WWII Memories Without Regret - By Leonard A Harris - Royal Navy

H.M.S. Pembroke 28th April - 29th September 1939 When previously on H.M.S.Eskimo my request to qualify as Torpedo Coxswain was approved by the captain and so I left the ship. I did not go immediately to the Torpedo School to qualify: before this happened I was to spend five months as a New Entries Instructor and also to become involved in a removal. Neville Chamberlain and his Peace in our time had decided my wife and I on the move, and taking a house in Gillingham, we completely furnished it with the idea of letting rooms to other naval personnel and their wives, this type of accommodation being very much in demand; no married quarters being available in those days. The move was from Hertfordshire, where my wife had been installed quite comfortably in a self- contained flat. Perhaps we may have been there even now were it not for our wish to be united as a family; my daughter now being three years old. Living at Gillingham was ideal: we had our naval couple; I was getting home most evenings and weekends, whilst friends from Hertfordshire managed to spend a few days with us during their holidays. My class consisted of direct entry ordinary seamen, and they had to be taken through from scratch. It was whilst I was instructing them in anchors and cables, that we were destined to play our part in the making of a film. All at Sea starred Sandy Powell, and the plot as I remember it was to do with Sandy joining the navy and doing some of the most stupid things – things which in the end, proved most disadvantageous to the enemy t thus making him a hero. A working model of a ship’s foc’sle was used for instructions in Anchors and Cable, and shots were taken of the class and I operating this model. We never saw anything of Sandy, the shots were meant to give an impression of classes under instruction, all part of his joining routine. Although the cameras were operating for about twenty minutes before moving on to another class, when I eventually saw the film, my class and I were on the screen for only a few seconds. So much for a film role as an extra unpaid, with not even a free ticket for the show. As everyone now knows, the words of Chamberlain proved to be far from the truth, and there came that Sunday morning when he told us that we were now in a state of war with Germany. The writing had been on the wall before this however, and Royal Navy Reservists had already been called up. During this mobilisation period all leave had been stopped, as had the instruction of new entries; the instructors helping with the mobilisation programme.. The part which I had to play was through the gas chamber so that they of their newly issued gas masks. The procedure had been the same for years, and it was one which everybody went through whenever they rejoined barracks. Gas masks would be put on outside the chamber, this chamber having been filled with an invisible lachrymatic gas. Masks on, the party would enter, I followed. Closing the door behind me I said my piece. “This chamber is full of lachrymatic gas” – “You are here to test the efficiency of your mask” – “If it leaks your eyes will start smarting and fill with tears, in which case you are free to leave and get it adjusted Very rarely was there a leaky mask, testing being quite easily done before entering by squeezing the corrugated tube. If one could still breathe the mask was
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