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Frank Sugden

Petty Officer

HMS Prince of Wales

 

Frank as a Petty Officer in 1947

The article, 'WAR MUSIC', by Ray James was of especial interest to me as I was one of the five radio mechanics that were mentioned by him. One item of interest was his forename - I never knew it until now - he was always 'Jimmie' to us.

The five radio mechanics were:
JAMES, Ray
SANKEY, Vernon
TURNER, Wilfred
TAYLOR, Ronald
SUGDEN, Frank (myself).

Whilst in Newcastle, we five were billeted in the same lodgings; our landlady was Mrs. Stockton. She and her daughter, Margery, cared for us very well - how they did so on the miserable pittance paid by the penny-pinching Navy I don't know.

Ronnie and I were friends from early days aboard the P.O.W., we were in adjacent messes on the same mess-deck. We did not meet the other three until after the sinking of the ship; not until we were on the Carthage, I think.

 

I noticed that Jimmie assumed that the Navy's need of radio mechanics was the reason for our being sent aboard the first evacuation ship out of Singapore. However, the Navy was not in need of untrained would-be radio mechanics, such as we were; of those, the Navy had plenty and to spare, awaiting training courses. So, there was no need for us to be sent back to Britain. Our departure was caused by Naval Procedure and a lot of luck.
When we were accepted to be trained as radio mechanics, our ship, the 'Prince Of Wales', was in home waters and we were left aboard her 'until required' ; our draft-chits being held in abeyance until some time 'before Christmas' (so we were told). When 'before Christmas' arrived, we were some twelve thousand miles away, but, in The Navy, 'orders is orders' and a signal was duly sent to the ship requiring us to be returned to barracks forthwith. Too late! The message was lost with the ship.
Then came a chain of circumstances. A very tenuous chain indeed!
Fortunately, Vernon was acquainted with Stafford, who had been employed in the ship's office, had read the afore-mentioned signal, and had mentioned it to Vernon.
Fortunately, Stafford had survived the sinking of the ship, and Vernon was able to find him. Of course, the word of a non-commissioned rating had little value, but -.
Fortunately, the officer for whom Stafford had worked was a survivor, too, and fortunately, he remembered the signal. The word of an officer being as good as gold, and, in this case, as good as a draft chit (which no-one may gainsay) we became, forthwith, five extra men sent to an already over-crowded ship, the Erinpura.
At that time, I knew nothing of the aforementioned circumstances. I was summoned to The Presence and told to be ready to leave in half-an-hour. A 'pier-head jump' as Naval slang termed it. Furthermore, "Why isn't Taylor here?" Ronnie was with a working-party, a mile away, and there was no transport available to fetch him. I ran that mile as my Personal Best. Perhaps Bannister was not the first man to run a four-minute mile! Fortune was still smiling - having reached the working-site, the first person that I saw was Ronnie and we hurried back to base.

In 1981 I attended the Atlantic Charter Meeting. There were forty-five of us from the P.O.W. but, of the other forty-four, Captain McMullen was the only one that I knew.

F. SUGDEN (ex Petty Officer, R. N.).

 

F. S. IN THE ROYAL NAVY.

When Britain entered World War 2 in September 1939, I had no doubt about which of the forces I preferred. I had, throughout childhood and adolescence, listened to my father’s tales of the Royal Navy; I was familiar with many aspects of naval life and much of the naval jargon and slang. I even knew the correct temperature of the fuel-oil in the pre-heaters, and how to ‘make smoke’ by spraying cold fuel-oil into the furnace.
It could well be said that my father joined the R.N. by accident. During the early part of the First World War, he was employed in Lister’s mill in Manningham, Bradford, Yorkshire. One day there was little for him to do in his own job, and the foreman sent him to work with some other men who were white-washing the walls. It seems that there was more fun than work, and when the irate foreman went to admonish the team, my father accidentally upset some white-wash onto him.
Now unemployed, my father wandered into the city, and, seeing a queue outside an army enlisting-office, he decided to obtain employment as a soldier, and joined the queue. One of His Majesty’s sailors chanced to come along, asked for a light for his cigarette, and advised my father that life on the ocean wave was much better than life in the mud of the trenches. My father thereupon went to join the Royal Navy and he became a stoker, in the Devonport Division.
I still have mementos of his service life. His service certificate, his service-issue ditty-box — a wooden box in which letters, photographs and small objects could be kept — and a pair of wooden clogs which he purchased in Holland when a storm forced his ship to seek shelter in a Dutch port. 
Like father, like son — almost. I wanted to be ‘a gunner’ so I joined the R.N. as a seaman. Or, rather, I volunteered to be trained as a seaman. I had been aboard a ship only once in my life, and that was when I was about two years old and my parents had visited a Naval Open Day or something of that sort, and I was carried around a warship by a big three-badge A.B.
I volunteered in September 1939, and eagerly waited to be called. Wait I certainly did; for seven months in fact, but eventually, on Wednesday, 8th May 1940, in the naval recruiting office in Leeds, I signed away my liberty for the duration of the war, thus becoming an H.O. — i.e. a ‘hostilities only’ rating.
Together with another dozen or so recruits, I left Leeds by train and went to Peterborough where we had to change trains. Whilst we were walking through the town from Peterborough North station to Peterborough East station, the pubs opened ............
We missed the train, and appropriately, whilst awaiting the next train to Ipswich, we spent the afternoon on a boating lake. In the evening we arrived at H.M.S. GANGES, which had been the R.N. Training Establishment for boys. The old ship, the GANGES, had gone forever. H.M.S. GANGES was now a ‘stone frigate’ (a shore-base) at Shotley Gate.
The outstanding feature of the Establishment was the mast, which was about 150 feet high. It stood between the parade ground and the quarter-deck, and dominated the area.
Beneath it was a large net which was supported on steel posts and, in addition to the posts at the edges of net, there were some support-posts under the net, and anyone who fell from the mast onto one of them could have been injured. 
The mast fascinated me. During the next few months, much of my spare time was spent in climbing on it, gradually working my way further up and further out, losing my fear of heights, eventually reaching the extremities of the mast. Often, on Saturdays, during the afternoon, I sat at the end of the middle yard-arm, from where I could see over the buildings and watch the games that were being played on the playing field.
On Thursday, the day after our arrival, we joined more recruits, and the day was spent mainly in kitting-out and administrative work. The new recruits were assigned to messes, and my new messmates and I took up residence in a mess in Benbow Lane. Within the mess was what seemed to be a silver dustbin! The previous occupants of the mess (the boys) had spent much time and energy in polishing it. 
On Friday, serious training began. First, and most important of all – saluting. This was not a matter of touching the forelock to indicate subservience, but a time-honoured ritual. Upper arm to be exactly horizontal; hand to slope at the correct angle etc. How to salute if the officer were ahead or if the officer were to the left or to the right, (turn the head smartly). When to salute; when not to salute; if in the open, if under cover; if officer wearing/not wearing cap; if self wearing/not wearing cap; if in a group with officer in charge; if in a group with rating in charge; if in a casual group; when boarding ship; if in civilian clothing and wearing/not wearing a hat … … … … . We spent all the morning on this subject.
The Naval day at H.M.S GANGES started at 0630 when we were awakened by a bugle-call. In our mess, this was, for some unknown reason, called ‘Charlie, Charlie’ instead of the more usual, ‘Wakey, wakey’. Breakfast at 0700; fall in on the parade ground at 0800 in divisions.
After that we had training sessions. During the first few weeks, much of the training was to teach us the various commands – ‘Attention!’, ‘Stand at ease’, ‘Form fours’, etc., to practise rifle-drill, and to march to and fro on the parade ground. After a few weeks, ‘forming fours’ was discontinued, and columns of three were used. All this was to convert a group of civilian individuals into a disciplined team. We were never ‘a team’, but we did learn to obey orders. Other training included working with ropes, knots, bends, hitches, splices, etc.; the semaphore code for signalling; elementary navigation; parts of a ship; a session on the navigation simulator, which was controlled by a ship’s wheel. We went on the river, boat-pulling (rowing) and went sailing in a dipping-lug cutter. Probably, there were many more activities which I do not recall. The curriculum was, I think, more suitable for the boys, who had plenty of time for it, but for us it was a smattering of this, that and t’other training. For me, the best source of knowledge was the seamanship manual issued to me by the Navy.
We did physical exercises on the parade ground, ending them by ‘going over the mast’. This was to climb the rigging up to, and down from, the main-top which was a sort of platform about sixteen feet wide, situated at lower yard-arm level. As this was about sixty-five feet up the mast, I found the first climb rather breath-taking. The route was: up the rigging, through a hole in the main-top, cross to the other side of the mast, through another hole, and down to ground via the other rigging.
On each side of the mast from about eight feet below the main-top there was rigging sloping upwards an outwards away from the mast to the edge of the main-top; this was known as
‘the devil’s elbow’. We were told that real sailors took this route to the main-top rather than go through ‘the lubber’s hole’, so, from thence onward, I always climbed via the devil’s elbow, as did most of the men in our group.

The big detachable collars that we wore, were, when new, navy blue with three white stripes at the edges, but the navy-blue dye tended to come out of the fabric when the collar was washed, so that the collar gradually changed colour from the almost-black navy-blue to a real blue and even to a pale blue. The blue collars were very fashionable to be worn when ‘going ashore’. Some of the men helped the washing process by adding bleach to the rinsing-water. Others, myself included, bought ready-made blue collars at a tailor’s shop in Dovercourt. At this shop I also bought a ‘tiddley-suit’, made-to-measure and of better material and of much more elegant cut than purser’s issue.

At the end of May 1940 came the Dunkirk Rescue Operation and the ‘fall of France’, bringing with it the expectation of an attempted invasion of Britain by the Germans. At Ganges, a battalion was formed, so that many of us had a dual role – part-time soldiers, part-time sailors (dry land). Within a mile radius of the barracks, sites were selected to set up defences; these sites were termed ‘posts’. I was in ‘A’ Company. Our spells of duty were sometimes during the day, sometimes during the night. For each man at the post there was a rifle, a steel helmet, and a hundred rounds of ammunition carried in two bandoliers. Stopping a German invasion seemed to be a forlorn hope, but, as is the British way, we joked about the situation, and played football and other games. We called ourselves ‘Fred Karno’s Army’.
On the playing field at Ganges we practised bayonet drill, learning the correct service manner in which to stab a fellow human being – long point advancing, short point, then reverse rifle and, with rifle-butt, strike the enemy on the head (disregarding the fact that the enemy would be wearing a steel helmet). The imaginary enemy remained passive, and we had no British casualties during the drill. Our stint as soldiers ended in August and others took over our guardian duties.
We completed our interrupted naval training and then were drafted to one of the Naval Divisions; some men went to ‘Chats’ (Chatham), some went to ‘Pompey’ (Portsmouth) and some to ‘Guz’ (Devonport). I arrived at H.M.S. DRAKE (Devonport Barracks) in September 1940, about a year after volunteering. “So far, so good”, I thought. I was where I wanted to be, in the Devonport Division of the Royal Navy. Now for a ship and that life on the ocean wave of which I had heard so much.
All the ratings resident in the barracks were issued with a personal identity card, known colloquially as a ‘breathing licence’. When going ashore, the card had to be left in the guard-room and collected on coming back aboard. Cards could be confiscated for various misdemeanours, and if no card, then no shore-leave. In the grey light of dawn, late sleepers would hurriedly vacate their hammocks on hearing the duty petty officer’s threatening cry of, “Cards!”
I was called to the D.F.D.O. (Detail For Draft Office) and my card was marked with a code. The meaning of the code was a naval secret known only to every person in the barracks, Devonport and Plymouth. It meant ‘H.M.S. PRINCE OF WALES’. I felt that life was improving, but not for long.The Navy needed more accommodation and a large group of men was sent to a place that had been a nature-resort (rumour stated ‘a nudist camp’); this was called ‘Glen Holt’. Three of us shared a chalet (wooden hut) which had been intended for one person, but the Navy had created extra accommodation space by removing chairs, table and a stove. The upper part of the stove’s chimney-pipe was still in place, and, during showers of rain, water dripped down this pipe, requiring the occupant of the bed beneath it to use his oilskin coat as a bed-cover. He solved the problem by obtaining a large empty can from the galley and capping the outer end of the pipe. During the night, there was a breeze, whereupon the can rattled against the pipe, keeping us awake. At about two o’clock in the morning, the three of us were outside the hut, two holding the third one high up whilst he put a large stone onto the can.
There was a piano in the camp’s recreation-hall and we had a first-class pianist to play it. At that time I did not know that the pianist was ‘Jimmie’ James.
From this camp the group was sent to stay for a few months in H.M.S. CABOT, which was part of Müller’s Orphanage in Bristol. Meanwhile, the P.O.W. was nearing completion at Cammel Laird’s shipyard in Birkenhead, but there were air-raids on Liverpool, and because a bomb exploded near to the P.O.W., the ship was hurriedly commissioned and, near the end of January 1941, moved to Rosyth, at the Firth Of Forth, so when we were eventually sent to the ship, we had a long and tedious journey, lasting from morning to evening, but, at last, I went aboard a real ship:
H.M.S. PRINCE OF WALES

The P.O.W. was the second of five battleships in the ‘KING GEORGE V’ class. Sometime about 1936 the Admiralty had desired to build five battleships each with nine 16-inch guns, but, because of the London Naval Treaty, had to settle for 14-inch main armament. The ships’ first design had twelve 14-inch guns in three quadruple turrets, but in the final design it was found desirable to increase the thickness of the armoured belt on the sides of the ships, necessitating a reduction of weight elsewhere, and this was done (or, perhaps, partly done) by replacing one quadruple turret by a twin turret.
The P.O.W.’s main armament had two quadruple turrets, (A and Y) and one twin turret (B). The secondary armament was sixteen 5.25-inch dual purpose (surface and anti-aircraft) guns arranged in eight twin turrets. Also there were many other smaller guns; Oerlikons and multiple pom-poms, and there were three UP rocket projectors.
The P.O.W. herself weighed about 38000 tons and, when fully laden, about 44000 tons. Full speed, about 30 knots; complement about 1600.
Amidships, there was an aircraft hangar for two Walrus aircraft, and an aircraft catapult athwartships across the whole width of the upper deck. After a flight, an aircraft came down onto the sea, and was then brought back aboard, for which purpose there was a crane on each side of the deck.
To my surprise, I found that there were civilians aboard. These were men who worked for Vickers and were trying to get the 14-inch guns and turrets to work properly. The new design had many flaws, and operational failures were ever-present. Even when the ship left Rosyth and went to Scapa Flow, the civilians went along, still struggling with their problems.
I was allotted an action station in one of the 5.25 turrets — S4, starboard side aft, and for many weeks there were training sessions and practice shoots. We ought to have continued ‘working up’ for another two months or more, but suddenly, our practicing was interrupted by the real thing. On Wednesday, 21 May 1941, at two hours notice, the P.O.W. went to sea with the battle-cruiser, H.M.S. HOOD and some destroyers. Captain Leach, speaking on the ship’s broadcast system, told us that German ships, the battleship BISMARCK, together with a cruiser, were likely to put to sea from Norway and to try to reach the Atlantic. So they did; the cruiser was the PRINZ EUGEN, main armament, eight 8-inch guns. The BISMARCK’s main armament was eight 15-inch guns. The HOOD had eight 15-inch guns, and the P.O.W. had ten 14-inch guns. 
In the evening of the 23rd. there was a message relayed on the ship’s broadcast system that the enemy ships had been sighted by H.M.S. SUFFOLK in the Denmark Strait. If present courses were held, we could expect to be in action on the next morning. Speed was increased, although that meant that the destroyers would be unable to keep up with us in the bad weather that we had encountered.
We went to action stations at midnight and awaited the confrontation that the morning would bring, dozing fitfully in discomfort as the ship pitched and vibrated as she was driven hard through the heavy seas. But by morning, the weather had abated, and the sea had moderated. At about 0515, the Captain broadcast a message that the enemy was in sight. The P.O.W. did not open fire, and I wondered why. The 14-inch guns could fire shells to 35000 yards and the range was less than that. The distance to the enemy decreased, and as it continued to decrease, some-one in the turret said, “If it gets much less, we’ll be in range with the five-two-fives!”. We waited — another half minute perhaps — then the 14-inch guns began firing. The range did ‘get much less’, we were ‘in range with the five-two-fives’ and we joined in the action. I was then too busy to look at the range-dial until the ship suddenly leaned well over to starboard for a few moments, and we ceased firing. The range was somewhere between 14000 yards and 15000 yards, very close range for battleships.
I got out of the turret onto the upper deck — there were a few other men nearby, and one of them said, “The Hood’s gone!” I did not comprehend his meaning and asked, “Gone where?” He just pointed downwards. The ‘Mighty Hood’ (as she was known), the pride of the Royal Navy for twenty years, sunk? It was appalling news. There was bad news about the P.O.W. The 14-inch armament had been troublesome during the action; one gun had fired only one round and was unusable; another had required attention by the Vickers’ technicians still aboard, and Y turret was out of action. Only five of the ten 14-inch guns were still available; the ship had sustained several hits from the BISMARCK and the PRINZ EUGEN; the compass platform was wrecked, and there was flooding aft. Action had ceased, and the ship had turned around behind a smoke-screen.
Rear-Admiral Wake-Walker in H.M.S. NORFOLK was now Senior Officer, and he decided not to re-engage with the enemy. Since then I have learnt his reasons; H.M.S. KING GEORGE V and H.M.S. RODNEY were on course to intercept the German ships on the following morning, and the P.O.W. alone, in her crippled state, had little chance of sinking the BISMARCK. In fact, we had no chance at all, as was clearly demonstrated later when the combined and mostly unopposed fire-power of KGV and RODNEY (a battleship with 16-inch guns) failed to sink the BISMARCK, which was, eventually, scuttled by the Germans themselves.
At the time, the situation seemed very strange — two German warships and three British warships voyaging along together, within range, and not a shot being fired. This went on throughout the forenoon and afternoon. Meanwhile, the problems in Y turret had been dealt with, and the turret was in working order. In the evening, together with a two other men, I had got out of S4 turret to get a breath of fresh air, when Y turret began training and laying on the enemy ships. We fled back to our turret — shells from Y turret would pass within 10 yards of us. The P.O.W. fired a few salvos, then ‘cease fire’ again.
On the next day, the P.O.W. was short of fuel, having only sufficient to get to Hvalfjord in Iceland, and so was out of the chase. At Hvalfjord, temporary repairs were made to the ship, and then we left there to go to Rosyth, where the ship was put into a dry-dock. 
As the water was pumped out of the dock, an under-water hole in the ship’s side was revealed. The hole had been made by a 15-inch shell from the BISMARCK, and the unexploded shell was still inside the P.O.W. in the vicinity of the magazines of S4 and Y turrets. Prudently, these magazines were emptied before dealing with the shell, and we spent hours getting the explosives off the ship. Then, the shell was removed by members of the P.O.W. 14-inch gun crews.
If that shell had exploded, then, perhaps, since the shell was near to the magazines, the P.O.W. might have gone the same way as the HOOD. 
I heard of another unexploded shell, an 8-inch one from the PRINZ EUGEN. It passed through the ship and into the barbette of one of the port-side 5.25-inch turrets, went around the circular wall twice and fell onto the deck. Being both hot and heavy, it was difficult to move, but it was, somehow, dropped over the ship’s side into the sea. I saw some of the holes made in quarter-inch steel plates by an 8-inch shell; neat round holes as if cut by a blow-torch.
During the next few weeks, we were given leave whilst the P.O.W. was repaired and made ready for sea again, and then, back to Scapa. 

But soon we went to sea again. Not to fight the foe, but as a passenger vessel, transporting Mr. Churchill and several V.I.P. to an unknown destination.
Out into the Atlantic Ocean we went, escorted by destroyers, but soon the weather deteriorated, and the destroyers were having great difficulty in keeping with us. They were released from duty, and the P.O.W. went on alone, pitching heavily in the rough sea and there was much shaking and bumping as she went up with and through huge waves and then dropped into the following trough. We had the usual dusk and dawn action stations, and night watch-keeping. During most of the nights, I put on my oilskin coat and went down into the shell-handing space below the turret. Despite all the turmoil and racket, I lay on the deck fast asleep, wrapped in my tarpaulin jacket, and rocked by the waves of the deep. Later, I heard that Mr. Churchill had found that the admiral’s cabin allotted to him was unsatisfactory, being so far aft, and so near to the propellers and their shafts, that the pitching, vibration and noise were more than he could tolerate. In the middle of the night, he moved to a new billet amidships.
After a few days, the weather improved, and Winston was seen pacing the quarter-deck, but we still did not know his destination. There was, of course, much speculation, and Canada seemed to be the most likely place.
Some destroyers joined the P.O.W., from whence they came I know not, but they escorted us to a rather desolate-looking anchorage – Placentia Bay, Newfoundland. There were many American warships there, and as we came near to them, the American band played our National Anthem and the British band replied with the American National Anthem.
One American ship was the AUGUSTA, aboard which was Mr. Franklin D. Roosevelt, President Of The U.S.A., and later that day, each member of the British crew received a carton containing fruit, cheese and cigarettes – a gift from the President himself.
So now we knew the purpose of our voyage:

THE FIRST WARTIME MEETING OF
PRESIDENT ROOSEVELT AND MR. CHURCHILL.
In the evening, Mr. Churchill went across to the AUGUSTA to visit the President, and during the evening they arranged to have a joint Church service for members of the crews of all the ships. The next day was a Sunday, and in the morning we had the Church service together with the Americans on the quarter-deck of the P.O.W. The service was jointly conducted by both the American and British padres, and the hymns were sung heartily by men of both nationalities. I remember particularly ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’ and ‘For Those In Peril On The Sea’.
On the following day, Monday, the P.O.W. left Placentia Bay to start the journey home. Soon we were once again alone in the Atlantic. But, part-way across, whilst I was below in the mess, there was a change in engine noise, indicating an increase in speed, and I hurried to the upper deck to ascertain the reason. There were dozens of merchant ships, plodding slowly along in convoy and the P.O.W. , flying the signal, ‘BON VOYAGE. CHURCHILL’, sped through the middle of the group. Then, around we went in a circle, and through the convoy again, the ships hooting, and Winston, up on the superstructure, waving his cap in reply.
Then, back to Scapa Flow; a short speech from Mr. Churchill; three cheers for him from the ship’s company (hearty cheers, he was very popular), and so ended the Atlantic Charter voyage.
A few weeks later, we went on our next assignment:

OPERATION HALBERD
Vice-Admiral Curteis came aboard and the P.O.W. went to join the Mediterranean Fleet, there to be part of a force escorting a convoy to Malta.
The P.O.W. was then with two other battleships, H.M.S. NELSON and H.M.S. RODNEY, an aircraft carrier, which was H.M.S. ARK ROYAL, some cruisers and destroyers. Italian aircraft made several attacks on the convoy, and many were shot down by the ships or by the aircraft from the ARK ROYAL. A British fighter-aircraft strayed out of its allotted air-space and was also shot down; fortunately the airmen were picked up and were uninjured. During a later attack, the NELSON was struck by a torpedo, which damaged the bows.
A report was received that there were Italian battleships, cruisers and destroyers heading towards the convoy. Admiral Somerville, in the damaged NELSON, ordered Vice-Admiral Curteis to take P.O.W., RODNEY, ARK ROYAL, two cruisers and some destroyers to do battle. After a while, it seems, the Italians detected the British warships, because they turned and ran for home waters. We were recalled to the convoy. 
The convoy reached Malta; one ship from the convoy had been lost, but the troops aboard it were taken off safely.
Whilst we were returning through the Mediterranean, there were attacks by submarines, but they caused no damage to the British ships. Our escorting destroyers sank one of the enemy vessels.
One of our ‘Walrus’ aircraft flew ahead of us to Gibraltar, where its crew obtained some of the local currency for us, and on our arrival there, we had a few hours ashore.
The P.O.W. returned to Scapa Flow. ‘Halberd’ had taken about three weeks.

Sometime in October, I think, Ronnie Taylor , who was in the mess next to mine, told me that there was a notice calling for ratings to be trained as radio mechanics, and he suggested that we volunteer. So we did, and whilst waiting to be interviewed, pooled our somewhat meagre knowledge of radio, electronics and electricity, which proved to be sufficient. We were told that we would be drafted from the P.O.W. for the next training-course ‘sometime before Christmas’.

FORCE Z 
After a few weeks, the P.O.W., escorted by two destroyers, H.M.S. EXPRESS and
H.M.S. ELECTRA left Britain on another voyage to an unknown destination; this time with
Admiral Tom Phillips and his staff.
Southwards we went, day after day, and soon the ‘rig of the day’ was tropical gear – basically shirt, shorts, stockings, soft shoes and sun-helmet, all white. Many of the men wore only shorts, shoes and a helmet or cap. Some were bare-headed despite the possibility of sunstroke.
Our first port of call was Freetown on the west coast of Africa, and I went ashore into a foreign land for my first time. I had, previously, been to Gibraltar, but found that to be more British than Britain itself. Freetown and its native population were something new; I felt like an extra in a film-scene.

To sea, again going south, and when the P.O.W. reached the equator, a large canvas bath was set up with a platform and a tipping stool, ready for the ‘crossing the line ceremony’. Then, Father Neptune, Sea-maidens and Bears came aboard, and a motley crew they were, some black, some white, in various costumes. Neptune had a long beard, wore a grass skirt and a crown. Waving his trident, he demanded that all those who entered his domain for the first time were to be presented. 
Obediently, all ‘first-timers’, including ship’s officers, participated in the ceremony. Each victim climbed onto the platform, greeted Neptune, and then sat on the stool. His face was lathered by a big brush, and then shaved by a huge ‘cut-throat’ razor. He was then tipped over backwards into the bath, whereupon the Bears, who were in the bath, seized him and gave him a thorough ducking. Names were recorded so that ‘crossing the line’ certificates could be issued later. The entire proceedings were carried put with the greatest good-humour and hilarity.
Unfortunately, my certificate is still with the ship.

Our next port of call was Capetown, and I gazed in wonder at the well-named Table Mountain with its ‘tablecloth’ of cloud lying on it.

Before being allowed to go ashore, the system of ‘apartheid’ was explained to us, and we were admonished, whatever our personal feelings, not to create unpleasant incidents by associating in any way with the black population.

Many of the white population were waiting at the dockside to make us welcome; a remarkable reception it was, and most of those going ashore became the guests of the local people.
Ronnie and I went around the town, the places of interest, and the shops. In the shops were other men from the P.O.W. and the destroyers, and many of them were buying presents for wives or girl-friends. Clothing presented a problem when the question of size was asked, and so recourse was made to selecting a shop-girl who was about the right size and using her as a reference. The girls co-operated splendidly.
In the late afternoon, Ronnie and I became the guests of a local couple who took us to their home and gave us an excellent meal. During the evening we sat on their balcony overlooking the town, drinking and chatting.

From Capetown the P.O.W. went to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), and then went with
H.M.S. REPULSE to the Naval Base about twenty miles from Singapore.
Sometime during this part of the voyage, I became an A.B.

The damp heat of the atmosphere was oppressive and debilitating. It was obvious that the ship’s ventilation system was inadequate for tropical service. We heard stories of stokers in the boiler rooms working in a temperature of more than 120 F.
Our group of ships was now known as ‘Force Z’. The newspapers announced ‘PRINCE OF WALES and other heavy units’, but when we had shore-leave and went to Singapore I found that the composition of the force and the names of the ships were common knowledge.
The area was a strange mixture of Europe and the Orient, and the population ranged from the rich upper-classes who spent their spare time at the sumptuous (so I heard) Raffles Hotel, to the rickshaw-boys who wore themselves out doing horse-work and did not have any spare time. 
Yet, something about the situation seemed to be familiar, and after a while I realised what it was – it resembled the situation in Britain in 1937, when, with a nearby belligerent nation overtly preparing for war, nothing was being done about it. Oh! yes, those Japs were doing a bit of flag-waving, but the defence of Singapore was Britain’s responsibility.
The P.O.W. was put into dry-dock so that the under-parts of the ship could be scraped clean, and at the same time boiler-cleansing was done. The ship was still in dry-dock during the first
air-raid on Singapore, but our 5.25 –inch guns were in action. The war with Japan had started, and when the news about Pearl Harbor came, we knew that America was also at war.

Force Z, now comprising the REPULSE, the P.O.W., and four destroyers, EXPRESS, ELECTRA, VAMPIRE and TENEDOS, put to sea in the evening of the 8th December. On the following evening, Japanese aircraft were observed and so our element of surprise was gone. The TENEDOS, short of fuel, was detached to return to Singapore, but the other five ships continued on their way for a few hours before turning to return to Singapore. Later, a detour was made to investigate reported landings by the Japanese at Kuantan, but nothing was found.
During the forenoon of Wednesday,10th December, we went to Repel Aircraft Stations, and were soon in action. But not for long, because a torpedo struck the ship somewhere aft, causing total loss of electrical power in the after part of the ship, and S4 turret was out of action, as were the other three aftermost 5.25-inch turrets.
I got out of the turret and went onto the quarter-deck which was sloping slightly downwards towards the port side. On our starboard quarter was the EXPRESS secured to the P.O.W., whilst wounded men, some on stretchers, were transferred to the destroyer. 
The petty officer of S4 turret waved to me to return; he needed help to get men up from below. Ronnie and I went down through the shell-handing room below the turret and found a few dazed men gasping for breath. We took them into the handing room and lifted them up, so that other men, in the turret, could haul them up and put them onto the upper deck. Alongside us was the entrance to the cinema flat – a large area between the upper deck and the armoured deck The place was full of smoke and fumes, and in total darkness. Nothing could be seen, but the noise was intense; there must have been dozens of men in it, shouting and bumping around. Holding my breath, I went in a little way, Ronnie following, and we guided three men to the handing room and saw them pulled up. We went back and rescued two more, but on the third time that we went to the flat there was absolute silence there. Ever since, I have remembered that literally deathly silence.
The smoke and the fumes were coming out of the flat, making me queasy. We went aft and up onto the quarter-deck. Feeling that I might vomit, I went to lean over the port rail but in a few moments the feeling passed away. I then found that I was standing in water, the ship was listing further to port, and the sea was gradually moving up the sloping deck.
Lieutenant-commander Terry came along giving the order, “Abandon ship!” and I realised that ‘my’ ship was doomed. Strangely enough, I did not think that I might be doomed too. Ronnie was standing by the starboard rail, and I went to join him. The EXPRESS was about fifty yards away off our starboard quarter. Ronnie looked up at the Japanese aircraft overhead, then down at the sea, and said to me,
“If the Japs don’t machine-gun us, the sharks will eat us. Cheerio, Frank.”
He jumped into the sea. I saw him reach the EXPRESS and climb up the scrambling-net to the deck, and I felt glad that he was safe. Why I thought that he was safe, I do not know, there was no reason to suppose that the bombers would not sink the destroyers.
Then came a bizarre event. Instead of jumping into the sea and swimming the short distance to the EXPRESS, I went to the gun-turret and climbed into it to get my camera. My oilskin coat was there, which I picked up, and then, forgetting about my camera, I left the turret. On the upper deck, I put on the coat, although why I did so I have never been able to explain; there I was, on a sinking battleship, in the blazing heat of a tropical afternoon, putting on an oilskin coat. Meanwhile, the EXPRESS had come close to the P.O.W. and men were endeavouring to get across to her.
I was brought back to reality by a shout from Chief O.A. Houghton (or Horton), who was on the EXPRESS. He leant over the rail with his arms outstretched and shouted again, this time, “Come on, Lofty, JUMP!” I climbed over the rail of the P.O.W. and looked across and down a little at my intended landing space on the EXPRESS. I could not jump across and over the destroyer’s rail, so I had to jump onto the small area between the ship’s side and the rail. I did so, and the Chief’s arms held me from falling backwards. As I grasped the rail, the Chief released me, and then I had the curious feeling of being lifted up and thrown over the rail, and I was sprawling on the deck. I stood up and took off the coat. Someone said, “You looked like a bloody great bat flying over in that thing.” He then added, “You only just made it. Two seconds later, and you’d have fallen between the ships.” The Chief was not to be seen, and I never met him again. The coat I put down, and never saw that again. Later, I learnt that my ‘feeling of being lifted up’ was genuine. At the moment when I left the P.O.W., she began to turn onto her side, and as she turned, her starboard bilge-keel caught the underside of the EXPRESS, tilting the destroyer, lifting the port side, very nearly capsizing the ship.
I went to the rail to look at the P.O.W. which was still turning, with the upper-deck under-water. On her starboard side, which was nearly horizontal, many men were standing, and then, as the ship slowly turned over, they walked onto the ship’s bottom. The P.O.W. sank stern-first, and as she did so, the men on her walked towards the bow in the decreasing area still above water. Down together went the ship and the men, but after a little while, the men came up, bobbing about in the sea. Perhaps some of them were still alive.
Around the EXPRESS were dozens of men in the sea, some just floating, some swimming towards the ship, but hampered by a slight adverse current. Some, having reached the scrambling-net on the ship’s side, were so tired that they were having difficulty in climbing up to the deck. Alongside the ship was a small boat (a cutter, I think); Ronnie and I went down into it, and endeavoured to help the exhausted swimmers to get into it, but they were all covered in oil-fuel and slipped through our hands. The only way to help each man was to reach down, take hold of the waist-band of his trousers, and haul him into the boat. A rope was lowered from above, and I tied a bowline-on-the bight (A double loop on the end of a rope). Into this, we loaded each survivor, one leg through the lower loop, so that he sat in the loop, the other loop around his chest, arms over the rope, and hands tucked down his trouser-band, and, so secured, he was pulled up to the ship’s deck.
After a while there were no more swimmers, only bodies in the distance, floating away. Ronnie and I were summoned back onto the ship, which was ordered to proceed to the Naval Base (about 150 miles away). I felt very tired, found a shady place amidships, and lay down to rest. About six hours later I awoke, cold and stiff. A few hours later the ship arrived in the Strait, and, after being kept waiting for over half-an-hour, was allowed into the Naval Base sometime about midnight.
A reception place had been set up in a huge shed, but to get to it we had to cross an area covered in small sharp stones. Many of the survivors were bare-footed and were carried across on the backs of those of us who had shoes. In the reception area there was plenty of food and hot sweet tea, which were very welcome, as, like many of the other survivors, I had had nothing to eat or drink during the previous seventeen hours. After cleansing oil-fuel from my hands, I had a good meal.
I went to give my name and my service number (D/JX191394) to be recorded on the roll-call of survivors, and then went to bed.

The following morning, the survivors were issued with toilet gear and, if needed, with clothing. Clean and tidy again, we fell in on the parade ground, to listen to a ‘pep-talk’ by Captain Tennant of the REPULSE, who seemed to think that we were all anxious to resume fighting the Japanese. I doubted that retaliation was uppermost in the survivors’ minds.

Eight hundred and forty men had perished, 513 from the REPULSE, 327 from the P.O.W.
Admiral Phillips, Captain Leach, and Commander Lawson were amongst those lost.

Thanks to the superb efforts of the destroyers’ captains and crews, there were:
796 survivors from the REPULSE
1285 survivors from the P.O.W.

Ronnie and I were billeted in the Fleet Shore Accommodation, doing nothing of any value, jobs being found mainly to keep us from being totally idle, but after about a week we were sent aboard the first evacuation ship out of Singapore. This minor miracle was caused by Naval Procedure and a lot of luck. At the time when we were accepted to be trained as radio mechanics, the P.O.W. was in home waters, and we were left aboard ‘until required’; our draft-chits being held in abeyance until ‘some time before Christmas’ (so we were told). When ‘before Christmas’ arrived, we were some twelve thousand miles away from home waters, but, as previously ordered, a signal was duly sent to the ship, requiring us to be forthwith drafted to H.M.S. DRAKE (Devonport barracks). Too late! The message was lost with the ship. Then came a tenuous chain of circumstances and good fortune

All five of the would-be radio mechanics were survivors. They were:
JAMES, Ray (but always known as ‘Jimmie’)
SANKEY, Vernon.
TURNER, Wilfred.
TAYLOR, Ronald.
SUGDEN, Frank.

Vernon was acquainted with Stafford, who had been employed in the ship’s office, had read the signal, and had mentioned it to Vernon.
Fortunately, Stafford was a survivor, and Vernon was able to find him. Of course, the word of a non-commissioned rating had little value, but –
Fortunately, the commissioned officer for whom Stafford had worked was a survivor, too, and he remembered the signal. Maybe he remembered the signal well enough, or was able to find a copy of it in the Naval Base; draft-chits were issued and the five became extra men sent to an already over-crowded ship, the ERINPURA.
At the time, Ronnie and I did not know the other three, nor did we know the afore-mentioned circumstances. I was summoned to the Presence and told to be ready to leave in half-an-hour. A ‘pier-head jump’ as R.N. slang termed it. Furthermore, “Why isn’t Taylor here?” Ronnie was with a working-party, about a mile away, and there was no transport available to fetch him. I ran that mile as my Personal Best. Perhaps Bannister was not the first person to run a four-minute mile! Fortune was still smiling – having reached the working-site, the first person that I saw was Ronnie, and we hurried back to base.

The ERINPURA was an ancient vessel carrying a mixture of life forms – human beings, sheep, goats, rats, and cockroaches (tropical flying cockroaches, about two inches long). The numbers of sheep and goats decreased day by day as they were converted into food, but the rats and cockroaches were ever with us. Most of us were accommodated in the hold of the ship, wherein we lived, ate and slept. For bedding, I had a piece of canvas with which to cover myself during the night, and for food, I survived on ship’s biscuits, not being able to stomach the stew, although it was mostly water.
The one enjoyable time whilst aboard the ship was during a concert on Christmas Day. Surprisingly, there was a piano aboard ship; Jimmie played it and accompanied the singing.

We arrived at Colombo in Ceylon, and Ronnie and I immediately went to the Fleet Club and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves just eating and drinking. We were billeted for a while in Dockside Camp, which we shared with millions of flies and mosquitoes, but later were moved to H.M.S. LANKA, the shore-base accommodation. To provide us with jobs, we were appointed ‘cell guards’, but it was virtually a nominal appointment. The cell was in the basement, and was fronted by thick steel bars and a steel-barred door. The door was usually not locked, and the key was left in the lock so that when the prisoner needed to leave the cell for meals or calls of nature, he went and returned. 
One of the prisoners often sat with me at a table outside the cell, and we played cards. He told me an old Naval tale about ‘Arping’, and after he departed, I wrote down the story in verse form, then, passing away the time, I fitted a supplementary story around it. This is in the appendix of ‘Naval Verses’.
On 31st January 1942, I became twenty-one years old and celebrated it with two pints of beer at the Fleet Club. I thought about my situation; the war was far away, but so were Britain and that radio mechanic’s course, and I seemed to be wasting my life. I wasted it for another few weeks until, together with Ronnie, I was drafted to the CARTHAGE.

The CARTHAGE was a passenger vessel that had been converted into an armed merchant cruiser. It was on its way to Britain, but, since the Suez Canal and the Mediterranean Sea were not available, it had to go by the long route around the Cape Of Good Hope.
The ship went to Durban in South Africa, and stayed there for several days. Ronnie and I were befriended by two families, the Jones and the Johnsons. The Johnsons were on holiday from Aberdan and were staying with the Jones family. They lived in Umbogintwini, to where we went by train each evening. The trains were an example of apartheid, they had comfortable coaches for white passengers, but the black passengers’ vehicles resembled cattle trucks.
Our new friends treated us very well, taking us to their club, to Isipingo Beach, to The Valley Of A Thousand Hills, and to other places of interest.

From Durban we resumed our voyage, went round the Cape and out into the Atlantic. The voyage was uneventful, but I remember how that ship rolled as I stood lookout on the wing of the bridge; up and down I went, as if on a swing. The five radio mechanics were by now all acquainted, and when the ship arrived in Southampton, we went ashore and had a happy evening together in a pub, with Jimmie playing the piano for a general sing-a-long.
The ship then went to Gourock from where we went on leave. Home! to be in England now that Spring was there.

After leave, I was in Devonport Barracks for a while, and then went to Newcastle-on-Tyne for the radio mechanic’s course at Rutherford Technical College. The five P.O.W. survivors were billeted together in the same lodgings; our landlady was Mrs. Stockton. She and her daughter, Marjory, cared for us very well, although much underpaid by the parsimonious Royal Navy.
The course at the college was excellent, giving us a good grounding in electrical theory as well as in radio theory. Of the instructors, only one was in the R.N. I remember a little jingle we used to sing:
Underneath the spreading chestnut tree,
Sub-lieutenant Jones, he said to me,
“To find the resonant frequency,
One over two pi root LC.”

From Newcastle we went to Douglas, on the Isle Of Man. The R.N. had commandeered a long row of hotels on the promenade, and we took up residence in one of those hotels. Half the width of the roadway had been fenced off, and at the southern end of this was a hut used as a guardroom. There was a flag-pole, from which a white ensign flew, and the area around it was designated as the quarter-deck, on which the Officer Of The Watch wandered around, telescope under arm. When ‘going ashore’ we were supposed to report to the guardroom, giving name, rating and number, likewise on ‘coming aboard’. Many of us found it simpler to go and return via the hotels’ back doors, which opened onto an unfenced street.
We were taught the theory of radar, and also had practical ‘hands-on’ experience. The radar sets were situated at Douglas Head, high above the town, and to get there we boarded a motor-launch which, each morning, ‘tied up in the High Street at 0800.’ This Naval vessel looked remarkably like a large motor-van to which seats had been fitted.
Success came to ‘The Five’. Each of us passed the end-of-course examination and became a Radio Mechanic. Along with many others, we went ashore to celebrate, and during the evening someone persuaded me to try Irish Whisky. On the following morning I awoke in bed, but with no idea of how I had got there. I was told that Tim had brought me back and put me to bed. I had a throbbing head-ache and a disinclination to get out of bed, but Tim came to see me and persuaded me to get up. Tim was a Wren, and a very nice one; she took me to the cook-house, dosed me with tea and aspirin, and, since I was adrift from the class that was at Douglas Head, she got me a temporary job in the kitchen. Then, with a smile, and a wave of hand, she was gone.

Soon, ‘The Five’ were back in England, but then came the parting of the ways. There were two kinds of radio mechanics, (R), and (WR). Jimmie and Ronnie became (R), I became (WR). Vernon and Wilfred became one (R) and one (WR). The three (R) went to Portsmouth to have extra training on radar for big ships. The two (WR) went to Leydene to have extra training on wireless equipment. The end of the training brought some changes; I was ‘given the rate’ i.e. I became a leading hand, I changed my attire from seaman’s rig to a suit and a peaked cap, and, because all radio mechanics were put into the Portsmouth Division of the Navy, I got a new service number – P/MX124813.

My first appointment as a radio mechanic was to a Hunt Class destroyer employed on North Sea patrol duties:
For the first few weeks, I was kept busy, day and night, by a unit in one of the radar sets that seldom worked properly for more than two or three hours. Eventually, it was checked by Radar Officers from the shore-base, who condemned it as ‘another dud’, and then provided a new unit. They also told the Captain that I was ‘suffering from lack of sleep’, whereupon the Captain sent me home on leave for a week. Lucky me!
The patrols were uneventful until one dark night when H.M.S. MACKAY collided with the COTSWOLD. The MACKAY, the larger ship, damaged her bows, but was still mobile, whereas the COTSWOLD, damaged amidships, took in a lot of water, and almost sank. Most of the COTSWOLD’s crew were transferred to the MACKAY; the rest of us, two officers and a dozen or so ‘others’ remained on board to provide damage control and care for the ship.
Being aware that a Court Of Inquiry would ask why there had been a collision between two ships that were equipped with radar, I searched for the radar operational log-books, but did not find them, because one of the radar operators, being as aware as myself, had taken them with him when he abandoned ship.
The shoring-up of the bulkheads below remained effective, the ship was not detected by German E-boats, the sea remained calm, and when dawn came, the COTSWOLD was still afloat. I looked over the side; the upper deck was about eighteen inches above the sea.
We were waiting for the Navy to rescue us, but when a tug was seen approaching, one of the officers told us that it was not the Navy’s tug, to have no communication with its crew, and not to touch any rope that might be thrown across. The tug’s crew was seeking salvage money. Ropes were thrown across, but to no avail, and this persisted until the Navy’s tug arrived. 
The ship had to be towed slowly, and this took all day, until, in the darkness of late evening, we reached Yarmouth. A few days later, the ship’s company was sent home on leave.

In accordance with instructions, after my leave I went to a radar workshop on Parkeston Quay near Harwich, there to stay until the COTSWOLD was ready for sea. The workshop provided fitting and repair services for the Harwich Flotilla. There were two radar officers, two other radio mechanics, myself, and a wren who dealt with administration.
A few weeks later, two more radar officers came there temporarily, to do some special job, and I worked with them for a month, after which I was promoted to Petty Officer.
After another few weeks, the COTSWOLD was ready to return from Sheerness to the Harwich flotilla. The two workshop officers went to inspect its new radar, and I went with them as its R. Mech.- in - waiting. But another R. Mech. had been appointed to the ship, and the senior workshop officer, not wanting to lose his extra help, immediately sent me back to Parkeston.

Life was pleasant enough, I lived in lodgings in the town, walked to and from work each week-day, and went to London on most week-ends, but I began to feel that I had run aground, and I was glad when the chance came to have a short spell at sea aboard another Hunt Class destroyer:

H.M.S. AVONVALE
This ship’s R. Mech. had gone into hospital and I went aboard as a temporary substitute until his return, but a fortnight later the Captain asked me if I would like to join the ship as a member of the crew, which I did, and I was with the ship until the end of the war. I formed a great friendship with the ship’s electrical artificer, Chief Petty Officer Bert Wilson. 
For a refit, the ship went to Redhead’s Yard in South Shields, and I took the opportunity to visit Mrs. Stockton and Marjory in Newcastle. 
The ship went to the Mediterranean on three occasions and visited Mers-el-Kebir, Malta, Alexandria, Haifa, Naples, and Taranto.
Malta had been badly damaged by the Germans, but the Maltese were loyal to Britain; their small boats being decorated in patterns red, white and blue, and some having pictures of the King and Queen on them. Strait Street, known throughout the Royal Navy as ‘The Gut’ was a popular venue for beer, food and entertainment. Often, in the doorway of an establishment, someone stood, calling, “Inside, Navy – big eats”. 
Unfortunately, whilst in Egypt, I never managed to go to see the Pyramids or the Sphinx.
In Naples was the beautiful Palace, which the Americans were using as a canteen. Bert and I also went into the out-of-bounds area to see how the other half lived. Their accommodation was basic and meagre, but if we bought wine, they were happy to take us into their homes to sit and chat (as best we could). 

Near the islands off the coast of Greece, together with another destroyer, the AVONVALE was in action with some German ships. Three of the German ships were sunk, and about thirty survivors came aboard the AVONVALE. Some of the survivors were injured, and needed help to climb up the scrambling net that was over the ship’s side and later to be taken to the sick-bay for treatment by the ship’s doctor. One of the men died during the night; the others were taken to Alexandria, and became prisoners-of -war.

At the beginning of June, 1944, the ship went to Sheerness, and then, leaving there in the early hours of the 6th, went along off the southern coast of England, keeping near to the land until our course changed abruptly from westerly to southerly. We were on our way to Normandy.
D-day had arrived, and when dawn came, I, with many others, gazed in awe at the armada around us. Minesweepers had worked during the night, making mine-free lanes and marking them with buoys. Along the lanes went hundreds of ships; warships and supply-ships; the ocean seemed to be full of them as far as could be seen both to port and to starboard. Overhead came hundreds of aeroplanes; fighters, bombers and transports. By the time that we arrived at the coast of Normandy, and the ship was moored alongside other vessels, the invasion force had fought its way ashore against shore defences and the German army, and was a little way inland. Intermittently, a battleship, being used as heavy artillery, fired her big guns.
That evening, an enemy aeroplane came over and machine-gunned the ship. Bert and I were on the fo’csle, and we jumped behind the ship’s breakwater. As the bullets clanged around us I remarked to Bert, “I wouldn’t like to be a soldier and do this regularly”.
During the next few weeks the Avonvale was employed on escort duties across the Channel. Late one evening, a strange aircraft with a flaming exhaust was seen; it was a flying bomb, a V1. The warships fired at it, but without effect. During the following nights, a few of the bombs were shot down, but then came orders not to fire at them. The Admiralty did not want them to fall onto the convoys, so the bombs went on their ways, to be dealt with by the R.A.F.
When V-E day came, the AVONVALE was at Malta and likewise was at Malta when V-J day came at the end of the war. There was much rejoicing and drinking of course. 

From Malta, the ship returned to England and went into the reserve fleet that was in the River Tamar, moored north of where Brunel’s railway bridge crossed the river. At that time, there was no road bridge. There was a ferry service between Saltash in Cornwall and St. Budeau in Devon.
The men from the ships’ companies returned to barracks, except for some left aboard one of the ships as a care and maintenance party for the fleet. After a short time, Bert, who was a ‘regular’ (not H.O.), was drafted to Portsmouth. There were about a dozen radio mechanics, and we had a mess of our own. Radar had become very important to the Navy, and the Admiralty wanted to retain trained and experienced radio mechanics, many of whom were due to be demobilised. As an inducement, training courses leading to promotion to Chief Petty Officer were offered to senior Petty Officer radio mechanics. Our senior P.O., Geordie Prior, took up the option, and I, the next senior, was giving it serious consideration, when I was asked to defer my demobilisation for three months, to which I agreed. 
The first one of us to be demobilised was P.O. Adams, and we had a party in the mess. In the photograph, he is the one seated at the end of the table, on my left; Geordie is the one at the front on the right of the picture.

After the agreed extra three months had passed, the Navy quietly forgot to demobilise me. I still had not decided whether to stay in the Navy, or to seek a new career in civilian life. Fifteen months later, the Navy settled the matter by requiring me to be drafted to Portsmouth, and thence to a ship, (I cannot remember its name). Having lost the virtual certainty of promotion to C.P.O., a civilian career seemed to be the better one, and when I mentioned this to the cox’n, he solved the problem for me by adding to my draft-chit ‘for release under class A’. 
The ploy worked successfully, and I was demobilised on Wednesday, 3rd September 1947, although officially I was a naval rating for another eight weeks whilst on demobilisation leave. I returned to the home from whence I had departed in 1940, but after a short time, my parents moved to a new address, and I went to work in Leeds.

Including my demobilisation leave, I had been a Naval ‘Hostilities Only’ rating for seven and a half years, which, I think, must be unusual.




NAVAL VERSES

A WAY OF LIFE

The Royal Navy suits me fine,
For Naval life is pleasant,
With bread and marmalade for tea;
For breakfast, Spithead pheasant.

Within our mess, the caterer
Much satisfaction gives
By making good use of the book
That’s known as ‘How Jack Lives’.

I’ve learnt some of the Naval slang,
I know what is implied
By, “Pass the lighthouse” or, “Lot’s wife”,
And also, “Free the slide.”

In Devonport, I go ashore,
And eat a tiddy-oggy.
Of scrumpy-jack I drink my fill
I go back somewhat groggy.

When out at sea, on look-out watch,
The hours pass slowly by,
But maybe someone brings to me
A mug of pusser’s kye.

With rope-work, I have got the skill
To graft and point the end;
To make a bowline on the bight;
To tie a carrick bend.

Of cordage, too, I had to learn;
I have acquired the gist
And now a turk’s head I can tie
Or make a monkey’s fist.

Yet, most importantly of all
The wisdom I’ve now got,
I do not volunteer for jobs
Nor tie a granny-knot.

FS

FOR ME ?

Oh! I wonder, how I wonder,
Did the Jaunty make a blunder,
When he made this draft-chit out for me?

For, I am a barrack-stanchion;
I dine in Jago’s mansion,
I always say “Good morning” to the Chief.

So, I wonder, yes, I wonder,
Did the Jaunty make a blunder,
When he made this draft-chit out for me?

Anonymous.
Heard in RNB H.M.S. DRAKE,
Devonport

WAKEY-WAKEY

To the tune of ‘Beautiful Dreamer’.

Beautiful dreamer, I’d like you to know,
‘Cooks to the galley’ has gone long ago.
Out of that hammock, and best not be slow;
If you’re not smart, in the rattle you’ll go!

Beautiful dreamer, - Lash up and stow.

FS


Free the slide – Pass the butter
Granny knot – Incorrectly made reef knot
How Jack Lives – Order-book for provisions
Jago’s Mansion – The dining-rooms in Devonport barracks
Jaunty – Regulating CPO
Lash up and stow – to bind a hammock into a neat ‘bundle’ and put it into a storage place
Lot’s wife – The salt-pot
Pass the lighthouse – The pepper-pot
Pusser -- Purser
Pusser’s kye – Naval cocoa, hot, sweet, and thick
Rattle – Men under punishment
Scrumpy Jack – Rough cider
Spithead Pheasant – A kipper
Tiddey-oggy – Devonport name for a Cornish Pasty

DOBSON’S CHOICE

A smart A.B.
Was Freddie D.
By Royal Navy trained.
Well-spoken he,
From ribaldry
And swearing he refrained.

Non-smoker too!
And did eschew
All sordidness and vice.
So clean and neat
From head to feet,
Perhaps he was too nice.

No pint of ale,
No obscene tale,
No sip of pusser’s rum.
A blameless lad
And yet he had
No ‘oppo’, friend, or chum.

A draft-chit came
Which bore his name
To join the ship he started,
And with him went
Another gent.
Together they departed.

This man was John,
In sin far-gone,
With worldly faults replete.
He drank, he swore
And furthermore,
At card-games he would cheat!

The yarns he spun
Of what he’d done
Of lies were quite a pack,
But still, John Tarr
Was jocular
And known as ‘Jolly Jack’.

Long time at sea
And apathy
Had settled on the crew.
On their port side,
The ocean wide,
Likewise to starboard, too.


Then came the buzz,
‘Return to Guz’,
Which caused some mild delight.
But bye and bye,
Another cry,
“The enemy in sight!”

To fight the foe,
They had to go –
Not return to Devon.
A foreign shell
Sent Jack to Hell;
Frederick to Heav’n.

A spirit new,
Fred joined the queue,
Which for admission waits.
Proved free from sin,
They let him in,
Through Heaven’s pearly gates.

A new recruit,
In naval suit,
Despite the shell, still smart.
So obviously,
Fred had to be
In Heaven’s Naval Part.

First thing, he drew
‘Wings, angel’s, two’.
Out of the purser’s store,
A harp, a shroud,
His own small cloud
And simple music-score.

He learnt to play,
Then, day by day,
Performed in heavenly space,.
Until the time,
When, by a crime,
Fred Dobson fell from grace. 

The task refused,
The language used,
To Jimmie were referred.
Of Dobson’s carp
And broken harp,
The First Lieutenant heard.

Then came the buzz,
‘Return to Guz’,
Which caused some mild delight.
But bye and bye,
Another cry,
“The enemy in sight!”

To fight the foe,
They had to go –
Not return to Devon.
A foreign shell
Sent Jack to Hell;
Frederick to Heav’n.

A spirit new,
Fred joined the queue,
Which for admission waits.
Proved free from sin,
They let him in,
Through Heaven’s pearly gates.

A new recruit,
In naval suit,
Despite the shell, still smart.
So obviously,
Fred had to be
In Heaven’s Naval Part.

First thing, he drew
‘Wings, angel’s, two’.
Out of the purser’s store,
A harp, a shroud,
His own small cloud
And simple music-score.

He learnt to play,
Then, day by day,
Performed in heavenly space,.
Until the time,
When, by a crime,
Fred Dobson fell from grace. 

The task refused,
The language used,
To Jimmie were referred.
Of Dobson’s carp
And broken harp,
The First Lieutenant heard.

Said Number One,
“The deed you’ve done
Deserves a lengthy spell
Of punishment,
So you’ll be sent
For thirty days to Hell.”

From heav’nly state
The reprobate
Went down to Hell instead
And there was Jack,
Who altered tack,
To come alongside Fred.

Fred’s old shipmate 
Said, “Do relate
Events which brought you here.
What did you do
That brought on you
This penalty severe?”
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Frederick’s tale of ’ARPING.
(A version of an old R.N. story)

The new draft fell in on parade
A seraph, (on his sleeve gold braid)
Arrived and then a speech he made,
On the joys of harping.

A petty officer then came,
(Archangel is the heav’nly name)
Said he, “You’ll learn this ’arping game
At the School Of ’Arping.”

Then to the school, we marched away
For - ‘ Lessons, music, harps to play’.
So for three months, day after day,
All of us were harping.

Despite my dislike for the work,
Throughout the course I did not shirk
And I came out, by some strange quirk,
Top of class in harping.

How proud I was! The best of all!
It’s said that pride precedes a fall
As I have reason to recall.
Caused by skill in harping

From harping-school glad to be free
’Til one archangel said to me,
“Since you can play so expertly,
You’ll do this day’s ’arping.”

For many weeks, each working day,
Upon my harp I had to play,
Sarcastic words I’d hear them say,
“Maestro, you go ’arping.”

Then I was told, “It is unfair.
You’re doing far more than your share,
But Jimmie’s ordered you up there;
You’re so good at ’arping.”

“It seems that you are pleasing ’im
And all the other seraphim.
Throughout eternity, ’is whim,
May well keep you ’arping.”

My self-control was all in vain,
And I, when sent to harp again,
Flung down my harp with word profane,
“DAMN it! No more harping.”

In Heaven there’s no dungeon cell,
So, for a month, here I must dwell
And do the work one does in Hell.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Said Jack, “It isn’t harping!”

“Don’t fret, my lad,
I shall be glad
To help you whilst you’re here;
Show you the ropes
And how one copes,
I’ll make the routine clear.”

“Although A.B.
Whilst on the sea,
Now, you’ll be a stoker.”
So by Jack’s side,
Fred Dobson plied
Shovel, rake and poker.

But when, at last,
A month had passed ,
An angel, Heaven-sent,
With flag of truce,
Came to produce
From Hell, the penitent.

’Midst fire and flame,
The Devil came
To greet his heav’nly guest.
A pleasant chat
And after that,
The guest made this request,

“Set Dobson free
To go with me,
As previously arranged.”
They came to Fred;
The Devil said,
“You’ll find that he has changed.”

Fred took a drag
Upon his fag
And drank some of his beer.
Then said, “Tell me,
What can it be,
That brings an angel here?”

There came reply,
“An escort, I,
To Heaven let us go.”
But Dobson said,
With shake of head,
“I’ll not go there! Oh! no.”

“To twang away
On harp all day?”,
In scornful way Fred spoke,
“Wear flimsy shroud
On draughty cloud?
In Hell I’ll stay - and stoke!”

“Am I defied?”,
The angel cried,
“The way you state your case,
Has come to be
A mutiny
And you are in disgrace.”

Then Old Nick spoke,
“To coal and coke,
Now Dobson will return.
That happy soul,
The coke and coal,
In hell-fires likes to burn.”

“He swears a lot
He takes his tot,
And ‘Ticklers’ likes to smoke.
He’s on a par
With his pal, Tarr;
And expertly they stoke.”

“A mutineer
Is welcome here, -
For that he’ll not be blamed.
In Hell, disgrace
Is common-place
And wickedness acclaimed.”

What e’er was said
Could not move Fred,
Or get him to return.
The angel went,
With Nick’s comment,
“Your Jimmie is too stern. ”

“His ways, I find,
Bring to my mind
A tale from days of old.
King Midas could
And often would,
Turn base things into gold.”

“Thank Jimmie, do,
For that soul new,
Hell’s gain and Heaven’s loss.
For, conversely 
To Midas, he
Has turned gold into dross.”


F.S.
H.M.S. LANKA
Shore-base, Colombo, Ceylon.
January 1942

HMS Ganges (Click for a larger view) (27244 bytes)

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