George Taylor wrote on 15th November 2009

Memories of a Bygone Age

In late October 2009 I had the pleasure of visiting HMS Cavalier in Chatham Historic Dockyard. This visit set me off on a real journey of nostalgia, since I do claim to have served on HMS Cavalier as well as HMS Carysfort.

I joined the Royal Navy in December 1943 at the age of 17 ½ as a volunteer in the “Y Scheme” as an officer cadet. After approximately 8 months training it was decreed that I was not officer material after all, and I was transferred back into the ranks (a decision which I secretly welcomed, as I did not have sufficient financial backing to ensure comfortable living as an officer). An aptitude test indicated that I could make a successful mechanic, so I was entered into yet another course of training, this time to become a radio mechanic. Achieving good results in the final examinations then determined that I should become a Radio Mechanic (Radar). All this had taken a further 13 months and I passed out with the rank of L/RM(Radar).

I was then shipped out to Colombo in Ceylon to await a posting which ultimately occurred when I was informed that I should join HMS Cavalier in Singapore. I travelled overland to Trincomalee from whence I was given passage on an aircraft carrier to Singapore (about 5 days of luxury cruising with no duties except from keeping a low profile).

I duly reported aboard HMS Cavalier on December 17th 1945, only to be informed on 18th December that this posting was a clerical error as I should have joined HMS Carysfort which was based – You guessed it - in Trincomalee. (My service records do state that I served on Cavalier – hence my claim). This resulted in a further luxury cruise, this time on a cruiser. So after a further 5 days I joined HMS Carysfort on or about 28th December 1945. I was to stay on Carysfort until she completed this commission and paid off in Portsmouth. I have many pleasant memories of my time aboard – and a few not so pleasant too.

Early on in my naval career, whilst on my first commission on HMS Dauntless based on Rosyth and mostly patrolling the North Sea, I found that I was prone to sea sickness. The first episode occurred whilst we were still moored to the dock and the engines were started up. After that, throughout my naval career I suffered bouts of sickness on a number of occasions, although always when experiencing rougher weather than I had had before. However, whilst returning to Portsmouth to pay off, we passed through the Bay of Biscay in a full gale and I was quite happily working on the half-cheese aerial at the mast head with no problems. 9 months later I took my fiancée to the cinema to see the film “Western Approaches” and I had to excuse myself and bolt for the toilet – I had already lost my immunity! In 2005, whilst on holiday in South Africa, after an unexpected bout of vertigo and nausea, I was diagnosed as suffering from “Menieres Disease” which fortunately, with the appropriate medication, is fully under control.

But what about life on board the Carysfort? I can honestly say that I only got seriously drunk on one notable occasion – my 20th birthday. By this time I had already been given the rank of A/PO/RM and was a member of the PO’s mess. Therefore I started to draw my rum ration as “neaters” and also traditionally had “sippers” from all my messmates. I just made it to the nearest locker and then passed out for about 8 hours.

A fair amount of this commission for Carysfort passed with us supporting the Dutch Government against the Indonesians who were actively fighting for their independence. We quickly discovered that the locals would not accept the official currency of Dutch Guilders. They were willing to accept any other currency, and even preferred Japanese Occupancy Currency. We were delighted to be informed that the Ghurkas had captured a warehouse containing large quantities of this Japanese currency and Japanese cigarettes. In addition to our normal pay, the Dutch Government issued us with a weekly allocation of the captured goodies. We also found out that if we drew our savings from the ship’s bank in any other currency than the Dutch Guilder (i.e. English pounds, Australian dollars etc) then these could be changed into Dutch guilders at a very favourable rate of exchange, and then put back into the bank at the official rate. I think I made a profit of about £100 myself which, in those days, was a small fortune.

We also gave passage to a number of Dutch men, women and children who had been imprisoned by the Japanese. They had little in the way of clothing, but appeared to have been able to conceal their savings. We therefore sold them most of our spare kit, keeping only sufficient for ourselves to be able to go ashore and replenish our kit at the Q.M. stores when we put back in at Singapore.

One very interesting “excursion” was to sail about 50 miles upriver to Palembang in Sumatra to where a refinery was under siege by the rebels. Whilst moored there, a landing party secured a supply of around 400 live chickens, which were most welcome. Perhaps unwisely, I had mentioned in conversation that my family back home kept poultry, and, at Christmas, my brother and I were expected to help with the killing, plucking and cleaning of much of our stock. It was therefore not surprising that I was “invited” to assist with the detail allotted to wring the necks of the fowl. As most of those pressed into service were unable to carry out this task, and I was not going to do it all myself, I decided that decapitation, using a large cleaver, would be more productive. Unfortunately, several of the chicken were released too soon after decapitation and ran around, spouting blood in all directions, and this too unnerved several of the detail. Anyway, after a hard afternoon’s work, the job was done, and we left a veritable mountain of chicken heads, feet and entrails on the jetty. By the following morning there was no evidence of the slaughter which had taken place there. And we did enjoy the chickens, even though they were quite small and stringy.

One of my most vivid memories is of the routine for entering harbour. The announcement would be made that “We will enter harbour at 07.00 tomorrow”. At 06.59 we would pass through the entrance and the flotilla would appear, moored head to stern. As we passed each vessel, seemingly at a fair rate of knots, we would hear the skipper’s voice over the loud hailer “Morning Caesar”, “Morning Cavalier”, “Morning Carron”, “Morning Petard”, “FULL ASTERN BOTH”. It was then as if we had hit the harbour wall! Any loose crockery and cutlery would go flying, as would we also unless we were prepared, braced and hanging on. And we would come to a stop right by our mooring buoy. All the anchorman need do was to shin down a rope and fasten the shackle. I never knew the skipper to fail to judge the right moment. And, needless to say, the engine room staff were equally on the ball.

An interesting episode occurred when the C-in-C East Indies came aboard with a number of his staff, including Wrens, to witness a gunnery shoot. An old, wooden river gunboat, fitted with a large target, was towed out to sea. Several ships took part in the exercise, and we scored a number of hits, but still the target remained afloat, so the order was given to “Cease Fire”, and then we rammed the gunboat at speed to ensure that she did not remain a danger to shipping.

On our journey back to the UK at the end of the commission, whilst Carysfort was on duty radar watch for the flotilla, Jimmy Dickinson was one of my operators. He called my attention to a small blip which kept appearing periodically on the PPI. We surmised that it was probably a small lifeboat or piece of wreckage which registered when it was on the crest of a wave, and then disappeared when it dropped into the trough. As a precaution we notified the bridge and a special watch was mounted by all ships. When the object was spotted it turned out to be a mine which had broken loose, and was floating, semi-submerged. We hove too, and had the task of setting off the mine by rifle fire, which took about 10 shots to achieve. As it went off there was a cry of “Watch out for shrapnel”, and several crewmen did suffer small burns when they were hit by falling pieces.

We entered Portsmouth harbour with pennant flying, and moored in the centre of “The Roads”. Our first visitors were Customs and Excise, who tried to persuade us that most of the items we felt obliged declare were not actually taxable. Then the Harbour Police came aboard, headed by a sergeant who was ex CPO, and who joined us on our mess deck for a tot. We had accrued a healthy mess credit. I spent my share on purchases from the NAAFI stores of many items in short supply in the UK and finished up with a loaded tea chest. A pop bottle full of “neaters” ensured that my tea chest was taken ashore and, the following day, I received a ticket from the left luggage office at Portsmouth Harbour Station. I collected the tea chest on my first home visit. How I got it across London from Waterloo to Euston is another epic story altogether.

And what about life after service? I was demobbed in January 1947 and joined industry again as a laboratory assistant in the copper and copper alloy manufacturing industry. I studied metallurgy and after about 20 years reached my peak, being elected a Chartered Engineer, Fellow of the Institution of Metallurgists (now the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining). Over 45 years I was employed by three companies, ultimately attaining the position of Technical Director/Chief Metallurgist. In this capacity, one of my tasks was to represent the company at meetings of The British Standards Institution, represent BSI and the UK on European and International Standards meetings, chairing most of the meetings I was called upon to serve. I have often wondered why the Andrew decided that I was unfit to serve as an officer, and have come to the conclusion that either I was a slow developer or possibly that I had too inquisitive a mind, and could not bring myself to blind acceptance of orders that I disagreed with. Whatever the reason, I can say with absolute conviction that, throughout my service and industrial life, I have been fortunate that I have thoroughly enjoyed whatever I was asked to do, my motto in life being “Problems are sent to interest us, not to make us worry”.

Go well my friends and former comrades-in-arms

God Bless you all.

George (Red) Taylor A/PO RM(Radar).