From the Clyde
I was to proceed to Hong Kong where I had been posted. Within a
week of our arrival in Singapore, Japanese troops had landed on
the beaches of Siam, Pearl Harbour had been attacked and Singapore
and Hong Kong were under threat of invasion. My plans for reaching
Hong Kong had to be abandoned.
journey had begun at Chatham and marked a new stage in my life.
I had left the Northern Wave at Londonderry about three weeks before,
returning from Patrol Service to the regular Royal Navy. I travelled
from Londonderry via Belfast to Larne thence via Stranraer to Lowestoft
and finally to Chatham. We were carried by Duty Lorry to the barracks.
This was my first visit and I was greeted by an ornate arched gate.
On to the Regulating Police office to report in.
Barracks was centred around the barrack square. The square was an
oblong running east to west with the focal point at the east end.
On the south side were the old brick barrack blocks. They stood
between the high wall on the south side of the parade ground and
a chalk cliff. They must have been built at some time after the
Napoleonic Wars. They were tall, multi storey buildings and housed
most of the barrack's ratings. I was allotted to new huts at the
far (east end) of the Parade Ground, which occupied new ground behind
trees and bushes. The east end was where the Commodore of the barracks
took the salute and it was the place where all the hands fell in
every morning. They fell in by divisions; seamen, gunners, stokers,
communications, etc. After inspection by the Chiefs, the officers
did the same and then the whole naval force had to stand to attention
while the White Ensign was hoisted. The officers then reported to
divisional heads and the whole lot was reported to the Commodore.
This was classed as bullshit by the ratings. The parade was then
dismissed and marched away to their various duty stations. For us
this was the Signal School. On the north side of the barracks were
a lot of smaller offices such as the Signal School, Police or Regulating
Office, etc. and we usually found time to visit the Drafting Office
where details of drafts were displayed.
following morning I fell in on Barrack Square (the Parade Ground)
and, after Divisions, went to the Drafting Office to see if there
was any postings. Reported to Signal School. Saw the Yeoman of Signals
and after taking my details was told to join class in semaphore
practice. What a bore! After more than 18 months at sea and never
seeing semaphore used once.
a morning break for tea, I discovered the secret of "Chats".
The main thing was to find some way of dodging during the day. This
was achieved by sliding away after the allotment of some duty or
other and I found it easy to slide away at teabreaks. You then had
all the time in the world to waste, but it was necessary to have
some indication that one was legitimately employed. Some favoured
a ladder, if one could be found and hidden during off-duty hours.
It could then be propped up against any wall and Jack could stand
with a disengaged look, or wander the barracks with it stopping
at intervals as if engaged in onerous duty. The ladder had one huge
drawback. It involved work; anathema to any true Jack.
other method was a piece of paper. Not any old piece of paper, but
something that looked official. I managed to purloin some unused
envelopes from the Signal Office and carefully wrote different addresses
on them. I was now ready and they proved very useful during the
next few days. My forenoon and afternoon were successfully covered.
I could wander untroubled round the barracks, keeping out of the
way of PO's and Officers.
outside the barracks was an entirely different matter as they were
surrounded by a huge wall which was replaced at intervals by an
ascent-proof barb wire fence. Meals were taken in a canteen in the
huts. Nights, however were spent in a tunnel in the cliff behind
the old red brick barrack blocks due to the risk of air raids. Everyone
was issued with a hammock (which I had never used before) which
you carried into the tunnel where it was slung. The tunnel was hardly
idyllic as it was full of farting and snoring Jacks . I slept in
the tunnel for two nights then took to sneaking back to the barracks
behind the hedges where it was safe enough if you were not discovered.
days after I arrived I went to the drafting office to see if there
was a draft for me which there wasn't and on turning to come away
who should I discover behind me but Harry Clasper. This was an old
friend from Blaydon, a smallish man married to a large woman who
was bigger than Harry and enormously fat. I waited until he looked
at the board and when he came back to me I realised that something
had happened. Harry said "I've got a draft!". So I waited
until he came out of the office. He came out all smiles. He said
"I've been drafted to submarines at Blyth". After a little
more conversation we said goodbye. I discovered afterwards that
after he had completed the submarine course he was drafted to a
sub which went on patrol and never came back.
duty after Divisions was to report to the Drafting Office to look
at the notice board to see if you had been drafted. I was there
for about 6-7 days and on going to the drafting office on this morning
I dicovered that I had been drafted. It was to "Party Piano".
no one seemed to know where it was going or what it was. The draft
was to consist of communications ratings, sparkers and bunting tossers
and coders. The person in charge was a P.O. Telegraphist with 2
leading rates (i.e. two leading Telegraphists) the rest of the group
were ordinary signalman and telegraphists together with the coders
who had been posted from Billy Butlins Holiday Camp at Skegness
which had been converted to a Communications School.
was in the morning and between then and 5 o'clock at night there
were a number of things to be done. We had to get all our gear together,
the P.O. had to get his instructions and we also discovered that
we also had to get an issue of tropical clothing. I knew then that
it was some place between Freetown in Africa and Hong Kong. I was
delighted because a) I was getting out of the war (death or glory
had never appealed to me) and b) I was going to see a large part
of the world I'd always wanted to see because Party Piano, as we
found out, was taking us as far as Hong Kong.
was at 4 o'clock in the afternoon that we gathered at the drafting
office and found there a 30 cwt truck waiting equipped with a canvas
top and sides to which were fastened planks providing seating accommodation.
We were carried on this duty lorry across London to Euston for onward
passage to Gourock. At Euston we had to place our luggage in the
baggage car and find accommodation on the train. We ended up in
an open coach with no sleeping accommodation. I slept on the luggage
rack. They used to say I was like a monkey and I had to act like
a monkey to get onto the rack.
of the journey was in darkness, dim lights etc. as all of the train
was blacked out. The only thing on the train which coudn't be blacked
out was the funnel, which threw out about one foot of flame and
smoke which could be seen from a considerable distance. This was
considered to be a danger and the result was that when the train
was warned it would be stopped and the fire would be dampened down.
This happened twice on the journey and as a result the train was
considerably late. All the luggage which could be was placed on
the floor of the coach.
was on the luggage rack when the train was brought to a sudden halt
and the pressure of the braking threw me from the rack onto two
people who were lying on the ground. Turned out to be a WAF and
a soldier engaged in an illicit poke on floor. Absolute pandemonium.
Two very embarrassed people made a quick exit at the next stop and
I'm sure it wasn't the station they were intending to get off at.
One stop at Preston for tea and sandwiches provided by the dear
old W.V.S. We arrived at Gourock in the early morning.