Any typos or grammatical glitches are due to my incompetence as a typist.
This was 1938 and Neville Chamberlain had returned from Germany waving a piece of paper saying peace in our time, but the majority of the people could see different and that most of the fellows my age whom I knew who didn’t work in the mines, were flocking to them to get on. There were three coal mines within 5 miles of where I lived and I’d worked at all there of the. At this time I was working at Snowden. Things were looking pretty black for Europe by this time and it was given out that all people working at the mines were in a reserved occupation and couldn’t be drafted in the services, so I decided to volunteer for the Navy, which I did three months before the war started.
I reported to Chatham barracks for a physical. I was told that I had passed and would be sent for. They asked which branch I wanted to serve in. I chose the engine room branch because I did not want to tote a gun or even fire a gun on the ships. I got my wish. While going through boot training nothing really happened worth mentioning, except near the end of our training war was declared. We were on the parade ground and listening to the prime minister talking and telling us we had declared war on Germany. Three minutes after 11 o’clock the air raid warnings sounded. We had been told time and time again not to panic but there was utter confusion with people running everywhere. My buddy and I were walking towards the shelter we were assigned to when an officer blasted us for not moving fast enough. We thought we were doing what we were told. Anyway, nothing happened and it was soon over. That was the one and only time I ever went into a shelter during a raid.
In a couple of days time some of the class I was in were detailed to take a repair ship to Dover which was about six miles from my home. It had no armaments on it at all and it was old. Were told we had to get there as soon as possible. We got it out to sea. It was a coal burner and all the speed it would do was five knots. We eventually got there. This is where I lost my buddy because he never came on this trip. I didn’t know then but it would be nearly seven years before I’d see him again. We took the ship to Dover and after it was berthed most of us were sent back to Chatham. I found myself drafted to another old ship0 called the Curacoa. She was an ack ack 4.7 guns and also experimental for magnetic mines. She could do 26 knots. We were mostly used for convoy duties.
We were sent to Norway. That is where we really saw our first action. We were hit hard while there. If it had not been for our First we would have ended up prisoners of war. The Captain wanted to beach the ship but the First Lt said, “No. Let’s take it home.”
I’ll never forget this action because they had just piped that we could get something to eat as there were some of our fighters overhead. We were on the mess deck getting sandwiches when action stations sounded. We had to pass under the bridge to get to our deck. While going through, that part of the deck, the ship was hit. I was picked up and blown through four bulk head doors and at the other end hit a wall. As I did this the lights went out. I really thought I was blind, but the lights came back on after a while. I found I didn’t have a scratch on me.
I stayed on this ship for quite some time. I joined it as a second class stoker and made my way up to leading hand before being called back to barracks to go through school for Petty Officer.
There was another time on this ship when we were called off of shore leave to go looking for a destroyer called the Glowworm. The last word was she had contacted the German fleet. I don’t know what good we would have been had we ever found her.
During my time on this ship I’d palled up with Harry. He used to come home with me when we were given leave. I remember that on one of these times we took a bike to Deal. For the first time in I don’t know how long we saw Sylvia. We talked and she asked what we were doing in Deal. I told her we were just looking around before the pubs opened so we could get a drink. By now that was mostly what we went ashore for was to get drunk and forget our troubles. She said she didn’t believe it. We told her to stick around and she would find out. To my surprise she did. She stayed with us until she thought we were sober enough to ride the bikes home. That was the last time I ever saw her to speak to.
As I said earlier, I spent quite some time on this ship but one day the regulating chief came to me and said the depot had sent for me to go through for Petty Officer school. He had tried to delay it as he had no one to take my place in double bottoms, as that had been my job most of the time on board, but they refused. So I had to go. To be truthful, I don’t remember leaving. You see, everyone wanted me to have sippers, as we called them, of their rum. I travelled from Scotland to London before I ever came to, I was so drunk.
The Curacoa’s next trip was another Queen Mary escort over to America like we had done before. That was her last trip because, I understand, there was a submarine scare and seeing the Queen Mary had more speed than the old boat, she was cut in half and most of the crew went down with the ship. I lost most of my best mates on her.
I went through P O school and passed. I was drafted onto the Uganda. She was new. We went to the shipyard to commission her. Of course, we had to have working up trials to get the ship’s company to operate expertly. We were sent to the Med to join the fleet. We went through North Africa and Sicily.
As I said before, my duties were double bottoms, which took me all over the ship during action. I remember being on deck when zero hour came in Sicily and watching the fireworks go off when we invaded. We also picked two paratroopers out of the sea that had been dropped too early. We watched the barges going in and at times were called for bombardment. After Sicily we went with the invasion fleet to Italy. A tanker got hit and lit up everything around. I especially remember the day we got hit by a chase-me-Charley bomb, as we called them. It went through two armored decks and through the bottom of the ship and blew back inside. The hole left in the bottom you could drive a double decker bus through which left one engine out of four operational. That one engine took us back to Malta where they patched us up. We were told we would go back to the UK from there but when the time came and we left the Med we ended up in the US.
Our first call was Norfolk where we received our first real meal since leaving Malta. I was still in double bottoms. There was one Chief, one Petty Officer, two leading hands, myself and another plus three stokers. We had to keep the ship in trim. The other leading hand was in the forward end of the ship flooding some tank when the Chief sent me to tell them to stop. On the way over they were coming back and said everything was closed off. I told the Chief what they said and he said OK. It must have been several hours after that the boiler room lost steam through water in the oil line. So, of course, there was a big panic. It turned out that all the blame was put on me. Now the chief mail(?) job was to check things out after things were down, which I never knew him to do ever. Anyway, I was taken before the Captain with charges of negligence. He listened to the officer in charge of our party list the charges. Then he asked me what happened. I explained it. Afterwards, He said, “Commander Reedit looks to me like the wrong man is standing in front of me.” Two or three days later I was called to the bridge in front of him again. He told me that seeing as there had to be a scapegoat to answer I was elected. He was sorry but he would have to reprimand me. He said Commander Reed—(this must be the Bloody Reed dad always talked about)—wanted a severe reprimand but that he would not go along with that because it was unfair to me. As far as he was concerned it should have been the chief who was in my place. Anyway, before I got off the bridge Commander Reed had beaten down the steps and met me at the mess deck. He wanted me to go have a drink with him and forget everything as it would never go on my papers. I told him no thanks to him and, no, I would not have a drink with him and I would not forget in a hurry what he had tried to do.
It wasn’t long after we had reached Charleston, SC, that my PO rating came through. He sent for me and congratulated me. He said I was one of the first he knew who had made PO in such a short time in the Navy. Sometime later he sent for me and told me that he was sending my name in for sea candidate. He said he was submitting Stonebridge as well so that I would have a friend to go through the school with. I told him if he did I would refuse it as I wanted to get out of this mob not die in it. Neither Stonebridge nor I were submitted.