Sunday, June 12, 2016

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

Dad's Navy Days, 1941 - 1945

By G. A. Harrison

Lord Mountbatten (on right) watching a landing exercise at the Combined
Operations Centre at Dundonald Camp (Army). Dundonald was adjacent to Camp
Auchengate (Navy). South of Irvine. Photo Credit - Histomil Historica

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

II - Initial Combined Ops Training in Scotland

B) Camp Auchengate (Navy), south of Irvine

Before going to the Combined Operations Centre south of Irvine (between Irvine and Troon), some if not all the Canadians spent time at HMS Chamois, south of and near HMS Quebec. In other memoirs I read that some (including my father) spent time at Rosneath. (U.S. troops are associated with Rosneath as well, I have learned). Moving about and facing changed schedules at short notice seems to have be a matter of course. That being said, my father's memories related to Irvine were strong and he returned to visit the area in the 1980s or 1990s.

About his experiences in Irvine he writes (in part):

Soon after (time at HMS Chamois), my group was sent up the Loch to Irvine and I shall always remember that town. We practiced running our ALC up the stern of the Iris and Daffodil, i.e., train ferries in peace time that carried whole trains across the channel between England and France. They were later to be used as ALC transports. Their sterns were nearly completely open, but with waves and a stiff wind blowing it was difficult to hit the opening. We practiced and practiced, and once in, winches were used and helped get barges onto tracks. One day I just could not make it. I had a Seaman named Jake Jacobs and he said, “Let me see her. I’ll put her in there.” He pulled the ALC back, poured the coal to her and crashed right into the stern of the Iris. There was Hell to pay.

Then we had to practice living on short rations, i.e., chocolate, hard tack and compost tea (tea, sugar and milk powder in what looked exactly like a sardine can). We received a small allowance, enough for three or four days, and slept aboard the ALC. It was tough going but we made it. When we went into Irvine the townspeople brought us cookies, tea and coffee. What wonderful people. When we left we took up a collection, a whole hatful, and gave it to the townspeople to do as they chose.

One time, Sub-Lt. Pennyfather rather meekly said to me, “Harrison, you look terribly thin and drawn. Here is ten bob, go get a good meal.” When I said, no sir, he said, “But I insist.” And I had a wonderful meal.

Officers outside their Nissan Hut, HMS Dundonald, Irvine
L-R: David Lewis, J. Boak, Davy Rodgers, Charlie Pennyfather, Jake Koyl
before Schuyts 1 and 2. Photo - St. Nazaire to Singapore, Vol. 1

After one of those long sojourns without much food, no shaving, etc., we came back into Irvine and I couldn’t stand it any longer. I loaded my attache case and started up a street in Irvine and met three girls. Two were sisters, Jean and Francis, and the third one we will call Thelma. I was a terrible sight and needed a bath and shave. I walked up to them boldly and said, “Pardon me girls. Could you tell me where I could get a shave and a bath?” They linked their arms in mine and said, “Sure can, Canada. Come with us.”

They took me to 22 Waterside St. in Irvine and I learned the sisters’ last name was Cricksmere. I bathed and shaved, was fed, and given a bed for many nights after a day of training. I corresponded with them after the war. They were English, living in Scotland, and their mum reminded me of my own mother. I know they fed me their own rations, even eggs.

There was also a son about 40 years old, and he and I used to battle Johnnie Walker every night. After a few we would ride the bus to Dragon (sic: Dreghorn) and get a couple of more because they were open longer. Moonlight Serenade and Sunlight Serenade were big hits at that time.

Main Street, Dreghorn is an easy bus ride from Irvine
Photo credit - Old Irvine on Facebook with Janice Clark

Actually, we were stationed at Auchengate camp outside Irvine at the time in bell tents and all washing facilities were outside. We never went ashore the regular way under inspection of an officer. O/D Art Bradfield, who was confined to barracks, inspected us, lifted the fence and said, “Be back on time you guys.” And we always were.

Bell Tent at Irvine: Don Westbrook, outside. Butler emerging.
Photo credit - St. Nazaire to Singapore, Volume 1, page 44

Jake Jacobs was a lead swinger of the first water and said he would make it back to Canada before any of us, and you know, he did. He wangled it somehow and after Auchengate I never saw him again. And just to digress a bit, O/D Seaman Patty Neville used to pee the bed and wouldn’t sleep on the lower bunk, so O/D Don Linder of Kitchener had to sleep with raincoats over him.

Sometimes at Irvine I acted as seaman along with Gash Bailey under a Coxswain named Owen, who wasn’t very bright. One night we had an exercise landing (Schuyt 1), complete with soldiers against shore defences. Also, we had a stoker, Lank, who was below decks. My, it was rough and cold. The stoker took a pail to vomit in and Gash and I lashed ourselves down on ALC cowling.

We had an officer named Jake Koyl who was later to become our commander after Lieut. McRae was captured at Dieppe. During the exercise the soldiers became sick, oh so terribly sick. And what happens a long, long way from shore? We run aground.

Koyl says, “Okay, over you go Harrison and Bailey, and together we’ll rock her loose.” We were wearing big heavy duffle coats and sea boots but over we went. After we got her loose, however, Owen left us out there and headed for shore. We fought for high ground against the waves and, weighing nearly a ton, we took off our duffle coats, dropped into holes and had a wonderful time until Owen somehow found us toward morning. The good people at the pub near the place our ALCs docked took us in, gave us blankets, porridge, whiskey, and dried our clothes.*

Soon after that we were to get our baptism of fire. Our time of training had come to an end. How would it all show up? (From "DAD, WELL DONE" pages 15 - 17)

Doug Harrison (Norwich) and Al Kirby (Woodstock) in Scotland, 1942 - 43 

* My father writes about being stranded in the water, after rocking the ALC loose, in greater detail in an article in other books that deal with the experiences of Canadians in Combined Operations. In it he mentions the name of the family that helped revive him the morning - with porridge and whiskey - after the good soaking he received on the sandbars between Irvine and Troon. With that detail in hand, I was able to locate the pub near the place his landing craft had docked, likely in mid-spring, 1942.

I have also learned the officer Dad mentions, Jake Koyl, was in a great hurry to get to the eventual site of the significant training exercise known as Schuyt 1. It was held under the watchful eye of important dignitaries, i.e., King George VI, PM Winston Churchill, and C.O. Commander Lord Mountbatten. Koyl did not want to be late.

Officer Koyl recaps the first six months of Combined Operations training, undergone by his Canadian ratings, as follows in Combined Operations by Londoner Clayton Marks:

In January, 1942 in (the Dutch liner) Volendam, fourteen Officers and ninety-six Ratings sailed from Canada for the U.K. knowing nothing of what lay ahead but looking forward to a rather exciting life. On arrival in the U.K. they began a course of training which lasted two months, most of this training being (aboard) LCAs, Landing Craft Assault, and LCMs, Landing Craft Mechanized. By the end of April they were split up into two operational Flotillas.

The first operational call received was in early June when they sailed away from their base to take part in some operation, but this was cancelled and all were ordered to return to base. These periods of suspense were most trying on the morale of all men as during these periods of waiting, sometimes lasting over two months, they were posted to routine camp duties.

The first opportunity for action came with the Dieppe raid. Though, not operating as Canadian units, Officers and men were intermingled with R.N. Flotillas and much valuable experience was gained. (Pages 173 - 174)

Though I find it difficult to attach specific training periods to specific places (even the sailors themselves had much trouble), the Canadians trained aboard various landing crafts in southern England and western Scotland for several months in early 1942 in preparation for their first significant raid.... at Dieppe, France.

"Our time of training had come to an end," said my father. "How would it all show up?"

More to follow.

Please link to Presentation: Dad's Navy Days Part 4 (3)

Unattributed Photos GH

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