FRED JEWETT SERVED ON DESTROYERS IN THE MEDITERRANEAN AND ON THE ARCTIC CONVOYS.
F: July 1939 and as a matter of fact, I hadn’t joined long when the war broke out in September. And I was a Second Class Boy, probably the lowest form of animal life you could compare in all the services, boy soldiers and boy sailors. But having said that, we were professionals. I joined the Royal Navy for a career. Not to go and fight the Germans, because there wasn’t a war on. It might come as a surprise to you but not everybody was accepted into the Navy as a Boy. You went and volunteered and you weren’t accepted. I’m telling you this because
J: I wanted to know the background anyway
F: I’m a different animal to somebody who said right, we’re at war with the Germans, I’m going to war. I wasn’t that kind of an animal. I was a professional sailor. I had anticipated in due course to become a Petty Officer and even a Commission perhaps later on in life, but that didn’t happen because of the turn of events. So I did my training in HMS Ganges[?], famous for its high masts, and I got I was there for about nine months. I then went to Chatham Barracks[?] where I went on/awaited [?] my first ship. Now my first ship was HMS Phoebe[?] (I’ll give you this, send me it back because I haven’t got a copy) but it was in 1940, I commissioned HMS Phoebe[?] at Glasgow, Glasgow docks. And I went aboard this wonderful ship – I’d never seen a warship in my life before – I looked at these big guns, and all the rest of it. ++. The trouble is that I’m an old fashioned sailor and one of these little destroyers that they have nowadays would sink a fleet, they’re so
J: Phobe was a destroyer wasn’t she?
F: No, no she was a Cruiser, a light cruiser. Lovely ship actually. But we bombarded the Foten Islands, sorry, sorry, Norway, the coast of Norway and went back and we were ammunition ship and over the magazine they have armoured hatches and they’re secured by a clip. Well some clown had taken the clip off. And I was standing abreast of this thing lowering down, re-ammunition, lowering down the shells and things and the ship rolled the wrong direction, down it came on top of me. Normally I suppose I would have been pensioned off out of the Navy but there was now a war on and I was a trained sailor so you didn’t leave the Navy. You were a valuable commodity. I went to [?] Hospital near Glasgow. From there my ship sailed to the Mediterranean. Now here’s the irony. The ship went to the Mediterranean but two or three months afterwards she was torpedoed midships and most of the Boys on the Phoebe were killed. The torpedo struck the Boy’s mess. So there’s a quirk of fate for you! I lost my ship and my shipmates were killed on that voyage. There were about 50 Boys on board the ship. The Boys are all messed together, they’re not separate. They didn’t mess with the men.
Well I went back to barracks, and in the fullness of time I got another ship called the Ashanti, HMS Ashanti. Triangle Class Destroyer. She was one of the great ships of the Navy actually. And I joined as a Boy at Wallsend and the Captain, a fellow called Dickie Onslow, wonderful man, he said — rumour had it that he’d had a brother killed, but I don’t know how true it was but that was the rumour, the buzz — he said he had every intention, he said you’re going to be very busy in water but I’ve every intention of taking on the Germans. So we all thought cor, we’ve got a right one here. It was true, he was.
J: He went wherever danger was.
F: That’s right. He certainly did. So anyway, we took part in the Foten Island raids, where we spent five days in Norway, in the Foten Islands. That was a funny thing because after Dunkirk they took all the rifles, small arms, off of the destroyers and the warships for the army you see. And here we were, a ship, doing boarding party without any small arms. Loads of big guns, great big pom poms and what have you but we didn’t have and when we went, when we sailed, there were five of us sailing a convoy to Norway and there was this wonderful – it was just before Christmas – we saw this lovely ship, beautiful armed trawler with a Christmas tree on it and we put a 4.7 shell, a beautiful shot right into the bridge. And it tore a chink out of the backside of the German operator. So he couldn’t stand up, and he was speaking to us, and the shell didn’t explode, it went clean through, and a sort of a moon shaped chunk out of his bottom. And then they fixed up boarding parties and the funny thing about it was when we were going aboard – well, everybody who knows about boarding parties say that the number one boarding party is the one not to be on because that’s the one that gets shot to pieces while the second wave gets there with luck you see in a boarding party. And I thought oh well I suppose I’m bound to be on the no.1 boarding party. I looked through the sheets that were on the notice board. I saw no.1 boarding party and about third down was Boy Jewett. I thought â€œOh Brilliant, just my luck!. Go down, write home to mum. Dear Mum, sorry I won’t be home but anyway, it didn’t turn out like that, things never do. We went and we had no trouble boarding this trawler and it was quite a modern warship but some funny things happened on the ship. We were new to war, and we took these about a dozen German sailors. They were all Austrian – I don’t know why we call them Germans or Austrian – and they were quite nice blokes and some of our lads, we didn’t know what to do with them, we had them in the fo’c’sle, and they played us at chess. They were very good chess players. Sailors are very good chess players you know: not much else to do. And anyway, when this boarding party we lowered away and took this boarding party and boarded this thing and the funny side of it was that Lieutenant Bailey was in charge of us, and it turned out that the Germans were just about to have their Christmas dinner. It was all on the table. And we’d been feeding on biscuits and corned beef for about three days. And when we saw it What happened, all the lads on the boarding party sat down and started eating the Christmas, the Schnapps. And the Germans, had their hands on their heads, quite a friendly affair. Nobody was killed on there at all. But the problem was on the Ashanti, on the main ship that we were on, they didn’t know what had happened. So they thought, I presume they thought that the boarding party had been kept as a hostage. But they weren’t, they were just downstairs tucking in, having a good old time. And it would appear that the German people were going berserk upstairs up aloft. And there was a countdown that if they hadn’t produced us within so many seconds they were going to blow the ship out of the water, us with it. Anyway, all went well and all the lads and there was Lee Harrison, and as I say all was well because they came up and eventually they were taken prisoner. It was quite a hilarious event. Might not have been. I don’t think the Germans were any well we I spoke to a lot of them on board awful thing to say at wartime but they’re just like us you know.
J: They weren’t all ardent Nazis were they?
F: God no. I think one of them was, there was one, because he got marched down aft. Forward is where the crew is. We had an armed guard on board but there was one of them was a right Nazi. But that was in the Foten Islands. And then of-course we went, what we call TSBS, anti-submarine sweeps, destroyer sweeps in the Atlantic and North Sea. And we also had a Commando raid, another Commando raid up at Spitzberg. We had some of these characters aboard us
J: So most of the time Ashanti was working on its own was it?
F: Oh no, not most of the time. We were working as a flotilla you see. There were six destroyers, but we had different jobs to do and tasks to do like escort duty and things and we got broken up quite a lot. We didn’t work all together. But Spitzberg was a very close thing. But we had some of these Commandos and in those days they weren’t Royal Marine commandos, they were just commandos. And I was given to understand that they were dragged out of all the jails and lord knows what from Glasgow. They were real bloodthirsty
J: I suppose they were the first special forces?
F: These were the first ones. So these were the very first ones. But we had a chap on Ashanti, an officer on Ashanti, Lieutenant Commander Maetrander and he was one of the Commanders of the Royal Norwegian Navy and he was a wonderful man. I think he got a rollocking once or twice off the power that be because he would come forward you know where we were and come and play cards with the Boys. Well you don’t the Royal Navy doesn’t don’t do that, and he used to mix with us. On one occasion we realised it was bitterly cold and steam was coming off you, a place called S[?] and I was scrubbing the decks down, it was so bitterly cold, and he was the sort of chap, he was about six foot seven, massive man, wonderful bloke. And he dived into this freezing cold water, he’s swimming around, he shouts out â€œCome on in, the water’s lovely. He was a real character. We heard through the grapevine through Captain Onslow that on Norway he’d been captured by the Germans. I’ve tried since the war to track him down because
J: What was his name?
F: Lieutenant Commander Maestrander. I had a lot of contact with the Norwegians in an odd way because later on when I was a policeman I was a PC in training and we got a telex from Hendon college and it said Inspector of the Norwegian Police will be arriving [goes into story about police]
J: Have you been up in Newcastle all the time?
F: Oh pretty well since I came to Wallsend and joined the Ashanti in 1940. I’ve been here ever since. Never went back home. Went back home to see my family, but never got married up here.
But then, Pedestal Convoy:
J: When were you sent down to the Mediterranean?
F: We were on Russian convoy you see and after that we got sent after Russian convoys..
J: When would that be?
F: 1941. We went after Russian convoys. We lost the Somali which was a terrible thing to happen, that was the worst part of my service when she broke up. We tried to save her, we had to watch her go down. She was our sister ship.
J: So you knew the crew?
F: Absolutely, she was the sister ship. Somali, another Triangle Class Destroyer. But my Gunnery Officer, we had a wonderful team of gunnery officers. One was called Bailey, Tony Bailey. And also Lord Lewin, he wasn’t Lord Lewin then: Terry Lewin, he was a sub-lieutenant he was the GCO. I used to talk to him because I was on the gunnery team on the end of the phone on the bridge. And he was a wonderful chap. Very cool. He never got his knickers in a twist. Actually so was Bailey. But what did happen, a funny thing that did happen on the Santa Maria convoy. We had the Nigeria carried flags and coincidence is a funny thing, they had to bring Admiral Burrows and his staff because he was the Admiral, onto the Ashanti because we were the Triangle Class Destroyer, nothing like the great battle cruiser like the Nigeria. So we brought them on. One of the Admiral’s signallers, I’m on the bridge and he comes on the bridge and he was like the lad who I used to sit next to, who was also a Boy at that time named Ron Armitage. And we sat next to each other at school. And I hadn’t seen him since and all of a sudden Ronny Armitage appeared on the bridge and he was the Admiral’s staff. He had been brought off the Nigeria onto the Ashanti, which was my ship. So that was one coincidence. I don’t think I’ve every seen him since either. Spoke to him for about 20 minutes and haven’t seen him Another thing was on the bridge on the Ashanti, Bailey was good rugby player and he (First Lieutenant: He was in charge of Lewin ) was on the bridge. I was just the communications mug with a headset on. And some of the funny things that happened to me I could write a book myself. He said, the Captain – Burrows was a good sport -something was happening, I had my headphones on, and I heard Bailey shout to Burrows â€œFollow through Sir, Follow through!, and of-course it’s nothing to do with gunnery, there’s no such gunnery term as follow through. But the funniest thing that happened was when Burrows went to sleep at night-time. It was one of the queer things. We were being attacked as we went what they called U-boat Alley. Straits as you go through towards Malta from Gibraltar. We were being attacked by the U-boats and we were in these searchlights. And the trouble is, I had what you call the Captain’s side operator. I had my sight controlled all the guns, directed the guns and when the enemy were astern you had two circuits, port and starboard. And you had to switch the port circuit over to the starboard side. We used to have to switch off and go across the other side and switch on so you caught up the circuit, electrical circuit. Well of-course I’d switched off, followed the U-boat round me, it was in the searchlight, followed it round, and it went through the stern and the next thing I saw through the binoculars was all the rigging so I switched off, zoomed across without thinking
J: The searchlights were through the stern?
F: That’s right, they were on top of us you see. Anyway I got, I jumped on something soft, I didn’t know what it was, I heard some shouting from forward and I got over to the other side to the starboard side, and the enemy came through the stern, got to the starboard side and made the circuit again, picked up the target again and there was shoutingI’ve jumped on the Admiral haven’t I. He was having forty winks. He hadn’t been asleep for five or six days and decided to have a doss in the well in front of thethat was the end of his doss. I never let on – wasn’t me. I was terrified. I was telling Bailey about that years and years afterwards. These things come back to you. People say what was it like in action but you don’t know really because you’re so damned busy, all I was concerned about was watching this U-Boat: two or three U-boats coming in, German U-boats. What they do you know, they kick their stern round, they fire their torpedoes from their stern and once they kick their stern round boy you best you start praying. On the Ashanti on that trip, I must be one of the luckiest lads alive, I was changing my stations and I got into midships and it would be about 10/11 O’clock at night, and I saw these two waves coming dead straight for us: you can see a torpedo wave the point is of-course that torpedoes were usually about 50 feet or more in front of the wave because the wave takes a little time to get to the surface. These two waves were coming straight at us and actually obviously I would have been dead as a duck by the time I saw them because they went clean underneath the Ashanti and I saw that actually happen and I thought well, you realise they missed. The Ashanti, all sorts of things happened in action.
J: Just to rewind, did you set off from the Clyde?
F: Oh yes. We came down from Russia: we’d been on Russian convoy you see. That was a nasty scene. Of the two, Russia was the worst because if you’re sunk you don’t last more than about 4 or 5 minutes in Russia. In the Med at least you had a sporting chance if you got sunk. We came down from Russia and we got to Gib
J: So you met the rest of the convoy?
F: No, we met them outside Plymouth. The convoy mustered at Plymouth and there was warships and cruisers and god knows what and we were what they called the Destroyer Screen, but normally big ships like cruisers and battleships do not take part in what they call Close Escort. In a convoy there’s a covering course, 10-20, 30 miles, not far, behind the main convoy and then you’ve got the close escort. Now the close escort is always destroyers. They’re in with the merchant ships. They’re part of the convoy. And one of the destroyers, like the Ashanti, on this occasion used to go round hustling them up. Get a move on, because it’s always the last one in the convoy gets sunk, and somehow put a wriggle on. But it was a tragic thing to see these ships blown sky high.
J: So you mustered at Plymouth and then you.
F: Went down through the Bay of Biscay and into Gib. We mustered at Gib. Went through Gib. Went to a North African port. It was the biggest harbour I’ve ever seen in my life. That was one hell of a thing
J: Which convoy was this one?
F: This is the same one. The Western Med is pretty safe round about Gib way, there wasn’t much naval action round there, although they sunk the Eagle of course
J: Can you remember that happening?
F: Yes, I saw the Eagle sunk yes. I was on the bridge. One minute there she was, the next minute there she wasn’t. It was unbelievable.
J: That was the first attack wasn’t it?
F: Yes. She got four direct hits. It was just unbelievable marksmanship. An almighty big aircraft carrier was there one minute and then the bloody thing was gone. There’s blokes in the water. You can hardly believe your eyes. You feel a bit sad but then you don’t dwell on it you know. You’ve got other things to do. There’s signals going around, orders getting thrown about and you don’t
J: Was there a sense when the Eagle got hit You thought this is it?
F: You can hear On the ship’s SRE you can hear the fighters. They’re on the same wavelength and you could hear the chaps in the Fleet Air Arm, you can hear the aircraft, you know strangle your cockerel business, bandits at you know, you could hear all this
J: Most of the planes on the Eagle went down with it didn’t they?
F: A lot of them went down yes. Those that didn’t went onto the other ship. I wasn’t on the Eagle so I’m not an authority. I was about a mile or so away sort of thing. It was a marvellous piece of work on the part of the Germans.
J: Presumably they wanted to get the aircraft carrier away because they’ve got the planes away so then you’ve got no air protection?
F: That’s right. Because air protection: say what you like but during the war we were always air protection was the main sort of cover. Take that away and you’re in for a blasting. Although in actual fact theoretically I would have like to have been with a ship like the Ashanti, you see, the Ashanti stayed afloat and I often wondered about this since the war because we had a fanatic Tony Bailey and Lewin were fanatics on perfection, on gunnery perfection, and they when we went into action there wasn’t one bullet that was fired that was careless. They were all, every one, all the armsmen One of my action stations, one of my stations rather, was in the transmitting station (what we call TS) and it was just the same down there, if you were down in the TS, when you’re following pointers, same as training up the guns and following pointers, it’s all the same: absolutely accurate. And one of the things about the Ashanti was they were professionals. The whole ship’s company. There were very, very few what they called H.O.s (Hostilities Only) volunteers. They were mainly all professionals, they were all people who were pukka navy. And that was quite important. When they hit a ship like that – the Mishona that was the bulk of our ship’s company, she was sunk at the Battle of round about the Battle of Britain. I wasn’t on the Mishona, but she was sunk around about the Bismark, sinking of the Bismark. And they were all professionals. The crew was unbelievable. Even the rugby team never got beaten. We played battleships and aircraft carriers at rugby all over the place. We had a couple of Welsh internationals and they were all black on our side. We didn’t do so bad. That was the good stuff but there were times when you were worried not really worried, but apprehensive. I think that’s a better word. I think that anybody who really worried about it. Every sailor had great faith because we’d sunk the Bismark.
J: You feel invincible?
F: You do.
J: Presumably you were 17, 18?
F: That’s right. I was a leading seaman when I was 19. I was a youngster. You take the German fleet on. There’s that kind of – I’m probably exaggerating – but it is true that on a ship’s company, when it gets welded, the way the Ashanti was, and that was two ship’s companies: it was the Mishona’s crew plus me, I came off the Phoebe. The whole of the Mishona’s crew who were also professionals like myself went onto the Ashanti. So the Ashanti had a professional crew. That’s why she was absolutely red hot.
J: Was there a terrific pride in the ship you were on?
F: Oh there was. Tremendous. Absolutely tremendous. One of the nicest things – little things stick in your mind and I’m 79 – was we went into Algiers, after the Malta convoy, we went back to Russia and came back for the North African landings. And then I remember Lewin and Bailey were very keen on PT you see, physical training. And we went to Algiers: Algiers was a huge bay, a really big man-made harbour, probably about 2 or 3 miles in length. The whole ship’s company had to go on this jaunt to the end of the jetty and back again. So, of course, you know in the navy there’s always â€œthems and â€œus’s, â€œthems being the officers and â€œus’s being the lower deckers. And ship’s company set off at a steady old jog and Lewin and Bailey were at the front and there was one or two stragglers. As it happened, as a kid I was quite athletic at school and I was a good runner. So anyway after a while I thought this is easy. The officers were all at the front. We came back and about three quarters of the way back I decided to go up and join them. So I did. I went up to join them and then Lewin saw me out of the corner of his eye and he started to go faster. So I thought well I’m going faster. Eventually it ended up with a race between Terry Lewin and myself and the rest of the ship’s company about 100 yards behind. And I was going like the clappers. To be fair I was younger than him. And he was going like the clappers. But he beat me actually. And then afterwards he put his arm round me and said well done Jim. I told him years afterwards.
J: Did he remember it?
F: Oh yes. To a Boy, it was great. He wasn’t very high in the navy either but
J: What were your living conditions on the ship, what were you eating, what were you doing?
F: Well in a ship, in a destroyer destroyers are very different to cruisers and battleships. Because on a destroyer you have what is called a messing allowance. You’re given so much money per person per mess and you’ve got to live on that. There would be about 11 men to a mess and you had to cook your own meals. All your own
J: When you said 11 to a mess, would they all be boy sailors like yourself?
F: At first, yes: at first I was a boy sailor but
J: By then you weren’t a boy sailor any more?
F: Yes, on the Ashanti I joined as Boy. I was promoted on the Ashanti to Ordinary Seamen and In those days in a mess, where you have a spirit table, and the chief of the mess, that’s the leading seaman of the mess, sits at one end and he’s the boss. Then you have three-badge able seamen, two-badge able seamen, and an able seamen and ordinary seamen who are the lowest of the low. And it’s a sort of a pecking order. It’s quite hilarious. But they were so funny those old chaps. If you wanted to know some seamanship question you could approach them.
J: How was it organized with these 11 men.
F: Each mess. Eight messes in a ship you see.
J: Why would one person be in a particular mess? Was it to do with gunnery or?
F: No, no. We all had different action stations. Some were X guns crew, some were Y guns crew, some were in the TS, some were in the range finder. No, we all had different action stations but we messed together and it was entirely up to us as to how well or badly we lived. Because they gave us the money and if we wanted to starve we could keep the money but most people didn’t, they preferred to have something decent to eat. You were responsible for your mess which is a table and small room.
J: Say the mess you were in. Who told you you were in that mess?
F: The organization: That’s usually done by the coxswain, and an officer. It’s usually the First Lieutenant, gunnery officer, people like that. And they organize the whole of the administration you see. That’s done by the officers. In a cruiser – and I was a Petty Officer later on it life – it’s usually a general service seaman and a petty officer. It all comes under the Commander’s office. But they don’t have those great wonderful things in destroyers. It’s done by the coxswain and the gunner’s mate: the chief gunnery instructor, he’s the chief guy. He’s in charge of gunnery and you’ve got the torpedo gunnery officer: they’re the heads of the various departments: you’ve got the torpedo gunnery instructor, the gunnery instructor, then of-course you’ve got people like the shipwright and all sorts of odds and sods around. If there’s going to be a boarding party you don’t ask wrighters to take part, you ask the seamen. The seamen are the fellows: either seamen torpedo men or seamen gunners, things like that. That was, of course, the training of it. Looking back on it I can’t remember being frightened on the convoy because you know I was so young then and there’s nothing more warlike than a 17-year-old boy. It’s death or glory, fight for King and country you know. It’s true, and they don’t know fear you know, youngsters. You can see it in life today. All these kids today. They’ll fight anything and everybody. Because they’re at that daft age when you think you’re invincible. The war was on then But I’ve talked about the Ashanti, but I went onto another ship called the [?]. Now strangely enough it was a sort of anti-climax. I commissioned a lovely ship called the [?]. One of the ++ class destroyers, very similar size to the Ashanti. In the meantime I’d been promoted to Leading Seamen on the Ashanti, and I’d joined the ++ as a leading seamen. When I got on the ++ I found that I was the clinic[?] of the mess and none of these kids knew the first thing about seamanship or gunnery. One of them had been a bank clerk six weeks before and he’d gone from being a bank clerk onto the ++ and I suddenly found that I was one among very few regular sailors. I was a regular, you know. And I had the unenviable task of training these people, teaching them how to tie clove hitches and all the rest of it. Basic stuff. They’d had about six weeks training, and they’d taken them on to go on a Russian convoy on a crack destroyer. Wonderful equipment but believe it or not they turned out OK. They really did. They were marvellously quick. We had a reunion, and my wife went down to Portsmouth with the 26th Destroyer. And all the ++ I was so embarrassed, I went down there and of-course they had a table of about 10 or 12 ex-++, because the ship was called ++. This was about five years ago. I very rarely go to these things. I went down, and they pulled my wife to one side and said he was a right bastard you know. Bloody charming! I must have been an absolute bastard. He said thank god because I licked them into shape. It had to be. It was a matter of life or death. You haven’t got time on a Russian convoy to start teaching people how to do basic fundamentals. It rubbed off and they turned out to be chap called ++ in charge of that ship. He became a Rear Admiral after that. It was a good ship actually. But I came off her to take my petty officers because I was a leading seamen, and I was a professional and for all there was a war – I took 13 Russian convoys on the mission – and I took part in the – I was a range taker[?] — and I took part in the D-day landings. That was on the ++. Because by now I used to take the ranging points. I realised afterwards it was trigonometry ranging on one point (it’s gone out of my head now) I was taking a ranging point you see and it was being flashed to another point: army cooperation you see. Naval range takers were absolutely red hot. You were really trained well. I was the range taker on the ++. But I saw some funny things during the war.
Brings back a memory on the Ashanti. We had some funny episodes, which I can’t really repeat because sailors language is so crude I remember once on the Ashanti when I was on what was called cruising stations, sorry defence stations. Now in a ship you have forms of readiness. Action stations is the top, everybody’s at action stations. Cruising stations are the lowest form of readiness when you have a quarter of the ship’s company closed up, you have one gun look-out and such: that’s called cruising stations. But defence stations lies between the two if you follow. You’d have maybe two guns and rather more. Anyway, we were at defence stations and my defence station was ++. We had a brand new gunnery officer. Lewin had left the ship, we had a new gunnery officer ++ charming chap. Used to bring bars of chocolate up to us but anyway, we were taking a convoy from Alex to Malta and this plane came low towards us. Now you know, planes don’t come low so we so they give an order â€œAll guns follow director and that means all guns you have these pointers. Where the director goes, that’s the range finder director, they follow it. And anyway, we had a hard-case of a director layer and director trainer, one was called Frank Larson and the other one I can’t remember. And we were all trained on this plane. And as it came, it got nearer and nearer and so he said â€œWhat do you think it is Freddie?. He called me Freddie. I said â€œIt looks like a ++, Sir. So he said â€œNo, no, I’m sure it’s a Beaufort. Well to cut a long story short, that Beaufort launched tin fish at us and all of a sudden the ship lurched across. Well the captain had seen this. The next thing was that Onslow, he came up and looked over the top and you should have heard the language. That last turn round he said â€œYou know sir we should have had him for breakfast, because we did have him in our sights.
J: Who was it that thought it was a Beaufort?
F: He was the gunnery control officer. But I wouldn’t tell you ++ suffice to say he didn’t last very long on that ship actually. Onslow was not at all amused about that. You remember the funny things. But try as I might, I can never forget the loss of the Ashanti. That was a tragedy, unbelievable. That was in Russia. Don’t want to talk about that I’m pleased that Terry Lewin got his VHC because we got a line between the towing barge and he used to go chugging backwards and forwards in the ++ with a lad called ++ and he got the VSO. But eventually we were going great guns for about two or three days and all of a sudden we hit a storm, just like that. It came up in minutes. One minute it was flat, next minute it was mountainous seas. Poor old Ashanti, middle of the night, about four O’clock in the morning, she broke her back. And a lot of us tried to get ++ out of the water. Because they dived in a few times, the Commander of the ship. And we tried to get them on board but it was no good. They were ++. But Lofty ++, leading seaman, he was a pal of mine
J: So you were on the
F: On the Ashanti.
J: When the Ashanti sank you were?
F: We were with her. Actually we’d just changed places. She was on out of ++ spring and we’d just changed places with the Somali and the Somali copped it. It should have been us. We should have been that’s why I said I’ve had a charmed life. As I say, Lofty ++ went in and here’s a funny true story. He rescued the Lieutenant Commander who was in charge of the Somali, out of this freezing water. And jumped in. It was guts. I went over the side down the scrambling net and I got my feet wet and everything else. But I didn’t jump in. About five or six yards out there was this body bobbing and Lofty went in after him and brought him up. He was drunk as a lord but never mind. It turned out to be Lieutenant Commander Maud. And Maud was wonderful. He gave Lofty Lofty told me, he said he’s given me a clock. There were two words on this clock. It said â€œThanks chum. And Lieutenant Commander Maud, â€œMad Maud[?], he became the beachmaster on D-Day. Four-rigger. You know the beachmaster with the dog? Well you probably don’t, but there was a beachmaster and the beachmaster on D-Day on the beach there was Lieutenant Commander Maud who Lofty Gates saved on the Ashanti. You can check up if you want to, I think you’ll find it’s true. I’m too old.
Anyway, I digress. Where am I?
Funny stories: Now when the Ashanti was taking part in the North Atlantic battle we were allowed we went into ++. Now we went to anchor at ++. And believe it or not when I was at school I learnt schoolboy French. And of-course as you know Arran[?] is a French port. What happened was I was allowed ashore to buy all the things from Arran for presents for the family. We didn’t know who I was only a junior ++ they had to send somebody ashore at Arran. I said â€œWell I can speak French. â€œAh, the very man â€œJe parle francais un peu. That sort of thing. Proper schoolboy French. But it was good enough to get me ashore. And I went ashore and I went into a few shops in Arran, I was stumbling with a great big list of things I had to buy: stockings, scent, you name it. Arran had more of those sort of goodies than we did at home you know. Believe it or not this was a fact. Anyway I had this list and I’m struggling. This attractive young lady said â€œDon’t you think it would be better if I spoke in English. Perfect English she spoke. I thought great start. However, it got me a run ashore. Of-course they hated you know the British fleet sunk the they didn’t hate us but they didn’t like us very much because we sunk their fleet. In hindsight in the war they had to do it because if it got into German hands it would have been tough for us. People sitting in armchairs will say Well where did we get to?
J: Can we just go back to the Pedestal the Malta convoy? How many Malta convoys did you do?
F: Myself I only did the one. I did the one convoy. We took the Malta, the Santa Maria, the Pedestal convoy, call it what you like. And then we turned round when we got to Malta – nearly to Malta, we never went into Malta properly – turned around and then came back and then went back to Russia. So we went from Russia to Malta and back to Russia. Next time we came down it wasn’t for a Malta convoy it was for the North African landings. But you know you ask me what was it like. I’ll tell you something. By this time, by the time I was about 18 or 19 I feel, looking back on it, that I was so hardened to wartime conditions and discipline that I knew what to expect, that I didn’t feel any fear, no matter what you were doing, when you got your action, I didn’t feel any fear. I had some trepidation about going on a submarine. I always had a philosophy that I wouldn’t mind going in the RAF or the Fleet Air Arm because I always said what goes up must come down but what goes down doetn’t necessarily come out. That’s the law of gravity. But apart from that I don’t think I had any fear at all. In fact on the contrary. When I went to America I went to America to pick up HMS Leander which had been a New Zealand ship in Boston Massacheusettes. Went to America and I lost my thread there I went to Boston and that was an interesting thing too. When I went to Boston, the Captain wanted somebody to give up going ashore, and we had been warned in a quiet sort of a way to be very, very careful, because one of the occupational hazards of being an English sailor in America was that you were fair game for quite rich southern mamas who were looking for husbands for their daughters who were blue eyed having said that — that was all en passant — what happened was the Captain wanted a ++. I by a ++ system was a petty officer, I was junior petty officer in the mess and we had mess meeting and the President of the mess, he said I’m sorry but the Captain wants somebody to take on ++. We knew that we were going to have to give up our shore connections. So anyway it came to me. That’s how I got, I didn’t volunteer. I was detailed to go aft and report that I was the man that volunteered. So I went aft and I saw the officer and he said you better have a word with the commanding officer. Went to the commanding officer. Petty officer Jewett. Stepped forward. He said â€œCome in, come in Jewett. Well done. Sit yourself down. You’ve just landed the best job you could possibly have. You’ll be looked after and wined and dined. He said â€œI want you to report to the ++ information service on Commonwealth Avenue and report to Miss ++, I’ve got some letters for her. I thought boy-oh-boy I bed if they’d known this was going on there’d have been a scramble. So then I went here and there
J: How long was that for?
F: We were only there about nine months. Quite interesting actually. Giving talks to little groups you know. It was a PR job. Tell them what it was like. I did have to talk about the royal family. It was the first damn thing they always asked you. Was. I attempted to pull their leg. I was talking to the King the other day and I said They would believe you. You might see it the following day, a report the following day. They were lovely people. I’ve got a terrible affection for the Americans because of the people I met there and also the fact that they did such a wonderful job, those and the Russians, they did an enormous amount in the war. I saw American ships go sky high on Russian convoys. I took 23 Russian convoys and I saw an awful lot of ships get sunk. A lot of them Americans as well. They’re great people, lovely people. You hear people talk about who won the war. Do you know who won the war? The Russians. Do you know how many they lost in the war? 26 million. And we talk about winning the war! We didn’t know what it was about. Stalingrad was to tell the truth Malta I’ve got some lectures after the war I was a Petty Officer Gunnery Instructor, I got some lectures at Ch[?] Barracks, gunnery school, on naval strategy and there’s no two ways about it. One of the key points of the last war was Malta.
J: I’m really interested you say this because at the beginning of the war Dudley Pound, Admiral, he was suggesting to Churchill that we should vacate the Mediterranean but I’ve always thought that Malta was absolutely critical.
F: Well I got this lecture [not sure from this whether he gave the lecture or he just attended it]. And I’ll tell you what the story was with it. At the beginning of the war Malta was under-defended. I’ll dig some stuff out for you, my own personal stuff. And the thing is that the position we were in and all of a sudden it was round about the time two key things, one was Stalingrad and the other one was Malta. Now if we had Malta, consider that Rommel had said that it was Malta has on its conscience the souls of hundreds of thousands of German soldiers. ++ submarine destroyers, the flotilla. Montgommery didn’t win North Africa. It was because Rommel’s stores and supplies and reinforcements were sunk from Malta by the Tenth destroyer flotilla. It was the thorn in their side. They just could not get over Malta. And had Malta fallen and the Germans had taken Malta, made it a fortress, there would have been no Allemagne. Because the grand design according to this lecture I’ve got was for the Germans to take, for the oil etc, take the whole of North Africa and move down and meet up with the other, with the Japs coming up through Africa the other side and India. That was the grand design. And there’s no two ways about it had we lost Malta we’d still be fighting the blinking war I think because we had no way in the Mediterranean at all. We were paralysed.
J: Sure. You have Malta and you keep on to Gibraltar and you keep on to Alexandria then you’ve got the far west, far east and the middle of the Mediterranean.
F: It’s an important strategic position.
J: When you were starting the Pedestal convoy, did you know that you were going to Malta and what was happening?
F: Oh yes. Don’t ask me how but you do on a ship. What happens is that the signal officer or the telegraphic staff you know, they’re all lower deckers. And it leaks. But I tell you one of the funniest things: When I commissioned the ++ at Walls End, they were making a big display of putting these (I’d come off the Ashanti), bringing this tropical equipment and everyone thought oh we’re going to the Far East. I went below and I looked at the lagging round the pipes. And I thought I know how bloody far we’re going. The lagging round the pipes. I knew damn ++ we were going to Russia. Same with Malta. You know there’s something big when you see them muttering, there’s going to be a ++, there’s going to be a battle and of-course when they said Malta, we knew, it filtered through that Malta was having a terrible time. It filtered through to all the fleet. So we knew more or less. And we also knew that we had to get that convoy through or Malta was on the verge of You probably know the whole story of that. But it was a real battle
J: So you knew when you started that convoy, you knew that you were doing something very important.
F: That’s right, absolutely. It was death or glory sort of thing. I saw lots of ships sunk, the Manchester, Algeria, ++ we had a grandstand view.
J: You mentioned the Eagle earlier on but can you remember other specific incidents on that convoy?
F: I suppose. One of the things was the Ohio. We went alongside, almost alongside the Ohio. What we were able to do in laymans terms we were about 100 feet away from the Ohio. What we were able to do we put what is known as an umbrella barrage. She didn’t have any anti-aircraft guns like a destroyer has
J: So you were 100 yards to one side of her were you?
F: That’s right. It was to one side of her, maybe more than that: three or four hundred yards. But to cut a long story short, what happened was we were a crack gunnery ship. We were being attacked by Junker 87s – what you call Stukas – they were coming down at us and all of a sudden one of them got beautifully hit. The only trouble was it appeared to be coming straight down. Trouble was, it missed us and landed bang smack on the.
J: So one of your shots hit it?
F: Hit it, yes and it hit the blinking Ohio. It landed on the Ohio. Another time, one of the Junker 88s
J: Could you see it, flames, going into it?
F: That’s right yes. But you can see a plane going in between. One occasion I remember was the plane of-course it was only a glimpse because you were so busy you don’t get time to look at things. You don’t gawp at things. Was a plane lying fallen between us.
J: Between you and the Ohio?
J: So your guns are just going all the time?
F: Trying to give a barrage above the Ohio. But other ships were in the same position. They put what we called a second block onto what we call the FKC, the ++ keeping clock, sounds technical but ++ with an umbrella and the chap just puts his crosswires on an umbrella and everybody puts their settings there and they know exactly where to go to give that ship – in this case the Ohio – the gunnery coverage that she didn’t have. But I can’t think of other things except the ribaldry of sailors when they get tired, loading guns, the comrade in arms. You depend on each other.
J: Did the Ashanti get hit at all on that convoy?
F: No. Not at all. I don’t think the Ashanti suffered a casualty from the beginning to the end of the war. I’m pretty sure I’m right. Because she was the most unbelievably lucky ship. But one of the things that happened on cruising watch, a chap called Merton on the
J: So as the convoy was going through, presumably there’s not much time to sleep or anything like that?
F: At sea, except when you get specific actions. I was never in a ++ actually. I wish I ++ never was. You have – I said defence watches you see, that’s half and half, four on four off. You get to sleep between times. Your feeding is done four on four off that’s defence stations. With action stations you have a sort of a half-baked action stations where there’s one from each part of the who goes down to make cocoa or biscuits or something to keep you going. On Russian convoy you had a terrible problem because you had what they called midnight sun. It was daylight all the time. ++ Iceland get up to Mermansk or Archangel, it’s daylight. That’s one of the unfortunate things. There was an occasion on Russian convoys where ++ flat calm. They were just waiting for us you know ++ sea planes. Waiting for us. I never had any but they had some pills called â€œkeep awake pills. But normally you’d find I think it’s not fear, you’re busy that’s all. Adrenelin. You get knackered but you’re knackered in a funny sort of way. You’re firing guns and there’s something going on all the time. I tell you what is exciting, the first time, the smell of guns. The smell of cordite from a gun, it’s all part of the sort of not excitement, I don’t know what the word is really. You’re ready for it. I suppose every soldier and sailor in every navy is much the same.
J: So when you’re on the Pedestal convoy, you’re on the bridge. What exactly are you doing from the moment you get past Gibraltar to the moment you feel you’re within a few miles of Malta and its time to go home again?
F: It happens a few miles out of Gib. Then you may be at defence stations, which is half and half. Now when things start or you get information or whatever then we close, the Captain decides, whether to close into action stations. That’s when the ship is at maximum readiness. On a cruiser which I wasn’t on they have this ++. On a destroyer it’s done with a bosun’s call. It’s done over a tannoy. It’s a bosun’s call, old-fashioned whistle, and â€œhands to action stations. That means that everybody goes to their action stations and when you get there you prepare for action. You test your equipment, test communications, test that everything is nearly getting ready in apple pie order, waiting for the go, ready for whatever happens. It could be a submarine in the vicinity. If it’s a submarine and you’re on a destroyer, you’re on a winner. Because the submarine’s got more worries about you than you’ve got about him. Depth charges you see.
J: And you’re a lot quicker aren’t you?
F: That’s right. The original term of a destroyer was anti-submarine destroyer. That was the original term for a destroyer. That’s what they were built for originally ++ in the 1940s.
J: So you personally are there on the bridge?
F: Yes. That’s right. Headphones on.
J: What’s coming through your headphones?
F: â€œBridge control, â€œbridge aft to control, â€œbridge TS.
J: So you’re the agent between the bridge and the gunners?
F: That’s right. I’m the Captain’s voice. The Captain’s side operator. One of the things that happened on a practice shoot. I’ll give you an example of a job I had. You had a practice shoot and the ordinance ++ what was called throw off shoot. The throw off shoot is where all your guns are thrown off about five degrees to port or starboard so that the gunnery team: control officer and gun layers are all looking at the target but the guns are off-set. On this occasion well we went on this ++ outside Scapa Flow. We were at action stations and we opened fire for what we call a throw-off shoot. All of a sudden ++ says â€œOpen fire, open fire I’m on the phone â€œopen fire. And they nearly blew this tug out of the water. It was the target tug. Nearly blew it sky high. Anyway, â€œCease firing. And all of a sudden there was hell. Onslow said to me, he said â€œTell the First Lieutenant from me (and I’m putting it in the nicest language that I can) â€œthat he is a bloody idiot, he’s a bloody fool. And then the First Lieutenant to me is like, you wouldn’t believe how high he was: I was an able seaman then. I said â€œBridge aft to control, aft to control bridge. From the Captain: That was not a very good effort Sir. Onslow said â€œYou will tell him exactly what I bloody well said. I said â€œFrom the Captain, Sir: You are a bloody fool. Bailey was giving us a very good ++. That was the job I had. I was the sort of communication between. Quite a good job really.
J: So Bailey and Lewin are down by the guns?
F: Lewin was in the control. What we call the VCT, control tower. He controlled all the guns. He fires the guns and controls them. We all followed director with their pointers, via the TS, the Transmitter Station. And I’m a sort of a telephone line outside of that. The funny thing was I had a control sider, called the Captain’s sider and if the Captain had so wished he could have said right I want if he saw something different all of a sudden, he could indicate it, I could make a switch and I controlled the VCT which controlled the guns so I controlled the whole bloody ship. But of-course that only happened on the Captain’s say so, like with the glasses. There were big enormous 14 pound binoculars on a mount. It was electrically controlled. As I say, I had the ability to control the whole ship’s armaments but it never happened. I’d love it to have happened but it never did happen.
J: And when you were on the Ashanti where were you when you weren’t on action stations, where do you kip down.
F: Oh, in the mess. The Boys’ mess is always lower deck, lower forward, under the focsle. When you get promoted to an ordinary seaman you go up to the upper deck and I was in a mess called the ++ where I remained for the rest of my commission. But a day to day routine
J: Was it hammocks or did you have bunks?
F: Hammocks. And they always very insistent that the hammocks were properly, tightly made up. Because they used ++. If the ship was holed they used the hammocks to block up the hole you see. That’s why they used hammocks. The Navy are not daft. These hammocks they were so insistent that you lashed your hammock absolutely as tightly as possible they were kept in the hammock stowages and if necessary, if we did get caught by a tin fish those hammocks could be very handy for plugging up a hole or anything like that.
J: Very briefly, when you were born and where?
F: I was born in Aldershot, August 21 1923. And my dad was attached to the army so I was literally born between army blankets. But then I was educated principally at a place called Welling. And that’s where I left school. I became a clerk. I was selected from school and I became a clerk at a chartered accountants office. And I was very ++ actually. It was called W.A.Brown and Company and their address was 307 Winchester House, Old Broad Street, in London[?]. And I left the firm to join the navy because I looked around and I saw old ++ in the office and I don’t want to end up like those. So I joined the navy. But I was seen as mad because I was the only one who’d ever left the firm. What they did, it was a wonderful firm. You know that articles cost a lot of money, £200, £250. So they were prepared, all the office boys, office juniors had been financed, underwritten by the firm at school, to become article clerks. So although I was from a poor family, a relatively poor family, ++ sort of upper middle class families. In those days, not so much now, but in those days certainly. So I joined the navy and ++. Interestingly enough though
J: Why the navy rather than the RAF or the army?
F: It was simple. They gave me a job to do to deliver a letter to Sir John ++ Parks who was ++. I had to go past the recruitment office ++ office and I was looking at these big photographs you know of the West Indies station, Hong Kong – it was before the war you know, 1937/38 – I was looking at these wonderful photographs. I thought I like the look of that. This big Petty Officer, said â€œWhat’s your name, are you interested?. So, anyway, to cut a long story short I gave them my name and address and about six months afterwards I got a letter telling me to go to the recruitment office in Whitehall and there I went. My parents had to agree, which they did. And I went to HMS Ganges. That’s how I became a sailor. All because of a letter which I was sent to deliver on behalf of the firm. Like all boys, meandered on the way, you know.
J: What drew you to this part of the world?
J: Then after the war, how long did you stay in the navy?
F: Ah. 1947. I was a bit naughty actually. I was one of the youngest gunnery instructors ever to be ++ Petty Officers. I was just 23 and I was in Chatham[?] Barracks and an AFO (Admiralty Fleet ++) ++ wartime regular servicemen could purchase their discharge. It cost me £36 but I had to get a job in either industries, ++ miners or the police service. I thought well the police service looks the best bet. So I ++ they accepted me. Became a policeman. Newcastle City Police where I was stationed for the next 20 years. I can’t say that the police service was ever or could ever enjoy the comradeship and fellow feeling of the fighting services. Because in the fighting services as I was in wartime you depend upon your brethren. You depend on each other ++ different story. It’s very much every man for himself. I got very rapid promotion in the navy, which I thought might have happened in the police service. One of the reasons I left the navy was because I was fed up. I trained the cruisers for the Chinese national navy [end of tape]