I am sorry to report that Wallis Randall finally succumbed to his long illness. Shortly following that sad news, we learned that Sea Cadet Lt Cdr Alan Phillips, a long time Branch Committee member, had died: two senior members have now left us. I am pleased to report that London Branch was well represented at both funerals.
And now I have just heard that another two of our cherished senior CFVA veterans have died. Dennis Reeve died on 7th November and Douglas Elliott died on 16th November. Funerals are to be held on 23rd November and 2nd December respectively.
I don’t have to remind we veterans that inevitably there will be quite a reshuffling of the average age of our membership as we ‘progress’. But I, for one, intend to seriously delay that progression.
I now refer to last quarter’s Newsletter story of HDML 1301’s return to Home Waters, with our Treasurer David Carter doing his watch at the helm. Although I am known as being parsimonious when handing out compliments, I feel that I must break my custom, this once.
After WW2, and as an adult, David patiently tracked down the post-war owners of 1301. David’s newsletter story takes over from there. However, he did not give the full reason for his interest in 1301’s history. I have now obtained David’s reluctant permission to complete the missing element. David was a baby when his mother was informed that his father, Lt Carter RNVR, had been killed in action whilst skippering 1301 during a raid on the Isle of Elba. Thus the reason and kindness of 1301’s owner in offering David the opportunity to help bring his father’s boat ‘home’. But the thoughts he must have had while standing at the helm, I cannot imagine. His dad would be very proud of David. And so am I.
I am pleased to tell you that Wallis’s family have given us the major part of his CFVA library. At the moment the books are temporarily stored on HMS Belfast where committee member Steve, and possibly one other, has volunteered to get them sorted into some sort of order.
Our Committee believe that Kevin should be given custody of all those books which could be useful for his research purposes. That principle will be paramount in the sorting process but, after sorting and making an inventory, I believe we should try to get an idea of their value. Enclosed in some of his books, I saw that Wallis had written a note giving his idea of its value: that could be useful.
As Chairman, it is my duty to ensure that our Branch continues for many years and, together with our Treasurer, I believe that it is sensible to have a good supply of ‘the ready’ (are we not now thinking of purchasing a super printer?) Therefore, if Wallis has left us a chance, however remote, to take advantage of some wealthy collector’s interest in a book or two, I believe we should take it.
Web searchers will have noticed that our website has been severely reduced recently but has now returned even better than ever.
Kevin, alone, and ever searching to improve our website, had recently undertaken the protracted task of replacing its operating system with a superior one, causing him enough work for a whole team of experts. We know that Kevin has other, more personal, worries and our kind wishes and prayers reach out to him and his ailing mother at this time. Thank you Kevin. Please relax and enjoy Christmas!
The Remembrance Service on HMS Belfast seems to be attracting more people as the years go by: quite different, but no less sincere, from the Services we held over twenty years ago.
About twenty members and families attended and, as usual, after the Service we were treated to refreshments by the Sea Cadets Parents in recognition of our efforts in WW2. (Then, we were in our nineteens. Now, we are in our nineties). We thanked the parents, not only for the free refreshments but for the preparatory work involved.
Our Branch meeting was held the following week and I was pleased to see about a dozen had made the double journey. As we had planned, our younger members are beginning to equate in numbers and we hope that they will help to keep the group afloat. It is a wonderful venue, the interest in the activities of the Navy’s Coastal Forces during its short life still remains, and we are all shipmates in continuing that interest.
We receive with thanks the regular report from our ‘Chummy Ship’, South London, and we hear that Southern Branch is faring well too.
Of particular interest, Ted, our Editor, gave us a video show of a DVD he has produced containing ’bits and pieces' of us at a social meeting and shots of Coastal Forces matters generally.
It was his first shot at DVD production and we found it very interesting. He has received ‘orders’ already from members present and is prepared to produce more (free, but modest contributions towards our Treasurer’s treasure chest would be welcomed).
Finally, may I send Christmas and New Year Greetings to all Coastal Forces Veterans and Supporters, wherever they are.
Branch finances are mentioned within the enclosed Branch Minutes.
On Saturday 10th, Alan Watson—the skipper—decided to celebrate his birthday by taking Medusa to Cowes. A nautical pub crawl with the crew and guests. On the return trip, he arranged for others to be OOW and practice man-overboard drill. I hasten to add we used a life-buoy. We estimated the in the prevailing sea conditions it would have taken 2–3 minutes for someone to be incapacitated by hypothermia. So had it been for real, we would have had one survivor and two distinctly cold victims.
On Remembrance Day, Medusa attended the service at HMS Hornet. Our branch member Peter Bickmore attended also.
The London Branch Committee are mindful that many of our members, either through distance or other circumstance, find it impossible to attend Branch events or meetings and rely heavily on the Branch Newsletter.
Continuing with the spirit of reaching out to all our members, included with this Winter edition is a very amateur recording of a day back in August.
The DVD, capable of being played on all DVD players and PCs etc, also includes footage of a trip to Normandy plus, especially for our members not on-line, a very brief non-technical view of the refurbished website.
City of London Sea Cadets
Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme
In the summer newsletter we reported on a group of cadets and young staff who had completed their Bronze Duke of Edinburgh expedition in April. Each level of the Award (Bronze, Silver and Gold) is not just about the expedition, there are also skills, physical activity and volunteering sections to be completed. Gold has an additional residential section. For any reasonably keen cadet the non-expedition sections tend to take care of themselves—it is the expeditions that are the organisational challenge.
In August a further three cadets completed their Bronze expedition in the New Forest with a commercial provider, this was heavily subsidised from Unit reserves.
Cadets from the spring Bronze expedition, mixed with cadets from an earlier Bronze to form a Silver expedition group. The first weekend in September saw this group take to the water on the Medway on Friday morning, they paddled to Wateringbury where they wild camped for the night. On the Saturday the party continued downstream to Allington for another night under canvas, they then paddled against the current to finish the practice expedition at East Farleigh.
The following weekend the cadets took to the Thames at Hurley on the Saturday morning for the qualifying expedition, they completed the expedition at Teddington on the Monday. These cadets are now well place to complete their Gold award in 2016. Well done.
As we moved from Autumn to Winter the emphasise of Unit activity shifted from outdoor training to a succession of ceremonial events and carpet guards. These have included the annual Service for Seafarers, at St Paul’s; Remembrance Sunday, the Maritime Media Awards at the Institute of Directors, the Worshipful Company of Shipwrights banquet at Mansion House, and the Lord Mayors Show.
The new Lord Mayor is our own Unit President, Lord Mountevans of Chelsea.
Letters to the Editor
Earlier this year I had a mail from a South London Branch member, Mr Alfred Solomon. Alfred had read a recent London Branch newsletter and wished, in part, to add to the information known about the loss of MTB 622.
Although our Branch member, the late Harry Leader, could not remember him being a member of the crew—this claim having been made by Alfred when Harry was still with us—but as Alfred explains, he had only joined the boat as an Ord/Tel at 9 o’clock on that fateful morning of the 9th March 1943: could the drama and trauma that followed later that day possibly have caused Harry a slight lapse of memory?
I write to you as a member of the South London Branch, to say how I have been interested in the newsletter. As you probably know, we have recently lost the Editor of our Branch, but our Padre has at the moment tried to keep us informed of local affairs, etc. and we are very grateful for that, So I am always interested in your London Branch edition.
I was last on the Belfast to collect my ‘Dover’ medal, when I eventually met up with Harry Leader. He said he didn’t remember me on MTB 622, which didn’t surprise me, as I only joined it at 09:00 on the day we sailed for the North Sea. We sailed at 15:00, when I kept watch on port wave, and about 21:00 did battle with two or three minesweepers, one of which we left on fire and was probably sinking. At this point MTB 617 returned to harbour (not quite sure why) but left the two of us to find the convoy. We sent two fish after a large merchant vessel (or tanker), and was sure we found the target, but we were then chased by one or two German destroyers, and received severe damage in engine room etc. We already had two of the Packard engines which wouldn’t start, and were soon hit and sunk by the Jerries, who [after] about one hour or so picked up Frank Carr and myself out of the water. On the “abandon ship” I collected the code books and threw them over the side. I then went to the charthouse, and blew up the I.F.F. Meantime we had lost one carley float, so that when Frank and I managed to swim away, we could only hang onto the side of the float, and were badly frost bitten.
We were landed at Rotterdam, and two days later taken to Wilhelmshabour. It was at this point that I discovered we had another Sparker, a Leading hand, and we were both locked in the same room on our own. A day or two later, the building was bombed by the USS Air Force in the afternoon. We were dug out the next morning and taken to Milag & Marlag Nord near Bremen.
The reason I am telling you all this, is because I read in a previous newsletter that Harry Leader had been the last living survivor of MTB 622, which was, of course, an error, because as you can see, although 93 years old, I am in fact the last known survivor of MTB 622.
I have tried through adverts etc to find the names of the crew who sailed on that afternoon, but even in the P.O.W camp I didn’t see anyone I knew. We of course never mentioned service matters in the camp—we never knew who would be listening! I would very much liked to have come to your meetings but that is not now possible, as my wife and I are house bound and cannot walk very well, or very far. Nevertheless, I would like to hear from you, or at any rate see anything you publish. Would it help if I joined your branch?
Alfred’s request to be enrolled as a member of the London Branch was most welcome. Our Chairman Ken first ventured to ask the South London Branch whether there would be any objections?—“not at all” was the reply.
So a belated ‘Welcome Aboard’ Alfred. You are unique in being a member of both branches. Alfred’s mail had some very interesting additional information.
Apart from noting his love of music and playing the violin—which was to serve him well during his time as a PoW—there is a brief insight of his war including a short list of battles that he remembers.
One in particular occurred on the night of 7th/8th of August 1942 when, as a newly ensconced member of the crew of MGB 330 (his first draft) he clearly remembers a particularly bloody skirmish. The battle is described in some detail by Peter Scott in his book Battle of the Narrow Seas (p83) and centres around carefully planned attacks on a German convoy. The enemy convoy consisted of a very heavily escorted and supposed Merchantman named Schwabenland, what is not so well known is that the Schwabenland had been an aircraft carrier. If this concept was being used operationally, the ship would obviously have been recognised as a prime target, the German equivalent of the Allied MAC ships (Merchant Aircraft Carrier).
In the intense battles that followed, two boats were lost with many of the crews injured. 21 year old Sub-Lieutenant W Hay RNR, CO of MTB 45, and A/B J South on MGB 330, were both mortally wounded. Certainly a baptism of fire for Alfred—the RN’s ‘little ships’ suffering many casualties that night.
The Schwabenland was later torpedoed by the British submarine HMS Terrapin in March 1944, deliberately beached to be temporarily repaired in late 1944, and thereafter used as an accommodation and stores hulk. Apart from the above, not much else is known of its wartime career. However the eventual fate of this unusual target is known. Having survived the war it was scuttled off the Norwegian coast in 1946, after first being loaded with unwanted German gas munitions. It now lies 200 metres down in the Skagerrak.
The Schwabenland had been involved in prewar trials to speed up delivery of mail to South America, using an experimental diesel-powered Blohm and Voss floatplane at one point (not shown above), which was launched from the large catapult fitted aft.
It was also used during prewar expeditions to the Antarctic, however there are several images of this and a similar vessel, the Friesenland, showing a variety of different types of floatplane aircraft mounted on the catapults in Luftwaffe camouflage. This suggests that by the time of those later images, Germany was either at war, or at least on a war footing.
Before closing this edition, I would like to refer to the enclosed copy of the latest Branch meeting minutes. There you will read that there was some important discussion regarding the distribution of our membership list. If you wish your details not to be distributed in this way, you can opt out by contacting the Branch. Those members who wish to remain on the list will receive their copy with the next newsletter.
Finally: my very sincere wish—A Very Happy Christmas and a Peaceful New Year to You All.