THE STORMY WEST
The Stormy West
April, and the air was full
of the Great Things Pending in the European war. During that
week Harland & Wolf's did a high speed repair job. When the men returned off leave, they
were swept off the train into the trams under the eagle eye of L/Seaman "Tommy" Wayper, [of
County Durham], and the patrol. We found the ship looking like new, thanks to the coat of
paint [British style] given her by the dockyard. I do not remember when she looked smarter
than on that in Belfast.
With our old friends E.G.2, we left Meville on 29th April to sweep the Western approaches.
Again we started with tragedy. L/Cook Cecil Foote, of the Squadron, whilst at his work in the
galley, was killed when a bullet was accidentally fired from the gun of an aircraft in the hangar
above, during cleaning operations. Right up to 9th May, when we returned to the Clyde, we
did one full day's flying. We encountered heavy gales. and were hove to.
Once we saw the convoy whose
approaches we were sweeping. With was a U.S. Escort
Carrier, also doing everything except turning over. Our radar aerials collapsed in the gale, and
we steamed stern to sea one whole forenoon whilst the three doughty P.O.R.m.'s- Ron Haines,
Geo. Preston, and William Prior- climbed aloft and cleared the tangle.
When the weather did improve, we oiled so many sloops that the Captain asked the Chief
yeomen of signals Alfred Cooper of Chatham whether he had an R.A.F. ensign in his locker.
Strenuous work was done by the seamen on this operation. I am sorry, gentlemen. Even more
strenuous work than usual. For the work of oiling [which demanded large numbers to light the
hose aft when veering and keep it off the deck when heaving] had to be done by the watches
" Drips" in large measure, however,
were reserved for the next three weeks, which were
spent in Greenock partly in the famous floating dry dock. There was no leave during that
period, with the invasion now well and truly in the air. Sister ships were not so
conscientious, and the last twenty days of May provided quite a test for the spirit of
the ship's company, a test passed with honours. Not content to see the motor boat ship
officers to Hellensburgh, the ever progressive Lt J.f. Glanville, D.S.C.,R.N.V.R., arrange
hikes in the Kielcregan hills, and the man o' war which in newfoundland was staggered
by the pipe "shopping party fall in" - destination Placentia, now in Scotland blushed to
hear the ringing call "Hiking party to muster". We had a thrill and a narrow squeak when
the U.S. battle wagon "Nevada" came in and grounded on the Greenock shallows. When
she was shoved off she missed us by inches. The Cinema Officer and staff did a
valiant work in keeping up morale. Greenock's and Glasgow's kindly service clubs saw
much of us, and the songs of liberty men floated nightly across the Albert Harbour, as
the arc of drifters fanned rapidly out into the stream, and one ship's company exhorted
another, in sticking terms, to get some in..
Greenock was full up just then,
but the end of May was a sudden tinning of the ranks,
The big show was on. We were given a small part on the wing. We left the Tail O' the
Bank on the 3rd June and flew 12 Avenger [646 Squadron] and 9 fighters ["L Flight of
Squadron 1632. Again we were dodged by tragedy at the onset. One fighter pilot made
his first and last landing. He bounced on the flight deck and dived straight into the sea,
leaving no trace. Two days out there was a rush to paint all the aircraft with the black
and white "Bumble Bee" reorganization stripes. On 6th June we gathered round the loud
speakers to hear the vivid B.B.C. hour by hour account of the invasion. Our part, as
Captain expressed it, Quoting from recent concert recitation, was that of "Bunger up of
Rat Holes". There were searches and scram, but no U.Boats tried to get through the
serried ranks of the escort groups, who were led by the inevitable E.G.2. The naval
organization of the invasion, what little we saw of it on the southern front, was very good
indeed. We all thought we were going to deal with three enemy destroyers that appeared
to be running the gauntlet. But coastal command got there first, and the destroyers got
nowhere at all. Our only incident was the shooting down of an inquisitive J 60 by wildcats
from H.M.S. "Pursuer".
Then the totally unexpected occurred.
Our escort of Canadian frigates were attacking a
contact on the night of June 10th. Intent on the case, H.M.C.S "Teme" swept clean
across our bows. We swung to port, and, seeing us too late, so did he. We rammed her
amidships at 0203, and roused the hole ship's company by the impact, or at any rate by
the subsequent action stations. Although torn by a gaping hole, she was taken in tow by
H.M.C.S. "Outremont" and madden the trip to U.K. successfully. Four of her crew had
been killed. We picked up eight survivors unhurt. Even in this grisly scene there was a
touch of comedy, when a strong Canadian voice came rasping up from the ocean, "I'm
not going aboard that big .......", and a Carley Float [ours] was seen being rapidly
paddled back to the battered frigate. On 11th June we flew off the aircraft, catapulting 21
of them in 40 minutes, and on the 12th June we went into Belfast to see the extent of the
damage. Inspection indicated the need of a refit, for which we crossed to Liverpool.
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