World War 2 Stories for Sheffield

                                            Philip Marshall

 

A Slice of Autobiography (1939 to 1946)

By Actiondesk Sheffield

People in story: Philip E. Marshall, Tibby Norris, Joseph Dunning, Lieutenant Commander Scott, R.N.,
Location of story: Hartshill, Stoke-on-Trent, HMS Raleigh, Tor Point, Cornwall, Plymouth, Devonport, H.M.S. Londonderry, Northern Ireland, River Foyle, Falls Road, Belfast, Freetown, Sierra Leone, West Africa
Unit name: H.M.S. Londonderry
Background to story: Royal Navy


Freetown,Sierra Leone, West Africa 1942 Three war time crew with Philip E. Marshall shown in the centre

This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Roger Marsh of the ‘Action Desk – Sheffield’ Team on behalf of Philip E. Marshall.

A Slice of Autobiography (1939 to 1946)

By
Philip E. Marshall

The Second Great World War of 1939 to 1946 had little impact, at first, on the suburb of Hartshill, near Stoke-on-Trent, where I and my family lived. In mid-1940 I was sixteen years old, and every working day saw me cycling away from Stoke-on-Trent towards Newcastle-under-Lyme, where I was the most junior clerk in Lloyd's Bank. By day it was a routine existence, undisturbed by the battles across the Channel but enlivened by week-end pleasures of visits to the cinema and tennis club. Fourteen year old Tibby Norris and I won the Junior Doubles, beating the favourites, Joseph Dunning and his glamorous partner. None of us could foresee, and I learnt only after the war, that four years later Joseph would be flying from an aircraft carrier off the coast of Norway to attack the Tirpitz while I tossed on the waves below, in a small escort ship, out of sight of the carriers. It was Joseph's brother, Norman, who compared dates with me, several years later; Joseph himself was in one of the five planes which failed to return from the raid.

Night-time, in 1940, was more sinister. Though never a major target for German planes, the Potteries area had many alarms as attackers flew over towards Manchester or Liverpool. and sometimes bombs fell, by design or mistake. Our house was near a hospital which may have looked like a factory from above on moonlight nights, and on one occasion a stick of incendiary bombs fell across the area, the last of the stick penetrating the roof of our next-door neighbour. Father, I and others, carrying the stirrup pump and a bucket of water shot off up the stairs, only to be met by a flood of water coming down. The bomb had extinguished itself in the cold water tank in the loft, which was now the source of the waterfall.

Less amusing was the day when the pretty junior clerk of another local Bank failed to turn up for our routine meeting to exchange local cheques. She had been one of the few casualties, caused by a stray bomb.

Whether such incidents turned my thoughts to fighting back, or whether teenage restlessness would have driven me away from home, war or no war, I volunteered for the "Y" scheme. This offered accelerated entrance into the Royal Navy, with the chance of qualifying for a Commission in due course. The decision puzzled some people and pleased nobody.

"Why the Navy?", they asked. Perhaps two school years in Southampton had sowed the seed, though there was little sign of the Royal Navy in Southampton Docks; besides we had been privileged to watch the test flights of the prototype Spitfire over our playing fields, an experience which might have inspired us with the thought of serving in the Royal Air Force. Yet I did not follow that path. I think the answer lay in my love of sea stories featuring Drake, Nelson, and even the boy who "stood on the burning deck, whence all but he had fled". Romance versus Reality. Fortunately my romantic visions were not shattered during the next five years. Reality was different, but I never regretted my choice.

"Why the hurry?", they asked. My parents were a little hurt and worried, having grim memories of the First War, when father was wounded, fighting in the trenches, and many of their friends were killed. However, they accepted my decision, with outward resignation. The local girls were saddened to lose me, but they welcomed me back later, in my attractive uniform. The Bank Manager was annoyed, and rightly so, for he had offered me a position as a favour to my father, and had hoped to defer my call-up for two or three years. However, at the end of the War he wrote me a friendly letter offering to take me back, but again I chose a different course.

The agreement I signed obliged me to join the Sea Scouts, until I reached the age of eighteen. At the meetings we marched up and down, each holding aloft a flag, and when the leading "ship" dipped his flag we all turned 90° to port, or starboard, or did something even more complicated. I did wonder whether the ability to manoeuvre a fleet at sea, usually the province of an Admiral, would be of much use to youngsters, but, to be fair, we did learn to distinguish port from starboard, bow from stern, how to tie a bowline-on-the bight instead of a granny knot, and other mundane and possibly life-saving skills.

Four days after my eighteenth birthday, on November 5th 1941, I was taken, by train and coach, to HMS Raleigh, a shore base in Tor Point, Cornwall, for training as an Ordinary Seaman. The first shock was to pass through the suburbs of heavily-bombed Plymouth and Devonport; row after row of wrecked houses made me realise how lucky the Potteries had been. The second shock did not hit me as hard as it did some of the other young men, for I had experienced boarding school life, being ordered about in groups, sleeping in a crowded dormitory, and eating mass-produced food. Others were more home-sick than I. Even the classroom and physical education lessons were not unlike school, though some subjects were new, and the P.E. Instructors were coarser than I, at least, had been accustomed to, with their suggestions about what we could do with our young male bodies once they had brought us to a peak of fitness. The days passed quickly. Sometimes we rowed the cutter up river to the Tamar Bridge and back. Sometimes we were trusted to cross the Torpoint Ferry to the surviving fleshpots of Devonport. For my group that just meant the W.V.S Canteen; we were very innocent. Sometimes the nearby antiaircraft battery was firing; once we sat on the ferry at night and watched a plane come down in flames, like a distant firework. No-one cheered. After all we could not be absolutely certain that it was one of "theirs".

By the time of the passing-out parade, in mid December, we were a lot older, and a little wiser. Joining instructions had been received; after Christmas leave three of us in the "Y" scheme were to travel to Northern Ireland to join H.M.S. Londonderry.

ALL AT SEA
I have not, since the war, had an opportunity to compare notes with other "Y" schemers. Some, perhaps, were sent to serve their apprenticeship in cruisers, battleships, or aircraft carriers. For one of my temperament, the Londonderry was an excellent choice. Small groups always seem to me more human, more informal, and more friendly. Small ships, and, later, small schools, were my ideal.

H.M.S. Londonderry was a sloop, about the size of a destroyer, but slower and less heavily armed, though with much longer endurance at sea. In peace time, a sloop could travel, the world, showing the flag, and occasionally, perhaps, dealing with some minor trouble anywhere in the British Empire. In wartime she could escort a convoy across the oceans.

A unique feature of our ship was that we were based in the port of Londonderry, from which many of our crew had been recruited in peacetime. When H.M.S. Londonderry sailed up the River Foyle on its return from a spell of , duty, the Captain would play a record of Danny Boy at top volume on the loud hailer to let the citizens know that their ship was approaching. We were welcomed with open arms. There were Catholics and Protestants among the crew but I saw no sign of sectarian friction, nor did I see any signs in the city itself. Perhaps we were in a privileged position. Only much later, in a another ship, in a different city, Belfast, was I warned not to walk down the Falls Road in uniform, for fear a hot-headed Nationalist should stick a knife in my back.

The arrival of three extra crew members seemed to take the Petty Officer on duty by surprise. Most of the crew were on leave and there was little sign of activity above deck. However, he told us to drop our kit bags and hammocks; then he produced a plank, some ropes, and pots of paint, and lowered us over the ship's side, with orders to paint as large an area as we could by the end of the afternoon watch. At teatime, in civilian language, he pronounced himself satisfied, even surprised, at the effort we had put in; by then he had obviously decided what to do with us next. We were fitted into one of the three watches and given a mess-deck place. Unfortunately the ship already carried extra crew for wartime duties, and there was no spare room for us to sling our hammocks. Now, I must say that a hammock is a very comfortable nest to sleep in, especially when the sea is rough, but a thinly-padded hammock, laid on a steel deck, is not the height of comfort. It is a tribute to the virtues of fresh air and exercise that, some days later, when the ship put to sea, and the alarm bells rang for practice in the early hours of the morning, with a noise to waken the dead, I slept on. But I shall describe that occasion later.
The Captain of H.M.S. Londonderry, Lieutenant Commander Scott, R.N., was a ‘passed-over two and a half’, so the crew said. In the peace-time Royal Navy, promotion of an officer is automatic by length of service, up to the rank of Lieutenant Commander. After that there are too few openings for everyone to rise higher. Less than one in four talented, or lucky, or favoured, ones are awarded the three broad stripes of a Commander, with "scrambled egg" on the peak of his cap, and the chance to rise to Rear Admiral, Vice-Admiral, and Admiral. The others, "passed over two and a half s" are eventually retired on half pay, to eat their hearts out ashore. Lieutenant Commander Scott was obviously delighted that the outbreak of war had recalled him to duty He loved the sea, he loved his humble little ship, he loved his crew. His enthusiasm was infectious, and we were a "happy" ship. Drills were practised, decks were scrubbed, and all the brass work was polished, without complaint, until a signal from shore declared that sparkling brass work attracted enemy bombers, and the practice was to be discontinued.

About a week after the arrival of our small group we set sail, or rather revved up engines, and set off to join a convoy. It was on the first night that I stirred uneasily and painfully, until I became aware that I was all alone on the mess deck. However, I felt very sick, so I stumbled to the "heads" (toilets). Despite all our drills, the porthole cover had not been closed, a serious oversight, and as I leant over the bowl a blast of fiery air hit me in the face. The 4.7 inch gun on the deck above had fired, possibly to send up a star shell. The shock was such that I forgot about sea-sickness and staggered to my action station, below deck, where the projectiles were pushed manually up a metal chute to the gun position above. The others greeted my late, and woe-begone, appearance with surprise, but not without sympathy. Very few sailors sneer at sea-sickness because most of them suffer, more or less, for the first couple of days at sea. Nelson, of course, was a martyr to sea-sickness.

We found the convoy, and settled into escort positions, bound for West Africa. In the Spring of 1942 the Battle of the Atlantic was far from over, but we were consistently fortunate. Some convoys were heavily attacked, some slipped through almost unnoticed while the submarines were back at base picking up more fuel and torpedoes. We always seemed to be with one of the quiet ones. When, on one trip, we were attacked, south of the Azores, it was by two Italian submarines; no doubt they were manned by gallant seamen, but they lacked the training, experience, and ruthlessness of the U-boat crews.

I have here to supplement my memories with facts gleaned from reference books, because junior ratings often knew surprisingly little of what was happening. "Theirs not to reason why", as the poet said. Occasionally the Captain would broadcast an official announcement. The rest of the news came in snippets from signalmen, or those on duty near the bridge. I remember that we were summoned to Action Stations on a pitch-black night. The books tell me, that our group leader, H.M.S. Lulworth, located and sank the Pietro Calvi. This was July 14th, 1942. My station was now with the depth charges on the quarter-deck. We were proceeding very slowly, and I believe we were looking for survivors, when there was sudden acceleration, and a sharp turn to starboard. A surge of water swept the low lying quarter-deck , causing two of us in its path to cling to the depth-charge rails to avoid being swept overboard to join the enemy. On the mess-deck there were two stories; one said the Lulworth, using a searchlight to illuminate survivors, had shone its light further and spotted a second submarine; the other, less credible, claimed that one of the survivors had been in the Italian Olympic swimming team, and when he set off towards Lulworth, at a fast crawl, he was mistaken for an approaching torpedo. Whichever story is true, or neither, the ships abandoned men in the water, and prepared to fend off another attacker. We picked up no-one at the time, but some had been rescued, and next day they were transferred to the Londonderry to ease the pressure elsewhere.

Presumably because I was of "higher" education, though certainly not Italian-speaking, I was posted as armed guard at the open cabin door, dressed up in great-coat and gaiters, with a belt and revolver strapped to my waist. No one told me how to use the weapon, and I feel sure it was not loaded. In any case the precaution was unnecessary. The prisoners were very subdued and quiet, until one asked me politely, in perfect English, if they could have something to read. The only tense moment came when our ship started dropping depth charges; I was unhappy myself at the sound of great hammer blows on our hull, and the Italians, who had recently been blown out of the water, looked ready to bolt up on deck. I managed to appear nonchalant and smile reassuringly, not betraying my own desire to escape from the steel trap. The next day the guard was withdrawn; no doubt our Captain accepted their word that, as Officers and Gentlemen, they would cause no trouble. I must say here that, just as I saw no sectarian "spite" on board Londonderry, I saw no hatred of submarine crews. It was generally considered that we would not care to change places with the "poor devils" suffering our depth-charges. You stalk us, we stalk you. However there was enormous sympathy for the seamen in the merchant ships, the main target for attacks, and navy men would risk their own lives to care for survivors from those ships.
One more incident comes to mind, not significant in itself, but as a possible example of the paranormal (there is one more to come). When we were approaching Freetown, Sierra Leone I tripped over a hatch cover and took some skin off my shin. Not wishing to make a fuss, I did not report sick; this was a mistake for, in the tropical heat, the wound festered. It took the Sick Bay attendant much longer to clean it up, and left me with a scar visible for some years afterwards. Very trivial, in the context of a war. However, when I was next on leave, my father told me that, at about the time of the accident, my mother had woken him up in bed and said "Philip's hurt his leg". The sceptics can make of that what they will. I have no reason to believe that my parents would make up such a tale.

 

HMS Whimbrel 1943


Our year's compulsory sea-time under the "Y" scheme was curtailed when Londonderry was despatched to Bristol for a major refit, sailing up the river Avon and under the Clifton Suspension Bridge into the heart of the City, watched by an admiring audience, though the effect was a little spoilt when we knocked a chunk out of the wooden wharf. That was an occupational hazard for the Captains of "small" ships; they were up to three hundred feet long, but too unimportant to be offered the aid of tugs. I believe most Captains hated "going alongside", just as many drivers hate trying to park a car in a tight space - and a ship cannot reverse easily, or use brakes, like a car. Inman hit the boom when entering St, John's, Newfoundland, in thick fog; and Inman, well that is a story for later.

There was not a great deal to learn in Bristol dockyard, and I see from my service dates that we were sent on the Officer Training Course only ten months after joining Londonderry. Lieutenant Commander Scott wished us well in his most affable manner, and one member of our Mess declared that he certainly would not accept orders from any of us if we met in later career. Luckily, I don't think we did. Truly, it was a difficult situation for both the "ordinary" crew and for those marked out for Officer Training. I realise now that, on an unhappy ship, we would have been bullied unmercifully; on Londonderry the tone was set by the Captain, and sustained by the Petty Officers and older seamen.
"Sticks", the three-badge Able Seaman (rather like the Lower Deck equivalent of a "passed over two-and-a-half” i.e., never recommended, or perhaps never wished, for promotion to Petty Officer) was in charge of my watch on deck. He guided, instructed and protected all the raw recruits like a dependable older brother. I was reminded that life is not "fair", when Sticks, of all people, went home on leave and discovered that his young son had been drowned in a tank of water kept for air-raid purposes.
The "Y" Schemers took care to obey orders cheerfully and willingly, gradually accumulating "credit" marks with our messmates; I was in the sea-boat's crew, and grudgingly praised by the Cox ("Well, if you can't do anything else, you can pull an oar pretty good".) I blessed the days when I had actually enjoyed pulling the cutter up the River Tamar. We never had to pick up survivors or do anything heroic, but the Captain occasionally dropped a "practice" depth charge, and we had to pluck the stunned fish from the choppy, freezing Atlantic. I felt that I deserved extra Brownie points because I was allergic to fish; the other rowers were spurred on by the thought of a tasty supper to come.
Then, on one occasion, I took over a night watch, in port, for a mess-mate who had returned too drunk for duty. Finally, I volunteered to be one of the skeleton crew left behind on board ship in Bristol, while the rest went on fourteen days leave. Perhaps that just about atoned for the time when I was asked, and agreed, to take the place of a Wardroom Steward for a few days; I felt that a change of company would be quite pleasant, and was startled by the hostility aroused on the mess deck. I was leaving US, and joining THEM, if only temporarily. One man, probably the same one who said he "wouldn't obey orders if we met", called me everything from a "lick-spittle" to a "queer", until brought sharply to order by the mess-captain. Others wondered sorrowfully how I could think of leaving the close comradeship of our group. It was a salutary lesson to me of the abyss that yawned, even on a "happy" ship, between officers and men, and the effort that would be needed to bridge it.
I learned a lot on the lower deck, of both practical and spiritual use. We had to wash and mend our own clothes, take turns to prepare the mess food, keep the place tidy and ourselves clean, and "lend a hand" whenever required; all good training for a teenager. Above all, we learnt to tolerate other human beings. I was unlikely to make a close friend of a mess-mate who would return from shore leave and go along the line of hammocks, swinging each one with a loud enquiry, "Anyone want a piss?" Nor could many of the group feel close to me, for I was a very reserved, non-smoking, non-drinking and non-swearing man. But there was common ground between the extremes, from which wiser young men could extend friendship in both directions. I slowly mellowed.

H.M.S. King Alfred.
Officer training was based in Lancing College, Worthing, Sussex, commandeered for the duration of the war and re-named H.M.S. King Alfred. There we returned to school desks for lessons in naval routine, navigation, signal procedures, and many other skills which I now forget. Other periods of time were spent in the buildings of Brighton public baths; the pool, I think, was empty and the only recollection I have of the instruction was that we spent every other night manning a machine-gun post overlooking Brighton pier, keeping a lookout for the German invasion fleet, though that danger was well past. Perhaps, with our own commando raids in mind, the authorities thought that the Germans might try something similar. Sometimes we were taken to a marina nearby to navigate a very small "ship" among other craft, and alongside a jetty. The instruction would hardly have sufficed for a future Captain of a 300 foot destroyer, but, although we did not know it then, many of our class were destined to be "Captain", and solely in command, of small landing craft heading for the coasts of Normandy and other places.
One week was spent in London, for what reason I forget, but I experienced one more example of "There's nowt so queer as folk". Four of us, trainee officers, were billeted in a small boarding house in Cromwell Road. The other occupants were the landlady and a plain faced, cross-eyed maid. After a day or two we became aware of a mysterious third person; we caught glimpses of a young man taking a breath of fresh air in the garden, usually at dusk, or later. He did not appear at meals, or any other times, though we felt he was a permanent resident.
There was a strained atmosphere between landlady and maid, and no wonder, for we learned later that the elusive young man was the landlady's son, a deserter from the Army; the unattractive maid, it seems, "fancied" him. Whether subsequent events involved treachery, threats, blackmail, or just nerves stretched to breaking point, we didn't discover, but there was a murder. Our informant told us that one woman killed the other, but, to our frustration, he could not tell us which. Just another little mystery.
A final week was spent amid the splendid architecture, and paintings, and quite luxurious living conditions (all meals served by white gloved Wrens) of Greenwich Naval College, to impress us with the pride we should feel at being Naval Officers. I myself was left with the uncomfortable feeling that, if regular R.N. Officers were moulded in this way, without the corrective of a year on the lower deck, they might come to regard themselves as an elite, far above the "common herd". One or two officers whom I met later did give me that impression, but we seldom met them in the "small ships" of the wartime navy.

H. M. S WHIMBREL.
Officer Training had been, necessarily, short and superficial. I became an officer on November 13th, 1942, just one year and eight days after leaving a comfortable family home, and an extra year after leaving school. All of us were still young, but those fortunate enough to have turned twenty could purchase their Sub Lieutenant's uniforms, jump on them to give them a suitably used appearance, and hope that their lack of experience would not be too noticeable. The unfortunates, including myself, were the nineteen-year-olds. We became Midshipmen, marked out by our lapel tabs and lack of rings on the sleeve. Our junior status was advertised. In the peace-time Navy the "Snotties" were as lowly as "fags" in a Public School.

Once again, I was very fortunate in my commanding officer, Lieut. Commander W.J. Moore, R.N.R., formerly of the Blue Funnel Line. A Merchant Navy Officer, transferred to the Senior Service for the duration, he was, first and foremost, a skilled seaman, the best I served under. He believed in running a smart ship, but Public School and Naval College had not left their mark on him; he was the Captain, the leader, but not "superior", and not a martinet. He took a keen personal interest in every member of the crew, officers and men, and especially, it seemed to me, his two young Midshipmen, to whom he was invariably polite.

The Captain, some officers, and key personnel had been with Whimbrel for a few weeks. The bird-class frigate, a little larger than Londonderry, had been built at Yarrow yard, on the Clyde, and was almost ready, complete with the most up-to-date submarine detecting devices. Ships like this, co-operating with aircraft of Coastal Command, R.A.F., and Fleet Air Arm, were to turn the tide of the Battle of the Atlantic. A group of similar frigates, led by Captain Walker, R.N., in H.M.S. Starling, gained world renown for its exploits in destroying U-boats, until Walker died of a heart attack, caused by complete physical exhaustion. The group that Whimbrel joined escorted convoys competently and successfully, but without outstanding feats or publicity. As usual, I was with the "quieter" group. Later on, Whimbrel was transferred to Captain Walker's command, but by then I was no longer on board. "Fate" seemed to decree that I should always miss the most dangerous situations; no six-day battle with a Wolf Pack; no Malta Convoy; no Russian Convoy; and when the invasion of Europe began, I was on leave, at home.
However, to return to January 1943. We were a new ship with a new crew, After acceptance trials, steaming up and down the Firth of Clyde, to Ailsa Craig and back, we were to proceed to Tobermory, in the Western Isles of Scotland, to "work up" at the Training School. In charge of that was an officer, famous if not notorious, for the ingenuity of the exercises he devised to probe for any weak spots among officers and men. It was our misfortune to carry out his tests in miserable wintry weather, with strong winds carrying bursts of rain, hail, sleet and snow. I will select a few highlights of our stay.
I remember taking a "landing party" in the whaler (small rowing boat) from the ship to a rocky islet. In lashing wind and rain we managed to get ashore safely, but I slipped as we re-boarded, banging my face on the thwart and causing my nose to bleed copiously. When we set off for our next objective my oarsmen were having such a struggle to make headway against the gale that I hailed the ship's motor boat as it passed by and secured a tow to the "enemy" position. At the end of a harassing day we were congratulated on our "initiative" in taking a tow, instead of being blamed for laziness; and my fortitude in carrying on when "injured" was noted, but not my clumsiness in tripping. Such was the thin line between success and failure in the Tobermory "tests".
Another day, in better weather, I was stationed on the quarter deck, though not in charge, when the Trainer used the ship's stabilisers in reverse, to induce a heavy roll. (I am still puzzled by the stabilisers, for they were more suited to a Cross-Channel Ferry, than a frigate, and I cannot remember them ever being used for their proper purpose, to steady the ship. Perhaps they were removed later.) As we were rolling, a depth-charge, the size and weight of a full beer barrel, broke loose and careered from side to side, crashing into fittings and bending stanchions. There was no chance of the charge exploding, as it was not primed, but, as the depth-charge party struggled desperately to secure it, the situation looked dangerous to me. So I reported to the Bridge, and suggested they should switch off the stabilisers. Black Mark! Not from the Bridge, but from the Gunnery Officer, who had been hoping to get things under control, with the Bridge Party none the wiser. He was my enemy from then on. "Bloody Middy!"
My final memory is of the ship surging along at maximum speed, presumably "chasing a U-boat" when the Trainer seized a life-belt, flung it off the Bridge, and shouted "man overboard". Even a frigate can travel some distance before orders are translated into deeds by engineers and helmsman; moreover, the turning circle must be at least half a mile, making it difficult to estimate when one is back on the original track, allowing for the distance the unfortunate castaway may have drifted on the wind and tide. A man able to wave his arms might stand half a chance, but our life-belt was a tiny object among the white horses, and we never saw it again, to the displeasure of the Trainer.

Perhaps our popular First Lieutenant (second in command) was in charge, that afternoon, or perhaps there were other reasons, for at the end of the course he "failed", and was removed to a less responsible post. In his place we were given a hard, ruthless, efficient R.N. Lieutenant, to show us how the ship should be run. Fortunately he also stayed only a few weeks before, to everyone's relief, including the Captain's, I should imagine, he too went his way, but this time, no doubt, up the promotion ladder.
At last we were ready for convoy work, and once again started with the "soft option" of the Freetown run. The other Midshipman, whom I shall call "Dave", and I, were now given more interesting duties, in particular to be in charge of a motor boat each; he took the port one and I took the starboard one. These boats, about twenty-eight feet long, with a mid-canopy, could chug through the water at seven or eight knots, carrying a crew of three, apart from the unnecessary Midshipman, and about twenty passengers, perhaps a working party, or liberty men going ashore.
This was great fun. My Petty Officer, who might have been irritated at not being in sole charge of the boat, discovered that I was very willing to learn from his greater experience, and became my firm ally. On his advice I stowed a small anchor and a signal lamp, in the boat, which saved us from disaster when our engine failed and we were being swept away, possibly out to sea, by the fierce current of the Freetown River, earning me an undeserved compliment from the Captain. So the Petty Officer Cox, the Tiffy (engine room artificer, in charge of the engine), the Bowman and I made a cheerful team. We even cleaned and re-painted the boat on our off duty afternoons, an unheard-of sacrifice of "get yer 'ead down" time.
Dave and I were a contrast in styles. He was highhanded, if such a word can be used for a lowly Midshipman, and inclined to be reckless. In some situations he would certainly have outshone me; in boarding a floundering U-boat, for example, which one young Officer was called on to do. But in the routine chores, my crew and I thought we were more dependable.
Dave came back one day with damaged planks, and a story about a speed-boat which had recklessly barged past him in the dark. However, the "buzz" soon went round the ship that he had hit a mooring buoy, while demonstrating a racing turn around it. My crew agreed, first that I would not have been so foolish, and secondly that they would loyally have kept any such secret.
Some months later, a curious set of circumstances tested the two boats. On a voyage in the hot sun, a few inches of water should be kept in the bottom of the boats. If not, planks dry and shrink, and cracks appear. The First Lieutenant should have thought of this, or the Midshipmen, but we didn't, and probably didn't even know; ultimately the Captain excused us, accepting the blame himself. As he said to me when I did not want any praise for taking an anchor, "You're in charge, and you'll get the brickbats, so you may as well have the compliments."

 It was August 1943 when we entered Tripoli harbour, faced with a delicate manoeuvre amidst other ships, and wrecks. The Captain had to hold Whimbrel steady between two mooring buoys, one ahead, one astern, while the motor boats chugged off with a line to each. As soon as the boats were dropped from the davits, water gushed in. Dave's reaction was to head for the ship's gangway, report that he was sinking, and order "abandon boat". Our Cox ducked under the canopy for the hand pump and worked energetically, while we others reached the forward buoy and secured the line. Then it was back to the ship where a worried First Lieutenant enquired if we could stay afloat long enough to take a line to the buoy astern. The Cox of the other boat (who was a bit disgusted with their performance, I think) volunteered to pump for us, and so we took the other line, allowing the Captain, who had been waiting patiently, or at least silently, on the Bridge, to relax at last. I hate to think what would have happened with some of my other Captains.

It will be obvious by now that many of my wartime memories do not include "the enemy" at all. Just being one of a small ship's crew could be exciting enough. Once, in the River Foyle, I was in charge of the foc'sle party when a tug was sent to give us a tow; presumably our engines were not functioning. As the tug heaved on the wire rope against the strong river current, the wire snapped, and whipped back like a piece of stretched elastic. No-one was hurt, but the ship was swept helplessly away. Before a new tow could be attached, we had collided with, and demolished, a solidly-built wooden platform carrying one of the river navigation lights. Eventually all was under control again, and the manoeuvre completed, but next day a small Board of Enquiry met on the ship. I was able to show them my end of the tug's wire, which, they agreed, was new and sound and should have been able to take the strain. Verdict: accidental damage; no-one to blame.

We continued with our convoy duties, whether across the Atlantic or to West Africa. On one of the latter trips, as we crossed the Bay of Biscay, the convoy was attacked by a Focke Wulf Condor, long range bomber. We were the rear escort when the plane approached astern, heading for the more valuable ships, usually placed in the middle of the convoy. For a while it was all very hectic. The projectile, shell and brass cartridge case all in one, like a huge rifle bullet, had to be pulled from the chute (I was at the opposite end this time from my position in Londonderry) and pushed into the breech of the gun. The gun-layer would then hurriedly elevate the barrel of the gun to near vertical to aim at the plane. Once he was too quick for the loader, so that the projectile, agonisingly slowly, slid backward out of the breech and thumped on the deck. There was no premature explosion, so all I could say was "Pick it up and stick it back in." which the loader, rather shaken, did. Our fire was directed from the Bridge, and when I had a chance to sneak a look upwards, I was gratified to see a line of shell bursts just ahead of the Condor. By now, all the guns of the nearest merchant ships were also blazing away and, as I watched, the plane turned and flew off. It jettisoned its bombs two or three miles from the convoy, so it was probably damaged.

Whimbrel, and her group helped to escort the First Canadian Division to the invasion of Sicily. As seemed to be usual in my naval career, the job was done efficiently and unspectacularly. Starting from the Clyde, and taking a wide sweep into the Atlantic, we approached the Straits of Gibraltar, having encountered no enemy submarines or planes. The weather was hot, the Mediterranean calm, and all was serene. Then we detected a possible submarine shadowing the convoy from astern, and raced back to drop a pattern of depth-charges. To everyone's surprise, half a mile or more astern, the bows of a U-boat rose steeply out of the water and sank again.

Of course, we swung around but found no more trace of the enemy than we did of the life-belt at Tobermory. Intelligence reports later suggested that the boat had limped back to base. The more dedicated "killer" groups, such as Captain Walker's would have regarded that as a failure, but we felt we had carried out our duty of protecting the convoy. Our troops were in the second wave, to follow the initial landings, so we put them ashore safely at “Bark South" on D plus 3. That night we could see a spectacular fireworks display, a few miles inland, where the leading troops were securing the airfield at Pachino. As our Asdic (anti submarine detection gear) had now broken down, we did not join the other escorts in patrolling off the beach-head, but anchored among the shipping, to give anti-aircraft support. As one would expect, with my luck, no enemy planes appeared.

We were ordered to Norfolk, Virginia, U.S.A., to have our Asdic dome, and other items, repaired. First we called at Bone, in Algeria, a delightful little "French" seaside resort, then on to Tripoli, where the incident with the motor boats occurred, and finally to Gibraltar, where it was hard to sleep at night because the ship's hull resounded with the noise of grenades, dropped into the water at regular intervals to discourage Italian frogmen. They had been known to swim across from Algeciras, in "neutral" Spain to attach limpet mines to our ships. However, our main excitement, or amusement, in Gibraltar was provided by Dave's exuberance. Of the two of us, it was his turn to take a party ashore. This happened to be on Sunday, to the local Anglican church. About thirty ratings had volunteered, some from piety perhaps, but most for a chance to stretch their legs, and ogle the local girls, if any. The vicar had been warned of this unexpected increase in his congregation, so Dave set off very smartly, eventually spotted a church, and marched the men in. It was, of course, the wrong one, of what denomination I know not. The priest, elder, or even rabbi was no doubt surprised, but gratified, and perhaps no-one would have been the wiser, only the Vicar sent a rather plaintive message, hoping that no serious war emergency had detained his promised church party.

And so, across the Atlantic to the U.S.A. I cannot remember a convoy. Perhaps, in our useless anti-submarine state, we travelled independently. The people of Norfolk were friendly and hospitable, though I could not help but notice the segregation, or "apartheid'. The buses were divided into "Whites Only" forward, and "Blacks Only" aft. The cafes and shops were similarly divided. In the dry dock, all the workers doing the dirty job of cleaning the ship's bottom were black. I can't say that any deep feelings were aroused aboard Whimbrel; we were an all-white crew, and there were few coloured people to meet in England in the 1940s. It was only after the 1960s, and the rise of leaders like Martin Luther King and, later, Nelson Mandela, that I thought back to those days in Norfolk, Va., and wondered how it must have felt to have been treated as sub-human.

After that stay, disaster struck me, and I must insert a paragraph of explanation. From childhood I had experienced attacks of asthma, and also allergies and skin troubles. In 1999, seventy years later, it is difficult to comprehend how little doctors knew about those illnesses in the 1920s, and how primitive were the available remedies. Most of the trouble was ascribed to "imagination", and I was often accused of spoiling our annual holiday by wheezing for the first few days, because of the "excitement". No-one then suspected that the trouble might have arisen from a change of food, or even of pillow. As for the allergies, one example of "treatment" will suffice. We had a daily glass of milk at school, and the staff suggested to my mother that they should whisk a raw egg into mine, which I would "never notice". I don't think that I did notice, but my eyes swelled up like those of a beaten-up boxer, and my skin erupted into large white blisters. I was sent home for the day, the experiment was discontinued, and from then on, despite the inconvenience, my mother tried to avoid any substance that "upset" me. Gradually the troubles became infrequent, and in 1941 I believe I denied any form of ill-health when I volunteered for the "Y" Scheme. Naval life suited me well, especially when at sea, and I avoided, as unobtrusively as possible, eating the "wrong" things. My mess-mates did not mind, - all the more for them.

What happened in Norfolk, Va., in October 1943, I still do not know. There is another incident, to be described later, where the cause was more obvious, but not this time. I was taken ill, with breathlessness, just before the ship sailed, and was sent to lie down in my cabin, though I might have been better on deck. As Group Leader we carried a doctor, a Canadian from Kamloops, who tended me with great care, but once again with little understanding of the problem, and with nothing in the Sick-bay cupboards to help him. For a week I struggled desperately to breathe, unable to eat or drink much, with the doctor looking in every hour or two to see if I was still alive. To make matters worse, we were enduring the worst Atlantic storm in living memory. I have seen it described, with awe, in other naval memoirs. My lovely boat, up in the highest deck out of harm's way, was smashed by one wave. I lay on my bunk (a hammock would have served better) and clung on as the ship pitched and rolled violently, all the way to Liverpool. The doctor, worn out and bad-tempered by this time, arranged transport to hospital, and remarked sourly that I should never have been allowed to join the Navy. I didn't take the remark too hard, for I owed him a big debt of gratitude. He had encouraged me to hang on, both literally and metaphorically.

Seaforth Naval Hospital overlooked the River Mersey. A few days later, forewarned of the sailing time, I watched H.M.S. Whimbrel sail out of my life for ever. Then I settled down to be restored to health, though the only treatment I remember, painfully, was when my sinuses were flushed out, by sticking metal tubes through the gristle behind the nose, using only a local anaesthetic. Perhaps that cured me; or perhaps it was good food, rest and clean air. I was on my feet, and walking about, when we had a surprise visit from Admiral Horton, Commander-in-Chief of Western Approaches, visiting his wounded heroes. I wondered if he would regard me as a malingerer, as the American General Patton did one of his hospitalised soldiers, in a notorious war-time incident. However, the Admiral did not hit me, he was kindly and sympathetic, accepted my assurance that I wanted to return to duty as soon as possible, and passed on to other patients.

H.M.S. ROCKINGHAM
Not long afterwards I was sent on a short leave, and then ordered to join H.M.S. Rockingham in the Firth of Forth. Rockingham turned out to be a "four-stacker", one of the fifty American First World War four-funnelled destroyers sent to Britain as part of the Lend Lease Agreement which gave the U.S.A. military bases throughout the British Empire. That part of the Agreement very much favoured the Americans; nevertheless, the old destroyers were invaluable in 1940 and 1941. They alleviated the shortage of convoy escorts until newer, and better ones could be built. Then they were retired; or sent to glorious destruction like H.M.S. Campeltown which, filled with explosives, rammed the dock gates at St. Nazaire; or were found less demanding duties. Rockingham had taken over from an old paddle steamer as a training target ship for the Fleet Air Arm.

It was now December 1943; the passing of my twentieth birthday meant that I became entitled to change my uniform insignia to the single wavy stripe of a Sub-Lieutenant R.N.V.R. Not a dizzy height in the naval hierarchy, but at least I was no longer a "Snotty". Another Sub., "Bill", joined the ship with me, becoming a good friend, but it soon became apparent that Rockingham was used by the Admiralty as a cross between a Convalescent Home and an Asylum for misfits. I did not research the histories of all the officers and men, but the Second-in-Command, "Chris", for example, was a survivor of the Prince of Wales, sunk by Japanese bombers off Singapore. Always quiet, friendly and competent, Chris was, nevertheless, shaken by his experience. The Gunnery Officer, "Guns", was an alcoholic who would return from shore trips in a vile, aggressive temper. As a final example, Lieutenant "T" R.N.V.R., the Commanding Officer, was difficult to warm to, at least Bill and I found him so. As merely a Lieutenant R.N.V:R, he must have been highly regarded in some quarters to have been given the command of a destroyer, even an old one; but the duties of Rockingham suggested that he might have been given charge in order to gain much-needed practice. Or perhaps he had been tried elsewhere and had not achieved much success.

Bill and I soon fell foul of him. We had both come from ships with easy-going regimes. Lieutenant Commander Moore was very well respected, but I could not remember springing to attention at his approach. So, when "T" entered the Rockingham Wardroom, Bill and I turned in our chairs with welcoming smiles; "T", however turned on his heel, scowled, and walked out. We were then summoned by messenger and given an ill-tempered ticking off for discourtesy in not jumping to our feet as soon as he entered the Wardroom. No doubt he had right on his side, but we found him pompous, and as time went on, we were not convinced that he was such a fine seaman and Captain as he obviously thought himself.

There were other incidents. Once I incurred his wrath because, as Foc'sle Officer, I had attached the ship to a buoy by the usual single line; now that a gale had blown up, he considered this unsafe. Again, no doubt correct, but in view of my inexperience, I thought he might have told me earlier to set out double mooring lines. As it was, the Foc'sle Petty Officer and I decided that we had better risk our own necks to take a boat out to the buoy in the gale, and attach a second line. That cost me a ruined shoe, and very nearly a crushed foot.

On another occasion, when Bill and I had taken, in his opinion, too long to say good-bye to our girl friends on the jetty, we found that he had ordered the ropes to be slackened, so that there was about ten feet of water between us and the ship. Luckily I was on good terms with my Petty Officer, so that he caught my signal to heave in on the winch just enough to enable us to jump the gap. As usual, we were later summoned to “T”’s presence and ticked of but for once he was understanding, and even humorous, no doubt enjoying his own little joke. If only he could have adopted that tone from the start, we might have grown to like him.

Rockingham steamed up and down the Firth of Forth, carrying out two types of training. Sometimes a plane, towing a drogue, would fly past, and ships' crews would be given the chance to practise anti-aircraft firing from our decks. More often, we were "attacked" by Barracuda aircraft dropping torpedoes. The Barracudas were intended to replace the old "Stringbags", the Swordfish, but they were heartily disliked by those who had to fly them.
Apparently they were difficult to handle, and there had been several accidents.

“T”’s misfortunes seemed to be a combination of ill-luck and his own misjudgements. Once, the plane towing the drogue passed too close ahead of us, so the towing wire sliced across our bows with the effect of a chain saw. Those on the Bridge flung themselves on the deck, just one signalman having his oilskin cut as he went down a fraction too late. Another time, the torpedoes, genuine ones but without explosives, passed underneath us, being set deep, but “T” swung around 180° and retraced his course, narrowly missing being hit by the tin fish, now nearing the end of their run and surfacing.

 Rockingham also suffered through having a very low status. No "secret" signals were decoded on board; Shore-base had to inform us of anything likely to affect a target vessel cruising up and down the Firth of Forth, i.e., not much. Then, one day, we were sent on an errand to Aberdeen. Setting off back, late in the evening, we returned to our familiar waters, with the Forth Bridge in sight, bright and early next morning. We flashed the recognition signal. After a pause the reply came from the shore "Stop immediately or we will open fire!" Consternation on our Bridge. After a flurry of signals it emerged that we had used the wrong recognition letters, and, as Signals Officer, I was once again in danger of reprimand. However, I was able to prove that I had followed instructions to the letter, sending a signal man ashore one hour before sailing, to get the latest information. It was Aberdeen Signal Station, not used to Rockingham, which had forgotten to tell us that all signal codes would be changed at midnight.

That was not “T”’s fault, but I think the collision was, even though the engine room received some share of the blame, We had to go alongside a tanker to refuel. I was on the foc'sle , with the Petty Officer and team, and I should explain that in this old destroyer the anchor lay on a sloping bed in the bows; it was held by two "stoppers" which could be released quickly to drop the anchor over the side, encouraged by a push with the foot, if necessary. We were not using the anchor, of course, to tie up alongside the tanker. The foc'sle hands were standing in the bows, with heaving lines; the Petty Officer was by the steam winch, which could haul the mooring lines, or, by moving a lever, be switched over to the anchor chain; and I was standing by the port guard-rail. It occurred to me that we were coming in rather close, and rather fast; there was just time to shout a warning "Stand clear of that anchor chain"; then we were scraping along the Tanker's side. As the fluke of the anchor caught on some obstacle, it reared up like a bucking bronco, breaking one of the two stoppers, and then settled back on deck with a mighty clang.

The danger was that it might drop over the side, taking some lengths of chain with it, and maybe one or two members of the crew. Meanwhile, as I peered anxiously forward, I was unaware that we had started to go astern, and the wing bridge of the other ship, passing over the top of our deck, was about to hit me in the back. This time the vigilant Petty Officer shouted a warning, so that I was able to swing round, and then retreat, arms outstretched, apparently fending off the tanker with my bare hands. On its lookout position, face to face with me, stood a seaman. "What the f*****g 'ell do you think you're doing?' he enquired cheerfully. I feel sure that "T" would have had the presence of mind to reprimand him for his language to an Officer, but the only riposte I could think of, on the spur of the moment, was "Don't blame me, chum." and with that we drifted apart. Some time later, with the anchor secured, we approached again, very, very cautiously. As "T" said afterwards, "Not much damage done, Sub?"

In June, I was given a new posting. In September Rockingham was sunk. I heard some details later, from an officer who was in the area, though not on board. Apparently, one of the ill-fated Barracudas sent a message that it was ditching in the area a few miles away, towards Aberdeen. "T" did not hesitate nor, apparently, did he consult the Shore-base. Full speed ahead he went, to rescue the air crew, and he headed the ship right across one of our own minefields. Quite soon a mine blew the bows off Rockingham. I was not given a full list of casualties , but was told that my faithful Petty Officer had suffered a broken back. If the incident had happened a few weeks earlier, I would have been standing near him, in the bows, searching for the aircraft dinghy. Lucky me, as usual. It is ironic that my closest brushes with serious injury, or death, during the war, were on the non-combatant Rockingham. The ship, according to the records, stayed afloat for some hours, and an attempt was made to tow it to port, but in the end it sank. I never heard what happened to Lieutenant "T" R.N.V.R. I hope he was not given the command of another small ship; he was a "big ship" man at heart, and would have been happier with fellow officers above and below him, all impeccably obeying orders, whilst strictly observing Royal Naval etiquette and ceremony.

H.M.S. INMAN
During my short leave between ships, the Normandy Invasion began. My new posting, in June 1944, was to H.M.S. Inman, a Captain class frigate. Like Whimbrel, it was purpose built for convoy escort duties, but this time built in the U.S.A., as another item for Lend Lease. It must have been just newly commissioned, but I have no recollection of suffering the Tobermory "working-up" again. Perhaps I was a replacement for a Tobermory "failure"!

We were the leader of B one escort group, and, to prove it, the Captain had a bull-dog, with a bone in its mouth, painted on the funnel. Surely this was a sign of increasing confidence in these small ships that the Battle of the Atlantic was nearly won. Luckily we had not heard of Hitler's new electro-boats, able to travel faster under the water than we could on the surface, and had only just been warned about acoustic torpedoes, which home in on the noise of a ship's propellers, and were aimed at the escorts rather than the merchant ships. In my ignorance of these and other matters, I enjoyed being back on board a fighting ship, as a Sub-lieutenant of a full seven months experience, even if that had been on an old target ship. As a non-specialist Deck Officer, I could be allocated a variety of duties so, once again, I was in charge of the foc'sle , especially for entering and leaving harbour; in charge of the forward 3-inch gun; in charge of a safe, full of code books, to be issued at the correct time, when a signal came from the shore; and Second Officer of the Watch, on the Bridge, paired with the First Lieutenant. Normally that duty was four hours on, eight hours off, but if the situation was tense, it could be changed to "four hours on, four off', so that sleeping time was a maximum three and a half hours, even if the alarm bells did not interrupt.

Our early convoys were across the Atlantic, from Londonderry, Belfast, or Liverpool, to St. John's Newfoundland. Once again we were not involved in any large-scale, heroic actions. but I do remember many small incidents, not always involving Germans, and not necessarily in chronological order. One concerns a point I have made before; the discomfort, even nervousness, that many commanding officers felt when they exchanged the wide-open sea for the cramped manoeuvring of tying up safely in harbour. We were going alongside in Liverpool, soon after my joining, when the Captain lost his temper. Forgetting the loudhailer was switched on, he came out with (I can only remember the milder part) "Sub-Lieutenant Marshall, why the bloody hell can't you get me a "spring" out? What's the bloody Foc'sle Party doing, Sub.?" The curses boomed through the ship, and across the dockyard. I was startled, and somewhat hurt, having left my experienced Petty Officer to get out the forward lines, including the "spring", while I attended to the lines amidships. The Petty Officer's team had so far failed to land a heaving line on the jetty, but we had just succeeded. So we rushed our line forward to the Petty Officer, and a few seconds later the "spring" was ashore, enabling the Captain to edge the ship safely up to the jetty. I could feel an instant wave of sympathy from "my" team, but it was necessary to keep a straight face, see the ship "all fast", and dismiss the Foc'sle Party, before going down to the Wardroom for a stiff gin (yes, I had taken to drink by this time). But now comes the surprise, and the comparison with Captain "T". My new Captain tracked me down in the Wardroom, and said "Sorry about that, Sub," a very handsome apology from the most senior officer to the most junior. We were on excellent terms from then on.

I was more successful in a later task, when the Captain suspected that a submarine might be shadowing the convoy. As we steamed towards the position, I was sent up to the Crow's Nest, where my keen eyesight (in those days!) and better knowledge of what we were looking for, would supplement the watch being kept by the seaman on duty. I was able to report a tiny black dot on the horizon, which was replaced by a flurry of white, and then disappeared. The Captain was satisfied that I had seen a U-boat submerging; it would now stay down for some time, so that the convoy could alter course unobserved. We did not waste time chasing, for the U-boat would also be busy altering course and speed under water. The time was coming, though, when there would be enough escorts to leave a couple of ships "sitting" on top of the submarine until it was forced to surface for lack of air. Or, better still, aircraft to take the submarine more by surprise than we could.

During the attack by carrier planes on the Tirpitz, in August 1944, we saw nothing of the main fleet, being part of the distant antisubmarine screen, but we spent some time sitting at "action stations", which in my case was the 3-inch gun on the foc'sle. It was pleasant summer weather off Norway, though cloudy. At daybreak one morning, two planes dived out of the clouds ahead. I think the pilots were as startled as we were, for they were planes from one of the carriers, officially on patrol, but unofficially playing "Chase me Charlie". Both sides acted very correctly. The planes went into line astern, and flew slowly between the ships; we swung the gun around and "covered" the leading plane until he had gone past. We did not load, but he was not to know that, and must have felt nervous, for he would not have been the first plane shot down by "friendly" fire. The gunners on merchant ships were notoriously trigger happy. This incident ended with a friendly wave.

There were moments of excitement, too, when I was on duty as Second Officer of the Watch. The convoy ships sailed straight ahead, but all escorts zigzagged, and this was not carried out to a precise pattern, or the idea of confusing the enemy would have been nullified. Consequently, during the hours of darkness, it was possible for one escort to edge over to port, and another to edge over to starboard. A gap of a couple of miles could quickly close. One pitch black night there was a cry of "ship ahead", and only by going "hard a' port", did we miss the stern of a Canadian escort colleague. We were lucky, also, that the other ship was not towing a "foxer", a device for distracting acoustic torpedoes, as that might have entangled our propellers. The Captain rushed up from his cabin below, but exonerated us, as we seemed to be in correct position in relation to the convoy; we reckoned that the Canadian ship had strayed. There seemed to be little point in having an argument by signal lamp, on a dark night in the middle of the Atlantic; so we headed for a safe spot, until order could be restored at day-break. If we had collided, there would have been a small fuss, but nothing like the one over another collision, carefully concealed from the public until long after the war. The Queen Mary was sailing, independently, at high speed across the Atlantic, with two cruisers for company. All three were zigzagging. One night the Curacao zigzagged across the bows of the Queen , was rammed amidships, and sent to the bottom, with heavy loss of life. Such incidents should not have happened after radar sets were developed. Curacao probably had one, and Inman certainly did, but we were reminded that no instruments can entirely eliminate the need for sharp eyes and quick reactions at sea. No doubt our radar team were closely questioned as to why we, on the Bridge, had been given no warning.

Even in the sophisticated twentieth century, it was easy to understand how myths and superstitions have influences sea-farers. I saw, just once, "St. Elmo's Fire", when the masts and rigging of the ship were illuminated by flickering lights, and the ship sailed along like a set-piece in Blackpool Illuminations. Sober scientists tell us that the effect is produced by a combination of damp conditions and static electricity, but it must have driven many an early sailor to his knees in prayer. I saw, at different times, in different latitudes, whales and porpoises, flying fish above the waves, phosphorescent fish and seaweed just below, pack-ice, and icebergs, and millions of stars, for our ships sailed without lights. There are some wonders of the deep not seen by cruise-line passengers.

One incident may be compared with my "injured leg" telepathy, though this time there could have been a straight-forward explanation. While our group was on patrol, not convoy duty, we received a signal that a Sunderland Flying Boat had crashed near the west coast of Ireland, and we were to search for survivors. Our Captain stationed the ships in line abreast, and headed for the Irish Mainland. As darkness fell, he decided that it would be imprudent to venture inshore, among shoals and rocks, and he had just ordered an about-turn when a light, a flare, was spotted, two or three miles ahead. Caution still prevailed, so we stood off, noted the position, and, at dawn, steamed slowly in, towards the spot, allowing for the drift of wind and tide. Once more, Inman won the "sharp eyes" contest, and we picked up a single airman from a small dinghy. But when we congratulated him on burning the flare at just the right moment, he told us that he had no flares, or other means of attracting attention. Of course, it could have been lit by other survivors, but they should have been in the vicinity, and we found no-one else, although we searched.

In the winter of 1944 our Captain was promoted, and another Commanding Officer came aboard. He took over a well-run ship and, though not as experienced or as charismatic as the departed one, he soon fitted in well. Before long, he decided to put me in charge of the Asdic (submarine detection) team, though I had not taken the specialist course. By now, also, there had been a change in German tactics. Having failed to turn back the invasion fleet in June, Admiral Donitz decided to withdraw most U-boats from mid-Atlantic and harass our shipping in coastal waters. At one time this would have been suicidal, but the U-boats were being fitted with "schnorkels", breathing tubes to take in air and let out exhaust gases. The U-boats could thus stay under water most of the time, and the schnorkels were very difficult to detect by radar. In addition, the electro-boats, silent and fast, with high underwater endurance, were expected to be ready soon.

From our point of view, it was difficult, in shallow waters, to differentiate between submarines, wrecks on the sea-bed, tide-rips, and even shoals of fish. I was soon in trouble for classifying a contact as "submarine" Other ships in the group hurried over to search, but found nothing; having received a gentle reprimand himself, the Captain passed it on to me, with the order that no Asdic contact was to be classified as higher than "possible submarine", unless there was indisputable backup evidence, (“such as a torpedo hitting us!”, I thought ... but wisely kept my thoughts to myself). The mistake, if it was a mistake, was attributed to youthful enthusiasm, and I remained in charge of the Asdic team.

                                                                                              Merchant ship survivors 1944

The next incident illustrates how mistaken impressions may last a lifetime, or almost. For over fifty years I have believed that Turnkey was the call-sign of a ship we often sailed with, H.M.S. Tintagel Castle, known to us as Tintaz, and that, in naval code, hamstrung meant damaged, and staggered meant sunk. Having consulted naval record books, I find that I have lived with a false belief; why I did not sort out the correct details in 1945, I don't know. Perhaps we were too busy.

We knew that there were U-boats in the Irish Sea, for we had picked up survivors, and had also been ordered to sink a small coaster, which was floating bottom-up, a danger to other ships. I was pleased not to be in charge of the gun any more, at first because I wondered if there might be anyone trapped in an air-pocket inside the coaster, and then because the Captain became more and more angry as the crew failed to hit the wreck. At last we sailed very close in and finished the job. Some time later, probably the next day, we were back in position, as leading escort ahead of the convoy, north-west of Anglesey. It was calm fine weather, around 10 a.m., on 26th January, 1945. I was in the Asdic room, on the Bridge, when the ship-to-ship radio crackled and announced: "All ships. Turnkey hamstrung". Not long afterwards: "Turnkey staggered". I think someone on the Bridge must have exclaimed "That's Tintax", but the records say that it was H.M.S. Manners a Captain Class frigate, like Inman. Its stern had been blown off by an acoustic torpedo, but it was eventually towed into Barrow-in-Furness so staggered must have meant merely out of action. Perhaps we were later detached for other duties, and thus I never saw Tintax again. At the time I faced the daunting thought that Inman; and the convoy, must have sailed right past the U-boat, before it picked off our rear escort, yet my Asdic team had detected nothing, not even a "possible submarine". However, we were ordered to continue with the merchant ships, while other escorts chased the attacker. Records say that, after a long hunt, they sank U.1172.

From March 1945, we were employed again on the Atlantic route, and were on an outward journey when "Victory in Europe Day" was declared, on May 9th. By the time we returned to Londonderry the celebrations were over, and several surrendered U-boats were tied up in the River Foyle. However, the Admiralty decided that one or two U-boats might have missed the surrender signal, or might be hell-bent on a final act of defiance. Towards the end of May, therefore, we set off with a convoy of 76 ships, west-bound. For some inexplicable reason we were routed to the far north, and when approaching Newfoundland Banks, ran into thick fog. For several days the convoy crept along at minimum speed, with visibility estimated at less than 200 feet. Then the leading escort reported icebergs ahead, and the merchant ships were ordered to turn 90° to port. In the thick fog some turned quickly, some slowly, and possibly some not at all. One ship hit an iceberg, twenty-two others collided, but mercifully no ships were sunk, and no lives lost.

Perhaps it was an illustration of the modern driving slogan: "It's speed that kills". (Remember the Titanic?) All our bumps were in slow motion. After that no attempt was made to re-form the convoy; all escorts and merchant ships were ordered to grope their way independently to port; no more convoys were despatched; and so ended, rather farcically, the enormous effort to keep Britain supplied with food and materials for five and a half years.

At the end of July 1945, I was sent on home leave to await a new posting. My naval documents reveal that I was then put on the books of H.M.S. Pembroke, a shore establishment for anti-submarine courses, so it looks as though the Captain had recommended me, belatedly, for ASCO (anti-submarine control officer) training. But I was never ordered to report. The German war was over, the Americans had sufficient escorts for their Pacific convoys, the Japanese submarines were less of a menace than the U-boats, and the Admiralty were, no doubt, frantically busy trying to re-locate ships and men to a new theatre of war. My leave was extended, and I stayed on with my parents, who now lived in Blackpool. Whenever I have felt, in later years, inclined to grumble about children, I have reminded myself, with some discomfort, that for ten weeks, in 1945, when life was hard for civilians, I "parked" myself on my parents. No doubt I had an emergency ration book, but I don't think I offered to pay anything for my board and lodging. Nor can I imagine how I occupied my time, since the few friends I had left behind lived in Newcastle-under-Lyme. I must have been something of a burden.

In August, the atom bombs were dropped, the Pacific war ended abruptly, and military plans were once more in turmoil. By September I was writing complaining letters to the Admiralty, asking if they had forgotten about me, and in October they decided to send me as far away as possible, perhaps to shut me up. I was told to join H.M.S. Portland Bill, in Vancouver, Canada.

H.M.S. PORTLAND BILL
First I had to find out why the ship had such a
funny name, thus revealing my ignorance of the geography of the south coast of England. Then I applied for some details of the posting, and discovered that Portland Bill was a supply, maintenance and repair ship intended to back up the British Pacific Fleet. She would be much larger that anything I had previously served aboard; more like one of the merchant ships I was used to escorting. There was also the interesting question of what use the ship would now be, but that was not my worry.

The reader will have guessed, by now, that I did not keep a war-time diary. In fact, we were forbidden to do so, though some ignored the order. My memories are therefore often sketchy, especially of names, and only occasionally can I check details with some public record.

So I do not remember the name of the Troopship which took me back across the familiar Atlantic, but it sailed from Southampton, and arrived at Halifax, Nova Scotia. Four young R.N.V.R Officers, including myself, appeared to have orders to join Portland Bill. Most other personnel, some wounded, were returning to their homes in Canada. As a result, we were given a hero's welcome at every stop along the stations of the Canadian National Railway to Toronto. Flags fluttered, bands played, the locals distributed food, drink, and even presents. Our little group felt out of place, though we were always treated kindly, and invited to join in. The celebrations faded away as the train emptied, especially after Toronto, and we headed for the Pacific coast.

"We joined the Navy to see the World, And what did we see? We saw the Sea", as the song goes. Now we were reaping our reward as, more or less, tourists. I don't think it is possible nowadays to cross Canada on an uninterrupted train journey, and I don't know that I can whole-heartedly recommend it. The month was October, the harvest had been gathered in, and the central flat-lands beyond Toronto were unexciting; we would look out of the train window in the morning to see perhaps one solitary farmstead and miles of empty landscape; then in the evening we would look out and see miles of empty landscape and, if we were lucky, one solitary farmstead. An enemy submarine, or plane would have been a welcome distraction. (My apologies to Central Canada. If travellers are bored, they must blame themselves, not their surroundings.) At last, though, we reached the Rockies, which were spectacular. I woke up one morning and gazed down at the river about 200 feet below; looking back, I could see the rear end of the train curving like a snake along the mountainside. That one experience repaid many hours of flat travelling.

In Vancouver we were billeted with a well-meaning but garrulous lady. Occasionally we visited the ship in Burrard ... was it a suburb or a ship-building yard? I have no idea. I remember that we had to take the ferry across the harbour to North Vancouver. There was also time for some sight-seeing, and strolls in Stanley Park, but these amusements do not linger in the memory so vividly as the occasional moments of convoy duty. We began to meet the rest of the crew, and tensions were already apparent. First of all, there was no, longer a common purpose of "defeating the enemy". Secondly, Portland Bill was a curious hybrid; although the Captain was R.N.R., there were a few R.N. Officers in some positions; beneath them was our happy-go-lucky group of R.N.V.R. Officers, unused to pukkah Royal Navy ways, and already contemplating a return to "Civvie Street"; a separate entity was the group of fitters, mechanics and engineers, to man the huge workshops in the bowels of the ship. They were headed by an Engineer Commander, a civilian really, very recently awarded his three stripes to put him on a par with the ship's R.N.R. Commander. He was soon infuriated by the airs of the R.N. group, who did not consider him a "naval officer" at all. He was just a "workman" dressed up, and they were "gentlemen". These products of Dartmouth or Greenwich Naval College had not absorbed the lesson of the General Election, six months earlier, which had swept Churchill and the Conservative Party from power, and replaced them by Attlee's Labour Government. There was revolution in the air, and "Mac", the Commander(E) was very willing to lead the rebels. I believe that he announced his intention of standing as a Communist candidate at the next General Election, a declaration which sent a wave of horror through the more conservative ranks in the ship. Our little R.N.V.R. group liked him, for he was friendly, jovial. willing to join in sporting events, and nothing like a Naval Commander, whereas we saw almost nothing of the R.N. group, except in the line of duty. Perhaps we could have united to fight the Japanese. As it was, it was fortunate that Portland Bill's crew were soon to demobilise.

                                                                              HMS Portland Bill crossing the line, March 1946

I vaguely remember that we did some steaming trials, before the ship tied up in the main harbour for a few days' preparation before setting off across the Pacific. Then, for a second time, I found myself mysteriously very ill. On this occasion the reason was so obvious that I began at last to understand words like asthma and allergy. Portland Bill had been moored alongside the giant hoppers, which were pouring the summer grain into the holds of ships for transport overseas. The air was thick with dust and pollen. I became so short of breath that once more I was rushed off a ship and into hospital. Again there was no treatment that I can remember. Today we have steroid drugs; in 1945 no progress had apparently been made since my childhood. I was just put to bed and left. The nurses were nothing like so attentive as those in the Royal Naval Hospital, Seaforth, and I did not want to be abandoned this time. So, a few days later, my fellow Subs. laid on transport, I discharged myself from hospital and arrived back on board just before the ship sailed. Everyone welcomed me warmly, even - the rival groups, and the Captain generously offered to excuse me from watch-keeping duties. I was wiser now, though, and insisted on getting onto the Bridge for my four-hourly stints. In a very short time the Pacific sea air affected a natural cure. If I had thought about it, I might have become an early expert in the field of atmospheric pollution, and its effects on people.

We called at Esquimault, a small Canadian Base; at Hawaii, free from tourism on Waikiki beach, and still with memories of the attack on Pearl Harbour; at Guam, where we were not allowed outside the naval base because there were still Japanese soldiers lurking in the jungle; and finally we reached Singapore. I had carried put my sea duties, and also edited a light-hearted ship's newspaper suggested by someone to improve the "atmosphere". We had celebrated passing the Equator with a rough ceremony conducted by King Neptune and his minions, in a large canvas bath. As one "crossing the line" for the first time, and watching the treatment meted out to some, I was calculating how long I could hold my breath under water, but I was whisked out, and to the other side, in double quick time. Perhaps good humour was beginning to assert itself.

Portland Bill was anchored near the Causeway, on the opposite side of the island from the town and harbour of Singapore. Nearby was the wreck of a Japanese cruiser, blown up by very bold midget submarines a few months earlier. On the quayside were Japanese prisoners, unloading redundant ammunition. They would stop work, and bow deeply as we stepped ashore from the boat, but we did not feel "honoured"; stories of how our own prisoners of war had been treated were beginning to circulate. We now had time for swimming at the waterfall, and pool of Khota Tinghi among the lush vegetation on the Malayan peninsula; outings in the motorboat to explore little rivers, and call at Malayan villages; an occasional drive to Singapore town, just recovering from the Japanese occupation.

We should have been enjoying our "holiday", but the future was too unsure, and most minds were occupied with thoughts of going home. Education Officers came on board to advise us on careers, and pamphlets were distributed, with tempting offers. Australia would be pleased to offer free passages, University education, and a post in government or teaching; they were very short of quality manpower. The peacetime Royal Navy had openings for a very few, select, R.N.V.R. Officers; one of our group actually applied, to the surprise of the rest of us, but I did not hear the result. My Bank Manager was prepared to welcome me back, after five years. Finally, direct from home, came a newspaper cutting outlining a scheme under which serving officers were offered five years at University, all fees paid, if they would become teachers, for "Britain needs male teachers". That was the one my mother fancied for me, and the one I applied for.

A troopship carried me back, across the Indian Ocean, through the Suez Canal and the Mediterranean, completing my round-the-world tour. I was demobilised officially in September 1946, though I was in fact sent on leave, with a civilian suit, in May, and told that I would not be expected back except "in emergency". The navy's loss was Manchester University's gain.

POST-SCRIPT
H.M.S. Londonderry was sold for scrap in 1948.

H.M.S. Whimbrel was sold to the Egyptian Navy, in 1949, and re-named El Marek Farouk.

H.M.S. Rockingham, the ex-U.S.S. Swasey, was sunk off Aberdeen, on September 27, 1944

H.M.S. Inman was returned to the U.S. Navy in 1946.

H.M.S. Portland Bill was sold to the Stag line in 1951, and re-named S.S. Zinnia.

TIME TABLE
1939 September 3rd. Britain declares war on Germany. Marshall family living in Hartshill, near Stoke-on-Trent. December, Graf Spee sunk.

1940 Summer: I leave school, aged sixteen. Join Lloyd's Bank, Newcastle-under-Lyme, June; Dunkirk evacuation. France capitulates.

1941 Spring: I volunteer under the "Y" Scheme, for the Royal Navy. November 5th, called up, aged 18 years and 4 days. Sent for Training to H.M.S. Raleigh, Torpoint, Cornwall. December: Pearl Harbour, U.S.A. at war, Repulse and Prince of Wales sunk.

1942 January to September, Ordinary Seaman in H.M.S. Londonderry. Battle of the Atlantic intensifies against German U-boats and bombers: November, Allies invade North Africa. 8th Army advances from Egypt: November 13th: Commissioned as Midshipman R.N.V.R., after Officer Training in H.M.S. King Alfred, Worthing, Sussex.

1943 From December 30th (1942) to 26th October, Midshipman in H.M.S. Whimbrel. March: Heaviest convoy losses of the war, but Navy is now assembling Frigate Support Groups, and building small Aircraft Carriers. May: 9 U-boats sunk, 7 damaged. Tide turns in Atlantic battle. August: Allies invade Sicily. September: Italy surrenders. November: In Royal Naval Hospital, Seaforth, Liverpool. December 7th (until June 7th 1944) Sub-lieutenant in H.M.S. Rockingham

1944 June, Allies invade France. June 16th (to July 28th 1945) Sub-lieutenant in H.M.S. Inman Nov. 1st: 21st birthday

1945 May 7th Germany surrenders. July 31 to October 10th. On books of H.M.S. Pembroke, for antisubmarine course, but was left on leave. My family now in Blackpool. August: Atom bombs dropped, Japan surrenders. Oct. :Sent to Vancouver, Canada, to join H.M.S. Portland Bill

1946 March 1st. Automatic promotion to Lieutenant R.N.V.R. March Crossed the Pacific to Singapore; “Crossing the Line”. April Homeward bound in Troopship. May (official date September). Demobilised. October Under-graduate at Manchester University.