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U3A Writing: On Ship And Shore

...Being close to Grimsby there were many fishing boats coming and going in the area. Occasionally we would make a collection of cigarettes around the crew and signal an incoming boat to exchange them for a box of fresh fish. I have never tasted such lovely fresh plaice as we enjoyed on those occasions...


Bob Boyd joins a boat crewed by divers charged with exploring underwater wrecks and clearing dangerous ordnance and mines.

To read earlier chapters of Bob's account of his service in the Royal Navy please click on http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=bob+boyd

After returning from South Africa and two week leave, I went back to to Chatham Naval barracks.

My next draft was to H.M.S. Annet, an Island Class Naval Trawler. I was to join her at Grimsby as she was anchored in the river Humber. She was used as a diving boat with a crew of several Clearance Divers. After the Second World War the branch of Clearance Divers was formed to survey under water wrecks and clear dangerous ordnance and mines.

The Annet only carried one telegraphist and I was relieving a sailor named Ron Waller. Little did I know that I would meet up with him many years later when we were both working for British Telecom. We were able to compare notes and recall some of the diving crew we both served with.

The wireless office was small, but comfortable and large enough to accommodate a camp bed. I was in sole charge of all communications, as well as being the ship’s postman. I had to keep watch for incoming signals (in Morse code) at certain scheduled times and take down the daily weather reports. Sometimes there were signals to send, but as we worked independently from other ships there was very little communications traffic either way.

The divers surveyed wrecks in the river estuary and carried out various exercises. There were still plenty of wrecks left over from the war years. These needed to be examined for dangerous explosives and their exact position charted.

Being close to Grimsby there were many fishing boats coming and going in the area. Occasionally we would make a collection of cigarettes around the crew and signal an incoming boat to exchange them for a box of fresh fish. I have never tasted such lovely fresh plaice as we enjoyed on those occasions.

Once, after a run ashore in Grimsby, my friend and I missed the last boat back to the ship. We were not too worried as we were not due to sail away and could get a boat back the next morning. The problem was - where to spend the night? I don’t think we had enough money for a B & B but heard tell it was possible to get a bed for the night on one of the fishing boats. As we searched along the jetty most seemed to be completely deserted, but one was showing a light and our luck was in when we were told most of the crew were ashore and we could spend the night aboard. This was only until about 5 am. when the crew returned and they would be sailing again. The beds were in cupboards, but we managed to get some sleep on cushions and even got a cup of tea in the morning when the rest of the crew arrived. The only problem was the overpowering smell of fish everywhere, and an experience we were not likely to repeat too often.

After several months up and down the river Humber and estuary, we sailed south to Sheerness to carry out a Thames survey. Whilst anchored at Sheerness our divers carried out an exercise acting as enemy frogmen. They wore rubber dry suits, snorkels and carried dummy limpet mines. They were to place the mines on several of the anchored warships without being discovered. I sent a signal to all ships stating ‘An exercise would be taking place with enemy frogmen operating in the area’. This was to warn all ships to keep a good lookout.

Operating under cover of darkness our frogmen swam silently out, each to a different ship where they managed to place a dummy magnetic mine. None of them were discovered and next morning I enjoyed sending a signal to each ship saying they had been blown up by a limpet mine! I think they thought it was a bit unfair of us to carry out such a dirty trick in peacetime when many of the crew were ashore, but it taught them a lesson to keep a good lookout in future - after all they had been warned.

Our Captain was a four ring Captain with wartime seniority, brought back into Service after retiring. He was to organise the underwater surveys and exercises due to his experience in this field. What made things amusing was that he was a senior Captain to many of the other warships around. When one warship passes another the junior Captain always salutes the senior Captain. This usually means a smaller vessel salutes the larger one. If they are both of the same type of vessel they would look up one another’s ship identification number (painted on the side) and check on the seniority of the Captain. The junior Captain would then salute the senior by piping “attention on the upper deck” and saluting as they passed each other. When another warship passed the Annet they assumed a trawler would have a junior Captain. As they approached they could see we were not making any effort to come to attention and would have to quickly look up our identification number to see who the Captain was. At the last minute they would come to attention and salute us - with a smile on our Captain’s face!

To be continued.



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