Hong Kong, city of mystery
Or so the books all tell,
But Hong Kong to the average bloke, Is just a town of smell.
Where one works all day,
With sticky perspiration,
But still us English were
A long drawn out suffering nation.
Where one develops lots of spots,
Blotches and prickly heat,
And plenty of boils and dhoby itch,
Not to mention Hong Kong feet.
These chaps who write these thing in books
And make then look so swell
Should try a summer in Hong Kong,
And then say "It is swell"
I was born in September 1919 at Lydd in Kent, a small limb of the
Cinque ports on the sixth continent - Romney Marsh. I always wanted to
join the Navy, but when I left school at 14, my father would not sign
the necessary documents. I had to wait until I was eighteen and a man!
So it was on September 20th 1937 that I reported to Chatham barracks
for my basic training. After the completion of this I was delighted and
excited to be drafted to HMS Westcott operating with submarines in the Far East. A train load of us travelled to Southampton where we embarked in the troopship Dilwara.
I had only a slight insight into sea training, one day on board HMS
Wanderer, and my biggest surprise on joining Westcott was that a galvanised bucket was a
necessity, to wash in, bathe in and do ones dhobeying (washing)
in. We had to go out on to the upper deck and pump the water into the
bucket with a deck hand pump, in all weathers. Hot water could be
obtained from the galley, or by using a steam geyser in the canteen
flat. The wash place had no fittings except a wooden bench on which to
rest the bucket. However this did not detract from a clean ship and a
smart ships company. Another thing that surprised me was the need for
secondary lighting for the old oil lamps were still in use. It was my
job as a stoker to clean the glass, trim the wicks and fill them with
sperm oil and light them when we went to sea. One of these lamps was
situated beside each glass gauge on the boilers. We also had a polished
brass lamp on the stokers’ mess deck.
Captain Lolly was the Commanding Officer until he was given an
Admiralty appointment. The crew complement was between 70 and 80.
Captain Lolly was followed by Commander Firth who, after about three
months on board was taken seriously ill while we were at We-Hai-Wei and
unfortunately died. The funeral took place on the island and
representatives from the whole of the Eastern Fleet attended and, of
course, most of our ships company. A Commander Corrie-Hill
then took over command. Westcott was often referred to in signals as "Submarine Westcott"
followed by the name of the submarine. This was not surprising as we
were attached to the 4th submarine flotilla. We were also part of the
Hong Kong defence.
The ships role was to act as guard ship and communicator for the
submarines, also as off-shoot target and to accompany them when
visiting foreign ports. For the offshoot target exercises our torpedo
tubes were removed, along with the aft gun. In place of the Tubes we
had wooden racks on which to store the torpedoes and a derrick with
which to lift them on board. When we went out on exercise with a sub',
they fired torpedoes and when the 'tin fish' stopped running its course
a red dummy head would normally bring it floating to the surface in a
vertical position where it would bob up and down. A ring bolt would
enable the crew to hook a line on so that it could be lifted on board
and stored, On return to harbour the tin fish were either returned by
cutter to the depot ship HMS Medway
or transferred to the submarine directly if she happened to be tied up
alongside the ship. Sometime when a group of six torpedoes had been
fired only five could be found. In Deep Water Bay in Hong Kong divers
had to be used to recover the sixth from the blue clay where it was
stuck tail first. On one occasion, off the coast of Malaya the sub
fired six 'tin fish', we recovered five. The RAF were requested to
assist in the search for the missing torpedo. The last sweep the plane
carried out took them overland. Surprise, surprise, the torpedo was
about a mile inland being carried shoulder high by the local natives.
It took a Naval party nearly a week to trundle it back through the
jungle to the beach for recovery.
On another occasion we were sent to dispose of a derelict Junk which
had become a hazard in the shipping lane. We fired shells but they went
straight through it. A charge was put on board, but apart from
splintering it, it still remained afloat, in the end it had to be towed
inshore where it was beached. One place we visited was
Taingtao where I was surprised to see Japanese guards outside the
principle buildings and banks. This did not affect us directly or our
visit though at nights we could see convoys of lorries laden with
Japanese troops moving along the coast.
The next occasion we came across the Japanese was when we were sent up the Pel-Ho river to Taku to relieve HMS Diana.
Before we could go up the river we had to have our Asdic dome removed
and a blank plate fitted in its place. The river was very fast flowing
and the whole length twisted and turned on its course. Our duty there
was as protection vessel for British liners berthed at Taku. Apparently
Japanese officers had been going on the liners and interfering with the
state rooms. A naval rating was put on guard on the gangway, all he had
was a trenching tool handle as a defence, it seemed to work. Less than
a mile away was a large encampment of Japanese troops. On the other
side of the river it was swamp and apparently home for bandits and
pirates, so we too had armed guard on deck.
At the end of our stay, I was on deck, so I was able to watch our
passage down river. It was amazing to see houses made of mud. One bend
in the river was almost a right angle, to get round it meant letting
the ship gently go into the sand bank ahead and then use the engines to
go astern and swing the stern round at the same time, freeing the bow
so that the ship was pointing down river again. It was a tense time,
but apparently the manoeuvre is normal practice for ships coming down
The third time we were close to the Japanese was at Wei-Hai-Wei. We had
been out on a day-time exercise with a submarine and had been shadowed
all day by the Japanese cruiser Itzumu. As we entered harbour followed by the submarine, the cruiser cut straight in front of us, forcing Westcott
to go full astern to take avoiding action, the ship bounced up and down
with the movement. It was amazing to think that whilst this was going
on we were training Japanese Officers in Chatham Barracks.
In the crisis of 1938, when fear of war was imminent, we were sent to
Singapore to have our gun and torpedo tubes replaced. We were then sent
on patrol. We had to be darkened at night and closed down. The
temperature was horrendous, ventilation almost non existent and it was
terribly uncomfortable. As soon as the crisis was over we reverted to
our original role. The Westcott was very busy visiting lots of
places with one or two sub's for company. These are some of the places
we visited. Miri, Labau, Surabaya, Malacca, Chefoo, Penang, Chinwanto,
Peitaho, Port Swirtenham, Singapore and Batavia. T
The Westcott paid off in April
1938. I had hoped that I would be able to stay on her, but it had been
decided that as we had been on her for a full year we should come
home. One or two things that have stayed in my mind about Westcott.
Around the rear of the superstructure door a frame had been built, on
this was carved all the names of the submarines in the flotilla. The
crew at that time also had a dog as a mascot. It used to fall in at the
end of the row with the men going ashore, it was always first off the
ship and it knew how to dodge the dockyard police when the men were
marched from the ship to the dockyard gate and was always the first
out. It found its own way back and was never adrift.
I never expected to see Westcott again so soon, but when I was serving on the Volunteer in the first Norwegian campaign, she was present there too. We had a spell of screening HMS Ark Royal, then with the Glorious,
but because neither of us could keep up with her when she was at
maximum speed to get her aircraft airborne. We were subsequently
relieved by HMS Ardent and Acasta who, sad to say, were with the Glorious a few days later when they were all sunk.
Ater leaving HMS Westcott Allen Flisher joined HMS Volunteer in time for the evacuation from Dunkirk and was aboard when Volunteer was accidentally rammed by HMS Newark off the coast of Ireland in April 1941.