I was born on the 14th January 1912,
and, being too young for the 1914-18 war, my Uncle represented me, as I
found out later. He was serving on the Hampshire
when it was sunk with
Lord Kitchener on board. When I reached the age of 15 I decided I would
like to join and lo' and behold I found myself along with thousands of
others at HMS Ganges
in May 1927. After a gruelling twelve months there
I was delayed in going to sea for I caught Diphtheria, but eventually I
was drafted to HMS Benbow
, a battleship and training ship for boys. It
was called the "White Lady" of the Med' being kept so clean, as she was
a coal burner this was quite difficult, but with sand and holy stones
the decks always looked smashing.
There were four divisions with six classes in each division, we soon
found out how and who kept it white, with holy stones in each hand
rubbing sand into the decks. The boys were only allowed to wear shoes
or boots at Divisions or on a couple of hours leave on a Saturday or
Sunday. By the time we left Benbow
our feet were well marked by the
After serving on the Battleships Repulse
and then the Cyclops
a submarine depot ship. I was drafted to Valorous
early in 1935 as Leading Seaman S/T we were then sent to Malta to join
the 19th Flotilla, there we remained until April 1936 when we returned
to depot. I then joined Westcott
which was at Devonport being converted to attend on Subs. We left
'Guzz' (Gosport) in November 1936 in company with 'Thracian' and sailed
into a stinking force nine gale, by the time we reached Gibraltar we
were in a fine old state, we were carrying a number of spare crew for
other ships, most of them had been violently sick in the galley flat
for most of the voyage and, as coal for the galley was kept there, most
of them were covered in coal dust. The journey continued to Malta and
through the Suez Canal and eventually we arrived at Hong Kong where we
were attached to the 2nd Submarine Flotilla and the depot ship Medway.
While in Hong Kong harbour we were hit by a typhoon, at the time I was
coxswain of a picket boat from the Medway and had to take a party of
sick people ashore, that was quite a trip, but we made it. When the
Japs invaded China in 1937, our Ambassador Hughe Knotchbull-Huggesen
was on holiday
with his family on the island of Teaiho.
His car was machine-gunned by a Japanese fighter aircraft, and he was hit. Westcott
was detailed as guard ship to the Ambassador, eventually transporting
the whole family to a cruiser for the voyage to Shanghai where he was hospitalised and then invalided home to Britain.
April 1939 saw the end of the commission and we returned home and during my leave I was married.
Chief Bosun's Mate ("Swain")
I then joined Harvester
Chief Bosun's Mate, we were involved in the evacuation of Dunkirk after
which it was the North Atlantic until June 1940, then it was a period
of barracks and schooling until the 7th March 1941 when again I was
drafted to my old ship laying at Liverpool where she was undergoing
repairs after a collision with HMS Bluebell
On completion we were detailed for Atlantic convoys again on one of
which we had a film crew on board to film depth charge explosions for a
film that was being made. We were then detailed to join the Home Fleet
in the search for the Bismarck
and Prinz Eugen
Another incident happened when we came under air attack, we assisted a
merchant ship that was on fire and took the injured off, then we took
them back to the U.K.
Between these convoys Westcott
was fitted with the 'Hedgehog',
a brand new anti submarine weapon. The
scientists and manufacturers were aboard for the test firing during
which there was a nasty accident when one of the seaman lost his
hand. We were then sent to Gib' to take part in the 'club
runs' to Malta. It was then that we were involved with the troop
carrying ship Llangibby Castle and the sinking of the U-581
. For my part in this action I was awarded the D.S.M. This story is related elsewhere.
Sinking of HMS Eagle
Then it was the 'Big One' - Operation Pedestal.
We were senior officer for the screen of the
Carrier 'Eagle' and stationed on her starboard side. As I was 2nd
Officer of the forenoon watch I was relieved at 1230 and had just
finished dinner when we felt two explosions and on looking round saw
that the Eagle
had caught it and was sinking fast, tipping all its
aircraft into the sea. In a very short space of time she had gone, most of her crew were saved,
but sadly quite a number were lost including two of our signal department who had been transferred just
before sailing. The remaining part of the convoy we escorted the
Liverpool and Nigeria
Gibraltar as they too had been badly damaged. I found out that a number
of my old shipmates had been killed. We eventually got back
home and I was paid off as the Westcott
went in for a big refit.
When the war broke out ...
When the war broke out Westcott
was in Singapore having 'Y' Gun and the torpedo tubes refitted. From
then on our time was spent patrolling the islands, we also took divers
from HMS Medway
to Miri in North Borneo to lay charges under the oil pipes that ran out to sea.
We left Singapore in January 1940, stopping off at Penang, Aden,
Alexandria, and spent some time in Malta from where we returned home
and others, arriving in Plymouth in April. We were given weekend leave while degaussing gear was fitted.
Then it was off to Norway where we patrolled off Narvik; we were bombed
and shelled, some falling so close that the deck was washed down. We
went as far North as Kirkenes and then down to Aalidalsness to take off
the Marines during the night; at the time we were accompanied by Walker, Sheffield
The marines left a lot of Lewis guns and rifles behind but we had to
give them up when we arrived at Plymouth where we refitted.
On completion of the refit we took two French minesweepers over to
Brest. On the way back we were sent to help one of our own boats, the
'Voltaire' (there was no V&W by that name) which had had her bows
blown off. After taking off all the survivors we sank her with
From there on it was North Atlantic convoy duty running from Liverpool
and Londonderry. On one convoy a German aircraft was brought down by a
'Kite' being towed by one of the merchant ships. We were with a convoy
when the Bismark
broke out, she missed us by about 200 miles. The Westcott
skipper, Bockett-Pugh, had the torpedo tubes trained outboard just in
case we met her. His intention was to go straight at her, 'Death or
Glory' fashion; in this case it would have been death.
There was a time when we were told to clean up, get into our number
one's and line up on the jetty. Winston Churchill arrived and walked
along the rows and inspected us. We were at sea within the hour.
On another occasion we got an 'echo' at the same time as one of the
Corvettes, our skipper signalled her saying "I'll take it" but she took
no notice and ran into us, leaving a hole in our mess deck big enough
to get a bus in. We crawled back to Londonderry where they patched us
up with timber and cement to enable us to get to Liverpool and dry dock
The 'Spigot Mortar'
(later to be called the
'hedgehog') was fitted and we spent some time carrying out trials off
Larg and Troon. Bob Blowers lost some fingers off his left hand when a
'spigot' short circuited. I do not recall us ever sinking a sub with
it, in fact one pattern that we fired blew up when it hit the water,
the safety pins had been taken out so many times that the 'Keep' wires
Back to convoy duty again, we picked up a boat full of survivors from a
merchant ship, they were in a bad way having been adrift for some
Whilst we were in Londonderry at some time in 1941 Earl Mountbatten
brought three of the 'K' boats up the river Foyle for the week-end, Kelly, Kashmir
, and Kandahar
On the Sunday morning we all had to march through Londonderry where he
took the salute, immediately that was over they set sail for the
Mediterranean. One of our Westcott
lads, Bob Hurlet was on the Kelly
when she was sunk, he went down with her.
Nearing Christmas 1941, we left Londonderry thinking we were going to
Iceland with a fast convoy, instead we finished up in Gibraltar on
Christmas Eve. Our duty there was mainly 'club' runs and Malta convoys.
The 'club runs were escorting the carriers Eagle
or the USS Wasp
taking Spitfires to within flying distance of Malta. We would leave
Gibraltar at night when there was no moon because the spies in La Linea
always knew when we left because we were always attacked as the
Spitfires were taking off. Sometimes we would pick up the pilots who
had to ditch on take off.