, the third leg was to terminate at Appledore, North Devon. To leave here took us five days owing to the deterioration of the weather again and the long seas. We tried two or three times most days, but had to return, the boat was very nearly capsizing on more than one occasion.
Milford Haven was our next call and passing Sunderland Flying Boats at their moorings at Pembroke Dock, we had a chuckle to ourselves. I suspect it was the sight of calm waters in this sheltered spot that encouraged the Skipper to show off 453, we must have been doing 35 knots, when suddenly from all around us, Aldis Lamps were flashing us to slow down as our wake washed the moorings to and fro.
We were allowed a little respite at Milford Haven. 48 hours owing to the battering we had taken in the last few days. We were tied quite near to the old Ironclad - H.M.S. Warrior (now in Portsmouth Harbour), it seemed to be on the bottom. We could use the showers that were on board, there was no lighting and it being a little scary in the dark, owing to the known vermin aboard.
On arrival at H.M.S. Bee the celebrated Peter Scott was Gunnery and Tactical Officer, of course he knew his stuff. Shoots and mock night actions were produced on a grand scale with numerous coastal force boats, there for the same purpose as ourselves. On one occasion we were to do a dummy torpedo run - in daylight off the "Skerries" on the Irish Ferry. The target was sighted and preparations made for the attack, the torpedo was fired, but vanished straight away out of sight. "Stop Engines". We scanned the surrounding water, eventually we had the shock of our lives as the Red dummy head appeared from under our bows. Afterwards it was learnt that an Ariel torpedo had been loaded by mistake.
As usual, St, Georges Channel and Irish Sea stuck to its reputation, our three weeks running up period was almost three months owing to rough weather. Half the time it was impossible for the boats to keep in sight of one another, therefore impossible to fight ship successfully. This made our eventual arrival back at Felixstowe delayed. Of course, we were still there over the Christmas period. The Skipper had lashed us up to numerous bottles of beverage. Only one snag, there being only one chicken between two boats, we did toss up for it and who lost ? Of course 453 ! !
There was one terrible mishap whilst at "Bee", Two wr'ns had been invited onto one of the Fairmile "D" Class boats and the automatic fire extinguishing gear malfunctioned for some unknown reason and they were both found to be dead.
Instead of going back to Felixstowe, the Flotilla was detailed to Yarmouth. We had a few long trips to Texel, Terschelling and Den Helder.
Preparations were being made for us to move to Newhaven again, not immediate as we were soon back in Felixstowe and an incident worth mentioning as we came in from the "Sunk Light Vessel" area. We saw three objects in the water, what could they be ? Taking a close look, beer barrels, Guinness in fact !
As we tied up in harbour, some of the lads were busy getting the loot ashore and attempting to get it stowed away in what was called the Cow-Sheds false roof. The Cow Shed was a ground floor building in a passage way leading to the harbour and used as a billet for boat crews. Two of the barrels were still on the deck when the Police arrived with a Customs Officer to confiscate same, just the two ! !
Back in Newhaven once more and on board for the first few trips was the S.O. Lt. J.D.Dixon, I suppose to see the big gun working, most other boats still retained their Pom-Pom's forward.
It being three weeks before "D-Day" and was in action on all three occasions. The S.O. was wounded in one of them and was awarded the D.S.C. and put me in for a "Mention".
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