Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Editor's Column: As Published in Norwich Gazette (7).


PM Winston Churchill and other dignitaries in Scotland during landing
craft training exercises. Photo Credit - Imperial War Museum, 1941

An Important Training Exercise Goes Awry

“There was Hell to pay,” Dad said, when recording details about a landing craft that smashed into a train ferry near Irvine, Scotland in spring, 1942. Nonetheless, he added with fondness, “I will always remember that town.”

In memoirs, he recalls the rigours of Combined Operations training when he had to survive on a small allowance, short rations (“chocolate, hard tack, compost tea”), and sleep aboard a landing craft. He also remembers kindnesses offered by citizens living near the harbour where the crafts were often parked.

After one lengthy stint of deprivations (“without much food, money, bathing, etc.”) he took leave in Irvine, and boldly asked two sisters - Jean and Francis Cricksmere - where he “could get a shave and a bath.”

They linked arms with him and said, “Come with us, Canada.” They marched him to a nearby house to meet their mother and older brother.

“I bathed, shaved, was fed (I know they fed me their rations, even eggs), and given a bed for many nights,” Dad says. “Mrs. Cricksmere reminded me of my own mother (and) I corresponded with them after the war.”
Other sailors were also treated hospitably, and before leaving Irvine for Operation Rutter (re Dieppe) - ‘small allowance’ or not - they took up a solid collection, “a hatful, and gave it to townspeople to do as they chose.”

Before the sailors exited, however, their Commander Louis Mountbatten entered - to observe a significant landing craft exercise (Schuyt 1). With him was Prime Minister Churchill. And King George VI.

No pressure there! What could go wrong?

The late-night exercise started under ink black skies. Landing crafts loaded with English soldiers motored toward an offshore rendezvous before assaulting ‘hostile shore defences.’

My father, among a Navy crew of four, reports that their landing craft ran aground on a sand bar before the rendezvous. “We tried rocking the craft in conjunction with the motors. No luck. Officer Koyl ordered Bailey and I overboard with him to look for deeper water.”

Dad obliged by finding deep water, helped rock the craft free, but before he could scramble onboard, Koyl (Fuming! “We’re going to be late!”) ordered ‘full steam ahead.’

Dad says, “They drove off, leaving me alone in the water. I was scared, but I felt I knew Mr. Koyl.”

He discarded all his clothing except uniform pants, found a sandbar and waited it out while wondering, “How is he going to find me? This is unbelievable!”

He thrashed his arms and swam on his back for short stints to maintain circulation. And “after an eternity (he) saw a blinking lamp.”

“Motors were cut, then revved up, then cut,” he says. “Koyl had a fair idea where to locate me, but I don’t know how he knew. Eventually our voices came closer together (and) I was rescued after two hours waiting. I felt all in.”

Lord Louis Mountbatten, Commander of Combined Operations in Irvine, 1942
Soldiers train on shore while landing crafts deal with heavy wash. IWM

The beaches between Irvine and Troon, 2014. GH

All’s well that ends well.

Once the exercise was finished, Lt. Koyl, Bailey and Doug fell into a local pub where they were revived with hot porridge and warm blankets, dry clothes and rum.

Dad says he was a lucky fellow. Black skies would have made him seem but a speck on the sea. Nonetheless, he was found, the exercise a success.

My father couldn’t recall the pub’s name (“Royal Sovereign? King George?”), but he left behind a wee clue - the owner’s name... Skinner. And in 2014, during my first trip to lovely Irvine, I found Mr. Skinner’s pub.

It has a fitting name. Our three sailors, though rushed off their feet during an important exercise - made serious by the King’s watchful presence - at the end of it fell into the King’s Arms (Hotel).

More to follow.

Unattributed Photos GH

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