Smorgasbord Posts from My Archives – #Memoir – Life on the Ocean Wave – Part Five -1943 – 1946 – HMS Forth and captured U-boats, Ceylon, HMS Woolwich, Earl Mountbatten by Eric Coleman

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 four my father shared his time aboard HMS Beverley and the atrocious weather conditions in the North Atlantic: 1942 – HMS Beverley – American shipmates and rough seas

Part Five – 1943 HMS Forth and captured U-boats, Ceylon, HMS Woolwich, Earl Mountbatten

Forth was anchored in Holy Loch, off Dunoon and opposite Gourock from where the ferry ran to Kirn and Dunoon. I was put in charge of the Electrical workshops and made responsible for all submarine electrical repairs and supply of power to the subs when alongside. It was a very demanding job and I was required to be aboard every other night.

I quickly started looking for somewhere for Mollie to live, as I was to be there for two years. I found a large furnished bungalow in Kirn Gardens. This was a small hamlet between the ship and Dunoon and was very convenient. There was a corner shop kept by Miss Fraser and she had all the foodstuffs; and was very kind to us. There was also a chemist and a butcher. What more could one want!

The neighbours around us were all very friendly, and as Mollie was expecting Diana we needed a little help. Diana was born on 18th February 1943, in the Dunoon Nursing Home, and everything went very well. She is the only one in the family qualified to play for Scotland!

My job was very rewarding, being involved with operational submarines, new ones from the shipbuilders working up and refitted ones. Some with famous names and famous captains.

We did quite a lot of work on a captured U-Boat which was renamed HMS Graph and which operated as one of our own. I managed to get occasional leave and travelled down to Wickham, which was never very easy as it involved an overnight train from Glasgow to London, with two young children. We managed, often with help from fellow travellers everyone was very kind and thoughtful in those days.

Time seemed to pass very quickly, it always does when you are busy, and the time approached when thoughts of my next move had to be considered. I was expecting to leave around October or November so Mollie and I decided to get the family back to Wickham in advance of that date. We made the trip in September, not an easy one with two babies and lots of household bits and pieces. It involved a ferry trip across the Clyde, train from Gourock to Glasgow and overnight sleeper to London, then on to Portsmouth, arriving, some twenty-four hours after leaving Kirn Gardens.

Mollie, Sonia and Diana 1944

We had a problem with Taxi drivers not having enough petrol to take us to Wickham and we were beginning to despair when one arrived at the station who agreed to take us to Wickham. As we approached Wickham, the driver said we would have to direct him as he had only been to Wickham once before when he had rushed a young chap out to get married. It was the same driver that had brought me to Wickham on 11th September 1940, quite a coincidence! Needless to say, we invited him in for a drink, and to meet the rest of the family.

I left Forth on 6th November 1944 and after a week in Roedean and two weeks in the Barracks I sailed for Ceylon in HMS Durban Castle via the Suez Canal.

On arrival in Ceylon I transferred to a holding camp called Mayina, in the jungle, where I stayed until 28th January 1945 when to my delight I joined HMS Woolwich based at Trincomalee.

HMS Woolwich

My job in Woolwich was the same as in Forth, except that now I was dealing with repairs to destroyers instead of submarines. It was just as busy, or more so, as I lived on board and destroyers were returning from patrol day and night always with a long list of defects that had to be repaired, as quickly as possible to avoid delaying the boats return to active service.
I had a very experienced staff, mainly made up of “hostilities only” tradesmen that could tackle any repair of electrical equipment that came up.

We worked a tropical routine a lot of the time which was from 6am to 1pm and 4pm to 6pm and of course much later if required. This routine was fine, as we sailed and swam in the afternoon and went ashore once a week to use our beer tokens at the NAAFI, which allowed us to buy one pint of beer. Claude Hills was in Woolwich when I arrived but left a month later and he kindly brought a ring home for Mollie and he was very kind, looking after the family during my absence. He and his wife Sheila are still our great friends forty-seven years later.

VE day came and went for us in the Far East, as our war continued unabated. I was honoured to receive a “Card for Good Service” presented by Lord Mountbatten the Supreme Allied Commander, South East Asia Command in November 1945 in recognition of my valuable service keeping his destroyers at sea.

Earl Mountbatten inspects my father’s base in Ceylon

Despite the end of the war with Japan, in September 1945, we stayed in Trincomalee until 1 June 1946 being involved in getting the destroyers fit for their trips home and helping to reduce the base down to its peacetime role. We finally sailed for home via Penang and Singapore arriving in Portsmouth at the end of June 1946.

After a long leave, of nearly a month, I joined HMS Collingwood on 31st July 1946.

N.B My father was posted to Sri Lanka again in 1954 when I was 18 months old and we spent 2 years there. My first memories were formed during our time there and I know that after the separations of the war it was a wonderful time for my parents and my two sisters.

©Eric Coleman 1994

I hope you are enjoying this slice of history and as always welcome your feedback as always. The final part next week Thank you Sally

54 thoughts on “Smorgasbord Posts from My Archives – #Memoir – Life on the Ocean Wave – Part Five -1943 – 1946 – HMS Forth and captured U-boats, Ceylon, HMS Woolwich, Earl Mountbatten by Eric Coleman

  1. He and his men willingly worked extraordinarily long hours as part of the war effort and his memory of strangers being so supportive then was lovely. It must have meant a huge amount to receive that recognition from Mountbatten – and he deserved it! ♥♥

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  2. Pingback: Smorgasbord Weekly Round Up – October 31st – November 6th 2022 – Hits 1940s, Tony Bennett, Spiritual Awareness, Poetry, Podcast, Book Reviews, Health and Humour | Smorgasbord Blog Magazine

  3. I remember your talking about your Sri Lankan memories, Sally. It is great to have this written account of your father’s life. So many things get lost if there is nothing recorded… Thanks for sharing, Sally.

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