I remember when my school-days ended and I left Wick Road Senior Boys' School in July 1939, 'War' was imminent and I was so disappointed that the 'Exhibition Of School Work' had been cancelled. I was fourteen years old; some of my schoolwork had been due to be on show at the exhibition and this could have helped me find a good employer. War with Germany was declared on September 3rd. 1939. The B.B.C. were moving a lot of staff to Bristol from London as they thought it would be safer to make radio broadcasts from mere. They had a vacancy for a 'Page Boy' so I was sent along for an interview and got the job.
The boys worked under the control of the Commissionaires in the entrance hall of the building, so I saw many of the stars of the radio programmes. To name a few. Jack Train who was in 'ITMA' (It's That Man Again) with Tommy Handley (a comedian). Billy Tement the bandleader and Deborah Ken- who later became a famous film star' I had applied to join the Post Office as a Boy Messenger (Telegram Boy); their job was delivering messages sent from Post Offices to Post Office's over the telephone and teleprinter network. I was successful and so left the B.B.C. and started working for the Post Office and continued to do so (except between October 6th. 1943, and April 3rd. 1947) until retiring in June 1985. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II awarded me the Imperial Service Medal for my service for the Post Office. The first great air raid by the Nazis started on November 24th. 1940, at about 6.30pm.
Flares were dropped lighting up the City and in the first hour 70 fires were reported in the centre of the City. From the position of our house, being higher than the centre of the City, what I saw is best described by this extract from "BRISTOL UNDER BLITZ", published for the Lord Mayor's War Services Council by J.W. Arrowsmith Ltd. Bristol. "The 24th. Was a typical November day of dull leaden skies with a light mist towards sunset. As darkness fell, the alert was given (air raid siren) and by 6.30pm.,the skies over the centre of the City were brightly lit by flares dropped from enemy 'planes. Then the fiery attack was let loose with utter nithlessness. Showers of incendiary bombs kindled Bristol ablaze and spread the conflagration. High explosive bombs whistled and screamed to earth. Many were of extremely high calibre and spread the raging fires from building to building until whole streets were ablaze. The flames appeared as one huge fiery furnace leaping high into the air and giving an intensity of daylight over a great part of the City.
The scene presented a veritable volcanic cataclysm. Crashes of high buildings and the volumes of flames, as castellated church towers earned the fires to greater heights, added a touch of grandeur to this inferno of terrorism. Men, afar off, scores of miles distant, gazed with wonder upon the illuminated skies as though peering into a mirror to learn the fate of the blitzed city". In our back garden we had an 'Anderson Shelter', this consisted of a hole in the ground approximately 8 feet long, by 6 feet wide and 3 feet deep, which had walls and a roof of corrugated metal in the shape of an inverted U and was covered with earth and sandbags for the 3 feet which was above ground level. During one of the raids, while my mother, father, brother, three neighbours and myself were in the shelter, a explosive bomb fell onto the road in the front of our house and made a crater 15 feet across and 10 feet deep. It blew all the windows in the house out. We were lucky that it fell in the front of the house and not the back onto our shelter. There were 29 air raids, the final one being on July 5th. 1941. During the raids on Bristol 2,250 houses were destroyed and 46,000 damaged and 18 churches destroyed in an area of 40 square miles.
As a Post Office Messenger I was stationed at an office on the edge of the City. Telegrams were telephoned to staff at die office and I had to deliver them in the local area, riding a bicycle. One type of telegram was labelled "Government Priority" they had to be delivered before any others and contained news of Service personnel who had been, wounded, taken prisoner of war or had died or been killed on active service. Tills was a very sad part of the job. Usually, you were always seen when on delivery and neighbours were on hand to console the recipients of the bad news. I eventually returned to the main Post Office and took the driving test to ride a motorcycle to deliver telegrams.
We went to night school and took an exam to see what jobs we would move on to when we reached the age of eighteen, either as Postmen, Sorting Clerks or Telegraphists. 1 became a Sorting Clerk and moved into the Sorting Office; sorting letters on twelve hour shifts four days a week. This only lasted a few months as I was eighteen on June 21st. 1943 and was called up to join the Royal Navy. The alternative was to go to work in the coal mine's as a 'Bevin Boy', as they were short of miners. They did not need any more recruits for the Army or Royal Air Force at that time. So on October 6th. 1943, onto the train to Plymouth and by Naval lorry to H.M.S. Raleigh at Torpoint, over the river Tamar in Cornwall for our training. The new recruits were split up into groups of 24 and allocated to a hut. We drew our uniforms, tin hats and gasmasks from the stores and from then on were responsible for our own kit. In charge of our class at Raleigh was a man that I will always remember; Chief Petty Officer Barratt, probably recalled to train new recruits. He was like a father to us, strict when necessary, but most helpful. Obviously knowing what could lie ahead of us when we had finished our training. So from being a Sorting Clerk with the Post Office; 1 was now Ordinary Seaman Daniel D/JX 650272 (D. = Devonport ).
I had volunteered to go on a Radar Course, so on December 7th. 1943 I was transferred to H.M.S. Drake at Devonport. I don't know what happened to the Radar Course, but I found myself in the Barrack Guard. One of our duties was to form the Guard for the Commodore's Gunnery School Divisions (Inspection). This meant we had to march behind the band of the Royal Marines down to the Drill Hall where the Gunnery School were assembled for inspection. It is surprising how well you can march with a band as good as the Royal Marines. We were lucky; we marched straight through the Drill Hall and back to the Guard Room; while the Gunnery School had to drill for the Commodore. I was able to able to come home to Bristol on leave for Christmas 1943. My next transfer was on February 15th. 1944 to H.M.S. RODNEY, a battleship, which was in dry-dock at Rosyth in Scotland. It took us two days by train, via London, to get to the ship.
What a size this monster was!
Building completed in 1925
Size: 711 feet x 106feet x 31.5feet. (216.8m x 32.4m x 9.6m)
Range: 16,500 miles (30,574km..) at 12 knots
Powerplant: Twin Screw Turbines
Performance: 23.5 knots
Armament: 9, 16inch; 12,6inch and 6,4.7inch Guns. Multiple machine guns, 2, 24.5inch Torpedo tubes
The ship had been in dry-dock for repairs and painting; this was soon completed and we put to sea. We steamed up to the Naval Base at Scapa Flow, in the Orkney Islands to the north of Scotland On the way, we started our sea training. One of the duties was, 'look outs', watching for any lights (during darkness), or objects, ships, mines, periscopes of submarines etc. The seaman crew were split into three 'Divisions', Foc'sle (forecastle). Top, Quarter-deck and each had their own Mess-deck. The Stokers- Royal Marines and Communications sections also had their own Mess-decks. We each had our own hammocks for sleeping in; these were very comfortable and had to be 'slung' (sling your hammock or mick) for sleeping and 'stowed' when not sleeping.
The work which Seamen had to do, apart from manning guns etc.(the fighting side of things) was very varied. Keeping the ship clean etc. chipping paint and repainting; boats crew (whalers; motor boats); fetching meals from the Galley. You also had to do your own dhobi'ing (washing your own clothes). If you were caught with dirty overalls or uniform, you were on report and had to be brought before your Divisional Officer, who decided what punishment you got (commonly known as 'jankers'); which meant extra work, or running around the upper deck carrying a rifle, when the 'pipe', "Men under punishment to muster", was sounded over the ship's tannoy system.
One of the most unusual jobs, the H.M.S. RODNEY which could be done at any time and would be called for over the tannoy system by the 'pipe' "Duty Watch, man the main derrick". The main derrick was used to lift the ships boats on and off the boat deck. The boat deck was aft of the funnel and although a winch lifted boats, the derrick had to be swung out by manpower. This meant that the duty watch of the three divisions of seaman and the Royal Marines had to pull, or slacken off, on four separate ropes to move the derrick from over the boat deck to over the sea and vice versa. This needed at least twenty persons on each rope which was connected to the derrick by a system of pulleys.
The ship being so big, tended to roll and pitch at a very slow rate and gave me a headache at first; but I soon got used to it. We had two types of main duties 'Cruising Watch' and 'Action Stations'. For 'Cruising' I was a 'A/A Look Out', which meant we had to climb up through the foremast to a platform at the top. Here we had powerful binoculars to scan the horizons for any aircraft. The only crew higher than us were in a 'direction finder', which controlled the anti-aircraft guns. For 'Action' I was at a Pompom gun and had to load the ammunition. I was never at 'Action Stations' when we had to fire in anger. The ship was not put in danger unnecessarily at this period of the war, ie. 1944. We put to sea for 'working up'; training to the highest standard.
The 'Watch' system works as follows:
2000-0000 (8 pm - Midnight) First Watch.
0000-0400 (Midnight - 4 am) Middle Watch.
0400-0800 (4 am - 8 am) Morning Watch.
0800-1200 (8 am - Noon) Forenoon Watch.
1200-1600 (Noon - 4 pm) Afternoon Watch.
1600-1800 (4 pm - 6 pm) First Dog-Watch.
1800-2000 (6 pm - 8 pm) Second Dog-Watch.
The two dog-watches, make an odd number of watches in twenty four hours; so a system of 'one on-one off or 'one on-two off gives you different watches each day. While we were anchored at Scapa Flow, we had a visit from Field Marshall Bernard L. Montgomery. The Ship's Company were mustered on deck and he told us that we would soon be working with him again (the ship had been in the Med. when he had been in North Africa). We knew this could mean only one tiling; the invasion of Europe. This was what everyone had been waiting for since the evacuation from Dunkirk.
In May 1944 we left Scapa Flow and went down to Greenock. We put to sea again and steamed south; on Sunday June 4th.a signal was received delaying the operation for twenty four hours and we were ordered to reduce speed and return north. Not only did this affect us but one hundred and thirty six other warships, including six other battleships (three British and three American). Sailing south again we arrived off the coast of Normandy on the morning of Tuesday June 6th. 1944. There were three other ships bombarding targets on the land; H.M. Ships, Nelson (our sister ship), Warspite (another battleship) and Roberts (a monitor; a small ship with heavy guns). We discovered that we were being held in reserve and were sent back to Portsmouth overnight.
We were soon back off the coast of Normandy again, and our 16inch guns were bombarding in support of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division. There were some Canadian photographers onboard, who took some photos of our guns in action. They had wanted to take photos from underneath the guns, but as you will see in the photo, it would not have been safe to do so; the blast churns up the sea and the noise would have damaged their eardrums. Eventually we use up all our 16inch shells, and we sailed back to Milford Haven on the West Coast of Wales to re-ammunition. This we completed in record time and we were soon on our way back to Normandy. We returned back across the channel later, and bombarded the town of Caen, which was some 15 miles inland. A large number Lancaster Bombers flew over us to bomb Caen. The town was finally captured on 9th July 1944. During all this action we were lucky, as at no time, did we come under enemy fire. At the ned of Juy we returned to Portland Harbour..