Sunday, March 29, 2015

Memoirs re Combined Operations

"DAD, WELL DONE" Navy Memoirs (10)
by L/S Coxswain Doug Harrison

HMS Queen Emma, built in 1939: Photo credit - Rodaways of WW1 - 2


After our work from Sicily to Italy was done and our armies were advancing we returned to Malta. We stayed but a few days, then took MT boats to Boujie in Algiers, and were soon after loaded onto a Dutch ship, the Queen Emma. The ship had been bombed and strafed, her propellor shaft was bent and we could only make eight knots an hour under very rough conditions. Her super structure was easily half inch steel, and in various places where shrapnel had struck I could see holes that looked like a hole punched in butter with a hot poker, like it had just melted.

We arrived at Niobe barracks in Scotland and in true navy style were put on a train and sent to Lowestoft in England, not too far from Norwich, England (my hometown’s namesake or visa versa) on or near the east coast.

Backing up a bit. While on the Queen Emma we had an attack of boils break out and we were taking exams to become Acting Leading Seamen. It was my fortune to not get boils at first, and I teased everyone aboard. But my turn came. I got three beauts close together on my neck. I went to sick bay, and what did they put me on? You guessed it - mercurochrome. I said, I won’t be back, same as when I broke my toe, and I didn’t. I passed my exam, got my book and carried the boils clear to Lowestoft.

I heard mess deck buzz. We were getting a lot of money and going on leave. The stipulated time for ratings is twenty-four months overseas and we were closing in. No more raids. Thanks God, for pulling me through. The mess deck buzz proved to be correct, they gave us all a pile of money (pound notes), and I thought it was too many for me because I made a big allotment to my mother. How they ever kept track of our pay I’ll never know, and to my dying day I will believe they gypped me right up to here.

Before going on leave I went to Stoker Katanna and I said, pinch out these boils. “I’ll lean on the top bunk and no matter how it hurts, pinch them out.” I never felt a thing because they were as ripe as cherries. I slopped on a big bandaid and away I went on leave, never bothering to answer a ton of mail. I also received eight hundred cigarettes.

Stoker Katanna's name appears opposite my father's on a Navy hammock

Katanna's hammock, housed now at a Navy Museum*, Esquimalt, BC  

We were due for a do and we did it up brown. You couldn’t possibly lose me in London, England even when I was three sheets to the wind. No way.

About leave. When I was in southern England I put in for Glasgow and received two extra days for travelling time. But I never really saw Glasgow. I went, paid off a grudge, and immediately put in for the return trip to London.

Do I have a reason for such odd behaviour? Yes. One day at Roseneath (sic) camp in Scotland, we ratings were all fallen in ranks, when out comes black garters and he says, “Any one of you guys a fast runner?” I stepped one pace forward. “Okay, run over there,” says black garters, “get a wheel barrow, shovel, fork, hoe, and go with this man and clean up that big estate garden.” What a hell of a shock and what a hell of a job. It had been left for years. I made up my mind then that I would get back at black garters, and I connived to do it while on a leave, and I damn well did.

About Roseneath camp. It was where many chaps came down with impetigo and they were put on Gentian violet, the colour of an elderberry stain. O/S Art Bradfield, of Bradfield Monuments in Simcoe, went to Dieppe in pajamas - under his uniform - the only man to go to Dieppe in pajamas, and he got out of bed in Roseneath to do it.

"She sure made a big fuss when she saw me"

After my leave I went back to Lowestoft, then to Greenock, then was loaded on a ship back to Canada and 52 days leave. Mum waited at Brantford Station for every train for days and I never came. And when I did arrive she wasn’t there. But she sure made a big fuss when she saw me and we cried an ocean full of tears. It was nice to be home again, Mum. It was coming up to Christmas and quite a few times I thought we would never see another one. I thank God for his protection.

"Frank Herring and I visited the Top Hat Pub." Drawing by G. Harrison

Back to Lowestoft. Before leaving Lowestoft, oppo Frank Herring and I visited the Top Hat Pub. When we entered two WAAF girls were there, one blonde and one brunette. After three or four drinks we moved to their table and asked if we could join and they said, “Yes, of course.” So we had a few more drinks - the girls paid a fair share - and all the while I had my eye on the blonde. It was getting close to “Gentlemen Please” time and the girls suggested we go down to a games room where there were pinball machines, so we all agreed and I grabbed the blonde and Frank the brunette. There was a terrible closing rush in the ‘black-out doors’ area, and when we arrived at the pinball machine area I had the brunette and Frank the blonde. Such is life.

But all is well that ends well. We saw them other times and being cooks they brought us wonderful cookies and goodies from a bakery. I maintained a correspondence with Grace Purvis, the brunette, and spent a wonderful weekend with her at a Blackpool resort, enjoying circus rides and long walks on the pier. I respected her very much as her boyfriend was in the Eighth Army and she remained very true to him. Where are you today, Gracie? I sure hope you and he are happily married.

What can I say about fifty-two days leave at home? Draw it out... or say it was mostly wine, women and song?

I guess that covers it without revealing too much. 

Chapter NINE to follow.

*I visited the Navy Museum in 2013, held Katanna's hammock to my nose and smelled diesel fuel.

Please link to more Memoirs re Combined Ops "DAD, WELL DONE" Navy Memoirs (9) 

Unattributed Photos by GH

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