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
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
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