Clarrie Gibson Life in the Royal Navy Part One 1951 - 1955
HMS Maidstone, 1954 1
Clarrie and Tony Walsh (from Barnsley) HMS Maidstone at Loch Ewe, Scotland November 1954 on Flag Officer Submarinesâ€™ Winter War
A NAVAL CAREER Memoirs of Service Life as a Jack Dusty in the Royal Navy from 1951 to 1963. VICTORIA BARRACKS, SOUTHSEA I left home in Cudworth, near Barnsley, South Yorkshire on 7 th October 1951 to start my career in the Naval Stores Department of the Royal Navy. I had been employed at the Frickley Colliery, South Elmsall for the past three years in the Colliery Stores Office and the idea of storekeeping appealed to me so I decided to enlist having had a short experience of Naval routine by virtue of being a Sea Cadet whilst at the Barnsley Grammar School. The village of Cudworth incidentally could claim fame for producing two personalities such as the Olympic champion, Dorothy Hyman and Michael Parkinson the T.V. celebrity whilst the school I attended produced a further well-known star etc., the late Brian Glover. During Warship Week in World War II the village adopted MTB 49 after the War Savings target was well exceeded and this was recognised by the Commissioners of the Admiralty and presented a plaque. The hull of an MTB cost £25,000 in 1941 and the village raised £42,000. After the three-mile bus journey from Cudworth I caught a train from the Court House Station in Barnsley bound for Manchester at about 10 a.m. which arrived in Piccadilly Station roughly one and a half hours later. It wasn’t far to the Recruiting Office where after several long waits came a medical check and interview then I was given a meal voucher for dinner at a Services Club nearby. Quite a few recruits were now amassing and we’d been told that we’d leave for Victoria Barracks, Southsea on the midnight train to Euston. The waiting seemed unending but eventually we boarded the train and had a restless journey to London but there was an air of excitement abroad and nothing was missed en route. At Euston we were driven across London to Waterloo Station and were soon speeding through the countryside on our way to Portsmouth and Southsea. R.N. transport was waiting for us at the station and soon conveyed us the short distance to Victoria Barracks where once inside all the niceties from our ‘captors’ ended even though we had not as yet signed on. Our Instructor was P. O. Booker. Bedding and eating utensils were drawn from the Stores and after a meal we soon got to know each other and soon ‘pipe down’ was sounded and all lights extinguished. We were ready for a good sleep after the overnight travelling and quickly dozed off in the strange surroundings. The night seemed to last ten minutes as in no time at all ‘Reveille’ sounded at 0630 and after the washroom we went down for breakfast. Soon we were shepherded through the routine and in one particular office they gave us some cash once we had signed on the dotted line, again it was all smiles from the Instructors as we signed our freedom away and put 3
ourselves in their hands. We visited every Department in the Barracks receiving haircuts whether required or not, dental checks, jabs and of course kit and uniforms. We had been issued with ‘housewives’, (pronounced hussifs) which was a sewing kit containing needles, cotton and various bits and pieces for doing repairs etc., and promptly set about sewing on our badges. You can imagine the laughs we had as most of us hadn’t held a needle and cotton before let alone doubling as Naval tailors. All our kit had to be stamped or marked with our names including our hammocks on which we had to draw an anchor with the marking paint. Picasso couldn’t compete with our works of art. Our uniforms, unlike those of todays Jack Dustys and the rest of the Supply and Secretariat Branch, was the fore and aft rig which meant suit, shirt, collar and tie and a peaked cap, this was to be changed later to the more conventional square rig, i.e., bell-bottomed trousers and caps with the name of the ship you belonged to on the cap tally. I have in my mind that pay was 9/6d. per day but have been corrected that it was only 4/6d. per day, no matter what it was certainly under 10/-. We parcelled our civilian clothing up that we had arrived in and sent them home courtesy of the R.N. Some elementary parade drill was given, sufficient to demoralise us and instil some discipline into those amongst us who needed it, I was the exception to this rule of course! Film was shown about catching diseases from mucky women ashore and if you had been with one how to wrap your penis up in newspaper next morning prior to reporting to the Sick Bay. There’s no wonder Sick Bay Tiffies aren’t keen on fish and chips wrapped up in newspaper! On 16th. October, 1951 we were escorted to the swimming baths which were just outside the Dockyard and issued with a canvas duck suit. We had to swim a length of the pool wearing the suit which became heavier as it became wetter; this was provided that you could swim of course. I understood it to be a race and nearly killed myself in the attempt but could only manage to come in second only to learn that it wasn’t a race so we had to swim around whilst the rest caught up. I never understood what the P.P.T. qualification stood for but my record reads ‘good’ on my Service Documents as I suppose they all did. Next day I qualified ABC 1 day and a G.S. Respirator was issued in R.N.B. after we had marched across from Victoria Barracks. The following day I obtained 84% in a P.F.F. (Ship) course which was fire-fighting at Tipnor I believe or somewhere close to Whale Island. Possibly HMS Phoenix. We were allowed to go ashore in uniform a couple of times but we had to march around like good little tin soldiers in case we were picked up by the Shore Patrol for some petty offence or other. We’d had the fear of God put into us should we bring disgrace upon the Barracks for being slovenly dressed or acting in any improper way whilst ashore. 4
The noble art of letter-writing home was becoming an essential ritual in our daily routines; usually they included an S.O.S. for cash. As the days passed we were looking forward to being drafted to H.M.S. CERES at Wetherby in Yorkshire which in my case would suit me fine as I lived only 30 miles away. After two weeks in the Navy and rapidly becoming an old salt Victoria Barracks was to be left behind when we loaded our kits into a lorry whilst yet another one took us to Portsmouth and Southsea station for the train to take us to Waterloo on 23rd. October 1951. As was to be the case on many occasions we were met by the R.T.O. who shepherded us across London to St. Pancras for a train up to Leeds. Before leaving St. Pancras I walked along the platform to the engine and asked the engine driver if he would go slowly when we passed through Cudworth Station as my family may be there to give a wave. Much to my surprise the train did slow down when we reached Cudworth but alas nobody was there to greet us. However I will always remember the magic that the train driver made for me that day. Some forty minutes later the train pulled into Leeds City Station. Already it was hard to imagine that three weeks previous I had been working at Frickley Colliery, it seemed years since.
H.M.S. CERES The Supply and Secretariat Training School at Wetherby After transferring our kit which we’d loaded onto platform trolleys upon arrival at Leeds City Station we moved to another part of the station for the train to Wetherby. When the train pulled in we quickly loaded our kit for the 12-mile journey to Wetherby which took about forty five minutes remembering of course that we were in the days of steam. It was a matter of just a few minutes to hump our kits aboard the waiting R.N. lorry there which was driven by a Wren called Ricky who was the Captains’ chauffeuse we were to learn later. The journey to our final destination at York Road took about five minutes and we passed through the main gate of H.M.S. CERES which was opposite the Wetherby racecourse. We came under the command of Captain (S) Alan Leybourne and our Training officer was Lt. Commander Hurd (Hurdy Gurdy as he became known to us). He was very similar in many respects to the film actor Charles Loughton. I believe our Instructor was C.P.O. Strange (or Long) and henceforth until we left CERES we were to be known as Class NE 92. For a month we suffered the intricacies of parade drill, rifle drill, lectures, knots and their uses, kit musters and the odd cross-country run which all constituted Part One of our Training Programme. At our final kit muster at York Road which Hurdy Gurdy inspected about six of us were present, the rest were just that little bit adrift and he became impatient which took some of his attention off us. He stood there with his arms folded and moving his head from side to side mumbled “Where are the other slaves” his voice identical to Charles Laughton. On one of the rifle drill sessions PSA Ross Nason Jardine Glenn (from Freshwater on the Isle of Wight) and myself managed to turn left when the rest of the squad turned right, they were right we were left and wrong so we were sent to do a lap of honour around the parade ground complete with rifle and boy! did those rifles bounce on your collar bone? The last one back to the Guardroom had to do a second lap and Ross and myself agreed to arrive at a dead heat which only proved to be futile as we were sent into another orbit and this time we agreed to each going flat out - poor old Ross had to do a third circuit. Many years later I phoned his Mother after we’d left the Andrew and she told me that he now lived in South Africa and was in the insurance business. I gave her my address to send on to him but I’ve never heard from him. I seem to recall he served on H.M.S. COMUS in the Far East. 6
For that first month we were allowed shore leave for a few hours on either Saturday or Sunday from 1300 until 2300 dependant on your duty watch. In my case it was a flying start once clear of the main gate, flying up York Road to the Bus station in Wetherby for a bus to Leeds, change Bus stations in Leeds for a bus to Barnsley then a local bus home. Sometimes I would take several of the lads home with me to either 30 Kings’ Road at Cudworth or to my girl-friends’ at 3 Fish Dam Lane, Monk Bretton where they had a meal and a few hours break from the training sessions, most of them lived too far away to get home themselves. Many years later I met up with Peter Shaw, one of the lads who came home with me and not only did he remember the visits but also the stew which my Mother had made for us when we arrived from Wetherby, Dai Rees also visited me here in 1999. I can only remember a few of the names of the lads who were in Class NE 92. Ron Thew came from Pompey North End, Ginner Waites came from Hull, Scouse Jones who’s Dad was a Sergeant in the Army, an ex-Writer named Jackson who I believe fancied himself as a boxer, Tony Connibear, Mick Long and Wayne from London. Tug Wilson came from Southampton and had previously been in the Army so he was a cert for Class Leader. There were many others whose faces I can see but I cannot put names to no matter how hard I try. Frank Dewsnap was a long-distance runner and was often frowned upon by R.P.O. Pape who also ran and whom Frank beat occasionally. As I type this in later years (1999) lots of the lads’ names have come to mind and no doubt many more may become available before the century is out so I’ll save room for them to be included in the next update. On 27th November 1951 we completed Part One Training and once again we packed our kits for the three-quarters of a mile journey up York Road to Moorlands for Part Two which was for Trade Training. Rookie Wrens were there for a similar training course but theirs wasn’t as long as ours. Our Instructor was S.C.P.O. (S) Gerry Loxton who was a survivor from the sinking of H.M.S. ARK ROYAL after being torpedoed during WWII. He had a dog which followed him around everywhere but before the end of our training I believe the dog was run over and Gerry was very distressed as he and the dog were nigh inseparable. He was a most pleasant C.P.O. and after the bawling of commands etc. from Part One Instructors that we had been subjected to he certainly was a gentleman to us all. He was a very good tutor which made the learning’s of the very complex Naval Storekeeping procedures easy. When an afternoons’ typing lesson was on the agenda he would leave the Class and put me in charge as he admitted that I knew more about typing than he (and let’s face it – I was the Deputy Class Leader!). Why we had to learn typing I failed to see as for years afterwards there was very little typing for a Jack Dusty to do. 7
After three weeks had elapsed at Moorlands the routine was interrupted by Christmas Leave. I humped a kitbag full of washing home to have it all ready for the inevitable kit muster upon our return and this move proved to be a good one as straight away we had to lay our gear out for inspection. When the two-weeks leave was over I remember thinking to myself that I’d served for 12 weeks and that I’d signed on for 12 years, it would never pass and I wondered if I’d made a bad mistake. I write this some 45 years after signing on proving that time did pass and only too quickly but not appreciated by me at the time. It wasn’t very far from Moorlands Camp into Wetherby, perhaps a five-minute walk so when we could afford a night out there weren’t any travel expenses to budget for. Being in Part Two we were allowed night leave on alternate nights and similar arrangements for weekend leave as York Road. There was a pub every few yards along the main road through Wetherby which was the A1Great North Road. One night a few of us went ashore there for a jar or several and it wasn’t long before Ron Thew had consumed rather more than his safe quota. When returning to the Guardroom at Moorlands you had to sing out your name, the colour of your Station Card and your Class number to retrieve your Card. That particular night we had to more or less brain-wash Ron on the way back to disguise his overdose by having him Ginner Waites, Ron repeat over and over again “Thew, Blue, NE 92”. Thew, Clarrie Gibson He sounded more sober when we lined up for our Cards that it was a wonder we weren’t the ones to be breathalysed by the Jaunty. However I was thankful for Ron’s sake that our strategy had worked and he passed through without any problem. He was always the sort of bloke to be targeted by the ones in power. That phrase stuck every time we went for a drink as did other ones such as “Thew”, ‘Yes Sir’, “Pig Bins”, ‘Thank you Sir’ when duties were being dished out usually by the Buffer. Alas Ron failed his final exams and consequently wasn’t considered good enough for the R.N. who promptly discharged him. Within a few months he was conscripted for 18 months National Service with the Royal Army Medical Corps and very quickly attained the rank of Corporal. I went to visit him later when he was serving at Netley Hospital at Southampton, in fact he smuggled me into his barracks for the weekend and we had a great time remembering some of the tricks we used to get up to at Wetherby. Much later I used to stay with Ron and his parents whenever I was in Pompey and have never forgotten the hospitality I was given. When a film was showing at the Camp Cinema at York Road we had to march there and back in an organised party with someone out front carrying a lantern and similarly one at the back. There were no street lamps then along York Road. I 8
once copped for the duty to be in charge of the cinema party being the only Deputy Class Leader present and was responsible for the good behaviour and safety of the party as we walked down York Road……..Oh the power ! So we continued learning the intricacies of Naval and Air Storekeeping until the day arrived for the final exams. I was in Sick Bay due to having caught hold of a virus but was allowed to sit the exams rather than be back-classed and have to go through the whole business of training once again. Happily I passed with sufficient marks to bring me second in the Class. I was called from my sick bed to undergo the typing exams and achieved 49 marks out of 50. I gave it all I had and enquired where I had dropped a mark for curiosity and the reply I received was “Nobody’s perfect”. 25th February 1952 brought about the farewells and we held a bit of a leaving party up in the NAAFI with all the lads and some Wrens who were also completing their training. The next day we left for our Port Divisions which in my case was Pompey where on 9th April 1952 I became a fully-fledged SA(S) and now ready for what the future had to offer. After leaving CERES I stayed in the RNB Hotel for approximately one month helping many other Jack Dustys with the various tasks in the Naval Stores. Usually there was a pool of SA’s hanging around at the back of the Stores keeping out of the way; no doubt the Stores Chief was embarrassed by numbers. I wonder how this compares with the Naval Stores to-day? Resulting from an advert I’d placed in the Navy News seeking information regarding underground tunnels in the Dockyard area of Singapore I received three phone calls from former pals who were in Class NE 92 at CERES. 1/2/98 - Dai Rees from Rhondda, South Wales 4/2/98 - Peter Shaw from Tarleton, Preston Lancs 7/2/98 – Bob Parkinson a Geordie now from Lancashire 3/5/00 - Ross Nason Jardine Glen from Winchester, ex-Freshwater I.O.W. Before they call that big register up in the sky I have put aside a ream of paper to include the names of other pals who we hope to either hear from or even meet at the Nostalgic Weekend at Wetherby on 17 th September 1999.
COME ON RON THEW UNLESS YOU WANT THE PIG BINS AGAIN
24 (S) Class Standing: Clarrie Gibson | Ginner Waites | Dai Rees | Angus Tait | Bob Measham Mick Long | Tug Wilson | Barry Stephens. Seated: Ross Glen | E.Kelley Ron Thew | Gerry Loxton | B.Jenkins | B. Jones | G.P.E. Jackson |
Former entrance to Victoria Barracks
H.M.S. KESTREL. R.N.A.S. WORTHY DOWN, WINCHESTER. (Later to become H.M.S. ARIEL). The draft chit said H.M.S. ARIEL so came the day, 28 th. April 1952 I took my kit to the Drill Shed in Pompey Barracks and went through the routine of having my name checked, draft papers issued along with a railway warrant before putting my kit into a lorry and being driven to Portsmouth Harbour Station along with other merry men going on draft to various ships or shore stations. I discovered that the new Stores Chief for ARIEL was also on the lorry and he was S.C.P.O. (S) Bill Kendle. This was a relief to me that I would be travelling with someone who was experienced in the routine bearing in mind that I was straight out of training with hardly any knowledge of the procedure and was as green as grass. Arriving at Waterloo we were met by the R.T.O. who shunted us across London to Euston Station for the journey North to Warrington. Transport was waiting for us at Bank Quay Station and took us and our kit to H.M.S. ARIEL at Culcheth which was a few miles distant. On arrival at West Camp on a Monday tea-time we were informed not to unpack our kit as we would be going back to the South again. The following morning we did Joining Routine and Drafting Routine together at the same time and left Culcheth on Wednesday morning bound for H.M.S. KESTREL, R.N.A.S. Worthy Down which was about five or six miles North of Winchester in Hampshire. Both SCPO Kendle and I were ‘train-lagged’ when the lorry waiting at Winchester Station eventually transported us to our destination where we arrived at about 5 pm. KESTREL was way out in the Hampshire countryside at the end of a long road leading off from the main Winchester to Newbury Road. Married quarters were close to this road and it was still quite a hike down to the camp from there. When we arrived there were only 68 of us on the camp and we were billeted in long wooden huts on the side of what was nicknamed “Goon Valley”. The atmosphere was one of Hill Billy land, slap happy routine and we relied on the daily newspaperman to give us a shake in the mornings and the lights only went out at night when everybody was ready for them to go out. Being new to Navy life I thought how good it was here compared to the strict routine in training. We did our dhobeying in buckets which was nothing unusual in those days. After the Joining Routine had been completed I reported for duty at the Naval Stores and discovered there was only little action at this stage. Later the whole of H.M.S. ARIEL at Warrington was to move to Worthy Down and the pace would quicken then. I was to work in the Receipt and Despatch Section initially then counter work in the Main Store followed by working in the office on the Returns Section. 12
The Stores Officer was Sub. Lt. Tierney who’s office was in the Stores Building opposite the Stores Office. The senior rate in charge was S.C.P.O.(S) Bill Kendle whilst L.S.A.(S) Roy Riches (later S.P.O.(S)), and L.S.A.(S) Clive Brocklebank kept us few S.A.’s under control, namely Carter, McDonald, Gibson and another Gibson who looked after S.N.A.T.S.U.’s requirements. The initials stood for Southern Naval Air Transport Salvage Unit who kept the remains of crashed aircraft coming in from all parts of the area. ‘Jock’ came from Girvan in Ayrshire I believe and it was always a bind when the quartermaster piped for S. A. Gibson to go to the Main Gate, we would both have to go as the communications were nonexistent in the huts. A few Wrens I remember were L/Wren Margaret Bamber, Wren Kay Day (D. Day) who came from Wellingborough in Northants where her parents had a farm, 2 other Wrens, Joan and her mate who both came from Hull. Of the Victuallers there was Stores P.O. Buck Taylor, an L.S.A.(V) who arranged our cricket matches and lived somewhere near Andover but who’s name I cannot recall, S.A.(V) Jim Edwards from Basingstoke who some mysterious way used to qualify for travelling time when going on leave just 20 minutes up the line. Another victualler was S.A. (V) Watteau whilst Cook (S) Hudson and Officers’ Steward Rigg are another few names who come to mind from the S & S Branch. A civilian who worked in the Main Naval Stores was a most likeable bloke name of Joe Bunce who I always tended to ask my questions in preference to any others. Joe knew the Camp and routine better than most. Once when passing through Waterloo Station in London an oldish railway worker came up to me and asked what ship I was on. With security in mind I thought it would be double Dutch to him if I told him the truth and probably wouldn’t be believed if I said Worthy Down. To my amazement he said “Wurvy Darn, ah nose Wurvy Darn” so I quickly escaped the situation. One night at about 2250 we were enjoying life down in Goon Valley when a voice like thunder boomed out “Get those lights out-this is the Master-at-Arms”. The Jossman had arrived and henceforth our life of luxury was about to be changed for the worse. Once a week I had to go on a Stores run to Portsmouth Dockyard with the Stores lorry and it being a 20-mile trip warranted taking a bag meal for the day out. There was a very good transport café called ‘The Midgets’ café where a cup of coffee and one of their ham sandwiches with mustard always went down very well indeed. I played cricket for the camp team and used to enjoy the games very much and was often in the limelight particularly with bowling for all I didn’t do too badly with the bat either. We played and beat Winchester University on their own ground near the cathedral and one game that I did excel in was against a village team called Longstock Park by taking nine wickets and knocking 19 runs. This was one of the games arranged by the L.S.A.(V) who lived nearby and I thoroughly enjoyed taking 13
part that day. As H.M.S. ARIEL gradually moved to Worthy Down they had their own team and we weren’t even considered for inclusion which was a great shame as we’d had some excellent games locally and had acquired a pretty good reputation. The nearest pub was about three-quarters of a mile away from the camp’s East Gate and called ‘The Springvale’. Pretty much the same story as with the cricket, it was a nice, pleasant and friendly pub when there were just the few of us but soon became spoilt as the hordes arrived. One evening a few of us went ashore by bus into Winchester and one of the lads who came from a rather posh background introduced me to Pym’s No.1 Special which had half a garden’s produce floating on top. We missed the last bus and couldn’t afford a taxi so walked it back from King Alfred’s Square to the camp. It was one heck of a hike especially with the greenhouse produce floating around in my belly on top of the booze but I don’t think I ever missed that last bus again whilst I was at Winchester. Being duty S.A. involved doing security rounds of the hangars in which was stored furniture in one of them (No.4 I recall) with others having stores of various descriptions locked away inside. The other storerooms also had to be checked, keys returned to the Main Gate and then collected again next morning. We had to issue bedding when required during the silent hours which involved sleeping in an office in the Supply Block where the safe was also kept. A 3-day exercise with the Army was held to test the security of our camp and we captured some of them and held them prisoner in the Stores Office. To us it was a bit of a lark but kept us to some degree a little more security conscious. We were given a whole day off after the ‘raid’ as many of us had been up all night keeping the enemy away from our doorstep. There were some laughs to be had during the exercise. S.C.P.O.(S) Kendle and myself organised a few coach outings from Worthy Down and each one was enjoyed by all who went on them. One trip in particular was to the Theatre Royal at Drury Lane to see Mary Martin and Wilbur Evans perform in South Pacific. As we arrived we were asked if we required coffee during the interval which would cost us 9/6d. each. We gratefully turned the offer down and compromised with a jar of ale in the bar at half-time. It was a very good show and to this day I still enjoy listening to the songs from the show, I never tire of hearing them. On returning to Worthy Down the Stores echoed with the strains of ‘Some Enchanted Evening’ and ‘Bali Hai’ from those of us who were fortunate enough to go on the trip. Another run out was down to Brighton and after travelling we were very glad to get there to go to the nearest toilet as some of us had drunk a couple of pints on the way there and the need was indescribable. 14
Bournemouth was another occasion when we enjoyed an outing but calling in the New Forest on the return trip to spend a penny I managed to lose my one false tooth amidst the damp and vomit which had been deposited there no doubt by a previous coach. Needless to say the tooth is probably still there in the grass at the edge of the New Forest. So if you see a New Forest pony prancing around with one false tooth grinning at you then youâ€™ll have some idea as to who it once belonged to.
The day arrived with the correspondence bringing the news that I was to be drafted to H.M.S. BLACKCAP, R.N.A.S. STRETTON on 9 th February, 1953. Worthy Down later closed down as a Naval Air Station and the Royal Army Pay Corps occupied the camp. The training of Naval Airmen Electrical and Radio was transferred to H.M.S. DAEDALUS at R.N.A.S. Lee-on-Solent. I believe the Army are still there at Worthy Down to this day (12 th August 1999). Later in my Service life whilst serving at H.M.S. LOCHINVAR in 1962/3, I was coming home on leave on the train from Edinburgh and met Lt.(S) Bill Kendle with whom I served at Worthy Down at the start of my career. We had a couple of drinks together reminiscing of earlier days. By coincidence I was at the end now of my career.
Clive Brocklebank, Clarrie
Bill Wood & Me Photos from 1952 days:-
left Tanky John Wicks Roy Riches Clive Brocklebank
Clive Brocklebank | Clarrie
Clarrie | ? | Scouse Rainford | Jock Gibson Clive Brocklebank | 1952
Peter Carter | Roy Riches | ‘Brock’ ? | Clarrie Gibson 18
Peter Carter, Jim Edwards, Jock Gibson
H.M.S. BLACKCAP R.N.A.S. STRETTON, WARRINGTON. Old Drafty must have thought I was homesick as just ten months after leaving Warrington for Winchester he sent me back there. I didn’t mind, I lived only 60 miles away as the crow flies from R.N.A.S. Stretton, an awkward 60 miles though across the Pennines. On 9th February 1953 I made my way to Waterloo from Winchester and there met up with a Stores Chief yet once again with whom I was due to serve, this was the second occasion I’d been sent of draft with a Stores Chief to Warrington. He was S.C.P.O.(S) Ginger Neale and after having a few words we chucked our kit into the back of an R.N. lorry to take us to Euston for the Warrington train. I believe we arrived at Bank Quay Station there where transport was waiting to take us to Stretton and deliver us to Eagle Site which was the accommodation and feeding part of the camp. After collecting our kit we said our farewells for the time being and were to see lots of each other in the months ahead as he was to be my boss I think I am right in remembering the C.O.’s name being Captain David Trentham for all my Service Documents are signed by Kenneth Buckley who may have been the Supply Officer but of this I’m not certain. The Deputy Supply Officer was Lt. Cdr. J.P. Barnicott who was a real gent of an officer and very well liked by the troops. He was relieved by Lt. Cdr. Hawcroft who used to come to work on his motor bike across the airfield from his Married Quarter. The Stores Officer was Sub. Lieut. Uden who’s desk was alongside S.C.P.O.(S) Neales’ who controlled the staff and workload. Another Store’s Chief was Whacker Payne who occupied that chair prior to the arrival of Ginge Neale and then revised various work in the storerooms. He was not very well liked by most but I found him easy to get on with for all he was a stickler for discipline and the correct procedure being carried out. Working on Permanent Ledgers and Permanent Loan Lists was S.P.O.(S) Speakman from Liverpool who was later relieved by S.P.O.(S) - Derek Hodgson and was a far more civil man to get on with than his predecessor and was respected by the lads. There were too many ratings on the staff at Stretton for me to remember all their names but some of them who come to mind are: L.S.A.’s Johnno Johnson, Ron Knox, Les Mirfin, Geordie Reay, Tommy Hood, Knocker Norris and an old salt Jan Cock from Plymouth. Some of the thirty or so of the S.A.’s were: Ray Thomason, Mick Weiland, Andy Hough, Scouse Larsen, Clarrie Gibson, Brian Welch and Scouse Rainford plus many more whose faces I can see but cannot put names to 20
them. At the time of writing these notes it is 43 years ago since I last saw most of the lads, I met up with a few but no doubt you’ll appreciate the pain caused to my brain by conjuring up the names already mentioned. The civilian stores lorry driver was Fred Chisholm. I was housed in Eagle 28 Mess initially but as time went by we were all moved around to other huts. The messes were Nissan huts with corrugated tin roofs and sides and heating was from a coke stove in the hut. Coke was strictly rationed and a sentry guarded the Compound where the coke was kept. The sentry was armed with Exocets, Laser Guns and Surface–to-air missiles as often the compound would be raided for an illegal bucket or two. It was easy to spot the culprit Mess as it would be the warmest hut in the camp. I used to make toast around the stove after Officer of the Days’ rounds at 2100 then open up a tin of baked beans to ensure that later on when the beans had gone down so did the wind and this in turn helped to keep the joint warm to some extent for all the whiff wasn’t very pleasant but better that than freeze. A covered walkway led to the washroom on the opposite side of a roadway from the messes. The Dining Hall was situated near the Main Gate on Eagle Site and was approximately a 3-day camel ride from our Mess which was the farthest away; you quickly became soaked on a rainy day as was also the case when going to the NAAFI. In dry weather we had to march to the AMY from Eagle Site along a country lane and back again at dinner time. The same march afterwards then back again when Secure was sounded at 1600. Transport was only provided when wet weather routine had been decided and R.N. coaches took us down to our places of toil. Duty watch came round one in four which entailed checking the ledger entries for the day and balances then scrubbing out the office after all the paper transactions had been verified. There were four storerooms in the AMY and masses of paperwork passed through each day then passed through to the office for actioning. Issue centres were also sited in the hangars where regular stores items were available without the accounting necessary as they were in every day use. These items such as nuts, bolts and washers were issued in bulk from the Naval Air Stores and the Squadron SA was responsible for their replenishment. 767, 1831 and 1841 were the Squadrons stationed at Stretton. The runway in front of the Control Tower was painted to represent the flight deck of an aircraft carrier and the trainee pilots would go round in orbit all day long practising deck landings. Most of them would get the ok, some would be waved off and given the equivalent of “You stupid *****”, and some would be the cause of the alarm bells ringing and over the tannoy would come “crash on the airfield, crash crews close up” and off would go the Rescue tenders and lifting crane with the ambulance also in 21
attendance. On one occasion I saw a big American Air force Flying box car come ambling in during the deck landing practises, flares went shooting up from the Control Tower to warn them off. I suppose it was relatively easy for them to mistake the airfield for the US Base at Burtonwood near Warrington after flying across the Atlantic but boy oh boy did they cause some panics! It was the habit to answer a phone call with some daft comment such as “Hell FireDuty Devil” or “City Desk-Hank Janson”. One morning an SA in the Store gave it “Bar X B Ranch, Hopalong Cassidy speaking”. The answer came back, “Then grab yourself a sombrero, this is the Supply Officer, I will see you in my office”. I can’t remember the outcome but I believe it was all taken in good spirit by the hierarchy. If your action working dress (No.8’s) became a bit threadbare and required a patch then there was a service run by the Safety Equipment Section who would complete the repair for 2/- a patch. It was comical to see some of the gear being worn, they were nothing but patches but it wasn’t long before the practise was stopped by threats from upon high. About 400 yards or so up the road from the Main Gate was the local watering hole, The Thorn Inn at Appleton. I didn’t frequent the pub very often as my spare dosh was needed for getting home at the weekends when possible. No doubt it’ll remain the meeting house for many hundreds of ex-ratings whenever a reunion is held. In the late nineties I had occasion to visit Liverpool and on the trip called in at the Thorn at Appleton and expected there being a book for visitors ex-BLACKCAP so that the record could be looked through to search for any former pals who served there. No one in the pub seemed interested, no interest whatsoever which surprised me, but forty years is a long time for everything to remain unchanged I suppose. I took a little walk towards the spot where the Main Gate used to be and it was the entrance to a young offender’s prison, this is the case at CERES I understand. I couldn’t even find the farm where I used to earn a few bob as the M56 had cut the camp in two, what a disappointment! Duty-free cigarettes were allowed and issued each month in bulk to the cigarette store. We were allowed 300 a month which cost 6/6d. or a choice of three-one quarter pound tins cigarette tobacco (tickler) or a similar quantity of pipe tobacco. The cigarettes had a blue line along them as did the packets of 20 which showed up on x-ray and was supposed to counteract smuggling. The Buffer looked after our rations in the cigarette store and would dish out a packet of 20 per day until such times that your allowance had been used up. At Main Leave times you were allowed to take 200 fags or the equivalent in tobacco.
I had to go to R.A.F. Padgate in Warrington one day to have a varicose vein in my right leg drained. I was told by the M.O. to put my foot up on a chair and watched him stick the syringe into the vein and start draining the blood off. It was hot and airless in the room, no window open and I asked if I could have a drink of water but was refused as the job was practically finished. The next thing I knew was that I was lying on a table after having flaked out. I looked at my Medical History Sheet later and it was noted “Cure not guaranteed as the patient fainted”. I’m sure that if I’d been allowed that glass of water then it wouldn’t have happened as I’m not a squeamish bloke. Many years later I had the vein stripped in Clayton Hospital at Wakefield and I’ve had no further problems since – touch wood. 8th. June 1953 I passed professionally for L.S.A., the ‘hook’ came three years later in the Far East. Naval Air Day was planned for one particular Saturday and all the preparations were made for the many thousands of anticipated visitors. My allotted job was to collect the fares from the visitors who came by coach and escort the coach to the designated area for parking. Two lanes had been roped off in this field so that six coaches at a time could be dealt with. It rained on that Saturday for most of the day and the only coach to arrive was full of American Servicemen from whom I was instructed to collect 10/- from each but I felt as embarrassed as Hell when taking the cash from the Yanks. All kinds of aircraft were scheduled to fly but throughout the day we caught only a fleeting glimpse of an R.A.F. Vulcan which was towards the end of the day, the low cloud had kept the rest of the planes grounded. It turned out to be a thoroughly miserable day all round. I received a rare treat one day when I was sent to the R.N. Store Depot at Risley on the other side of Warrington with the Stores lorry for some equipment that was urgently required. Mention of Risley brings to mind that the place has since shut down as a Stores Depot and now a prison for those on remand. In the camp cinema a concert was held one night and the star of the show was Douglas Cardew Robinson (Cardew the Cad). I thought his show was a load of rubbish but what I do remember it for was that I’d previously given up smoking and watching the show made me so bored that I asked for a cigarette and this led me back on the smokers’ trail. There was a farm just off the airfield and one evening after work Brian Welch and I called at the farm to ask if they needed any help with the haymaking etc. as it was that time of year. Farmer Booth was very pleased to have some assistance and it wasn’t long before we each had a tractor and trailer which we would load up with hay in the field and return to off-load and stow away in the barn at the farm. We 23
both enjoyed the work very much plus of course the financial reward at the end of the week which helped us both with travelling expenses when going home. The
Booths Farm near the crossing from the AMY to the Airfield farmer needed our help with all sorts of work until the darker nights arrived but he would have us go for just one hour topping turnips in the field or doing any job he wanted doing. We’d receive fresh milk and sandwiches at ‘Stand Easy’ from the farmers’ wife; they were most kind to us all the time we worked for them. Somewhere amongst my possessions I have a photograph of me driving the little Ferguson tractor and another one of my mate driving the Fordson Major. Brian Welch was a National Serviceman who hailed from Gidea Park in Essex and later became a cinema manager at the Odeon in Romford. I took him home one weekend and to this day my wife remembers him as being a gentleman. We had some good times working on the farm, hard work but we were young and could take it especially working for such nice people who appreciated our work as much as they did. The day arrived for Christmas Leave and ‘Secure’ sounded at 1145 and we marched up the road from the AMY towards Eagle Site ready to prepare for leave. I’d bought a cockerel from the farm to take home for the Christmas Dinner and I slung this over my shoulder as we marched along. It must have looked a bit of a weird sight seeing about 50-odd matelots marching up the country road and one of them with a fowl trailing at the slope. It was quite windy and raining so I put on 24
my Burberry. Because the P.O. in charge had not declared wet weather routine he apparently told me three times to take my Burberry off, three times I never heard him which I swear to this day. On arrival at Eagle Site he put me on a charge for disobeying an order and I went before the Officer-of-the-Day who gave me a caution. I wasn’t satisfied and asked to see the Commander and instead of us all being on our way home for leave I’d caused several men to be late in getting there but justice needed to be done in my opinion. This was eventually done and the Commander gave me three days’ stoppage of leave but I was allowed to proceed on Christmas leave straight away as I suspect the Commander knew the P.O. well enough to support him with the charge but then gave him two fingers behind his back for being so petty on a festive occasion. The name of the Birdman P.O. was Singleton (Simpleton more appropriately) and was often dropping the lads in the rattle for the simplest charges. So my nature was to tip the Goon the black spot as Robert Newton did regularly in ‘Treasure Island’ and it seemed to work for me as he later broke both his arms when he crashed with his motorbike. (Ah ha – Jim lad! The black spot). It was always a bit of a nightmare travelling those 60 miles across the Pennines to get home from Stretton, you could travel North or South easily in this country but it was always a problem going East or West. When rich enough to make the comfortable journey it was a case of bus from the camp into Warrington, train to Manchester Exchange Station, cross the road just outside the Station to the Bus Station to catch a bus for over the top to Barnsley where it was then a local bus home. It was always a dash to catch the connections and normally I’d arrive home at about 5pm. On many occasions I’d hitch-hike which was often quicker than the bus. I’ve ridden in heavy goods lorries, cars, bread vans, an empty lorry who’d delivered spuds in Lancashire and was returning to Lincolnshire. On the back of the lorry all three Services were well represented but the woman driver would not let any of us sit in the cab which was understandable. She dropped me off about a mile from where I wanted to be and I was very grateful to her for the lift as prior to her picking me up I’d walked for miles over the moors. One day I was coming home on the bus from Manchester and climbing the hill at the Lancashire side the bus broke down and wouldn’t go any further. I decided not to wait for the relief bus as I calculated that it would take ages so I thumbed it and made steady progress before my luck ran out and couldn’t hitch a ride any further. Eventually along came the relief bus an hour late but it stopped for me and I hopped on amidst laughter from the other passengers who thought the whole escapade was funny. The most amusing lift I ever had was when two of us were walking through Stockport and had just finished eating a bag of fish and chips making our way out of the town to the outskirts as no-one would normally stop to offer a lift in the centre when suddenly a vehicle pulled up alongside which we hadn’t thumbed and the driver called out “Hop in lads, I know where you’re 25
going”. I couldn’t remember having been run-over or anything similar and being on my way out but the vehicle was a hearse and I thought what a nice way to travel to Heaven. The driver had seen us on previous weekends as he made the journey regularly but just imagine the scene – a hearse with an Undertaker driving and two jolly jacks in uniform sat alongside him in the front. I was very glad that he was not in the same frame of mind as the lady –driver with the spud lorry and insisted we travelled in the back. He was a most cheerful bloke and to him I owe a debt of thanks as like the spud lorry he dropped us off at the same spot near Barnsley. The return journey to Stretton always left me undecided which route to travel, if I decided to go by bus the last one from Barnsley for Manchester left at 7:45pm which would eventually mean a night in bed, this being the more sensible way to return. Other than hitch-hiking (which I never did on the way back), the alternative was the 10:15pm train from Cudworth up to Leeds, change Station for the mail train across to Manchester, change Stations again for the train to Warrington where the R.N. bus would meet us to take us back to Rancho Diablo as I called it. There were always many Yanks on the Warrington train from Manchester who were returning to Burtonwood. The pusser’s bus would arrive in camp at 6:55am at the Regulating Office for us to pick up our station cards then call in the dining hall for our breakfasts. The menu was the same every Monday morning – herrings in tomato sauce which initially made me shudder after an all-night journey but as time went on I acquired a palate for them and even looked forward to them during the cold return journeys in the Winter time. All that remains now in these recollections of R.N.A.S. Stretton is to list some of the many aircraft seen there: Seafires, Sea Fury’s, Sea Hawks, Sea Vixens, Sea Venoms, Sea Hornets, Sea Princes, Avengers, Dominies, Attackers, Harvards and an odd Swordfish in the R.D.U. After 14 months I left Stretton on 8th April 1954 bound for Portland where I joined my first ship proper – H.M.S. MAIDSTONE, the submarine depot ship. Many happy days at Stretton for all it wasn’t realised at the time.
Guard of Honour Firing Party
Remembrance Day Parade 28
Blackcap Band in Warrington
H.M.S. MAIDSTONE. Submarine Depot Ship. 8th April 1954 So I was destined to become an old sea dog with the draft to H.M.S. MAIDSTONE which was moored in the inner harbour at Portland in Dorset. The last time I was in Portland was seven years previously as a Sea Cadet I had a weeks’ sea training in the destroyer H.M.S. ZEPHYR which belonged to the 3 rd. Escort, 8th Flotilla.
After waiting for about 15 minutes on the jetty MAIDSTONES’ motor boat came alongside and I humped my kit into the boat which set off promptly back to the ship. I was fortunate enough to be helped up the accommodation ladder with my kit as it was one heck of a climb on to the quarterdeck which I saluted and was directed to the Regulating Office by the quartermaster. They took my draft papers and given the location of the Supply and Secretariat Mess, No.41 which was on the port side about three decks down. I deposited my hammock in the approved stowage netting and unpacked my kit into the locker allocated to me. My previous knowledge of life aboard ship was limited with just the one weeks’ experience as a Sea Cadet and consequently was as green as grass but determined to learn the routine quickly which didn’t take too long to get into the swing of things after the initial Joining Routine procedure. MAIDSTONE was of some 8,000 tons and a ship big enough to get lost in if you weren’t familiar with shipboard life. Tied up alongside were three submarines and this site made quite a pleasant change for me after I’d spent most of my time so far with the Fleet Air Arm. The Supply Officer was Commander (S) A.J. Gilbert and his Deputy was Lieut. Commander J.B. Lea. 30
The chief in charge of the Naval Stores was S.C.P.O. (S) Phillips who came from Pompey, quite a decent bloke and I got on reasonably well with him and with his pipe if I remember well. S.P.O.(S) Lawrence was in the office looking after the Permanent Ledgers and Loan Lists whilst S.P.O.(S) Robbie Roberts was in charge of the Main Store, he came from Doncaster. L.S.A.(S) Jumper Collins from Oxford also worked there as did S.A.(S) McAlister. I was detailed to work in the Main Store whilst S.A (S) Frank Tunstall looked after the Consumable Ledgers in the office. Later the Stores Chief rotated our tasks and I was moved into the office until my final month aboard the ship when I was employed on submarine special stores which was a complicated and boring job but I persevered and did my best in an uninteresting job. A late name comes to mind as I type, that of S.A.(S) Spud Murphy who also worked in the Main Store. Killick of the Mess was L.S.A. (V) Larry Parkes who worked in the Victualling Office along with S.A.s Frank Walker from Bradford, Stewart Randle from Chichester, Parry and one other whose name eludes me but I believe he came from Pompey. The Mess was in the Cinema Flat and the Canteen Manager, Ruby Goffa often came into our Mess as his shack was very next door and I suppose the solitude got at him occasionally.
When store ship came around the stores would come alongside in a lighter and were hoisted up onto the Well Deck by one of the ships’ cranes then taken below to the various storerooms. It was always a case of ‘all hands in’ with the Naval Store Staff with no one excused as there was lots of gear to be stowed away throughout the ship. Sometimes we would have to store ship assuming different states of readiness and during action station conditions. This was difficult with some items 31
such as a 10-gallon drum of methylated spirit which had to be taken down into the Inflammable Store in the bowels of the ship through hatches that would only just allow passage through for a person when in action. I had to go through the hatches after leaving the drum close by up above then reach up for it, tip it up to let the funnel part of the drum come down first then try to manoeuvre it through. It was difficult to get the drum down as its weight alone caused problems as well as its bulk. I got one fast with the funnel part pressing down on the side of my neck through the hatch and only a supreme panic effort eventually saved a nasty situation as there wasn’t many ratings knocking around in that part of the ship. There was a laugh for me one day when we were ammunitioning ship. It was drizzling rain on the upper deck. I was following Frank Tunstall going forward along the Parting Shop passage when a young A.B. came trundling in from the Well Deck carrying a 4.5” shell which was nearly as big as him. As he stepped over the coaming he slipped slightly but managed to stay on his feet. He was wearing plimsolls which obviously didn’t grip on the wet steel deck plates which were shiny with wear due to the amount of traffic using that route through the ship. Frank saw what happened, turned his back against the expected blast, bent down and put his fingers to his ears. I just laughed and laughed, partly with bravado and partly with thankfulness that the thing hadn’t gone off or else it would have been a case of “Goodnight nurse”. If the shell had exploded then I think that half of Portland would have gone up with it as the next compartment housed torpedoes, the ammunition lighter was alongside plus the subs. with all their ammo on board. This yarn may never be told elsewhere but we later did get a laugh looking back at the situation and this story is true. You could request for a day’s experience aboard a sub. when they put to sea to go on exercises which was more or less every day. Writer Gabby Hayes obtained permission and away he went one morning, we watched as the sub. cleared the harbour. At about 1400 there was a commotion aboard MAIDSTONE with alarm bells ringing and men dashing about in semi-panics. A signal had apparently been received from Admiralty reporting ‘Sub. Miss’ which was the alert to set the search and rescue organisation into operation for a missing sub. These wheels were set in motion after a certain number of hours had elapsed without receiving a surfacing signal. The particular sub. involved was the one that Gabby Hayes had gone to sea in and we feared the worst and consequently ate his dinner! Destroyers, frigates and all kinds of vessels went tearing through Portland Harbour at high speed and you could see the ships heeling over as they appeared to skim round the breakwater on two wheels as it were. It transpired that the sub. was safe, it had sent a surfacing signal but probably because of faulty radio equipment it hadn’t been received at Admiralty. We were all relieved when the pipe was made that the sub. was safe and in true Navy style we clubbed up and bought Gabby a packet of crisps to make up for his lost nosh proving what a good-hearted bunch of savages we Navy men are. 32
Quite often I had occasion to go down into the subs. alongside for various reasons when I worked with the submarine special stores, I always felt that bit safer when I climbed back aboard about 29 seconds later or less in most cases. We had a Dutch sub. come alongside for a short spell and I went and had a look around her. I think she was an ex-Super ‘S’ class and was called ZEELIUM (SEA LION) and appeared to be far superior compared to our boats in many respects. In August 1954 we actually sailed from Portland on the rare occasions that the ship did move and made our way to Portsmouth Dockyard where we entered dry dock for a refit. It was quite a novel experience for me as it was the first time the ship had budged since I’d been part of her crew. I’d stocked up with plenty of Quells but never required them. One weekend I took young Stewart Randle up home with me for the weekend to show him how we cave dwellers existed in Yorkshire. He was only a young lad but his hands were as big as shovels, really big. It was here at Pompey that we said farewell to Midshipman (S) Wedderburn who had shared part of his National Service with us. I’d been used to calling him ‘Wishy-Washy Wedderburn’ for a laugh on board and when we shook hands when he left he said he must in future refer to me as ‘Gibbly, Gobbly Gibbo’. He was always cheerful and friendly- a true Mr. Nice Guy all round and we were sad to see him go. We had two weeks Summer Leave whilst at Pompey and when this was completed the ship was ready for the return to our moorings at Portland. I decided to slap in a request to discontinue shaving and thereby grow me a beard, after all I was almost 21 and fancied myself like that bloke who advertised Players fags with H.M.S. EXCELLENT on his cap tally.
Flag Officer Submarines (FOSM) decided that he would have a Winter War so in October we put to sea and sailed to Douglas in the Isle of Man. I’ll bet MAIDSTONES’ engines were a bit out of condition as she hadn’t sailed thus far in many a day but to my knowledge they never gave us any trouble. We had to anchor outside the harbour as it was decided that the ship was too big to fit inside. There was a very heavy swell running and after a couple of hours the Captain decided to sail northwards to Loch Ewe where many convoys used to assemble during WWII. The Loch was bordered by long rolling hills or even mountains maybe I suppose which were covered with heather and the odd peat bog. H.M.S.ADAMANT joined us and a football match had been arranged which was 33
played and which we lost. It was a long trip ashore in the liberty boat and we landed at Aultbea. A wooden hut on the shore boasted along its roof on a board – “Bank of Scotland”, I feel sure that the whole lot could have been lifted by a couple of big fat stokers and brought it back on board. As well as a long boat-ride ashore it was similarly a long walk for a pint at the Aultbea Hotel. I wasn’t very impressed with the ale but there was a good atmosphere amongst the locals but no entertainment whatsoever and I was glad to return back to the ship. I remember looking out of the scuttle up at the hills and could imagine the Highlanders in days gone by charging down them with their claymores slashing away at the enemy, it must have been a grand sight to witness if they ever did fight there in that lovely setting. ADAMANTS’ motor boat had to pass by us on their way to shore and I can still see young Stewart Randle poking his head out of the scuttle and shouting at their liberty men “You’re all beef” in his high pitched 17year old voice then straight away duck down as if they were going to harpoon him. Twelve of us were to be landed on a remote beach and act the part of S&S commandos. Our job was to lie low in the peat and allow the 40 Seamen to us by as we remained hidden then fire blanks at them to either kill or capture them after they had passed us. Of course it rained all day and we were glad to hear the umpires’ whistles calling us back to the beach from the hills. The Chef had made a field kitchen and there was a ginormous cauldron of hot soup and fresh bread waiting for us. As I walked back down the hillside I met up with Lieut. Cdr. Lea who cleared his throat and spat out in a not too gentlemanly manner and said “enjoyed yourself, Gibson?” For all I was cold, wet through and hungry I had enjoyed myself but thought that perhaps that sort of life ought to be left to those who make their career lying in peat bogs, unmoving and waiting to ambush their prey. This was another occasion when I was glad to get back on board. We sailed for the Winter War after a few days. I haven’t a clue just what we were supposed to be doing but the ship plodded on in fairly rough weather, as is the norm I understand, around the North of Scotland at that time of the year. We sailed past the West coast of Shetlands, around the top then down the Eastern side as far as Fair Isle where we turned around and went back the way we’d come and eventually sailed South to Gareloch somewhere up the Clyde where we tried the Loch for suitability for size. Apparently we became stuck and had to await a tug from Glasgow to turn us around. I think this was Faslane where 4 years later MAIDSTONE made her home after leaving Portland. Time being we plodded on back down the Irish Sea rounded Land’s End and steamed in to our Depot Ship Garage. 34
At some time during my time on MAIDSTONE the 4.5” guns on the quarterdeck were tried and apparently the blast blew the canopy off the Captain’s motor boat. One day it was my turn to be ‘cook of the grot’ which entailed fetching the meals for the whole mess from the galley, dishing the food out and cleaning up afterwards. The Mess was always scrubbed out after breakfast and hot water for this was obtained from a tap up on the Well Deck. I took two Mess fannies for the water and made my way back down the Parting Shop passage to the hatch which led to the Mess two decks below. A group of electricians were standing round the hatch; they were preparing to lower some cases of electrical gear down the hatch. The ladder was still in position and I asked if it was alright for me to go down. I was told it was ok and was descending the ladder when suddenly it gave way under me and down I went with the ladder which came to rest on the coaming of the next hatch below. My legs were buckled under me and they turned black very quickly. I’ll never know how I got to the Sick Bay but I was examined there and put into a cot in the middle of the Sick Bay for the night as per the instruction of Surgeon Lieut. Rhodes. He examined me again the next morning after I’d had a most uncomfortable night and diagnosed that I was fit for duty. As soon as I put my feet on the deck I felt sick and very dizzy but somehow managed to dress myself and left the Sick Bay at 1100 to return to the Mess which normally would take about three minutes and I’m being generous with the time even then. I arrived in the Mess at 1150 just as the grog - call sounded after I’d made a painful and very unsteady journey. Came night time I had to bring my hammock from its stowage on the deck above, each step was agony for me then I had to sling it in the Cinema Flat and eventually turn in. I was in considerable discomfort and felt very rough but had to keep up with the routine somehow. It took a long time for me to return to normality and years afterwards I blame that fall for being the source of back ailments from which I have suffered for many years. Apparently there is no record of the accident in my medical documents or of any associated treatment. The securing bolts on the ladders had been removed and my weight was initially being held with rust, paint and muck before giving way. The P.O. Electrician was reprimanded for neglect after a board of enquiry had been held into the accident. After work when the checking of paperwork had been completed in the Naval Store Office by the duty S.A. I would sit in the office and make a rug using a Readicut rug outfit. It took a long time to complete it and when going on leave the Customs people at the Dockyard Gate were unsure as to whether it should be opened to see if any contraband had been concealed or charge me Purchase Tax on it, in the end I was allowed through the Gates and took it home.
P.O. Dan Archer organised weekend coaches to all parts of the country. He had a bit of a speech impediment and came from Yeeds – I mean Leeds and we nicknamed him Dan, Dan the Yokker man as it was his job to allocate lockers for the ship’s company. The return fare to Leeds was forty eight shillings written as £2/8/0d. in those days hm! The coaches were Bere Regis coaches from Dorchester. After Sheffield the bus would normally go through Barnsley and would pick up again at 9pm on Sunday night outside the Devonshire Hotel. James Robertson Justice, John Mills, Michael Medwin, John Gregson along with many other stars of the silver screen came on board MAIDSTONE to make a film with the Rank Organisation. It was called “Above Us The Waves” and told the story of the charioteers who put explosive charges under the German battleship TIRPITZ using midget submarines. The cast spent a few weeks with us filming in different parts of the ship and on locations in Portland Harbour and in the Dockyard. When they’d finished their filming they bought various indoor games for the mess decks to show their appreciation for the assistance given to them during their stay on board with us. Writer Gabby Hayes spent around three hours in make-up for a small part in the film (it took three hours ‘cos he was so ugly!). When we later saw the film at its Premiere at the Odeon in Leicester Square in London all we saw of him was a shot taken from over his shoulder as he took down a signal from the Captain. He was out of focus, probably deliberately as he was really ugly. One day afterwards I was passing the Regulating Office when a pipe was made “15 volunteers required for a visit to the Pinewood Film Studios”. My name was first on the list after dashing in there and ignoring aches and pains from the ladder incident. A coach was chartered to take us to the Studios in Denham which wasn’t very far from London Airport and upon arrival we were met by the Producer, Ralph Thomas who escorted us into Reception where a buffet lunch awaited us complete with booze of every description. Later a tour of the Studios and various sets plus a look at the Special Effects was made. Our guide was J. Arthur Ranks’ niece who was a most pleasant and cheerful young lady who made our visit very interesting. We had tea in the Canteen and actress Glynnis Johns was sat just a few tables away from us. Before we left to return to Portland the Producer told us that he’d arranged for a little supper for us at the Red Lion at Salisbury. There was booze aplenty and the main meal was venison with all the trimmings. One tall, gruff Stoker from Bradford told the waitress “I don’t like jam on my meat” as the redcurrant jelly was added to his plate. It was a terrific day out, one that I shall never forget and am reminded of it regularly by watching a video of the film that I have.
Prior to this film a few shots of heaving lines being thrown from the foc’s’le to survivors swimming in the sea after a sinking were used in “The Cruel Sea” and my right arm should be seen somewhere in the film. For a run-ashore I occasionally went along Portland’s’ Barbary Coast which was the row of pubs just along the road from the Dockyard. Instead of going back on board which meant waiting for a boat then when on board slinging your hammock which was a lot of mucking around when you’d had a drop of ale I would occasionally stay in the Sally Army for the night and return to the ship next morning. They served up fried egg toasted sandwiches for about 1/6d. and they always tasted better than any in the world. One day I went into Easton Square in Portland on my way to Weymouth when I had this terrific urge to fly to the toilet but I wouldn’t have made it in time so I dashed onto Chesil Beach where luckily no -one was around so down came the trousers and I duly paid my respects to Portland with great relief. Of course there was no paper available but there were plenty of wet pebbles of decent size with which I improvised so don’t go paddling on Chesil Beach as the current is very strong! Shortly afterwards another flying visit after I’d returned back on board where I discovered that many of the lads also had a touch of the galloping screamers. All night long the Heads were in constant use and it was revealed later that some 98 ratings had reported sick with the runs. It also transpired that lots of the civilian population in Portland were also under attack and the source was traced to a contaminated water supply. I remember that the ‘Phantom Poet’ had written on one of the doors in the Heads “all those with three-speed backsides please remember that these Heads are not fitted with mudguards”. The danger passed a couple of days later and I remain indebted to Chesil Beach for the use of their very convenient amenities provided for the likes of us nature-lovers. You’ll probably forgive these opening words of the next paragraph: Back to the job on hand we had used up a lot of our stock of silver nitrate in the boilers and were urgently in need of some more. We had arranged for Pompey Dockyard to send us some and as the Stores in Portland hadn’t any and like my recent experience on Chesil Beach we were getting pretty desperate. We signalled H.M.S. MULL OF GALLOWAY who was at anchor in the harbour to see if she could help out and they replied that they had plenty and would spare us a few bottles to relieve the pressure. For all that the two ships weren’t very far apart there was a gale blowing and I’d been given the task of collecting it in our launch. I didn’t relish the idea very much but I had no option. Eventually I scrambled aboard MULL and the launch laid-off whilst I asked the quartermaster for directions to the Naval Stores Office. He explained where to go to the Naval Stores, and I ended up barging into the Electrical Officers Office, which was next 37
door to the one that I wanted to be. The L.O. was very annoyed that I’d gone in without knocking and gave me a real blast! I explained the situation to him and that the launch was lying-off and the urgency of the silver nitrate, but he wanted to make a case of my action in disturbing his empire. To cut a longer story short I took the silver nitrate back to MAIDSTONE and told the D.S.O. what had transpired on the MULL. He said that it was a good job that I’d reported the matter as the L.O. on MULL had contacted him with a view to clapping me in irons. I was told by him to forget about the incident which the D.S.O. considered to be petty and I know he was right. A re-christening ceremony was held for X-Craft 51 and 52 on the pontoon alongside the Well Deck. They were renamed STICKLEBACK and SHRIMP respectively. I have a photo of the proceedings which were also filmed by the BBC and shown on TV that same night. One morning I was down in the Submarine Special Store when I was told of a draft -chit which had arrived for me to go to Pompey Barracks and it took me completely by surprise as I was just getting into the swing of things in the Navy lark. I was to join No.6 Stores Clearance Party which was something that I’d never heard of as neither had some of the older hands whom I'd asked for their knowledge. So this was to be the end of my first sea-going draft which lasted for only ten months. She was a good old ship, nearly the death of me a couple of times perhaps but it was a good experience to have been part of her Ship’s Company. I bought a souvenir teaspoon bearing the ship’s crest from the canteen and still have it to this day, from forty years previous. A few weeks after leaving the ship a very bad accident occurred. Trial torpedoes were being loaded into the submarine SIDON when she was alongside MAIDSTONE and one of them blew up. There were some fatalities, I can’t recall how many but I do know that Surgeon Lieut. Rhodes who treated me after my accident went down with the sub. and was drowned as she sank. A massive rescue operation was mounted but it was too late to save any lives. SIDON was eventually raised, re-floated and beached on Chesil Beach. Some of the subs that had been alongside during my time on MAIDSTONE:SERENE, ZEELIUM, (Royal Netherlands Navy), SIDON, SUBTLE, SERAPH, SCORCHER, STRIKER, UPSTART, THERMOPYLAE, ALERT, ASTUTE, THULE and, UPHOLDER. My apologies should I have inadvertently got some wrong. I left MAIDSTONE 23/2/55.
In October 1969 MAIDSTONE was recommissioned as an accommodation ship and sent as such to Belfast. She was broken up at Rosyth in May 1978.
Clarrie + Midi + Ron Thew Shipâ€™s Company Dance at Portsmouth, August 1954
Off Hong Kong
Drafted from H.M.S. MAIDSTONE to H.M.S. VICTORY R.N. BARRACKS, PORTSMOUTH 24th February 1955. No. 6 Stores Clearance Party in Portsmouth Dockyard in 1955 was staffed by an Admiralty Inspecting Officer (AIO), a Leading Stores Assistant and two Stores Assistants. The AIO was Mr. Ron Smart from Portsmouth, LSA Ginge Blake from the Isle of Wight, SA Mick Aylen from Shoreham and SA Clarrie Gibson from Barnsley. I served with the team from 25 th February until September 1955. Our task was to bring up to date the Naval Store Allowances for various ships which were in reserve and to ensure that each particular ship was up to establishment with it’s quota of stores. The stores were locked away on many ships which were also in reserve, you would find that part of the stocks for a particular destroyer were on a cruiser tied up at Whale Island whilst the rest could be locked away in the Pay Office of a submarine depot ship ‘up the trot’. It was a very complicated job and as most of the ships that we worked on were ‘dead’ it often meant no electric for lighting or heating and therefore our poor hard-done-by little gang had no hot cuppa when ‘stand easy’ came along. Transport to and from the various ships was by the Reserve Fleet Ferry, a motor fishing vessel going round the ‘ghost’ ships in turn. Whilst awaiting transportation it paid to be punctual unless you were prepared for a long wait until the next ferry came along which could mean two hours in some instances. Some of the ships we worked on were: LIVERPOOL, SHEFFIELD, MAURITIUS, MONTCLARE, SIRIUS, ARIADNE, RECRUIT and I seem to recall working on the SCYLLA, all of which were in reserve. We did work on the LEOPARD which had just returned from the South Atlantic I believe but our stay wasn’t a long one. I’m sure there were many other ships but my memory isn’t as sharp as it once was all we two SA’s were victualled in R.N. Barracks (the LSA was rationed ashore), it was the routine to draw your tot of rum and have dinner on H.M.S. MAURITIUS which was tied up at Whale Island. It was a fair old trek from Excellent Steps in the Dockyard back to RNB via Unicorn Gate at the end of a day’s grafting, similarly I suppose when turning to in the forenoon. (The cheese rolls and hot pies from the canteen at Excellent Steps are worthy of a mention as we were always starving in those days.) One stroke of overlooked ‘luck’ was that on Saturday mornings the AIO didn’t work (him being a civil servant I suppose). In turn we were not allowed access to ships without the AIO so after walking into the Dockyard we would very smartly walk back out of another Gate, skirt the walls of RNB and sneak into the Trafalgar 41
Club in Edinburgh Road for a couple of hours until the pubs opened where several goblets of draught ‘Worthington E’ were consumed prior to returning via the Main Gate into RNB and draw the regulation tot later to be slept off peacefully in HH Mess, Howe Block with a contented smile upon one’s countenance. (Eat yer heart out Jaunty if yer lucky enough to read this!). That particular brand of ale had a reputation for issuing gale warnings to us seafarers, many a tornado would go whistling through Howe Block on Saturday afternoons. Like the present day Space Shuttle the re-entry (into RNB) had to be timed perfectly as the Main Gate staff and Regulators were extremely hawk-eyed scanning the horizon, analysing every movement and viewing it with suspicion, you always felt guilty just walking into the joint. The trick was to time it just as the pipe ‘Short weekend liberty men fallin’ was made when crowds of lads were lining up with their pay books, station cards, SWE request forms etc. then trust the heavens that you would pass through without having attracted any attention to oneself. Jack Dusty lives to type this yarn! On one occasion in September, 1955 just after my birthday we returned to RNB and the first job was always to collect any mail from the Howe Divisional Office. In my particular pigeon hole was a nice little draft chit which instructed me that I was bound for H.M.S. TERROR in Singapore and that I was due to fly there on 9 th. October exactly four years to the day after signing-on.
This came as a complete surprise and yet I suppose I was getting a little bored with the Worthington E. Eventually I said my farewells to my colleagues in the Stores Clearance Party and commenced the routine for a 'foreign'. Tropical clothing was issued, photograph taken for the passport, the dreaded jabs received, Foreign Draft Leave completed and the final Leaving Routine came to a close.
Passport Photo RNB Portsmouth
BY HERMES TO SINGAPORE “All those on draft fall-in at the Drill Shed” came the announcement over the tannoy in RN Barracks, Portsmouth (HMS VICTORY), on Saturday 8 th October 1955 at about 1000. We were then given our draft instructions, Rail warrants to London, Air tickets to Singapore plus loads of paperwork necessary for our journey. Civvies had to be worn as uniforms were not allowed to be worn when passing through India. At about 1030 we were driven in a most luxurious 3-ton RN lorry to Portsmouth Harbour Station to catch the Waterloo train at the start of a long and very tiring journey. The RTO smiled and welcomed us at Waterloo as they generally did and then sent us packing to Goodge Street with our kits in another 3-ton lorry. There’s no doubt about it the Andrew always believed in comfort for the lads. From here on in our party was known as Flight AW 198.
HERMES: GREEK GOD, SON OF ZEUS AND MAIA, CONSTANTLY ASSOCIATED WITH THE PROTECTION OF SHEEP AND CATTLE. The night of Saturday 8th October 1955 saw a group of us naval personnel bedded down at the Transit camp which was the London Underground, Goodge Street. I later learnt that the place had burnt down or perhaps more accurate to say burnt up, the finest end that could ever have occurred to the dirty, depressing and noisy dump. Next morning we were transported to London Airport again in a 3-ton truck for an early take-off but problems had arisen with the engines and it wasn’t until 1300 that the dreaded, (by me), take-off materialised. 45
Prior to this the shock of finding the seats facing aft didn’t help the uninitiated to flying, plus no parachutes, just inflatable life rafts under the seats (or so the Stewardess claimed). Upon asking the reason for the seat lay-out we were told that in crashes the majority of fatalities were due to the whiplash affect which caused broken necks, this cheered me up tremendously. Ten bob in a machine in the Airport gave you immediate insurance cover; I got myself three quids’ worth. When we eventually got airborne the driver eased off with the power when we had climbed sufficiently and it seemed as though the plane had given a deep sigh, I thought it was a case of “Goodnight Nurse” and said many ‘Hail Mary’s. Despite many initial fears all went well and four hours flying time later we touched down at our first scheduled stop which was Rome. After an excellent meal in the airport we prepared ourselves mentally for the next stage. This was to be subjected to delay as apparently between Rome and Nicosia (our next stop) there was 30,000 feet of thundercloud so an unscheduled night stop in Rome was arranged at the Hotel Alicorni. It proved to be very pleasant there and we did get the opportunity to have a look round part of Rome. What I remember most of all was the approach to the Airport as we were about to land and there below us was St. Peters which was lit up by thousands of lights and later discovered they were some kind of oil lamps completely surrounding it. All very nice but boy oh boy we paid for the honour of the night in Rome when next day after take-off we hit that 30,000 ft. of thundercloud and were tossed around like a cork in the ocean. Lightning was all around us and I’m sure that I got a distinctive whiff of burning electrical apparatus. We must have dropped 95,000 feet without warning about 37 times, I wondered at the time why did I join? The long-awaited approach to Nicosia came and I looked out of the scuttle and could see the aircrafts’ shadow on the deck gradually meeting us under the plane, no sign as yet of the runway when suddenly the pilot revved up which lifted us up a few more yards onto the runway when the shadow and the wheels met. I’m sure the plane sighed again and had a look on it’s countenance similar to that of Thomas the Tank Engine after being relieved by the Fat Controller. What a nightmare the journey from Rome had been, I was all for hitch-hiking the rest of the way. After dining whilst the plane was being refuelled etc. (the local vicar did the service), we left warm Cyprus for a warmer RAF Muharreq at Bahrain. We were told that the very next plane homeward bound into Nicosia was blown up by Eoka terrorists whilst the passengers and crew were eating in the airport, this report was never denied or confirmed and nothing heard of the matter since. 46
Up and away across the Persian Gulf to Karachi for the second scheduled night stop. Minwallis Hotel was about twelve miles across the desert and the opportunity to stretch out and sleep was very welcomed by all 65 passengers. The only interruption we had was from dhobi Walla’s who were offering their laundry services. Apart from the goats’ milk in our teas the victuals were passable but already a bag of English fish and chips wouldn’t have gone amiss. Once again it was soon time to resume our journey and after reaching the airport we quickly emplaned for the next stop-off which was at New Delhi in India. My father had served here 35 years earlier with the Army at Meerut which was about 43 miles away. As the wearing of uniform was forbidden when travelling through India civvy clothing could be loaned from Clothing Stores in RN Barracks prior to leaving for those who required it. The suits loaned were all light grey, cream shirts and red ties. You can probably imagine the scene of some 20-30 men alighting from the aircraft all wearing the same outfits at various airports in the world similar to international cricket teams when on tour. The suits etc. were returned to the Slop rooms upon arrival at destinations once kit had been unpacked and replaced by uniforms. Before we were allowed to leave the plane at New Delhi we had to be sprayed with insecticide aerosols by the Indian Authorities. After a short meal and the plane topped-up with gas we took off for another scheduled night stop and this time it was to be Calcutta (was it Dum Dum Airport that my memory serves up?).
We stopped at the Great Eastern Hotel which was a bit up-market from the previous night stop and the food was very good, the rooms very clean and in general were of a high standard comparing it to the likes of Goodge Street in London. I tipped one of the uniformed waiters with the remains of a quids’ worth of lira from Rome; I got terrific service - he got about 1/4d. Later outside in the city streets we were besieged with young children asking for ‘Baksheesh Sahib’. A constant throng of people six deep filled the pavements and where possible beds were strewn out ready for the night out of doors as was their norm. Time being our journeys between stops varied five and seven hours’ duration and by now we were all very tired and suffering from acute propeller lag, at least that’s my diagnosis, after all we had been on the move since Saturday and it was now Wednesday and still a couple of hops to go. After leaving Calcutta we flew up into the blue skies and set course for Bangkok and upon approach we could see hundreds of American fighter planes neatly parked in long rows at the side of the airfield. We dined that morning in the airport and had some sort of steak for breakfast which was as tough as stainless steel, I suspected it was yak and nursed a sore jaw for days afterwards. Before we tackled the meat my mouth watered with the thoughts of bacon, eggs and sausage but they tell me there are worse things happen at sea. We were all rather hungry after the flight from Calcutta and it had been quite a while since we last ate- what disappointment! However I acquired the loan of a chain saw and cut a couple of hop scotches from the steak after also hiring some false teeth ex-a wild African dog with which to chew the meat. So we ate what we could and then took a walk around the airport and I remember noticing all the clocks around the foyer showing the time from different Capitals throughout the world , just a small simple sight as that and yet it lingers in the memory box for many years afterwards. The cleanliness in and around the airport was immaculate. Whilst mentioning about sights I also recall the many Buddhist monks who were at the airport, whether or not there was a training school for them nearby or not I've no idea, perhaps a monastery or I suppose they could have been assembling for a meeting, they certainly stood out in their bright orange clothes. They were still visible from the air as we took off and once again viewed the American kites parked up. Again on and up into the blue on the last leg of our marathon flight and it wasn’t too long before we passed over the Golden Pagoda at Rangoon with the sun reflecting it’s brilliance. Then down over the jungles of Malaya which seemed endless but what a lovely sight to experience.
I never heard the communications between the aircraft and ground control approach of course as we neared Singapore but I imagine it was something like “Good afternoon Changi Tower this is Flight AW198 from London requesting permission to land”. “Welcome to Changi Flight AW198, you are clear to land on Runway 06”. Down came the undercarriage with a gentle bump and a few minutes later we were finally on terra firma at our destination and parked near to a hangar where unknown to me then my brother used to work when with the RAF. After a sort of roll-call we embussed into an RN coach with a white-painted top and soon sped through villages lining jungle roads towards Sembawang where the Naval Base is situated. Approximately one mile from the entrance of the Naval Base we turned right into HMS TERROR which was to be my home until February 1957. As we de-bussed outside the Regulating Office one of the lads fell into a concrete channel lining the road, “that’s a monsoon ditch, you’ll find several around the camp” came the remarks of the Regulating Petty Officer. Sure enough, we’d landed! RE-TYPED 19/7/99 AND HOPING TO FLY TO SINGAPORE ONCE AGAIN ON 9/10/99 THIS WILL BE EXACTLY 44 YEARS SINCE EXPERIENCING AW 198. THIS FLIGHT LASTED SOMETHING LIKE 5 DAYS IN DURATION; OUR NEXT ONE WILL HOPEFULLY BE COMPLETED IN 12 HOURS FLYING TIME WITH WHO ELSE BUT SINGAPORE AIRLINES. (Later – Shirley and I did fly to Singapore but that’s another story
HMS Blackcap, 1953 ON 9th OCTOBER 1951 CLARRIE SIGNED ON FOR A 12-YEAR CONTINUOUS SERVICE ENGAGEMENT IN THE SUPPLY AND SECRETARIAT BRANCH, ROYAL NAVY. HE ATTAINED THE RANK OF STORES PETTY OFFICER (S). AND HE SPENT ALMOST A THIRD OF HIS SERVICE WITH THE FLEET AIR ARM AT THREE ROYAL NAVAL AIR STATIONS :HMS KESTREL HMS BLACKCAP 50
Clarrie, Middy & Ron Thew, Shipâ€™s Company dance at Pompey, August 1954