Memories of Joining the RN and being a Photographer
My ‘calling up’ papers arrived and I was instructed to report to H.M.S. Royal Arthur, Skegness on Wednesday 28th March 1945.
My Mother was uncharacteristically upset, later I reflected, she’d lost an older brother in the Great War, her younger brother in the famous tank battle at El Alamain and now her eldest son off to war. (Although there were optimistic signs that the war in Europe was nearing its end, the Far East battle looked set for a long haul.)
Royal Arthur, a commandeered Butlins Holiday Camp was cold. The unheated, wooden chalets, shaving in cold water, 5.30 a.m. musters and being constantly shouted at, was an unkind introduction to the R.N.
We marched, mostly at the double, everywhere, ‘kitted out’, our large kit bags full to bursting and still there was the mattress and hammock, the gas mask/tin hat.
We started our basic training at Arthur, for there was trouble ahead at H.M.S. Duke, a contagious outbreak of something. God it was cold with the east wind coming in straight from Russia and us in our skimpy PT gear!
Seamanship, drill, P.T., to aptitude tests, lectures (at one lecture a very superior Officer strutted his stuff, on stage, plus gold topped cane, advising us, “the Huns are nearly done, it’s those yellow skin chaps next lads”)
We were quickly turned. into ‘sailors’, our civilian language changed for ever, now it was bulkheads; the deck, heads/going ashore and we started to customise our uniforms. I received my first pay – 10 shillings
Suddenly all was o.k. at H.M.S. Duke, Malvern and off we went to properly endure Part 1.
This was the first time we’d carried all of our kit, fight? we could barely walk with that lot.
Discipline was harsh at Malvern and unlike Skeggy, where we enjoyed a civilised H.O. P.O. instructor; we picked a sadistic regular.
However, by now we were mostly happy with our lot, almost enjoying our very physical life and then it was 8th May, V.E. Day.
After morning Divisions, Prayers etc. discipline was relaxed for a few hours. I think we enjoyed free beer, the Instructors became human beings, “Attention Frobisher” came over the tannoy system, to be repeated and we went quiet, “Cuckoo, Cuckoo” was the message.
Shore leave was granted and the whole town of Malvern, a happy cheering mob with R.A.F. and American troops taking part in the celebrations.
By 6.00 a.m. the following morning strict discipline was re-imposed! We ‘passed out’, top class I think, and our sub-human P.O. instructor came over all matey.
Up at 5.30a.m. 23rd May for transfer to R.N.A.S. Lee-on-Solent, H.M.S. Daedalus
Discipline relaxed I was also lucky enough to join the Victualling Party. No ships routine but off early every morning in victualling lorries, to various food centres.
A perfect job whilst waiting my Photographic Course. Unexpectedly a group of us Ratings and Wrens were sent off to R.N.A.S. Ford, H.M.S.Peregrine to clean up the Station. (Ford an R.A.F. fighter station during the European War and now to be handed back to the F.A.A.)
About this time August 14th 1945 we celebrated V.J. day, Stage Door Canteen, London for me.
I’ve no recollection of our work at Ford, only a dreamlike episode, late summer, surrounded by golden fields of corn, of walks in the quiet countryside, of local pubs, no responsibility.
At last, at last, on the 3rd October we made our way to the R.N.S.O.P. at Felpham, Nr. Bognor, Sussex.
The R.N. had commandeered a half dozen large houses sited in a prestigious housing estate by the sea. A couple of houses our billets, the rest for Admin, lectures, practical, canteen etc.
A pretty intensive course, we used hand cameras, processed the results, flew from Ford in ancient old Ansons and again processed our efforts. Combining the most exciting flying stuff with learning camera workings, parts, repair for a variety of cameras, chemistry etc., none of us wanted to finish up at Whale Island for gunnery practice photography!
During these months of training we suffered monthly examinations, our original band of 28 was reduced to 18 and I think all 18 qualified.
I remember well my ‘mosaic’ examination, having established height, speed etc. I drew my flight lines on a map of Selsea Bill and off we went.
Lying face down in the nose of that old creaky Anson, exposed to a bitterly cold wind, I directed the pilot by raising my legs to the left or right, the cutting edge of technology!
It is worth noting that Bognor Regis, our nearest seaside town, was then a rather nice, quiet place. Access to some seaside towns was restricted to residents and armed forces (security of troop movements or vulnerability) the beach, fortified against invasion, did not encourage. bathing!
Back to Daedalus. Lee, to await a draft. Life was good, no war, again victualling party, week-ends at Aggie Westons, Southsea (for 1 shilling you received a lovely clean bed, crisp white sheets, blankets only on board, and a gigantic breakfast)
Friday 21st June and we embarked on to H.M.S. Ranee, an American Aircraft Carrier en route to the Far East, before returning to its grave in America.
Having carried my hammock all over England I hoped to use it on board. Wrong! The hanger deck was fitted with endless rows of bunk beds.
I found the leaving/entering harbour routine really quite moving. Lined up around the flight deck, we were wished Gods Speed by our not inconsiderable fleet in harbour.
I was bound for St.Angels, Malta, changed to Ceylon en route.
Shore leave in Gib was an eye opener, food, unseen in England for 5 years, was available. Bananas, dates, even eggs (rationed in the U.K.).
Ditto Malta, Port Said, ‘too dangerous to allow young rookies ashore’, ship’s company returned with horrendous tales. Then Suez, it’s worth quoting Daily Orders “From now on the weather will get hotter and hotter, and damper and damper and sandier and sandier and (as we near Aden) smellier and smellier – Stop press – There will be more locusts. The Skipper was correct on all counts.
From Aden we ran into really bad weather, the sea breaking over the flight deck, those American Carriers were made of cork_ A photo oppo was convinced that he would die and commissioned me to as to the disposal of his worldly goods – embarrassing,
So Colombo and H.M.S. Ukassa, “Sorry, closing dawn mate”, so off to another holding hole at Seruwa. Life here was paradise with plenty of shore leave, mostly spent at the now prestigious Mount Lavinia Bay.
To 26th August and a draft to H.M.S. Bambara, Trincomalee. A large, sprawling R.N.A.S. beside a deep, important Bay (Bombed by the Japs). We relieved a group of phots due for demob. I was put in charge, no promotion, no pay and so we started about a year of routine photographic duties.
I think the most notable event, for me occurred when we were photographing sunken shipwrecks in China Bay.
Out of the window, in space, in our funny old Walrus aircraft, I called the pilot to ‘tip a bit’ (to get a better angle). He ‘tipped’ a lot and but for my padded life belt would have been decanted into space.- ‘
There were routine air field shots, machinery breakdowns. V.I.P. visits, sad funerals. The months passed and we were sent to the hills to recuperate, Diyalalawa at 4,367 feet.
A leading hand joined us back at Bambara and I was relieved of my responsibilities. We made a little extra money by D & P work and composed ‘sets’ of photos for sale. (A very good little earner).
Demob seemed a long way off but suddenly Daily Orders _ announced, “clear off Weavis”. A troop ship took us to Liverpool and, after a little leave, it was all over. Placed on the reserve 3rd July 1947
I’d grown up a little during those years in the R.N. but, returning to my Company for a “hello, I’m back”, they wanted me to start work at once. (I’d planned a few weeks doing nothing)
So, back to complete my apprenticeship as a Photo-engraver with the Bank note engraver and printers Bradbury Wilkinson – I was a boy again.
p.s. I look back on those years with a real sense of pleasure and, although perhaps unfashionable, real pride.
S.W.Weavis. (FAA/ JX7430781) June 2008
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