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

leaking and could be adjusted by means of the elasticated straps, but to continue with my piece. “Everything seems to be in order” – “To prove that there is gas in here, and to give you an added confidence in your mask, you will be asked to remove it before leaving.” A long standing ritual, and everyone present knew that there was gas in the chamber; they had all been through it many times before, but it was just something to add that little bit of unpleasantness to the proceedings, they leaving, gas mask in hand, and eyes streaming with painful tears. It was during this period that I was to renew my acquaintance with C.P.O. Bungay Williams, an instructor colleague discharged to pension only two weeks earlier. Such a short time in Civvy Street, but all naval pensioners were liable for call up in an emergency; at least, they were up until the time of attaining the age of fifty-five years. Mobilisation over and war declared, the training programme continued; all of my class managed to pass their exams, even one lad of who I had almost despaired. It was sad to hear some time later, that he had been killed when his one and only ship had been in action. I came across several members of this class in the ensuing years, and most gratifying it was to meet up with two of them who had attained the status of Petty Officer Gunner’s Mate. My next class comprised direct entry Sub Lieutenants (A), and these I had to teach the rudiments of seamanship, although they were destined to become pilots in the Fleet Air Arm. Before I could be allocated another class I was drafted to the Torpedo School at Portsmouth, for it was here, at H.M.S. Vernon, that I was to carry out my long awaited Coxswains course. H.M.S. Vernon. 30th September - 6th December 1939. I was not a little surprised to find that four of the would be coxswains in my class were acting petty officers, for it still rankled somewhat that the commander of Emerald had considered that I was too short in seniority to be considered for a recommendation. However; as time passed, acting petty officer coxswains were to be much in evidence: the commissioning of reserve fleet destroyers, fifty clapped out American destroyers, and the corvettes and escort vessels building each requiring a coxswain in their complement. I knew of one instance - and there may have been others - where a commanding officer refused to accept an acting petty officer as his coxswain; understandable in away, for a destroyer coxswain, if not a chief petty officer in his own right, had to be given an acting rate as such, and I suppose that in this particular C.O.’s estimation, acting petty officer to acting chief was a bit much, especially as it also meant a change of uniform. The course itself consisted of school, signals and destroyer work, examinations having to be taken in each of these subjects. School work involved navigation and the keeping of victualling accounts, for until the advent of the larger destroyers; coxswains had always been responsible for the ordering, issuing and account of Paymaster’s provisions: in later destroyers, a Supply Petty Officer was included in the complement, the Paymaster’s stores then
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