My father joined HMS Emerald a light cruiser in the Royal Navy in August 1939 and was part of one of the largest secret naval operations of the second world war.
The British government were aware as soon as war broke out in September 1939, that the country was at risk of invasion from Hitler’s army. In order to protect both the countries gold and national treasures it was decided to remove them for safe keeping to Canada. Millions of pounds worth of gold had already been transported in convoys to America to buy supplies and arms but an even bigger operation was being planned. At that time all British nationals had to also register their securities in the form of bonds, stocks, shares with the Royal Treasury which added to the accumulated national wealth.
In the second part he describes my parent’s wedding – but when he says there were enemy aircraft about – he failed to mention the need to retire under the stairs by the bride and groom to avoid the bombs! Anyway I hope you enjoy.
After a spell in Chatham, getting to know the ship and getting everything to work, we sailed for exercises and wound-up finally anchoring in Weymouth Bay with all the other Reserve Ships, where we were reviewed by HM King George VI. On completion, it was decided that Reserve Fleet exercises would be carried out north of Scotland, based at Scapa Flow, and we were on patrol between Scotland and Iceland on Sunday 3rd September when war was declared. Emerald was a fast cruiser and after a few weeks at sea we returned to Scapa, to be told that we were to go to Plymouth.
On arrival in Plymouth, there was lots of activity ‑ including getting all ammunition out of the ship and being issued with tropical uniforms, including pith helmets.The ship sailed on October 7th in the company of other reserve ships including the two First World War Battleships HMS Revenge and HMS resolution. In the grips of some of the most violent seas that most of the crew had ever encountered the tropical uniforms were quickly returned to stores. During the first part of the crossing HMS Emerald’s decks were stripped by the heavy seas of anything that was not battened down including the ship’s boats, rafts, and depth charges as well as the ship’s spotter plane.
In 1940 with a new government and Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, it was clear that things were not going well for the allies. To ensure that the rest of the British Empire including Canada could continue to fight should Britain should be overrun, it was decided that all the remaining wealth of in the form of gold and art treasures as well as securities that had been confiscated from the general public should be shipped to Canada for the duration of the war.
It was transported to Greenock in Scotland where HMS Emerald was at anchor. After loading the treasure aboard, Emerald set sail on 24th June 1940 with an escort of destroyers. Again the weather was appalling and the ship was unable to sustain its usual 30 knots which meant that the convoy was at constant risk of U-Boat attacks.
Finally Emerald reached Halifax in Nova Scotia and the treasure was transferred to trains. The gold was sent to Ottawa and the paperwork in the form of stocks,shares and bonds was sent to Montreal.
I served in Emerald until 1st August 1940, during which time we made many Atlantic crossings at both high and low speeds and almost always in terrible weather. We were involved in a number of U-Boat searches but with little success. I joined Vernon on 2nd August 1940.
I had kept in touch with Mollie, on rare occasions when in the Portsmouth area. When I joined Vernon, we started to meet very often and we quickly fell in love, to the extent that with the uncertainty of my future movements we set a date to be married and decided on 14th September 1940.
All arrangements were completed including my family coming down from Mansfield, with Ernest, Peggy’s husband to be best man. After spending the night of 10th September in Wickham, due to the heavy bombing of Portsmouth, I returned to Vernon early on the 11th September and was then told that I was to go to the Barracks that day, and leave for Canada that night.
I eventually got a message to Mollie, via her friend Phyllis, asking her to ring me at Vernon. When she got through, I gave her the awful news of my departure. On her way back home, she met the Vicar who was to marry us and he asked Mollie why she was crying and she told him the news. He immediately took control and took her back to the Vicarage where he rang the Commander of Vernon, told the sad story and tried to arrange that he would rush Mollie down to Vernon to be married there. This was not possible, but the Commander agreed to do what he could. This was all happening without my knowledge and the first I heard was at 12.30pm when I was told that I was to be married at Wickham Church at 2.30pm that Afternoon. I was all packed to go to Barracks so there was a mad scramble to get my best uniform out and get dressed to be married.
Meanwhile, there was great activity at Wickham getting things organised and finding me a best man. Being Wednesday, all the village shops were closed for the half-day, but they all rallied round including providing the cake. My best man was a corporal friend of Graham Gorringe, who knew Mollie but whom I had never met. As all this activity was going on in Wickham I was making arrangements to get to the Church on time. Buses were not very frequent out to Wickham but I did manage to get as far as the Guildhall where there was one taxi waiting. I told the driver of my predicament and after checking if he had enough petrol for the trip, he agreed to take me. We went via Southwick and as we approached Wickham he asked for directions, as he had never been there before. We arrived at Sinclair at about 2.00pm so there was time to bring me up to date and tell me that my best man was Alec Milton and he would be waiting in the Church for me.
I was driven to the Church by the wife of the Vicar, who then had to return to bring the Bride to Church I was surprised at the number of people that were in Church, the news must have spread very quickly round the village.
Everything went beautifully and we were duly pronounced man and wife. We returned to Sinclair to enjoy a marvellous reception. It was a beautiful day, clear blue skies and enemy aircraft about. We arranged a one-night honeymoon at the Red Lion in Fareham, as I had instructions to report back to Vernon by 7.30am on Thursday 12th September. This I did, and on arrival was sent off to the Barracks. On reaching there, I was told that as I had not been in Barracks the night before I had missed the ship to Canada and the next one was a fortnight away, so I was given 14 days leave, enough for a long honeymoon at Sinclair.
I eventually sailed to Halifax in a Canadian Pacific Liner and joined HMS Beverly, one of the fifty Destroyers given to us for Bermuda.
“HMS Emerald FL5381” by Royal Navy official photographer – http://media.iwm.org.uk/iwm/mediaLib//18/media-18841/large.jpg This is photograph FL 5381 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums.. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:HMS_Emerald_FL5381.jpg#mediaviewer/File:HMS_Emerald_FL5381.jpg
Breuer, William B. (2008). Top Secret Tales of World War II (2008 ed.). Book Sales. ISBN 9780785819516.- Total pages: 244
Draper, Alfred (1979). Operation Fish: The Fight to Save the Gold of Britain, France and Norway from the Nazis (1979 ed.). General. ISBN 9780773600683.- Total pages: 377
©Eric Coleman 1994
I hope you are enjoying this slice of history and as always welcome your feedback as always. You can find the other chapters in Eric’s story in this directory. Thank you Sally