Friday, October 30, 2015

Memoirs re Combined Operations - A. G. Kirby, Dieppe

The Dieppe Raid: August 19, 1942 - Part 2

Earlier days in the sheltered harbour at Newhaven, southern England

During WW1 Newhaven was a principal port. Link to Historic Newhaven

 - Sunday, August 16th, 1942

The bosun's call shrieked its message of awakening as the Quartermaster walked by only a few feet away, shouting at the top of his voice, "Wakey wakey wakey... lash up and stow... come on my sons... you know what sons I mean." I rolled over and saw that McKenna was already up and partially dressed, so I sat up and began the painful business of coming back to life. Looking the other way I saw that Lantz's bed was empty. I was about to ask McKenna where he was when I saw him come in through the huge sliding door on the far side of the building, all dressed, washed and shaven. That was Lantz, always early, always clean, and when conditions permitted, neatly dressed. As he approached I shouted to him "Where the hell are the heads?" "Just wait 'til you see....they are just beyond the end of the shed....over there," he pointed.

I quickly donned by socks, underwear, pants and boots, then with my attache case in one hand and my flannel in the other, I trotted off after McKenna as he headed in that direction. A group of sailors had gathered around a pump on the deck of the jetty, out of which poured a stream of water, and each of us took a turn at washing, as best we could. Right beside was a canvas screen, obviously erected to give as much privacy as a sailor could expect... to those who were performing the more basic human functions. I walked inside and was greeted by a row of ten inch diameter holes cut in the deck of the jetty to allow the excrement to pass through and into the harbour water beneath the jetty. As I carried out what I came in to do, I looked down through one of the holes beside me and saw the intake pipe of the pump that supplied the washing water, about ten feet away, and hoped that the tide would be running when I had my turn at washing my hands and face. At the other end of the shed was an Army field kitchen truck, where we were able to get some Army mess kit dishes, and a feed of what we called (in the Navy) red lead and bacon. This was a rather common Navy breakfast and consisted of fried bacon covered with canned tomatoes. Quite good food we thought, considering the conditions, but I couldn't help wondering from where this unit drew its cooking water.

At 0800 we found the Flotilla Commander and I was told to find landing craft R-135 and report to Sub. Lt. Leach. A grizzly Petty Officer pointed in the direction in which I should begin the search for my craft, so I waved to Lantz and McKenna and took off. It was not easy to read the numbers on the bows of the boats because they were tied up side by side about six deep. However, I saw what I thought was a three and a five on the side of one which was the third one out from the jetty and made my way out to it, walking over the foc’sles of the intervening boats. As I stepped aboard, a young looking sailor stuck his head above the dodger over the Coxswain's seat. "Is Sub. Lt. Leach around?" I asked. "Are you the new Coxswain?" he countered. Suddenly, my head swirled and my imagination spiralled into the clouds. In our Flotilla, we had all been trained as Coxswains, but I had never been the official Coxswain of a boat. I told myself that my age prevented me from being designated as a Coxswain in my own Flotilla, as I thought that I was the youngest person in the group. However, looking back now, I can see that I was far too immature in my manner, to be perceived as a Coxswain. Nevertheless, I was not about to let, (what appeared to be) a wonderful stroke of luck slip through my fingers. "This is R-135 isn't it?" I asked. "Yes it is" he replied. I did my best to make my 5'7" body look 6' tall and barked (hoping that my voice wouldn't crack) "Then where in the hell is he!" "He's ashore now, but I expect he will be back some time this morning. He is supposed to be at some kind of a meeting somewhere... wait... there he is now, coming up the jetty." "Where? Oh yeah, I see him now... thanks." I took off across the inboard boats and climbed up onto the jetty and doubled off toward him. I saluted smartly as I halted in front of him. "Able Seaman Kirby Sir, reporting for duty as temporary Coxswain." "Oh," he answered, "I expected a Leading Hand." "I'm qualified for Leading Hand, Sir," I lied, "and I am General Service." In the Royal Navy, their regular peace time force ratings were referred to as General Service and were considered much superior to the R.N.V.R. or wartime-only ratings, which they called H.O.s for hostilities only. Mr. Leach looked at my shoulder flashes and with a pained expression on his face he said, "Right Canada, you'll do, follow me." 

Motor launch and four landing craft (R-145 in front).

As we stepped onto the foc’sle of R-135, Mr. Leach addressed the seaman whom I had met a minute or two before, "Ordinary Seaman Hopper, this is Able Seaman Kirby who will be our coxswain in place of Leading Seaman Henry, until he returns." Then turning to me he said, "Well, I'll have to leave you to get on with provisioning and repairing the boat as I am due at a meeting at this very moment." Then, turning, he left, as I saluted his back. I looked at Ordinary Seaman Hopper and tried to open a conversation in such a way as to solicit his goodwill without being defferent. "My name is Albert but people call me Kirb. What should I call you?" My name is John, but I get Hop all the time," he replied.

"Well, that sounds like a good combination, Kirb and Hop; where is the Stoker, by the way, I presume we have one?" I said. "Yes, he's Petty Officer Herb Grear. He's over at the Engineering Officer's lorry trying to get some help with an engine problem." I turned that right out of my mind as I felt that it was not my worry, but did not feel great about having a Petty Officer for a Stoker. I didn't like being outranked by a black faced Stoker. Later that day I met Herb Grear and decided that I liked him. He was especially easy to get along with and I also decided that having a P.O. as a Stoker was quite an advantage as he carried a number of Flotilla spare parts with him. The balance of the day, I wandered around the jetty, talking with several British sailors to see if I could find out anything about this exercise that we were all preparing for. I thought it was so typical of the R.N. that here we were getting ready to carry out what appeared to be a rather large exercise, and no one know anything about it. Finally, since it was Sunday, I decided to look up Lantz and McKenna to see how they were making out. They were as much in the dark as I was, so we decided to go into the town of Newhaven, where we spent the afternoon, had supper, then came back to the jetty and got ready for bed.

Newhaven Fort. Photo found at 'Historic Newhaven'

Part 3 to follow.

Photos by GH

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