LST 368 - A Sailor's Tale

Discussion in 'The War at Sea' started by Alanlweeks, Dec 19, 2012.


Would you like to see my father's memoirs of his time on LST 368?

  1. Please post his memoirs in full

    5 vote(s)
  2. Please post an edited version

    12 vote(s)
  3. Just post info on the ship's movements

    0 vote(s)
  4. Don't bother posting his memoirs

    0 vote(s)
  1. Alanlweeks

    Alanlweeks Member


    Despite the Italian surrender and the success of the Salerno landing, fighting in Italy still continued and there were still tasks for LSTs. Having discharged our final load of Sherman tanks and vehicles at Salerno on 3rd Oct., Monday 4th saw us sailing for a small port in southern Italy called Millaga where we pulled alongside early the following morning. The objective of that voyage we never learnt, for at 1930 the same evening we were ordered further south to the port of Praia whence we arrived at 06:30 on Wed. 6th Oct., beached at 10:00 and loaded up once more with Sherman tanks. By 12 noon we were at sea again, this time heading for Taranto on the southern coast of the foot of Italy where we arrived just before midnight on 7th in company with some Italian destroyers and submarines - fortunately no longer our enemies! I managed a short run ashore in Taranto which I see recorded in my diary as ‘Something like Portsmouth’ - and noted also that the Italians seemed quite friendly.

    A little over 24 hours later we were on the move again heading for Bari on the east coast of Italy, where we anchored off for a few hours before sailing a little further north to Manfradonia. Here we berthed alongside for the night and the following morning unloaded our tanks before returning to Bari. A few hours leave was granted in Bari, but this time I was duty watch and unable to get ashore. We sailed the following day bound for the island of Malta, which we reached on the morning of Friday 15th Oct. 1943. For the moment it seemed no further amphibious operations were in prospect and we were to remain in Malta for a few days. Naturally, opportunity was taken to go ashore and visit that badly battered island; main impressions were of tremendous destruction everywhere and prices sky high, but Maltese morale seemed good despite their privations.

    Food for the civilians of Malta was still very scarce and Maltese youngsters were only too happy to come aboard and do all our mess-deck clearing up after meals in exchange for one of our meals - and the facility to take any of our “left-overs” home for the family. Bum boats also abounded in the harbour, cruising around the anchored ships and offering all sorts of souvenirs for sale, for which we bargained like mad to get prices reduced; and occasionally, if the boatmen rejected our offers, turning a hosepipe on them and their boats to drive them away!

    Around this time also, ‘buzzes’ started circulating that we would shortly be sailing for home. I, and most of our crew, had left England in December 1942 so had been away from the folks at home for at least 11 months - not all that long compared with many of the 8th Army ‘Desert Rats’ but long enough to make most of us ache for a sight of dear old England. It’s strange, really, how so many of the British spend their time when in the UK moaning about the country, the weather and various other matters, but when they have been away for any length of time they begin to pine to get back home.

    After 7 days in Malta we sailed once again, bound for Ferryville on the North African coast, which we reached in the late evening of the following day and anchored out. The only momentous event of the time occurred the following morning when a huge consignment of mail arrived - including 30 letters for yours truly; it was good to hear that all at home were still alive and kicking.

    On Monday 25th Oct. we moved to a small port a few miles away called Karouba where we pulled alongside and proceeded to load with tanks and vehicles: later that day, our Skipper “cleared lower deck” to inform us all, to great excitement, that we were definitely going home - although no set date could be quoted: but we sailed the next day bound for Augusta in Sicily, where we stayed overnight, before proceeding on again to Taranto where we unloaded our cargo. An overnight stay in Taranto, then away again bound for Catania, a small town on the east coast of Sicily a little further north of Augusta. This time it was straight alongside, load up and away again - southward bound for Bizerta in Tunisia: we assumed that someone, somewhere, knew the overall plan but sometimes one wondered why it was necessary to load up in North Africa and unload in Italy to be followed almost immediately with a loading in Sicily and unloading in North Africa: but then “ours was not to reason why”!

    Anyway, we unloaded in Bizerta on 4th Nov. and then sailed straight away for Ferryville and anchor; at least in Ferryville we received some more mail, but the enjoyment of hearing again from home was somewhat marred by being informed that our return home date was deferred by at least one month. So our initial thoughts of possibly spending Xmas 1943 at home were dashed. However, there was a little consolation in the mail for me in that amongst the official mail for the ship, my service certificates had come through from somewhere or other and my pay book had been brought up to date. I had taken an examination a while before (I think it was during one of our short stays in Bizerta) and had been regraded as a ‘Trained Operator Telegraphist’ and I was to receive the princely sum of 28/6d (142.5p in modern money) per week. Not a lot to risk one’s life for - but that was the rate of pay in those days. Once more we loaded up, and Tues. 9th Nov saw us on the way to Cagliari in the island of Sardinia - at least a different venue - where we arrived the following morning and unloaded our trucks etc..

    Cagliari itself we found to be very badly damaged although we had no chance to go ashore to explore the town as no sooner had we unloaded than we took on board a large number of very demoralized and scruffy Italian soldiers for transport and repatriation. We left Cagliari on Thurs. 11th Nov. and this trip turned out to be one of the worst for weather conditions that we had experienced during our time in the Mediterranean. Our LST rolled like nobody’s business and the Italian soldiers were understandably not used to the sea; combine this with the fact that they were not exactly elite troops - many of whom it seems had never seen a flush toilet in their lives - and the trip proved most uncomfortable for all concerned. Some of our seamen ratings who had the task of guarding the soldiers (at this stage they were still regarded as prisoners of war) were appalled with their conduct as they used the showers for toilets etc: I think a few rifle butts were brought into use on occasions to keep order and we were extremely pleased to reach Palermo approximately 24 hours later and disembark them.

    We sailed the next day for Bizerta and again it was a very rough voyage (my diary records how “we rolled and bounced” so much that I was unable to sleep - most unusual as it is surprising what one can get used to when one has to! The next few days saw us operating between Bizerta, Karouba and Ferryville where we finally beached. Ferryville has a large sheltered harbour and there were a good number of landing ships and craft around: it seemed we were to enjoy a couple of weeks at rest whilst the powers that be surveyed the progress of the war in Italy and decided whether any further combined operations to assist would be mounted. For want of anything better, we were reasonably happy with this arrangement: remaining in one port for a period ensured the regular receipt of mail and there being a number of other LST’s at hand we were able to expend much of our surplus energy in challenging all and sundry to football matches. I think we managed a match more or less every other day: the weather in the Mediterranean at this time of the year is still very pleasant - and who were we to complain at a Mediterranean holiday, all found, at Government expense?

    In between football matches, swimming and wanders ashore as and when duties permitted, around this time I applied to take an examination for ‘Leading Telegraphist’ - the next step up the promotion ladder in the Royal Navy, and quite a lot of my onboard time when not actually watch keeping was spent swotting up for that exam. Our Skipper too, who was something of an amateur artist decided, probably in an attempt to boost morale, we ought to produce a Xmas magazine - and that I should be the Editor thereof, with all hands being encouraged to contribute. I must admit to being quite chuffed with the idea and approached the task admittedly with more enthusiasm than knowledge of what an Editors job entailed. So we stayed in and around Ferryville until 29th Nov. 1943 when once again we loaded up tanks, vehicles and accompanying troops - this time comprising elite American regiments and our own Grenadier Guards. We sailed the next day and articles for our Xmas magazine began to flow in: as my diary records “There is more to this editing lark than meets the eye”!

    Friday 3rd Dec. found us once more anchored off Taranto, and the following day alongside and unloading: Friday 3rd, however, appeared to be my lucky day as during that evening a small group of us sat playing cards on the messdeck for money (strictly against Naval regulations I should add). I think we were playing pontoon and it was one of those evenings when I could do no wrong and one of our stokers (a Scouse) had managed to lose most of his ready cash. The game had reached the stage where only he and I were participating, all others having earlier given up having had enough or lost sufficient of their pay. I was quite prepared to give up as I did not wish to skin him for all he had but he, presumably in the belief that his luck must change sometime, insisted on carrying on and I think we ended up tossing a coin in an “all or nothing” bid. Needless to say, he lost and I ended up about £15 to the good - not a lot by modern standards but when one considers that £6 was the average sailors pay for one month, £15 seemed almost a small fortune.

    © Frank Weeks
  2. Alanlweeks

    Alanlweeks Member

    [FONT=&quot]THE BATTLE FOR ITALY[/FONT] (Part 2 - Anzio)

    We left Taranto after unloading, heading south; the weather was still on the rough side and we suffered heavy rolling for most of the voyage, but the trip was uneventful otherwise except for spotting another floating mine about 3ft off our starboard bow during the night - Lady Luck again on our side - and we proceeded on to berth alongside in Ferryville on 8th Dec. Two days later we loaded once more - this time with a combination of American and French troops; there were all sorts of “buzzes” circulating the mess decks at this stage - was another operation planned or being planned? If so, were we to be involved? Only time would tell! Later that night we sailed heading north this time, and with another uneventful voyage under our keel (if we had one!) arrived off the island of Maddelina between Sardinia and Corsica on 13th Dec where we anchored for a few hours before going on to Ajaccio in Corsica itself where we unloaded our troops. The harbour at Ajaccio had been badly battered and to unload we had to beach bows on - where we stayed all night. The following morning we found out why when we began to load up with bombs, ammunition and cans of petrol. I don’t think any of us considered this very healthy - but again ours was not to reason why. However, we did get an opportunity to stretch our legs ashore in Ajaccio and sample the delights of the local vino.

    Corsica was then - and I believe to a large extent also is today - controlled by Maffia gangs, and is an island with a very volatile population as one of our crew members was to find out to his cost: ‘Stripey’ Edwards, as he was known, was one of those types who could seldom control his mouth, and if anybody could cause trouble, Stripey was the one to do it. Although I can only report by hearsay, it appears he and one or two of his shore-going colleagues got into an argument with some locals in a bar to the extent that they literally had to run for their lives: Stripey was the last one out of the door and one of the Corsicans actually drew a gun and took a pot shot at him as he fled. Fortunately, the aim was not too good but Stripey received a hit in the buttocks and returned to the ship in a somewhat distressed condition, needing the attention of our Sick Berth Attendant to remove the offending bullet; needless to say this little episode made a wonderful contribution to our Xmas magazine - the story being much exaggerated and illustrated by our artist Skipper to suggest that somehow or other a young lady and a vengeful husband were involved! All of which added a little variety to an otherwise mundane existence.

    Come 18th Dec. and we sailed from Ajaccio heading for Maddalena where we arrived later that day and anchored out overnight before leaving again the following morning - guess to where - back to Ajaccio where we eventually arrived after suffering two engine breakdowns en route, beached and discharged our cargo of petrol and armaments. What was the original objective of placing the petrol etc. on board we never learnt - but one can only hope it enjoyed the ride and certainly we all slept a little happier in our bunks that night. We were to stay in Ajaccio until Boxing Day 26th Dec. A couple of trips ashore were managed during this period, and apart from a brief comment in my diary to the effect that “the mam’selles ashore looked most attractive” - the highlight of the period was a football match played against the crew of a British minesweeper on Xmas Day in quite an impressive stadium in the town, followed by returning on board to a quite splendid Xmas lunch.

    One other little story to supplement this Ajaccio saga. One evening whilst ashore some of our lads having no doubt consumed a goodly quantity of local liquor had “won” a small car they had spotted parked somewhere in the town and driven it back to the ship, up the ramp and into the tank deck and retired to their bunks. Now it so happened that the following morning we were to be visited by one of the local dignitaries - an LST never before having been seen in Corsica. The gentleman and his entourage were met at the top of the ramp by our Skipper and accompanying officers and escorted into the tank deck, where his eye immediately fell upon the car parked therein; with a gasp of amazement he exploded “Mon Dieu, mon voiture!”. How that little episode was explained away remains a mystery! We sailed on Boxing Day morning heading south for Ferryville where we arrived on the afternoon of 28th Dec: we were to stay there until the morning of the 31st before moving to Karouba once more to load up - for what we knew not. The highlight of the short stay here was that mail was arriving regularly - over the 3 days I personally received 14 letters and 2 bundles of motor magazines (brother Stan used to send me copies of “The Motor Cycle” and “Motorcycling” every now and again). I also produced the first copy of our Xmas Magazine, “The LST Rag” as I dubbed it. Production was quite hard work as the only facilities available were a typewriter and carbon paper. My typewriting standard was (and still is) only of the two finger variety and I could only produce about 4 legible copies at a time using carbon paper, and all illustrations had to be laboriously traced using the same method. I was to get quite proficient in my two finger typing by the time the 70-odd copies (one for each member of the complement) were finished.

    So ended 1943; as I said, the last day of that year saw us once again loading with troops and vehicles for what we imagined would be another operation somewhere in the Mediterranean: it was a well known fact that a landing in Northern Europe was not far ahead, so it was plain even at that stage that 1944 was going to be a momentous year. But the 1st day of 1944 turned out to be a little less momentous than anticipated as at the last moment the scheduled departure for who knows where was cancelled and we were to stay in Karouba until the evening of 3rd Jan. before setting off once more for virtually a routine trip to the island of Madellena. Here we arrived, after quite a rough crossing, on 5th Jan. to learn the sad news that one of our flotilla, LST 411, had been sunk off Bastia - news at least softened by learning there had been little, if any, loss of life.

    The continuing bad weather prevented a beach landing, so off we went once more to Ajaccio where we discharged our troops and vehicles: but this time it was no more than an overnight stay before we were heading back towards Ferryville, with the mess decks rife with the rumour that all LSTs (of which there were a good number in the Mediterranean at that stage and which like ourselves had been expecting early transfer to home waters) had been recalled. Some operation or other was obviously in the offing!

    So, 12th Jan. 1944 saw us once more alongside in Karouba loading up with vehicles, tanks and American and British troops, and the following day on our way heading north in what my diary records as “a bigger convoy than that!” - bound for? But even this turned out not to be the anticipated operation - despite the continued mess deck buzzes - as we eventually came to anchor off Naples, which had been liberated by the Allies some 3 months earlier: the only “hostilities” encountered on this occasion was the sight of Mount Vesuvius erupting as we steamed by. Then from Naples we moved a few miles south to Castellamare where we unloaded our vehicles and troops and pulled out to anchor remaining there for 36 hours before returning alongside and reloading this time with lorries, tanks and troops of the British 8th Army. On 20th Jan. 1944 whilst still at anchor off Castellamare our Skipper “cleared lower deck” to inform us we were about to sail for a landing “north of Rome” - a place called Anzio - and to cheer us up with the news that Anzio, like Salerno, was defended by German Panzer Grenadiers who no doubt would not be greeting us with too friendly a reception. Once again it was comforting to think one was in the Navy and not the Army. We reached Anzio about 07:00 on Saturday 20th Jan. to find the bridgehead seemingly well established, the actual assault forces having gone in around first light: initially all was quiet but as the day progressed some bombing and shelling of vessels off the beaches took place, whilst one or two German ‘E’ boats (small, fast, torpedo boats) managed to get amongst the assembled craft and caused some havoc but fortunately our superior naval forces soon disposed of them.

    We sailed that evening back to Naples, berthed immediately and commenced reloading and on completion set off once more with reinforcements for Anzio. This proved to be a very rough trip, much to the discomfort of the embarked troops, but we reached our destination safely although to the accompaniment of some heavy air attacks and retaliatory heavy ack-ack fire from the assembled ships. For approximately the next 14 days we operated an almost continuous shuttle service between Naples and Anzio. It was little more than a 12 hour run and it was simply a case of load, sail, unload, sail, load etc. Because of this relatively short distance, the powers that be became somewhat over confident and decided there was no need for normal convoy systems to operate but that a few warships would continuously patrol the sea route in the hope their presence would deter any enemy craft from approaching the area.

    At the beach-head itself, there was still considerable air and ground activity: the German’s still held territory to the south of Anzio (troops forming the Anzio assault had not yet linked up with those fighting their way up from the south where, amongst others, Mount Cassino was proving a particularly formidable obstacle to their advance changing hands a number of times before the Germans were finally driven out) and they had a long range gun located somewhere within their zone with which they were almost continually lobbing shells across the bay, of which a number were falling amongst the assembled ships. This was our first experience of shell fire: unlike with bombs, where one hears the whine as they fall, with shells one gets little (if any) advance warning - just a “plop” if they land in the sea or an explosion if they land on anything more solid.

    No doubt soldiers get more used to them but we found the experience uncanny and not very much to our liking! I note that my diary records on 7th Feb. 1944 off Anzio at approximately 11:30 am we had “our nearest miss yet” - but whether that was from shell or bomb I failed to note: suffice to say Lady Luck continued to smile.
    © Frank Weeks

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  3. Mike L

    Mike L Very Senior Member

    Good stuff Alan, I love the story about the dignitarie's car on the tank deck.
  4. Alanlweeks

    Alanlweeks Member

    It was during this period of activity running between Naples and Anzio - or should I say in spare moments between these periods of activity - I managed to complete our Xmas Magazine, providing a copy for each of the complement. I don't know whether it was through involvement in production of the mag. that got me into the mood for writing, but around this time I also produced a small booklet in which the villain was a person known as Mr Cooprickle, a name derived from our navigating officer's surname - Lt. Cawthorne: Willie Cawthorne was not a bad guy really but one who tended to become a figure of derision (probably unjustified).

    He was a peacetime yachtsman (or so he claimed) who joined the then RNVR (Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve) and thus, when war broke out, obtained a hostilities only commission and was subsequently appointed to LST 368 as navigating officer. It was generally reckoned he navigated by getting the ship pointed in the direction of the nearest land and then on first sight, taking a bearing on the local church or other prominent landmark and working from there. However, we usually arrived somewhere near our intended destination so perhaps the stories were a little scurrilous! Unfortunately, my copy of this little booklet was lost in the course of my travels, but I know a copy or copies found their way into the wardroom and I believe caused a certain amount of amusement to other officers, if not perhaps to Lt. Cawthorne himself.

    On the 12th Feb. 1944, whilst alongside in Naples, the British radio (which was listened to avidly whenever facilities and reception allowed) reported that a large theatre (the Davis) and a departmental store (Allders), both in Croydon just about 3 miles from my home, had received direct hits in a German bombing raid. This news did not exactly bolster my morale, but as it happened mail was still reaching us regularly and it was a case of keeping one's fingers crossed, hoping that all at home were okay and awaiting subsequent mail deliveries in confirmation.

    Meanwhile the Anzio beach-head was still being maintained against fierce German opposition; we were still running to and fro between Naples (or small ports nearby) and the beach-head delivering tanks, vehicles and reinforcing troops, and on several occasions returning with wounded soldiers requiring hospital treatment ashore. On one trip we also carried a young Italian girl who had been injured in the fighting. She, poor lass, spoke no English and I believe she was nearly as scared at being the only female amongst so many men as she was of her injuries. She was placed on a stretcher in a gangway adjacent to the wardroom, close to the ladder leading up to the radio room, so we “Sparkers” usually tried to give her a few comforting words as and when we passed by. We also learned the sad news that another of our fellow LST's had been sunk, but with what casualties we knew not.

    Although as I said, our main activity at this time was reinforcement of the beach-head, the routine was now getting a little less frequent and one or two trips ashore were possible between loads. Naples, I noted, had not been too badly damaged in the fighting and there seemed plenty to buy, and on one occasion I and my fellow shore-going companions managed a ride on a train from our loading port (Pozzuoli) into Naples itself; a special note in my diary recorded that “some of the Italian senoritas are fair indeed” - well, at least we could look and dream! Round about this time, too, one of the current hit songs on the radio was the Andrews Sisters singing “Lay that pistol Down Babe” to the chorus of which I made up a little parody as follows: “Drinking beer in Napoli
    and were we having fun,
    But we'd rather be
    On an LST
    Doing the Anzio run!”

    and which was often sung on the mess deck with much gusto.

    I referred earlier to the fact that the powers that be had decided because of the short distance between Naples and Anzio and the belief that enemy sea power in the area was largely non-existent, the convoy system for ships carrying reinforcements etc. would not be operated, protection being given by one or two escort ships constantly patrolling up and down the sea lane. This over confidence turned a little sour, however, when one of the patrolling escorts - HMS Penelope which had seen meritorious service throughout the war - was sunk by a U-Boat on 18th Feb. whilst carrying out one of these patrols. We ourselves were travelling south from Anzio loaded with wounded troops when our duty “Sparker” picked up the signal from Penelope saying she was sinking and as we proceeded we found the sea littered with debris obviously from the stricken ship. The German Navy may have been on the decline but it was by no means to be written off; apparently Penelope took 2 torpedoes.

    Three days later we were again en route between Anzio and Naples, this time carrying German POW's under guard in our port passageway. The trip was “enlivened” when in the evening twilight we suddenly came upon an enemy sea-plane low in the water laying mines: I don't know who were the most surprised, they or us! We immediately went to action stations, but the plane was so close and low on the water that one of our gunners manning the port oerliken gun shot away the canvas awning around the wing of the bridge in attempting to get a low enough trajectory on his gun. Needless to say the plane beat a hasty retreat and whether we damaged him or not we never knew.

    On one of our previous Anzio visits we had experienced difficulty in opening our bow doors to unload - normally opened electrically but which had had to be opened manually before we could discharge our vehicles. So we were then sent a little north of Naples to a small port called Baia for repairs on 23rd Feb. 1944, but these took a little longer than anticipated and it was here that I spent my 22nd birthday - although I don't remember a lot about this as it was spent in the (then) true Naval tradition with “sippers” from each of one's colleagues rum tots! I imagine I probably spent the remainder of the day “sleeping it off”.

    Having had the repairs completed, we then had the unenviable task of temporarily taking on board and holding under close guard some British troops who had deserted or gone “AWOL” from the front. I suppose one could loosely call them “cowards” but on reflection one wonders how one might have reacted oneself under similar circumstances. On a ship, one's bravery or otherwise to a large degree hinges on that of the Skipper - if he decides the ship will fight in the face of enemy attack, then those on board have little option. One cannot run far on a ship but the poor old soldier on land, who may have been in battle after battle may finally find his courage crack under the strain. One hopes that one's courage won’t fail - that one would not let down the colleagues fighting beside one - but who can tell unless one experiences it? At first sight the chaps looked very poor soldiers but who knows?
    © Frank Weeks
  5. Alanlweeks

    Alanlweeks Member


    [/FONT]We stayed at Baia a few more days and made the most of the respite managing to cram in four football matches in six days - a fine way to use up surplus energy. A consolation too, was that mail was continuing to arrive regularly. It is possibly difficult for any readers of these memoirs who have not experienced it themselves to appreciate that life in the services during war time overseas, in between actual operations, can become somewhat monotonous - more so perhaps for Naval types in that they seldom stay in any one place long enough to get to know local people or places - even assuming that local people are sufficiently friendly to wish to get to know one. So to a large degree entertainment outside working hours had to be self-generated: football and swimming were two obvious favourites when the opportunity to get ashore or the weather permitted but when confined to the ship amusement, generally speaking, consisted of playing tombola (housey-housey) on the mess deck, or quiet games of cards, dominoes, reading or listening to the Vera Lynn, Anne Shelton or other forces sweethearts over the ships broadcasting system.

    However, in an endeavour to make a change from this routine I composed a short pantomime and managed to persuade a few of my shipmates to make fools of themselves in it. I cannot now even recall the title of the panto although I do remember performing a “sand dance” - an attempted copy of a routine performed by a comedy trio called Wilson, Kepple and Betty that I had seen a year or so earlier at the Croydon Empire. The panto was performed in our tank deck - with the elevator used to raise vehicles up to the upper deck in normal circumstances, lowered as a stage - on 7th March 1944, whilst still in Baia. Most of the ship's company plus one or two visiting officers from other ships watched the performance and whilst freely admitting the amateurishness of the show it went off very well and certainly broke a little of the monotony. My first efforts as a playwright!

    Repairs were finally completed on 9th March, we moved from Baia and returned to the routine of regular runs between Naples and Anzio. One consolation was that by this time the Anzio bridge-head had been firmly established and air attacks and shelling of unloading ships had largely diminished; that is not to suggest that the troops on shore were having an easy time as German resistance was still strong. We arrived back in Naples from what proved to be our final Anzio run at about 2 am on 15th March - to be greeted by a German air attack on the port as we arrived - and to learn that we were to sail for Ferryville later that day.

    Ferryville was reached 3 days later after a rather rough but otherwise uneventful voyage where we were to undergo a scheduled 18 day refit - and then? Rumours were rife - were we, or were we not, to sail for the UK? We all knew (guessed) that a second front and assault on the mainland of Europe was in the offing and it was pretty clear that when and wherever it took place we would be involved. I don't think this worried us unduly - we'd come through three invasions unscathed and in a war situation one tends not to look too far ahead, only as far as one's thoughts and the thoughts of getting back home after something like 16 months absence overshadowed all else. That perhaps shortly after getting home we might be involved in the biggest combined operation of all time worried us not a bit.

    There was not a lot to do in Ferryville: spare time was spent challenging other ships or Army/RAF units to football, occasional wanders ashore to stretch ones legs and sample the delights of the local vino, and contemplating on our future destination. I was perhaps fortunate in some ways in that I was scheduled to take a Wireless Telegraphy examination whilst there, so I passed a fair amount of my spare time swotting up. I took the exam on 22nd March and my diary records that in my own opinion I had made a “JANFU” of it (in printable English that means something like a “dogs dinner” of it) and I doubted very much if I would pass. However, to my surprise on 5th April I learned that I had passed and would be re-rated as a Leading Telegraphist (equivalent to a corporal in the army); what grandeur!

    In the meantime, our refit having completed, we moved once more across to Karouba where we loaded up with British soldiers and Italian prisoners of war before rendezvousing with a convoy proceeding westward; were we on the way home? And what about the troops and POW's? Much to my annoyance, my diary gives no indication of what happened to our embarked personnel but I am fairly sure from memory that they were all disembarked around the Oran/Algiers area, following which we continued sailing west past Gibraltar (noting the bright lights of the neutral territory of Tangier) as we passed out of the Mediterranean into the Atlantic and made a slight turn to the north; it looks good!

    We certainly found a change in the sea conditions once in the Atlantic however, and it started blowing up rough on 13th April - to deteriorate further on the 14th where I record us as “rolling and pitching all over the “oggin” to the extent that it was impossible to sleep. Fortunately, by this time I had well and truly got my sea legs and seasickness was a thing of the past. At this stage we were steering almost due north and the weather moderated a little so we were experiencing heavy rolling only without the pitching, which made life a little more comfortable. One really felt pitching on an LST - the ship being basically a long hollow rectangle (we were not carrying anything in the tank deck) and she would smash into a head sea and then really shudder as it dipped into the trough of a wave; rumour had it that some LST's had broken their backs in head seas, but whether that was true or not I know not. Strange to relate, much of our spare time on this passage was spent playing football of a kind on our upper deck - not with a real football I hasten to add - but with a ball made of rags or paper so it could be easily replaced if kicked over the side as frequently happened. Can you imagine trying to play football with the pitch listing heavily to one side or the other as the ship rolled in the waves? It helped to pass the time!

    It was not until Wed. 19th April that we learned our UK destination - we were heading for Swansea in south Wales where we eventually arrived and docked on Sat. 22nd. After lunch that day I and my shore going colleagues, setting foot on British soil for the first time in 16 months did – guess what? We went to watch a professional football match, Swansea versus Cardiff in which Cardiff emerged the winners by 3 goals to 2. Not unnaturally, our main thoughts at this time were on what leave we were to be granted. It was blatantly obvious that a second front operation was not far off and we appreciated that as the crew of a Landing Ship we would be involved - but first things first - let’s get some home leave in, we hoped, before anything started. Two days later leave was granted and off went Port Watch (broadly half the ship's company) for a six day stint whilst the rest of us sailed the ship just down the coast to Barry where we were to have a minor refit.

    On Sunday 30th April Port Watch returned and Starboard Watch - including yours truly - departed on their six days leave. I had managed to contact my family through a friend of ours who possessed a telephone so they were forewarned of my impending arrival - probably fortuitously as I left Barry at about 3 pm and did not arrive home until around midnight, such were the train services in those days.
    © Frank Weeks
  6. Alanlweeks

    Alanlweeks Member

    This will be the last post for a week or so. Snow permitting I'm off down south to visit the big city and the National Archives.

    There are 8 more episodes to come, including D day and the trip out to the Far East.

  7. JackW

    JackW Member

    This will be the last post for a week or so. Snow permitting I'm off down south to visit the big city and the National Archives.

    There are 8 more episodes to come, including D day and the trip out to the Far East.


    Interesting accounts Alan, looking forward to the last 8, thank you.

  8. CommanderChuff

    CommanderChuff Senior Member

    Excellent reading of this mundane but lovely story of life at sea. Many of these events were experienced by myself in the service, I won a load of money in a brag game, and brought home the passenger door of a Ford Capri from a US Air Force base on Puerto Rica in the hanger of a frigate, covered and package to look like a bit of a helicopter.

    Am looking forward to the concluding episodes and thank you for taking the trouble and time to post,

  9. Mike L

    Mike L Very Senior Member

    Superb Alan, thanks for posting all this. Good luck at TNA.
    I will be there with a friend for a good part of w/c 28th Jan searching for Mk1 LCT information.
  10. Wills

    Wills Very Senior Member

    Attached Files:

  11. Alanlweeks

    Alanlweeks Member

    Many thanks for the Navy Lists. Have found "Subby Harwood" whom my father mentions at Salerno.

    Back from only a moderately successful time in the National Archives but enjoyed London afterwards with wife and son.

    Here follows the next instalment, about D Day.
  12. Alanlweeks

    Alanlweeks Member


    The first three days of my leave seems to have been spent nattering about places visited and finding out how the folks at home had fared during my absence, on visits to Croydon cinemas and travelling up to London with my Mum and cousin Doreen (who was living with us at the time) to visit my Aunt Mab and Uncle Dick who lived just off Oxford Street: Uncle Dick was my Dad's brother. On Thursday 4th May 1944, Mum, Dad, brother Stan, Doreen and I went to the Princes Theatre in the West End and saw Arthur Askey, a very popular comedian during the war years and afterwards, but probably the most important thing to occur on that day was receipt of a telegram notifying extension of my leave by 3 days.

    The next matter of import to occur was on the following day when who should suddenly turn up at home - none other than my old pal George Reid also on leave. As earlier recorded, we had joined up within a week of each other in October 1941 and had not met since - our respective service careers keeping us far apart (perhaps to the country's benefit!). So the rest of that day and the following were perhaps a little more hectic, with visits to our old haunt of the Croydon Empire, to Den's mother (Den being the 3rd member of our little pre-war group) to George's mother in Carshalton, no doubt to a few public houses and finishing with a bit of a party at my house (how Mum managed these things in heavily rationed England of those days I know not) but somehow she always seemed to manage to produce something special when I came home on leave. The next day, Saturday 6th May, I saw George off back to his ship. Sunday and Monday 7th and 8th were perhaps something of an anti-climax but nevertheless enjoyable - it was always good to get away from Naval routines for a while - to sleep in a proper bed and - I've no doubt - be pampered by Mum with cups of tea in bed in the morning and to please oneself what one did. But all good leaves come to an end and the 21:50 train from East Croydon station on 8th May and 00:55 from Paddington on the 9th saw me on my way back to Barry. On arrival back on board, Port watch went off again for their extra few days.

    The next 11 or 12 days were quiet; minor refitting work continued, my colleagues and I went ashore of an evening whenever possible, visited cinemas, consumed beer in public houses, wrote letters home and generally passed the time away. Mail was beginning to catch up with us - on 22nd May I received an “Airgraph” (similar to today's Airletters) from Mum written on 30th March - almost up to the standard of the present day’s 2nd class post! It was on 22nd May also that, our refitting completed, we satisfactorily undertook our sea trials and moved out to anchor off Barry.

    On 24th May we sailed - bound for who knew where. Southwards we went, rounded Land’s End and then eastwards until we reached the Isle of Wight where we dropped anchor. Apart from a couple of “red” alerts during the night - which fortunately did not develop into attacks - the trip was uneventful. Shore leave was granted - but during this period, much of which was spent on exercises to ensure our readiness for what we knew was coming sooner rather than later - we were divided into 3 watches (red, blue and green) and only one watch was allowed ashore at any one time. My diary records that the Isle of Wight was, at that stage of the war and unlike the present day, very quiet with little to do other than cinema going. I note I did see a film featuring Betty Grable - the star with the million dollar legs (so publicity pronounced) – and which I've no doubt helped to boost our morale in those tension filled days.

    Then at last, on 3rd June 1944 we moved across to Southampton and loaded up with British troops, some RAF and some additional Navy personnel and their vehicles and equipment. Then it was back to anchor to await the next development! History records how “D” Day was deferred for 24 hours due to bad weather in the English Channel. Well, we were loaded on 3rd June and ready to go on the 4th but owing to the deferment we did not sail until 21:40 on the night of 5th June: there is no need for me to mention the size of the convoy of ships and craft of all shapes and sizes in which we sailed as this has been described by countless authors in enough books to fill a library. Suffice to say our trip across the Channel was roughish but otherwise quiet and we arrived off the Normandy beaches around midday on the 6th June 1944.

    Surprisingly, all was quiet in this area. We lay at anchor for the rest of the day, listening to the heavy bombardment of the enemy defences by Allied warships and the drone of the heavy bombers as they passed overhead with their cargoes of bombs or paratroopers. There were a number of air raid warnings during the night so we got little sleep but our air supremacy was so dominant I don't recall actually sighting any enemy planes. We unloaded our troops etc. and vehicles early on the morning of 7th June and anchored off before sailing once more for the Isle of Wight at about 22:00 hours.

    The next 10 to 11 days was spent in loading up with troops and vehicles in the IOW/Portsmouth/Southampton areas, transporting them to the beachheads and returning to reload. Generally speaking the trips were quiet but maybe we were lucky. My diary records many air raid warnings at night, passing ships still burning from enemy attack, heavy air activity over the front line (but no direct attacks on us) and a minor moan at having to operate a 2 watch system (under normal activity we operated in 3 watches - that is to say generally speaking 4 hours on and 8 hours off), but since June 6th we'd worked a 2 watch system - 4 hours on and 4 hours off - and taken together with the numerous interruptions of sleep when the air raids occurred and “'Action Stations” sounded, it was no surprise we were a little tired. Compared to the troops ashore, however, ours was a life of luxury. Three other items of note - on the 10th of June I record that having unloaded our troops, we then managed a short game of football on the beach, secondly, on returning to Portsmouth early one morning, I was on the morning watch in the radio room (04:00 – 08:00) when an Aldis lamp signal was received for me from a cruiser at anchor in the bay. This was from my pal George Reid who at that time was serving on HMS Eurylus and had seen my LST entering harbour, thirdly, I see I noted with some degree of proudness that one night, while off the beaches, there had been a heavy air raid through which I had slept unawakened: how I got away with that I shall never know!

    On 18th June, having unloaded our troops etc., we were instructed to sail for Tilbury in Essex, from where we were to pick up our next load. It was during this trip, sailing East through the English Channel, that we first experienced one of Hitler's flying bombs (the V1 “Doodlebug”) passing overhead en route to London. At that stage we knew nothing about them - only that they were obviously a different means of destruction and were devilishly noisy! Well we reached Tilbury the following evening, and managed a couple of hours leave ashore before loading up and pulling out to anchor off Southend awaiting further orders. All day we waited until, in the late afternoon, advice was received that sailing was deferred for 24 hours and to our delight, overnight leave was granted to “bona-fide” Londoners until 17:00 hours the following day. I was living near Croydon, Surrey, at the time and so, with a little stretch of the imagination, qualified as a “Londoner” - and so, at about 20:00 hours a dozen or so of us were boated ashore from our anchorage to make our respective ways home.
    © Frank Weeks
  13. Alanlweeks

    Alanlweeks Member


    Our first port of call was, of course, the nearest rail station - only there to be told we had just missed the London train. However, the helpful booking clerk informed us that a London train was about to leave the other Southend station within a few minutes and if we hurried we should make it. So we dozen or so sailors, having obtained the necessary directions, started running full pelt towards the “other” station. Now it so happened that an air raid warning was in progress at that time, and word had just come through that Southend was in the direct line of flight of the latest attack from Hitler's flying bombs. As we sailors ran towards the station, we chanced to pass a cinema, the audience from which, in view of the air raid notification, had been advised to seek shelter. You can perhaps imagine their consternation on emerging from the darkness of a cinema into broad daylight, to be greeted with the sight of a dozen or so members of the armed forces seemingly running for their lives! We had no time to stop and fully explain the situation and to convince those worthy Southend citizens that all was not lost and we were simply running for a train!

    Well, the train was caught and eventually we reached London where the group split up to go their respective ways - I and one other colleague who also lived south of London heading for Victoria Station where we hoped to catch trains to complete our journeys. We arrived at Victoria to find the station shut for the night (it was by then about 23:00). Most public transport had already stopped for the night so the decision was taken to start walking in the hope of perhaps picking up a lift somewhere. Off we headed down Vauxhall Bridge Road and had only proceeded a few hundred yards when a group of two soldiers and two ATS girls staggered out of a public house just closing for the night. They were all in a somewhat merry mood and the girls, on spotting my colleague and me, decided they preferred the Navy to the Army so opted to join us and forsake the soldiers. So our twosome became a foursome as we continued our way south.

    We had barely reached Vauxhall Bridge when a taxi was spotted going south which we managed to stop and the driver agreed to take us part way. The girls got into the taxi and we were about to join them when the driver pulled my colleague and me aside and in hushed tones said “Gather round me - some silly b----- has dropped a lighted fag end on my car mat and I'm peeing on it to put it out!” So there we stood huddled round the driver at the foot of Vauxhall Bridge while he doused his mat and replaced it in the cab, we clambered aboard and went off on our way. It turned out that the two ATS girls were stationed on an Ack Ack site at Tulse Hill, a suburb of south London near Brixton and they were able to give us an insight into the operating of Hitler's “Doodlebugs” having had some experience in trying to shoot them down as they passed over London. Not that this information cheered us a great deal!

    Tulse Hill was not far off the beaten track on which my colleague and I were heading so we agreed the driver would drop the girls off at their station before continuing on his way with us. Being that this is a family journal, I will give no description of the activities which took place on the journey between Vauxhall Bridge and Tulse Hill, but the two girls were safely delivered and the driver took us back to Brixton whereupon he calmly informed us he would go no further as at that time south London was being targeted by the “Doodlebugs” and “he was going home!” No sooner had we left the taxi to start walking once again when we heard the ominous sound of one of the flying bombs droning overhead and almost immediately, the sound of its engine cutting out. One thing we had learnt from the ATS girls was that when the engine stopped the bomb fell - so with one accord my colleague and I flung ourselves to the ground. it was but a few seconds before we heard the sound of an explosion, fortunately for us (if not for others) it had landed some way away.

    So once again it was “Shanks's Pony” - but again luck was on our side as out of the night appeared a tramcar making its way back to the depot for the night and we were able to get a ride as far as Streatham - another couple of miles on our way. At this point, my colleague and I parted company, he to make his way towards Upper Norwood and I towards Croydon. But my adventures were not yet over. As I reached the southern end of Croydon (still on foot) I chose to cross the road at the foot of a slight hill and suddenly found myself ankle deep in water and broken glass. I was to learn later that earlier that evening a flying bomb had dropped a hundred or so yards away at the top of the hill where, besides other damage, it had broken the windows of a number of shops and wrecked a water main causing water to flow down the hill and form a neat little pool in the middle of the road just at the point at which I had chanced to cross and which I had not noticed in the blacked out street.

    Eventually I arrived home about 2 am in the morning having walked best part of eight miles since alighting from the late night tram at Streatham and I had to leave home again at 12 noon to get back on board by the scheduled time. Was it worth it? I think it was for at least I was able to show my family and friends that I was still alive and well at that very critical stage of the war.

    As anticipated the following morning saw LST368 heading once more for the invasion beaches and subsequently unloading our troops and vehicles. we remained off the beach all night - and quite a hectic night it was - my diary recording there being “much bangery”. But this was to be our last trip to Normandy for a while. We sailed at 11:00 hours on Sunday 25th June and anchored off Cowes, Isle of Wight the following morning. and at anchor we stayed for four days before suddenly being informed we were granted four days leave from 30th June. Now I happened to know that my old pal George Reid was home on leave at that time, so I headed straight to George's mother's house and spent the night there before going to my own home the following day. The remainder of that leave (including a 24 hour extension notified) was spent quite hectically - visiting friends, escorting a variety of young ladies to cinema shows and no doubt imbibing a large amount of alcoholic liquid at various hostelries of our acquaintance! But leave passed quickly and back to the ship it was - although during my leave the ship had been sailed to Plymouth, so it was to Plymouth I returned instead of Southampton.

    The ship stayed in Plymouth for nearly five weeks during which time it went into dry dock for some repair work. the other watch went off on leave and I must say that I found Plymouth a rather dreary town at that time, although it must be stated in fairness that it had been severely damaged in air raids over the earlier war years and, of course, little building repair work had taken place. However, I made the most of what there was - cinemas etc. - until again, quite out of the blue - we were granted a further 10 days leave. Having fairly recently spent my leave at home, I decided this time to spend part of this leave period with my brother Arthur and his wife Kit. Arthur was in the RAF and serving at Towyn, near Barmouth (the nearest rail station) in Wales and it was some time since we had met. I left Plymouth at 08:45 on Thursday 20th July1944 and eventually arrived at Towyn (having been fortunate in hitch-hiking my way from Barmouth) at approximately 23:00 hours the same night. (I doubt if one could do it a lot quicker these days even assuming there is still a rail link between the two towns.)

    [FONT=&quot] I found my few days in and around Towyn very enjoyable. Gwen and Hugh - with whom Arthur and Kit were billeted - were a very pleasant couple and made me most welcome and I was able to visit some of the more scenic parts of the area. I left Towyn on 24th July at 18:10 and arrived home, tired but happy, around 07:30 the following day. That day and the following few were again spent visiting friends and relatives, cinema going etc. and one rather hectic evening when friend George turned up unexpectedly on a twenty four hour pass and we called in at a number of alcoholic refreshment houses. My diary recalls that on the morning of the day on which I travelled back to the ship “my stomach appeared to be somewhere other than where it ought.”
    [/FONT]© Frank Weeks
  14. Alanlweeks

    Alanlweeks Member


    So back to the ship it was, with a few more days respite in Plymouth before we set sail once more on 13th August bound for Portsmouth. (You may care to note that during this period Paris was liberated by the Allied armies - although I accept no blame for that!) And once more it was back to routine - load up and sail for the invasion beaches - but this time we carried RAF personnel and their vehicles rather than soldiers. and again it was quick off-loading and back to the south coast, this time to be diverted to Southampton and alongside where we commenced to load up for what we were told amounted to “a special job”.

    A special job it turned out to be - for we loaded up with 460 tins of high octane aviation petrol which were stowed in our tank deck. To say the least we were not amused. as I believe I have mentioned before, a ship with its domestic requirements of fuel and ammunition is, in wartime if one stops to think, not the safest form of accommodation and when one finds oneself acting as a part-time tanker heading for an unknown destination a certain lack of confidence emerges! However, “ours was not to reason why” and we sailed at 17:00 on Saturday 19th August bound - as we had now learned - for San Michele a small town in N.W. France.

    There were three LSTs taking part in this operation and, as usual, we were to sail in convoy. Now it is standard naval practice that when a flotilla (or part thereof) of naval vessels sails in convoy, the flotilla leader (normally the senior skipper in the flotilla) heads the convoy with the junior skipper acting as “tail end Charlie” - a position which LST368 seemed to occupy more often than not. But on this occasion, as luck (?) would have it, our skipper was the senior of the three and we were the “lucky” ship detailed to lead the way through what was described as “unswept waters”. But our luck held and the trip to the entrance to San Michele was uneventful other than that a fog came down making it unsafe for us to enter the bay and we anchored off at 10:30 on the 20th August. The fog cleared shortly after midday and during the late afternoon we entered the bay, still leading the other units and with our confidence very much shaken on being instructed that all hands other than those actually required on watch below decks were to stay on the upper deck wearing life jackets as it seems nobody knew whether or not Jerry had mined the bay and the waters had not been swept.

    Once again, however, our luck held, we beached at about 21:00 (there was no harbour at San Michele hence the use of LST's) and to the relief of all concerned, our cargo of aviation spirit was unloaded. The story told was that an RAF contingent ashore needed the high octane fuel and at that stage they were still cut off from the main Allied armies and the simplest way to get requirements to them was through San Michele. With no harbour, landing craft delivery was the ideal answer (that is from the point of view of those planners sitting tight on shore!).

    The following day a few hours shore leave was granted - and here again hangs a tale. Being a tidal bay, we were able to walk ashore (we were still bows on to the beach) but it was clear the tide would be in during the afternoon when our leave expired so a point on the bay was selected to which we were told to head and to where a boat would be despatched to pick us up for return to the ship. So ashore I went with various colleagues armed with such things as soap and chocolate with which we hoped to barter for drinks or such other commodities as might be available - no French money having been issued and none being held. I must say the French folk we met were most friendly claiming we were the first English sailors they had seen since 1940, and they made us welcome so far as their limited resources permitted. So having stretched our legs around the town and bartered our belongings for a few drinks etc., in due course we made our way back, cutting across the fields to the nominated pick up point where the boat duly arrived to convey us back onboard.

    The point of this story is that the following morning we looked across the bay to see (or more correctly hear) land mines left by the retreating Germans being detonated very close to the area through which we had tramped the previous evening to pick up our boat. And so back to the UK we sailed to resume once more our routine trips to and from the invasion beaches carrying back-up troops and vehicles - and on one occasion bringing back a batch of German prisoners of war for discharge to British POW camps. A quick night's leave at home was managed - leaving Portsmouth at 13:00 hours on Friday 1st Sept 1944 and having to be back on board by 10:00 hours the following day, which necessitated leaving home at 05:45 that morning.

    Then again Normandy - Portsmouth - Normandy etc. to an extent where even our navigating officer knew his way! But at last on 9th September we sailed in convoy eastwards to Southend where we anchored overnight before heading northwards and sailing on until we eventually reached North Shields where we berthed alongside. Here we learned we were to undergo a major refit and, of far more interest, each watch was to be granted 3 weeks leave. On this occasion, I was in “Starboard” watch and it was “Port” watch to take first leave, so I had 3 weeks to while away in North Shields. I must say this was where I first gained knowledge of “Geordies”. Apart from the difficulties of understanding their accents, once one got to know them we found them very friendly and helpful. I recall standing in a bar one evening chatting with one of the dockyard workers with whom I had become acquainted and listening to his tales spoken in a very thick Geordie accent and hoping that I responded with “Yes-es” and “No-es” in the right places! Anyway, the three weeks passed relatively quickly with visits to Newcastle and Whitley Bay for cinemas and theatres and five football matches in ten days, plus various evenings with shipmates in a number of local hostelries. Public Houses were very much a focus of life in “Geordieland” with singsongs and family entertainment a fairly regular evening occurrence.

    At last it was “Starboard” watch for leave, and Thurs. 6th Oct. 1944 saw me on my way home for my 3 weeks leave. During this period it turned out that brother Arthur and his wife Kit were also on leave from the RAF and we managed a couple of days together. As usual, I spent much of my leave visiting friends and relations, went to cinemas and theatres in Croydon and London with Mum and Dad, brother Stan and Peg from next door and finishing up on Saturday 21st October with quite a party in our next door neighbour's house. (The inherent dangers of war the hardships of food rationing and often the shared anxiety of relatives away on war service had led to a greater camaraderie between neighbours; for example, tea being a rationed item it had become a custom for my Mum to make a pot of tea one lunchtime which would be shared with our next door neighbour, who would return the compliment the following lunchtime. In similar fashion whenever I came home on leave, if a party of any sort was organised, then our next door neighbour was always invited.)

    Although as I said this greater degree of neighbourliness applied generally throughout the war, when one's neighbour also has three daughters - one of whom being of much the same age as oneself - there was, perhaps, an even greater reason for neighbourliness! Perhaps the most significant event of this leave, however, was the acquisition of my first real motor-cycle. I have stated earlier of my interest in motor cycles and brother Stan had purchased on my behalf a second hand Triumph “Tiger” 250 cc (I am not certain after this length of time whether Stan bought it for me as a gift or whether I contributed towards the cost). Needless to say I was thrilled to bits. Petrol was, of course, severely rationed but service personnel on leave could obtain a small allocation of petrol coupons which I was able to claim and I was really in my glory!. My diary records how, on Wednesday 25th October “I stowed the “Tiger” away - boo hoo” on leaving home to return to the ship.

    On arrival back on board it was to learn that Port watch had been granted a further seven days leave and, of course, off they went rejoicing. The ship at this time, following about six weeks of fairly intensive dockyard activity, was in one heck of a mess and the duty watch was kept pretty busy cleaning up and generally trying to make things once more shipshape. Amongst other “Alterations and Additions” that had been sanctioned during this refit was the fitting of “SRE” (Sound Reproduction Equipment) which was much welcomed. Officially, this equipment was fitted to enable the broadcasting of orders throughout the ship as and when required (as opposed to the Bosun's mate having to visit each mess-deck and repeat an order over and over again) but we welcomed it more as it gave the facility to broadcast radio programmes – e.g. “Forces Favourites” and in particular, the Saturday football results - to the whole ship's company. One job which fell to me to perform was to scale the mast to the yard arm and rig an aerial for the SRE.
    © Frank Weeks
  15. Alanlweeks

    Alanlweeks Member


    At this stage of events while possibly the officers knew, we ratings did not know what operations or deployments lay in store for us. It was obvious that the extensive refit we had undergone was not done for nothing and interest grew when large canvas awnings were erected on the quarterdeck. What lay ahead we wondered? But first things first - Starboard watches turn for another 7 days leave, and we left the ship on our way to North Shields Station at approximately 11:00 hours. Now I was (and still am and always will be) a non-smoker; I did, however, like my naval rum ration which I had taken ever since I reached the permitted age. My Dad and Mum both smoked and I knew our next door neighbour liked a drink, so I (like a number of my ship-mates) had “Bottled” a little of our daily rum ration and bought some naval tobacco (duty free) which we were taking home - in my case the tobacco for my Dad and a sample of rum for my neighbour to taste. Whilst one was permitted to take a limited quantity of tobacco or cigarettes ashore when going on leave, rum was in no way allowed. It was rather unfortunate, therefore, that shortly after stepping ashore en route to the station I, and one or two of my colleagues, were stopped by Customs Officers. (Some of the lads were lucky, made a run for it and dodged authority. I was not so lucky and was caught red-handed). Those of us caught were taken back to the ship, formally hauled before the Skipper and our leave cancelled - albeit temporarily. Fortunately, our Skipper was (unofficially) sympathetic and reinstated our leave a couple of days later - following admonition and promise of punishment on return - so I (and my other unfortunate colleagues) scurried off home for a slightly curtailed leave period.

    Once again leave was spent visiting the parents of my friends who were serving somewhere in the Forces, or other relatives. On this occasion opportunity was taken to call on the mother of friend Den (one of the colleagues with whom I had joined up) who, as I believe I have mentioned before, had a very attractive sister only a couple of years younger than I. Although officially engaged at this time to an RAF man, he was away (and I wasn't) and she was free the following day - so I took Sheila up to London where we saw a couple of shows and had a splendiferous day out. Oddly enough, Sheila's brother Den came home on leave the same day that I was due to return, but we were able to snatch a few hours together for only the second time we'd met since leaving our training establishment in early 1942.

    Returning to the ship in North Shields it was now clear that our refit was almost complete and it would not be long before we sailed for destinations unknown (at least to those of us on the lower deck!). But we had been on the Tyne for best part of two months during which time we had built up quite a rapport with many of the locals - a number of our crew finding opportunities to console female members of the local community whose boyfriends/husbands were away in other war theatres - and, after first obtaining the Skipper's permission, it was decided we should stage a farewell “do” - loosely described as a “dance” although more correctly defined as a “booze-up” with music.

    Everybody thought this to be a good idea - as I did myself until I found I was delegated to organise the event. However, after considerable effort and with the assistance of some of our local contacts - including one GPO telephonist named Rene with whom I had long and detailed conversations and who promised to talk some of her girlfriends into attending - I managed to obtain hire of a hall and band at a very nominal cost. If I remember correctly the band, about 4 piece plus a girl crooner, agreed to perform without charge subject to provision of free drinks, and the event took place on Tuesday evening 14th Nov. 1944. All reports afterwards were that it was a great success. I do not recall the actual drinks cost although I do recall it was pretty phenomenal for the day and age! I also recall quite vividly the state of the hall afterwards (the agreement was that we should clear it up the following morning); not damaged - there was little vandalism in those days - but tables, chairs, floor etc. reeking of stale alcohol.

    Thursday 16th November saw us beginning our sea and gunnery trials in preparation for .......? It appeared we were to sail on Wed. 22nd - but to our surprise sailing was suddenly cancelled and even more surprisingly, a further few days' leave granted. I caught the 00:40 train from Newcastle on Tyne on Thursday 23rd and was home about 09:30 - somewhat tired but otherwise in good spirits. My old friend Den was still home on leave and we were able to get together on several days, visiting a cinema in London and even sinking so low as to go to watch Chelsea play Arsenal at soccer on the Saturday. But on Sunday 26th it was the 23:15 from Kings Cross and back to the Tyne.

    We sailed on Wednesday 29th Nov. proceeding in a northerly direction. The weather worsened as we got further north and turned west into the Pentland Firth. The ship rolled and pitched and literally did everything but stand on its head, flat-bottomed LST's not being the most comfortable of ships in stormy conditions. But this was not surprising as the Pentland Firth is generally reckoned as being one of the roughest sea areas in the world. At the end of the Firth, we turned south and finally docked in Greenock on the evening of Sat. 2nd December. We sailed the following afternoon bound for Liverpool. The weather was still very stormy and during the voyage we developed such a heavy roll that the chart table in the chart room broke away from the bulkhead causing quite a panic (especially as it occurred during the middle watch) until it could be shored up.

    We docked in Liverpool on the evening of 4th Dec. and almost immediately started storing ship for obviously distant locations. Despite this activity, leave was again granted and Port watch hustled off for 6 days. Although we were kept pretty busy storing during the day, evenings remained generally free and we were fortunate enough to have a “Scouse” (Liverpudlian) stoker on board who had a teenage sister and I and a few other colleagues were invited to a party at the house of one of his sister's girlfriends. A very good evening was enjoyed with party games etc. - the girls were a really nice bunch - and it was a pleasure to be amongst friendly, homely, English lassies for a spell when one has been cooped up in a ship for some time with only male company. (Not that I would care overmuch to serve afloat with a partly female crew as can be the trend today some 50 years on).

    So a few days later on 13th December I left Lime Street Station with other members of Starboard watch for my six days leave. For a change, a group of us spent a day down in Peacehaven, near Brighton in Sussex where one of our shipmates lived for a somewhat rowdy evening - but otherwise it was “routine” - visiting friends, the cinema, playing football with a team brother Stan played for and who were short of players - plus, on this occasion, attempting with little success to do a little Xmas shopping (a chore no more a pleasure then than it is today except that one's purchases cost considerably less; but then wages were, I suppose, relative!).

    Back to Scouseland it was on 20th Dec. Hectic store ship activity continued but a number of football matches were managed - during one of which my diary records we lost 10-0 - and another party with girlfriends of our Scouse stoker's sister was enjoyed on Xmas Day. But all good things come to an end and we sailed from Liverpool on 29th Dec. again going north until we anchored off Lamlash on the Isle of Arran on 31st Dec.1944. So ended the year - what was to be our fate in 1945? Soon, we hoped, we would learn at least of the general direction in which we would be heading.

    It was to be a while yet before we knew. We sailed from Lamlash on New Year's Day - and anchored off Greenock. We sailed from Greenock on 2nd Jan. - and anchored off Lamlash. We managed a brief run ashore in Lamlash - but this did little more than stretch our legs! And then on the 6th Jan. we sailed, heading south this time. we started in calm weather but this quickly deteriorated as we sailed and we “rolled” our way to Milford Haven off which we anchored overnight before carrying on, still in a southerly direction, then easterly past the Eddystone lighthouse and on to Southampton where once more we anchored off. So between September 1944 and early Jan. 1945 we had circumnavigated the United Kingdom - something perhaps to boast about! And on January 11th once more I was on my way home for a spot more leave.

    Writing this narrative has brought to mind the amount of leave I (and my shipmates) had been lucky enough to receive since the invasion of Normandy. This made up somewhat for the 16 months or so we spent overseas from Dec. 1942 to April 1944 - and on reflection I think this was largely due to the success of the Normandy landings where, after the initial requirements to transport troops and vehicles to the beaches - subsequently taken over by ordinary merchant vessels once the Mulberry Harbours were in place - Landing Ships were temporarily superfluous. So opportunity was being taken to get them refitted and worked up to readiness for whatever activities the planners next decided upon; not, of course, that any of us objected to being granted leave!.

    Leave on this occasion was restricted to 6 days, but as usual as much as possible was crammed into it. Cinemas, theatres - local and in the West End - were visited and the most made of the available time until once more it was back to the ship. We moved from Southampton to Portsmouth whilst port watch was on leave - but no sooner did they return when starboard watch - including myself - were off home again for another 3 days. During the period that port watch were on leave, however, the crew of an LCT (Landing Craft, Tanks) joined the ship (ominous!) and on Friday 26th January 1945 an LCT was hoisted on to, and firmly lashed down on, our upper deck (even more ominous!), and a couple of days later we moved out to anchor off Ryde where we commenced engine trials. These were not to be successful owing to some contamination in our fuel oil - subsequently suspected of being sabotage - and for which one of our stokers (who had evidently had enough of Landing Ship life) was “run in” by the Naval authorities. Fortunately (?) repairs did not take long and Tuesday 6th Feb. finally saw us sailing from the Solent in a westerly direction as my diary succinctly put it, for….?
    © Frank Weeks
  16. Mike L

    Mike L Very Senior Member

    Must have looked like this Alan, can't remember where I found that picture now.

    Attached Files:

  17. Alanlweeks

    Alanlweeks Member

    Perhaps from post 16 of this thread?
  18. Alanlweeks

    Alanlweeks Member


    It was not long before we turned in a southerly direction and started heading towards the Bay of Biscay. Seas had been pretty rough from the start - to the extent that during the night of the 7th February we lost touch with the remainder of our convoy and it was late afternoon of the 8th before we caught up and rejoined. The mess deck “buzz” at this stage was that our first port of call was to be Gibraltar - but before that we had to negotiate the Bay, which truly lived up to its reputation and had us really rocking and rolling to the best of its ability! However, once through the Bay, seas began to moderate and life aboard began to resume normality - one could once more walk around the decks without having to cling to handholds before taking the next step, and the evening watches (for those not actually on duty) were taken up with “Tombola” and such like.

    Personally, I was quite busy in my off-duty hours preparing what was to be the 2nd edition of our ship's magazine (for which I had been appointed editor) and also trying to inveigle some of my colleagues into writing articles for a ship's newspaper. Well, we duly arrived off Gibraltar on 16th Feb. at about 14:00 where we anchored off - only to sail again at 16:30 heading east through the Mediterranean. We were off Oran at 16:00 the next day, off Algiers the following afternoon - then on past Pantelleria, Malta, Tobruk and Alexandria and eventually pulled alongside in Port Said on Sunday 25th Feb. During this part of the trip, the Mediterranean had also demonstrated that it could get quite rough as my diary records the ship rolling 45 degrees at one stage somewhere in the region of Malta. The first edition of our ship's newspaper, the “LST Times” was also produced en-voyage.

    Opportunity was taken to stretch our legs in Port Said and also to buy some “eastern souvenirs” and play a football match against one of our fellow LSTs. A special note was also made of the “Eastern smells” - I later reckoned that the only so called “mystery of the east” was how they managed to pack so many horrible smells into one small area! Two days later we left Port Said, now heading south through the Suez until we reached Port Tewfik at the southern end of the canal and where some twenty one months earlier we had demonstrated to various Naval and Military authorities the capabilities of an LST. At that time we were virtually unblooded in amphibious operations, but now we were back with four (Sicily, Salerno, Anzio and Normandy) landings under our belts and feeling ourselves veterans of the “sport”.

    Port Tewfik we now found to be a reasonable run ashore - the area had been free of fighting since the battle of Alamein in late 1942 - and NAAFI clubs and facilities had had time to get established to provide entertainment etc. for locally based and transitory servicemen. We stayed in Tewfik eight days in all, managing to arrange a number of football matches against other LSTs and accompanying ships and even indulging in my first ever game of hockey, which I found most enjoyable even if my (and most of my compatriots) knowledge of the proper rules were a little sketchy!. One other item of note concerning Port Tewfik - the smell from the local gasworks! One smell that was perhaps not a “mystery” as one knew at least from whence it came although its pungency was not improved by that knowledge.

    We sailed from Tewfik on 9th March 1945. Shortly after sailing, still proceeding south down the Red Sea, we were paid in Indian rupees. At that point in time, a rupee was worth 7p in today's money - and I received the equivalent of £4.50 representing 2 weeks’ pay. Apart from the intense heat as we continued on our way south (no air conditioning on LSTs and only an occasional porthole for ventilation on the lower deck) the most significant thing to strike us was the lack of necessity to darken ship at night. We had for so long whilst in the European and Mediterranean theatres of war needed to ensure that no lights were visible from the ship during the hours of darkness that it was a real treat to be able to sail at night with lights blazing and the ability to leave doors and hatches open to gather such breezes as there were. We passed Aden six days later and shortly turned eastward into the Arabian Sea heading for India.

    India was new territory for most of us (remember the vast majority of our crew were, like myself, “Hostilities Only” ratings and probably had not travelled outside the UK in pre-war days). I think most of us were quite keen to sample the sights of the Far East and this was enhanced by the knowledge that having now gone “East of Aden” we qualified for what was termed “Japanese Campaign Pay”. The extra pay was obviously welcomed despite the somewhat off-putting thoughts of possibly engaging Japanese opposition with their well-known reputation for inhumanity and cruelty.

    However, seas were now relatively calm, it was hot, there was virtually no enemy activity in this western area of the Far East and we were enjoying a cruise at government expense in glorious weather; not perhaps in the lap of luxury and with no entertainment other than that which we provided for ourselves - and talking of which a small group of us planned a concert to be held on board. I had written a short play - I can't recall what it was now other than that it was some sort of old fashioned melodrama with a forlorn maiden and wicked squire, interspersed with some crazy leaping around in a devilish Dervish type of dance (performed dressed in a duffel coat and sea boots if my memory doesn't fail me!) and which it seems from my diary notes went down quite well. The “stage” as ever, was the elevator normally used to transfer vehicles from the tank deck to the upper deck, lowered into the tank deck and thus providing a raised platform around which onlookers could sit.

    Another event staged around this time to help keep us amused was a game of “Uckers” played on the upper deck and which basically is a form of Ludo with members of the ship's company serving as “counters” to be moved around the board, a large dice thrown from a bucket to determine the moves and other crew members dressed as witchdoctors and the like muttering incantations etc. to enliven the play.

    On Friday 23rd March 1945 we anchored off Cochin, a Royal Indian Navy base in north west India, to find the Fleet Mail organisation had done us proud as we received a host of mail, of which I personally received fourteen letters. The following day a run ashore was granted and first impressions of at least this part of India was that the people were generally much cleaner and healthier looking than those inhabiting the North African coast, Egypt and the like. As usual, some souvenirs were purchased ashore - Indian cotton tablecloths and towels - and I enjoyed my first ever rickshaw ride. The ship stayed in Cochin for eleven days altogether. during this period I managed to play in three football matches, one hockey match and some inter-ship cricket - so all in all we kept ourselves pretty well occupied.

    Our next port of call was Bombay where we arrived on 7th April and where one of my first tasks was to go ashore and order myself a “No.6” suit. This is a white naval uniform for wear in the tropics and which in peace time is part of the standard issue to all sailors; it being routine for them to serve a spell in the tropics during their careers. In war time as an economy measure “6” suits were not issued - one simply got “No.5s” - a whitish suit made of duck canvas, stiff as a board and primarily intended for use when working in the tropics. They were most uncomfortable to wear and certainly completely unsuitable for walking ashore. As a matter of interest, the suit numbering system in use in the Navy was roughly as follows. No.1s - one's best (walking out) blue uniform. No.2s - the ordinary blue working uniform. No.3s - blue boiler suits. No.4s - can't remember. No.5s - white canvas working uniform. No.6s - white walking out suit).

    Bombay generally we found not ideal for Naval ratings on low rates of pay, but a few souvenirs were purchased. I collected my suit (made up in 3 days) and had my photo taken in it. One football match was played before we sailed after four days, now proceeding south. Six days later we anchored off Trincomalee in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). A couple of hours leave was granted which enabled us to see a little of what Trinco was like, but we sailed the following morning now heading north east away from the east coast of India. On 23rd April 1945 we anchored off Kyaukpya on Ramree Island a short distance off the Burmese coast. My diary records this as being a very quiet place with “now't but jungle around”. However, it seems an ENSA company had managed to find its way there and obviously we managed to get ashore to see their show as according to my notes it was “Good oh”!

    I am fairly sure that it was during our stay off Ramree Island that I picked up a signal, probably from the BBC World Service, that the American President Franklin Roosevelt had died and Harry Truman, the Vice President, had taken his place. It was Truman who, a few weeks later, was to make that vital decision which brought the war to an eventual end with the unconditional surrender of the Japanese.

    We stayed anchored off Ramree for nearly 2 weeks with little activity. During this period a landing took place at Rangoon, the capital of Burma, but we were not involved in the “D” day actions on this occasion (although we were to go there later). Whilst lying off Ramree, news came through on 8th May 1945 that “VE” day in Europe had been officially announced with the unconditional surrender of Germany.

    To celebrate this occasion, the powers that be authorised “splice the mainbrace” (the official authorisation of a double rum issue). By the time the news reached us those members of the crew who took rum had already partaken of the normal daily tot and so a second issue during the early afternoon at least gave us something with which to celebrate the welcoming news - there being no other way one could celebrate (officially) as no other alcohol was allowed on the lower deck and even had we been permitted to go ashore, there was nowhere to go anyway!

    As I recounted in the previous paragraph, officially there was no other means by which we could celebrate once our second rum ration had been disposed of. However, amongst my little group of shore-going colleagues was one by the name of Moss, who by trade was an officer's steward. Now naval officers were allowed alcohol on board and “The Moose” (by which nickname my colleague Moss was known) was a most resourceful fellow and for some time he had ensured that before any bottle of drink was emptied by our officers a small quantity of the liquor was removed and cached in a little hidey-hole known only to “The Moose” himself - to be brought out when a suitable occasion occurred. Not surprisingly, the announcement of the cessation of the war in Europe was considered to be such a suitable occasion! So at around midnight “The Moose”, yours truly, and another two or three shore-going colleagues gathered in a small corner of the upper deck and carried the celebrations, such as they could be, a little further.
    © Frank Weeks
  19. Alanlweeks

    Alanlweeks Member

    Can anyone help my father remember what a 'No. 4' naval uniform was?

  20. Hugh MacLean

    Hugh MacLean Senior Member

    Hello Alan,

    No. 4 dress uniform was normally a serge jumper, [no collar] red badges and trousers worn as night clothing and in wet weather.


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