Sunday, April 5, 2015

Memoirs re Combined Operations

"DAD, WELL DONE" Navy Memoirs 12
by L/S Coxswain Doug Harrison

Old Ship Pub, first building on the left, next to the River Thames, UK


I said I would write about leaves I had during my time in the navy. I cannot in my mind remember now when the dates were I had them. But I had three or four leaves in England and Scotland and they were mostly wine, women and song.

A few pubs in London were the Long Bar Metre Club, The Old Ship, Bunch of Grapes, and Brunswick House.

The Old Ship, Hammersmith, London 

I always slept at my relations or a Westminster Y. However, I enjoyed darts and a pint with Uncle Wally Fenner, my mother’s sister’s husband. I am sorry to write about my mother’s brother George. He was a heavy gambler and drinker, but this was well hidden from me when I was there. I slept with Uncle George and after his work at Woolwich Arsenal he would take me on walks. He took me to a soccer game once and when I went to visit Uncle George and Aunt Nellie I gave them equal time.

Quite a few times a lone German attack bomber would come over, the sirens went and my Aunt Nellie and other relations would run for the bomb shelter. I wasn’t that brave, though I did not run, I just figured the odds of ever hitting me were pretty slim.

The Bunch of Grapes, London  

One night I was waiting for a girl in London whom I had a date with. I was waiting by the Bunch of Grapes Pub, when a soldier walked up to me and said, “Have you a light for a cigarette, sailor?” I did, lit a match and cupped my hands, and when I lit his cigarette I saw his face but he didn’t see mine. A little later I said, “Where are you from, soldier?” He said Norwich, Ontario. “Do you remember Doug Harrison?” I asked. “Oh sure, sure I remember him. He worked at the Co-op.” “Well, you’re talking to him,” I said. Good gosh. Amongst all these millions of people here in London I should meet a guy from my own town in the black out. It’s unbelievable.

“I’ll buy you a drink. I’ll buy you a dozen drinks,” he said. “No, thanks anyway,” I said. “I’m waiting for a girl and don’t want her to think I stood her up. Next time maybe, Okay?” We gossiped for awhile and along came the provost corp shining their torches (flashlights) on boots. They knew air force boots and navy boots from army boots. “Gotta pass, soldier?”

“Sure.” He reached into his front pants pocket and then burst into a run, and they after him. I saw sparks fly from a cigarette, saw a bus at about the same time and thought, oh my gosh, he’s been hit. But no, the provost boys came by a little while later with him in tow. I said, “So long Art,” and he said, “So long sailor. I’ll be seeing you back home.” It was Arthur Wright from off a farm near Norwich and we have met many times and have laughed many times about the episode.

One time while in Glasgow I had the opportunity to go by water around the English ship Queen Elizabeth. Her bows were stove in terribly from a collision with H.M.S. Curaco which was cut in two. Despite her stove in bows she was a majestic piece of workmanship. No wonder matelots (sailors) like to call ships “ships” and boats “boats” because ships are a majestic thing.

A ship with severe torpedo damage: Photo Credit - H.M.C.S. by G.A. Milne

I used to go to the Beaver Club to eat in London sometimes and there was a staircase on each side as you walked in the door, then a landing at the top. My chums or buddies always called me a hayseed coming from a small town, but I spotted several I knew from Norwich.

One day Bouchard and I went in drunk, got our food which contained some radishes. Everytime we tried to spear one with our forks they would squirt out onto the floor. There was a very pretty girl working there and she never smiled, but that day, with Bouchard and I down on the floor on on our hands and knees with our forks trying to spear those damn radishes she laughed really hard.

D. Harrison takes a break with a member of CWAC, circa 1943
"Leaves... they were mostly wine, women and song"

Trying to spear those radishes under tables, against the wall - and missing - was just the tonic she needed. Bouchard and I were not laughing and the end result was to pick them up with our fingers and place them in the garbage. In fact, we entertained everyone who was eating there and there were plenty. We looked stupid but we sure had fun.

When I went to Ye Old Ship pub to drink while on leave, I used to tell the bartender that when he thought I’d had enough to drink he should kick me out the door, and on one occasion that I remember, he obliged me.

All in all the twenty-three months were quite an experience now I look back on it. I long to see my relatives and London and possibly, most of all, that deep blue water of the Mediterranean Sea. It’s in my plans to go back before too long, God willing.

Doug's son, Gord (right), turns down 'volunteer kitchen duty' aboard
HMS Belfast when visiting London, England (October, 2014)

Chapter ELEVEN to follow.

Please link to more Memoirs re Combined Operations at "DAD, WELL DONE" Navy Memoirs 11

Unattributed Photos by GH

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