At the start of the war I was working on sailing barges, I had been on the coasters before and I’d been working on the water since I was 15 years old. We were going to work in a shipyard but I’d worked in a shipyard before and didn’t like it, and it was all tidework, an hour later everyday. So I threw it in and got a job at Marsham Forestry Commission in Norfolk. After a few weeks I came back to Ipswich to Barrack Corner and joined the Navy. The marine there said I was too young to join the navy as they were calling the 26’s up and it was going to be a long while before I was 26. As I was walking out I said I’d been working on the water for some time, and he said we’re looking for people like you for the Royal Navy Patrol service, based at HMS Europa in Lowestoft. I passed my medical and a week or so later I got a telegram telling me to report to HMS Europa and to take my ration cards and gas mask. I went to HMS Europa and fiddled about there for a week or so. I was supposed to go to Ardrossen in Scotland and I met a chap who was from there and he was supposed to report to Harwich. We spoke to our drafting officer and he agreed to swap us over. I was aboard a ship called HMS Neil McKey. When I got off the train I walked along Parkstone Quay looking for a lovely ship and I came across this ship painted black, green and red. It had a black funnel with 2 white rings around it. I thought that can’t be a navy ship but it had just been commissioned and was soon painted in the Navy colour grey. It was a submarine chaser and she had a big dome underneath her to detect anything under the water. You were allocated to different guns; I went to the point 5 machine gun. If a submarine was detected the alarm would be raised and I’d go on the 4.7 gun. The ship’s role was to go out and meet the convoy which was heading north. Sometimes we’d go up as far as Scarborough, sometimes we’d be out 3 days and nights. Between 10pm and 3am the German planes were coming over all the time, concentrating on the centre of the convoy where the oil tankers were. If we on guard duty they’d send us to guard a channel between 2 minefields, off Aldeburgh. We’d be met by 2 MTB’s and we’d drop anchor while they tied themselves on to the back of us. We’d put a star shell up the 4.7 and if we detected any surface action we’d fire the star shell and they’d let go and see if anyone was there.
On May the 5th 1941 at 10.30pm we were at the place we usually dropped anchor and we headed down the galley for a cup of cocoa and some toast. My bunk was more or less right up to the bulkhead. You never took your clothes off when you were on convoy and you never took your lifebelt off. But I took my lifebelt off, it was a big cork one and I settled on my bunk to drink my cocoa. It’s hard to say what happened but the whole ship seemed to go topsy turvey. We were only a small trawler. A bomb came through the port side, it was an aerial torpedo. We were holed 2 to 3 foot below the water line. Everyone was jumping out of their bunks when we were hit by another bomb. It was aft side of the bridge; it cut the galley floats and exploded near the lifeboat blowing it to smithereens. I was one of the last out, along with the sparky (the telegrapher). I wouldn’t leave without my little dog, Dot. She wasn’t really my dog, she was aboard the ship when I arrived. I got her out. We didn’t know if we were sinking or not and it was deadly quiet. We hadn’t got a lifeboat, I hadn’t got my lifebelt on. We didn’t know what was going to happen when 2 trawlers appeared and the skipper shouted over to them with a megaphone. They came along side and helped pump the water out, and helped us towards Harwich. We were sent home on survivors leave for 5 or 6 days. In those days you’d be doing your job when they’d suddenly say you’re going back to HMS Europa. My next ship was from Sunderland, called HMS Filla. She was built as an admiralty trawler, she was like a Corvette. We were named after Scottish islands. We were “oropesa” sweepers … we put out a big oropesa float, which looked a bit like a torpedo, with a big wire, and underneath there a kite and cutters. You’d go ahead of the convoy, all 4 of you, and you’d cut the mines up and fire at them and explode them before the convoy came along. We worked up on Scappa Flow, down at Portsmouth, and with the convoys in the North Sea..