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A life on the ocean waves- 1943-1946

by BBC Cumbria Volunteer Story Gatherers

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Archive List > Royal Navy

Contributed by 
BBC Cumbria Volunteer Story Gatherers
People in story: 
Richard Cathcart
Location of story: 
The Atlantic
Background to story: 
Royal Navy
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
21 October 2005

In 1943, the day after I was 18 a letter dropped on the mat. It was my call up papers. They were expected and I was glad they came.
After initial training at Skegness with the Royal Navy, I was sent to Glasgow. I was in communications and when we reached a certain elementary speed in telegraphy we were sent to HMS Scotia in Ayre. We were sorted out again, given a finishing polish, parcelled up and packaged off down to Plymouth to camp. I was given my number: D/JX 613221

There were raids but we didn't really have time to worry about them. We were dispersed in a wood in Nissan huts.

I got my call shortly after going there and was shipped up to Liverpool. Whoever was being drafted that day was taken by wagon to their ship. I was dropped on a jetty. I looked down and saw the Chief Petty Officer. I threw my kit bag and hammock onto the deck. The ship was HMS Bellwort, a Corvette. Corvettes were patrol ships and escorts. Within 1/2 an hour we were off for a cruise round Liverpool bay and got a ration of fags-duty free. We came back the same night.

The next day life became serious. Between times we were sorted onto decks and sorted into duties. In the telegraphist room there were 2 telegraphists, one coder and the leading telegraphist.

We had a crew of 98. My hammock was strung above a pathway, a good place to be. In rough weather hammocks were better than bunks where you could roll too much.

We left Liverpool, bound for Stornaway. The weather was lousy. From that day on I was never sick again. At Stornaway we dropped anchor. It was misty and rainy. There we were trained to the standard of a fighting ship by petty officer ships. We knew how to depth charge, man the guns and life boat drills. There was a week of working up trials, we knew the signals for the various events such as air raids.

After steaming back to London to start work, it was off to Ireland where cargo boats were lining up. They were carrying supplies for the Army and Airforce and our job was to be part of their escort to Gibralter and further south. We were peeled off and our group leader went down to Freetown. There was a huge bay and we anchored there and got a good nights sleep. Then the cargo boats started to arrive. We escorted them south to Lagos, then up the coast to Dakar, dropping cargo off as needed. While sailing we'd be 40 or 50 miles off the coast.

We did this until the end of the war, then we were based at Gibralter. U-boats were giving themselves up at Gibralter. While patrolling from there to Finisterre we had to go into Lisbon to pick up the crew of a U-boat. Of course we were curious about the Germans. We found they were just ordinary guys like us.

On all our patrols there had been only one occasion when we found ourselves in trouble. We were escorting a convoy when our engines packed in. The Commander of the convoy was contacted, who said no one could stay with us, so we were left. When the engines were switched off you could hear the telegraph all over the ship otherwise it was deathly quiet. I remember there was an oily swell. After a few hours we were ready and went on our way undetected.

Going back to the German U-boat crew, we took them to Plymouth. We were home at last and looking for leave, but at the depot some of us were put on HMS Devonshire bound for Australia.

In the Med not far fron Cyprus we had word that a liner was on fire. It turned out to be the Empire Patrol carrying Jewish immigrants heading to Palastine. Many had jumped overboard and we were diverted to pick them up. Those we rescued we took to Famagusta in Cyprus. Then we went on our way through the Suez Canal to Australia

When we got to Sydney Harbour, there was a massive show of naval ships -the Hood, etc. We were taken off to Worwick Farm outside of Sydney which was a big depot. I got a stripe then a posting via the drafting office-'you are going to Tokio! Get your kit together, you're flying out tonight.'

There were two stops in Australia and one in the Philippines were there was a bounty on Japanese heads. We were then flown into Hong Kong in Dakotas- a journey that took two days and from there sent on to join the Ariadnne, a mine laying cruiser capable of 40 knotts, bound for Japan. On the 20 mile train journey between Yokahama and Tokio we could see that not a brick was standing. Strangely, this was with the exception of both the British and U.S. Embassies.

Our purpose was to be back up on the communications network. We had no transmitters but rang the Yanks to keep in touch with Hong Kong. We were housed in one of the houses in a compound and had a pleasant stay there. I then moved to Yokahama to the British Consulate there where our job was to control the harbour by Radio Telegraphy. The Belfast was there.

Another move- we were shipped off back to Hong Kong on the Manxman, a mine laying cruiser and then on to Colombo. By strange coincidence, I met a Barrowvian I was at school with! He was just coming out.

The final stint was to be homeward bound on the Duke of York, a massive battleship on her way back from South America. We docked off Plymouth, were taken off and put ashore. Back at the depot we were demobed. It was 1946. You felt a sense of anti-climax and regret. And after all the places I'd been to, it became a small world! I got into a railway carriage to come home and there was someone from the Accountant's office where I worked!

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