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

On Passage to Hong Kong
Ship's Writer J.A. Jolliffe  D/MX. 52106

During the 1930s unemployment was a great problem, good jobs were scarce. I was fortunate in having a job, but with strings attached. Located 60 miles away from home in Plymouth, it offered little in the way of prospects. A case of waiting for 'dead mans shoes'. Financially it was hopeless, after paying for digs and the fare home at the weekends, I was broke. Eventually with the consent of my parents I resigned to return to Plymouth to seek work locally.

After several unsuccessful interviews, my moral was at a low ebb. A family friend suggested that I might consider joining the Navy as a writer, it offered job security, and of course at the end there was a pension to be had. In those days a job with a pension was looked upon with envy.  

From enquiries I learnt that entry into the Writers branch of the R.N. was by open competition held twice yearly, with an intake of about thirty. With my future uncertain, I decided to go ahead and try to join up. 

Following my success at the 1935 examination, I was granted my choice of Port Division - Devonport, and joined HMS Drake in November as a new entry. Training was a combination of square bashing and technical instruction and was completed without incident. I was rated Writer and assigned to HMS Drake as a supernumerary.

The journery out in HMS Westcott

A few months later with my official number hardly dry, I received a draft chit to join HMS
Medway on the China station with passage as far as Singapore on the V&W class destroyer Westcott. Initially it was an unsettling experience, particularly bearing in mind the distance involved and the period away would be at least two and a half years. Air mail had not yet started, a letter would take about six weeks to reach Hong Kong.

The formalities of a foreign draft completed the days began to slip by and it wasn't long before, that on a cold blustery November morning with my kit-bag and hammock I reported on board HMS Westcott. My first impression was unforgettable, a mixture of super heated steam, hot metal and the sounds of auxiliary machinery. My adventure was about to begin!   Most of the forenoon was occupied in settling in, stowing away my gear etc. The seaman's mess would be my home for the duration of the voyage, located in the fore part of the ship, by any standards it was spartan. In the centre of the mess was a steam engine used to drive the capstan, when the contraption was in use the whole mess was enveloped in steam.  

Time is running out. Tomorrow we leave these shores bound for the Far East and it's many mysteries. Time for last farewells. The ships company offered theirs some days earlier, being Chatham Division they had very few connections with the West country. Weather conditions throughout the night deteriorated, by daybreak the wind had reached gale force and was still rising. Many vessels were running for shelter. A grim prospect for us.

With final preparations complete, securing lines were cast off, the ship severed her link with the Devon shore heading into Plymouth Sound, passing the mile long breakwater with it's familiar lighthouse before entering the English Channel, to encounter more severe weather, in fact, a 'No Go' area for an elderly destroyer of just 1,100 tons. Suddenly it happened, the ship turned about and headed back to Plymouth, eventually making secure to the duty destroyer buoy off Drakes Island. There we remained throughout the day, come late afternoon there was a 'buzz', shore leave? Needless to say it never materialised, for me as a 'sprog' it was a disappointment, especially living in the locality. There was still a great deal to learn about the Navy, particularly to take 'buzzes' with a pinch of salt.

This voyage could be described as my introduction to Blue Water, I was quite unprepared for such an experience that lay ahead. Racing 14ft dinghies in Plymouth Sound offered little by way of preparation for such a lengthy ocean passage.

At about 11pm there occurred much activity, the ship was being made ready for sea despite the weather, which showed no sign of improvement. It seemed that the Commanding Officer, a Lieutenant Commander R.N. was faced with a thorny problem, and the ball was squarely in his court. He could either wait for an improvement in the weather which would entail falling behind with his schedule. How could he possibly maintain a schedule under these conditions? He decided to slip and proceed. Leaving the shelter of Plymouth the motion of the ship became increasingly violent, it was evident that we were in for a trying night with the sound of the wind and the terrible pounding from the seas, it was unnerving to put it mildly. Then suddenly it happened, I collapsed being seasick, violently and repeatedly. I really did not care whether we did a vertical take off or plunged straight to the bottom. I was not the only one, but the other victims seemed to a lesser degree than I, but they were destroyer men and used to this sort of situation. I take my hat of to them, one and all.

Had I been left to my own devices I may well have been swept over the side. It was the Coxswain who put things right, patching me up and twenty four hours later I was up and almost ready to make myself useful. Never again was I to suffer from sea sickness despite going on to serve in a variety of ships, from Aircraft carriers to Frigates.

Almost a week later we came alongside at Gibraltar where our stay was extended to repair the storm damage. This would be a lengthy itinerary which would offer countless opportunities for exploration of the 'Rock'.

My first impression was its size, relatively small with an area of about two and a half miles on the south coast of Spain, commanding the North side of the Atlantic entrance to the Mediterranean sea, important strategically. The main town at the North western corner appeared to consist of a main street occupied by a number of bars, there seemed to be three types, some had an orchestra, others were a type of 'Bistro' bar, a drink that was popular at the time was 'Coffee Royal'. This visit offered the perfect beginning to a foreign commission.

The easy stages in transit into a working ship broke one in gradually. At journey's end one felt less of being a fresh arrival on a foreign station. With repair complete it was time to press on to Malta, our next port of call, it was an uneventful leg of the journey although useful in providing opportunities to increase the efficiency of the ships company.

Upon arrival at Malta we did not rate very highly in the pecking order, instead of the convenience of going alongside, it meant tying up to one of the many buoys. When shore leave was granted it meant going ashore in what can only be described as a cross between a gondola and a canoe called Diajiio? The capital city, Valetta had much on offer to interest new arrivals. The other principal centre being Sleima. Familiar sights and sounds recalled are the milk vendor with his flock of goats, his cry "Aleep, eggs, bread". The "Egyptian Queen" and the "Lucky Wheel".   Leaving Malta in our wake we are now bound for Port Said. Since clearing Malta it has become warmer, the sun reflecting off the surface of Mediterranean with the sparkle of a million diamonds. The rig of the day was changed to tropical in keeping with this type of weather.

From now on more time must be allowed for washing clothes during dog watches. The routine is simple, get hold of a spare bucket and a bar of 'Pussers' soap and you are on your way. I soon became a dab hand at it.

The time I spent in a seaman's mess as a junior rating was priceless. I was taught how to prepare a meal for the mess, take it to the galley, and fetch it when it was cooked. To keep the living space clean and tidy, and above all, to show consideration to others. These lessons I have never forgot and they stood me in good stead throughout my life.

The stay at Port Said was a short one. I could not fail to be impressed by the statue in memory of Ferdinand de Lessops the builder of the 101 mile long Suez Canal which was opened in 1869 linking the Mediterranean and the Red Seas through which we were to make our way shortly. Also worthy of mention were the twin columns of the 1914-1918 War Memorial. The following incident remains undimmed in my minds eye, but as the years pass I can see the funny side of it. The ship was secured close inshore, it was during the early part of the forenoon. A party of official types came on board. It turned out that they were local Port Health Officials who had come to carry out medical inspection of the ship's company. All junior ratings were summoned to fall in on the quarter deck, step up to the official, dropping your shorts and allowing the said official, with the aid of a large and powerful torch to carry out the inspection in full view of the interested locals on shore.

Entering the Red Sea, change was evident, Western influence gave way to the Eastern, particularly among the craft at sea, mostly sailing vessels. The weather varied from cloudy to bright sunshine with rough seas, nothing that I could not cope with. It was now that my request to take a turn at the wheel was granted. I was elated, it isn't everyone that could say that they had taken the wheel of a Royal Naval Destroyer, especially a young writer.

Passing through Hells Gates we crossed the Arabian Sea to arrive at our next destination, Karachi, where much in the way of hospitality was received. One incident still unforgotten was the street entertainer with his act "Snake fight Mongoose 4 anna's.

Then it was on to Penang where Christmas was celebrated, the mess in common with the others was decorated with bunting and the menu supplemented. A present from the Captain, an unexpected one, two bottles of beer for each one of us. A generous act, particularly as apart from the rum issue the Royal Navy was dry as far as the lower deck was concerned.

Arrival at Singapore and soon a parting of the ways. Westcott would stay and take over from HMS Bruce who was shortly due to return to the U.K. Whilst I was to make ready for the final stage of my voyage.

In January 1937 construction of the new Royal Naval Base together with a vast dry dock was going along on apace. In the mean time, local R.N. Affairs were conducted from HMS Terror, a monitor armed with two 15" calibre guns, nearby was a medium sized floating dock. It was real Boy's Own stuff. It was to HMS Terror I made my way, explained that I had not been paid since mid October. Whilst interim payments were made to the Westcott's ships company, no such arrangements had been made for personnel on passage. Had it not been for a postal order from my Mother received en route, I would have been up the creek completely.

HMS Medway, the submarine Depot Ship

I was made welcome in 'Terror', given a substantial advance of pay and told to avail myself of their Chinese laundry which transformed my No 6's.   It was six days later that I reached Hong Kong, disembarked from H.M.T.
Lancashire and joined HMS Medway at last. The beginning of what was to be a happy commission of 2 plus years in a splendid ship during which time I would visit many places of interest throughout the Far East.   Many of the old V&Ws were now being put into reserve, others had been earmarked for alterations and modifications to convert them into the "Wair" type of destroyer.   During the summer of !935 HMS Wishart which was still under the command of Commander Lord Louis Mountbatten was in the Mediterranean and whilst paying a visit to Cannes welcomed his friend H.R.H the Prince of Wales accompanied by Mrs Wallis Simpson aboard.

After taking my leave which was due after three years abroad, I went to 'Vernon' to qualify S.T. After which I was drafted to Valorous as Ldg. Sea. S.T. We were soon sent to Malta to join up with the 19th destroyer flotilla and remained until April 1936.  I was then returned to depot until September. I was then drafted to Westcott which was at Devonport being altered to attend on submarines, picking up their torpedoes after practice firing. Leaving Guzz (Gosport) in November 1936 in company with 'Thracian' we sailed into s stinking force 9 gale and by the time we reached Gibraltar we were in a fine old state as we had aboard a number of spare crew taking passage to other ships, they had been violently sick in the galley flat for most of the trip, and as the coal for the galley was kept there, it was in a fine old state, so were the seamen who were covered in coal as the galley flat was always flooded in rough weather.

After a few days in Gib' cleaning up and drying out the messdecks etc; we carried on our journey to Malta and the Far East. During the journey we managed to play any team that we could find at hockey or football at every port that we called at, so by the time we reached Hong Kong we had very good teams at both, and quite a good water polo team.   Back to work which consisted of chasing after and picking up the 'tin fish' that had been fired by the sub's.

While we were out there in 1937-38 we managed to get hit by a typhoon in Hong Kong harbour. At the time I was Coxswain of the picket boat from the 'Medway' and had to take a party of sick people ashore, quite a trip. Earlier in 1937 when the Japs invaded China, our Ambassador, Knatchbull-Huggeson, was on holiday with his family on the island of Petaiho. Westcott was detailed as guard ship to the ambassador and eventually we had to transport the family from the island to a Cruiser for the trip back to Shanghai. After quite a few incidents of Jap bombing and clearing up hundreds of Chinese from the cables each morning, we eventually came to the end of the commission and came home in April 1939.

"Swain" in Westcott
Boatswain Jim Mills DSM

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 sand.

After serving on the Battleships Repulse, Valiant 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 as 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 - click on the link.

The 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 back to 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 with Glorious 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 and Arethusa. 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 torpedoes.

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's 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 for repairs.

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 had parted.

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 time.  

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.

If you want to find out more about the wartime service of a member of your family who served on HMS Westcott 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 Westcott you would like to contribute to the web site please contact Bill Forster

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