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U3A Writing: Where's My Ship?

While his assigned Royal Navy ship sailed from port to port, Bob Boyd found himself chasing her around on land.

The year was 1948. I had joined the Navy aged 17˝. signing on for 7 years to become a Telegraphist. The long training period was over and I was eagerly waiting in Chatham barracks to be assigned my first ship.

Some of my shipmates had volunteered for the Far East or the Med, but word had it that if one volunteered there was no way of applying for a transfer at a later date. So, for me there was no volunteering and I was hoping for a destroyer, or maybe a cruiser. When called to the drafting office I was given the name - HMS Woodbridge Haven, which no one had ever heard of. She turned out to be a frigate lying off Sheerness and I was to join her there as soon as possible.

To get to Sheerness one joined a small 'Trot' boat which regularly sailed from Chatham to Sheerness, via the river Medway. Various ships were anchored in the river, or off Garrison Point, near Sheerness. The 'Trot' boat acted as a water bus dropping and picking up sailors from ships as necessary.

By the time I had finished 'leaving routine', collected all my kit from the barracks, and joined the 'Trot' boat to Sheerness, it was early evening. On arrival at Sheerness there had been no sign of the Woodbridge Haven. The only thing I could do was to go ashore and report to the Sheerness Movements Office. "The Woodbridge Haven sailed for Portsmouth earlier this afternoon," I was told. "Go back to Chatham barracks and report to the Movements Office again tomorrow morning.''

Next morning I was up bright and early and down to the Movements Office. I was told my ship was now at Portsmouth and I should join her there. I was given a rail pass and set off once more, with kitbag and hammock, via London and Waterloo station. By the time I arrived in Portsmouth and took a taxi to the barracks it was late afternoon. At the Movements Office I was greeted with the news "The Woodbridge Haven sailed to Barrow-in-Furness this afternoon after taking on stores. You will stop the night here and report for a rail pass to Barrow-in-Furness tomorrow morning.''

Next morning it was up to London once again, kit bag and hammock getting rather heavy by this time, for a change of trains to Barrow-in-Furness. On arrival at last I discovered my ship tied up alongside the jetty near the Vickers submarine works. I hoped they were not going to ask me to join a submarine instead!

I went aboard and was greeting by the Chief Telegraphist "You must be the new Telegraphist. We have been expecting you. Do you want to go ashore tonight?"

The last thing I wanted was to go ashore again, and quickly declined his offer.

"Good. We are all going out to a dance, so you will be on night duty in the Wireless Office."

This came as quite a shock as I did not know anyone or anything, or even where the Wireless Office was. However, I was quickly taken along and told that a landline telephone was connected to shore. If the phone rang I was to take down any messages by hand. There was a camp bed next to the telephone and I could sleep there "as long as you don't miss any messages and to tell the Captain immediately if the message was urgent".

Thankfully the telephone kept silent, and although I had a peaceful night the thought that I might miss an important message kept me from dozing off too deeply.

Next morning I joined the rest of the crew and soon learned what it was to become a real sailor and Telegraphist. However, there's nothing like being dropped in at the deep end, and I was just thankful it wasn't into water!


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