After five years at grammar school the headmaster
announced that, in view of the war economy, it was a waste of time and money
my taking the school certificate and it was suggested that I leave. His
final report to my parents proclaimed, 'This boy is academically
undistinguished, has a lot of latent energy and has three good subjects -
rugby, tennis and swimming.' This report obviously helped me in my new
career at the Admiralty where I was employed for two years as a grade
3 temporary clerk.
I joined the Home Guard which was very much as depicted
in the 'Dad's Army' TV series. I achieved the exalted rank of lance
corporal. For those not familiar with this comedy series, it depicts a small
local Home Guard unit under the command of an inept, bungling and rather
pompous bank manager. The unit is ill equipped in terms of arms, equipment,
training and leadership, and not surprisingly finds itself in all manner of
problems and self inflicted embarrassing situations.
During these two years I tried to join the Navy but was
turned down because of my age. However, with the benefit of a grammar school
education, I was offered the opportunity to enter as a `V scheme rating.' I
never really understood what it was but I managed to fail the entrance exam
in maths and probably in all other subjects as well! I also joined the Bath
Saracens Rugby Club and I well remember my first game against the
Welsh Guards then stationed outside of Bath. Despite my 6 foot, 14 stone
physique, I was hammered into the ground!
The great day came on 12/8/42 when, aged 18, I
joined the Navy. I reported to H.M.S. Raleigh at Torpoint in Cornwall
and joined 10 mess, Forecastle Division. There were about 20
of us in the charge of Chief Petty Officer Bungy Williams. He had been
recalled at the beginning of the war after a long retirement and seemed very
elderly to us youngsters.
Having settled in I immediately wanted to go home to
Mother, but they wouldn't let me! A fair percentage of
the mess were 'ex-borstal' but they were a good bunch of lads from whom I learnt
about coping with the rigours of life. My first setback came when the Navy
had no uniform to fit me so they kitted me out with overalls making me
instantly suitable for unskilled manual work. My first job was to flush out the `heads'
(loos) by lifting up manhole covers and flushing them out with a high
hose. Looking back the outcome was predicable but when my assistant turned on the fire hose full blast I
was plastered from head to foot in the proverbial! I decided there and then
that I didn't like the Navy but thought the authorities should have the
opportunity of turning me into a sailor.
The camp cinema projector
broke down and each division
was ordered to put on a concert party. Volunteers were invited to come
forward and I committed the heinous sin of
responding. However, it resulted in an interesting if not lucrative sideline
since I joined a concert party travelling around the various camps to
entertain the occupants. The shows
were reasonably well attended as we were playing to a captive audience!
One of my jobs was to play the piano which, although I say it myself, I did
quite well. As a result of this experience H.M.S. Raleigh ordered me to run the Forecastle
Division's efforts and to act as compare. We were judged the best and won a
prize of an extra day’s shore leave. The prize was very welcome but, with an
income of half a crown (12.5p) per day, we had no money to spend!
Life went on unrelentingly and I spent some time
running around the parade ground carrying a shell above my
head. (For the uninformed this was a common form
of punishment). This extra exercise kept me fit and when Forecastle Division
rugby training I immediately volunteered... again. On one occasion I
refereed a match between Keyham College, a training depot for naval
engineers, and the Army. It was my very first attempt at refereeing a game
and, when the game was over, I was booed off the field. The outcome of all this was
that at the tender age of 18 I was selected to play for H.M.S. Raleigh out of over 4,000
sailors. This was quite an honour but sadly it carried no privileges but, if
I was injured, I might be invalided out and go home to mother!
I finished up playing second row forward with the
Training Commander who was an awesome high-ranking figure. However, out of
uniform and wearing his rugby kit he was just another human!
In October 1942 he informed me
that I was being put forward for a commission. Somewhat taken aback, I said
'but I failed all my entrance exams.' He explained that a new type of Commissioned Officer
was required oriented towards Combined Operations
and the Commandos. I didn't understand why, with my poor educational
qualifications and limited sea experience, I was thought suitable for a
commission. It transpired that the Navy needed large numbers of officers very quickly for a
specific purpose and, after a week’s leave at home and an eighteen-hour
train journey from Plymouth to H.M.S. Lochailort, forty miles north of Fort William,
I found myself in an entirely different world. I was to spend six weeks of hell
up there trying to become, concurrently, both a commando and a gentleman.
The latter was the difficult part!
The officer training was one of the most traumatic, but
beneficial, of my naval career... indeed of my whole life. It improved
my attitude and outlook for the better. The course was of necessity very
tough bordering on the sadistic... of thirty-six candidates who started only sixteen passed.
physique and sheer stubbornness helped me through the physical challenges. On
the 23/12/42 I walked into
Moss Bros. in London as a matelot and came out as a
Midshipman R.N.V.R. I was proud of my achievement and
subconsciously realised that I wasn't a complete moron after all. However, I always
knew that appointments like mine where to meet a particular contingency of
war and that as such we were expendable... we were a kind of commissioned cannon fodder.
(Photo; Austin in tropical kit).
I strutted my newly acquired stuff in Bath during my Xmas
leave and was happy to assure my family and friends that they were now safe
in my hands! I met a teacher from my old school who, in some disbelief, looked me up and
down and said `Prosser, we must be short of manpower.' However, I was
admitted to that holiest of inner sanctums, the master's common room, where I listened to an
impressive list of felonies I had committed over the five years I was at the school.
With some relish I was informed that I had broken the school record for Saturday morning
detentions. It was all good natured banter and I was congratulated on my
achievements and taken to meet the headmaster
who assured me that he always thought I would go a
long way... but he failed to say in which direction!
HMS Helder, a Butlin’s
holiday camp at Brightlingsea in Essex, was my next port of call. It had been
requisitioned by the Navy and we did our best to turn it back to its
original use but without success. We were called 'Officers under Training'
and had to wear reefer jackets, a white silk scarf in place of a collar and
tie, grey flannels, black boots and long brown army gaiters. We were marched
around, in fact, doubled around, by a petty officer who had a
disparaging way of saying `Sir'. It was an uncomfortable period since
we did not fit into the culture, traditions and habits of the officer class. We
stood out like sore thumbs and had to take a lot of stick.
At HMS Helder we underwent further toughening up
training and instruction on the handling of various types of assault craft
and some military vehicles. Not surprisingly while we honed our skills we
found ourselves involved in many collisions at sea, groundings and getting
stuck on the mud. It was during this period that a profound
boats emerged... an interest that has stayed with me all my life. The urge to go home
to mother dropped off but she was always there when I was broke; a frequent
occurrence as my pay as a Midshipman was ten pounds a month.
The Admiralty were not renowned for their generous
leave or recovery periods and on completion of the course I was sent to Bracklesham
Bay in Sussex for more training, this time to practise beach landings on
Hayling Island. I recall a scare that the Germans had landed a party in the
area from a submarine. The duty officer sent me out with a patrol ...
fortunately for the Germans and me it was a false alarm.
In March 1943 at the age of eighteen and a half I joined
an assault flotilla from HMS Roseneath on the Clyde. My assessment
was that I was lacking in both training and experience for active service
but the authorities wouldn't listen. Contention and conflict with my seniors
was by now a normal part of my life and continued to be the case in the months and years ahead.
The base Commander appointed me Officer of the Guard
which carried a number of welcome perks with it not the least of which was a Buick car as my
personal transport. The Roseneath base had been loaned to the Americans and
on its transfer back to the RN they left their transport behind. The job
required me to visit the nearby town of Helensburgh to supervise shore
patrols which often allowed me to excuse myself from mess dinners with all
their pomp and ceremony. In addition I
earned the odd pint in local pubs by transporting my fellow junior officers on shore leave.
Sadly these good times came to a sudden halt when I turned a Jeep over
carrying 18 junior officers after a very late night party in the junior
officers’ wardroom. I was brought up before the Commander next morning and
threatened with all kinds of nasties including my first threat of a
Before we left Roseneath Admiral Vian and Admiral Lord
Louis Mountbatten, who was the Chief of the Combined Operations Command, inspected
us. As was normal for the times we had no idea where we were going. The only
clue was our purchase of tropical white gear and the issue of khaki shorts,
shirts, hose tops, boots and khaki cap tops in lieu of our white ones... plus
webbing equipment and a Smith and Wesson revolver. I didn't think much of
these developments but, I needn't have bothered, since a few days later I was in Newport, South Wales to join a Dutch liberty ship.
The liberty ship had been refitted
to become a 'Landing Ship Infantry' by turning her holds into barracks to
carry troops and altering her upper decks to carry assault craft. The set-up
was not very
comfortable but better than nothing as I was to learn over the next few
months. I had no ambitions to be a soldier but I found myself undergoing
extensive small arms and demolition training, on completion of which I returned
to the Dutch merchant ship Franz Van Meiris, also known as the Empire Eisult (I think). We were still in the
dark as to our destination and the reason for our small arms training.
We were integrated with the ship’s company and for the
first time I began to feel like a real sailor. The crew gave me every
encouragement and help to make good my shortcomings for which I was
eternally grateful. After working up we moved to Liverpool, then into the
Clyde, where we joined up with a task force. We then embarked Canadian
troops and prepared to sail with our destination confirmed as the
Mediterranean. Our convoy travelling at 7 knots headed due west into the
Atlantic then south and finally east into the
Mediterranean - the direct route via the Bay of Biscay was not an option
because of enemy submarine activity. Despite the circuitous route we were attacked on a number of occasions, losing
After what was a hectic passage we arrived off Cape Passero
in Sicily in September 1943 where we were due to disembark our cargo of men,
materials and vehicles. The troops we carried were amongst the first
invasion size force to land in Europe since the
evacuation at Dunkirk in the early summer of 1940.
Having completed the landing we stayed on the beach for two weeks carrying
out recovery work. An interesting interlude arose when I picked up Lord Louis
Mountbatten, two Italian Admirals and an Italian General. I took them out
to a destroyer but sadly I didn't get any autographs. The press filmed the
event and although I never saw the film it will no doubt still be lying
around in a forgotten archive somewhere.
Most of us caught dysentery and others dengue
fever. We were shipped back to Bizerta in Tunisia by which time some of us
ill. After my recovery I was despatched to a tented camp in Djijeli, a small
town on the coast. This was no holiday camp with cemeteries on two sides, an
Arab slaughterhouse on a third and the sea on the fourth side. All the waste
from these various institutions discharged onto the beach including the odd
animal carcass Swimming or bathing were the preserve of the brave and
My next appointment was the
watch-keeping officer on Landing Craft Flack (L.C.F) 9 moored at Bougie.
It was in essence a landing craft tank (LCT) fitted out with numerous anti-aircraft guns, which were manned by a detachment of Royal Marines. After
the accommodation I had experienced over the previous months, living aboard
this ship was bliss. I was still a midshipman as I couldn't become a
sub-lieutenant until I was nineteen and a half in February 1944.
I well remember being duty officer on board, all the
others being ashore. I was feeling very nostalgic listening to Vera Lynn singing about Dover and other
evocative places. Once more I wanted to go home to mother but my dreams were
shattered when a Royal Marine knocked on the wardroom door, the upshot of
which was my transfer to major landing craft. We steamed up and down the
Mediterranean to keep the Germans on their toes until we were recalled to
the U.K. This was a bit of a surprise since the speculation was that we were
bound for the Greek theatre of war. At Gibraltar I transferred to an
infantry landing craft bound for the U.K. T with a complement of three officers,
including myself, plus crew. The ship had seen a lot of active service
including the Salerno and Anzio landings and was in dire need of a refit.
The officers we replaced were suffering from DTs and were taken off the ship
in Gibraltar for medical attention.
We left in convoy heading for Milford Haven but, much as
expected, we broke down and lagged behind the convoy. From the relative
safety of our position about twenty miles east of the convoy we watched it
being attacked by German submarines and surface craft. Later a frigate checked
our position and advised us to steam independently for Milford Haven. We arrived
there safely after what seemed to be an eternity with a pint or two of
English beer high on the our priority list! By various routes we travelled to Grimsby where we
'paid off' and went on two
Landing Craft Training
It was nice to see family and friends although most of my
school friends were away in the services. However, I was pleased to receive
orders to report to the Marine Hotel in Troon, Scotland, famous for its
international golfing centre. We were made honorary members of the golf club
and used the bunkers for anything but golf. I was once again an Officer
under Training but this time involved in the handling of
major landing craft and learning astral and terrestrial navigation. I was already reasonably proficient
at the latter having done a
fair mileage at sea on major landing craft as a watch-keeping officer.
We were very much a mixed bunch of trainees - some like me had just returned
from the Mediterranean theatre of war and the rest had just completed an
officers’ training course. The difference between the two groups was obvious
from a distance because their uniforms were immaculate while ours were
showing the signs of wear and tear.
After our first parade the Training Commander in charge
insisted that all officers should have a grommet in their cap. A grommet is a circular piece of wire that keeps the crown of the cap in shape and uptight.
It was an unofficial status symbol to remove the grommets from our caps and let them
flop down. R.A.F pilots
and the submariners had a similar symbol by leaving the top buttons of their pockets undone.
We did not therefore greet this order with enthusiasm but we had no choice
but to comply. There were no naval outfitters nearby so grommets quickly
acquired the status of a 'must have' item. As the situation became
increasingly desperate, all newly commissioned officers had to guard their caps with
their lives but the Commander obviously thought his cap was inviolate. He
left it unguarded on
the hallstand in the Officers so I whipped the grommet out of his cap and slunk
away. Next morning on parade I appeared with the others looking very smug in
my regulation cap. The commander was at the head of the parade with a
rather collapsed cap. There was an enquiry with a threat to cancel all shore
leave if the culprit didn't own up. I was once more hauled up before the
Commander and threatened with lots of horrible things but eventually I was
congratulated on my initiative!
After completing the course and some leave I proceeded to Glasgow as First Lieutenant to HM Landing
Craft Tank 1171. On arrival at Bowling shipyard just outside of Glasgow I
asked the dockyard police where H.M.L.C.T.1171 was. He pointed to a large pile of
metal on the jetty and said, 'there it is'. After the bits and pieces were assembled we became a ship
and eventually a ship's company under the command of Sub Lt Ronnie
Parks. We set off from Glasgow to carry out our 'training up' programme on the
west coast of
Scotland. On the first night we anchored in Lamlash Bay off the Isle of
Arran alongside the WWI monitor H.M.S. Erebus with her massive 16
inch guns. She was a colossus alongside our ship which was a mere 230 feet
in length. With the differences between the two vessels fresh in our minds we may have thought of our ship in less flattering
terms... such as a flat-bottomed b@!#*$d!
Training, as much as we were able to do in the time, went
ahead fairly well. Fortunately most of our crew had been on landing craft
before so were all fairly experienced. We finished up at Oban, further
north on the west coast of Scotland, but not knowing where we were going or
what we would be doing. Here we carried out more training and prepared the
ship for whatever the planners had in store for us. We were always on the
lookout for clues and rumours were whizzing around by now... from the amount
of hardware in the area it was certain something big was about to happen.
We received orders to sail
for Plymouth and the night before we left Oban we had a pretty hectic party
in the Officers’ club with a load of RAF types. The following morning I
presented myself before the base commander under threat of a court martial
for 'un-officer' conduct but once again he let me off! I suspect he knew what future plans the Navy had for me and
he considered that would be punishment
We had an extremely rough trip to Plymouth during which
time we discovered what a battering our ship could take. Some ships had faired less well and others had been lost. In Plymouth we learnt
that we were to be attached to the American forces. A near mutiny was
threatened when American senior officers visited our ship to explain the
implications of our attachment to their Navy. There must have been many
important operational matters discussed but amongst it all was a ban on
alcohol to bring us into line with the US Navy 'dry ships' policy. This
immediately captured our attention and there was uproar! After a lot of
discussion, and a few diplomatic moves to keep the peace among the Allies, it
was decided that nothing should change. In the event it was a popular
outcome for everyone since the Americans spent a fair amount onboard helping
us deplete our stocks of drinks in case, as was expected, we would be on a
More training and routine maintenance on board followed
and we had some large folding extensions
fitted to our bow door to make it easier to unload vehicles on the beaches. Then the time came for our flotilla, the 57th (otherwise
known as the 57 'Heinz') to take on board our cargo at St Johns on the
south (Cornish) side of the Tamar River. We loaded six Sherman tanks, six
half-track ammunition lorries, two half-track ambulances and all their
crews. Our ship was now rather overcrowded.
At this late stage we finally found out where we were
going and what was expected of us - we had to deliver our precious cargo
onto a beach codenamed Omaha in Normandy... a name that meant nothing
at the time but has since been etched into the collective memory of
subsequent generations. We received visits from the base staff to wish us
'bon voyage' (I expect with tongue in cheek!) and the ship was sealed. For
security reasons we
were not allowed any further communication with shore.
We eventually sailed in convoy for France. We hit some
foul weather and the soldiers didn't look at all interested in the War.
Because of the bad weather the landings were postponed, the convoy returned to Cawsands Bay in Plymouth Sound
where we anchored to await further
instructions. Gunboats surrounded us to stop any communications with the
shore and it was here that the first tragedy of the invasion occurred.
Because we thought ourselves to be on a 'one-way' ship we had consumed all
the alcoholic drinks on board the night before we sailed and there was
nothing left!! This bad situation was soon remedied with the retrieval of a
jar of neat alcohol from an American ambulance conveniently parked in our
hold. The Americans topped it up with pure fruit juice and called it
"invasion broth"; it tasted absolutely revolting but it certainly helped
them out of their depression.
The next day we set off on
our interrupted journey in much improved weather with other ships from Dartmouth and Torbay.
Portland Bill the convoy hove to to let the American Battle
fleet pass. It was an amazing and impressive spectacle to see so many great ships
together. We arrived at St
Catherine's lighthouse on the south side of the Isle of Wight where there was a
marker buoy showing the entrance to the 'swept channel' to the beaches (a channel swept of mines).
It was dark and there were no steaming lights so the threat of collision was
ever present. All the while many hundreds of aircraft
were flying overhead and although my contribution was small I felt a strong
sense of responsibility to do my duty. By the time we arrived at Omaha Beach we were acclimatised to
all the noise and activity. It must have been a daunting prospect for those
who had not seen action before.
We arrived off Omaha beach on time at D+2 0800 hrs. It was absolute chaos!! The events on Omaha
Beach on D Day were as bad as widely recorded, although little has been said
about the involvement of the British in the initial assault. Our flotilla of Landing Craft Tanks unloaded its cargo and was ordered to lay off the
beach and stand by for possible evacuation as the Allied forces were meeting
very stiff opposition.
The flotilla was carrying anti-aircraft barrage balloons so we formed a
balloon protection around the ships. The following day we sailed back to Portland
to uplift our next cargo.... a journey that cost us three ships lost to
We loaded more American tanks and
their crews and headed back to Omaha Beach. In all we completed 18
trips every one of which was different from the others and worthy of
recording. One such saw us heading back to Portland in a westerly gale and
in company with other ships. A few miles off the Dorset coast the wind and
tide were against us and the sea was increasingly menacing. We were
travelling light and the flat bottomed landing craft, which in the best of
conditions was difficult to control, bounced about making ship handling even
more of a problem. We hit a big wave which caused the bows of the ship to crash
down and the shock sheared off the clips holding up our bow doors. The
doors, which weighed ten tons, folded down right under the ship but,
fortunately the watertight doors inside the tank deck held and kept us
afloat. However, the extra drag reduced our
speed from ten knots to about two knots with both main engines going flat
out. It took us eighteen hours to
reach Portland dockyard eighteen miles away. The other ships had gone on
ahead as they were desperately needed to get more tanks back to France. When
we eventually arrived in harbour we went alongside a dockyard crane. A diver hooked
a cable on to the door, the crane raised the
door to its normal position and the offending clips were repaired. We loaded with tanks and
were off again with hardly any rest.
In October we had delivered a load of supply wagons to
the Omaha beach. We were travelling independently by then and we left the
beach about 1600hrs and headed north towards the Isle of Wight. Although the
weather at the time was fair we had no idea of what was in store and by the
time we got off St Catherine’s light we found ourselves in a force ten gale.
It was Friday October 13th 1944 and once again the ship was travelling light
and we were being thrown all over the place. It was one of the worst seas I
We were alone and heading towards Portland at reduced
speed. The bows reared up, crashed down on a very steep wave and with a
mighty crash the ship broke her back The situation we found ourselves in was
pretty desperate since we had no means to call for help and no power from our main engines.
The crew was marvellous and stayed very calm as we all strove to keep the ship afloat.
Our position was dire. It was pitch black in torrential rain and with the wind getting stronger
by the minute. The situation deteriorated further when the two still
connected parts of the ship ground against each other. Showers of sparks
flew from the hull lightening the sky like a firework display. The flashes were seen by another L.C.T and a frigate.
They came back to assist but because of the high seas could not get near.
The ship broke in half at midnight and, as the bow
section of 100 feet floated away it was sunk by gunfire because it was a
hazard to other shipping. We were left on the stern which was taking a
battering from the seas and by then we had no light as the generators had packed
up. Eventually the commander of the other L.C.T. in our
flotilla (regretfully I forget its number), managed to manoeuvre his ship
alongside and despite the tremendous waves managed to take off all the crew
except the Skipper Ronnie Parks and myself. We stayed aboard to carry out
the abandon ship routine.
The assisting L.C.T. was commanded by Lieutenant Nash who
was a professional fishing skipper from Grimsby. The tremendous seamanship
skills of skipper Nash certainly saved all our lives and his skills didn't
stop there. After a struggle we secured a tow and proceeded stern
first towards Southampton. Unfortunately the tow parted and, as we were not
able to rig up another one, we sank at 0200 hours. Ronnie Parks and I
went over the side, in my case clutching a jar of navy rum (more inside me
than out). Skipper Nash picked us out of the water and took us home. It was
farewell to a good ship that had carried out the job for which she was designed and under very rigorous conditions. She lies
on the bottom about 18 miles SW of the Isle of Wight.
I travelled to Portland by sea to make
arrangements for survivor’s leave. For the third time in my short adult life I
found myself with no kit or possessions. I had lost everything when we were
bombed out of our Bath home during the blitz in 1942, again during the
Sicily landings and finally when LCT 1171 went down. As I had no home, everything
I owned was with me. All I had was my seagoing kit which comprised a blue battledress and not much else.
At Portland I booked into the officers’ mess and enjoyed
the luxury of a hot bath, clean underclothes and shirt but no uniform -
there were none!. Next day I travelled first class with some W.R.N.S. officers and a Canadian officer who was wearing a kilt.
It was impossible not to notice that this Canadian followed the tradition of
wearing nothing under his kilt! There were some comments about my
scruffy appearance, but after I poured out a rather plaintive story of my
recent activities, there was a fair bit of backslapping and the sharing
of hip flasks.
When I arrived home I was told that my cousin Dennis, an
officer in the Paras, had been hit by a bullet through his neck on the same
day that I lost my ship. The poor old chap was in an awful mess, at death’s
door in hospital in Birmingham but lucky to be alive. To this day he has a scar
on each side of his head.
I was now home on indefinite leave to get myself
reorganised in readiness for my next posting whatever that might be. This
involved kitting myself out in new uniforms and clothing generally. The
'Officer Uniform Replacement Depot' was a great help. They
kitted me out with second hand uniforms mainly donated by the families of
dead naval officers. The only ones that would fit me belonged to a rear
admiral. The gold rings were removed from the sleeves and the rows of medal
ribbons from the chest to be replaced by my one ring and
three medals. However, the old marks showed up well and I walked around like a
After a few weeks leave I wanted to get back to sea and sent the Admiralty in London
a telegram requesting appointment instructions. I had a very quick but terse reply telling me to report to Admiralty London with kit
which I did with slight trepidation. On arrival in Admiralty the Combined Operations appointment officer promptly
informed me that I was in serious trouble and had to report to the duty
officer immediately. He turned out to be a four-ringed captain who
remonstrated with me. Apparently it was unprecedented in the
history of the Admiralty for a naval reserve sub-lieutenant to send a
telegram to Admiralty requesting appointment instructions. After a lengthy
berating I was dismissed but, as I was about to leave the room, he called
me back and congratulated me for my enthusiasm and initiative.
HM LCH 75
a Combined Operations holding base at Southend,
was my next port of call. After several idle
but pleasant weeks my orders were to report to Chatham to take over U.S.LCI 75
(Landing Craft Infantry) from the Americans whilst she was converted to an RN headquarters ship, H.M.LCH 75. Thus started the next part of
my involvement in the War and all because of my telegram to the Admiralty.
The conversion took a couple of months during which time I was billeted in
Chatham Barracks. It was not exactly the ideal place for an active
young naval officer whose regard for naval tradition and etiquette fell
somewhat below the expectations of higher authority. Many incidents and misdemeanours of a social
nature occurred which caused the eyebrows of many a senior officer to elevate
skywards. In this regard I may have been regarded as somewhat of a loose
A new crew
was appointed under a senior Lieutenant as Captain and a
senior Sub Lieutenant as First Lieutenant. I had become rather fond of
the ship and asked to stay on as ship's company. I was appointed Gunnery Officer and Watch Keeping Officer...
they obviously didn't know what I knew about my gunnery skills!
Familiarisation and sea trials off Sheerness passed very
smoothly because most of the crew of 36 had a fair amount of sea
time to their credit. We expected
to spend the next year or so together so a good start was important. It was
during this time that we learnt that we would be going out to the Far East.
As this was going to be our home for the next eighteen months, with a many
thousands of sea miles ahead, we were fortunate that the ship was reasonably
After a spell at sea 'working up' we were ordered to
join a convoy at Southend bound for Plymouth. During sea trials we had
discovered that H.M.L.C.H.75 was a pretty lively ship in heavy weather. This
didn't worry me unduly as heavy weather seemed to be my constant companion.
True to form we hit a force ten
gale going through the English Channel which really tested the ship.
However, she came through with flying colours. We arrived off Plymouth at night
in filthy weather and followed an American Landing ship into the harbour. It ran onto the breakwater and started to break up. She was at least
2000 tons and we were simply not big enough to do anything to help. We
radioed for help and a tug came out to sort out the situation. The rest of
our time in Plymouth was spent in preparations for the long journey to Japan.
(Photo; Ship's company).
We moved onto Falmouth to meet up with 28 Landing
Craft Tank which we were to lead to Cochin in India. There was a lot of activity
'storing' the ship and generally getting ready including a trip up to Liverpool to meet our escorts and
to discuss convoy tactics. We embarked the convoy senior officer in
Liverpool, returned to Falmouth and prepared for sea. After a few last
minute rushes and a number of very tearful farewells to W.R.N.S. boat crews,
we set off on our next adventure courtesy of HM Government.
to the Far East
We formed the convoy in Falmouth Bay and headed south on
the direct route to Gibraltar via the Bay of Biscay as it was now considered to
be free of enemy submarines. Sadly the Bay was in one of its more contentious
moods and at least 14 of the ships received severe damage that rendered them unfit
for further progress and the whole convoy
was ordered back to Falmouth for repairs. It was a painfully slow trip so
the approaches to Falmouth were a very welcome sight.
After about two weeks we once again set sail for
Gibraltar at a steady convoy speed of seven knots, the maximum speed of
seven motor fishing vessels that had joined the convoy. After a fairly
uneventful couple of weeks we arrived in Gibraltar, reasonably unscathed,
where the crews were given a much-needed two week break. The landing craft
were designed to be lived on for a few days at time not three weeks or more
so normal comforts were impossible to provide. As a result we all received
an extra hard living allowance in our pay and we certainly deserved it.
The next port of call on the journey eastward was Malta
followed by Port Said in Egypt. Along the way there were many incidents and
accidents one of which concerned a seaman who fell down a hatchway and
broke a load of ribs. On medical advice the seaman was taken to Tobruk
for treatment which resulted in us leaving the convoy to sail off alone. On
our eventual arrival in Port Said we discovered that our convoy had sailed on to
H.M.S. Saunders, the landing craft base on the Bitter lakes on the
Suez Canal. All things considered the top brass decided to dry dock our
vessel to have her 'bottom
scraped' before we sailed on to India. This was in the first week in August 1945
and my two fellow officers took advantage of the lull in activity to take a spot of leave.
It fell to me to organise everything and on August 3rd,
my 21st Birthday, I was kept busy moving the ship around. That
night we had a splendid party on board when much liquor was consumed.
End of WW2
The Atomic bomb was dropped on Japan
on August 12th 1945 and our war came to an abrupt halt. In an instant
we had become superfluous. In the event we spent two months in
Port Said awaiting further instructions. The time was filled in with leave
and a trip to Ismaillia. After being confined on a small
ship for a fair amount of time this interlude was absolute bliss. However there was a need to
keep the crew occupied and to maintain the crew's operational effectiveness.
This was achieved with short trips to places like Alexandria where the crew
easily integrated into the local social life.
Long Way Home
As the picture in the far east became clearer we received
orders to proceed to the Pacific Islands to assist with relief work. We were
then routed through the Suez canal and the Red Sea arriving in Aden just
before Christmas 1945 where we were once more dry docked for another
scraping of the hull to remove barnacles. A good number of social
events later and we were on our way across the Indian Ocean to Cochin,
our original port of destination. However a signal from Admiralty London was
received ordering us to return to Norfolk Naval Base in the USA to 'Pay
Off'... in plain language to give the ship back to the Americans.
After the receipt of the signal from the Admiralty there
was terrific excitement. Many of the crew were due for demobilisation and
could see civvy life in the offing. We about-turned and set off for Aden but our engines,
which were getting a bit tired by now, started playing up. We stopped off at
of Socotra on the north east point of Africa to effect repairs.
This we did and in a few days we were heading off again
towards Aden to rest the crew and then up the Red Sea and Suez Canal to Kabret.
Our skipper was due for demob, so we embarked a new skipper, had a rest and
then sailed on to Port Said where we remained for a month. While we waited
for replacement crew to arrive from the UK we socialised with many old
friends. It was in Aden that I sent the 'ship's' 1945 Christmas card to my
parents back home (click to enlarge).
By this time the ship had been my house and home for
about 15 months. At Alexandria we were due to pick up civilian personnel to take on to Malta.
However, the Arabs were in revolt and the
civilians were not ready to leave. We offered our services to help quell the
revolt but were told that we were not required. There was a similar response
when we tried to get involved in some lucrative post-war rackets
which involved carrying stores back to Greece and selling them off cheap.
When we sailed to Malta we were due to spend a
few months decommissioning the ship. Sub. Lieutenant Osborne and I were
both due for demob. He decided to go and I decided to stay with the ship
until we arrived in America. I took on the duties as First Lieutenant and we
acquired a young inexperienced officer to take on my old duties. We removed all the English equipment,
undertook more training where it was required and generally prepared the
ship for handover. There were many sad farewells to the local ladies and I expect
many unfulfilled promises to follow. We sailed for Gibraltar where we
awaited the arrival of ex-lease-lend landing craft also bound for Norfolk
Naval Yard in Virginia.
It was a number of weeks before we were able to form a
convoy and this could have been a frustrating and boring time had it not
been for Army and Air Force personnel
ashore and a few liaisons with the Queen Ann’s Royal Nursing Sisters, a body
of young ladies more than worthy of our attentions! In fact our farewell
party was held in their mess and I remember well that a
goodly supply of ’Vat 69‘ whisky was consumed.
We were routed to Ponta
Delgada on the island of St Miguel in the Azores. We arrived there without
mishap and in fairly good weather, but our main engines were 'tired' and in
need of attention before we could cross the Atlantic en route to our next
port of all... Bermuda. The rest of the fleet sailed on and we waited for
the delivery of the eight new diesel engines we needed. Whether or not we
had the experience amongst the crew to undertake the task was another
matter. In temperatures of around 100f the last of our generators failed and
without air-conditioning life on board became intolerable. The British
Consul fixed us up with hotel accommodation which was sheer bliss!
We were well entertained by the Portuguese inhabitants,
visiting all the places of interest ashore and a few other foreign ships
which arrived in port. However, it all came to end when H.M.S. Porlock Bay was instructed to tow us as a hulk to Bermuda, a very long and
arduous tow. We were very sad about the ignominious way
H.M.L.C.H.75 would finish her distinguished career. We managed to
rendezvous with the Porlock Bay under our own power and to rig up a
tow with the help of experienced professional sailors from her crew. We then
battened down the ship so that she was completely watertight and secured all
loose equipment on the decks. When the first lieutenant of the Porlock
Bay and myself were satisfied that all was ready we transferred by boat
to his ship. Our poor old girl looked forlorn and abandoned "hanging" on
what looked like a length of string. For me it was a
sad and pathetic sight!
We were integrated into Porlock Bay's watches and
every day I came up on deck I looked astern to see the ‘Dear Old
Lady’, following relentlessly astern, incapable of doing anything for
herself. Little did we know the fate that awaited her, back at her place of
birth. On arrival off Bermuda we boarded H.M.L.C.H.75 and set about engine
repairs and servicing and giving her a good
scrub-over. It was with some relief and pride that we managed to steam into the Naval Dockyard
receiving many congratulations from the shore staff. The dockyard staff took
over the ship with the purpose of making her seaworthy again,
which we were told would take several weeks.
The work done we set off with other landing craft that
had arrived from the U.K., a little apprehensive that we were in the
hurricane season for this area. We had been through plenty of atrocious
weather and sea conditions so we had a 'devil me care' attitude to the
risks. All went well until we arrived
on the edge of a hurricane, still some way off the American coast.
It was no surprise when our engines started playing up again but by this time we were
used to sorting out such problems. However, after calm consideration of all
the issues, it was
decided we would be towed the rest of the way by one of the other ships.
This was not an easy task in the inclement weather.
The fact that we arrived in Norfolk, Virginia was a credit
to the ingenuity of the amateurs that made up the crews of landing craft.
These crews fulfilled some indescribable tasks in all parts of the world, in
ships that would make professional seaman cringe. In fact professionals
would have refused to sail in them. Eventually we secured alongside the jetty reflecting on
all that had happened since we received the radio message in the Indian
Ocean. I am proud to say that the ship looked immaculate, freshly painted
inside and out with all the stores and valuable items in their correct places.
She was an absolute credit to the Royal Navy. However, we were in for a rude awakening!
An American Navy officer
came aboard to receive the ship back from us. He was not interested in any
inspection or inventory of equipment, stores and armaments. His response to
my invitation was 'No thanks... she'll be saucepans in a few weeks. How much
booze have you got?' We later found out that Virginia State and the American Navy
were both "dry", so alcoholic drink was at a premium. We foolishly gave ours away, as
if our visit was an act of entente cordiale. We should have sold it to them
- an officer of equivalent rank to me was being paid three times the salary
I received. Hindsight is a wonderful thing!
The Americans entertained us well (although we took our
own booze) and this helped me to forget the hurt I had felt at their
off-hand attitude at the official handover of the ship. We found America so
very expensive on a U.K. salary so we couldn’t enjoy the goodies that were
on offer ashore. With the formalities all over, we embarked on a troop train
for New York on a long journey in one of the most horrendous trains I had
ever travelled on. We arrived in New York very tired and were booked into the Babazan
Plaza hotel until joining the ‘Queen Mary’ for our
trip home. We were shown the delights of New York, which after the U.K. and
other war-torn parts of the world, seemed completely unreal.
The Queen Mary had ceased being a troop ship so we
travelled home first class. Having spent the past years bouncing around the oceans
on small ships, there was little to do except eat and
drink. Fortunately the trip only took four and a half days but I was now well
overdue for ‘demob’.
There was no hero’s welcome for me. I passed through the
customs at Southampton without ceremony and then on a train home to Bath. It was lovely
travelling through the familiar English countryside again. After two weeks
leave I reported to HMS Roseneath in Scotland for a medical and an honourable discharge.
And that was that!
One sequel to the episode with H.M.S.Porlock Bay occurred
many years later. I was having a drink with a friend I had known for years
through ‘Scouting’. Ponta Delgada came up in the conversation. You could
have knocked me over with a feather when my friend said 'We towed a ship from there to Bermuda'. For all the intervening years we had not
known that we shared that journey!
I have avoided writing about the many actions I was
involved with during the War since these are well documented. A lot of nastiness happened to me but I don’t think that needs telling
here. These are my recollections of this turbulent and unpredictable period of my life.
may not be completely accurate as I never kept a diary but I believe it is
important for memories like mine to be recorded for the benefit of future
generations amongst whom I hope there will be members of my own family.
These significant events, of so long ago, should not fade from
the collective mind of the public and I hope my short account here will
assist in this.
It is often said that teenagers of today would not
perform as we did given similar circumstances. This is entirely wrong in
my view since it is the circumstances themselves that create the
opportunities to serve one's country. Throughout history each generation has
risen to the challenges they faced because they were there and it was
I deeply regret missing out on all the normal activities
of the growing up teenage years. I wore a uniform from the age of sixteen
until I was over 22. To survive in the adult world I quickly had to learn to
think and behave like an adult many years beyond my age group. Failure would
have resulted in ridicule, bullying and being socially ostracised. We had
no choice but to grow up fast. Another manifestation of the same issue was
the difficulty in adjusting to civilian life after so much travel, danger
and periods of great activity packed into the earlier years. However, I'm
sure my experiences through the war did contribute to my success in farming,
although catching up the time lost was not easy.
Skipper Ronnie Parks of H.M.L.C.T.1171 was twenty-one and
I, the First Lieutenant, was twenty. The rest of the crew were under twenty.
It certainly was a young man's war! I would love to meet any crew members of
H.M.L.C.T.1171 or H.M.L.C.H.75 to talk over old times and to thank them for
a superhuman effort and devotion to duty especially during the whole of the
D-day period.... under the circumstances of our parting the officers and
crew of 1171 had no time for proper goodbyes. After we were picked up from
the water we were taken to Southampton and that was the last time I saw the
men. I'd be delighted to hear from anyone who remembers me from the war
years. Please contact Austin at
So that's it. In August 1942, at the tender age of 18 I
joined the Navy as an ordinary seaman at H.M.S. Raleigh. I was
commissioned as a midshipman in December 1942. Apart from a short time on
the Torpoint ferry in the patrol I spent the next four years in Combined
Operations. My pay office was H.M.S. Copra and also H.M.S. Quebec
at Inveraray. After drawing cash from pay offices in various parts of the
world without any problems, at the final summing up I owed H.M.S Copra
£70... by today's standards that would be well over £1000. I joined the navy
broke, lost everything I possessed three times and left the navy broke...
but overall it was an amazing and rewarding experience which I was
fortunate to come through unscathed. In many different ways I had the
time of my life!
website there are around 50 accounts of
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His Majesty's Landing Craft Tank, HMLCT 1171 was
written by Austin Prosser and edited for website presentation by Geoff Slee.