REG YOUNG REMEMBERS. Extracts from letters written to David Allen
After spending1940 - 41, &up to 26th July 1942 on a destroyer on north Atlantic convoys, I thought it was good to be ashore with 3 meals a day, instead of hard tack.
I was in Portsmouth Royal Navel Barracks 'Victory'. I'd just married my sweetheart on my birthday (9th August). So I thought I was okay for a few leaves, but it was not to be. End of Sept, I heard my name and number come over the tannoy system to report to the drafting office. Here we go again, I thought. It was a draft to a job No 6 at Glasgow, me and a few more chaps. So scribbling a short letter to my new wife, telling her not to post any more letters to R.N.B., I packed everything and next morning we loaded all our baggage, kit bags and hammocks in the RN lorry and I went to Pompey station. Next stop Glasgow.
Arriving at the station, we were met with an RN driver, who informed us we would be taken to Scotstoun. We unloaded the lorry at the dockside, alongside a beauty of a brand new destroyer. Thinking this was the end of the journey, we each carried our luggage aboard, into the torpedomans messdecks, where I was informed that I had come aboard the wrong ship. My orders, which was in the hands of a Petty officer was that I and several more who had arrived, had to report to job number 42, which was in another part of the dockyard. So carrying all our baggage back off that lovely ship, which by the way was HMS Racehorse,.we reloaded, back on the transport and finally came to job number 42 (I'm sure it was 42) anyway, what a big difference there was, it was still being built.
We reported to the officer in charge, who directed us to our billet, which was something like a warehouse, it was dry and warm, so it would have to do until the time came to move aboard the ship in the process of being built. After a few days of working with the dockies - guns were being fixed, welding in process, then along came dockesses, women, to paint the interior, cork to be plastered on the bulkheads to absorb moisture. My particular part was working with the Torpedo Instructor (TI). Finally all the painting done the ship was floated and moved to a jetty. A ships company completed, we moved under our own steam to the waving of the men and women who had built her. Now we were ready for taking her down the Clyde for trials. Up to now we didn't have a name just a job number. Several days of high speed trials to Ailsa Craig that lump of rock at the mouth of the Clyde that we got to know so well and finally the white ensign was raised and our ship was HMS Wensleydale (Oct 1942)
Now we thought we were ready - what a mistake that was. Tobermory where we were really tried and tested, nothing we did was good enough for the Commodore, depth charges had to be dropped and a full pattern reset in a matter of so many minutes. All the lads who had to pull on the ropes to swing depth charges back on their stacks, had muscles like Mr Universe, finally we were told we were ready, so next stop, Scapa Flow.
Entering the anchorage at Scapa a familiar sight came in view, it was the 'Ajax' veteran of the battle of the River Plate, where the Graph Spree was attacked. This is where torpedo trails had to take place, instead of a warhead, each torpedo was fitted with a '#lowing head' a head filled with water, the same weight as explosive. When the torpedo had completed it's run, air was introduced and the water expelled, so now the head was full of air, this caused the torpedo's to float vertically. I was one of the picking up boats crew. Our job was to recover each "fish" and pull them back to the ship to be winched aboard. Once aboard we were hoisted back and awaited the results of the action of the torpedo's in their passage through the water , what was known as DEPTH AND ROLL RECORDING. Once they had proved to be okay, warheads were refitted and now we were ready for war.
Our very first job was to go from Scapa to Inverness to escort the battleship MALAYA back to Scapa. Several more days up in that god-forsaken place and we started on our way down the West Coast, calling at several places, one of them was Liverpool. Then onwards to our final place, where we joined our FLOTILLA "PLYMOUTH". This is where we always ended up. At this time Plymouth was very badly flattened, constant bombing, strafing, nearly every night something happened. Incendiaries all around us, everybody had a bucket of sand. They strafed the docks, knowing we couldn't fire back for fear of hitting our own, so all we could do was machine gum them.
We ### to be ### nights, if I can remember, every evening a few would leave harbour and head eastwards, sometimes to pick up a convoy from the Dover area and escort as far as LUNDY
E-Boat alley was to us _LIME BAY at first they would station themselves in the bay with engines turned off, then cause havoc with the convoy torpedoing and firing their machine guns. I was amazed at the colours of their cannon fire, coming at us, blues, reds, greens, yellows - no matter what colour they were they caused a lot of damage. The deck which was a kind of non slip material so lovingly put down in Scotstoun was very often ripped up and pieces of it was everywhere. My action stations were varied depending what watch I was on - when it was on the tubes I and my mate Shorty Devereaux used to dive between the tubes when we saw those lovely colourful lights coming our way. Pom Poms used to be red hot. When we chased them our 4.5 came in action.
Wensleydale was a beautiful ship, it could travel too. Everything about her was of the latest design, as was proved a few times when we had to find an aircrew that had come down in the Channel. Sometimes an aircraft circled over the spot that we were searching for. We've been to the South of Ireland once to pick up some aircrew. Another time in the Channel a Lancaster had pancaked in the sea and it was still afloat when we arrived. The crew was on the wings, ready in case it sank. We ferried them off, and fastened a wire to the plane and started to tow it, but it nose dived and we had to chop the wire rope and release it.
In the Bay of Biscay once, we were in the company of HMS Sheffield, cruiser, and a couple of more of our flotilla, searching for any foreign ships that was radioing the position of convoys, either going south or coming back home. These signals had been picked up by our intelligence service radioing convoy positions for U-boats to attack. So something had to be done, so a search party was dispatched, after searching certain areas we finally sighted two Spanish trawlers. Stopping them and boarding them we found they has special radio equipment, capable of doing what we suspected so the Wensleydale was the escort provided to bring them in to Milford Haven, where the boffins took over. We then went back to rejoin the group - we had the battle ensign hoisted during this particular time. This meant that we were going in to surface action against some German destroyers sighted on the horizon, after a high speed chase, they escaped.
Most nights was the French coast run in company with a few more of our flotilla. Danish crew manned Glaisdale, La Combattante was French manned, Krackoviak was Polish, so our flotilla was a mixed bag. The Polish destroyer was always in trouble, whenever tact was needed you could bet that the krackerjack as we called it was all for going in and shooting at everything in sight. Silence was called for, especially if we were guarding a pack of MLs (motor Launches) laying mines in the lanes that the Germans had swept - we did this very often. I reckon they knew we'd laid mines, due to the fact that we would go back and lay more another night.
April 1943, we'd left harbour one morning, travelling eastwards somewhere near Beachy Head and the sight we saw was astonishing, lots of transports, as we drew near a signal was received and then we stopped - alongside came a motor launch and from it came a man all muffled up, every officer came to meet him, saluted him and then we set-off. I looked up at the #### and there flying in all it's glory was the commodores flag, so the Wensleydale was the boss. Orders were dispatched from the bridge, in all directions with aldis lamps (10" signal lamps) to all escorts and we were off Southwards towards the French coast. It looked like an invasion force, after steaming southwards for a while we turned Westwards, all this time, we were closed up at action stations, everyone with their anti flash gear on (asbestos balaclavas) and tin hats. Nothing happened at all, either the Germans were asleep or else they just ignored us, but it was such a big force, tankers, merchant ships etc., etc., so it must have been for some reason or another but we never got told why. We fully expected the whole of the Luftwaffe to come out but they didn't. I to this day couldn't understand what it was all about.
All my mates in No4 mess - the torpedomans mess were a really good lot, my mate on the tubes was a cockney lad SHORTY DEVERAUX, my depth charge mate was a Welsh lad from ABERYSTWITH, all the rest were lads who I would trust with my life. There was Jack Corderry from Torpoint, now when he was off duty he had a little hiding hole near the ships galley and that�s where you could always find jack. He could shape any animal out of wood, any type of cart that shire horses could pull, and he would paint them, it was unbelievable how many carts and animals he had carved. Another was Bert Reeves - he came from somewhere near the Norfolk Broads, exactly where, I don't know, but he said his father owned a boat yard and if ever I'd visit them in peacetime I would get a free boat. I've never been to look for him,
I took up "ships barber" the NAAFI on board every ship has a NAAFI canteen to buy your duty-free cigs 20 per day, two bars of hutty a week (hutty - chocolate). Anyway they advertised for a ships barber and they provided all the equipment combs, scissors, clippers, apron etc, etc, etc - so I thought I'd have a go. Of course, I'd never cut hair before, so I wanted someone to practice on, so it had to be Shorty who volunteered, so I set too under the supervision of the NAAFI manager who was known as Jack Dusty. Anyway I passed the test. Now I could cut hair after 4pm to 6pm when I was off watch, for 6d a time - that was 3d for me and 3d for the NAAFI. I got to be good at it. I even cut the Captains hair, so I must have progressed. Anyway, it got stopped, some didn't pay, kept saying next time etc - so I learned the hard way.
One of the chaps in the torpedo Party was a chap named Joe Shaw, he was an old hand, he had done 22 years service when war was declared, so he was back in the RN again "FOR THE DURATION". Now he could tell some cracking stories about peacetime with the navy. One of them was about the ship giving a 21 gun salute and the 5 second timing between shots it went like this: "IF I WASN'T A GUNNER I WOULDN'T BE HERE "FIRE ONE", IF I WASN'T A GUNNER I WOULDN'T BE HERE "FIRE TWO". Joe was a good chap to know, atop class torpedoman too.
The Wensleydale was what was known as on canteen messing and not general messing. General messing meant that the cook prepared and cooked food for each mess, as though you were in barracks - but canteen messing meant that each and every mess, ours was 4 mess - had an allowance for each man in the mess - say 1/- per day that was a lot in those days - today its 5p. So if we had 18 men in our mess that was 18/- per day. So we elected a mess caterer, everyone had to take their turns and be caterer for dinner and say evening meal. Breakfast wasn't included, you made do with toast, it only catered for those two meals - now it was expensive in harbour because you were able to sit down at a table with knives and forks and the plate remaining still, so the caterer had to be crafty and save most of the allowance for time in harbour. At sea it was "POT MESS" all the veg and meat (if any) was put in the "MESS FANNY" a large container, taken to the galley fastened in its place on the stove and boiled - when it was manhandled back down the hatch, it was hooked on its chain and all the lads who were off duty watch would dip their cups in, settle down somewhere and a thick slice of bread - have lunch. So the caterer would have saved a good bit of the 18/- (90p) for the time in harbour. Where we could have a Yorkshire tart. The reason I've explained all this is due to the fact that I was cook of the mess. There was two cooks of the mess detailed off every day. This day I was one - so between us. We were at sea this particular time, coming down towards Liverpool, so as I've said we planned a Yorkshire tart. That to us was dough rolled out and baked on a roasting dish, a layer of jam, then custard, set if possible. Well we'd made the dough, rolled it and put it in its dish - took it too the galley and had it baked ready for the jam, then the custard. So back down the mess we spread the jam, and we had made the custard ready - so pouring on the custard we kept watching it, but it wasn't setting, it kept liquid, so we had the bright idea, when we passed the Liver buoy we knew we would be in the mouth of the river Mersey and the ship would remain steady, so we opened a porthole which was really foolish, but at the time we wanted some cold air on our tart to set the custard. I was holding the tart as near to the porthole as possible, when a change of speed was ordered and the Wensleydale speeded up for some reason - the sea came rushing in through the open port - the jam tart went flying, both of us struggled to close the port and drop the steel cover, but the mess deck was wet. So no tart that day, and we only got tided up when dinner was piped. APRIL 1943 We didn't explain why the mess deck was wet - we let them think that we had washed it. We opened a few tins of pears that day for sweet.
When it was my turn to be electrician on the bridge, all communications cane under me for that particular night, so the telephone system was vulnerable to the spray. If it was a "long sea" the waves are a good distance apart and you feel you are on a roller coaster, going up, over down, so there is a lot of spray coming over, but a "short sea" that is waves close together, you don't go up, over and down you hit every wave head on, so as I've said the bridge is always under watch, so are the phones, so I used to keep a good few transmitting discs in my pocket ready to change the wet ones. Then after I'd taken them down to the boiler room to dry out ready for next time, I had a good idea accepted by the skipper, I made covers for the phones out of canvas, I got. the sailmaker to stitch my design, tried it, it worked OK, so the phones kept dry. Mind you, necessity is the mother of all cultivation.
Painting the depth charge release mechanism with boiled oil was a real chore - it used to rust easily, so every watch was used to keep everything free, ready for instant use - so boiled oil was the answer, and keeping a watchful eye on all the depth charges was another chore - they weighed 390lbs each and they used to move about a bit, especially in a rough sea. If the welded seal split and TNT or AMATOL leaked out it was a time bomb - the tiniest spark would have detonated it causing what we called a chain reaction with all the others, consequently, the old ship would be a goner. So when a leak was seen, everything was done to unslip it and drop it over the stern to get rid of it, at the same time it exploded as near to a shoal of fish as we could. we killed two birds with one stone. We got rid of our danger and at the same time had a good fish and chip supper. I've seen a whaler (ships lifeboat) full to the brim with fish, after one of these episodes, conger eels which took five of us - to hold it up and be photographed, it must have been 15ft long. Too many bones - the cook cooked it, every mess had a piece, we ate it, but as I've said, too many bones.
At sea everyone was expected to report anything, which may be requiring investigation - it was often part of wreckage - floating, but it did require investigation. What I'm saying this for is the fact that one day I wasn't on watch, but I was on the upper deck on the quarter deck - that is the back end of the ship where the depth charges are located and I thought I saw a glint of something a long way astern, low down, so I kept a careful eye on where I'd seen it and I saw another glint as though sunshine was reflected off something. I reported it to the lookout who was on watch and between us, through the high powered binoculars we saw an aircraft approaching, so reported this incident to the bridge, the order was given to twin 4.5s plus pom poms to train on that sighting so when Jerry came he got the surprise of his life - he thought we would be taken by surprise, but the boot was on the other foot.
At different times the ship donned a different camouflage, one week we were dark grey, green and white, depending on what job we were on. That colour was noticeably deployed when it was a French coast job, night action mostly, sometimes off USHANTS South of France - then we'd be busy another day chipping, scraping and applying beige, cream and pale green - to me it meant we were due for a southbound trip, maybe Gib or thereabouts - All dark grey and black was up in the North somewhere, so we never Knew what we were up to next. Of course there would be "BUZZES" that meant rumours floating about. I remember once we went out at night and steamed westwards from Plymouth, around the Lizard and back up past LUNDY and we hit the biggest storm I've known in that ship, we had to practically, heave and ride it out, so we took shelter in a cove, until it blew itself out. It was daylight when we came out, still rough, but not like it had been, it was to rescue an aircrew that had come down - we fully expected nothing due to the conditions of the elements, but we located them in what looked like a yellow tent. We had difficulty approaching gently, due to the conditions, but with the grappling nets hanging over sideways, we did kind of hook on to them, so it was then made easier to assist in pulling them aboard one at a time. It was like a lift, one time the person you were helping was alongside the guard-rails, next he was about 15ft below you, so you had to grab and hold on at a certain time, we did manage to get all three aboard and the dingy too. We draped it over the torpedo tuber much to my dismay, due to the fact that all the yellow dye that was still exuding from it took some washing off. This was to assist in locating it from the air, so the position could be radioed to the rescue vessel.
All this time I was on the Wensleydale from the time I saw her in Scotstoun being built to the time I had to the time I had to leave her. I was happy, A good fighting ship, everyone gave as good as they could to do what we had to do. Even though our base was Plymouth - we seemed to be at every other place besides - sometimes Portsmouth, then Falmouth, depending on what convoy we would be detailed to escort. We would take over from the lads who had escorted some down the East coast - at about Dover, then carry on all along the Channel, keeping them closed up tightly, due to the fact that we had to keep in what was SWEPT CHANNELS that meant minesweepers had been before us and laid marker buoys to make the channel, so we had to be very careful no one strayed out of line. Night time in fog was a nightmare, no one could see the marker buoys so we had to heave to, then everyone was lookout, straining your eyes, trying to see that you didn't hit anything or they would hit you. When we were coming out of harbour after a particular foggy time, the signal to the trawler that opened the boom for us to go out was "have any mines been dropped in the channel last night" and the answer was always "we will know very shortly - you are the first boat out since the fog cleared". Humour between ships was always welcome. When out on some exercise with the whole flotilla was something to be believed, nine destroyers in line ahead doing full speed, then signals would be hoisted aldis lamps flashing, high speed #### then out would shoot KRACKERJACK and LA COMBATTANTE on an entirely different course, causing havoc, then the flag would fly from the #arth Caption, "D" the boss ship, and of course it was "didn't get the signal correctly". We used to know this would happen. We used to have anti-aircraft shooting practice sometimes, in the Channel. A plane would come dragging a drogue - like a sausage, that was the target and I'm sure in the "DRAKE" that�s the royal Navel Barracks at Devonport, the ships honours list for 1943 may show the Wensleydale had done very well.
I had to leave the old ship in Oct 1943, due to re-ammunitioning the ship. We were re-loading shells and depth charges when the rope blocks used to pull the charges on board from a lighter (that�s an ammunition barge - a tug used to bring it alongside) snapped and the charge was that heave it pulled me sideways and threw me on to a sharp object, which meant an immediate operation, so I was dispatched to hospital and I never saw the old ship again. The lads visited me a few times, but I was transferred back to RNB Portsmouth. From then until I left the navy is another story.
No all night leave in Gibraltar. Back aboard by midnight. Could have all night leave in Portsmouth, and Plymouth, because we used to go and book in at Aggie Westens in four street. For a shilling you could get a bed, and breakfast, pint pot of tea, thick slice of bread and butter and a thick sausage. Then it would be your turn for watch
18" space to sling your hammock. Slept head to toe. Couldn't sling your hammock at sea on destroyers. Because you had to be at action stations if bell went. At sea hammocks was put in what was called the Hammock netting, and you slept in what you were dressed in. Your sea boots were your pillow.
Torpedo tubes shelled by e-boats. Holes bunged by wood, which was carried for that purpose.
Left Wensleydale 21'10'43
Signed Reg Young
Ex AB/ST Wensleydale
(C) David Allen Nov, 2006