My father was born in 1924 and grew up in Worthing, West Sussex, during the depression years. Life was hard. His elder brother, Dennis, was already in the Navy and he made a number of attempts to follow him by applying for the boys’ service, but was rejected. At the start of the war he joined the home guard. In 1941, having given a false date of birth, he joined the Royal Navy at the age of 16.
Just before his death, from cancer in 1991 my sister, Denise, took the time to record my fathers’ recollections of his early years. The following is his account of his introduction to the Navy and to HMS Javelin. It was no doubt the experience of thousands of other ‘hostilities only’ ratings with no previous experience, leaving their homes and families to serve their country.
“I went into the Navy at the ripe old age of 16. I should have been 18. In normal circumstances this would have been checked, but lots of records had been destroyed, haphazardly filed away or perhaps the person responsible had been called up. Anyway, I finished up a very young person in the Navy under training at Collingwood, a Nissan hut encampment near Farnham in Hampshire. I trained there for six months and was then drafted to barracks at HMS Victory in Portsmouth awaiting a draft to a ship. I got HMS Javelin at Plymouth.
At Collingwood all the other chaps were as green as I was. There were 40 or 50 in each hut. It was basic in those huts. All right in the summer but very un pleasant in winter.
In the morning we would get up and it was freezing bloody cold. The fire would have gone out. They never got themselves organised so someone kept the fire going overnight. There was condensation dripping everywhere. Duty cooks would then have to go to the cookhouse and get the breakfast. There would be about four or five of us all carrying big trays of bacon, sausages, eggs and bread. We would set the trays down onto the mess table and then there would be all hell let loose. There was a free for all. They would all dive at this lot. So much so that once or twice I stood back and never got any breakfast. I was so disgusted at the way they behaved. I had never seen anything like it. They were like a lot of animals. I thought to myself the next time they bloody do that to me they will live like animals. I’ll give them their food like animals. This is where my rebellious nature came in I suppose. I just couldn’t stomach a lot of men behaving like a lot animals. Some people got twice their share of breakfast and others didn’t get any at all.
The next time this happened and they came tearing down to dive in, I picked the trays up one at a time and flung them all over them so that all the bacon, sausages, eggs and bread went on the floor and became dirty and inedible. Of course there was a riot. These fellows were going to kill me. I said, “If you behave like pigs, live like pigs”. I finished up in trouble with the authorities. Such a row developed. I thought it was disgusting that they should be allowed to behave like this. In the end there was a duty officer established in each Nissan hut, which should have been done before, in my opinion. From then on it was controlled and dealt with in an orderly fashion. Everyone got something to eat. Why it wasn’t done before or why these men didn’t apply some self-discipline I’ll never know.
On reflection I suppose they were hungry and greedy. Of course once you get an element that starts behaving like this the others join in because they are not going to get anything to eat if they don’t. It was a bit hard on the weaklings in the pack because they wouldn’t get anything.
I remember they put me on guard duty on the perimeter of the camp. I don’t know if it was to stop people getting in or to stop people getting out. I don’t think the guards would have prevented either. We weren’t issued with any winter clothes, just our normal issue of clothes and a Navy greatcoat, which wasn’t very warm. I was on the middle watch this particular night and I froze to death. I really did. I couldn’t have cared if the Germans had come along. They could have had the lot – I wasn’t worried. I was too cold to worry.
After a brief spell at HMS Victory in Portsmouth I was drafted to HMS Javelin at Devonport. I got down there and didn’t know what I was in for. I didn’t know then but I discovered afterwards that I had been sent down to take the place of two deserters. One of them was a QR3, which was a gunnery rating on a twin 4.7 turret. As a little, ordinary seaman, I was sent down to replace this person because they didn’t have any gunnery ratings to take his place. I should really have had extra training to do this particular job.
I arrived and dumped my haversack in the mess that I was assigned to There was nowhere to put it so I just dumped it down. The next minute we were closed up for action stations or going to sea stations and I just finished up going to sea in my number one suit, the clothes which were worn on dress parade and I was going to sea on this twin turret of this 4.7” gun. (B gun at the stern) The biggest thing I had ever seen before was a rifle.
It was so rough that I was seasick along with lots of others. Two fellow got washed over the side. We searched for them but never did find them. (Leonard ROE aged 19 and Matthew BEDWORTH Aged 20 – see Roll of Honour) Then we went on this exercise and loaded and fired this gun.
I had never been so ill and so scared. I nearly did it in my pants! I had never heard a gun fire. I had never seen one fired. Anyway, this petty officer in charge of the guns crew kept an eye on me and between the two of us we managed to load this hydraulic loader, load the gun and fire it. I remember at the end of it I was feeling bloody awful and being sick. I said to the Petty Officer “ I had better stay behind sir and clean the vomit from the gun deck” “No” he said “You go and get yourself sorted out down below and get yourself dry. I’ll see to that”. So, he and the others cleaned the gun deck.
This was my introduction to going to sea in HMS Javelin. I thought to myself if that’s going to sea on HMS Javelin, I’ll pack it up here and now. But it was too late.
There would have been about eight men on the gun deck. On one side there would be the gun layer and on the other side the trainers. Then there would be four in the turret. It was a half covered turret. Four men would be outside. So therefore there would be about eight including the petty officer.
My job was loading. I was handed the cartridge, which was in a brass casing about 3 feet long, and a 4.7” shell separately and I had to put those in a sort of a tray. Then I pushed the tray over which lined it up with the gun breech. I would push the hydraulic lever and it would hydraulically ram the shell and the charge into the breech. I would then pull it back, the breech would close and the gun was ready for firing. After the gun was fired the brass casing would be ejected automatically. Once I became proficient at it, I would catch the ejected shell casings in mid air and toss them over the side in one movement. This prevented then rolling around on the gun deck and getting in the way. That was my job at action stations. It was energetic and tiring. It was so hot in the Med that I didn’t wear my anti flash hood (consequently singing all my eyebrows and hair). This, along with my ability to fling shell casings over the side, earned me the nickname ‘Mad Amey’.
June 2006 Copyright – Denise Mahy
and Harry Amey
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