My first contribution to the war was whilst I was still at school. I was too old to be evacuated but too young to volunteer for the Forces. My Father’s stories of the Guns he pulled by horses through all the mud in the First World War made me opt for the Navy. In the meantime, I was old enough to join the ARP as a messenger. I became the proud possessor of a tin hat, a torch, a real gas mask, an arm band and use of a bike. My job was to carry messages between posts and report any sightings of untaped windows and chinks of light in the blackout. At work my Dad was detailed to ﬁght any incendiaries with sand buckets and stirrup pumps.
In School, we were all waiting to volunteer for the Forces. At the age of seventeen and a half, I failed the medical at Cranwell to become a Pilot because of a ‘lazy eye’. At the age of eighteen, I was accepted for the Royal Navy and trained at Butlin’s Holiday Camp, Skegness, now termed the ‘stone frigate’ H.M.S. Royal Arthur.
The first night I did guard duty, I had to patrol the ‘galley’. One wall was obliterated by cockroaches. I carefully sifted my mashed potatoes after that.
As you were not allowed to have toothache, whilst at ‛battle stations' I had to visit the Dentist at Royal Arthur. They didn't bother with fillings so I had one tooth removed — it went into a bucket full of extracted bloody teeth. I have had an aversion to Dentists for the rest of my life (I still think they are rogues).
We finally ‘passed out’ with a full band playing. We were very good at marching and rifle drill but no idea how we would fare at sea.
I was attracted to Light Coastal Forces. I heard the Motor Torpedo Boats were called the Spitfires of the Sea, the only wooden ships in the Navy equipped with Rolls Royce Aero Engines. Light Coastal Forces was composed of Motor Launches,
Motor Torpedo Boats and Motor Gun Boats. I was assigned to a ﬂotilla of gun boats. They were superseding the Motor Torpedo Boats because of their superior fire power. We had a Three Pounder, an Oerlikon. Turrets with twin Lewis Machine Guns and Depth Charges to attack the German U-Boats. A Whale Island Gunnery Course sharpened my reflexes — it was all done ‘at the double’.
We went out in line of threes from dusk till dawn safeguarding or sinking shipping in the English Channel: I found I had a good stomach. A ﬂat bottomed boat in a winter storm is quite a test. We were a team from the Skipper downwards. We had to be, in such cramped conditions. They say all English men are Islanders and Sailors at heart.
We had one or two claimed hits at sea and one dawn returning to harbour, we picked up a German Pilot clinging to a buoy. I was on ‘look-out’ at the time and as I had spotted him, I was assigned to guarding him on the ‘mess deck’ below. He was much older than me but I don't know who was the more nervous. He kept showing me pictures of his ‘Mutter’ his ‘Frau’ and his ‘Kinder’ certain that English men kill their prisoners. I gave him a tot of my Rum. Whilst we were at sea we were given ‘Neaters’. I hated my first taste ever but by the end of the war, neat rum and block cocoa — I loved.
One Dawn, returning from Patrol, we hit a submerged mine but due to our speed and shallow keel we escaped with a sprung leak in the stern. Due to my youth, I was selected to bail out the paint locker with a chain of buckets as the bilge pump couldn't cope. The ship needed a refit when we returned to base and the Naval Barracks were choc-a-bloc so I was out-housed on H.M.S. Victory in Portsmouth Dockyard. I had to sling my hammock and sleep in it. A resident ‘three badger’ warned me to keep a blanket to cover my head. At ‘lights out’ I realised why — down the strings of my hammock came a battalion of my old friends, the cockroaches.
The enjoyable part of my short stay there was that they taught me the meaning of phrases like ‘Show a leg’ and ‘Son of a Gun’.
On the 4th June 1944, we took on lots of stores, fuel, ﬁeld dressings and a new ‘sparker’ on board. We were confined to ship and it was to be his first day at sea. On the 5th June, the glorious weather deteriorated and we were still conﬁned to ship.
We knew what was afoot because all of the South Coast and its side roads had become full of tanks, British, Canadian and American Soldiers. It was said we were waiting for full moon and low tide on the French Coast. General Dwight Eisenhower had the biggest decision of his life to make.
In the early hours of the 6th June, the Skipper told us we were in charge of the first wave of Assault Landing Craft (CLA’s).
Because of our shallow draft, we could take them into the designated landing point on the French Coast. I can still remember my Service Number — PIJX 361160 — and the number of my boat MGB 324 and FOREVER that day. Shakespeare was right - “All the world’s a stage and we each play a part thereon”. We had a back drop even Cecil B De Mille couldn't have conceived.
As we went round the Needles off the Isle of Wight we were greeted by the sign ‘God’s Speed and Good Luck’. As dawn broke, the sky above was black with planes and the sea below was black with ships as far as the eye could see.
There was a tug pulling a giant revolving drum which later we found was laying a fuel pipe line on the sea bed and tugs pulling giant concrete caissons which were later to form Mulberry Harbour. As soon as drew closer to the Normandy coast, the big War Ships dropped anchors and began pounding the beaches. The multi Rocket Launchers were ferocious. By this time, the se was quite choppy and we could see the ‘tracers’ snaking towards us overhead. Some of the soldiers in the landing craft alongside us only looked to be about my age (19) and were seriously seasick. As we turned to pick up the next flotilla of landing craft, I had a glimpse of them hitting the beach. I can never express fully, my admiration for them.
After D-Day we were working round the clock, patrolling and protecting the Main Fleet from E-Boats and two man suicide Submarines. When we finally returned to base in Lowestoft we all slept for 24 hours solid.
I was given a 48 hour pass with a Monday morning Sailing Time which I missed. Peeping into the Dockyard Office, I found my name on a Deserters List — Missing from Action. I wondered if I could be shot. I knew some Marines operating a Trot-Boat to one of the Supply Boats going to the French Coast. To cut a long story short, by cadging lifts, I managed to climb on board some hours later to huge cheers from my fellow crew members. I was put on a ‘charge’ before the Skipper who took a dim view of it but because of my enterprise, confined me to ship, which didn't really matter because we couldn't go ashore any way.
When we finally went ashore it was to hear Glen Miller playing in a field just outside Caen.
We moved along the Coast as each of the Ports were captured from the Germans until we ﬁnally became redundant. Up to being given my discharge, I was employed de commissioning boats and cocooning the guns etc., during which time, I managed to read Ernest Hemingway’s ‘Farewell to Arms’. It seemed appropriate.