Why this Book?
by Gordon Smith,
Preparing for a
"Return to Murmansk" lecture cruise in June
2003, I researched many books on the Russian convoys. One
of the most interesting and certainly well-written was
"Coxswain in the Northern Convoys". Not about
admirals and captains, strategy and battles, but an
exciting account by an ex-fisherman of his experiences
off Norway in 1940, with three of the best-known Russian
Convoys - PQ17,
JW51B/Battle of the
Barents Sea, and finally in coastal forces.
Most of the personal
accounts of even World War 2 have disappeared for ever.
Even the few "lower-deck" books have soon
vanished from the bookshops - "out-of-print!".
They deserve better. This is why I sought permission to
publish most of this book on the Internet.
For that permission I am
of course grateful to the publishers, but even more so to
Mrs Gladys Kerslake and her family - sadly, Sid Kerslake
died some years ago.
My hope is that
readers continue to enjoy this tale for many years to
by Vice Admiral B.B. Schofield, CB, CBE
I am pleased to write this Foreword as I know what
valuable work these trawlers performed during World War II.
Painfully short of Escort ships as this country was at the
outbreak of war, fishing vessels were requisitioned by the
Admiralty, converted to Anti Submarine ships and employed as
Mr Kerslake, an ex-fisherman, was no stranger to the fog,
snow, ice, storms and mountainous seas between Norway,
Iceland and onto the White Sea, but in wartime there were the
added dangers of enemy torpedoes and mines. He has written a
fascinating account of his four years' service in AST Northem
Gem, of around 600 tons and we must be grateful to him for
persevering over a period of seven years to do so. War
histories cannot concentrate on the individual so we must
rely on memoirs of the men who took part. They all added a
chapter to our Naval History of which this country may be
First and foremost, I must dedicate this book to my wife
Gladys, and to my two sons, Brian and Michael, not forgetting
of course my daughter Carol. They have all for years badgered
me into writing my experiences down on paper, with the view
to getting them published. Now peace reigns once more.
Secondly, I dedicate this book to the members of the
Fleetwood Branch of the Royal Naval Patrol Service
Association, of which I am a member. Also to all officers and
men of that service wherever they may be, for they came from
all parts of the world, to serve in the 'small ships', the
mine-sweeping and anti-submarine trawlers, and the corvettes,
to fight not only the common enemy, but the sea in all its
Many of these small ships were not as lucky as the
Northern Gem: many were sunk with a great loss of life. The
Royal Naval Patrol Service, for its size, lost more ships
than the Royal Navy, and had more casualties than any other
service, so great was their loyalty to their King and
country. They shirked nothing, no matter what the odds
against them were. They were, like me, ex-fishermen, or men
of the Merchant Navy, or in the latter years of the war,
Hostilities-Only men, some of whom had never seen the sea
before, let alone a ship of any kind. This book is my story,
and my story is theirs, for they all went through similar
situations at some time or other, during the long hard slog
of those wartime years.
We Remember Them.