There are so many ordinary looking folk in our community who are anything but. I had the pleasure to meet Baden while following up on a footpath safety issue, and I would like to share some of his experiences with readers of this blog. Born in 1924, Baden is now nearing 90, and a World War 2 veteran. He joined up with 35 other recruits on the 7th September 1942 and after a period at a base in Gosport was sent to HMS Collingwood where he was trained in Warship duties including Seamanship, Gunnery and Navigation. The rest is taken from his own notes:
When I was 18 I applied for General Service and was sent to HMS Collingwood for 3 months. Our instructor here was a Three Badge Petty Officer who had been brought back on The Reserve List. He was none too pleased with his lot. A sentiment he passed onto us continuously during the course. Marching to Colonel Bogey inevitably led to learning the service words which were vigorously sung on the way to and from Service Parades. When training was complete, I passed out as a fully fledged Ordinary Seaman with a long way to go to make Admiral, and we were quickly sent on our way to our first posting by train.
We ended up in a public house called Dirty Dicks, and downed a few beers in the three hours waiting for our train. Unfortunately we arrived back at the station too late to use the toilets and were told by our escorting Petty Officer that we were lucky not to be classed as ‘Adrift’. We were then mustered, counted and herded very quickly into a carriage. We did not realise until we started moving that the carriage was sealed at both ends and there was no toilet. At this point our bladders started moving to, and on clearing the station we opened the windows and our trouser flaps to relieve the pressure. The train passed over several bridges built over main roads, and cycling along one was an elderly lady who, looking up, saw a desperate load of sailors relieving themselves at the train windows. The look on her face was indescribable, and she seemed to have trouble controlling the front wheel of her bicycle. I have always hoped that she passed under that bridge safely and without getting wet.
I was posted to HMS Sphinx, a land base in Alexandria, and joined HMS Romeo T10 in June 1943. She was a coal powered trawler and part of the escort flotilla escorting convoys from Port Said to Gibraltar and back. She was mainly used for Anti Submarine detection and also Mine Sweeping.
Leaving harbour for the first time on Romeo was my next new experience. Just at that time I was pumping fresh drinking water from the main tank to the tank above the heads using a hand pump. As we crossed the boom and the ship poked her bows outside the harbour she dropped into the first trough and then continued to bob up and down like a cork. The movement of the ship and the pumping did not agree with my stomach and I had to run for the side of the ship in double quick time.
One remembers a lot of the amusing things that happen, like the time the outlet for the forward toilet was blocked when we were in the harbour. It was necessary to clear this from the outside so word went around the ship “do not use the forward toilet”. Two men went over to clear this from the side in a small boat armed with a wire to do the clearing. They had nearly removed the trouble when it happened; someone flushed the toilet covering the men and the boat with that which had been blocking the toilet. Two very unhappy men came back aboard and the man that flushed the toilet went into hiding.
My next ship was HMS Wolborough FY233, a converted North Sea fishing trawler. She was a pleasure to serve on and had a longer than usual bow, a slender waist and a nicely rounded stern. She was a lovely lady. Her armament was a 4 inch gun on the bow 3 Horlicans and Vickers machine guns on the bridge. She was also equipped with Radar as well as anti submarine detector and sweeping gear.
One job for us was to chart a course through the minefield to the Dardanelle’s. not many of us slept below deck during this sweep. Through the loud speaker we could hear the ping of the mines being picked up by our ASDC’s. Not the most pleasant of sounds.
We were in the Royal Navy Patrol Service, and on one occasion seen by The Prime Minister while working on a sweeper. On being told who we were he said “They are like a lot of bloody Pirates” at which point the nickname ‘Churchills Pirates’ stuck.
Mine Sweeping was usually carried out with a wire using the Oropesa Gear which cut away the moorings and allowed mines to be detonated on the surface. Late in November 1939 the secrets of the Magnetic Mine were discovered when one was laid too close to the shore at Shoeburyness and was exposed at low tide. Magnetic mines were detonated by the hulls of steel ships passing overhead and were most effective at depths of 2 – 20 fathoms, such as rivers.
250 trawlers were converted to magnetic minesweepers. Twin copper cables 750 feet long fitted with electrodes at the tail end waterproofed buoyed and towed astern. Two 54KVA generators passed a current at 3000 amps through the cables creating a magnetic field astern of the ship which, in theory, would detonate the mines. 300 Ton magnets were also towed on wooden float, and ships were demagnetised with electric currents to reduce their vulnerability.
In 1940 the acoustic mine was introduced by The Germans. To protect the sweepers A frames were fitted to the front with steel drums and Kanga Hammers lowered into the water to sweep the area in front of the ship.
Around D Day the Germans brought out the unsweepable mine which was activated by the reduction in pressure of a large ship passing over it. These mines had no known counter, and the most effective method at the time was to stuff primed hand grenades down tubes over the ships side, and pushing them into the sea with a long pole. Several accidents occurred while trying to get them into the tube with frozen fingers, or other premature explosion. Most crews would pull the pin and drop them over the side but this became known as The Suicide Sweep as no one knew exactly where the mine was.
During the war, the Germans were always one step ahead of us. Mines were fitted with reverse polarity, then with multi action delay which rendered the mine inactive for any given time, or after a number of passes over it during shipping operations. Ships were blown up in many swept channels, including mine sweepers. Minesweeping was largely trial and error, never being too sure whether or not it was likely to work. It was also a time of apprehension never knowing what device was waiting for the next trip.
2,385 members of the Royal Navy Patrol Service gave their lives in World War 2. 500 ships were lost.
Baden survived the war and was demobbed as a Petty Officer and now lives in Horndean.