Vic Feltham remembers some of his more interesting experiences on the A/S trawler HMS Duncton

It all began as a teenager In Bournmouth

I was born on 25th February 1925 and grew up in Bournemouth and at the age of 14, I joined the sea cadets. I later joined the Home Guard. I was kited out in uniform, issued with the Enfield rifle and six rounds of ammunition, We used to do all night duty at Queens Park, our job was to round up any German parachutists that might happen to land there.

In March 1943 I was told to report to the Army recruiting depot in Southampton. 1 wanted to join up in my trade, but I was told that there were no vacancies and would have to go in the Infantry. I Was not keen on that, so went over to the Naval recruiting office and volunteered for the Navy. After I was given some IQ tests and asked some questions I was accepted. I left home at 4.30 in the morning en route to Kings Cross London, I was short for my age and looked about fourteen instead of eighteen. I was shopped by the Police an accused of running away from home and I had to produce my travel warrant and 'call up' papers! By the end of the War the Navy must have did me well as I eventually came out at 5'8!

In June 1943 I was sent to HMS Europa Lowestoft and began service on a minesweeper MMS 1018. I was billeted out locally and each morning we had to report on the stage at the Nest to see if we were drafted. Eventually my name was on the board to report to the drafting office. They were sending reliefs out to Freetown and the Merchant convoys, fortunately I was sent to Freetown! I then sent on an Asdic course at HMS Osprey in Campbeltown. I had qualified as a Seaman S/D and sent out to the RNPS base ship Edinburgh Castle at Freetown West Africa on 11th December 1943

HMS Duncton T220 "back from the dead!"

It was here in Freetown that I joined the Anti Submarine trawler HMS Duncton on the 10 January 1944. I had some very interesting trips and times on her and she was certainly a 'happy ship'. We visited most of the ports on the West African coast from Gibraltar to Simonstown and a trip to Las Palmas and the Ascension Islands. As Las Palmas was neutral port, we were allowed ashore in 'civvies' only so the local tailors did well!

(Right) HMS Duncton 'under sail' in a desperate attempt to escape from perilous U boat waters off the West African coast (picture taken July 1944)

One Cape Town trip was for refit and to be fumigated as the ship at this point had become over run by rats! We were billeted in Park Royal Hotel in Muyenberg where we lived a life of luxury! The food was brilliant, we had a bar on the ground floor and used to go horse riding on the beach. When the money ran out we would to play games of Monopoly in the evening. One game could last for several days!

After the refit we were sent out of Capetown for sea trials. This exercise involved dropping a few depth charges. However, we sprung a couple of plates when we couldn't get away quick enough so it was back to Capetown for repairs! After being patched up we eventually set off back to Freetown.

En route to Freetown we had another unlucky episode when our engines broke down due to leaks in the boiler tubes. Were adrift in the Atlantic for a total of 21 days while we tried to fix the problem.

The following passages from the book Trawlers Go To War by Lund & Ludlum gives reference to this incident. Duncton's 'number one', Lieutenant Arthur Miles remembers:

'A few days out of Walvis Bay, where we were called for repairs to our W/T transmitter, the engines were stopped owing to leaking boiler tubes. Spare tubes were fitted, but more leaks developed. Our transmitter remained out of order so we couldn't wireless for help'...Fortunately the weather was perfect, whales and sharks playing around our silent ship. One evening a sing song on deck came to abrupt ending when the lookout sighted mysterious green flares, and action stations was sounded. Nothing happened but we felt like sitting ducks....Food and water were now rationed, no fresh water at all for washing and everyone grew beards. Somebody joked "Why don't we sail her?" and very soon the idea was taken seriously. The big foredeck awning made a good mainsail, and every bit of canvas aboard, together with some pretty odd bits of bunting, was hoisted up until the ship was festooned with "sails"...There was a steady wind on the beam and the quartermaster steered from an auxiliary wheel aft...'
'Every day our dingy put off on a practice cruise in preparation for sending a volunteer crew hundreds of milesnorth to the Portuguese island of Sao Tome to fetch help. This would have been very much a last resort, and lucky the most they ever did was take snapshots of us - the last sailing man-o-war.'*

Fortunately we made one more attempt to get underway and we were able to make a slow trip back to Lagos.

'It was learnt that next-of-kin cards had already been taken out at the base -- we were back from the dead.'*

* A.Miles ( From 'Trawlers Go To War' by Lund & Ludlam Foulsham 1971)

Life on board HMS Duncton - Also by Vic Feltham (Part 2)

Vic Feltham & Nick Clark
Nick Clark © 2001