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




Arctic Convoys to North Russia

Lt. Stuart Murray William Farquharson-Roberts RN

99 year old Lt. Stuart Murray William Farquharson-Roberts was born at Lower Bourne, Farnham, Surrey, on 3 June 1922 and apologises for being a bit forgetful but has a strong voice and a clear mind. His wife is in hospital but he is hoping she will be home for his 100th  Birthday on the 3 June. Capt S. M. W. Farquharson-Roberts  O.B.E. was placed on the retirement list on 30th March 1977.

In the late 1930ies he was sent to Brighton College, an independent boarding school established in 1845. He took the special entry exam for Dartmouth in 1939, was good at mathematics, passed, did well at the interview and entered the Royal Navy College, Dartmouth, aged eighteen in 1940. On the 3 June 1940, his 18th birthday and
second day at Dartmouth, he received a message that his father, Colonel M.F. Farquharson-Roberts of the Royal Army Service Corp (RASC), had escaped from Dunkirk aboard a destroyer. It could have been HMS Venomous, the destroyer my father served in much later in the war, which on that day brought back 1,400 troops including Generals Alexander and Percival.

HMAS Australia and the Battle of Dakar

At the end of his first term at Dartmouth twenty of the cadets volunteered to begin their service as midshipmen in allied warships. Stuart Farquharson-Roberts was one of three cadets who joined the Australian heavy cruiser,  HMAS Australia (Captain R.R. Stewart R.N). HIs wartime service had a dramatic beginning when HMAS Australia was sent to Dakar, the French naval base on the west coast of Africa, to demand the surrender of the French Fleet after the fall of France, Operation Menace. It was mportant to prevent the French Fleet falling into German hands, and especially their new battleship Richelieu.

HMAS Australia was part of a powerful force which included an aircraft carrier, the Ark Royal, two battleships, HMS Barham and Resolution, five cruisers and eleven destroyer escorts. On 23 September they were ordered to steam offshore so that the French warships could see how powerful they were and be persuaded to surrender and join the Free French forces under General de Gaulle. Their orders from naval headquarters required them to determine whether the French were “Happy, sticky or nasty”. Mid Stuart Farquharson-Roberts was on the Air Defence Position above the bridge with a clear view of what happened as they approached. The Walrus, their catatapult launched flying boat, took off to observe the French fleet and was shot down killing all three of its crew and when HMAS Australia came within range the French shore batteries opened fire. From his position above the  bridge Stuart thought the shells were hurtling straight towards him. It was clear that the French were "nasty" and had no intention of surrendering.

The powerful French destroyer L'Audacieux left harbour and steamed towards HMAS Australia. Captain R.R. Stewart R.N. decided to signal her in French to surrender or she would be sunk but neither he or the Australians on the bridge knew any French. His 18 year old Midshipman, until recently a schoolboy at Brighton College, called out that he knew some French and was told by Captain Stewart to come on down. He had a problem with  the French word for sunk but a dictionary was brought to the bridge and Stuart's translation was signalled to the French destroyer and received a single word reply, "Jamais". Captain Stewart asked what it meant and Stuart told him, "Never!" The Captain ordered Australia to open fire at 1624/23 and three minutes later the French destroyer was on fire from stem to stern. According to one report a RN destroyer was sent to pick up survivors but the French shore batteries opened fire on her and she withdrew. The French ship burned for 36 hours and was eventually beached.

A landing was attempted by Free French troops from French sloops but withering fire from a strong point overlooking the beach thwarted this attack and it was called off. General de Gaulle is supposed to have declared, "He did not want to shed the blood of Frenchmen for Frenchmen" and Operation Menace was abandoned leaving Vichy Forces in control of Dakar. Midshipman Mackenzie J Gregory also serving in HMAS Australia gives a more detailed account of the Battle of Dakar on Ahoy, Mac's Web Log. In November 1942, Vichy French forces in North Africa switched sides and joined the Free French and after repair in New York the French Battleship  Richelieu served with the Home Fleet at Scapa Flow and in the war against Japan in the Pacific.

Return to Britain on a banana boat

Midshipman Farquharson-Roberts left HMAS Australia near Sydney, Australia, on 24 June 1941 and his S264, the "flimsy" he received from Capt Stewart, noted that he was “cool and collected in action”. He and the other two Midshipmen from Dartmouth, Ian Campbell and Rober R. "Bob" Fernie (killed when the submarine, HMS Regent, was lost on 11  April 1943) returned to Britain in a "banana boat", MV Port Dunedin, a Defensively Equipped Merchant Ship (DEMS), with six DEMS Gunners, as described by Alick Sangster:

“On Port Dunedin our quarters were aft, part of the after hold and next to the steering flat. The accommodation was reasonable for the times with bunks for eight in all, though there were only six of us. We also had 'heads' on the port side, and a wash room and mess on the starboard side. We had the same food as the rest of the crew, brought from the galley. Our armaments were Hotchkiss machine guns on the bridge wings, and a Marlin gun on the monkey island. We also had a 12 pounder AA gun. This was mounted aft, just forward of the 4.7" anti sub gun, both located on top of the accommodation of the bosun, chippy and donkeyman."

The French Atlantic ports were occupied by Germany and their convoy headed east across the Pacific and through the Panama Canal to the Atlantic. They headed  along the eastern seabord of the United States to Halifax in Nova Scotia where the convoys assembled for the Atlantic crossing to Liverpool, staying well clear of the French coast. The Port Dunedin  joined Convoy  HX143, a large convoy of 73 ships,  which left Halifax on 5 August 1941. Stuart remembered passing HMS Prince of Wales and seeing Winston Churchill smoking a cigar on the quarter deck. The three Midshipman stood on the port side of their banana boat and saluted him as they passed and he waved back. Churchill was returning to Britain after signing the Atlantic Charter on 13 August with Rosevelt aboard the USS Augusta in Placenta Bay, Newfoundland. This brief encounter made a deep impression on all the ships in the convoy - and on Churchill:

"15th - At about 1500 hours in approximate position 60N, 34W the PRINCE OF WALES closed convoy HX 143 (Ex Halifax 5/8/41, 73 mercantiles escorted by the AMC WOLFE, destroyer BURNHAM and corvettes AGASSIZ, GALT, LEVIS and MAYFLOWER). Churchill had the battleship steam through the middle of the convoy flying the signal 'Bon voyage, Churchill', Churchill stood at the rail waving and the ships of the convoy hooting in return. Churchill enjoyed the experience so much he had Captain Leach reverse course and repeat the manoeuvre."
Naval-hißtory.net

Navigation Officer on Arctic Convoys to Russia

At the age of 99 Stuart Murray William Farquharson-Roberts can no longer remember the sequence of the ships in which he served and exact dates but after returning to Britain he served in  the heavy cruiser HMS Cumberland, the old R-Class destroyer HMS Skate and spent a few weeks on the V & W Class destroyer, HMS Vanity escorting East Coast Convoys and on the battleship HMS Renown before taking his Seamanship Exam and joining HMS Archer, a "Woolworth's  Carrier", an escort carrier built quickly on the cheap from the hull of a merchant ship. The British built Woolworth's Carriers and the American Attacker Class escort carriers swung the balance in favour of the escorts for Arctic Convoys. He joined HMS Westcott as Navigation Officer in 1943.

Bob Smale, Leading Signalman, and former Lt Stuart Farquerson-Roberts with his wife Ursula at the Westhill Hotel, Jersey
Bob Smale, Leading Signalman (on left) with Lt Stuart M.W. Farquharson-Roberts RN and Stuart's wife Ursula at a reunion of the "Westcott Club"
Viv Fairweather supplied the photograph which is thought to have been taken at the Victory Services Club in London in 1991


Arctic Convoy RS.55A
Christmas Day 1943

This brief description of Christmas Day 1943 when HMS Westcott was escorting return convoy RS.55A was first published in Hard Lying, the magazine of the V & W Destroyer Association, and republished along with many other articles from Hard Lying in Stormy Fairweather's book of the same name.

"On that day I was a 21 year old Lieutenant, one of three bridge watch keepers in HMS Westcott, a WWI destroyer, escorting the homeward bound convoy RA.55A, roughly south of Bear Island. I had the middle watch, so Christmas started for me at 0001 on the bridge. Course west, wind south west rising to gale force, plenty of icy spray. We spent much of the time finding four fleet destroyers, lent for protection, but to pass them the message that they were now required to join the eastbound convoy JW55B which had recently passed us.

My next watch was the afternoon, so Christmas lunch had to be taken alone in the wardroom at around 1130. Our course was now northwest towards the pack ice, presumably to distance us from trouble - intelligence reporting that the mighty battlecruiser SCHARNHORST was stirring and might be sailing north. The wind was now gale force and on our port beam, strong enough to roll us 45 to 50 degrees to starboard. To stop everything flying about, the wardroom staff secured the settee and the two arm chairs hard up against the starboard wall settee, thus making a comfortable channel in which to sit with lunch on one's lap, without fear of the meal taking flight. Despite the turmoil the steward produced delightful roast beef and a wonderful roast potato - why "wonderful"? Because we only had upper deck stowage for vegetables, so after three days out from our Russian port anything not eaten would be frost bitten and ditched. The wardroom cook [bless him!] kept enough spuds below to give us all one for Christmas. Otherwise it would have been rice balls - edible but not quite the same. Next came the usual figgy duff, nice enough!

Soon it was time for my duffel coat, oilskin and neck towel - at all costs keep the icy spray off your chest! - and now the very careful opening of the starboard watertight door to the upper deck. This has five steel clips, one above and below, three down the side, the middle where a handle would normally be. This one you leave to last, and seize the moment when returning from the big starboard roll to get out. You now have a few seconds in which to close all five clips, get round forward of your superstructure where you reach a long, high, taut jackstay reaching to the break of the forecastle. From it hang strips of rope called lizards, with hard eyes so they can travel along the jackstay. You grab one and start walking along the iron deck - V&W destroyers have no passage below. Once or twice progress will be interrupted when the big roll lets seawater foam across the deck - "shipping it green", as they say. This can dislodge your seaboots' slippery grip, but as long as you keep hugging that lizard you will soon get going again. At least you can see things; midday in midwinter at those latitudes gives you a dim dawn slowly turning into a similar dusk, with about 21 hours of darkness ahead. Arriving at the forecastle you change grip with care to a metal rung ladder - gloves essential, the icy rungs would take strips off your bare hands - and after three such ladders you are back on your open bridge.

Christmas afternoon brought the news that the Scharnhorst and escorting destroyers were at sea, probably after the laden outward convoy JW.55B, that three of our cruisers were joining its defence. One was Belfast, still alongside at London. The Home Fleet was steaming east at top speed to join the fray. In RA.55A we were fast leaving the scene but could follow the Boxing Day ensuing battle by radio, since Admiral Frazer in the battleship Duke of York decided to use plain language for signals for greater speed of action. As the gallant Scharnhorst finally went down fighting there was rejoicing, but 70 years on one remembers that only 36 survivors were picked up from 1,767 men. Men probably very similar to us, and often with a common enemy, the sea."

Northbound convoy JW.56B
Arctic Convoys 1944

This description of a typical Arctic Convoy by Stuart Farquharson-Roberts based on notes written during the convoy was written for Tom Chapman's book Water, Water, Everywhere. It describes northbound convoy JW56B which left Loch Ewe on 22 January 1944 and return Convoy RA56 which left Murmansk on 3 February 1944 and arrived on 11 February.

22.1.44

After a very tiring night spent at action stations, dragging the anchor, we proceeded across Loch Ewe to find a more sheltered billet. The wind moderated slightly, and one began to wonder whether conditions were fair enough to put to sea. The disadvantage of doing so was a debatable matter. We would have greatly liked a good night in before leaving harbour (the previous night being less of a night in than one would ever get at sea) but on the other hand the convoy had already been delayed several days on account of the weather and prevailing opinion was “lets get the evil business over and done with”.


Wishful thinking was brought to an end however when the Commodore hoisted his ‘Weigh and Proceed’ signal. Since we were the Senior Officer for the opening stages we had to be out with the leading hip, which was rather annoying as it always means hanging around for hours outside until the convoy forms up.

Heavy seas were encountered as soon as we left Loch Ewe. Not a propitious start. Coming up suddenly the weather caused nearly half the ship’s company to succumb to sea sickness. Thanks to the doctors pills I was among the happier half.

After the usual stooging around while the convoy joined up, we took up station ahead and proceeded to Iceland. For some days past, grim signals had been coming in, an extremely severe gale had broken up the convoy ahead of us and we soon passed one or two ships which had to leave and subsequently turn back, JA56A (Roskill).

The expected seldom happens however and we struck nothing worse than a heavy swell and a force 6 wind from the SW, quite normal for these waters.

25.1.44

Two uneventful days passed in the convoy and we picked up land echoes by radar at long range on the morning of the 25th. As we had to refuel at Suddisfjord we left. Convoy behind at 1000 hrs and carried on t 18 knots.

During the afternoon a local offshore wind picked up, quickly becoming a force 8 gale and lashing the sea up until we had to reduce speed on account of the heavy bumping. One of the advantages of being in these old destroyers is that one has to take care of them more than the fleet destroyers in heavy seas, since their old plates cannot stand up to much without the rivets beginning to loosen. Consequently, it never becomes too uncomfortable. During the afternoon a fleet of destroyers which has unsuccessfully tried to meet us eight hours earlier went past at 20 knots and at times gave a very realistic imitation of a submarine.

It was bitterly cold, and the spray froze almost before it hit the bridge, so we were soon iced up on the standing rigging and fo’castle guard rails.

We entered Suddisfjord about 1630 and wen straight alongside the oiler. After a while the Whitehall came alongside, and we were able to take a few drinks together and wish each other luck before the long trip started.

We slipped at 2200 and proceeded to re-join the convoy, first securing the ship in anticipation of heavy weather. Once again, we met the unexpected, the wind dropped, and a brilliant aurora was playing over a clear blue sky. We picked up the convoy without difficulty, taking up station well ahead until daylight afforded us better chance of sorting things out.

26.1.44

The 3rd destroyer flotilla joined the convoy as expected next forenoon and we took up position on the port quarter of the convoy. The convoy now had a formidable escort of six fleet destroyers, twelve V & W destroyers, several fleet sweepers and some corvettes, far more than would be found on any Atlantic convoy. This is probably due to the possibility of interference by the Tirpitz in Kola fjord or a flotilla of German destroyers.

Continued
During the day a sea swell subsided, the wind dropped and for once it was quite pleasant to be on the job. Calm weather means increased enemy activity, however, so we were not surprised to see an unidentified aircraft during the afternoon at extreme range – probably a JU88 making preliminary reports of the convoy movements. It soon disappeared and we rightly surmised that that we had been spotted and reported to the Germans. This meant a probable return of the aircraft the next day to check up on our speed and possibly start homing the U-boats and other aircraft homing in on us.

27.1.44

Sure enough, at 1300 the next day he was back again, a bit bolder this time. Coming within range of one or two of the heavier armed ships. He would have to be close indeed to come within effective range of our two four-inch guns. However, hope springs eternal and we closed up at air station action stations on the off chance. By now it was quite clear the enemy knew all about us and from other information received we knew that several U-boats were converging on us. Reports from the convoy ahead indicated that they had been through a heavy attack, three merchant ships had been sunk and one escort damaged. This afforded us one consolation in that at least six U-boats had had their stings drawn and would be going home for new ones.

28.1 44

The convoy ahead had reached their destination the next day and we were very pleased to hear that the 26th destroyer flotilla was doing a quick turn around and coming back to help us. The U-boats would now have a very tough nut to crack, with such a strong support group patrolling around the convoy, leaving a strong screen intact.

Meanwhile, the general situation pointed to an attack by U-boats not before the 29th for they do not attack as they arrive but wait and form up into a pack some way off first. On the other hand, a large-scale air attack with glider bombers and other horrors was quite on the cards for the 28th.

Continued
But the air attack never came, possibly they are running out of aircraft in other outposts of their ill-gotten Empire. Instead, the normal shadow turned up punctually at 1300, a BV 138 this time. He stayed about an hour.

29.1.44

Now for it? RT silence had been broken all ships were on top line, at 1100 on the 29th we saw and heard heavy gun fire on the horizon by the starboard quarter of the convoy. The report soon came over the air Whitehall and Mahratta were engaging two surface U-boats. Whitehall again! She always seems to have the fun. No jealousies are as strong as family ones, as in the case here where her Skipper, Lt Cdr Cowell is my second cousin-in-law. A few minutes later both U-boats had dived, no hits had been observed and the two destroyers proceeded to sit on ‘em gradually dropping astern. Soon the distant rumble of depth charges which were to be heard almost incessantly for the next three days announcing headaches, at least, for the two U-boat crews. Even if the depth charges do not prove fatal, they achieve the chief aim of preventing the submarines concerned from taking any further part in the operation. For although the hulls take a lot of cracking electric light bulbs and already frayed nerves don’t.

On the strength of this excitement we had gone to action stations, which was just as well as a couple of shadowing BV138’s decided to have a really close look at us. This gave us a long-awaited chance to open fire, but it was an abortive shoot. The rounds falling into the water at short range. Still, it achieved the purpose of masking the planes keep their distance. We switched to defence watches (one in two instead of one in three) so as to have both guns manned, but apart from Whitehall and Mahrattas’ continued attacks, nothing further happened during the afternoon and the convoy arrived safely in Kola on 2.2.44. Returning with 37 ships on the 3 February, arriving at Loch Ewe on the 11 February  1944.

On the 27 March 1944 Westcott escorted JW.58 from Loch Ewe and arrived at Kola on 5 April with no losses and returned with RA.58 from Kola on 7 April arriving back at Loch Ewe on the 14 April 1944.

Lt. Stuart Murray William Farquharson-Roberts RN

On leaving HMS Westcott he joined HMS Conn, a turbo-diesel ("Buckley") Captain Class frigate named after Captain John Conn of HMS Dreadnought at the Battle of Trafalgar. Her CO was Lt Cdr Raymond Hart who had commanded the V & W HMS Vidette, a member of the B7 Escort Group during the defence of Convoy ONS.5 in April 1943. Hart was the  Senior Officer of the 21st Escort Group (1944-45) in Conn and led them in sinking three U-boats in March 1945, two in one day. Stuart Farquharson-Roberts remained in the Royal Navy after the war and retired as Capt Stuart M.W. Farquharson-Roberts RN in 1977. He lives in Steep, Hampshire, has internet access and e-mail (via his carer) and still occasionaly drives a car.


"The Most Ancient Order of the Blue Nose"

Blue Nose Ceretificate - HMS WESTCOTT, 1943-4
"Blue Nose Certificates" were awarded to crew members on entering the Arctic Circle for the first time
George Rankin Raeburn was a shipmate of Stormy Fairweather on HMS Westcott in 1943-4 when Lt Cdr Hedworth Lambton RN was the CO
The "blue Nose Certificate" was drawn by Signalman Leslie Lawrence


Edwin Philip "Ted" Cross
RDF Operator in Westcott, June 1943 to the end of the War

No hiding placeHMS Valkerie on therisle of ManTed Cross was born at Erith in Kent on 11 July 1925. He left school at 14 and had several jobs before volunteering for the Navy six months before his eighteenth bithday to avoid being conscripted into the Army. He did his ten weeks basic training course at HMS Collingwood at Fareham in Hampshire.

He opted to be an RDF Operator, the word used at that time for Radar, a new technology which could track submarines when surfaced while ASDIC tracked them when submerged; there would be "no hiding place" for German u-boats. He did his RDF training on the Isle of Man at HMS Valkerie and joined HMS Westcott in June 1943 at the start of her final Commission after conversion to a Long Range Escort (LRE).

Westcott worked up at Londonderry after her conversion and in September joined the 4th Escort Group which included HMS Wrestler and Whitehall at Liverpool escorting Atlantic Convoys but it was not long before she was transferred to the 8th Escort Group based at Greenock on the Clyde escorting Arctic Convoys to Northern Russia.

There were six RDF Operators in Westcott split between Red, Blue and Green Watches, with two on duty at a time in the RDF officce. It was impossible to maintain ones concentration to the fickering screen for an entire four hour Watch so two men were required. At the end of a Watch the duty operatives had four hours off before going on Watch again. He was also First Lt Ernest Quarrie RNR officer’s servant, tidying his cabin and bringing him tea when in harbour.

Ted spent his time off duty sleeping and eating in his Mess. The Mess Deck was three foot beneath sea level and reached via a hatch and a vertical ladder. Ted Cross was in Number Six Mess on the Port side which was occupied by fifteen specialist ratings:  6 RDF operators, 3 HDF operators, a radio mechanic, a Chef, Leading Chef and three Quartermasters. “Stormy” Fairweather was on the same mess deck as Ted Cross but on the starboard side in Number Five Mess with the Signalmen. The three seamen’ messes were in the forecastle and there was also a Stokers Mess and a  Petty Officers Mess.

Arctic Convoys

During the "Summer Break" Russia was supplied by the southern route through the Persian Gulf and then overland, The escorts headed North to bring the empties back (Operation FR) and continued to Archangel where several ships had been cut off until the convoys resumed.  In October 1943 when convoys resumed Westcott  was a member of the 8th Escort Group led by HMS Keppel (Cdr Ismay James Tyson RNR) which included HMS Beagle, Waker, Boadicea, Whitehall, Inconstant, Wrestler and Westcott. Westcott escorted six north bound JW convoys and seven  RW return convoys, the "empties".

The Navigating Officer, Lt. Stuart Murray William Farquharson-Roberts RN, known as the "Pilot", had a  difficult task. There were 22 hours of winter darkness and he had to hope for clear nights and rely on star sights to determine their position. The most perilous part of any convoy was the passage south of Bear Island where the U-Boats formed a screen and lay in wait. Lt Farquharson depended on Ted Cross to determine the range and bearing of Bear Island by RDF. The skipper would say, “Well, Pilot, where do you think we are?" Lt Farquharson-Roberts would then wave his hand over the chart to give an approximate position which would satisfy the CO, based on what he was told by Ted Cross.

Vladamir Putin presents Ted Cross with the Ushakov Medal in June 2013
Ted Cross was one of twenty Arctic veterans who received the Ushakov Medal from Vladamir Putin at 10 Downing Street on 16 June 2013
David Cameron presented the veterans with the Arctic Star at the same event
Ted Cross in naval uniform
Edwin Philip Cross RDF Operator
Ted Cross will be  97 on 11 June 2022 and is in good health

USS Milwaukee with an American crew joined Arctic Convoy JW.58 to Murmansk where she was to be handed over to the USSR and become part the Northern Fleet. JW.58 arrived at the Kola Inlet on 4 April 1944 without loss and on 20 April 1944 Milwaukee was formally transferred on loan to the Soviet Union under lend‑lease and commissioned in the Northern Fleet with the name Murmansk. Her American crew returned aboard the merchant ships and escorts for return convoy RA.59. Two of the USN sailors were berthed with Ted Cross in Number Six Mess on the Port side and Cecil H Wiley, gave him his USN cap which he still has - somewhat shrunk from washing.

A more detailed account of return convoy RW.59 and the sinking and rescue of Russian survivors from the American Liberty ship William  S Thayer on passage to Britain to crew ships being transferred to the Soviet Navy is on the website of HMS Walker.


A 'Bunting Tosser' tells his Story of
Arctic Convoys to Russia

Clifford "Stormy" Fairweather was born at Colchester on 11 July 1926 and served in HMS Westcott as a Signalman, a "bunting tosser". "Stormy" was drafted to HMS Westcott where Bob Smale was a Leading Signalman,  on an Arctic Convoy to Murmansk on the Kola Inlet.  He was inspired by the founding of the North Russia Club by shipmate Chris Tye to form the Westcott Club which led to the founding of the of the V & W Destroyer Association. Stormy Fairweather died on Sunday 19 March 2017 and the Association was dissolved at its meeting at Derby in April. Stormy told his own story of Arctic Convoys in Hard Lying (2005) and on this web page below.

Clifford "Stormy" FairweatherIt was early January 1944, after initial training at 'Royal Arthur at Skegness and signals training at 'Scotia' at Ayr. I found myself on a draft from Chatham to HMS Westcott who was at the time berthed at Greenock. I arrived at Glasgow railway station after a long and tedious journey. There were three others on the same draft. When we reported our arrival, we were told that transport down to the docks would not be available for at least an hour, so to lose ourselves, we did not need a second telling so we adjourned to the nearest watering hole where I was introduce to my first 'Black and tan'. The most I had drank until then was the occasional 'Brown Ale'. After three pints of this nectar we were called to our transport, one of the Naval trucks. By the time we arrived at Greenock I was a little worse for wear. However, somehow, I still don't know how, I managed to negotiate two gang planks and landed on the deck of HMS Westcott. I was directed to what was to be my mess, down a hatchway to the mess deck.

Somehow, I managed, with the help of others, to sling my hammock and actually get in it. The next morning I was awakened to find that my hammock was swaying. We were at sea! I was told to report to the Yeoman on the flag deck. When I eventually found my way there I met the other members of the signals branch. I was shown around the flag deck, the flag lockers, halyards and various signal lamps, two ten inch, and an aldis, and the bridge, the binnacle various brass voice pipes, the chart table which was on the port side of the bridge with its canvas cover, which was to hide any light when the navigator or officer of the watch would be plotting or checking our course during darkness, which was almost twenty four hours during the winter months in those northern climes, this was where I was to be when on watch, when not busy with signals I would be at the side of the bridge, with powerful binoculars as an extra lookout. By this time the sea was getting a little rough and I was beginning to feel nauseated. Oh why did I leave the comfort of my home? Soon I was being violently sea sick and wishing that I could die. This was my initiation to being a matelot. I had never been on a boat before let alone go to sea. For three days I was so ill that I eventually passed out. Apparently I was rolling from one side of the flag deck to the other with the motion of the ship. When one of the other signal men said to the yeoman "What are we going to do about him Yeo? "Leave him there, he'll live" was the reply.  However the ship pulled into Iceland and I had a chance to recover.

Destination Russia!

After a brief stay, riding at anchor we were off. Destination Russia! I was about to learn of the hazards and hardships of those who were being employed in the escorting of convoys to and from Murmansk and Archangel.  A few days at sea and we were out of fresh food, from then on it was dehydrated vegetables, which was always packed in square tins. Meat too became non-existent except of course Corned beef, or corned dog as we called it. The only respite from this was when things were really quiet, we would drop a depth charge, and with everyone on deck with boat hooks, buckets, anything to grab as many as we could from the hundreds of fish that had been blown to the surface, with their guts blown out of their mouths. Of course the fish was delicious. But the memory of the intense cold (temperatures could get as low as minus 50 degrees with the wind chill factor) and the very rough seas are uppermost in my mind when I think of those trips to Murmansk. The ship, like most of the V&Ws had been built in 1917 as a short range destroyer with a speed of some thirty knots. In 1943 she had been converted to a long range escort vessel by removing her 'Woodbine' funnel and one of her boilers to make way for extra fuel space. This conversion reduced her speed to 22-25 knots, and when she was at full speed she vibrated violently. Conditions on board were primitive, no baths or showers, you used a bucket. This was also used for doing your dhobeying or to the uninitiated 'washing'. There was certainly no privacy.  In the mess which was about 29 feet by 25 feet about twenty-five men had to sleep, prepare food and eat it. To wash your clothes you scraped 'flakes' off  a bar of 'Pussers Hard' (soap) you would then take it to the galley and if the cook was in a good mood he would let you put it on the range to heat. Then you would take it on the upper deck and get busy with the scrubber. There were time when this routine was just not possible, and you would go many days before you were able to change into clean clothes. When in harbour, Sunday mornings would be 'Captains Rounds'. The mess had to be scrubbed out, hammocks stowed away, everything had to be neat and tidy, then you would retire from your mess whilst the Captain scrutinised the mess, everything had to be shipshape and 'Bristol Fashion'.

HMS Westcott off Iceland; a painting by L.L. Lawrence
A painting by shipmate Leslie Lionel Lawrence of HMS Westcott off Iceland
Lawrence was a "bunting tosser" like "Stormy" but three years older and one rank higher

Courtesy of Stormy Fairweather

"Watch About"

This routine was not possible whilst at sea, being 'Watch About' i.e. four hour on and four hours off (that is if you were not called to action stations). By the time you came off watch and removed your oilskin or duffle coat and then the other sodden wet clothing and climbed into you hammock, most times near exhaustion, there was not much of your four hours off left to snatch some sleep, and if action stations sounded you could go some time before you were able to do that. There was a time when I dozed off standing up while on watch, thank goodness it was only momentarily for if I had been caught 'napping' I would have been for the high jump, it certainly meant a very serious charge. Whilst on watch on the bridge, unless you were engaged signalling you had to keep a constant lookout with binoculars glued to your eyes watching for aircraft, U-boats and if you were close escort, keep an eye on the merchant ships, making sure they kept station and did not make too much smoke, for some of them were coal burning ships. Occasionally there would be one develop engine problems and would drop back out of line whilst the rest of the convoy carried on, then you may get detailed to stay with it for protection until it could get under way again. Convoy work was mainly boring, on the odd occasion we would get a 'ping' from the Asdic, Action stations would be sounded and then it was all systems go. Everyone at action stations would have their ears pricked listening to the Asdic and eye scanned the ocean looking for the tell tale signs of a periscope of the wake of a torpedo.

"The Battle ensign"

 On one occasion a U-boat had been reported on the surface ahead of the convoy, being nearest we were despatched at full speed to intercept. We were accompanied by another V&W, the Whitehall (I think). We were Senior Officer Escort and were ahead of the Whitehall. The Yeoman (who was a very competent man) had his telescope to his eye scanning the horizon ahead. "Hook on" "Enemy in sight and the Battle ensign". We were breaking all speed records, vibrating like the devil pounding through the sea, (can you imagine what it was like for a seventeen year old to be on the bridge of a British destroyer in hot pursuit of the enemy?). "U-boat dead ahead sir!!" Hoist enemy in sight, battle ensign to the masthead!" was the yeoman's cry. He had spotted the U-boat long before anyone else. Everyone at action stations. Gun crews, depth charge parties. All those on the bridge had their binoculars trained on the U-boat. (My first and only sight of a U-boat until VE Day plus one). Then, "U-boat about to dive sir!" came the cry from the alert Yeoman Hall. How did he know?  The range and direction was given to 'B' gun's crew. The Gunnery Officer, Trevor Riches confirmed that he had it in sight, but at extreme range, so with the gun at an angle of approximate 45 degrees the order came "Open Fire!!" With the crash of the gun the peak of the Gunnery Officers cape fell off! But what a brilliant shot. Dead in line with the U-boat but just a few yards short of the target which by now making a hasty dive to the protection of the waves. There was not enough time to get off another shot before the U-boat disappeared. Then the ensuing depth charge attack, first the 'Hedgehog' - to no avail, then the depth charges, what a spectacular sight when they detonate. On this occasion there was no evidence of a kill. We continued the search, but the conditions in those icy waters are of no assistance to the Asdic operators. We then had to resume our station in the most important duty that of protection of the convoy.

Polyarno

So we continued our way to Murmansk, or should I say Polyarno, for that is where we naval vessels were (If you were lucky) berthed. Whilst the merchant ships continued up the Kola inlet to Murmansk. What a God forsaken place, not the ideal place for a run ashore. I did try to go our of the dockyard area once, only to be confronted by a Russian woman dressed in a dark khaki great coat and the usual Russian fur hat with the red star in the front, armed with a rifle with fixed bayonet, Nikt you are not going walkies was the impression she gave me when brandishing the bayonet. I'm sure she would have disembowelled me had I persisted. All the Russian people looked so very sullen, tho' the children were eager to barter for anything, they looked so pitiful. We escorted another three of these convoys before we were called to another task.


'D' Day and the Normandy landings.

We left the Clyde on the 3rd June, armed with a pamphlet from General Eisenhower telling us of the great crusade that we were about to embark upon. When we turned left instead of right on leaving the Clyde we knew that it was not to be another Russian run. We rendezvoused with the Warspite, but because of the deterioration of the weather we had to sail around the Channel Islands for a couple of days before proceeding to the French coast. Warspite's task was the bombardment of shore batteries at Caen. What a thunderous roar when she opened up with a broadside, this went on most of the day. Come dusk a signal was sent asking permission to go in close, to do our little bit. We were told to stay where you are. The next day we developed a leak in one of the boilers, on reporting this we were told to return to the Solent for repairs. No lame ducks were welcome in this environment.  As we steamed up the Solent, vessels of every conceivable type, Royal and Merchant ships cheered and blared away on their sirens etc; may be they thought that we had been wounded in battle!  After we had anchored, I was on watch when I noticed among all these hundreds of ships a light was flashing our pennant number. On answering I found that it was my brother who was serving on an MTB. Looking at him through my binoculars I could just make out his balding head. Of course there was no possibility of meeting up.  On completion of the temporary repairs we were detailed to patrol off the French and Belgian coast. This we continued to do calling in at Dover for fuel and supplies. Then it was off to Dundee to get the boiler cleaned and repaired.


Arctic Convoy JW.61A

On the 31st October we escorted two large personnel ships, this was a fast convoy, the two ships, the Empress of Australia and the Scythia had 11,000 Russian nationals on board who had been 'captured' in France, while serving with the Germans. When we arrived at the Kola Inlet we had to anchor in the mouth of the river. No one was allowed ashore, and the British shore establishments were not allowed near Murmansk. What happened to those unfortunate Russians?  We did two more of those convoys to Russia, On one return convoy in December I was on watch and saw in the distance a huge flash, followed by the sound of an explosion. I was soon to learn that it was the destroyer Cassandra which had been torpedoed, lost her bows and had to return to Murmansk.

Our last Convoy, JW.63 and RA.63

Our last convoy to Russia designated JW63 sailed on the 30th December, and arrived on the 8th January. By now there was almost 24 hours of darkness, with very much cloud, snow and ice which meant that there was no interference from the enemy. The return convoy RA63 sailed from the Kola Inlet on the 11th January 1945, once again we were not intercepted by the enemy, but we encountered a far greater and fiercer enemy, that of the weather.

We were about three days out from Murmansk. North East of the Faroes when the storm blew up, soon the winds were at hurricane force, forcing the ships to heave to, or take shelter where they could. On the Westcott, it was horrendous, we were being tossed about like a cork I was on the bridge, soaked to the skin, hanging on for dear life, whilst those in the mess below were being thrown about to such an extent that some received injuries. 'Jock Gilmour our S.B.A had split his head open and had used his clean underwear to bandage it. Fuel oil had escaped through in to the mess deck mixed with the salt water was swilling around intermingled with various items that had not been stowed away. What a filthy stinking mess. One minute the ship was riding on the crest of a huge wave and then she would plunge down into the trough and the next wave would come right over the top of us. Everything had been battened down, no one dare move without a life line. How long the storm lasted I do not know, I do know that it seemed a lifetime. I think it was the only time that I feared for my life. How we survived I will never know, maybe by the skill of the Captain and the helmsman, or may be by the Grace of God.  When the storm did eventually subside, it's severity was evident. Much damage had been done, anything not secured had disappeared boats had been smashed, carley rafts gone, rails were bent there was a heavy swell running and on attempting 180 degree turn, a wave caught our beam, and the old ship keeled over at an alarming angle, she stayed there for what seemed ages, but the old girl righted herself, I'm sure quite a few hearts missed a few beats. We again resumed our voyage, but we had to go to the Faroes for an emergency repair apparently rivets had been forced out of our keel!


Storm Damage

On out arrival in the Clyde at the end of January 1945 we had to go into dock for storm damage repairs, this was to be Westcott's last Russian convoy. She did other work, a few trips across to Ireland escorting the ferry from Stranraer to Larne. The war in Europe was soon to end. We were anchored in the Clyde on VE day. "Splice the Main Brace"!! Celebration went on till late in the day we were firing Very Lights, star shells etc; the officers came forward on to the seaman's mess carrying bottles of beer and spirits. The Skipper, Lt, Cdr Reed asked for a cigarette and a light. Who ever gave him the light singed his beard! He accused me of trying to set light to his beard and threatened to throw me overboard! The next day we were ordered to proceed to Iceland. Apparently the marines there had gone on the rampage. We took with us some senior ranking officers to try and sort thing out. On the way we came across four U-boats which had been ordered to remain on the surface, on contact we gave them direction to proceed to Cambletown in Scotland. 

Paid Off!

On our return we were paid off. Soon the old Westcott was to be scrapped. She had served our country faithfully and well for 28 years, she had steamed thousands of miles without breaking down. During her very long and illustrious career she had been involved in incidents from China to Russia, from the Mediterranean to the North Atlantic. Now she was to be scrapped, a very sad end to a wonderful ship. Her name is spoken with great pride and affection by all who served aboard her as do I. Why? Maybe it was because she was my first ship, maybe because she had most of my guts, or perhaps it was in her that I grew up.


Clifford "Stormy" Fairweather
Ex 'Bunting Tosser' and
Chairman of the V & W Destroyer Association

You can read a fuller account of Stormy's service in HMS Wescott in The Wartime News PDF Edition for February 2017

Bill Forster recorded an interview with Clifford ("Stormy") Fairweather at Warwick on the 20 April 2013

You can click on the link to listen to "Stormy" describe his wartime service on HMS Westcott
be patient - it takes a couple of minutes before the file opens and Clifford starts speaking





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