Crest of the V&W Destroyer AssociationCrest of the V&W Destroyer AssociationHMS VANITY

HMS Vanity before conversion to WAIR
HMS Vanity (D28) before her WAIR conversion to an anti--aircraft ship
Downloaded from E-bay

HMS Vanity was was laid down on 28 July 1917 by William Beardmore and Company at Dalmuir, Scotland, launched on 3 May 1918 and commissioned on 21 June 1918. She took part in the Baltic Campaign in 1919 and remained in service with the newly formed First Destroyer Flotilla and from 1923 with the Ninth DF as part of the Atlantic Fleet. She was paid off into Rosyth Maintenance Reserve in October 1928.

Vanity was recommissioned in August 1939 for the Royal Review of the Reserve Fleet by King George VI. Within a month of joining the 15th Destroyer Flotilla at Rosyth escorting East Coast convoys to the Thames estuary she was selected for conversion to an Anti-aircraft Ship, a WAIR conversion, by changing her 4.7 inch guns for twin HA 4 inch guns.  When she returned to escort duties at Rosyth in August 1940 her pennant number changed from  D28 to L38. In December 1941, she was "adopted" by Scunthorpe in Lincolnshire) in a Warship Week National Savings campaign.

In January 1942 HMS Vanity steamed to Scapa Flow to deploy with the Home Fleet for Operation Performance, to cover the break-out of ten Norwegian merchant ships interned by neutral Sweden at Gothenburg since the German occupation of Norway in April 1940. F
or more details of Operation Performance see Kvarstad Ships and Men.

In February 1942, she resumed her duties escorting East Coast convoys as part of the Rosyth Escort Force. In December 1944 while escorting Convoy FN.54 in thick fog HMS Vanity was in collision with merchant ship SS Apex and went to Antwerp for repair.

In February 1945 she was reassigned to convoy escort and patrol duty in the English Channel, where North Atlantic convoys had been rerouted after the threat of German air attacks from France had abated. Convoys were being attacked by German snorkel-equipped submarines which did not have to surface to charge their batteries. After the surrender iof Germany on 8 May she was sent to Stavanger, Norway, and from there to Kristiansand and Oslo as described below by AB Geoffrey Barwell.

Vanity was decommissioned soon after Germany's surrender and placed in reserve. She placed on the disposal list in 1946 and sold on 4 March 1947 for scrapping at Grangemouth, Scotland.

Battle Honours

Commanding Officers

Cdr Henry C. Rawlings, RN (8 May – Aug. 1918)
Cdr Henry C. Rawlings, RN (24 Oct. 1918 – 10 Sept. 1920)
Cdr Reginald T. Amedroz, RN (10 Sept 1920 – 17 Aug. 1922)
Cdr Reginald V. Holt, RN (17 Aug. – Nov. 1922)
Lt Cdr Henry A. Simpson, RN (16 Nov. 1922 – 1 Oct. 1923)
Lt Cdr Ralph Kerr, RN (9 Oct. 1923 – 29 July 1925)
Cdr. Herbert James Buchanan, RAN (18 Jun 1940 - 24 Feb 1941)
Lt. Isaac William Trant Beloe, RN (24 Feb 1941 - 17 Jun 1941)
Lt. William Brabazon Robert Morrison, RN (17 Jun 1941 - 1 Jun 1943)
Lt.Cdr. Marcus Henry Reginald Crichton, RN (1 Jun 1943 - 14 Feb 1944)
Lt. Douglas Ronald Wheeler, RN (14 Feb 1944 - mid 1945)


Sub Lt J.C. Armitage RNVR (1 April 1943 -
Sub Lt E.G. Baker (21 Dec 1943 -
Lt C.L.Beale RNVR (-Nov 1943)
Sub Lt J.E.F. Codrington RNVR (23 July 1940 -
Cd Eng Henry George Collins RN  (8 July 1940 - 30 Nov 1944)
Sub Lt C.J. Evans RNVR (11 June 1942 -
Surg Lt Noel Fox RNVR (12 Aug 1940 -
Gunner E.J. Gillings (-Oct 1942)
Sub Lt E.H. Halls RNR (19 July 1940 -
Sub Lt I.B. Hartnell (10 Oct 1944 -
First Lt Charles Humphrey de Meuron RN (10 October 1918 - Jan 1919)
Lt D.I.B.McBean ( - Sept 1943)
Surg Lt H. McColl (10 April 1943 -
Sub Lt R.L. Mark RNZNVR (20 Aug 1944 -
Lt C.E. Sheen RAN (14 June 1940 -
Lt D.F. Sisithinbank, DSC (2 Sept 1944 -
Sub Lt P.M. Staveley (29 July 1940 -
Lt D.C. Tebbitt RNVR (6 Feb 1942 -
Gunner W.F. Tindell (30 April 1940 -
Mid P.W. Trumpet RNVR (29 July 1944 -
Mid O.C. Vaudray RIN (-Oct 1943)
Lt (E) D.G. Webster RNR (29 Nov 1943 -
Mid D.A. Witsher RNR (31 Aug 1939 -

Former full members of the V & W Destroyer Association who served in HMS Vanity
Geoffrey Barwell OBE (Coventry), J. Beaumont (Norwich), J. R. Hodge (Conway, Gwent), Frank Osmond (Bromley, Kent), D.F.  Smith (Solihull, Birmingham), R. Wright (Preston), Lt Cdr D. Witcher (Surbiton, Surrey)

Please get in touch if you knew these men or had a family member who served in HMS Vanity

HMS Vnity
HMS Vanity escorting an East Coast Convoy in 1944
Photographed by Lt Cdr John E. Manners RN from HMS Viceroy

Escorting East Coast Convoys

Winteringham is a small village one mile south of the Humber and eight miles north of Scunthorpe, the muncipal borough which adopted HMS Vanity after a successful Warships Week in December 1941. But everybody living in Winteringham knows that she is their warship, not Scunthorpe's, and there is a scroll hanging on the wall of their village hall to prove it.

On 10 June 1995 Ken Ashton, a local historian in Winteringham, wrote to his Member of Parliament, Elliott Morley, enquiring about the adoption of HMS Vanity by Winteringham. Morley passed on his enquiry to the Hon Nicholas Soames MP, the Minister of State for the Armed Forces from 1994 to 1997, in the government of John Major. Nicholas Soames made enquiries and sent a very helpful reply in which he wrote:

"HMS Vanity was into an anti-aircraft escort vessel, recommissioned on 12 August 1940. Virtually all her subsequent career was spent with the Rosyth Escort Group on East Coast convoys from the Firth of Forth to the Thames (the FS series) and back again (FN series). It was a vital if unglamorous role and most of the convoys passed unharmed, only 171 ships out of 104,792 escorted in 3,584 FS/FN convoys being lost.

In December 1944  the Vanity was rendered non-operational after colliding in fog with the merchant ship Apex. She went to Antwerp for repairs and in June 1945 was disarmed and went into reserve for the last time at Grangemouth. She was sold for breaking up in March 1947."

Lt S J Beadell, RNVR, (SP), an official Naval Photographers, spent some time in HMS Vanity in October 1940 and his fine photographs are in the collection of the Imperial War Museum in London. They are all Crown Coopyright which has long since expired and the IWM permit their use on not for profit websites such as this. Some appear on this page with their IWM reference to enable high resolution prints to be ordered from the IWM.

Ken Ashton  arranged for the scroll awarded on the adoption of HMS
Vanity by Winteringham and the letter from Nicolas Soames and other related documents to be framed and hung in the Village Hall where they can still be seen today. Nicholas Soames included  with his letter a list of convoys escorted by HMS Vanity and the National Archives  ADM reference for the Reports of Proceedings written by the CO of HMS Vanity when Vanity was  the Leader of the Escort Force and he was the Senior Officer. These documents are linked to from this page as PDFs as an aid to future research in the National Archives at Kew.

In 2017 the Winterton Probus Club invited Havard Phillips, a 92 year old former RDF operator in HMS Vanity, to talk about his wartime service at a lunch time meeting in the Bay Horse Inn at Winteringham on 12 September. Afterwards, David Malcolm talked about his father's memories of serving with Havard as an RDF Operator in Vanity. It was a very successful meeting and I have been sent a copy of Havard's talk by the meeting organiser, Martin Bell, and it is published below by kind consent of Havard's daughter, Anne McDowell. Sadly, her father William Lewis Havard Phillips, died on 24 October 1919 aged 94.


Memories of my time on HMS Vanity
Havard Phillips, wartime RDF (Radar) Operator in Vanity

Havard PhillipsHavard Phillips in Navy, portrait These memories of my time as radar operator on HMS Vanity span the period of two and half years during the last war. 70 years have elapsed since then and it is poignant to remember that most of the people I served with and fought are now deceased and importantly their descendants are no longer enemies but allies and friends.

I was brought up near Swansea and from an early age I loved the sea. I can remember in the late 1930’s my father taking me to the docks to see a British warship and it was something I never forgot. When I was seventeen and half I volunteered and had no hesitation in joining the navy, it was like a calling and HMS Vanity soon became my home.

The ship was built in 1918 as the Great War came to an end. She was brought into action again along with a number of others of the same class in 1940 to escort convoys of merchant ships bringing military equipment, food and other things the country needed from all parts of the world. The ship was built for a crew of 90 but the enhanced equipment by 1940 needed a crew of 110 plus. This meant that the living conditions were somewhat cramped and primitive. Even so she was a very happy ship and the crew was most loyal to the cause.

HMS Vanity along with many other vessels operated from the naval base at Rosyth on the Firth of Forth, this location, being strategically located to cover the North Atlantic route to Russia and the whole of the North Sea. Convoys of ships were formed at the mouth of the Firth of Forth under the protection of the navy who then travelled North, South and East.

British armed forces needed vast amounts of equipment in advance of the invasion of Europe. Most of this came in ships coming from North America and the rest of the world and the North Sea route was considered the safest route compared with the South Atlantic where the enemy operated their U boats warships and aircraft.

Firth of Forth to the Thames estuary

HMS Vanity was mainly committed to escorting convoys between the Firth of  Forth and the Thames Estuary. Convoys assembled in the mouth of the Firth of Forth and would typically be escorted by three naval ships. One to lead, one to follow and the third with a roving remit. The merchant ships varied in size from the biggest Liberty ships down to small coasters and speed varied from as low as 20 knots up to as much as 40 knots. The smaller ships were usually coasters carrying coal from the Durham and Yorkshire coalfields to London and the south of England.

HMS Vanity escorting an East Coast Convoy

These voyages took two days in both directions. Going south the first day was travelling over deep water from the Firth to the Humber. It was in these waters that the enemy patrolled with their fleet of U boats.

On the second day we sailed from the Humber to the Thames and this leg of the journey presented a different challenge. The convoy passed through “E-Boat Alley” a channel of shallow water between the east coast and Dogger Bank. This channel was marked by physical buoys which appeared on navigation charts and were easily identified by radar. However the E-boats would tie up to the buoys and could not be seen until they separated and one echo turned to two. E-boats, were small extremely fast craft powered with aircraft engines and equipped with light armaments similar to our Motor Torpedo Boats. As a consequence, they found it easy to outmanoeuvre a destroyer like the Vanity. Our superiority came from our fire-power and ability to outgun the E-boat. Despite these hazards our convoys had a great record of getting their ships safely to their destination.

The convoy was typically dismantled on the Thames and usually the ship’s crew had a welcome night ashore before making the return journey back to the Firth of Forth.

HMS Vanity remained unscathed during my time aboard and I was not aware of any casualties other than on one occasion when we picked up two German bodies probable from the crew of a sunken U boat.

My job as a radar operator

I was too young to become an officer but because I had O levels I qualified to become a radar operator. The course lasted about three months and took place around the Isle of Man. The training took place on a ferry type ship which had been commissioned for the purpose and had been specially equipped with radar and other teaching aids.

Radar in those days was very primitive and incorporated cathode ray tubes. One model was for surface radar (No S271) and the other for aircraft (No 291) and in both cases the aerials were rotated manually which is hard to believe given the sophistication of today’s technology. The equipment was housed in a small cabin and the operator was required to inform the officer in charge of any activity identified, giving the direction and distance of the object and a guess as to what it might be. It won’t come as any surprise that the job was largely monotonous and hard on the eyes. The times it became exciting were few and far between, but when action happened the adrenalin kicked in and it became very exciting.

You had to laugh

I remember when Vanity was sent to the North Atlantic to escort a huge merchant ship back to Scapa Flow. It was blowing a gale and the sea was very rough. Vanity could only keep the same speed as the merchant ship by sailing at full speed, driving the bow hard into the waves and shipping water below decks. It took weeks to dry out the living quarters.

On another occasion we were involved in escorting a convoy half way to Russia. Neither the ship nor the crew were properly equipped for the job. The cold was unbearable and the ship’s company were enormously relieved to learn that the mission was a one off never to be repeated again.

We also experienced a “navy lark moment” when Vanity had to be taken into dry dock in Antwerp to repair damage to a propeller. I and others were led to understand that the damage was caused by a limpet mine picked up in the channel - or this was the official line. Those in the know knew that the damage was caused by a collision - all I can say is - I was there!
Shipmates in HMS Vanity
"Some of my friends and shipmates in Vanity"
Back row: John Malcolm (third from left), Jack Hickman (third right) and Paddy Dalton (second right)
Front row: Jock MacGowan (second left) and a young Havard Phillips (right end)
Courtesy of David Malcolm

Life aboard

The crew of a ship had three levels of rank, officers and non-commissioned officers and ratings. In contrast with civilian life men from a whole range of backgrounds lived together in a very confined area. This often created tensions and difficulties, which inevitably got amplified when personal space was almost non-existent. Put simply some individuals could cope but many others couldn’t. Interestingly those that rose to the top and excelled were not always the better educated. It was a unique experience, which was alien to civilian life. What you learnt early on was that in extreme conditions your life was likely to depend on your neighbour.

Daily life revolved around the normal routines of eating, sleeping and personal hygiene. Importantly there was always plenty of food available. As you could imagine the quality was quite variable but always adequate for a growing lad.

The short trips of HMS Vanity meant that there was frequent opportunity to eat ashore where the food was always better. Time may have dimmed the memory but I definitely remember the food being better in Scotland than down south. Perhaps things never change.

Sleep was something you grabbed whenever the opportunity arose. Fortunately I was someone who could sleep standing on my head but not everyone was as lucky. All the ordinary seamen slept in hammocks, which is an acquired art which some struggled to come to terms with. The hammocks were slung in rows across the width of the ship and were stored away during the day. There was no space between the hammocks so the experience was like sleeping with three in a bed. As a consequence there was no privacy and you can imagine the chaos as the duty watches changed at midnight and again at 4 am. By day, one often found an opportunity for a catnap normally stretched out on any available bench or seat.

Eating and sleeping in a Mess on the lower deck of HMS Vanity

Washing facilities were very basic. We always had fresh water, as we were able to replenish the tanks on the ship regularly. Most of our personal washing was done out of a bucket of water, which included a full body wash. There was a cold- water shower but it was rarely used because it wasted water and was difficult to set up. When in Rosyth we would jump at the opportunity to make the short journey to Dunfermline where there was a range of bath houses including a Turkish one. I can remember how wonderful it felt spending an hour wallowing in a deep bath full of boiling hot water.

At the end of the war in Europe in June 1945, HMS Vanity was chosen with another destroyer to escort a Royal Navy Cruiser to take King Haakon back to Norway This was a tremendous privilege. The cruiser went into Oslo the other destroyer went into Christiansfeld and the Vanity went into Bergen. We had a tremendous welcome from the Norwegian people and believe it or not by armed German soldiers as well.

HMS Vanity was decommissioned immediately the European war ended and was sold to be broken up in 1947. I joined the crew of Fighter Director Tender 13 which was scheduled to see action in the Pacific but the atomic bombs dropped on Japan brought the war to a close. I spent the last few months in HMS Illustrious before leaving the navy to read Agriculture at Bangor University and returning to civvy street.

What came next?

Havard was born in Swansea on 25 May 1925 and had matriculated before he left school and joined the Navy at the tender age of seventeen but he was now twenty plus and, without a trade or profession, he had a lot of catching up to do. He decided to study Agriculture and was accepted by Bangor University but the academic year began in September and he was still in the Navy. He went to see the CO of HMS Illustrious and explained the situation and was sent to the Lt(Surg) with a note from the CO and was signed off sick for three months which enabled him to enrole at the University in September.

As well as graduating from Bangor with a BSc he met his future wife there, a lecturer in Zoology. He joined the Ministry of Agriculture's Grassland Centre but left them for the Fertilisers Division of ICI,  visiting farms in Wales and the border counties. Over time he took on various management roles, living in different parts of the UK. He marrried on Anglesy in 1952 and had two children, a boy and  girl. After twenty years with ICI he took early retirement to avoid having to take an office job in London. He saw this as a change of direction rather than retirement and bought into an agricultural merchant in Cheshire and a small farm just across the border in Wales.

When he did finally retire he
bought an apartment in Tatton Hall at Tatton Park near Knutsford, Cheshire.
He greatest pleasure in life latterly was his family. He had five grandchildren and was lucky enough to meet his great granddaughter regularly before he died. He was old in years but mentally alert and active with a mobile phone and an iPad and found out about the link between Winteringham and HMS Vanity by finding John Kirk's website about the village, Winteringham History and Genealogy,  which although no longer updated can be accessed on the British Library's Web Archive.

Friends and family were confident he would live to be a hundred but he had a heart problem which led to his death in the Countess of Chester Hospital at Chester on 24 October 1919 aged 94.

The Guns on HMS Vanity

A-Gun and Gun CrewA-Gun and  G un Crew
The twin 4-inch guns on  HMS Vanity escorting an East Coast Convoy
Forward mounting in the raised B position (left) and aft mounting in the raised X position (right)

Courtesy of the Imperial War Museum

In Nelson's time the Navy used spherical solid shot, cannon balls, which were muzzle loaded after ramming home an explosive charge. Iron clad warships led to the development of armout piercing shells, which were breech loaded, but the cordite propellant was packed separately in a cloth bag and loaded into the breech after the shell, as in the case of the BL 4.7 inch Mk 1 fitted in some V & W destroyers built at the end of WW1, such as HMS Venomous. Their 4.7 inch diameter 50 lb shells made them an effective Anti Tank Gun at Boulogne in May 1940 but  they provided little defence against attack from the air. The separate ammunition gave them a slow rate of fire, of 5 to 6 rounds per minute. Other V an Ws such as HMS Vimy mounted the QF (Quick Firing) Naval Gun Mk V, where the cordite charge was contained in a brass cartridge case giving a higher rate of fire. The shell weight was 31 lbs.

From the 1930s onwards many of the V & Ws had these guns replaced by twin QF 4 inch Naval guns Mk XVI, with fixed ammunition, where the shell was mounted in the mouth of the brass cartridge case, which was fired electrically, giving a rate of fire of up to ten rounds per gun. They were HA (High Angle), DP (Dual Purpose) guns suitable for engaging surface and land or aircraft targets, They could fire either 35 lb HE shells against aircraft, or 38 lb Semi Armour Piercing shells at surface and land targets. Against aircraft the shell would have a time fuze , and for other targets the fuze would be impact.

They are usually referred to as WAIR Conversions, and were conceived as advance models of the Hunt Class Escort Destroyers, intended for escorting the vulnerable East Coast convoys (see V & W Class Destroyers, 1917-1945; by Antony Preston pge 57). The rounds were raised by a lift on a "cruet" from the magazine and the mounting could fire 15 - 20 rounds per minute.

Each Gun Crew consisted of fourteen men, each with his own specific job to do. Frank Donald, a retired Lt Cdr in the Royal Navy who served in HMS VIgilant in 196? which was fitted with identical guns to those shown in these two photographs explains below the role of each man in the Gun Crew.

The crew of the twin mounting would be:

Officer of the Quarters – In general charge of the mounting and crew

Layer – Captain of the mounting
Seated inside the shield on the right of the mounting
Responsible for elevating the mounting and aiming it in elevation when in local control   
Equipped with sighting telescope for surface firing, and open “cartwheel” sight for anti-aircraft firing.
Trainer – Seated inside the shield on the left of the mounting
Responsible for training the mounting and aiming it in bearing when in local control
Equipped with sighting telescope and “Cartwheel sight”

2 Breechworkers
Standing on a step outboard of the breech of each gun
Responsible for opening and closing the breech, and opening and closing the Firing Circuits by means of the Interceptor Switch
When the breech is open the breech block is held down by a spring catch. The recoil of the gun opens the breech and ejects the spent cartridge.

2 Loaders
Standing in rear of each breech.
Responsible for ramming the round into the breech, using his padded clenched fist.
As the round goes home the catch is released and the breech closes and the gun fires. The loader clenches his fist to keep his fingers clear.

4 Ammunition  Supply Numbers (two each side)
Responsible for taking the rounds from the ready use locker or hoist and handing them to the Loader.
In anti-aircraft firing the round has to be placed on the Fuze Setting Machine so that the flight time can be set, before it is handed to the loader.

2 Fuze Setters, inside the shield, (one each side)  
Operates the Fuze Setting Machine to set the flight time, which is received from the Central Transmitting Station.

Communications Number
Mans the telephone to the Director and Transmitting Station

In the left hand photograph a ready use locker can be seen on each side inside the breakwater. The mounting is trained straight ahead. The Breechworkers are standing in place, and the breech blocks are down ready for loading. Two Ammunition Supply numbers can be seen on each side.

In the right hand photograph a coastal convoy can be seen astern. The mounting is trained on the Starboard Quarter at medium elevation. The Officer of the Quarters is standing on the left. The Breechworkers, Loaders and Ammunition Supply numbers can be clearly seen.  The ready use lockers are forward of the mounting, between us and the crew.

David Malcolm

David Malcolm had the difficult job of speaking after Havard Phillips about his father, John Malcolm, and his  wartime service in HMS Vanity. They were both RDF operators and were in the photograph of Havard's shipmates and in the same Mess but were not on the same watch. John Malcolm looks very young in the photograph below but was two years older than Havard. David Malcom does not have a record of what he said at the meeting at Winteringham in September 2017 but he has provided this short account of what he knows about his wartime service.

The Asdic team which tracked U-Boats underwater and the RDF (Radar) team which tracked them on the surface reported to the Anti-Submarine Control Officer (ASCO)
RDF Cartoon
Radar could track E-Boats and U-Boats making surface attacks on convoys
John Malcolm HMS Valkyrie
HMS Valkyrie, the RDF Training School on the Isle of Man

"My Father was born in 1923 at a small village outside St. Andrews in Fife, Scotland. After he left school he got a job as an apprentice plasterer with a small local firm in St. Andrews. When war was declared in September 1939 he was too young to join up so he joined the Local Defence Volunteers, the forerunner of the Home Guard. Some wags at the time said that L.D.V. stood for Look, Duck, Vanish! They were barely organised and had few if any weapons but they felt that they were doing something and doing something was better than doing nothing."

When Dad was eventually called up he was immediately sent to Butlins! Butlins, Pwlheli on the Gower Peninsula, which by this time was no holiday camp. It had been taken over by the Navy and turned into a basic training camp called HMS Glyndower. After basic training there, he was selected for Radar training on the Isle of Man. The Douglas Head Hotel had been commandeered and re-named HMS Valkerie.  The trainees, however, did not live in the hotel, they were billeted in and around Douglas and had to run up and down the hill every day for training. His training officer at the time was the actor Jon Pertwee.

When he was drafted to the Vanity she was undergoing a major re-fit in Rosyth dockyard, so he was given leave and sent home. Since home was less than an hour's train ride away, he went back to his old job and got paid twice. Once from the Navy and once from his old boss, he was in the money! Havard  told me that the Radar screens were not of the circular variety with the sweeping dial like the ones we have today. You had to look down through a tube at a thin green line and try to pick out any anomalies that you thought shouldn't be there. This put an enormous strain on the eyes and they used to get really bad headaches because of it. They escorted the convoys up and down the East Coast through swept mine field channels. These channels would be marked with buoys. At night German E-Boats would lie up along side these buoys and wait; they were very difficult to spot with Radar and they really had to be on their toes to catch one before it got them.  If they did run into an E-Boat they couldn't depress their bigger guns low enough to hit it. The best they could do was to put themselves between it and the convoy and try to fend it off with their smaller guns. Not much fun, Havard said.

In December 1944 Vanity was quite badly damaged in a collision in thick fog with a merchant ship SS Apex as described by Havard and was sent to Antwerp for repair. At that time the city was under constant attack from V1 and V2 rockets and Dad described how one could see and hear the V1's coming so had a chance to take cover but with the V2's there was just a loud bang and complete devastation. Soon afterwards Vanity was sent to Norway - see below. We still have a few of the souvenirs he brought back, a pair of clogs from Antwerp and a silver spoon and cup from Norway. All bought and paid for with the international currency of the day, cigarettes!

After the war my Father went back to his old job and tried to forget about it. He was lucky, the Vanity and her crew survived the war relatively unscathed. Had he been posted to another ship, we might not be having this conversation.

HMS Vanity in 1944
HMS Vanity (L38) as part of the Rosyth Escort Force in 1944
Photographed by Lt Cdr John E. Manners RN from HMS Viceroy

"Splice the  main Brace!"

On May 7th 1945 HMS Vanity returned to Rosyth having once again completed another North Sea, East Coast convoy duty. We were fully expecting to have a short break before setting sail escorting another convoy down the East Coast, calling at Immingham and the down to Sheerness.

Our Captain informed us that we would be flashing up and setting off at 0500 the very next morning. We were not too chuffed about this, but orders being orders, sure enough we were out of the pens, steaming under the Forth Bridge and out into the North Sea dead on time.

I closed up on my radar set (Type 271 - 5 inch screen- hand operated aerial). Other than marker buoys found nothing, no ships, no convoy! At 1100 on the 8th May The Captain came over the Tannoy. "Splice the main Brace!! The war in Europe is over. We naturally followed the order to a man! However we were not to return to Rosyth until early on the 9th May. HMS Vanity had been kept out to sea so the ship's company could not indulge in the end of the war celebrations taking place in Edinburgh on the night of the 8th May 1945. There were already enough rough sailors in the city that night!

As soon as we did return to Rosyth we were ordered to take aboard and stow in the engine room as many large cardboard boxes as possible. These we very soon found out, contained small tins of "Iron Rations or "Hard Tack". A couple of very thick, very hard chocolate etc. Needless to say that we were not very interested in our cargo or the contents. We were to "Flash Up" and deliver our cargo to the paratroops and service personnel in Norway immediately.

What a nightmare, when not closed up on the radar I was one of the night lookouts. I swear that some of the waves broke just below the bridge! It was Oxo and toast all the way there. So easy to heave up when calling for your old friend 'Bert'. However, after completing the morning watch, I came out of the radar cabin and found a lot of the ship's company hanging over the starboard side guard-rails. Looking over the guard rail myself I saw that my shipmates were very busy pushing a floating mine off the ship's side with broom handles! Someone mentioned in typical matelot terms that no one should strike the the mine's horns! Obviously no one did, otherwise I would not be relating this experience. When the mine was far enough away from us, the officers on the bridge believed that they could blow it up by using revolvers and small arms fire. They failed and the last I saw of it was floating away in the morning mist. I believe we must have sailed through, or very near an enemy minefield.

On arrival at Stavanger, we had to proceed slowly and wait for a German E-boat to come out and pilot us into the harbour. The German officer in charge of the E-boat made her 'turn on a tanner' (sixpence). Impressive.

The first thing I noticed on tying up alongside the harbour was that the sea was full of jelly fish. Fifty years ago the harbour was surrounded by small sardine canning factories. The heads and tails of the sardines were washed down wooden troughs into the harbour sea water. The jelly fish were thriving on this waste.

We unloaded some of our 'Iron Rations' and met some army personnel while at Stavanger and within twenty four hours we were on our way to Kristiansand, then on to Oslo. We sailed through beautiful fjords with wooden houses dotted among the pine forests, each small house proudly flying a Norwegian flag from it's own flagpole. Our ships loud speakers were turned on full playing 'Land of Hope and Glory' and 'There'll Always be an England'.

While in Kristiansand we took over an empty German wooden hall. We practically emptied Jack Dusty's store in order to lay on a buffet and entertain the Norwegian teenagers. The cooks (singe 'em and burn 'em) baked as much bread as they could. We really had a great afternoon, and after six years of occupation our hospitality was really appreciated.

Most of the Norwegians spoke good English, and I met one girl who's father had been a ship owner. I've often wondered what happened to her and her family.

Our next port of call was Oslo. The passage from Kristiansand was very rough, a life line was rigged along the iron deck in order to get to the radar cabin. One of my shipmates, coming off watch was very nearly washed overboard. A wave actually threw him at the starboard door leading to the mess deck and broke his collar bone. For the first time ever, our ship had a Doctor onboard. He was, I believe, a Norwegian Doctor taking passage from Kristiansand to Oslo and he was able to look after my shipmate. On arrival at Oslo he was transferred to a hospital where, I found out later, he had a wonderful time, the Doctors and nurses looked after him very well indeed.

We were berthed stern to and we were not very far from the main shopping centre and King Haakon's Palace. A shipmate and I went ashore for the afternoon and evening on the first day that we arrived. We noticed that some of the girls wore head scarves because they had had their heads shaved because they had been fraternising with the Germans. During the afternoon we met a Norwegian sailor who was serving with the Royal Navy. He had been based in Scotland for most of the war and had just returned home. He was very anxious to show us what a beautiful country Norway was and how the people had existed since Quisling had taken over the country.

We boarded a train at Oslo station and travelled to the small town of Skien (a forest area where ski's were made). We became quite apprehensive walking around the small town, as there were a lot of Germans still there. Some were queuing up at the local picture house with their girl friends. The scenery was beautiful and before returning to Oslo our Norwegian shipmate invited us in to a small cafe.

We sat down while he spoke to two men, who produced sheet of newspaper containing coupons. The lady cafe proprietor cut about a quarter of the paper out and then produced half a dozen rock cakes, which we enjoyed. He then advised us not to eat too many as they were made out of wood pith. Similarly when we arrived back in Oslo were invited to have a cup of coffee, which turned out to be made of oak leaves. Cigarettes at the time were made out of grass!

We said our goodbye's to Oslo and Norway and set sail for Rosyth quite early in the morning, but were amazed to see small motor boats and other craft sailing out with us, with the tops of fir trees in the bottom of their boats. Later we learnt that King Haarkon of Norway was returning that very day to Oslo from England where he had been in exile for six years, the small boats were going out to meet and greet him.

Geoffrey Barwell
Ex AB/RP3 R.N. (HO)
HMS Vanity

WO Collins
With his wife after the war
Commissioned Engineer Henry George Collins aboard HMS Vanity and with his wife after he left the Navy
He joined the Navy as  a boy sailor in 1917, served in Vanity from 8 July 1940 - 30 November 1944 and was invalided out as a Lt(E) in 1948
Courtesy of his son, Brian Collins

Henry Collins was born at Maidstone, Kent, on 16 June 1901 and attended Maidstone Grammar School before joining the Navy as a boy sailor on 28 July 1917. Two years later he signed on for twelve years and became a junior Engine Room Artificer (ERA) and worked his way up to Warrant Officer by April 1931. The reports on his Service Certificate are less formal and more revealing than is usual on such documents: "Extremely efficient, with excellent social qualities and a shy but pleasant manner. Quiet and reserved but gets on with the job without fuss or bother. Good messmate and an asset to the Wardroom Mess."

His son, Brian, could tell me very little about his father's wartime service other than an amusing incident when the CO of HMS Vanity rammed a fishing boat while leaving a Scottish harbour - but despite this accident retired as an Admiral at the Chatham Dockyard. He married in July 1932 and his wife stayed at home during the war raising Brian and his sister, who was born in Malta. Henry George Collins was invalided out of the Navy in 1948, due to gunfire damage to his hearing, as Lieutenant (Engineer) H.G. Collins Royal Navy. He continued to live in the Medway area and took up clock repairing as a hobby and performed on stage in village plays with his wife. He died at Gillingham, Kent, on 20 December 1989.

If you want to find out more about the wartime service of a member of your family who served on HMS Vanity you should first obtain a copy of their service record
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If you have stories or photographs of HMS Vanity you would like to contribute to the web site please contact Bill Forster

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