Following on from the memoirs by my father-in-law Geoff Cronin, The Colour of Life, and Milestones Along the Way, I thought I would end the year with part of my own father’s memoir about the family and in particular his life at sea from 1937 until he retired in 1971.
In part three my father described his part in Operation Fish; the secret mission to transport the National Treasures to Canada for safe-keeping and to also pay for ammunition and supplies to support the war effort: Operation Fish to save national treasures and a Wedding Day
After parents married in 1940 and my mother travelled from her home in Wickham in Hampshire to meet my father’s ship when they docked briefly one side of the country or another for the next eighteen months. She told us terrifying stories of a longer stay in Liverpool where his ship was docked for a number of weeks for repairs, where they were subjected to bomb raids night after night.
Part Four – 1942 – HMS Beverley – American shipmates and rough seas
There were four Destroyers tied up, in two pairs alongside, in Halifax Dockyard. They had four funnels, a very tall mast and very narrow beam. Not the best combination to face the rigours of the Atlantic weather. The mess was in the bows, with bunks for sleeping and not hammocks. In fact everything for maximum discomfort at sea. The equipment was all American and we spent a week getting familiar with its operation and location. The mess coffee pot was never switched off.
I had a bunk in the gyrocompass room, in the centre of the ship, which was much more comfortable than in the bows.
We had lots of assistance from a small crew of US sailors and the second week was spent at sea, making sure all was well. We then sailed for the UK with the other three boats, via St Johns, Newfoundland. Three made it, one returning to Halifax with engine trouble. My guess about the sea-going qualities soon proved correct, as during the trip to St. Johns we seemed to do everything except turn over.
HMS Beverley – photograph from the book by Geoffrey Blewett – HMS Beverley – A ‘Town’ afloat and the Town ashore – 1940 – 1943
We eventually arrived in Belfast, where quick repairs were carried out and various pieces of RN equipment fitted. These included a very early Radar set with the aerial on top of the mast, which was rotated by a hand-wheel in the office, through a “bowden” cable.
We joined an escort group and started convoying duties across the Atlantic, between Halifax and Londonderry. I occasionally managed to get to Wickham for a couple of days, which involved a train from Londonderry to Larne then ferry to Stranraer then train via London to Portsmouth time of arrival unknown due to delays etc. The stay was generally short, but very worthwhile and I usually managed to bring a few goodies from Canada.
Unfortunately I was somewhere in the Atlantic when our eldest daughter Sonia was born on 27th February 1942. Mollie had managed to join me in Newcastle for a short spell during a refit and also in Liverpool, during a short spell when the ship operated from there. They were very happy times we enjoyed them to the full. I left Beverley on 22nd March 1942 and early in 1943 she was torpedoed in the Atlantic and there were only two survivors!
A return to Portsmouth and family life.
I spent a very welcome three months in the Barracks at Portsmouth and was able to get to know Sonia and enjoy home life at Wickham and on 31st July I was sent to Roedean School at Brighton, which with St Dunstans had become the new HMS Vernon, due to the bombing in Portsmouth. I found a lovely place in Rottingdean for Mollie and Sonia to live and I did my qualifying course for Chief Electrical Artificer, which lasted for two months. Then I had to wait to see where my next job would be. When I was told, we were delighted. I was to join HMS Forth a submarine repair and depot ship in the Clyde 14th October 1942.
My father died in 1996 and so was unable to attend the memorial service for HMS Beverley and her crew in 1998. There was a wonderful book written by Geoffrey Blewett, my mother had number seven of 200 copies.
©Eric Coleman 1994
I hope you are enjoying this slice of history and as always welcome your feedback as always. Thank you Sally