the idea of this booklet first came to mind, it was intended to capture
some of the memories and recollections of the men who served on Vidette
for posterity. As the words speak for themselves here are some of
the memories of crew who experienced the rigours of life onboard." Joe
Signalman George T. Thompson
My memories will seem rather negative but others will no doubt give the other side of things, which were less fraught, when good times were had and shared by all. Included in such times were the many happy hours spent ashore in Londonderry when, after pleasant walks in the hills around about and picnicking on biscuits brought back from Newfoundland, we boisterously sang excerpts from the Mikado and other Gilbert and Sullivan Operas.
I remember our first sea trials out of Sheerness when, with our new Skipper in charge, we almost rammed another vessel – the weather was bad though. Our first trip after fully commissioning D3054, as Vidette was referred to before then, was in the North Sea to Reykjavik in February as I recall, the weather being atrocious and myself not having sailed before being terribly seasick but having to keep working and only being able to eat tinned plums and Carnation milk. The sickness lasted 6 months and I lost 2 stone in weight!
The number 11 Messdeck housed approximately 30, in quite cramped conditions below deck, the hatch of which opened onto the exposed Upper Deck, with the inevitable soaking when seas broke over the decks – which seemed to be almost daily! The air we breathed, pumped in by blowers from the Upper Deck, was mixed with smoke from the oil-fired engines and coal-fired Galley Smoke stacks. This made the Deck Head (‘ceiling’ to landlubbers) black and one of the lower Ratings jobs was to clean it.
The battle to stay onboard, when the 50’ waves were pounding us and causing rolls up to 45° seemed to me at times to outweigh the submarine crisis. As a Signalman, keeping my watch” on an open ‘exposed to the elements’ bridge, it took enormous energy hanging on to the searchlight to prevent being washed overboard, at the same time as wondering whether the ship was ever going to revert to an upright position.
On the food front, I remember the bread we took on in Londonderry seemed to be made with potato flour and after only a day or so at sea looked like blue vein cheese with green tentacles running through it – but it toasted, if not tasted, O.K. In any event it was just preferable to Bill Barron’s Biscuit Duff!
The occasions arose too when we ran out of coal for the Galley, which left us eating cold Steak and Kidney Pudding from tins. On the plus side was the Snow White bread we had on our return journeys, supplied by the U.S. base in Newfoundland and lots of other goodies we were able to acquire.
Ernie G. Bradley Ernie – Cook/Leading Cook
We really were a rough, but happy bunch, going off the rails a little when we were ashore, but when action stations were sounded, we were a crew ‘all for one and one for all’, just Brothers in Arms.
I was just a young rookie cook in 1943 and it became my luck and destiny to be leaving Devonport Barracks on Draft to HMS Vidette, with most of the other crew members one awful drab cold day in February (I believe). I was quite a loner, because I did not know any members of crew, as I was the lone Cook in the Draft as the P.O. Cook and the Officers’ Cook were already aboard with the advance party.
But of course, I did not know our destination or what short of ship I was to sail in. I now know that nearly all our crew members were first time sailors, rookies like myself, but after a long train journey from Plymouth we arrived late evening at Sheerness Dockyards in poor weather; tired and hungry.
I climbed aboard with kit bag, personal case and hammock. I was allocated to Mess 11, which was the Communications Mess, with members of our Radio Office, Signalmen, Coders and Radar, in all about twenty or more in our little Mess Deck. There was only enough space to sling eleven hammocks at any one stage and these were slung above and below – if you had fallen out of a top hammock you would probably have landed in the one below.
So it was first come first served on that first night. I was one of the unlucky ones, so I had my bedding on part of the lockers which also acted as seating for rest and meals – it was always bad luck should you want to get to your locker or someone was already sleeping or resting on it.
It was probably twelve months before I claimed a hammock point when one of our members left the ship, but that was life aboard and of course we naturally accepted it as such.
My duties in the galley were usually from about 8am until all the dinners had been claimed after the morning watch (12pm). The P.O. Cook did most of the cooking of dinners but as soon as the P.O.’s Mess Man had collected their dinners, he usually left me to finish serving the trays of dinners which were left.
My duties on the morning shift were that I had to pump up the fresh water into a tank with a rotary pump to keep the boilers full, for the range or cooking stoves, three in all boilers, two of which were mainly used for making tea, etc.
I would also collect the coal from the bunker on the side of the ship and keep full a small bunker in the galley. I can recall one instance when I had just picked up a bucket of coal from the bunker and the ship hit a wave or altered course too sharp and I went over ….. could have been serious if I had not been lifted over the top of the open hatch-way.
The method of cooking aboard ship was what was known as ‘canteen messing’. Each Mess bought their own rations and each day had to prepare their meals for cooking – all we had to do was to try and cook it for them. As chips were a favourite we had to make a rule that each Mess could only have chips once a week. As we had thirteen Messes onboard we would cook two or more smaller Messes’ chips on one night and the larger Messes’ each on separate nights.
Canteen messing had its good points but also its bad ones. A lot of the meals were not properly prepared, such as putting a tin of cooked meats in with uncooked vegetables to make a stew.
In very bad weather we would not attempt to cook such things as eggs and chips – the danger of the fat catching fire was far too great. How we managed to do what we did was a miracle in the conditions that we had to work in. The galley space was such that when four crew members were stood side by side we were full up and crowded.
As I spent most of my time in the galley, out of sight of the open decks, I missed a lot of sea life; such as going and coming out of ports and the sea life on the open waves. I do remember one time I happened to be coming on deck from the Mess, the old ship was alongside a tanker in the ocean, taking on fuel, and we had an attack by submarine against the convoy. I think we had just finished oiling and the old ship was turning away to get back fast to our position in the convoy. I witnessed a young small Stoker, who had been assisting the Chief Stoker, stowing away ropes and fuel pipes, washed out to sea under guard-rails with one great wave and by the ‘Grace of God’ swept back onto the deck by another great wave.
It would not have been safe to have tried to save him had he not been washed back onboard and when I was still watching seconds later, I saw a Gunner on a merchant ship firing a machine gun at a travelling torpedo but the torpedo hit the ship and just blew it to bits. I saw the bits rising and falling and then nothing left on the surface – that man deserved a medal.
Another memory was I was responsible for scalding two of my mess mates – their names now just a memory. I had just made the tea (brewed up) for tea time and this time I had made it in what we called a Jerry Can (a round container like a large jam tin with attached handles) to keep it from rolling around the mess. I placed it in a larger container which was used for the washing up and was tied to the hammock rack. It was not unusual for at least two crew members to be sleeping or resting in the hammocks. This particular day one chap jumped off the hammocks and slipped his foot into the hot tea – a hot foot bath!
On another occasion I had just made some tea, this time in the teapot and placed it on the mess table. Again it was practice for someone to sleep or rest on the bench seat which was the same length as the table and tied to the table legs. This poor chap was lying face down on the bench, which was the usual way, with your arms one each side of the bench to stabilize you from falling off. I had only moved inches to get myself a cup when the ship gave a great lurch and the teapot slid across the table and hit the siding (which prevented things from falling on the deck). The pot tilted over, off came the lid and the chap asleep on the bench had his bottom really warmed up!!
Another memory was the night on the quarter deck at action stations on the depth charges. My duty was to help in reloading the stalk which was the heavy metal stand which the depth charge was lowered into and when fired both stalk and charge was blown into the sea. This night I was standing just below the gun deck and someone gave the order to fire the six inch gun and the concussion nearly pulled my head off as I was wearing my tin helmet which was strapped loosely on – we had probably fired a star shell.
Again one night, while at action stations, we were chasing after submarines and there was something showing on the surface radar, which was thought to be a sub. Orders went out to stand by to ram and then it was suddenly stop all engines and there, in the fog a short distance away, was a merchant vessel about ten times our size – it appeared it had strayed from the convoy in the fog.
It was hard luck if I had been at action stations all night and morning came as it was my duty for breakfast so I had no rest until after dinner – with then a chance of going to action stations again at night. Most crew members worked three shifts; one on duty, one off and the third on stand-by.
Another occasion I remember well; it was, I believe, Christmas 1944, we had only just been in harbour (Londonderry) a few days before, half the crew were given leave and so I was left in charge in the galley. A day or so before Christmas we went ashore and had a practice run with a B.B.C. broadcasting team from ‘Down Your Way’, singing songs such as ‘I Belong to Glasgow’ and ‘Nellie Dean’. It was decided the B.B.C. team would come aboard us and other ships in the harbour and do the broadcast from there on Christmas Eve – our reward was a bottle of beer each.
Well, being the duty Cook I am afraid I was rewarded too well and, with having had so many sippers - that is a sip of the lads’ rum rations and me being T.T., by dinner time and broadcasting time I was not fit to stand and my good pals put me to rest and sleep in the Radio Office, so I missed singing in that broadcast.
In all rough weather we would ship water in our mess deck and it was nothing to find something floating around the deck on these occasions – usually clothing that had been dropped on the deck. I well remember in a stormy session we had the pleasure of Captain Hart doing the rounds with the First Lieutenant, John Pritchard, whose job it usually was. The Captain was quite concerned about his crew; he wanted to see at first-hand how we survived in such conditions.
After D-Day when we were escorting a merchant vessel to a destination near the landings and at action stations we had a radar signal which was thought to be a sub on the surface or an E-boat. We took a risk to see what it was, probably getting out of the safe, mine-free channel, but after firing star shells and using signal lamps we got no joy. It turned out to be a sea rescue launch belonging to the R.A.F. and the crew were taking a break.
It was a few days after this incident that I was drafted from the Vidette. During my time onboard I had passed out as a Leading Cook and of course I was being replaced by a Junior Cook.
What place I was put ashore at I never can remember, all I knew was that I was on my way back to Devonport Barracks for six months shore leave.
It was a very sad day and, after leaving the gang plank, I had not the courage to even look back, it was too much like leaving home for good – why I did not have the luck to stay onboard until she was retired, I never knew.
My general recollection of life at sea was one of endless rounds of watch-keeping, maintaining the armament and sleep – one cold day and night running into the next. My service prior to joining Vidette in Londonderry as a Sub Lieutenant/Gunner had been in the battleship Malaya, much of it in the tropics. My stomach did not adjust readily to the narrow-gutted V. and W. in the Atlantic in winter! With their narrow hulls and low freeboard, V. and W. class Destroyers were not cut out for Atlantic escort work and when altering course rapidly in heavy weather, especially at night, I always consider that the depth charge party were lucky not to have lost men overboard or have them suffer severe injury, especially when working with the old type throwers. They were good hard men.
I had to be so bold as to visit the engine room from time to time, if there were faults with the switchgear or bus-bars on the aft bulkhead. I often thought what a hell of a place that must have been during a depth charge attack surrounded by superheated steam pipes, fires, fuel oil and tons of scalding water.
I can recall a period of heavy weather when the convoy opened formation and we had to run before the seas. No fear of U-boats, but the galley fire was out and in spite of life lines rigged no-one dared use the main deck. Those on the bridge had to stay there and keep her running. If the ship had broached under those conditions and lay a-hull she would have taken in water down the funnel and other openings and foundered. I thought of the little ‘Hastie’ steering engine on which everything depended. I remember it as an inverted two cylinder steam engine with a worn gear between the cranks bearing directly on the quadrant. It never missed a beat.
There were some good and comical times. I remember smelling a whiff of peat smoke when closing the Irish coast after long days at sea. Suddenly over the loudspeaker we heard a Wren reading the weather forecast. There were shouts of ‘Christ, it’s a woman. Turn her up Nobby!’ Everyone stopped work – she had a most attractive voice. We all thought of a spell of leave and civilisation.
I also recall walks ashore at St. Johns, Newfoundland, on snow-covered roads through endless pine trees. There were a few of the majestic Grand Banks Schooners laid up alongside the quay.
Londonderry we were advised to go ashore in groups because of the
political situation. Once, some of us attended the dog races in
civvies. The ‘hare’ was a gorse bush in a sack, winched up the
track at speed by a rope on the rear wheel of a jacked-up car.
The hounds enjoyed it immensely and doubtless many a punt was won and
lost that afternoon.
One rare, hot, sunny day in March, while we were lying at anchor in Loch Foyle, we engaged ourselves in boxing matches and other frolics on deck. After getting hot and sweaty some of us dived overboard into the sea, the temperature of which was about as low as it gets in winter. I felt my heart give a thump or two and stop with the shock. I swam immediately to the ladder and was relieved to feel my heart start beating again as I climbed aboard. At the age of 20 you can get away with stupid acts!
What did we think of the enemy? Much has been spoken lately about the ethics of warfare. Members of the ship’s company who saw tankers laden with aviation spirit blow up in a ball of fire following a torpedo attack would have no scruples about sinking U-boats. Yet, as we were steaming slowly through the oilslick following Vidette’s last kill in the Channel and looking at the floating debris, I overheard a couple of seamen talking. ‘You can’t help feeling sorry for the poor bastards. No. But it’s either them or us.’ I think that summed it up for many of us.
Vidette was a hard laying ship which meant an extra 1s.6d. a day for seamen. We were also given neat rum, although following a punch up in St. Johns we were given ‘one and one’ as a punishment – this was a mixture of one of water and one of rum.
decision was made on the lower deck that this was to be tipped over the
side or we would never get neat rum again – it worked, as, after a week
we were back on the neat stuff!
I will never forget losing part of my ear to frostbite, by golly it was cold on the Northern run. The quack didn’t seem concerned, ‘never mind,’ he said ‘no two ears are alike’.
Our mess deck, which was near the bows and below the upper deck, known as the bear pit, had 22 men in it. There were slinging hooks for only 8 – my hammock was slung diagonally under two others and I well remember being trod on when the action bell rang – we slept fully clothed.
Jack Appleton – Signalman/Leading Signalman
I joined Vidette in January 1943 in Sheerness where she was just completing conversion to a long-range escort. We sailed from Sheerness to Londonderry via the North Sea and Pentland Firth to join B7 Escort Group under Commander Peter Gretton RN. After a couple of weeks of intensive training in anti-submarine techniques, both in the shore trainer and at sea, we joined the Escort Group to undertake our first Atlantic convoy. As I remember it this was a fairly uneventful convoy during which the main fight was against the appalling weather conditions; gales and mountainous seas which tried the patience and body strength to the utmost. A ‘slimline’ Destroyer doesn’t take too kindly to perpetually rough seas, so our Atlantic baptism was fairly fierce, which left most of us miserable, wet and totally dispirited for the two and a half weeks until we were able to leave the convoy to the local escort and proceed to St. Johns. Here we cleaned up the damage and rested up before we had to think of going back to the East with the next convoy.
I was a member of the crew of Vidette for 2 years and remember some of the crew members’ names: E.R.As ‘Nelson’, ‘Dick Wade’, ‘Lofty Whittaker’, P.O.s Crooks, B. Young, Skidamore, Gilliland, Chief Stoker Roberts and Stokers Micky Fee, Chivers, Reed, Pigeon – who was made Mess Deck Dodger, being the eldest.
When Vidette left Sheerness for our base in Londonderry it was for Pigeon to attend to our evening meal and he decided to put up a large pan of ‘Pot Mess’ – it took two men to handle it to the galley and back when it was ready for eating.
The weather was anything but kind, so that after a struggle to get it down to the mess, it had to be slung onto a hook to let it sway with the ship’s movement - and then it happened. Pigeon tried to get the pot off the hook and, at that moment, the ship lurched first to starboard and back towards port and in doing so the pan came off the hook and hit Pigeon full in the chest and then onto the deck. What a mess he was in, the air was blue and he was very sick to add to his troubles. I think we had a round of bread for tea – most of the men were off colour for that trip.
Another incident I can recall was on a convoy to St. Johns and this happened on a late Saturday night when one of the Seamen fancied a drink, so what did he do but break into the Officer’s wine cage. When I saw him he was beyond talking, just offering bottles to anyone who fancied joining him. The last I saw of him was next morning being taken away under escort – he was eventually transferred into the Canadian Navy where, I am told, he stayed for two years.
After the D-Day landings we were running in and out of Milford Haven and as we were pulling out once again to put to sea somebody spotted a dog in the water which came from a trawler who seemed only too pleased to be rid of it. But Dick Wade thought otherwise, so over the side he went and saved the dog and took it back to the trawler – Dick was noted for his daring!
J. (Jim) Walker A.B.
I think the storm which blew up in the North Atlantic during escort duties with ONS.5, B7 Group gave myself, the Bosun’s Mate and Duty Signalmen something to think about and something to laugh about at times.
We had the middle watch in the wheelhouse, Bosun’s Mate on the telegraphs, Duty Signalman on standby if needed, myself on the wheel. The seas were terrific, massive great waves crashing into the old Vidette – progress was practically at a standstill, trying to keep on course. It was the same for the rest of the convoy and escorts; then a voice from the bridge ‘Navigator, starboard so and so, course so and so,’ that was it – my job was to try and keep on course.
A massive wave hit us starboard side. If the crows’ nest had only seen rain water before that night it had a good taste of salt water then. The three of us were sent flying to the port side of the wheelhouse, followed by a terrific scramble to get back on course. The old Vidette had righted herself, she always did.
I did not query what went on in the Mess Decks and it was nothing unusual to have your dinner laid out on the mess tables, then to alter course in a rough sea with the whole lot flying under the lockers. After this it was back to opening tins of corned beef.
After the battle for convoy ONS.5 was over we sailed into Argentia, quiet and peaceful, a Coastguard base. It was there we saw Victor Mature, the film star, in the canteen doing his bit on Coastguard duty, I believe. We did not stay long; clean up, provision ship, oil, food, etc., outward bound to meet up with another convoy to the U.K. We did quite a few trips to Argentia and Newfoundland and back – not sure how many - but near double figures.
When the U-boats packed in we were detailed to escort ships and patrol for the D-Day preparations, Milford Haven, Weymouth and Portsmouth. On the Big Day, 6th June, we were cover for the invasion ships against E-boats, subs, etc. The scene that day was fantastic, but no such fun for the lads on the beaches, heroes everyone.
With Germany packing in or thereabouts we returned to base at Portsmouth. Most of the lads were drafted back to depots and a skeleton crew, including myself, took the Vidette to Rosyth to be scrapped. After we cleared the ship and the boilers shut down she was left cold against the dock wall. It was a sad moment really, after all she had been through – the two World Wars; the crowning glory of the Battle of the Atlantic and D-Day. A grand ship, equally a grand ship’s company; Officers, Seamen, Stokers, E.R.A.s – it was an honour and privilege to serve.
My mind goes back to when we joined Vidette, I was known then as the ‘Buoy Jumper’. As we went out to try the engines, another ship took our billet. It was my job to unshackle their cable and cable us up in heavy sea. I finished up soaked to the skin. Inbound I was given two tots of rum.
Another time in the Atlantic a signal came from one of the convoy to say that one of the crew had fallen down into the engine room and was badly injured. It was very heavy seas, I mean ‘Ruff, Ruff, Ruff’. My mate, Alfie Price, and me volunteered to go with the doctor in the cutter lifeboat. Despite trying twice the boat filled with sea water and we finished up firing a Costin gun line and they pulled us over.
Another time a Woolworth’s aircraft carrier had two spotter planes up looking for subs, we were crash boat for her. In heavy seas the first plane landed on the deck and went over with two pilots lost and the second suffered a similar fate, but the aircrew managed to get to the blow-up liferaft. We got to them before they gave up and with the sea the way it was, one minute they were ten feet above us the next ten feet below us. No one seemed to know what to do so I said to Pricey ‘do what I do’. We wrapped our legs around the guard-rails and pulled them in over our heads. We all finished up with plenty of rum!
G. H. Winfield
I joined the Vidette at the ripe old age of 18˝, it was my first ship. When I first went aboard I didn’t think much of her but after a short time I found its crew very friendly and helpful. Aboard was another chap from Derby, Bill Weaver and we met again after the war and became good friends.
remember being up in the crows’ nest in a storm, it was like flying
through the air in a box – I thought I would be blown away. Once,
after coming off watch, I was asleep on the lockers and I awoke to find
two baby rats on my chest. We had a few rats and cockroaches
onboard – sometimes a cockroach would be seen floating in the gravy!
Looking back I think D-Day was a sight I will never forget. I’d never seen so many ships and troops at one time.
When the war ended we took the Vidette to Rosyth for the last time – it was sad to think she was going for scrap. I served on other ships, but the Vidette was the one that I think the most of.
My most vivid memory after joining HMS Vidette at Sheerness Docks was when we left there and went to Londonderry. It was our first convoy as an escort ship. Hardly any of us had been to sea before so no matter how seasick we were we had to carry out our watches.
In our particular mess room (which I might add was not so roomy) we had a collection of Radar Operators, Signalmen, Telegraphists, Coders, Sickbay Tiffies, Storekeeper and consequently there was only a limited amount of hooks to sling your hammock. We had to pull the first one up as tight as possible, then sling the other one underneath, hanging like a ‘summer’ hammock. The remainder of the crew had to lay on the lockers that went round the mess table.
One particular rating, a Coder named Grieves, was lying not fore and aft but port and starboard and he happened to have his head toward the mess locker where we had our crockery kept, plus some jars of chutney, pickles and jam, etc. During those first days at sea we encountered very rough seas and, as the ship was rolling up to 60° at times, all these jars came tumbling out all over this Coder. He laid there for four days sick, as you can imagine – he was also green in the face and all you could hear was this low, long moaning sound. Admitted we were just as bad, as regards to seasickness, but at least we were all sleeping in a fore and aft position and therefore rolled from side to side. Poor old Grievsie had it the other way; first feet 60° up then as the ship rolled back then his head was 60° up. I shall never forget him.
When I first joined the Vidette I was a bit of a rebel, I wasn’t going to do this and that etc, but after about four months of being in the ‘Rattle’, (Navy slang for trouble), I finally came to my senses in the port of St. Johns, Newfoundland. I’d been given 3 days No.11 (punishment), for refusing to obey an order from a Leading Seaman. My duties were to chip the ice off the gun barrels of our three main guns; two 4 and one 12 pounder. When I had finished I reported to the Officer of the Day, who told me to do them all over again as they had frozen up again. Well, I thought I’ve had enough of this and from that day the rebel was reformed.
One day in harbour my mate, Alan Kemp, and I were painting the ship’s side when we came across an open porthole. On looking inside we could see some tins of fruit. This was Jack Dusty’s (Catering Manager) food store and I went and got a length of wire and managed to pull one close enough to grab. So, for the next quarter of an hour, it was eating peach slices instead of painting!
During one trip across the Atlantic Action Stations was sounded. I was in the Mess at the time and as I came up the gangway to the upper deck I heard a gun being fired. Looking across the sea I saw a Merchant Seaman firing at a torpedo which had been aimed at his ship. After a few seconds the ship was blown in two and broke in half and disappeared beneath the waves. A V.C. I thought to myself, but he wasn’t alive to collect it.
Another memory was No 11 Mess, which included Coders, Signalmen and Radar Operators, among others. We lived in a large cabin is the best way to describe it, as it was no bigger than an average living room. Hammocks were slung everywhere: above you, below you. When you came off watch at night the air was anything but fresh. We were packed in like sardines. When going for a wash you could leave a fortune on the table and it would all be there when you came back. A very happy ship and a good crew and officers.
only thing that sticks in my mind is the night we were in action
against the U-boats. I was the person who loaded the gun – in
other words push the shells up the breach. This one night all
hell broke loose and the shells were not coming up fast enough to be
put on the loading tray. The cordite came first, followed by the
shells. The Petty Officers in charge gave orders to load, which I
did - always obey the last orders. He then gave orders to fire
and all that came out of the barrel was a big flash – no shell!
The crew thought we had been hit but it was just the cordite going off
with no shell …. I am not allowed to forget this little mishap.
John Rowlands Pritchard (1914-2007) was the only surviving officer when his first ship, the destroyer HMS Duchess, was cut in half by HMS Barham while escorting her into the Clyde in thick fog on 12 December 1939. He was awarded the DSC while serving in HMS Highlander from February 1940 to August 1942 and joined HMS Vidette in November 1942 and left to take command of HMS Burwell in August 1944.
"A year ago today the White Ensign was hoisted again in the Vidette, after six months’ conversion to a Long Range Escort Destroyer and about one hundred and forty Westcountrymen were introduced to the bleak flat marsh country of East Kent, the majority for the first time, although others already had experience of the muddy tides and narrow streets of Sheerness. We were berthed, bows South, on the east side of the Great Basin on that day, if you remember, although we completely filled the whole side; we were indeed the largest ship there, with a record of twenty-five years good service since the first commission as a Torpedo Boat Destroyer in the Flotillas of The Ground Fleet in the North Sea of 1918.
This year seems to have slipped by very quickly but into it we have put deeds and records of which the Ship’s Book will be proud. We have steamed 56,219 nautical miles since the screws first turned at the Basin trials alongside the Sheerness Wall, each one a milestone in the Battle of the Atlantic.
We began to work up at a time when the U-boats were numerous and the sinking of our merchant ships was reaching unacceptable proportions but the first round trip of our fourteen crossings of the Atlantic passed quietly and the convoys arrived. Then came the misty night battle in May off Cape Farewell when over forty U-boats were determined to wipe our convoy from the track chart but ended by finding that they themselves were rammed, sunk and blasted into sulking and skulking the whole summer months in their ports on the West Coast of France, whilst Admiral Dönitz bolstered them with new gadgets and grand words for their Autumn sally.
174 depth charges and 9 patterns comprising 216 hedgehog bombs have gone towards these official Admiralty assessments, although beyond these there must be more U-boats which have been given plenty of exercise in damage control:
One U-boat destroyed by Vidette with Hedgehog in the May Battle.
20% of the credit of the sinking of the U-boat clutched by our radar at 11,600 yards during the Support Group trip and finally sunk by Sunflower.
15% of the U-boat found by the Liberator on a Sunday morning also during the Support Group trip and sunk by Duncan and ourselves.
One U-boat damaged by us in Convoy HX231.
many tons of fuel oil do you suppose we have drunk in the year at 445
tons a glass? The total is 8,903 tons, taken aboard at all times
of the day and night and twenty two times over the fo’c’sle at
sea. We only lost two blake slips during the whole business; the
Tanker lost some buoys once, but we fished them out of the sea and gave
But apart from all these statistics what also have we done to earn our living? We rescued three airmen the other Sunday from the Swordfish, which failed to roll heavily to starboard like the M.A.C. ship it was landing on and slipped over the side. The whaler has been dropped from phenomenal heights to bring succour to merchant seamen in distress and stragglers by the score, broken down with engine trouble or seemingly just tired, have been thankful for our moral support and encouragement.
We have somehow got ourselves in the news a bit and we have first-hand knowledge of the B.B.C. from both ends of the microphone. I heard the Christmas Day International World-Wide Broadcast and everyone said it was wonderful, but why did the B.B.C. chap have to tell the Quartermaster what he had just eaten for dinner?
is the places we have visited that stick in the memory – Greenock on an
overcast blustery day. Rothsay in spring sunshine and quiet
nights at anchor, Cyclops and
her submarines, the sweep of the promenade, dodging the Clyde
shipping. Hvalfiord – anchoring off Reykjavik with a run ashore
in view, to find that the convoy was weighing; leaving Hvalfiord a
driving wind, mist and a short green sea – securing the anchors.
Looking over the side at Argentia covered in snow, walking to
Placentia, carrying the rabbits back, fishing, rambling over the hills,
the club and the Fleet canteen and the hospitality of the USS Prairie,
through the locks and docks to Birkenhead and into dry-dock at seven
o’clock in the morning, St. Johns and ‘Derry; a week’s sojourn or the
jumping off place for leave …. It’s all jumbled into 365 days of our
lives which none of us will forget ……. "