Interviews with V & W Veterans

Bill Forster has been recording interviews with the veterans attending the annual reunions of the V & W Destroyer Association since 2013. He records them on his Apple MacBook and gives the veterans a copy of the recording on a CD to take home to their families. They range in length from thirty minutes to an hour and are on the V & W Destroyer web site so that anybody who googles the names of the ships on which the veterans served can listen to them online from anywhere in the world.

He has also given copies to the Sound Collection at the Imperial War Museum in London. The IWM already has some recordings of veterans who served on V & W Class destroyers but not all of these can be listened to online and they are always interested in adding to their collection. The IWM interviews are longer, most consisting of several half hour reels and only brief details of their service on V & Ws are given here (for a fuller description click on the links to the IWM). They are listed below along with Bill's own recorded interviews and are also linked to from the web page for the V & W Class destroyer on which they served. You can see an index page to the 67 V & W Class destroyers here. There will eventually be web sites for each of these ships.

To listen to the recordings click on the name of the person being interviewed. There will be a slight delay before the recorded interview starts.

The recordings are arranged by the name of the ship with links to further details of the person interviewed on the website of the V & W Destroyer Association

Brian de Courcy-Ireland (IWM interview, Reel 11)
HMS Venomous

This eleven reel interview with Capt Stanley Brian de Courcy-Ireland (1901-2001) was made in 1991. During his long service career he served in both world wars but these interviews only record his memories of his life and service career up to 1920. During this time he served on two V & W Class destroyers, HMS Westcott (1918-9) and HMS Venomous (1919).

Lt Cdr John E.H. McBeath RN (IWM Interview made by Thames Television, 1972)
HMS Venomous

The CO of HMS Venomous describes the Dunkirk Evacuation, 5/1940-6/1940. Lt Cdr John E.H. McBeath RN was born in the Transvaal, South Africa, in 1907, and joined the Royal Navy at Simonstown as a fourteen year old boy sailor in 1921. He served on HMS Hood as OD and AB for three years and was promoted to Warrant Officer rank in 1928. McBeath was CO of Venomous in May and June 1940, the most dramatic period in her history when the Welsh and Irish Guards were evacuated from Boulogne under close fire from enemy tanks and shore batteries and the BEF from the beaches and north mole of Dunkirk. After four months on the Harwich patrol Venomous was ordered to the Clyde and escorted the elderly carriers, HMS Argus and HMS Furious, with fighter reinforcements for the besieged island of Malta to Gibraltar.

Venomous was transferred to Western Approaches Command and joined the First Escort Group at Londonderry but John McBeath fell ill and was replaced as CO by Cdr H. Pitcairn RN
on Christmas Eve 1940. McBeath went on to command HMS Oribi as part of the 17 Destroyer Flotilla escorting Arctic Convoys to northern Russia. After the war he achieved Flag rank as Rear Admiral and after retirement in 1955 was Honorary Commodore of the Sea Cadet Corps and High Sheriff of Surrey.

Lt Cdr John E.H. McBeath RN (IWM Interview made by the BBC, 1960)
HMS Venomous

Venomous was part of 16th Destroyer Flotilla commanded by Tom Halsey when she took part in the evacuation of the troops from Dunkirk. McBeath described their last trip to Dunkirk when they brought back nearly 1,400 troops plus Generals Alexander and Percival. They were hailed by Wake-Walker RAD Dover on his MTB and asked if they could take aboard some senior officers with their staff. He was instructed to come alongside at the stern and Angus MacKenzie went to see meet them. He reported to McBeath and said he had had cleared McBeath's cabin of pongos and put them in there where a colonel had spiked his bunk cover.

Venomous backed out stern first but was top heavy and in danger of capsizing and had to stop and clear the deck of men, sending them below deck, even into the engine and boiler rooms. This took about fifteen minutes and when they resumed he thought it wise to put on his navigation lights, dimly, as the entrance to the harbour was very congested. McBeath having not slept for a week and failed to spot a large ship, blacked out, approaching on a collision course and
Mackenzie ordered hard a starboard. McBeath realised their stern would swing round and hit it and ordered hard a port and they slid by twenty yards apart. A string of profanities rang out from the other ship, a block ship being  brought over to block the harbour entrance. Mackenzie made a blistering response which even impressed the pongos nearby.

On arrival at Dover the Generals asked to see McBeath on the quarterdeck before going ashore and thanked him most graciously for bringing them over to Dover.

Robert Craddock (IWM Interview)
HMS Venomous - Reel 4

Recollections of period aboard HMS Venomous, 4/1942-7/1944: commissioning ship; role as quartermaster issuing food and rum rations; involvement in Operation Pedestal, 8/1942; recollections of involvement in Russian Convoy PQ 15, 4/1942-5/1942, including German air attacks, cold weather, rum ration and visit ashore in Soviet Union; story of attempts to rescue survivors and sink U Boat on sinking of HMS Hecla, 11/1942, burnt survivor; food messing system; opinion of Captain Falcon-Stewart.

Alexander McRobie Campbell (IWM Interview)
HMS Venomous - Reels 2 and 3 (HMS Hecla)

Born in the affluent Murchison district of Edinburgh on 10 March 1923, the son of a grocer. Conscripted on 28 May 1942 and after initial training at Torpoint (HMS Raleigh), Plymouth was selected as a Commissioned and Warrant Candidate (C&W Candidate) and sent to Londonderry to join HMS Venomous for six month seatime as an OD on the lower deck. Describes life on the lower deck of  HMS Venomous in Atlantic and Mediterranean, 1942-1943: abortion of Arctic convoy to Russia due to "condenseritis" and visit to home of fiancee of fellow CW Candidate, John Carson (for a bath) while under repair at Belfast. Describes sleeping arrangements ("no hook to hang his hammock"); memories of commanding officer, Lt Cdr Falcon-Steward RN ("stern and non communicative"); details of duties ("A Gun and depth charges") and watches; memories of colleagues (two "three badgers disliked each other and always arguing"); "canteen catering" and "cook of the Mess"; cutlery; cocoa ("Pusser's kye made from solid cocoa"); washing facilities onboard. REEL 2 Continues: knowledge of next posting; escort of convoy from Freetown to Gibraltar including rescue of survivors from HMS Hecla torpedoed off coast of North Africa, burial of casualties at sea and dropping of depth charges; air raids during escort duties on North African coast and at Algiers on Christmas Day, 1942, and anti-aircraft fire; seasickness. Return of CW Candidates to Britain for officer training.

Arthur Ledley Albert Bowler (IWM Interview)
HMS Venomous - Reels 2 and 3

Born at Oxford in 1923. Joined Venomous  at Gibraltar after loss of HMS Hecla. He thought it very primitive, inadequate room on mess decks, he slept on the lockers because no room to hang a hammock, dhobying in buckets with scrubbing board. Had "canteen messing", took it in turns to make up meal for cooking in the Galley. The killick in charge of Mess, a "three badger" congratulated him on his "plum duff" (pudding), made the same way as his Mother's. Stuffy in mess, felt like "walking into a brick wall" when coming off watch. His duty at sea was on Port Oerlikon, with one man on lookout and the other to fire the gun, but his action station was on the 4.7 inch gun. Described "Mad Jack", a lieutenant who said "if I blow my whistle dive on the deck". At the landings in Sicily towed gliders were being fired at. Two parachutists from an aircraft on fire were hauled aboard Venomous, Mad Jack blew his whistle and dived to the deck as a plane came in and dropped its bombs. The parachutist was Italian so they left the other parachutist in the water for fear of being bombed. Went into Syracuse for a day. Bombs shook the rivets loose in the ship and they had to pump out the water to stay afloat. While under repair in Gib they scooped up fish in the dock, cleaned the fish and took them to galley for cooking.  They returned to the UK in October 1943, scorted a convoy to Londonderry and paid off in Falmouth. After a month's "foreign service leave" he got married, left for Pompey a day later and was sent to Far East for two years until war's end.

Lt Cdr John Errol Manners RN DSC (Interviewed by Bill Forster)
HMS Viceroy

John Errol Manners was born in Exeter, Devon, on 25 September 1914 the son of Rear Admiral Sir Errol Manners RN (1883 - 1953) and entered Dartmouth Naval college at the age of 13. Despite the demands of a naval career he played cricket for Hampshire and is believed to be the last remaining pre-war first class cricketer. He was able to play for Hampshire while serving on the Royal yacht Vicoria and Albert in 1936 but from 1937 onwards he served on torpedo boats in the Mediterranean and the Far East. John Manners was in destroyers throughout World War II, moving from HMS Eglinton to the Tribal Class destroyer HMS Eskimo, his first command, in May 1942 and from there to HMS Viceroy during a refit at Jarrow on the Tyne in December 1943. Viceroy joined the twenty or so destroyers in the ‘Rosyth Escort Force’.  The majority were V or W class destroyers but eight or nine were American ‘four stackers’ on lease.  Viceroy was sent to Trondheim with Captain (D) of the Rosyth Escort Force, the NOIC designate, in May 1945 to accept the surrender of German naval forces. John Manners is 104 and almost certainly the last surviving CO of a wartime destroyer.

John Robert Lang (IWM Interview)
HMS Viscount - Reel 1

A British midshipman who served aboard HMS Renown and HMS Hood in Mediterranean, 1935-1936, and as an officer on HMS Viscount in GB coastal waters in 1938. His subsequentt service was with the Fleet Air Arm.

John Waters  (
Interviewed by Bill Forster)
HMS Wakefull

John Waters was born on the 5 March 1921 at Easington Lane, ten miles South of Sunderland in Co Durham. He left school at 14 but was determined not to follow his father down the pitts so moved to Leicester and started an apprenticeship as a bricklayer. He was bored and at eighteen joined the Navy and after shore training, passed out as an OD and was posted to HMS Wakeful at Devonport, Plymouth, in September.

He was on B Gun as part of Blue Watch and was in the Seamens Mess in the foc'sle with 40 - 50 others where his best mates were LS Robinson and his two class mates at Chatham, Dick Staines and Walsh. After a month on the Dover Patrol Wakeful escorted convoys from Liverpool to Canada, leaving halfway to escort an incoming convoy, and sometimes escorted the Queen Mary carrying military personnel to Canada for training. On leaving the British Isles  the liners continued unescorted relying on their speed. In January 1940 he fell  in rough seas, broke both his wrists and was put ashore at Milford Haven. This accident saved his life as three months later on the 29 May 1940 HMS Wakeful was sunk by e-boats from Antwerp during the Dunkirk evacuation with 640 soldiers aboard. John's three shipmates were killed and only 25 crew members and one soldier survived.

John Waters describes his service in the battleship HMS Warspite at the second battle of Narvik when eight German destroyers were sunk and in the Mediterranean at the Battle of Calabria in July 1940 and Matapam in March 1941 when three Italian cruisers were sunk. He has been almost stone deaf since Warspite was bombed during the German invasion of Crete but learned to lip-read. On recovering he was posted to HMS Woolwich, the destroyer depot ship at Alex, as the driver of the fast "skimmer boat" taking signals to the destroyers. After leave in Britain he joined Combined Operations and was sent to New Orleans via New York as a member of thecrew which brought a US built Landing Ship Tank, LST 9, to Britain via Bermuda. He describes service on LST 9 at the invasion of Sicily in July 1943 and the landings on the Italian coast. John returned to Britain, was appointed Leading Seaman and joined Naval Party 1730 which landed at Antwerp two weeks after the Normandy landings and followed the troops as they advanced on Hamburg where he ended the war living in luxury at the Four Seasons Hotel.

Bill Perks
Albert Foulser 
(Interviewed by Bill Forster)

Leslie William Perks was born on 31 March 1925 at Leamington Spa and still lives there today. He left school at 14 and became a despatch rider with the National Fire Service. He was a a few months short of  his eighteenth birthday when he decided to join the RAF but was told to come back when he was older so he joined the Navy instead. He did ten weeks basic training at HMS Ganges and going up the mast in the early morning was "a frightening experience".  He had to prove he could swim by putting on a big "duck suit" and floating in the pool for three minutes before he was allowed to go on the ferry to Harwich. If you couldn't swim you had to go to Ipswich for an evening out. He was sent from the depot at Chatham to Tobemory for an Asdic course but they were all "ping happy" so he deliberately failed the course.

He was then posted to HMS Walker, a V & W, which had just been converted to a Long Range Escort, in the King George VI Docks in London. His best friend on HMS Walker was Albert Foulser, a shipmate in the V & W Destroyer Association. They were part of a new ship’s company, very few if any had served with Donald Macintyre, the renowned "U-Boat Killer" (and first wartime CO of HMS Venomous) who commanded HMS Walker from March 1941 to February 1942.  Albert took the photographs of the ships company on this page and is standing alongside Bill Perks in both photographs. Their first CO was Royal Navy, the second was "wavy navy" (RNVR), a South African. They "worked up" in Scotland and were then sent to Londonderry, their base for escort duties to Gibraltar. On one occasion they ran out of fuel and had to go into Azores, a neutral country, to refuel.

They were sent to Gairloch and fitted out with cold weather gear for Arctic Convoys. The convoys formed up in Loch Ewe. Bill Perks and Albert Foulsher were on four Arctic Convoys (JW63, RA.63, RA.61 and RA.577) to Polyarnoe, the Russian naval base near Murmansk on the Kola inlet from late 1943 or early 1944. Billo Perk's action station was aft on the deck charges and there was a safety line with a sling to help you get there safely. When an officer failed to turn up for his watch he was found to have left the wardroom at the stern but had been washed overboard on his way to the bridge. The water froze on the top, guard rails, focsle and you had to chip ice to prevent the ship becoming unstable and capsising.

On the 30 April 1944 as HMS Walker left Polyanoe a Liberty Ship, William S Thayer, was torpedoed and they managed to go bow to bow and saved 22 men with 21 being rescued by HMS Whitehall. They were mostly Russian seamen being taken to Scotland to crew the Royal Sovereign which was on loan to the Soviet Navy.  Walker already had some American sailors onboard, in addition to her own crew so was quite crowded.  On another convoy the stanchions above the focastle were washed away and mess deck badly damaged and they went into Iceland where the Mess Deck was shored up with timber instead of being repaired. They escorted a convoy of troops from Milford Haven to the D-Day beaches but from then on were local escorts, Stranraer to Larne, until tbeing paid off at Barrow in Furness.  Bill Perks was sent to Malta to join a small minesweeper, L76, with a crew of 17 and they swept the North African coast, the Aegean and the Adriatic before being drafted back to Chatham and demobbed in 1946.

Brian de Courcy-Ireland (IWM interview, Reels 8 - 11)
HMS Westcott

This eleven reel interview with Capt Stanley Brian de Courcy-Ireland (1901-2001) was made in 1991. During his long service career he served in both world wars but these interviews only record his memories of his life and service career up to 1920. During this time he served on two V & W Class destroyers, HMS Westcott (1918-9) and HMS Venomous (1919).

Clifford "Stormy" Fairweather (Interviewed by Bill Forster)
HMS Westcott

Clifford Fairweather joined HMS Westcott, his first ship, as a "bunting tosser" at Greenock in January 1944. He described escorting four Arctic Convoys to Murmansk on the Kola Inlet in Arctic Russia. In June 1944 Westcott accompanied HMS Warspite to Caen where she was bombarding German positions but was forced to return to Portsmouth with boiler problems. On the 31st October Wescott escorted two large personnel ships, the Empress of Australia and the Scythia with 11,000 Russian nationals on board who had been 'captured' in France, while serving with the Germans. On the 30 December 1944 they escorted Convoy JW.63, by far their worst convoy. The weather was appaling and Stormy feared for his life. On arrival in the Clyde at the end of January 1945 Westcott had to go into dock for storm damage repairs.They were anchored in the Clyde on VE Day and celebrated but soon afterwards had to go to Iceland with senior officers aboard to sort out disturbances ashore.

Drafted to Dutch ship in Far East. Aspects of operations with Royal Navy in Mediterranean and Indian Ocean, 1945-1946: duties escorting ships to Gibraltar and mopping up Japanese troops in Dutch East Indies; opinion of Javanese troops; issued with revolver; story about two Japanese war criminals and hampers of items taken from Allied POWs; size of crew; role in charges of signals; learned to speak Dutch during period in Borneo; story of swimming in crocodile infested river; transferred to tanker in Dutch East Indies; description of voyage back to GB and demobilisation at Chatham, 1946. Aspects of post-war life and employment in GB: resumed employment as wood turner; role in organising reunions of shipmates from HMS Westcott and forming the V & W Destreoyer Association in 1993 and publishing the members stories in their journal Hard Lying and the book of the same name.

Mick Baron (Interviewed by Bill Forster)
HMS Westminster

Michael Baron was born at Reading on the 28 October 1925, the son of a self employed builder. He left school in 1940 a few months short of his sixteenth birthday and worked in a solicitor's office for a few months. He tried to join the Army as a Despatch Rider but was told to come back "when he changed his nappies"! He crossed the road to the Navy Recruiting Office and when they learned he could take down Morse at 18 - 20 words a minute
they took him without asking about his age. He and his brother had learned Morse by sending messages between their bedrooms. He was 16 and was sent to HMS KIng Alfred at Skegness for basic training and from there to a college in Aberdeen run for the Admiralty by the GPO to learn Morse. When he was seen doodling in class because he already knew Morse he was sent to Leydene House, Peterfield, on a two week coding course and posted to HMS Westminster at Rosyth in November 1942.

He was on East Coast Convoys from Methil on the Firth of Forth to Sheerness on the Thames estuary for fourteen months and estimated that Westminster did 66,000 miles during that time. Her 4.7-inch guns had been replaced with 4-inch AA guns (a WAIR Conversion) and she was often accompanied by HMS Wolfhound. or a US "four funneller" transferred to the Royal Navy under Lend Lease. The convoys of up to twenty ships assembled at Methil and met the escort force which usualy consisted of two destroyers and two trawlers at the Isle of May. The Senior Officer of the Escort, Lt. Cdr. Harold Godfrey Bowerman, DSC, RN was on Westminster. "Stumpy" Bowman was only 5 ft 3 inches and stood on a box on the bridge to be seen but was greatly respected. Earlier in the war Westminster earned the title "E-Boat Killer No 1". Depending on the speed of the convoy (set by the slowest ship) it took from 8 - 10 days to reach Sheerness and the main danger was from E-boats which had a top speed of 40 knots and mainly attacked at evening or night. South of Grimsby they were within range of the E-boats and followed one of four channels behind the East Coast minefield, labelled A to D. Channels were often closed while they were swept for mines laid by the E-boats. They occasionally called in at Grimsby and sometimes continued to Portsmouth. A Petty Officer Telegraphist was in charge of four telegraphists, two per watch. Two Hungarian interpreters who spoke German shared the office and listened in on voice frequencies to the E-boats. On one occasion Mick saw the coder turn white when an e-Boat asked permission to fire at the escorts. They left Sheerness on arrival to take a waiting convoy north but generally spent a couple of days at Rosyth for maintenance and repairs which allowed time for a trip to the Church Hostel in Dunfermelin for a bath and relaxation.  On his first trip south, being very young, he did not hear the alarm go off and slept right through an attack. He remembered one man being half washed overboard and then washed back. They were not attacked themselves but sunk or damaged two E-boats and occasionally lost a merchant ship. It was reported that HMS Westminster and sloop Widgeon attacked and routed a strong e-boat force off the east coast on the morning of the 15 April 1943.

On leaving Westminter he was sent on short courses at
Leydene House, Peterfield, and then posted to the Combined Operations station at Sheerness. He joined LCT 740 in Scotland as Telegraphist. She was powered by two 500 HP Paxman Ricardo diesel engines and commanded by a liutenant who had a junior officer, a Coxon, a motor mechanic with assistant and Mick Baron as telegraphist. They took her through the Irish Sea to Falmouth and loaded Canadian tanks for taking to the Normandy beaches on D-Day but this was cancelled without explanation. Two months later LCT 740 and LCT 741 (?) were ordered to the Far East. They broke down in the Bay of Biscay and had to call in at neutral Portugal where they went ashore for two hours in civvies. The LCT could only do 4.5 knotts and without the tanks aboard it was a bumpy uncomfortable trip. They were at Gib for a month and spent a few weeks in Malta where they celebrated VE Day before continuing to Alex annd through the Suez Canal to Kabrit where they heard the news of the Atom bomb being dropped on Japan. They left the LCT and returned to Britain on troop carriers. On arrival further courses at Petersfield were followed by a posting to Arbroath on Air Sea Rescue boats where he was stationed until he was demobbed.

Home and back to his parents at Reading but he needed a job and the Admiralty offered him one at the Y-Station (intercept station) at Scarborough where they did a lot of "naughty things". They picked up signals from Russia, mostly naval and diplomatic. At first they took them down by hand but switched to typewriters later and sent the signals to Blethchley for deciphering. That was Mick Baron's job for forty years. Computers came in in 1980s. In 1982 he was sent to the Ascencion Islands to intercept Argentinian traffic during the Falklands War. Unknown to Mick, his son joined Sigint (Signals Intelligence Agency) in 1985 and later moved to GCHQ. Michael Baron's wartime job as a telegraphist became his lifelong occupation and he has lived in Scarborough since moving there to work for Sigint at the Y-Station when the war ended.

Derek Tolfree (IWM Interview)

Derek Tolfree was born at Bromley in 1925 and was 14 when the war started and couldn't go back to school until the air raid shelters were built. He wanted to be a marine engineer but his father did not want him wasting time as a messenger for the ARP while waiting for the school to re-open so sent him to HMS Worcester, the Dartmouth of the Merchant Navy, which mainly trained deck officers. He intended to do an engineering apprenticeship on leaving Worcester but his friends were all joining the RNR and becoming deck officers so he did the same. He was posted to the battleship, HMS Nelson, at Scapa Flow aged 16 and felt a little isolated as the only RNR out of thirty midshipmen. But as he explained, "In the RNR we were sailors trying to be gentleman and in the RNVR they were gentlemen trying to be sailors".

After six months he was sent to Greenwich for two months and to Chatham for a month and was then posted to the Westminster, a WAIR Class conversion of an old V & W. He was 17 when he joined as a Midshipman at the end of 1942 and nineteen and a half when he became a sub lieutenant and was the only one of the original officers left when the war ended. He was on East Coast and Channel convoys. The officers were experienced but the ratings less so. He spent Christmas 1942 feeling miserable wandering round pubs on his own in Sheerness.

Bowerman, the CO, had been a submariner and was in command of the submarine HMS Oxley, the first British warship to be lost during the war, torpedoed by a British sub off Norway. Bowerman was one of only two survivors. On East Coast Convoys Westminster was the Second Leader and Wallace the Leader with Prince Philip as her First Lieutenant. The convoys terminated at the end of Southend pier and Wallace signaled "what are those funny balls at the back of your bridge?"and received the reply that they are a Type 994 radar aerial. Prince Philip wanted know why as Flotilla Leader Wallace did not have this advanced equipment. The truth was they were the balls hanging outside a pawn brokers shop in Newcastle taken as a souvenir on a trip ashore. Westminster kept this joke going for ages, and even requested the "regilding of the Type 994 aerials".

He described the routine for the FN (North) and FS (South) convoys along the east coast. The convoys assembled at Methil and met the escorts off May Island. There was a "Convoy Conference" with the Commodore, a RNR Senior Captain or, perhaps, a retired Admiral. There were "joiners" (colliers from Blyth, Newcastle, Middlesborough, etc) and "leavers" as far south as Hull. The convoy could have up to fifty ships in two columns. They communicated by loud hailers and signalling flags. The main danger in the North was from U-boats, further south aircraft and e-boats with mines in the narrow channels a constant danger the whole way. He saw quite a lot of ships blown up by mines. The merchant ships had to keep a compass bearing which was "completely foreign to deep ocean ships" but also follow the stern light of the ship ahead.

The escort force usually consisted of two V & W WAIR Class destroyers from the Rosyth Escort Force and two armed trawlers with Royal Navy officers and Fairmile Motor Launches (ML). Later on they also had some old US "four funnellers" which were very unreliable. Westminster always led the convoy while Bowerman, the senior officer in the escort force, was CO. In E-Boat Alley which extended south from Crommer to the Harwich area they were reinforced with Hunt Class destroyers from the 21 Flotilla at Sheerness and the V & Ws of 16th Destroyer Flotilla at Harwich. They also had a fighter escort, usually Spitfires, with Polish pilots which made communications "a bit of a shambles". The constant problems were keeping the lanes swept of mines and the wrecks all down the East Coast which made navigation difficult. They navigated by their masts during  daylight and by "pinging on the wrecks" with Asdic. They whole convoy anchored during fog and the two "balloon barrage ships" (requisitioned Channel Island steamers) had to pull down their balloons so as not to give their positions away.

He did not know their first CO, Ouvry, but the second was Bowerman, the submariner. The third was Johnny Dyer, "a wonderful guy" who joined as a lieutenan and had been a senior officer of coastal forces and First Lt on Samaurez in the Scharnhorst action where he won his DSC. The Doctor had to do the deciphering and was also Wardroom wine officer and entertainment officer. Relationship with ratings was pretty relaxed. The worst crime was "breaking leave" as they were a tightly manned ship but a happy ship with no fighting, drug taking, etc. He had one ten day leave but apart from that their only leave was during boiler cleaning (every six weeks). There were no courses or training, apart from the "attack teacher" for countering aircraft and anti-submarine teacher when in harbour.

When listening from the bridge with hydrophones combined with Asdic it was possible to distinguish reciprocating machinery, triple expansion, diesel, turbines, whales, porposes, etc. on the bridge over the loud speaker. He mimiced the noise they made to demonstrate how different they sounded. Their primary role was to protect the convoy from E-Boats.
There were lots of false alarms of E-boats. They were not very seaworthy and stayed away in moderate seas of Force 4 - 5 but if it was a dark calm night, espcially in winter, they would say, "Ernest will be out tonight". When the E-boats  laid up near a buoy they could only be distinguished by a bigger echo on the RDF. He described events when he was on the Bridge wth the Navigator and Captain at night when they sunk about three e-boats at night at about half a mile range. It was reported in the Mirror and Bristol paper where many crew members lived (see the entry in his Diary on 15 April 1943)

They took air crew on convoys and were taken on flights in Ansons to help gain familiarity with each others jobs. Early on they were often attacked by aircraft off Flamborough Head. They had Oerlikons and even a Bren Gun from Dunkirk (but was told that the Westminster got too drunk on gin from a wrecked ship and never made it to Dunkirk). He showed the interviewer lots of photographs from the Westminster - supplied by the V & W Destroyer Association? - which were scanned and are held at the IWM and described keeping his Midshipman's journal from joining HMS Nelson when only 16.

In the run up to D-Day there were loads of large allied aircrafy flying over and they were looking forward to being in the front line but were not involved.

When the war ended they were coming N up the east coast and missed the celebrations. Westminster was immediately sent to May Island in the FIrth of Forth to accept surrender of German U-boats. It was a beautiful sunny day and a calm sea and then up popped 12 submarines. Their conning towers oppened and their officers came out on deck and sat smoking cigars and drinking champagne. Terrific heroes, just on the wrong side, Doernitz was a wonderful bloke, they nearly beat us.

Westminster was one of the destroyers in the Rosyth Escort Force sent to the entry ports on the west coast of Norway. Westminster went to Stavanger and was the "trot boat", taking mail, despatches, and people up and down the inner leads with a pilot on the bridge, from Stavanger to Trondheim, Narvik, Bergen, Kristiansand, Oslo. They were very popular with the Norwegians and as soon as they entered harbour were invited ashore. They brought bread and butter and the Norwegians served lobsters and champagne. On one occasion they had to leave at 5 am, all a bit hung over and the engine room failed to respond to the Telegraph. Let go fore, let go aft and nothing happened. They really looked after the ship but back at Rosyth she was stuck on the mud at Grangemouth and stripped out.

He joined the Tramadoc Bay, a Bay Class Frigate being built at Harland & Wolfe as Navigator Officer. The Germans had surrendered six of the new Type XXI u-boats which were capable of 20 knots submerged at which speed sonar was ineffective. They had to tow one of two for the Russians to Libau on Baltic in Latvia. The steering jammed on a u-boat in middle of north sea in a terrific storm and the tow parted and they had to return for repairs. On arrival at Libau they dropped the tow inside breakwater and their engineer went with the u-boat to the naval port while Westminster went to the commercial port. The engineer was arrested while rejoining his ship. There was a feeling of great apprehension, they were only allowed ashore once to the local officers club. He was to be demobbed but had no idea what to do for a living so stayed on until the "end of the period of the present emergency" and was sent on a troop ship to Malta where he became Navigator on HMS Thisbe with the 8th Minesweeping Flotilla and eventually Navigating Officer for the whole Flotilla, sweeping between Cape Bon and Sicily. The Captain was Kirkpatrick, a veteran of Jutland who lost out to the Geddex Axe but returned in 1939 and was at Dunkirk.

All RNR officers who missed taking their certificates because of the war could go on a special course run by the Navy. He took the course, passed his Certificate as Second Mate and joined the PO Union Pacific Steamship Company in New Zealand for six years and then returned to Britain and joined Elders and Fyffes' banana boats. He decided to leave the sea and joined Lucas at Bristol and then in London as UK Sales Manager but stayed in the RNR for thirty years.

Herbert Reginald Dyer (IWM interview)
HMS Westminster

Born in Filey, Yorkshire, the son of a farmer at Peterborough. Left school at 14 and was playing football professionally at Scarborough when war was declared.  He tried to join up but they only offered him the Army so waited until he was called up and they agreed to him joining the Navy. He joined his first ship, HMS Westminster, at Portsmouth where she was being repaired after Dunkirk in Summer 1940. They were "pushed for space" and he was sleeping on the steam capstan at first. He was an Asdic operator on the bridge with the CO and officers and the Skipper would say "sweep from ten degrees ahead, or "sweep from 10 degrees starboard / port", etc. They never picked up submarines but often detected wrecks, their ping sounded different. The E-boats tended to be waiting for them just of Aldeburgh before they turned into the Thames estuary. The convoy was attacked, they sank one or two ships each convoy. He remembered a near miss when he saw a torpedo go past their stern. They always attacked at night, in fast and off again immediately. By the time the starshell came down they were gone. They fired at the e-boats and hoped for the best. They brought one plane down. They often had a Blenheim as an escort (not fighters) and the enemy kept away. The Forth estuary up to Rosyth was also mined, they were sweeping all the time. He liked the Westminster, liked the officers, the bearded lieutenant used to bet on the results of football matches against other ships. A lot of the crew were trained at HMS Flying Fox in Bristol.

After a year with Westminster they asked for volunteers for Motor Launches. He trained at Campbeltown and joined ML 457 at Brightlingsea, armed with Oerlikons and twin Lewis guns and depth charges. Had nine or ten crew. He was the sole Asdic operator, ASD (Anti-Submarine detector). They had bunks instead of hammocks on the ML. They went to Falmouth and went aboard a Commando boat with the CO and learned they would take part in a raid on St Nazaire. They went on a trial trip to the Scilly Isles in dreadful weather. But they had beautiful weather on the crossing to St Nazaire. There were eight ML and two destroyers and they had a nice easy passage until they neared the Loire. There was supposed to have been an air attack, but it came too soon and alerted the defence and made things worse. They were fired at from both sides of the river as they ascended the Loire to the Old Mole. They tied up by the Mole; the other boats did not make it, their petrol tanks stored on deck for increased range caught fire. The Skipper was a Lt Cdr Collier, the Yachting Correspondent for The Times. They landed their Commandos, a demolition team of about ten or twelve. The Germans in a Pill Box were dropping hand grenades on the bridge, took the skippers leg off and the others on the bridge were killed.
Their twin Lewis jammed so they could not fight back.  The Skipper gave orders to push off from the Mole, they were hit on starboard side, caught fire, he ordered them to abandon ship as they were worried the fuel tanks on the deck would explode. I was untouched, swam to the Carley Raft, the tide was washing them out to sea, he tied up to the mast of a wreck, boarded the wreck. The Skipper and another man died. The Germans came and picked them up at dawn. Dyer was unwounded but very cold, they put us in an air raid shelter and "all of a sudden they heard the big bang, the Campbeltown had blown". They were then put in a hotel and were sent to a POW Camp for Naval men.

Ron Rendle  (Interviewed by Bill Forster)
HMS Wishart

Ron Rendle joined up at the beginning of the war and on the 3 November 1940 was on the Armed Merchant Cruiser (AMC) HMS Patroclus off the coast of Northern Ireland escorting the 6,000 ton steamer SS Casanare and HMS Laurentic when they encountered U-99 commanded by Otto Kretschmer which sank more allied tonnage than any U-boat commander. Ron described the Patroclus as like a floating block of flats with its hull buoyed up by empty oil barrels. U-99 sank all three ships but it took seven torpedoes to sink HMS Patroclus.  Ron Rendle took to the boats and was picked up the next day.

He qualified as a torpedoman and was posted to HMS Wishart at Southampton in middle of 1941 and spent the next three years on her. The CO, Cdr. Humphrey Gilbert Scott, RN, was "a good man". They "did every Malta convoy" as part of H Force. The Padre always joined a ship which was attacked so he was "not pleased to see him" when he joined Wishart and, sure enough, they were bombed. Saw an ammo ship blown up on one convoy.  Went ashore at Algiers after the landings and "had good times", they towed a torpedoed American merchant ship into Algiers and were paid prize money for it. 

He was relieved at Gib and sent back to GB to qualify as a Leading Torpedoman at HMS Vernon which had moved to the former girls school, Rodean, which made him "an old boy of Rodean". He was posted to Boston where HMS Bickerton was being built. The skipper of the Bickerton "was very fond of his alchohol" and his "No 1" more or less ran the ship on the way over.  He was replaced by Capt G.F.W. Macintyre, RN a brilliant u-boat hunter on Atlantic convoys, When they sunk U-765 Ron recalled that her survivors were much the same as them. Bickerton patrolled the entrance to the Channel during the D-Day landings and sunk U-269. Bickerton was sent Scapa Flow to escort two carriers, HMS Nabob and Trumpeter, to attack the Tirpitz at Tromso in Norway. Ron Rendle had a camera and MacIntyre transferred him from action station with the depth charges at the stern to the Bridge to photograph the sinking of his next u-boat. On the 22 August 1944 HMS Nabob was hit by an acoustic torpedo, a GNAT, fired by U-354 and soon afterwards Bickerton was hit in the stern and all of Ron's friends at his former action station were killed.  Rescuing survivors from the carrier was given priority and Macintyre told Ron to stay aboard until a launch was sent (one did not last long in Arctic waters) by another Captain Class destroyer, HMS Aylmer.  After survivor's leave he was sent to Ceylon to join another ship but the Atom bomb brought the war to an end. Donald Macintyre described events when HMS Bickerton was torpedoed in Chapter 12 of his autobiography, U-Boat Killer (1956), and Ron Rendle gets a brief mention: "A Leading Seaman Rendle and an Electrical Artificer Robinson both set good examples."

After the war he worked in local government, ended up as Housing Chief in Kent and took early retirement on a full pension at 55 when local government was reorganised. He ran the Barn nightclub in Braintree with his old shipmate, Bob Patience, and knew all the stars of the day.
Ron Rendle is 95 but still active and visits the casino once a week.

Robert Craddock (IWM Interview)
HMS Witch -
Reel 2

Joined the Navy in 1932 and served aboard HMS Witch, 1934-1936, mainly at Malta.

Peter Scott 
(Interviewed by Bill Forster)
HMS Wolfhound
Peter Scott was also interviewed at much greater length by the IWM: - Reel 7 for time on Wolfhound

Peter William Scott was born in London on 27 March 1926 and worked as cinema projectionist until 1943 when he enlisted in the Navy aged 17 as a "boy telegraphist". He trained as Telegraphist in Aberdeen, Scotland, and was then posted from Chatham to HMS Nith (8-28 March 1944) and HMS Albrighton (29 March - 10 June 1944).

He went to HMS Dundonald, a Combined Ops shore base in Scotland and fitted up  with khaki uniform (but with a Navy hat, see photograph) and left Portsmouth on the Albrighton on the 6 June 1944, D-Day.
Albrighton was part of the Eastern Task Force responsible for the landing at Gold Beach on "D Day". His brother George Scott was manning the guns on HMS KIngsmill during the assault. He was one of three telegraphers sent ashore to joint the beach unit in tents. He spent spent six weeks as a Navy telegraphist on Gold Beach during the D-Day landings in Normandy communicating between the beach master and his ship offshore. Had portable transmitters to transmit from boats offloading direct to the Albrighton offshore. Lived in tents in trenches (had to look out for mines). Because of a storm no supplies could be landed and they ran short of Army "combo boxes" of food. He had to generate electricity to power Aldis lights for signalling at night.80% of supplies were unloaded on the beaches, 20% in harbour. Returned to Britain on US Landing Craft. Returned home, parents now living on Clapham Common, took  dog for walk and attacked by buzz-bomb.

He went on leave and posted to Rosyth to join HMS Wolfhound. He was sent to Bergen and then Stevanger, for about three months. Some Germans stayed with their Norwegian wives but regarded as traitors. He served as
a telegraphist on HMS Wolfhound in coastal waters from 22 May - 4 July 1945. HMS Wolfhound was sent to Bergen and Stavanger in Norway to accept the surrender of German naval forces in May 1945. Joined one of six landing crafts going to USA with one ocean going tug as an escort. Went via Canary Islands, Bermuda to New York. Returned to Britain on the Queen Mary, her last voyage as a troop ship but also carried civilians separated to port and starboard sides. Demobbed in December 1946.

Peter Scott ends by reading a poem, "Who are these men", written by a eleven year old Joannie Johnson in 1996 and describing his annual return to the D-Day beaches in June.

John Pearce (IWM Interview)

John Pearce was born in Manchester in 1918 and lived in a "home". His father worked as a boilerman in a hospital and Pearce left school at 14 and worked in a factory at Trafford Park. When war was declared he was a Boys Instructor at HMS Wildfire in Kent. Captain Tudgeway assembled the boys and was cheered when he ended his talk with "to Hell with every German!" At last we knew that Britain was going to do something about it. They spent the next two hours in shelters until the "All Clear" was declared.

In 1938 he was posted to HMS Whitley, the first ship to be given 4-inch anti-aircraft guns and was told that if war broke out she would defend London. They needed ballast in the bilges to make up the weight of the 4.7-inch guns removed. The 4-inch shells included their catridges and were raised on a cruet by a hoist to the gun crews, there was no need to assemble shells and catridge before loading. He was made Ship's Writer as he could type and was "clerk" to Lt Bell, the Correspondence Officer.
He was given a little hut as an office on the dockside at Chatham. The CO, J.W. Bolwood inspected the book in which he ecorded deliveries of packages which had to be signed by Lt Bell and found a book recording future ship movements which had been signed for was missing. Lt Bell was court martialled for the loss of the book he had recorded as being delivered and Pearce was a witness. Lt Bell was severely reprimanded but his officer "friend" proved that the book could not have been received as it would not have fitted in the size of envelope. Pierce was posted to Wolfhound, the "Guard Ship" at Calais which bombarded tanks approaching along the roads to Calais but he knew very little about what was going on. He was a LS Quartermaster on the searchlight platform and saw a bomb fall down the funnel of a destroyer, HMS Wessex, two miles offshore and it looked as if the whole ship had been wiped out but the sghip was not lost and most of the men were saved.  As Quartermaster he was in the wheelhouse when they were  alongside and the CO told soldiers on the quayside they could not come aboard.

They returned to Dover and put a brow out to the foc'sle. Two double decker buses arrived from Chatham with a landing party of about 150, their first indication that they were to pick anybody up. He directed them down to the iron deck near the torpedo tubes and returned to Wheelhouse where his job was to steer the ship. It was a beautiful day, everybody relaxing, smoking in the sun on the iron deck when they heard the screaming noise of a Stuka dive bomber. They heeled to port and there was chaos as they dashed to their action stations. They weren't hit but bombs fell on all side and
they shot down one of the three Stukas . Dunkirk was wreathed in black smoke. The jetty was a long trestle wooden structure with a beacon light house at one end, part of it broken off from the rest of the jetty. Bombs were falling indiscrimately, soldiers diving into the water to escape the bombing with their boots and uniforms. He thought Power, a tall commanding figure was in charge of the landing party of "blue jacketts". They went alongside the jetty, portside to. The gangway was higher on the jetty than on the ship and a French civilian on the jetty was yelling out, warning them that the tide was dropping rapidly and they would soon be aground. The 1st Lt took them out astern but they lost or damaged their port screw and tied up alongside a French trawler. They did not open fire on the planes overhead, perhaps not to attract attention to themselves. The CO came aboard, they again went out stern first and headed out to sea.

Pearce was told to report to the CO, Lt Cdr J.W. McCoy RN, on the bridge and was ordered to take the motor boat to a beach in front of a gas holder which was on fire to pick up refugees. He had no idea they were there to evacuate the troops. As Quartermaster it was part of his job to drive the motor boat, he was at the tiller communicating by whistle to the man in charge of the engine, the "tankie" a two badge AB, and
towing the whaler with an AB aboard with a rifle. It was about 2 - 3 pm, there were no refugees on the beach, but a few soldiers with one wounded eventually turned up. He waited half an hour but nobody else came so they made their way back to their ship, the only ship waiting offshore. He was ordered back to the beach, nobody was there for some time but eventually managed to fill their boat, taking 30 - 40 troops aboard, mostly in the whaler. A calm beautiful day, a scrambling net was lowered so that the troops could climb aboard the Wolfhound. More troops arrived on the beach, and Pearce was ordered back in the whaler to bring them out to the ship. Drifters and smaller crafts arrived and he took the troops to them so that he could complete more trips. He made between a dozen and twenty trips. He returned to Wolfhound for instructions and was told to tow six lifeboats from a liner lying offshore to the beach and return them afterwards to the liner. The sea was crowded but there was no bombing of the beach and he could cope with the numbers on the beach. Towed three of the lifeboats back to the liner. It was now dark and they left a phosphorescent wake, worried this could be seen by enemy aircraft.

He returned to Wolfhound and was told they would be hoisted aboard, presumably full as the drifters had been taking troops to Wolfhound. It was now 2 am and had nothing to eat since 2 pm in the afternoon. Went down to the Mess Deck for tea but the stench was dreadful, choc-a-block with soldiers, so he went back to the wheelhouse without a cup of tea and Wolfhound made her way back to Dover. The missing screw  affected the steering and she needed 15 degrees on to counter this. They were attacked on the way back, a plane firing tracer bullets. The troops left the ship, leaving utter chaos behind, souvenirs, letters, tin helmets and even wallets. Five people had died on the way over. Opened deadlights and port holes to let in fresh air and cleaned the ship from top to bottom. They went back to Chatham but had to give priority to another destroyer, the Isis or Inglefield, one of the I Boats. He returned in civilian clothes to his home in Sheerness at dawn and felt embarrassed to be seen in civies as all the troops were arriving. He was shocked to see first hand how bad things were, his wife was expecting a baby and he thought the Germans might soon be invading Britain.

Frank Witton (Interviewed by Bill Forster)
HMS Vortigern & HMS Woolston

Frank Witton
(Interviewed by Richard McDonough, IWM)

Frank Charles Witton was born in St Albans on 16 December 1922 and lived there until the age of 98 when he moved to Devizes to be closer to his son. He will be 100 on the 16 December this year. Frank joined Handley Page at Radlet, a reserved occupation, but they released him to join the Royal Navy. After training at HMS Duke in Worcestershire as a stoker he was posted from HMS Pembroke at Chatham to his first ship, HMS Woolston, in February 1942. Woolston was at sea and they stayed aboard HMS Vortigern at Rosyth until she returned to port, a lucky escape as HMS Vortigern was sunk the next month and only twelve men were saved.

HMS Woolston joined the Home Fleet at Scapa Flow and escorted Arctic Convoy PQ.12 to Archangel and Frank described the terrifying conditions in appalling weather without any winter clothing. Afterwards HMS Woolston became an escort for east coast convoys from Rosyth to Sheerness. Woolston was sent to the Mediterranean and escorted the troop ships from Malta to invade Sicily, Operation Torch. Woolston returned to Plymouth, low on fuel (HMS Valorous had to be towed). Fuel was stored in the fresh water tanks to extend their range. Frank described Lt Hawkins, the CO at Sicily in 1943 , as "a bit of a tartar" but Jack Broughton was "a smashing bloke" and "all his officers were really good".

In May 1945 Woolston went to Norway to accept the surrender of the U-Boats at Bergen. Admiral Otto von Schrader came aboard to surrender to  Captain B D Nicholson RN, NOIC Bergen, and the Norwegian naval commander. Dr Mathews, a future Dean of St Albans Cathedral, was Padre on HMS Norfolk which arrived at Bergen the next day spoke at the service in the Church. Frank joined HMS Suffolk and was sent to Melbourne, Australia, but when Japan surrendered returned to Britain. Frank was demobbed in 1946, married and returned to St Albans where he worked as a boiler man at Roses Lime Juice in Grosvenor Road for 35 years.

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