1939 the commanding officers of Royal Navy warships were all regular
Navy but the wardroom contained a mix of RN, RNVR and RNR officers.
Derek Tolfree went to HMS Worcester, the Merchant Navy's equivalent of Dartmouth, joined HMS Westminister
as an RNR MIdshipman and expressed the widely held view that "In the RNR
we were sailors trying to be gentleman and in the RNVR they were
gentlemen trying to be sailors". Later in the war both RNVR and RNR
officers were given command of their own ships.
Lt John A.H. Hamer was the eccentric First Lieutenant in Westminster before he succeeded Lt Cdr Ouvry as CO. Derek Tolfree, a young Midshipman who joined Westminster in December 1942, described him:
One early 1st Lt always wore a wing collar, had only 3 buttons on one
side of his reefer, kept a monkey on board and went to dances at the
North British Hotel, Edinburgh, where he would eventually leap onto a
table and eat his wine glass, complaining bitterly of indigestion when
we next went to sea. He also insisted on everyone having a nickname and
no one was allowed to be addressed by their proper title. Hence we had
“Crackers”, “Brickwork”, “Teddy”, “Rough Tough”, “Pull Through” (me),
“Dizzy”, “Titus”, “Guff” and “The Gooner”.
It may be no coincidence that he was treated for abdominal problems. A
taste for crunching up glass was it seems not uncommon in the Navy.
Frank Donald told me of a submariner who was approached at a reception
by the Mayor with a glass nibbled all round and said "look what one of
your officers has done". The CO replied "what fools my officers are to
leave the best bit" and swallowed the stem. True or false such stories
do reveal another aspect to life in the Royal Navy.
Lt John A.H. Hamer RN was the most senior of three lieutenants (M. Cashman, J.A.H. Hamer & R.
Kersley) in December 1941.
He succeeded Lt.Cdr. Aymé Arthur Carrington Ouvry RN as CO of Westminster before being appointed CO of HMS Worcester
Lt.Cdr. Aymé A.C. Ouvry RN and his officers relaxing in
the Wardroom in October 1940
In May 1940 he was the CO of HMS Walpole, a sister ship to Westminster,
which took three men to Ijmuiden, the gateway to Amsterdam, on the 12
May to snatch industrial diamonds from the Netherlands before they
could be seized by German forces. This secret operation was the subject
of a book, Adventure in DIamonds
by David Walker (Norton, 1955) and a British film, "Operation
Amsterdam", starring Peter Finch, Eva Bartok and Tony Britton made in
1959. Bowerman commanded HMS Douglas and HMS Leamington before being made CO of Westminster in August 1942.
Bowerman was greatly respected but was very short and stood on a box when on the bridge and was known as "Stumpy". HIs "No 1", Lt A.R.H. Tedford RNVR,
was popular in the wardroom and with the men but did not get on well
with his CO. Eric Brett, the Wardroom Steward, whose job it was to look
after Bowerman and Tedford, said Bowerman would have preferred his
other lieutenant, an RNR, as his No 1. He thought RNVR Officers were "Saturday night sailors". Lt Tedford died in a tragic accident when he fell overboard from HMS Uraniain Sydney harbour and drowned in April 1946. He was only 26.
Lt. John Edwin Dyer, DSC, RN
succeeded Bowerman as CO. Derek Tolfree thought "Johnny Dyer was a
wonderful guy". He joined as a lieutenant and had been a senior officer
of coastal forces and First Lt on Samaurez in the Scharnhorst action where he won his DSC.
The Wardroom Steward knew what was going on!
Eric Brett (left) was not yet 16 when he joined the Navy. He wanted to be a
Boy Telegraphist but the Navy decided he was too young but could become
a Boy Steward. He joined Westminster
in 1943 and slept in the Tiller Flat at the stern and ate with PO
Officers' Steward Tom Gilham from Gosport in the Officers' Pantry. The CO spent most of his time in the Sea Cabin beneath the bridge and was not often seen in the Wardroom. Eric
took his food from the Officers' Galley at the stern to his cabin using
the line strung the length of the deck in heavy weather. He brought
soup and sandwiches to the bridge for the Officer of the Watch.
had lots of stories to tell about the "boys in the wardroom" who had as
much fun as the boys on the mess decks at the bow. On a run ashore at
the end of a convoy they stole the small ornamental brass cannon
outside the residence of the Captain of the naval dockyard at
Sheerness, took it back to the Westminster and blew it up while attempting to fire a salvo.
Eric also remembered games of rugger (without a ball) in the wardroom
which left it a wreck. The Wardroom was quite cosy with a coal fire to
keep it warm in winter which was only lit in harbour. Whenever Westminster
left harbour Glen Miller's "American Patrol" was played over the Tannoy
but music was never played at sea to avoid giving away their position,
messages being passed by the Bosun's Mate using his call. Eric Brett's action station was in the aft
magazine where he loaded the 4-inch shells into a "cruet", four at a
time, to be hauled up on deck to the Gun Crew. The Guns were mainly a
defence against aircraft and mostly used HEHA (High Explosive, High Angle
shells) instead of High Explosive, Semi Armour Piercing Shells (HESAP).