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Albert Archer - Seaman Steward
Albert remembers his experiences with minesweeper HMS Cloughton Wyke

I was called up on my 21st. birthday, and with no choice whatsoever, was enlisted into the Patrol Service as a seaman steward. After kitting out at HMS Royal Arthur, I was sent to Plymouth, to complete my training, such as it was. On the conclusion of that, the next move was to the "Sparrows Nest", Lowestoft. There are so many stories written about that "ship" that I need not add to them.

My first draft was to HMS Cloughton Wyke, a fishing trawler newly taken over by the Navy, most of the crew still in civvies, on patrol duties out of Fowey, Cornwall, and shortly to be converted for minesweeping. When this had taken place, we had several months sweeping out of Plymouth, but over Christmas 1941 we were transferred to Yarmouth. Our sweeping duties were north to Grimsby on one day, an overnight stay, and then return the next. During this time we witnessed several cargo ships mined and sunk, but with our sweeps out, were unable to go to their assistance, despite their cries for help, and this was always a sad situation.

During late January1942, on the trip north, a serious incident took place between our youngest crewmember and the Skipper, which we expected would result in a Court Martial. The lad was barely twenty, and his prize possession was his service knife. He spent hour after hour honing it, and was the butt of a lot of leg pulling because of it. To our surprise, on docking, there was no Naval Patrol to meet us. I went ashore ice skating in Grimsby, and on returning, found the Skipper had applied for, and got, an immediate draft from the ship, realising no doubt he had no future with us, and found were under a new captain. He was skipper C.S. Larter, DSC. OBE. RNR. an older man, who refused to go to sea until we were all well trained in our Fire, Action, and Abandon Ship stations, Then, with the rest of the flotilla, we swept back to South Denes, Yarmouth, where our berth was. The next day, February 2nd, 1942 the weather was bad, with low clouds, snow, and we could see from our berth, heavy seas. We had a cat on board, and I had heard tales from peace time fishermen of nets being cut away if the ships cat was washed overboard, and I am sure, had it been fishing we were doing that day, we would not have gone out. Our cat never went ashore apart for the occasional AWOL, the result of the latest being four kittens running around on board. When the shore party let go the first mooring, and we started to drift out, she was sitting on the gunwale, and suddenly jumped ashore, only to be passed back to us. Another mooring was let go, and now with a bigger gap, she again jumped ashore, was chased, caught, and again passed back. Our last mooring went, and we were now drifting out from the quay, when with a mighty leap, she again went ashore at such a speed there was no hope of catching her. The crewmembers that were fishermen must have shuddered. They are very superstitious. I think the rats stayed on board though, with the kittens.

Cloughton Wyke as a fishing trawler before she was converted to a minesweeper The Bomber swoops - This picture was taken by a crewman as his plane carries out an attack on a British Trawler

There were several ships in our flotilla, and after forming up and getting the gear out, we headed north. At about Cromer, we developed a fault, and so had to break ranks and were stationary to carry out repairs. About 9.0 am, we heard a plane circling above the clouds, but did not think too much about it, assuming it to be British. After about five minutes, with a sudden roar, the four engined plane, we later found to be a Focke Wulf Condor, came through the clouds, which were so low the plane seemed on top of us. We could see the tracer shells from its guns hitting the ship broadside, at which stage I ran to the port side, and crouched under the Orapesa float. As it passed over, I saw four bombs dropping, but they exploded clear of us. After going back up above the clouds, and circling again., on its second run, from the same position, dropped another four, and these straddled the boat, one exploding beneath the keel, breaking its back, the stern sinking immediately. My station was in the small boat, which we lowered, and started to jump into it, but the young fellow missed the boat, falling between, and was crushed, We pulled him on board unconscious, then our problem began. We were tied to the fore part of the ship, which was now sinking fast, but there was no one to release us. In panic, we searched our pockets for our knives, and none of us had theirs, and we were faced with the prospect of being pulled down with the boat. Then someone had the bright idea to go through the young lads pockets, and there was his knife. It went through the painter like butter. We pulled away in a very un-seamanlike manner, and it was then I could see three of my shipmates, in heavy winter clothing, struggling to keep afloat in the water, and being carried away on the tide. Two of the other sweepers picked us up, and on the way back to Yarmouth, radio messages between them confirmed four had lost their lives, and some others were injured.

Thoughts that go through ones mind while under attack are very varied. Typical was the fellow in the wheelhouse, who watched his cup disintegrate, confessed his main worry was how soon he would get it replaced. I have since found the names of some of those lost on war memorials, and a thought has remained with me ever since. Had the Court Martial taken place instead of a change of skipper, had the young chap been one of those drowned, or if he had not had his well honed knife with him, I, and several others, may now have been names on memorials. I would like to know what happened to him, and if he got his knife back. I hope so.

© Albert. Archer. & Nick Clark 2004

Sadly since sending in his story, Albert Archer has passed away. It is to his memory and that of all the 'Sparrows' that this web site is dedicated.