Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Presentation: Dad's Navy Days Part 4 (2)

Dad's Navy Days, 1941 - 1945

By G. A. Harrison

D. Harrison on sentry duty, HMS Northney. Circa January 1942

Introduction: The following post will be part of a Nov. 2016 presentation regarding my father's WW2 service with the RCNVR and Combined Operations organization.


Part 4 - Combined Operations Training in the UK

I - Initial Combined Ops Training in Southern England

How long the new Canadian recruits stayed at HMCS Niobe on the Clyde River is not known at this time but it sounds like for only a few days. Then they were sent packing to various Combined Ops training camps on Hayling Island on the southern coast of England.

My father Doug Harrison writes:

We spent little time at Niobe but entrained for Havant (editor - adjacent to Hayling Island) in southern England, to H.M.S. Northney 1, a barracks (formerly a summer resort) with a large building for eating and then cabins with four bedrooms. This was December, 1941 or January, 1942 and there was no heat at all in the brick cabins. The toilets all froze and split. But we made out. Our eating quarters were heated. ("DAD, WELL DONE", page 11)

Canadians (from SW Ontario) in Comb. Ops at HMS Northney, Hants, England
Circa January 1942.  From L - R: Allan Adlington (London), Joe Spencer (Toronto),
Chuck Rose (Chippawa), Doug Harrison (Norwich), Art Bradfield (Simcoe),
Don Linder (Kitchener), Joe Watson (Simcoe), J. Jacobs (unknown)
Photo - Credit - From the collection of Joe Spencer 

Lloyd Evans, another Canadian volunteer, writes:

After a few days at the Greenock base we were posted to HMS Northney III on Hayling Island near Portsmouth on the south coast of England. The purpose was training and it was there that we discovered we had 'volunteered' to operate Landing Craft for future raids and landings under the auspices of Combined Ops (Operations). (My Naval Chronicle, page 9)

The young sailors would soon learn that they would spend a good deal of time over the next two years travelling (often by train) to a cluster of Combined Operations establishments spread along the coastlines of SE England and NW Scotland. They would spend a few weeks or months here, another few weeks or months there, and in between training sessions they would participate in raids, e.g., Dieppe, and invasions, e.g., North Africa, Sicily, Italy.

45 locations are listed, 4 or 5 very familiar to Canadians in Comb. Ops

No. 29 - HMS Northney I, II, III, IV. Repair based Combined Ops
Pilotage Parties (C.O.P.P.) Depot. Combined Operations, page 7

Harrison and Evans briefly refer to duties performed while at their first camp. Unfortunately, no mention is made of landing craft exercises. But both do recall lonely nights on sentry duties.

Evans writes:

Some nights I stood guard duty at the end of a long pier as lookout for German raiding parties. In the lonely darkness of the night this inexperienced 18 year old discovered the power of the imagination! It seemed that the end of the watch would never come; I was gaining a sense of the terrible nature of modern warfare as I realized in my imaginings how easily they could be turned into brutal and bloody reality. (Ibid)

Harrison says:

I had the misfortune to break the toe next to my big toe on my left foot. I went to sick bay and someone applied mercurochrome, told me to carry out my usual duties and sent me away. Running, guard duty, anything, I toughed it out.... We were issued brooms for guard duty in some cases at Northney, sometimes a rifle with no ammunition, and they were expecting a German invasion. Rounds were made every night outside by officers to see if we were alert and we would holler like Hell, “Who goes there? Advance and be recognized.” When you hollered loud enough you woke everyone in camp, so sentry duty was not so lonesome for a few minutes. (Ibid)

I'm pretty sure my father was trying out a bit of a joke on the last line. My family calls it 'Harrison humour' and it takes some listeners a while to get the hang of it. Good luck.

Though my father goes on to say "there was no training here (at Hayling Island)", I have found a few lines elsewhere that suggest otherwise, from a young Canadian officer, Kendall 'Happy' Kidder. His story - Small Landing Craft Training - is available online thanks to work done by Geoff Slee, creator of 'Combined Operations Command' (website, Scotland), and various contributors, including the officer's wife, Jill Kidder.

I read:

Training bases for 'small' landing craft were set up at Hayling Island on the south coast of England and at Inveraray in Scotland. The first Canadian flotillas joined the RN in January of 1942. Kendall was posted to HMCS Niobe in Scotland on March 1, 1942. It was the main manning and pay depot for the Canadian Navy in the UK.... a gloomy brick building which had been a mental hospital and was locally known as the 'loony bin.'

As well I read:

The initial drafts from Canada arrived in Scotland and soon were shipped to Hayling Island east of Portsmouth for initial training in the smaller 'landing craft assault', LCA's, for about three weeks. Hayling Island had somewhat the same shape as Portsmouth so on occasions lights in the fields were dimly lit to appear much like Portsmouth to the German bomber pilots. This ruse gave Portsmouth some relief from the daily bombing the civilians suffered. Didn't please the farmers of Hayling Island much to become the target. [contributor Bob Crothers, RCNVR, Combined Ops].

Whether the Canadians participated in duties ("running, guard duty, anything," said my father) or small landing craft training, most agree that after a few weeks they heard an "all aboard" and north to Scotland they did go.

My father writes:

This was to be one of the more memorable camps, with our first actual work and introduction to landing barges.

More to follow.

More information about early training at Hayling Island can be found at an earlier post on this website - Training re Combined Operations, "Havant and Hayling Island"

As well, please link to Presentation: Dad's Navy Days Part 4 (1)

Unattributed Photo - G. Harrison

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