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Posted: Wed Jan 27, 2016 6:30 pm
My father, John Handley, served on ML 207 during WW2 and over the years he recounted many stories of his time aboard. So much so, I feel I actually know the crew members myself!
Back in the 80’s he put pen to paper and wrote down an account of his experiences. His first attempt resulted in a relatively brief document that was quite matter of fact and lacked the descriptive flair and energy that came through with his spoken word – my dad was a natural story teller! Some years later, after a little encouragement, he decided to write a more descriptive and fuller version.
The project became an ongoing task that he picked-up and put-down again over the years as his enthusiasm waxed and waned and different pressures and priorities arose. In fact he was still tinkering with the book when, sadly, he passed away. That was back in 2010. I would love to be able to complete the work and get it published. It’s full of anecdotes and I’m sure it would be thoroughly enjoyed by anyone who read it.
In reality, it’s not that far off being finished, though ensuring that it is completed to the standard and accuracy it deserves will take a lot of time and effort. Even so, I am determined to give it a go. I wonder if any members have information relating to ML 207 that could help? I am particularly interested in the period January 1944 to March 1946, which is when my father was with the ship.
One thing that would be priceless is the ships log. My father’s writings were never intended to be an exhaustive account of the movements and deployments of ML207 during the war, nor should it attempt to be. It stands as a fascinating record of the lives and experiences of those aboard. However, the log would help sort out the timeline of the story and confirm certain details. Does anyone know if the log survived or where it is likely to be? To datet The National Archives have drawn a blank. My dad said that ML 207 was, almost always, with ML 206, the lead boat in the 1st ML Flotilla. So, information relating to this vessel and its movements would be almost as valuable.
Family and friends always called my father ‘Jack’ but the crew of ML 207 nicknamed him ‘Tommy’, after the then popular Tommy Handley. Here is a very brief account of his time aboard:
In 1943, at the age of 17, my father volunteered for the Royal Navy. Initially he attended HMS Duke, in Malvern, were he trained as a Junior Motor Mechanic or Stoker to give it the correct title. After his training he Joined MGB 55 at HMS Attack in Portland and was involved in escorting and protecting the Atlantic Convoys as they headed in and out of the channel. In early 1944, he was transferred to ML 207 (part of the 1st ML Flotilla), which was then based at HMS Hornet, in Gosport. When my father first joined ML 207, she was also involved in escorting convoys but in the early spring of 1944, she was adapted for minesweeping in readiness for the Normandy landings. On D-Day itself, ML207 was attached to the 6th minesweeping flotilla and swept at the very front of the fleet sweepers leading the invasion force through channel 5 to Gold Beach.
After the invasion, ML 207 continued its minesweeping duties in the Ports of Northern France and was one of the first vessels involved in sweeping the river Seine. It went on to help clear the Scheldt Estuary and the crew experienced the menace of the V1 and V2 rockets hitting Antwerp when they finally got through to the port. Whilst it was involved in clearing the Scheldt, ML 207 was based at Ostend. In fact, she was at this port when the lives of many coastal forces personnel were lost to a tragic accident caused when MTBs taking on fuel exploded.
Towards the end of the war, ML 207 was tasked with clearing minefields in the waters of the Scandinavian countries and Germany itself - it was one of the first Allied Vessels into Denmark and was sweeping mines on the Kiel Canal when the war in Europe ended. Later the ship even took part in escorting German vessels being taken to Russia as part of wartime reparations, encountering horrendous winter storms that wrecked many of the ships being escorted and came within a hairs breath of destroying the plucky ML itself.
Here is a list of the crew when my father was aboard. He knew many of his crewmates by nicknames, so his recollection of their real names, especially surnames, may not be quite correct. The descriptions by each name are my father's words.
Temp Lieut. W. M. Hicks-Beach RNVR (Replaced by Temp Lieut. J. Veale RNVR)
Temp. Sub. Lieut. J. G. Francis RNVR
Temp. Midshipman P. V. Wood RNVR
Longmate The oldest - about forty. Had been in the Navy for years. Smoked a pipe.
Arthur (Knight?) Known to all as Mac. A Petty Officer. One of the oldest on the boat, probably in his late thirties.' A really nice bloke, always helpful but suffered from terrible seasickness. I think he came from the Portsmouth area.
Jack Handley (Tommy – my father)
Louie Kent Black wavy hair.
Scouse From Liverpool. Don't know his real name. My father was his replacement. He left the ship the morning after dad arrived.
Dave Whitson (Scottish?) Had a cheery face, blond curly hair, about dad's age.
Billy Cracknell A former sub-mariner. He had to do an emergency escape when his sub got into trouble. Bit of a traumatic event and he had a habit of re-enacting it in his sleep every now and then.
Ernie Pye From Liverpool, Always had an infectious grins on his face.
Dai Jones From Cardiff, a friendly sort of bloke, who practised his clarinet whenever he had chance.
Nick Crawford From Edinburgh, a half decent cook, in his mid twenties.
Tom Buckley Scottish.
Hugh McCuska From Durham, in his mid twenties.
George Exley From Yorkshire (Blond hair)
‘Sparky’ Renwick (Scottish) Brown hair, well built. Sporty type, played rugby, didn’t drink or smoke - Still drew his rum ration though and swapped it for chocolate. Was in the Salvation Army, as was his wife.
Dave Barber (Ping) From London. A fair-haired man in his twenties - a Killock
Bunts Bunts got his nickname because he was the signalman. I do not know his real name. Bunts could also be the nickname of one of the other known crew members who acted as signalman.
For further interest I have attached a couple of photographs – I have quite a collection, though most are not in the best of condition. The first is of four of the crew of ML 207. My father is the furthest to the right. The second is of ML 207 decked out in bunting on VJ Day. The ship was in Nykobing Falster, Denmark at the time. I will also post the above information on the World Naval Ships Forun website to see if any of its members can help.
Re: ML 207
Posted: Thu Jan 28, 2016 12:54 am
Thank you for sharing your considerable research on ML 207. In all the time I have spent researching the subject of Coastal Forces, I've never been able to come by a definitive answer as to what if anything happened to all the log books; whether there was any official attempt made by the Navy to collect them up, and then keep them afterwards. At the end of the war, the boats were all mothballed, sold or otherwise disposed of remarkably quickly, as were the bases which served them, and it would appear the only ones that survived were those taken by officers to have as souvenirs. In fact I am only aware of the existence of two; one for SGB 8, which I saw on display once in the Imperial War Museum North at Manchester, and the other for MTB 85 which was based in the Mediterranean, and which was the command of H F Cooper, who compiled histories of the Mediterranean 'short' boat flotillas that subsequently formed the basis for the book Mediterranean MTBs at War co-written with Len Reynolds. He presumably passed them on to Len Reynolds, who subsequently deposited them along with all his other research papers at the IWM London, where I saw it once. So all-in-all they're pretty rare things.
The other thing, is that whereas the MTBs and MGBs have been given relatively decent coverage in books, the subject of the MLs, which were more numerous, has not been as well documented. The former Coastal Forces Veterans Association (CFVA) which ran between 1974-2007 used to produce quarterly newsletters in which it's possible there may be the odd mention, and I'll try to take a look for you, but I imagine you probably have most of the available information yourself already.
Re: ML 207
Posted: Thu Jan 28, 2016 6:40 pm
Thank you for your swift reply. I keep coming across things that, whilst not as good as the ships’ log, are helping to confirm were ML 207 was a different times. Here is one example that I though forum members would find interesting.
Following the Normandy Landings, the ML mines weepers worked quickly to sweep the harbours of the channel ports as the German forces were defeated or retreated eastwards. As a consequence, the crews were amongst the first allied forces to enter these settlements. My father often spoke of the tremendous welcome they received from those liberated. He said the French would run up to them to embrace them or present flowers or other gifts. When they were sweeping the River Seine there were many occasions when locals stood on bridges and threw flowers onto the deck as the ship passed underneath. In his writings my father mentions one occasion in particular when an elderly woman came over to him and presented him with a fabulous bunch of roses. Although he details the names of many of the ports he entered, he doesn’t say exactly where he was when he was given the roses. However, I found something amongst his papers that solved the mystery. It was a post card that he sent to his girlfriend (later my mother), a copy of which I have attached.
Not being allowed to take photographs, at least in the early months after the invasion, the crew would collect postcards and some of these they sent home. As with all their correspondence, the cards were, of course, subject to censorship and the particular card I found was no exception. On the reverse, my father has written the words, “ This is the place were that old woman gave me the roses”. Unfortunately, as you will see, the sensor has scratched out the name of the town on both the front and rear of the card. However, the picture on the front has some very distinctive features, including a building called Normandy Hotel and a distinctive church spire. They have enabled me to identify the location as the centre of the town of Wissant, which, as you may know, is on the channel coast to the west of Calais. I have attached a modern day photograph for comparison (this has been taken from the other end of the road so the buildings are transposed). Although there have been some inevitable changes over the years, including a new building on the far side of the hotel, I am sure that it is the same location. Wissant was liberated in the early days of September 1944.
Re: ML 207
Posted: Fri Jan 29, 2016 12:30 am
I believe the postcard manufacturer is Combier Mâcon, of which there are many examples on the internet, though I haven't managed to find a match for yours. The street though would appear to be the Rue de la Mer, which though common, is not in every town. The name seems a long one, possibly starting with a 'C', and there is Courseulles-sur-Mer, which was in the Canadian sector of the D-Day landings, and is a port, and does have a street of that name which is narrow and built up like the one shown, though there is nothing in Google streetview today that is an exact match.
I recall an article about minesweeping in the old newsletters I spoke of, which I think was the Seine, so I must try and find it and see if it was the same flotilla. I also recall one about MLs in Germany which mentioned a little German girl who used to come down to the boat, and the sailors took pity on her and used to feed her.
I'll get back to you.
Re: ML 207
Posted: Fri Jan 29, 2016 7:15 pm
I think you are correct with Courseulles-sur-Mer as the location. I had looked at this town but couldn’t find a spot within it that seemed to fit. I also convinced myself that there was a church spire in the picture on the front of the postcard - especially when I saw the combination of Hotel Normandy and Church at Wissant. Now I don’t think there is a church spire. I’ve also been looking on the Internet for old postcards. I found one that seems to fit. Unfortunately, it is only a thumbnail image but it appears to be the same place as shown in my father's postcard and is titled ‘Rue de la Mer, Courseulles-sur-Mer (see attached).
It’s funny that you mentioned the little French girl who the crew of an ML used to feed. The crew of ML 207 had a similar experience - as I suppose many of the ship’s crews did. In ML 207’S case it was a little Dutch boy named Jan and at the port of Terneuzen, when the ship was sweeping the Scheldt Estuary. Mt father said that Jan always seemed to be waiting on the quayside for them whenever ML 207 arrived at the port. The skipper used to allow him on board and the crew used to make a fuss of him and give him food. In return, Jan used to love acting as one of the crew and helped out with chores. My father said he often wondered what happened to the young lad. There is a picture of Jan, aboard ML 207, in my father’s photograph albums. Sadly, the photograph is not in the best of condition but I’ve attached a scan of it anyway.
Re: ML 207
Posted: Sat Jan 30, 2016 3:13 am
Yes I think it definitely is Courseulles-sur-Mer. Your original coloured postcard shows a metal latticed tower, presumably for telegraph signals, at the corner of the car park in front of the restaurant part of the hotel on the left, and I have found one for Rue de la Mer at Courseulles which is taken from up the street looking back at the restaurant on the right hand side now, with the same metal tower clearly visible on the end of the building, and then the open space beyond with cars parked.
Re: ML 207
Posted: Sun Jan 31, 2016 5:37 pm
To my amazement, I came across the same Combier Mâcon, postcard (only this time uncoloured) on a French auction site and have put a bid in for it – hopefully I get it. A screen shot of the card is attached. So, we now have 100% confirmation that the location is indeed Courseulles-sur-Mer.
Re: ML 207
Posted: Sun Jan 31, 2016 6:19 pm
A very good find!
Re: ML 207
Posted: Wed Feb 03, 2016 7:58 pm
I've just realised where I probably heard about the minesweeping in the Seine that I referred to in your thread on ML 207, and that is in part four of the sound recording made by the IWM of William Arthur Gostling
as I recognise my own note for ML 206 referenced earlier in this thread, which mentions it.
Thank you for the link to Arthur Goslings voice recording at the Imperial War Museum. I found the recording fascinating and it was fabulous to hear an account of some of the events the flotilla experienced from one of my father’s comrades – I just wish tape had been longer! The recording also confirmed a number of details contained in my father’s writings, including operations at Kristiansand Norway and minesweeping on the River Seine. In addition, it explained the background of how the second officer of ML 206 was killed by shrapnel whilst at a home port. My father told me about this incident but haddn't included it in his writtings. It occured just before he joined the ML207 and the 1st ML flotilla but the crew told him about it.
Like Arthur Gosling, my father also records the danger of the Seine’s tidal bore. On one occasion, he was returning from a short spell of shore leave with other members of ML 207’S starboard watch, when the group heard panicked shouts though the trees in the direction of the Ship. Not knowing what was happening they ran towards noise only to find that the ML had left the jetty and was now mid river and at action stations. At first, the starboard watch thought the ship was under attack but learned later that the emergency had resulted from the river’s tidal bore. The powerful wave hit the tethered ML unexpectedly and came close to wrecking it. Only quick action by the crew averted disaster. They managed to free the moorings, start the engines and get the ship pointing down river.
At one point in the recording, Arthur Gosling says they had to catch up with the rest of the flotilla who were already at Kristiansand in Norway. He explains that ML 206 had been undergoing a refit and so the other ships had departed ahead of them.
In one of my father’s photograph albums, he has written ‘Kristiansand, May 1945’ under some of the photographs, which helps to put a time on the flotilla’s deployment. In his writings, he also says that the ML helped to transport, what he describes as, a small number of ‘combined operations’ personnel to the port. He adds that their passengers complained like hell about the cramped conditions and were also ill during the journey due to and rough seas - I take it that group were involved in helping to co-ordinate the surrender of German forces in some way. My father says they couldn’t wait to get off the ship and vowed never to travel on an ML again!
Whilst at Kristiansand, unlike Arthur Gosling, my father says that the Norwegians were friendly but the crew was a bit wary of them, at least at first – there had been many German collaborators in Norway during the war. My father mentions one man in particular who came to the ship to greet them and claimed to be a member of the resistance. The crew chatted to him but also treated him with more than a bit of suspicion. At one point, whist he was talking to the crew, the man asked if he could buy some cigarettes. My father ended up giving him a carton and refused the man’s repeated offers of payment.
Anyway, as it turned out, the man was a member of the resistance and had been involved in printing and distributing newssheets. He ended showing some of the crew a cleverly hidden printing press on which he had produced the sheets. Later, before the ship left for Denmark, he also presented my father with a German Naval Officer’s Dagger, which he had acquired, saying that it was in return for my father’s kindness in giving him the cigarettes when they first met. I still have the dagger and have attached a photograph of it. I suppose there must have been a lot of these about at the end of the war and I have read that German officers were using them as currency or were discarding them in an attempt to distance themselves from the Nazi regime. Originally, the scabbard of the one given to my father was highly gilded. Sadly, his sister couldn’t stop polishing it and eventually her constant cleaning wore away most of the gold plate. I also think I have a photograph of the man who gave the dagger to my father, though I can’t be sure because it is amongst some lose photographs and isn’t titled. However, I have a recollection that my father told me that the image was of the man who gave him the dagger in Kristiansand.
One thing that Arthur Gosling doesn’t talk about is the little French girl who the crew of an ML used to feed and that you mentioned. Is there another recording or perhaps an article that refers to this? If so, perhaps you can let me have the link or a copy.
Arthur Gosling’s recording also refers to ML 206’s commanding officer Harry Leslie. At one point, he talks about the officer coordinating the retrieval of a new type of mine whilst they were sweeping the Seine. According to the Royal Navy Lists of the time, which I have been looking through recently, It appears that Harry Leslie had left ML 206 and was already commanding a flotilla in the Far East when this happened. In your experience, are the Navy Lists accurate? The reason I ask is that I also have a similar discrepancy regarding when different commanders were actually in charge of ML 207.
Re: ML 207
Posted: Thu Feb 04, 2016 7:19 pm
Your father's memoir appears quite complete and will be a welcome addition to the history of Coastal Forces once complete! I'm not sure now whether I read or heard the account you refer to, though I'm certain it was a little German girl, and took place in Germany, presumably at Cuxhaven maybe, but wasn't necessarily the same MLs as your father's flotilla. I will continue to scan through the old CFVA newsletters for it, as I have not seen any reference that might fit in the IWM audio files available.
I have seen the Navy Lists before, there being several volumes issued for a year for some of the years during the war, so they cover several months at a time. The details would be supplied by the Admiralty and be the official list of postings.
shows him as having taken command of ML 906 on 28.08.44, but this would have been when the ML was still in Home Waters, as a number of the boats detailed for service in the Far East sailed all the way there under their own steam using the Suez Canal, leaving the UK after refits sometime in October 1944, so I don't know if this may accommodate the correct date for still being on ML 206 while it was working the Seine.
Len Reynolds in Dog Boats at War
does speak of one type of advanced German mine, called the Oyster mine.
It had been found that as the port was finally evacuated, the Germans have sown the approaches liberally with a new type of pressure mines — named oyster mines — which took on the character of either an acoustic or a magnetic mine according to the pressure of water displaced by a ship passing over them at more than 10 knots.
Re: ML 207
Posted: Tue Feb 09, 2016 2:19 am
Scouse From Liverpool. Don't know his real name. My father was his replacement. He left the ship the morning after dad arrived.
I found a former CFVA member named Colin Hubbard in the records, who was a Stoker onboard ML 207 when it was fitted with torpedo tubes, and who hailed from Southport, Merseyside. He went on to serve with MTBs 86 & 653.
Re: ML 207
Posted: Tue Feb 09, 2016 7:20 pm
It certainly looks as if Colin Hubbard is ‘Scouse’ - the man my father replaced was also a Stoker. The fact that he came from Southport rather than Liverpool wouldn’t matter. Anyone from the area and with the slightest hint of a Liverpool accent would immediately get the nickname Scouce and, of course, he could have been born in Liverpool.
Interestingly, I came across a record for a gallantry award for a Hugh McCusker from Durham (Gazette referenc: https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/iss ... ement/3328
). The citation is as follows:
‘MID awarded for outstanding skill, courage and devotion to duty in hazardous minesweeping operations in the ports of Northern France after the invasion Sep - Dec 1944.’
I looked up the record on the Forces War Records site and it details Hugh McCusker's ship as ML 571. However, I think this must be the same Hugh McCusker from Durham that my father refers to. If so, he was serving aboard ML 207 during the D-Day landings and also afterwards whilst the ship was sweeping mines in the ports of Northern France. I imagine that ML 571 was the last ship that he served on before he left the Navy, which is why the record details this as his ship, and that he would have actually received his MID whilst serving on ML 207.
Does anyone know how Forces War Records actually determine which ship a person served aboard from the record of a gallantry award? The corresponing Gazettte entry certainly does not detail it.
Re: ML 207
Posted: Wed Feb 10, 2016 5:04 pm
You can view the awards to Coastal Forces
using our database, which contain a link to the relevant start page for the group of awards in question in the London Gazette.
Most online genealogy sources are probably deriving their information on awards from those lists compiled by Seedie from the official Admiralty records. Normally the Senior Officer for the boat/flotilla concerned would forward a list of recommendations along with an action report, hence the general concept of 'mention in dispatches', which were then looked at by a panel of more senior officers, in a process I'm not exactly sure about, before a formal decision was made.
In theory, a longer version of the grounds for an award should exist, as some still do at the Public Record Office (PRO), which are lengthier than the ones presented with medals. These in turn are usually more informative than the mostly stock phrases employed by the London Gazette. Seedie I understand compiled his lists from an award card index that was originally held by the Admiralty, but which I think has now been passed to the PRO. I believe these cards, whose details are different again from the principal citation records, offer only brief summaries, and are the source for boat numbers in Seedie, and hence elsewhere on the internet. I also believe the cards don't always record the boat involved in the award, but can be the one the recipient was on at the time the index card was made out, presumably for the purpose of communicating the award.
Looking at our own records, McCusker's individual citation is part of a batch of awards notified on 26th June 1945, a year after D-Day, and are part of three awards given to ML 571 (see under Unit) for the same date and event, there being none for this date for 207. My reading of this would be that he was likely transferred to 571, if not by the time of D-Day in 1944, then sometime after. The later awards for ML 571 may be the product of the kind of 'sweep up' the award committees were known to do, sometimes as late as 1946 or even 1947, where they revisited recommendations in order to grant additional awards not given at the time. However the earlier awards to Lieutenant Michael Hicks-Beach, and Sub-Lieutenant John Gwilym Francis of ML 207 would appear to be for an event or events during the landings, while those of McCusker and ML 571 are for later minesweeping.
Re: ML 207
Posted: Wed Feb 10, 2016 9:23 pm
ML_207 Johnson & Jago, Leigh on Sea, Essex 11/3/41
For Operation Neptune - for gallantry and devotion to duty during the landings in Normandy
DSC TLt Michael Hicks-Beach RNVR
MID TSLt John Gwilyn Francis RNVR
TLt Michael Hicks-Beach RNVR TSLt HMS St Christopher for MLs 28/6/41 1st ML Flotilla Based at Great Yarmouth Commanding Officer ML 207 16/2/42 TLt 27/9/43 For Operation Neptune - for gallantry and devotion to duty during the landings in Normandy DSC HMS Eland (Freetown)
TLt J Veale RNVR TLt 25/9/43 Commanding Officer HDML 1014 6/10/43 Commanding Officer ML 207 28/12/44
TSLt John Gwilyn Francis RNVR Mid 17/9/43 1st ML Flotilla Based on Portsmouth ML 207 TSLt 9/9/44 For Operation Neptune - for gallantry and devotion to duty during the landings in Normandy MID
TSLt H W Perring RNVR TSLt 31/7/42 HMS Midge (Great Yarmouth) for minelayers 2/11/42 13th ML Flotilla 10/12/42 13th ML Flotilla ML 200 12/12/42 1st ML Flotilla ML 207 13/9/43 TLt 31/1/45 34th ML Flotilla Commanding Officer ML 907 6/4/45
TSLt D B Miller RNVR ML 185 8/5/44 TSLt 9/8/44 ML 207 11/6/45
TMid P V Wood RNVR TMid 21/1/44 1st ML Flotilla Based on Portsmouth ML 207 8/5/44 Operation Neptune - Invasion of Normandy TASLt 19/4/45
1/7/41 1st ML Flotilla
Based at Great Yarmouth
ML 100, ML 105, ML 106, ML 108, ML 110, ML 206, ML 207, ML 222 and ML 224
1/42 1st ML Flotilla
Based at Great Yarmouth
ML 185, ML 205, ML 206, ML 207, ML 220, ML 222, ML 224, ML 339 and ML 450
7/10/42 6th S Boat Flotilla S 71, S 73, S 74, S 75, S 76, S 113, S 114 and S 69 Second S Boat Flotilla S 101, S 46, S 62, S 80, S 105 and S 108 and the Fourth S Boat Flotilla S 117, S 63 and S 79 intercept an FN convoy off Cromer.
S 79 torpedoes and sinks the Danish Steamer Jessie Maersk (1.972 tons). S 117 torpedoes and sinks the British Freighter Sheaf Water (2.730 tons). S 63 torpedoes and sinks the British steamer Ilse (2874 tons) together with the naval tug Caroline Moller (444 tons) and ML 339.
The torpedoed British freighter Sheaf Water (2730 GRT) and Ilse (2844 GRT) sink under tow. The patrol boat Sheldrake (530 t) and the auxiliary minesweeper Monimia (374 GRT are damaged. ML 207 brings 43 survivors of ML 339 and the sunken merchant ships to Great Yarmouth
1st ML Flotilla
ML 185, ML 206, ML 207, ML 220, ML 222, ML 224, ML 450 and ML 571
Based on Portsmouth
Operation Neptune - Invasion of Normandy
Attached to the 6th Minesweeping Flotilla for assault
Post War Fate
Re: ML 207
Posted: Thu Feb 11, 2016 2:23 am
I also believe the cards don't always record the boat involved in the award, but can be the one the recipient was on at the time the index card was made out, presumably for the purpose of communicating the award.
However the earlier awards to Lieutenant Michael Hicks-Beach, and Sub-Lieutenant John Gwilym Francis of ML 207 would appear to be for an event or events during the landings, while those of McCusker and ML 571 are for later minesweeping.
I think on reflection, awards being personal and granted to individuals, the award index card is not concerned to record the boat on which an individual won an award, but merely records the recipient's current posting by way of an address to send notification to, but that in the majority of cases it happily works out that the boat recorded is one and the same.
The two awards to ML 207 awarded in November 1945 for the Normandy landings, and the three awards to ML 571 awarded in June 1945 for minesweeping, seem on the face of it to form two distinct groups with no apparent crossover. However, on looking at the awards for ML 206, which appears to have been 207's 'chummy boat', there are in fact six awards, three of which form part of the November '44 group, while three form part of the later June '45 group, so it's conceivable that Hugh McCusker could have won his award with ML 207, but have been posted to ML 571 by June '45, or could have won it minesweeping with ML 571. Only the original recommendation, if it still exists, could clarify the situation.
Re: ML 207
Posted: Thu Feb 11, 2016 6:25 pm
Firstly, my thanks for the information regarding ML 207 provided by Brian Holmes. Some of it precedes my father's time with the vessel but I found it fascinating anyway!
With regard to Hugh McCusker, I must admit that I would be surprised if he wasn’t on ML 207 during operation Neptune and also during the subsequent minesweeping work in the ports of Northern France. The description of the sailors in my first post comes from my father’s writings and also from conversations I had with him. On more than one occasion, I remember talking to him about trying to contact his old shipmates - he would have loved meeting up with them again! I know he did make enquires about them via the British legion at one time but it came to nothing – although I do have a vague recollection of him saying that he did meet of his old crewmates many years back.
One thing I do remember from these conversations is that he told me Hugh McCusker came from Durham. If Hugh had left the ship before D-day, my father would only have known him for a few months, it seems strange that he would have remembered Hugh, and where he came from, rather than tell me about Hugh’s replacement who he would have served longer with. So far, whenever I’ve had the chance to confirm the details of things my farther has written or said, he’s been amazingly accurate.
There could, of course, be other explanations. ML 571 was part of the same flotilla as my father’s ship. So, if Hugh had joined ML 571 before the D-day landings, or soon after, I imagine that he would have had the chance to socialise with his old shipmates on ML 207. This would have been especially true at the end of the war, when the flotilla was in Denmark. During this period, I’m sure there would have been many opportunities to get together. Being at the end of the war, these occasions would also have provided the most recent memories, which could explain my father’s recollection.
I came across a document at The National Archives a few weeks back that my resolve the matter. It’s entitled:
‘Awards to 21 officers and men of HM MLs 222, 450, 206, 224, 220, 207, 185 and 571 for clearance of ports of Dieppe, Le Havre, Rouen, Boulogne and Calais Sept 12-Dec 12 1944 ‘.
The document appears to correspond with The Gazette entry for Hugh McCusker; the relating section also contains 21 names and is titled:
‘Awards for outstanding skill, courage and devotion to duty in hazardous mine-sweeping operations in the ports of Northern France after the invasion’.
All the names appear to correspond to men serving with the ships mentioned.
I have already asked for a price for copying the document at the National Archives but am still waiting for a reply. It does seem to take an age for the National Archive to respond to such requests!
I’m a little confused over the MID for John Gwilym Francis - ML 207’s Sub-lieutenant. The Gazette reference in this site's awards database details his MID as being in the same issue and section as Hicks-Beach’s DSC. However, I cannot find the Sub-lieutenant’s name within it. My own researches show that his MID actually appears in a different issue of the gazette. Page 49 of The New Years Honours List for 1945, https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/iss ... plement/60
). Unfortunately, I cannot find an explanation as to why he received the MID.
The award of DSC to Hicks-Beach also throws up some interesting points. The Gazette reference for this award is:
https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/iss ... ement/5455
The relevant section relating to the award starts on the preceding page and is entitled:
‘For gallantry, skill, determination and undaunted devotion to duty during the landing of Allied Forces on the coast of Normandy.
Harry Leslie, the commanding officer of ML 206 and also the commanding officer of the 1st ML flotilla, receives a MID in the same section a few pages further on (page 5467). My father always maintained that ML 207 was placed at the very front of the minesweeping operation when the ship was attached the 6th Minesweeping Flotilla during operation Neptune. He said that ML 206 followed and the larger fleet sweepers came after that. The fact that Harry Leslie received a MID, whilst Hicks-Beach was award a DSC for the same operation tends to support this. Though, in reality, both ML’s would have been a few hundred feet apart so which was actually in the front hardly seems to matter – both ships were full of very brave men from a very special generation! The thing that annoyed my father, was the fact that the fleet sweepers were credited with leading the invasion force, when, in reality, it was actually the MLs attached to each of the minesweeping flotillas!
In his book, my father explains that before the Invasion of Normandy, ML 207 and ML 206 were in the Solent, tethered to lead fleet sweeper, HMS Vestal, with the crews waiting to hear their detailed orders. At the time, the officers had already gathered for a meeting aboard the fleet sweeper. When they finally reappeared, the commanding officer of ML 207 was accompanied by the commanding officer of the 6th Minesweeping flotilla and he subsequently addressed the gathered crew to explain that they were to have the honour of leading the ‘G’ invasion force across the Channel. The commander subsequently added the following:
‘… we also believe that there are some new types of mines that are unsweepable. But your ship, being a small vessel with a shallow draft and wooden hull, has a better chance of surviving them than the fleet sweeper and, in any case, there are only sixteen of you on the ML whereas there are more than eighty on the fleet sweeper - the 'honour' of leading the fleet suddenly lost its gloss!’
Re: ML 207
Posted: Fri Feb 12, 2016 1:16 am
It’s quite heartening to see so many ‘new’ entries posted on the PRO site for records of award recommendations, as having carried out frequent searches in the past when there was very little to be seen, I had assumed, somewhat pessimistically, that what was listed was all there was. However it appears as though the PRO have been steadily working through the indexing of many more records in their possession, which is good news, if anyone can ever get to see them!
The PRO at least provides a date range for the minesweeping awards, which as I expected, runs all the way up until December of 1944, and 571 would not be recorded on the award index card unless he had transferred at some point, but that could of course have been as late as June 1945, or whenever the index card was made out. So this may be one of those instances where the award index card may lead to an apparent discrepancy, if it is not understood that the boat numbers are primarily intended for administrative purposes.
Our database does have some errors in the entries too inevitably. I found a similar problem in that I couldn’t find Harry Leslie for 206 in the London Gazette (LG), as he had undergone a demotion by us, being entered in as Temporary Lieutenant, rather than Acting Temporary Lieutenant-Commander! and so was to be found higher up the page. However, Seedie does group John Gwilym Francis under the 28th November awards along with Michael Hicks-Beach from 206, so this looks like a slight error on his part.
Seedie was a pseudonym and play on the initials ‘CD’ of Captain William Chatterton-Dickson RN, and he had quite a bit of help in compiling his volume on Awards to Coastal Forces from the likes of veterans Christopher Dreyer, Len Reynolds and Douglas Hunt, as well as the Honorary Historian of the Coastal Forces Veterans Association, Geoffrey Hudson. In the case of the awards to MTBs and MGBs, they were often sufficiently knowledgable of the personalities and actions involved to compile alternative snippets of information to those of the LG at times—although we have stuck with the Gazette entries—but probably didn’t have as firm a grasp of the situation with MLs, and would have been more reliant on the information provided by the index cards.
I do have it on good authority for example, that the Mention in Despatches for Ernest George Bell on ML 206 was for:
prompt action in signalling for aid after a ship was hit when ML 206 was under heavy fire from Le Havre on 29th June 1944
Many Coastal Forces Veterans feel aggrieved at the way their role in major events such as D-Day have been largely overlooked by those compiling the history of the Second World War, and there are several stories of MLs and MGBs leading out the invasion fleet, and standing witness to the whole day unfolding off the landing grounds, with salvoes from the giant battleships out at sea roaring over their heads on to the beachheads, and many surreal sights unfolding in front of them!
Re: ML 207
Posted: Sun Sep 18, 2016 11:26 am
My father served on ML207 as the petty officer mechanic - Arthur Knights (note actual spelling one additional letter) - and several of Mr Handley's comments are familiar. The following might serve to enhance his notes.
I believe dad was known as 'Mick' rather than as 'Mac' and the sparks was always known to dad as 'Jock' . He came from Hawick and I met him in 1995 along with his wife Maisie when my wife and I then living in Scotland, took dad to Hawick for a visit. Later by chance I met one of Jock's nephews in Carlisle who confirmed that Jock (as he was also known in the family) was dead (about 2005). Earlier Jock had worked for the local newspaper and he was also uncle to the Scottish rugby internationalist Jim Renwick.
Dad was born at Kelvedon in Essex but raised in Ipswich. By the start of the war he was running a small business in Hertford offering a dry cleaning service and my mother kept it going after he volunteered in 1942 in order that he could fulfill an ambition to serve time as a seaman. Handley's comment about seasickness were accurate and the skipper once told dad that he should never have been on such small craft to which dad replied " I've known that for a long time"
The story dad liked best was when in Denmark the skipper asked him to organise some supplies of food - meat, potatoes and fresh vegetables - knowing that dad had contacts ashore. The Dane he approached produced all he asked for such as 30lb of meat and about 1 cwt of vegetable and asked for 6 packets of cigarettes in payment. Dad asked the skipper for 7 packets in order to give one to the agent for his personal use and the skipper, somewhat flummoxed, wondered how to enter this in the log but decided to record 3s 6d for purchase of sundries.
Re: ML 207
Posted: Fri Sep 23, 2016 11:49 pm
Although I can't add anything to the personal stories here, I thought it worth mentioning that if you don't know of it already, A Passage to Sword Beach
by Brendon Maher offers an account of minesweeping on ML137 in the 5th ML Flotilla at D-Day, then at Cherbourg, Brest and off the Netherlands up until VE Day. There are descriptions of life aboard, the ML's roles and oyster mines. I confess to not have got around to reading the book yet, but it looks very detailed.
Another book that may be of interest is Geoffrey Searle's At Sea Level
, which contains the author's memories of serving on board Fairmile Bs at Normandy and Denmark after the war (although not in the minesweeping role). It's a very good read.
Finally, I can confirm that the Navy 'Pink' Lists cannot always be taken for granted. It is noticeable for instance that in the lists published on either side of D-Day, both MGB 81 and MTB 416 (the same vessel) are listed separately. The 1st Lieutenant in one is recorded as the CO in the other, and neither are correct! To be fair, the amount of paper involved means there are bound to be some mistakes.
Gray207, presumably this is the TNA record you refer to? http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.u ... r/C4851439
. If so, I'll have a look next time I'm there (possibly not next month, but November at the latest) and send you some copies of the document if you like?
Re: ML 207
Posted: Sun Oct 16, 2016 8:56 pm
Within the collection of 21 citations in the Kew document above, there is only one for ML 207 (I don't know why the preview is on its side, but if you click on it it's the right way up):
As you'll see it is for McCusker. The remaining ones are listed here:
Please let me know if you want any more of the individual citation pages posted here, or if anyone wants a copy of the whole file (35 pages) drop me a message and an email address.
Re: ML 207
Posted: Tue Oct 18, 2016 10:13 am
Thanks for the documents Steve. I notice Seedie (Coastal Forces Awards) lists McCusker's boat as ML 571, rather than 207 as here, which is another of those differences that occurs from time to time with awards. Do you know whether this document likely reflects the boat McCusker was on at the time of the operation, or the one he was serving on when the document was made out? I believe Seedie concurs with most of the others listed.
Re: ML 207
Posted: Sat Oct 22, 2016 5:28 pm
Apologies for the delayed reply - I've been moving office and haven't been able to access my photos!
Having looked through them again, I'm afraid I just can't tell. I do notice though, that whilst the majority of documents date from May and June '45, the first list was compiled in January '45.
Re: ML 207
Posted: Fri Nov 18, 2016 2:31 pm
Just a note to say that I've now read A Passage to Sword Beach by Brendan Maher, and I thoroughly recommend it as an account of minesweeping on MLs.
The author takes us through his entire experience of the war years, from school to training and then service on MMS 84 and HMS Jason before transferring to ML 137 on 1st May 1944 (just under half way through the book). From there he describes his role on D-Day and subsequent work clearing the sea lanes and Channel ports. After the war he helps clear Dutch waterways before he is injured - the book then follows him through a number of hospital up until he leaves the navy in 1947.
There are some very good explanations of minesweeping and the role of minesweeper MLs in particular.
Re: ML 207
Posted: Thu Jan 25, 2018 5:36 am
I have some photos of "Bunts" from my dads album when they were in Copenhagen. Also one of someone called Sparks.
Re: ML 207
Posted: Thu May 24, 2018 7:52 pm
My thanks to Brian Knights, Steve Admin and Peploe for their posts relating to ML207 and my sincere apologies for taking so long to reply. It must be some sort of record! I have not posted on the site for a quite a long time. We had a serious house fire around the time of knights6lb's post that, as you can imagine, took my attention for quite some time. Thankfully, no one was hurt but there was extensive damage that took a lot of time to sort out. I won’t bore you with all the details, but the cause turned out to be a faulty MK mains switch on a brand new electrical distribution board and, unbeknown to us, the switch was subject to a manufacture’s recall. My insurance company is still in the process of suing MK!
Anyway, I have replied to your posts, in the order they appeared, in the text that follows.
RE: ARTHUR KNIGHT
posted by knights6lb
My father served on ML207 as the petty officer mechanic - Arthur Knights (note actual spelling one additional letter) - and several of Mr Handley's comments are familiar. The following might serve to enhance his notes...
Brian, I hope you see this reply and, if you do, please get in touch. I am sure that you would be able to help clarify many issues relating to ML07. I was delighted to learn a little more about your father Arthur Knights My father always referred to your father as Mac. I assumed the nickname had something to do with his role as Motor Mechanic but, given that you say he was he was known as Mike, it was probably just a slip of my father’s memory. I must admit, having always known him as Mac, it will seem odd referring to him as anything else!
My own father’s real name was John Handley but everyone called him Jack. Whilst he was aboard ML207 he was given the nickname Tommy because of the association with the Tommy Handley, the star of the then popular comedy show ITMA (It’s That Man Again). Tommy would have been the name your father knew him by. They worked very closely together, your father as the Motor Mechanic and my father, who was 18 when they first met, as a trainee mechanic or stoker. From conversations I had with my dad, and from his writings, it is clear that he had a great deal of respect for your father and they got on really well together. Dad was always more than happy to cover for ‘Mac’ whenever he was suffering from the many terrible and debilitating bouts of sea sickness he experienced.
As I explained in my initial posts, my father had almost completed a book about his time aboard ML207 and I am attempting to finish it using the information gained during the numerous conversations I had with him regarding his wartime exploits. At first, I thought completing the book would be a fairly easy task because I felt so familiar with the events. However, having actually put ‘pen to paper’ I have found many instances where I really could do with additional details to help the story flow. If my dad was still here he would be able to sort matters out in an instant but, as it is, I have had to put far more effort into research than expected, which is very time consuming.
I would be very grateful for any help that you could provide from your knowledge of your father’s time with ML207. Your post has already proven extremely valuable in this respect. The book was never intended as an exhaustive, detailed and definitive account of ML207’s deployment during the war. It is simply a tale of real events seen through the eyes of one young crew member. However, it is surprising how a few details and facts, even obscure ones, really help the story come to life.
Here’s a couple of quick questions that may be able to help with:
The first relates directly to your father. Could you tell me if he received any form of gallantry award for his wartime service, especially whist with ML207 and do you know of any other crew members who did?
I would also be particularly interested to know if your father ever mentioned my father ‘Tommy the Stoker’? Any information you have would be very useful indeed. If you do have the time to get in touch, I would really appreciate the chance to glean a bit more information from you.
In the meantime, you may be interested in a photograph I have, which I think shows your father. I can’t be absolutely sure that it is him because most of my father’s photographs have become detached from their original album mounts and no longer correspond to the notes and names that accompanied them. If, as I believe, the photograph does show your father, could you let me know. Perhaps you can also identify the sailors on either side of him. He is wearing what appear to be a medal ribbons, could you tell me what they are? If anyone else who reads this post can identify the ribbons that would be very helpful too.
My thanks again for taking the time to provide the information in your post and I really look forward to hearing from you.
RE: CITATION RELATING TO HUGH McCUSKER
posted by Stephen
with additional comments posted by Admin
Within the collection of 21 citations in the Kew document above, there is only one for ML 207...
Steve, thank you, for your post showing the citation for Hugh McCusker and others. The fact that McCusker is listed in the citation as a crew member of ML 207 does tend to support my father’s writings, which indicate that McCusker was a member of ML 207’s crew during operation Neptune and during the mine clearing operations of the Channel Ports that took place following D-Day. As I explained in a previous post, Had Hugh transferred from ML207 to ML 571 prior to D-Day, it seems strange that my father would have remembered him so well. It is interesting to note the date of the citation, 15th of December 1945. I take it that this indicates that Hugh McCusker was still aboard ML207 at that date.
I have had quite a few problems tying down certain details to dates. One particular issue that I am trying to sort out relates to the actual dates during which particular offices were actually in command of ML 207. According to my father’s account, the officer commanding the ship during Operation Neptune was subsequently transferred whilst ML207 was involved in mine clearing operations in the French Channel Ports. The part of my father’s account relating to the officer’s departure is quite detailed and I recall him telling me about it on many occasions because it happened during quite a significant incident. Looking at the sequence of events, I estimate the officer’s departure to have been either late September 1944 or sometime in October 1944. By checking the Navy Lists published for the period, I have determined that TLt. Hicks-Beach was in command during operation Neptune and was still recorded as the commanding officer of ML207 in the quarterly Navy List of October ’44. The January 1945 list records TLt. J. Veal as being the commanding officer of the ML from 28 December 1944 and makes no mention of Hicks-Beach in the listing for the ship.
At first sight, it could be assumed that Hicks-Beach was in command up until J. Veal took over from him on December 28. However, this does not tally with my father’s account and the lists do not detail the date an officer relinquished a particular command or include any information about his previous posting, just the date on which they took up a new position. The fact that the lists were published quarterly doesn’t help either. If Hicks-beach had left ML207 in, say, early October ’44 and another officer had been placed in command, or temporary command, until Veal took up his post at the end of December ’44, the quarterly published Navy Lists would not record this information.
RE: PHOTOS OF BUNTS AND SPARKS
posted by Peploe
I have some photos of "Bunts" from my dads album when they were in Copenhagen. Also one of someone called Sparks.
Thank you for posting the photographs of your father and his crew mates and my apologies for taking so long to reply. I take it that the Bunts and Sparks in the pictures are from ML206, not ML207’s Bunts and Sparks. is this correct?
You clearly have lots of information regarding ML206 and, since ML206 and ML207 worked closely together, you may be able to clarify many issues relating to the exploits of both vessels particularly information relating to their operations during and following D-Day. I am trying to form an accurate timeline of the ship’s locations and exploits to help me complete my father’s book.
In addition, the are many detailed questions that you may just happen to have answers to. Here are just a couple of examples:
Whilst in Denmark, the Crews of ML206 and ML207 were challenged to a football match by some of the locals. Although, to say the least, this was a very minor sporting event, it was billed by the locals as ‘Denmark v The Royal Navy’ and drew large crowds to what ended being quite a needle match. Did your father ever mention this? If so, do have any details. I have some but not the actual final score! Any information would be of help, for example the names of any crewmen who took part, perhaps your father did.
One of the most dramatic events described in my father’s book took place after the war ended. I don’t have an accurate date but it must have been during the winter months of 1945/46. It concerns the escorting of vessels in the Baltic. The vessels were German and formed part of war reparations claimed by the USSR. Skeleton German crews were ordered to sail the ships to the USSR but initially, though under severe pressure, they steadfastly refused to sail for fear of never returning to Germany. They only agreed when they were provided with Royal Navy ships to escort the ships as they travelled to the Soviet port and, most importantly, bring the crews home again afterwards. The escorting vessels included ML206 and ML207. As it happened the ‘reparations convoy’ was hit a by ferocious Baltic storm. Several of the smaller German ships were lost and the remnants of the convoy were forced to scatter and seek refuge. My father wrote a particularly detailed account of the experience. Did your father ever mention it?
Some days later, having had time to undertake repairs, the Soviet bound convoy set out again and this time managed to reach it destination. My father doesn’t cover this second journey in as much detail, any information you have would be very useful. For example, do you know the name of the Soviet port the convoy headed for? My father does not name it but does mention receiving a volley of warning shots from Russian soldiers when ML207’s crew attempted to disembark and enter a port still occupied by withdrawing soviet forces. Does this ring any bells? Again, any information that you have would be very gratefully received!
Re: ML 207
Posted: Sun Jul 15, 2018 10:38 pm
Thanks for the reply.
My father did not mention very much about his time during this period I'm afraid. Most of what you have told me is new information. In my fathers photo album he mentions Copenhagen, Flensberg, Bremer Haven, Bornholm, Kiel.
You might have cleared up one little mystery though as there is one photo of my dad in a football team? I always thought it was a strange addition to this album. The team have a large "R" on their shirts which I assume is for Royal Navy and my father is 5th from the left. I Can't say for certain that this is the team, but the man next to him looks like Todd and the man 2nd from right in the front row looks like Buttolph. I have attached the photo and one of the crew of ML206
Re: ML 207
Posted: Sun Jul 15, 2018 10:49 pm
I am not sure what ship Bunts and Sparks are from. they do not appear in the photo of the crew of Ml206 in the photo above. "Sparks" might be the nickname of every electrician? I don't know if this is the case for "Bunts" though?
Re: ML 207
Posted: Sun Jul 29, 2018 3:04 pm
Peploe, thank you for posting the photograph of the football team. It was great to see it! Though, as you say, it may have nothing to do with the match in Denmark. However, I think I recognise a few of the crew of ML207, which, combined with the letter ‘R’ insignia, suggest that it does. The person standing to the extreme left looks like one of ML 207’s gunners.
I’m fairly certain that ‘Sparks’ and ‘Bunts’ are common nicknames and are still in use in the Royal Navy to this day. ‘Sparks’ is an obvious name for anyone in involved with electrical/electronic equipment. I think ‘Bunts’ is short for ‘bunting tosser’, i.e. a signal man or someone involved in communications - the nickname refers to the use of flags as a way of communicating between ships in the Navy. My dad’s crew also referred to the ASDIC operator as ’Ping’, for obvious reasons.
I was contacted by Arthur Knights' son who, although extremely helpful, explained that he couldn’t really add a great deal to the information I have about ML207. Like yourself, his father didn’t speak a great deal about his wartime experiences. If you do happen to recall anything, please do get in touch. Any information would be very gratefully received! The simple fact that you have explained that your father recalls the ship being at Copenhagen, Flensburg, Bremer Haven, Bornholm and Kiel, has provided valuable confirmation that the flotilla was at these locations. Bornholm was under soviet occupation at the end of the war and was the assembly and departure point from which the soviet reparations convoy set out across the Baltic. Did your father ever mention any dates associated with locations you mention, or did he say anything about escorting the German ships that were sent to Russia as part of its wartime reparations. Perhaps he mentioned the soviet port the convoy was headed for - I would really like confirmation of this. My father said the when the Baltic storm hit, and the convoy scattered, ML206 ended up in Sweden!
Anyway, thanks again for the post. If you do recall anything your dad mentioned or have more photographs that you think may be of interest, it would be great to hear from you.