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

A "Tiffy" in Wanderer
by Bill Riseborough

This wonderful article was written first hand by Bill Riseborough, and sent undated to Vic Green for publication in the Newletter of the V & W Destroyer Association. Sadly, it was never published and Bill Riseborough died at Swansea aged 91 in 2014. His son, Bill Riseborough Jnr, rounds off his father's story at the end and provided the photographs.

William A. Riseborough was born on Friday 13 January 1922 and attended a Grammar School from 1932-7.  He was a talented artist but:

"My parents, mainly my mother I think, decided that I should sit the entry examination for Royal Naval Artificer, a career geared to the sciences rather than the arts. The Admiralty had, sensing the imminence of war, decided on an intake of one hundred and eighty Apprentices so in due course off I went to Chatham Barracks, Kent, on 17th August 1937, to join the Navy. After completing my apprenticeship as a "Tiffy", an Engine Room Artificer, I joined HMS Wanderer in July 1941 when I was nineteen."


Bill Riseborough, a retired "young" graduateBill Riseborough ERA"Their Lordships had no intention of letting us hang around in idleness in Chatham Barracks and within days I was in the Drill Shed, teeming with ratings awaiting transport to ships at sea.  We ex Artificer apprentices, now Electrical, Ordnance or Engineroom Artificers, were drafted according to our surnames, the A`s to G`s going to Battleships and Aircraft Carriers, H`s to L`s to Cruisers, M`s to P`s to modern destroyers, with R`s like me getting the more ancient vessels. The poor S`s onwards picked up the Corvettes and Sloops. 

In July 1941 at the age of nineteen I was allocated to HMS Wanderer, a “V & W” Class destroyer built in 1917 and pulled out of the Reserve Fleet to serve in the North Atlantic Escort group. But to me, in 1941, when first seen in the late August sunlight at Gladstone Dock, Liverpool, she looked the smartest and most beautiful ship in the Fleet in her green and blue dazzle paint camouflage. But I was in for yet another shock!

I carried my hammock, kitbag and suitcase up the gangway to report to the Chief Coxswain who looked at me cynically with hungover and bloodshot eyes before telling one of the gangway staff to take me to the E.R.A`s Mess, two decks down in the forecastle of the old destroyer with her crowsnest pole mast, stovepipe forward funnel and dustbin after funnel.

Chief ERA Richardson

"New Tiff for yer Chief” said the Quartermaster`s mate, directing me through the open door into the tiny space.

“What?” A grimy figure rose from its recumbent posture on a bunk seat opposite the door.

“No-one told me we was `avin` another one; `aven`t got enough soddin` room in `ere as it is!'

“Could I see the Chief ERA please?” I asked.

“Oo the bloody `ell d`yer fink I am then?”

I surveyed the scruffy apparition in shapeless blue serge trousers and a yellow vest with fearful incredulity. This was a Chief Engine room Artificer?  Cream of the Non-commissioned Officers?

“I, I beg your pardon!” I stammered.

“Oh god no! A bloody ex boy tiff!” the Chief muttered, “I `ates boy tiffs”.

This Chief ERA was a rarity, having learned, very skilfully, his trade as a fitter and turner not in HMS Fisgard but in the shipyards at Liverpool, obtaining thereby entry into the Royal Navy as an Artificer in the late nineteen twenties when the Navy was urgently seeking skilled engineering tradesmen. Ostracised by Naval trained artificers, he had nevertheless achieved the top rank in his discipline and developed a hatred for products of the Naval Apprenticeship scheme, like me. In the war, he found his friends among the “Direct Entry” ERA`s conscripted into the service from similar backgrounds to his own. One of these had been the junior member of the mess prior to my arrival and now became my mentor and tormentor. In hindsight, the Chief ERA probably adopted a rough and bullying manner to disguise an innately kind hearted and thoughtful character with the care and wellbeing of his artificers and indeed his whole engineroom staff a major consideration of his managerial philosophy.

In any case, at that time I was still full of romantic notions about the sea and couldn`t wait to feel the rise and fall of the heaving deck beneath my feet. A couple of days later we steamed out of the River Mersey and I couldn`t wait to get back into harbour! I was stationed at first in the engineroom where the movement of the control platform plates beneath my feet under the long swell from the northwest, combined with the hot, oil laden and steamy atmosphere, soon drove me up the nearly vertical ladder to the iron deck, then lurching to the ship`s side to empty my breakfast into the Irish Sea. There I reeled against the flimsy guardrails, feeling like death.

“What d`yer think this is then? Yer Daddy`s yacht?”

His foul breath nauseated me still further as the Chief ERA leaned toward me.

“Ain`t standeasy yet, yer know, boy tiff! Get back down below in the engineroom. Go on, - down below I said!”

As I slowly descended the ladder into the engineroom the Chief ERA called down to the ERA of the Watch, “Charlie, get the boy tiff to clean out the vap, that`ll kill `im or cure `im.”

While I was raking out the soggy mixture of brine, salt and potato peelings from the shell of the evaporator, the plant which converted seawater into distilled water, a stoker arrived at my side with a hunk of dry bread.

`Ere y`are tiffy, the Chief tiff says you`ve got to eat this.”

I shuddered, “I couldn`t eat a thing.”

“Get it inside you”, Charlie Cole, the ERA of the watch, came over to us, “You`ve got to have something inside your stomach to be sick with!”

I finished my task and went to the upper deck again to empty the bucket over the ship`s side then went to the galley to fill the bucket with more potato peelings to put into the evaporator shell before bolting on the manhole cover. Some stoker in times past had discovered that potato peelings helped to break up the salt scale which built up inside the evaporator. In fact, as Naval boffins later discovered, it was the starch in the potato peelings which performed this function and, by the end of the war, all Royal Naval ships` evaporators were fitted with “starch injection systems”.

Bill ReisboroughThe ERAs on HMS WandererThe ERAs in HMS Wanderer
Chief ERA Richardson and his team in HMS Wanderer on Christmas Day 1941
Cecil Whiteford, the ERAs messman was known as "Geordie", Chief ERA Richardson, 19 year old Bill Reiseborough, Alf Howard, "Johnno" Johnston and Leckie Tyre
The photograph on the left is of Bill Riseborough
Courtesy of Bill Riseborough Jnr

After a brief fuelling stop in Lough Foyle in Northern Ireland, His Majesty`s Ship Wanderer made her way out into the Atlantic to meet an incoming convoy from America. If the swell of the Irish Sea had been unsettling on my stomach it was as nothing compared with the violence of a North Atlantic storm. Steaming westward at her best economical speed the destroyer climbed each massive wave until her bows pierced the foaming crest. There she would hang for what seemed an eternity, her forward keel and asdic dome clear of the sea, her stern almost buried in the slope of the wave, until the balance changed and the forecastle dropped sickeningly and smashed with a resounding thud into the trough of the next rising wave. Nor was there much relief to be found in the few hours I was permitted to spend each night in my hammock, which swung in uneven swoops from side to side and bounced at the same time in harmony with the corkscrewing progress of the ship into the head sea.

The waves and weeks roared past and, despite my earlier feeling that death would be infinitely preferable to the life I was leading, I eventually came to terms with seasickness although I never entirely rid myself of this nuisance which afflicted me every time we set sail after a break in harbour. Neither will I forget the appalling living conditions in the old destroyer. Our “mess”, about twelve feet long by eight feet wide was shared by the Chief ERA, six ERA`s and the “messman”. In this space we lived, ate our meals and spent our few leisure hours. We also slept there, five in hammocks slung from hooks riveted into the deckhead, the “ceiling”, two on bench seats along the ship`s side and the messman, an elderly stoker known as Geordie, somehow balanced on a cushioned bench beside the single “dining table”. The Chief ERA slept on a ship`s side bench in dirty, offwhite “combs” a sort of thermal underwear which he donned at the beginning of each voyage and did not remove until our destination was reached. Each morning he would extend a leg to kick the underside of my hammock slung above him, with the words “Wake up boy tiff, want a piss?”

Also each morning our hammocks had to be rolled up with the slept in blankets inside, lashed with the required “seven round turns and half hitches” and stowed in the “hammock netting” which took up valuable space in the tiny mess.

 The ship`s bathroom, the “ablution space” serving the whole ship`s company except the officers, was at the after end of the forecastle on the Starboard side, separated from the “iron deck” by a canvas screen. It contained a wooden board about three and a half feet above the deck with four holes intended to hold enamel basins filled with cold water hand pumped up from the fresh water tank below or, if one was in favour with the cook, hot water drawn off the galley boiler. Adjoining the ablution space were the “heads”, a line of toilet bowls with wooden seats shared by the crew of one hundred and twenty men. The only real privacy was the “CDA Compartment” set aside for the toiletry of those “unlucky sportsmen” who had contracted venereal disease. The initials stood for Contagious Diseases Ablutions but were usually referred to as “Caught Disease Ashore”! With the upbringing you will have read about earlier there was no danger of my needing the CDA Compartment.

My Action Station was the engineroom but I also had to keep four hour watches in “B” boilerroom understudying the Stoker Petty Officer in charge, the first requirement for ascending the long ladder of promotion being the gain of a “Boilerroom Watchkeeping Certificate”. Entry into the boilerroom was from the iron deck [the upper deck] via an airlock as the boilerroom was kept under constant air pressure by steam driven fans pumping in the air needed to burn oil fuel in the boilers, sixteen tons of air for each ton of fuel burned.

Atlantic Escort

The Escort group of which HMS Wanderer was a member operated from two main bases, Londonderry in Northern Ireland and Halifax Nova Scotia with occasional fuelling calls at Saint John`s in Newfoundland and Reyjavick in Iceland with a return to Liverpool at approximately six monthly intervals for a week`s boilercleaning and maintenance period. Along with my shipmates I received my share of the “goodies” distributed by various charities, innumerable balaclava helmets, knitted blue socks and “Victory V” cigarettes. With no opportunity to visit a Naval supply store, officers and ratings acquired a motley collection of garbs which were worn at sea with the result that we looked more like the crew of an old tramp steamer than of one of His Majesty`s destroyers. We all had, however, one decent uniform stowed in our minute locker for those welcome breaks in Halifax and Liverpool.

On one of our visits to Gladstone Dock, Liverpool, we were given a complete repaint as some clever chap in the Admiralty had the brilliant notion that a lot of ships got themselves sunk by being silhouetted against the rising Eastern or setting Western sun! HMS Wanderer was therefore experimentally painted, from waterline to the tops of the funnels, a tasty shade of “Sunset pink”! This led to many outbreaks of fisticuffs in the Liverpool pubs with matelots from other ships in the group who referred to us as “Pinkies” and the ship`s camouflage as “Barmaid`s blush”!

At the other side of the Atlantic, Halifax was a beautiful, landlocked harbour and remembered most for ham and eggs, apple pie and ice cream and other dishes which one could not obtain in food rationed Britain. Iceland`s capital, Reyjavick, was simply icy but Newfoundland`s capital, Saint John`s had the “Caribou Club” on the jetty, run by volunteer ladies of the city, where you could get a cup of tea, a teacake and the pleasant but strictly platonic company of the opposite sex. It was from the Caribou Club that we were recalled one evening when every available destroyer sailed hurriedly for the Saint Lawrence river estuary to engage a U Boat pack which British Intelligence had discovered were lying in wait for an outward bound convoy from Canada. Presumably this was one of the first results of Bletchley`s breaking of the German Enigma Code and Wanderer sank at least one U Boat in the large bag claimed that night and got another one a few days later.

Someone once said that war at sea was ten per cent action and ninety per cent boredom which was to a certain extent true of the two years I spent in the ancient HMS Wanderer with her groaning hull, ageing machinery and leaky condensers. But that “someone” forgot to mention the constant discomfort of Atlantic gales, the cold bitterness of the Arctic and the continual dampness everywhere. At every dawn and dusk we went to Action Stations and frequently at other times when a possible U Boat was “pinged” by the Asdic operator or a Focke Wulfe Condor bomber was spotted shadowing the convoy. Like the rest of the crew I avoided considering the possibility of being torpedoed or bombed but realised that the fear was there, equally shared and equally controlled by most of my shipmates. After all, at sea there is nowhere to run to and many so called “heroes” were by no means heroic in fact but merely following the natural instinct to save their own lives.

Cecil Whiteford, the "Geordie" with a sixth sense for Torpedoes

It was this instinct that led to me, now a full blown Fourth Class ERA and engineroom watchkeeper, nearly being awarded a medal! The events leading up to my alleged bravery were in fact more warlike than the event itself and started at four AM one morning when Geordie, our messman and a veteran of the First World War who always slept with his lifebelt fully inflated, woke us all with his cry “Whist ye – torpedoes!” Cecil Whiteford was born at Alnwick, Northumberland, in 1896 and was in front line service as a Stoker from almost the start of the First World War until the end of the Second World War. He evacuated the beaches at Gallipoli, survived the sinking of HMS Russell in the Mediterranean, crewed one of the blockships in the Zeebrugge raid and rejoined the Navy in 1938, aged 41, to serve almost the whole of the Second World War aboard HMS Wanderer.

Geordie had a sixth sense about the presence of U Boats and had previously warned us of impending action stations before the bell rang its strident and blood curdling alarm throughout the ship. On this occasion he claimed he could hear torpedoes running through the seas below us and sure enough, before the action stations bell clanged out, we heard the crash of a torpedo striking one of the ships in the convoy. I ran to my action station in the engineroom then, after a few minutes, was ordered to go to the iron deck with as many others who could be spared from their duties, to assist dragging the exhausted survivors of the U Boat`s attack out of the icy Atlantic. They floated helplessly in the swell running along the ship`s side, black with the oil which had leaked from the stricken tanker, some with streaks of red showing from the wounds they had received, some badly burned and all too weak to climb unaided up the rope scrambling nets strung along the hull of the destroyer. Following the example of other, experienced members of Wanderer`s crew, I climbed over the guardrail to stretch out a hand and help the black and bloody forms struggling to climb the six feet from the sea to the iron deck. After what seemed an age but was only a few minutes, all who could be saved were on board and taken to the messdecks for kye, the naval version of cocoa, or to the wardroom which acted as the ship`s sick bay.

As I was going along the iron deck to return to the engineroom I saw another destroyer, one of our “chummy ships”, steaming along a few hundred yards on our Port side. As I watched there was a huge explosion as a torpedo caught her amidships, right in the engineroom, and she went straight down. More figures bobbed about in the ocean, identified by the tiny bulbs on their life jackets then, as we turned towards them for another rescue attempt, a further huge explosion blew them all sky high. Their own ship had been about to attack the U Boat which sank her and her Depth Charges were all primed for the attack. As their ship sank beneath them and reached the depth to which the Charges were set, the Charges all exploded.

The "Brute"

Two more ships in the convoy were sunk that night and Wanderer abandoned any attempts at picking up survivors in a hunt for the U Boats which kept us at action stations for the next six hours by which time dawn had broken and we had a U Boat pinned down, after a number of Depth Charge attacks, several miles astern of the Eastward bound convoy. At our previous boilerclean in Liverpool we had had fitted the ultimate in Depth Charges. A huge TNT filled cylinder, eighteen inches in diameter and ten feet in length, carried in the top tube of our triple bank of torpedo tubes ready to be fired over the ship`s side after being preset to explode at the U Boat`s estimated depth. There were however, two major conditions, the first being that the Commanding Officer must be absolutely certain that he had a U Boat`s position accurately plotted before he fired this monster. The second that the ship must be doing at least twenty knots when it was fired in order to get clear of the ensuing devastating underwater explosion. HMS Venomous, a sister ship of Wanderer, was fitted with the same devastating weapon with a one ton charge. It was known as "the brute" but was never used.

Our skipper, Lieutenant Commander Gardner, was convinced that we had the U Boat stopped beneath the surface of the Atlantic. After the last pattern of conventional Depth Charges an oil slick had appeared on the Atlantic swell and whether this was due to damage to the U Boat or the well known ruse of deliberately releasing some fuel to try to fool us that she had gone to the bottom, was irrelevant to Commander Gardner, he was going to get this one!”

In the engineroom we received the message via the Sound Powered telephone (SPT) from the Bridge to standby and the Engineroom Revolution Telegraph clattered up to two hundred Revolutions per minute, the equivalent of twenty knots through the water. The tension on the engineroom platform was tangible as the destroyer listed sharply to Port in a thirty degree turn to Starboard and we began to work up speed on our course towards the point in the ocean at which the U Boat lay, stopped and silent. The twin turbines changed from their quiet mumble to a hum and then a high pitched whine as we increased speed but the tachometers were indicating only one hundred and fifty RPM, five knots too slow, when we heard the “plop” of the torpedo tube on the iron deck above us as the mammoth Depth Charge was fired over the side. A few seconds later we were all thrown off our feet by the hammer blow which hit the hull. Electric light bulbs flashed and went out, the dynamos screamed as they surged on their mountings, pressure gauge mountings danced about and confusion reigned. The Revolution Telegraph then clanged down to one hundred RPM followed by the Movement Telegraphs changing to “Slow Ahead” and then “Stop”.

From the material and human debris which appeared on the surface of the Atlantic and was observed by the eager lookouts on the bridge and upper deck, there was no doubt that there was sufficient evidence for Lieutenant Commander Gardner to register a “kill” in the ship`s log. And no-one gave a thought to the fifty or so fellow seafarers we had just sent to the bottom of the Atlantic, who would have done the same to us had the opportunity occurred.

A tight Squeeze

But the massive underwater explosion, activated well below the designed and intended ship`s speed, had, in addition to springing a few of the riveted hull seams, shocked the Starboard condenser tube grommet joints causing them to leak. Routine silver nitrate tests soon revealed that Wanderer had the dreaded “condenseritis”, seawater in the distilled water used in the boilers, with inevitably disastrous results to boilers and turbine blades. This meant stopping and shutting down the main engines while the leaking grommets were replaced, - an obvious job for the junior ERA!

So I found myself cramped into the humid, fishy smelling seawater inlet to the Starboard condenser. To help me I had an overweight and sweating stoker, stripped to the waist and, like me, very conscious that the Atlantic lay just behind the gate of the closed inlet valve at our backs. It took about two hours to test, replace and retest the faulty grommets, two hours in which the upper deck crew ceaselessly peered into the sky and around the horizon, fearful of the sight of the dreaded Condor, or a periscope, to herald an attack on a sitting duck barely able to defend itself as the convoy and other escorts disappeared over the Eastern horizon.
When the job was completed I handed the tools to the stoker who passed them to the Chief ERA crouched outside the oval manhole entrance on the inboard side of the condenser inlet space.

 “Right” said the Chief, “Now hop outer there and let`s get this scrapheap movin”

The stoker put his arms, head and shoulders into the manhole and tried to wriggle through – and stuck fast! The heat of the steamy atmosphere had swelled his tubby body sufficiently to prevent its easy access through the fourteen inch by seventeen inch oval manhole, further hampered by the fact that he started to panic.

“Oi sprog!” It was the Chief ERA again, now grinning at me from the small observation opening at the other side of the condenser inlet.

“Get `is overalls off `im.  Go on, it`s the only way we`ll get `im out of there.”

 I tugged at the greasy overalls rolled round the stoker`s waist and pulled them off.

“Now `is drawers”. I hesitated. “Get a move on, we don`t want to be `angin` around `ere all day.”

I stripped off the stoker`s underpants, revealing a large pink behind.

“Now move out of the way”

The brass nozzle of a hose was pushed through the observation nozzle and a jet of icy cold seawater shot across the inlet space on to the sweating stoker`s backside. The triple effect of the shock of the cold water, the reduction of his body temperature and his fellow stokers pulling on his arms from outside had the desired result. He popped out of the manhole like a cork out of a champagne bottle, immediately followed by me.

How  I saved the ship!

Within a quarter of an hour, vacuum had been raised in the condensers, the main engines were being warmed through and the relieved ship`s company prepared to get His Majesty`s Ship Wanderer under way for a fast catch up with the convoy. Then once more the action stations alarm bell rang out, loud, strident and frightening! A Focke Wulfe Condor, whose pilot could hardly have believed his luck, was diving swiftly out of the low cloud to pounce on this lone ship, stopped in mid Atlantic, miles from the protective barrier of the convoy`s anti-aircraft guns. The Captain ordered “Full Speed Ahead” and, although we hadn`t a hope of achieving anything like our full speed of thirty knots, we were moving through the water when the Condor dropped its stick of bombs. Either this, or a misjudgement on the part of the Condor`s pilot, saved us as the bombs exploded in the sea on our Port side, sending up huge columns of foaming water and spray. By this time our guns had got range and direction under control and, although unable to shoot down the Condor, had done enough damage with air bursts to make the Condor sheer away and keep out of range. But fragments from the bombs had pierced the ship`s side above and below the waterline and we were taking in water fast in the engineroom where the damage control parties, of which I was a member when not “on watch”, were trying to stem the flow by hammering wooden plugs into the smaller holes and making pads and shores against the larger lacerations in the steel hull.

But the increasing speed ordered from the bridge in order to catch up with the convoy did nothing to ease our task and despite all our efforts the level of water in the bilges had risen to five feet and the Atlantic Ocean was still entering the ship faster than our pumps and steam ejectors could send it back again.

“Open the circulating pump injectors!” yelled the Chief ERA.

These were an emergency means of clearing the bilges by injecting the bilge water into the condenser circulating water systems while throttling down on their normal supply from the sea. After a few anxious moments it was obvious that the injectors were not working, the condensers were being starved of water and the bilge level was still rising. So the sea inlets were reopened, the injector valves closed and the condenser vacuums restored. By now the water in the engineroom was over six feet deep, swishing over the control platform and submerging the steam driven reciprocating air pumps which, to our amazement, continued working under water.

There were eight of us on the control platform, the Engineer Officer, Chief ERA, ERA of the Watch, Leading Stoker and Stoker of the Watch, two Damage Control stokers and me. We were obviously in a pretty hazardous predicament and the Leading Stoker, “Janner”, placed the nozzle of his lifebelt in his mouth and began to inflate it. The Engineer Officer was on the telephone to the bridge to inform the Captain of the situation. He rarely appeared in the engineroom, usually spending his action stations in the torpedo shelter on the iron deck above and had only come down on this occasion because of the aircraft attack.

The Chief ERA was sarcastically pointing out to Janner that his lifebelt wasn`t going to be much use to him in the sub zero temperature of the Atlantic when the engineer officer turned from the SPT and announced that the Captain had said that someone must unblock the circulating pump injector strainers. The Chief ERA even more cynically pointed out that the strainers were now under six feet of freezing cold water! Looking round the little group I realised we were all numb with fear and no-one was going to do anything for us and I felt in no way heroic but merely concerned with my own survival when I went to the engineroom toolbox, picked up a hammer and eased myself into the icy water beside the Starboard injector valve handwheel. Taking a deep breath I hauled myself down by the valve spindle to the strainer. Sufficient light filtered down through the water for me to see the wing nuts securing the strainer cover and I began to batter at them with the hammer.

It took three dives, each separated by a few moments gasping for breath at the surface before I was able to knock the strainer cover off its studs. I then hooked my fingers into the top of the perforated bronze strainer plate but couldn`t move it. I shot to the surface again and told the Chief ERA who handed me a small wheelspanner and told me to use it as a lever. This was successful and out came the strainer plate, blocked with oily cotton waste, rags and other rubbish which had found its way into the bilges. The newly cleared passage between the bilges and the circulating water inlet solved the problem and, with the sea inlet throttled down the Circulating pump rapidly pulled out the water from the bilges until it was possible to adjust the valves to obtain a balance which kept the water level under control and the condensers happy.

Half an hour later, after the loan of the Officers` shower and the application by the young RNVR doctor of iodine and lint to the cuts and abrasions I had received during my dives, I lay back in the comfort of an armchair in the Wardroom to which I had been invited, with a large Scotch to drink On the orders of the Captain apparently, who had also told the Sub-Lieutenant delegated to be my host that he intended to mention me in dispatches, recommending me for a Distinguished Service Medal.

Later, back in the ERA`s Mess, I received the even greater honour of half a tot of rum from the bottle “secretly” kept by the Chief ERA, maintained by small contributions from the daily tot issued to each ERA old enough to be entitled to their rum ration. This didn`t include me at the time as I was only twenty years old. Ratings under twentyone were designated “Men Under Age” and it wasn`t until you reached that age that you were given the rum ration. This was given as “Two and One” to ratings below the rank of Petty Officer, two parts of water to one part of rum, a practice started by nineteenth century Admiral Vernon to prevent sailors storing their rum ration. The water makes the rum “go off” within a few hours thus not worth saving in a bottle as had hitherto been the practice. His nickname was “Old Grog” from the grogham frock coat he always wore – hence “Grog” but he allowed his chief Petty Officers and Petty Officers to draw neat rum and they, strictly against regulations invariably bottled some or all of each day`s ration.  In submarines at sea, as will be seen later, it was the practice to bottle all of it and have a giant booze up on return to harbour at the end of a patrol!

New York

To repair the damage we had received, carry out a lot of other necessary maintenance and drydock the ship to scrape the barnacles off her bottom, we were despatched, to our great delight, to the United States Navy`s docks in Norfolk, Virginia. The USN hustled all of us off the ship and housed us in the nearby barracks. With a fellow ERA, John Johnstone, I grasped the opportunity to take a week`s leave, which we spent in a boarding house near Central Park in New York.

New York gave me my first taste of hamburger, fried on a hotplate in a servicemen`s club in Times Square run by Coca Cola who provided a free glass of “Coke” with each hamburger bought. Among the many attractions of this city was the “Stage Door Canteen”, a club set up by the American film and theatrical industry where you might find a film star of the day serving coffee behind the counter or chatting with the GI`s and sailors who flocked to the place.  I was never quite sure what her shobiz connections were but I was befriended by a young lady who rejoiced in the name of Nutz Gould Pick and claimed to have descended from the British aristocracy. With me she saw more of New York city than she had ever seen before; the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, the Natural History Museum and the Central Park Zoo. She also took me on the ferry to Orange New Jersey to meet her grandfather, the original immigrant from Britain, very dignified and very British.

At the Stage door Canteen it was possible to get free tickets to any New York theatre and we saw a number of the Broadway shows and plays that were performing that week. We also went walking in Central Park and dropped in for a drink at the then famous Jack Dempsey`s Bar on Broadway. She took me out to the Bronx and the baseball Stadium to watch the New York Giants playing against the Boston Red Sox! The week sped past in I was soon back at sea in Wanderer. Nutz and I exchanged addresses but I lost hers somehow en route to Norfolk Virginia and she either never wrote or her letters to “HMS Wanderer c/o GPO London” never reached me.

"Happy Birthday to you"

By sheer coincidence, Wanderer arrived at Gladstone Dock, Liverpool for a boilerclean, seaworn and battered, on my 21st birthday in August 1943. On the jetty at Gladstone Dock was the “Flotilla Club”, a Nissen Hut converted into a sort of canteen with bar and kitchen, run by the wives of some of the officers of our Atlantic Escort Group. After taking my turn with the mess electric iron on my white shirt, washed in a bucket and dried on a line hung up in “B” Boilerroom, I donned my “Number Ones”, a treasured venetian doeskin blue suit now bearing the gold buttons and crossed anchors of a Petty Officer as a Fourth Class ERA. Down the gangway and over the jetty I went with most of my messmates including the Chief ERA to have a beer and a spam pie in the club before heading for the delights of Lime Street.

In the Flotilla Club I booked a telephone call to Farnham and during the expected ages it took in those days to connect through the various telephone exchanges, I played the club`s piano. Being still a pretty reasonable pianist, several glasses of beer appeared on the top of the piano from various donors and by the end of the time it took to make the connection, I had forgotten all about my call, or why I wanted to make it! I heard my mother`s voice in the earpiece and then I remembered, oh yes: -

 “Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday to You, Happy Birthday dear Mother, Happy Birthday to you!”

I spent another six months in HMS Wanderer and, although she cost me a lot of sleep, immense labour in keeping her ancient machinery working and several moments of heart in the mouth at action stations, I felt sad to leave the old dear and still think of her with affection. The “Battle of the Atlantic” against the U Boats was turning in our favour and we then turned our attentions to the Arctic where we turned over our charges to the Long Range Escort Group who would take them on to Murmansk in Russia. Then, instead of a Boilerclean in Liverpool we took Wanderer to Plymouth to “pay off” before she herself was converted into a long range escort. As part of our “paying off” rituals, the Captain and some members of the crew were awarded decorations. I didn`t get the promised DSM but the Chief ERA did!

Back Home on Leave

I then had a welcome spell of leave, leaving the city of Plymouth, whose centre had virtually disappeared as a result of the “blitzes” which had started when I was an Apprentice there, for the comparative peace of Farnham. Farnham was relatively unaffected by the war although food and clothes rationing and the dog fights overhead between Spitfires, Hurricanes and Messerschmidts were the current topics of conversation. The town was also frequently flown over by German bombers en route for the Midlands cities of Coventry and Birmingham and my father had become a member of the Royal Observer Corps, volunteers who spent hours, in addition to their normal jobs, manning observation posts to spot and plot the course of incoming German Aircraft. The objective was to inform the Air Ministry of their numbers, types and course so that RAF fighters could intercept. It was, I believe, fairly effective.

My mother was also “doing her bit” as a telephone operator in the local ARP (Air Raids Precautions) headquarters and her social life had become a bit restricted. Gone were the great meals of Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pudding; food, meat in particular, was in short supply and had to be carefully apportioned with each family dependent upon the “Ration Books” with weekly allowances of butter, milk and meat. Lawns were dug up to make vegetable plots and people were encouraged to eat carrots by a government sponsored rumour that RAF pilots ate them to improve their night vision. And you needed good vision at night because of the “black-out”. In order not to assist the navigators of German bombers at night, all Britain was blacked out after sunset. Every house had its blackout curtains or screens which were put up at dusk. There were no street lights and car headlights were screened with a mask which allowed only a few small beams of light to filter through. Petrol was needed for the RAF so car owners had petrol coupons to restrict the amount that they used. Materials were in short supply too and everyone, civilians and servicemen, had a clothes ration book containing “clothing coupons”; so many coupons for a shirt, so many for socks and practically the whole book if you needed a suit!

Peter, my brother, was now fifteen, approaching the end of his time in the Grammar School and thinking of joining the Merchant Navy as an Officer cadet. Most of my ex Grammar School pals had either joined one of the armed forces or been called up. Hugh King, the Nazi adulator with the heel clicking habits, was now in the RAF. Others had been killed either in the disastrous British Expeditionary Force defeated by the Nazi Blitskriegs in Belgium and France or, like Tubby Allen, shot down when piloting an aircraft. During this leave I was able to go up to Darlington and visit my grandparents, my grandfather now having retired from the London & North Eastern Railway Company. While there I called on John Lowry, another ex Grammar Schoolmate, who was piloting a Witley bomber from Goosepool aerodrome, now Teesside Airport, and wangled me on board for a training flight. Unlike Geoff Louch, another classmate, awarded the DFM but shot down over Dresden, he survived the war and became a member of one of the London Classical Orchestras, playing the violin I believe.

My friends Mary McMullen, Maureen Harrison and Kay Griffin had left the Girls` Grammar School where Kay had been school captain and were now doing “war work” of some kind. They presented me with a silver tankard, for my 21st birthday, August 1943.

 HMS Maidstone & Submarines
Bill Riseborough Jnr rounds off the story of his father by listing the ships in which he served after the war, mainly submarines.

HMS Loch Insh                                                     

HMS Sultan                                                  
HMS Ursa and the Caribbean
HMS Ursa (Again!!)
HMS Raleigh                                                     
HMS Euryalus
HMS Drake

My father left the navy as Lieutenant Commander W.A. Risebrough in 1971 and moved to Swansea where he lived until his death in 2014 age 91

Life in the Engine Room
  Alf Floyd was the senior rate in the Engine Room when when he joined Wanderer as a stoker in May 1941

Bill Riseborough used to say
"all stokers became seagulls when they died..."


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


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