"Shortly after conversion to a Long Range Escort in June 1941 Vimy
was steaming from Gib en route to Freetown, West Africa when the Asdic
made a positive contact. With a new Skipper, Lt Cdr J.G.D. de
Chair RN, and a green, but enthusiastic crew, everyone dashed to action
stations. A depth charge was dropped and it was reported that the
target was surfacing. All guns were immediately trained on the likely
spot, when up came a ruddy great whale, he spouted, looked at us
reproachfully and leisurely swam away.
At the later 'Crossing the line'
ceremony we presented the skipper with "The Order of the Whale" with a
tin replica to hang around his neck. We later attacked and
seriously damaged the Italian submarine Luigi Torelli so the 'dress rehearsal' had proved useful."
John A. Lucas-Garner
Shane Harley's maternal grandfather, Robert Holland, was an AB in HMS Vimy,
and his paternal grandfather, Henry Harley, was in the Sherwood
Foresters and was evacuated from Dunkirk but, as far as we know, not by
HMS Vimy. The story of Shane Harley's two grandfathers is told on the page about HMS Vimy at Dunkirk. Peter McQuade's grandfather, LS Arnold Ludlow (P/5X 323893), was on B-Gun in Vimy.
HMS Vimy joined the Freetown
Escort Force in June 1941 and the "Crossing the Line" ceremony recorded in the
photographs below brought home by LS Arnold Ludlow (on left) and his shipmate
AB Robert Holland (right) probably took place while Vimy was
escorting a convoy to Cape Town, possibly WS.14 or WS.15, so the most likely dates are
27 December 1941 or 24 January 1942 as the Equator is about 500
nautical miles south of Freetown. They were both Gunners, part of the
new Commission after Vimy
converted to a Long Range Escort (LRE) at Portsmouth. The identity of
the photographer is not known but I was sent scans of the photographs
grandsons for use on this website.
The "victim" in the crossing the line photograhs was probably the Doctor. When he left Vimy in May 1942 the Captain noted in his book Let Go Aft: The indiscretions of a salt horse commander; by Henry Graham De Chair (Tunbridge Wells: Parapress, 1993).
were sorry to lose our Doctor (Surgeon Lt H Fitzgibon). He was a
gynaecologist and felt that his talents had been rather wasted in a
destroyer on the west coast of Africa, where his sole duty was to
administer quinine and various other perquisites of a tropical nature.
When crossing the line, the sailors lashed him with adhesive tape,
squirted red ink down his back and made him drink a double dose of
quinine. He had a fearsome beard.”
Despite sitting with his back to
the camera) the victim can be seen to have a thickset beard which matches De
Chair's description of the "Doc".
to UK after the first Crossing the Line "ceremony" to have new
condenser tubes fitted. This should have been done during her
conversion to an LRE (Long Range Escort) at Portsmouth in June 1941 but
was overlooked and now needed doing urgently. She left for UK with
Convoy SL101 (Sierra Leone - Liverpool) on 22 February 1942 and arrived
in Londonderry on 15 March after a hairy passage during which she
had to refuel at sea four times under difficult conditions. On arrival at Falmouth to have her repairs done by Silley Cox she ran aground as described by AB Lucas-Garner:
When Vimy was
entering Falmouth she ran aground on a sand bank. Despite going 'full
astern' she wouldn't shift. The skipper was desperate, as running your
vessel aground meant big trouble for a Captain. He had 'Clear lower
deck, hands lay aft' piped and all proceeded to the stern. The order
was given for everyone to jump simultaneously (all together, at the
same time, for the uninitiated). After several jumps by all concerned
and with the engines going full astern, the suction of the sand was
broken and we became unstuck. It must have been an unusual sight for
the people ashore to see so many matelot's behaving in such a peculiar
manner. Although on second thoughts I don't know.
This embarrassing incident occured in full view of Silley Cox's
dockyard and the ships moored in the Carrick Roads and was mentioned by
Sub Lt Raymond B. Venables RNVR who joined Vimy after her refit at Falmouth in Reel 6 of an amusing interview in the Sound Collection of the IWM
in London. The repairs took ten weeks and were followed by a workup, so
she probably did not get away till the end of June.
"We had 35 new youngsters and had lost most of our old hands" who all
required initiation into Neptune's Kingdom which provided the excuse
for the second crossing the line ceremony held when Vimy went south from Freetown to rendezvous with the battleship HMS Queen Elizabeth which had been mined at Alexandria and escorted her to the USA for repair. On 29 July HMS Vimy was an escort for Convoy
ST029, from Freetown to Takoradi on the Gold Coast (Ghana), and she
joined ST030A near Freetown on 4 august and went south to
join Queen Elizabeth on RT001 (Capetown - Freetown) on 11 July which
would be her furthest South. The ceremony would probably have been on 7th August 1942 and is described in this press cutting, reproduced in Let Go Aft.