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Bill Carr - Stoker
Bill remembers his experiences stationed at Iceland and the north of Scotland with A/S trawler HMS Wistaria

I joined the R.N.P.S in February 1942. Initial training was at Malvern. When this consisted of drawing stones from a mock up boiler, I guessed I was going to be a stoker. I was sent to Lowestoft to St. Lukes, the stoker base. After a period of waiting I had my first draft. I had never seen the seaside before, let alone been to sea, and when my first posting was the old paddle steamer, the Bournemouth Queen, I thought I had arrived at the Mississippi!

This was a relatively quite period. I was soon back at St. Lukes. My second draft was to the Asdic trawler Wistaria at Sheerness. The ship was undergoing a refit, being made ready for parts unknown. However when the refit included thick lagging on all the pipes, we guessed it wasn't the Med! .

When ready for sea Wistaria was equipped with Asdic, depth charges port and starboard and fully armed. We set off heading north. During the night off the Scottish coast near Edinburgh, there was almighty crash, which caused a gaping hole on the starboard side and water started pouring in to the boiler room. Another ship in the convoy had rammed Wisteria. I went down and drew the fires before the water reached them and sheets were placed over the side, but in a very short time the boiler room was filling up and the ship was low in the water. Two tugs came alongside and with their help we made it to Burnt Island by which time the boiler room was full of water and the engine room bulkhead bowed under the pressure. Whilst repairs were made we had the chance to see the sights of Edinburgh. .

The Bournmouth Queen - Built 1908 as a excursion steamer for trips around the South Coast. Paddle Steamer Bournemouth Queen had an operating speed of 15 knots and like so many of her contemporaries she served as a minesweeper in the First World War. She also saw service in the Second World War, after which she was heavily rebuilt, although she remained a coal burning steamer until the end.

This picture was taken of her at Ryde pier on 25 August 1957.

When ready we set again and I can honestly say that my experience of passing through the Pentland Firth was the worst weather I ever encountered. We knew by this time we going to Iceland. It was a rough journey and on arrival at Reykjavik everything that had been fastened to the deck was unfastened and most of it wrecked. The Allies against the wishes of the natives had occupied Iceland and there was a non-fraternisation policy, Recreation ashore consisted of beer (two bottles only) at the American base, a café or the Cinema. One night a mate and myself found ourselves in a café late at night, when all hell broke loose. I only have a vague recollection of what happened, but we both finished up in the local nick and later in front of the skipper.

We went out from Reykjavik to the Greenland sea and the Artic on patrol during which time most of the depth charges were ejected due to Asdic warnings. On one occasion we were trapped for three days in a field of ice floes and ran short of food. We made it down a fiord to a small village and obtained some supplies. Back in Reykjavik I was taken ill and put ashore. When I was O.K again I was unable to go back to Wisteria as she was out on patrol again so I was put on to a drifter ' Fairhaven. which the skipper managed to damage coming back to Port. Fairhaven was repaired by the Icelanders and we were then ordered to return to the U.K. The Icelanders must not have made a very good job because when we were near the Westman Islands the boat started sinking, water was coming in faster than it could be got out and it was plain Fairhaven was going down. . A whaler in the convoy came along side and we had to jump from one boat to the other, no easy feat in a rough sea as the whaler couldn't come to close with both ships rolling. We all made it and even saved the rum ration! We were dropped off by the whaler at Kirkwall in the Orkney Islands and from there to Cape Wrath and then a two day journey back to Lowestoft by train from where I went on two weeks survivors leave.

Back in Lowestoft I sat a leading stoker exam. It was now January 1945 and it was obvious that the war was coming to an end before long, and administrative staff would be needed. When requests were made for people to sit for an exam to R.P.O, I did so, passed and spent the rest of my service in the drafting office at the Nest. being demobbed in July 1946.

HMT Wistaria

HMT Wistaria - Built at Southbank-on-Tees by Smith's Dock, launched 1939 and completed as a minesweeper. Joined the 11th A/S Strike Group at HMS Bacchante, Aberdeen and in 1940 was sent with other ships to assist with the Norwegian Campaign.

This picture taken by Chris Chapman 1940.

© William Carr. & Nick Clark 2006