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Early days at war & 1940 Norwegian campaign, including taken prisoner

on to 3 - Making Ready for War

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September 1939 found me then at Barrow-in-Furness, onboard the AST Northern Gem, an ex-fishing trawler, now being fitted out as a convoy escort vessel, but with many other roles to play in the coming years, as we were to find out: patrol vessel, rescue ship, you name it we were destined to do it.

The crew consisted of a skipper lieutenant, a coxswain, a leading hand, four or five seamen, a chief and second engineer, two firemen or stokers, a cook and a gunner, the latter being a retired Navy man from London. I was to strike up a great friendship with this man who although we did not know it at the time was to become the Northern Gem's first fatal casualty. This was the tragic happening that brought me for one, and I am sure the rest of the crew, to the horrible conclusion that we really were at war with the people of the country where our ship had been built, and that people could really be killed or maimed. Until this death occurred, we must have been living in a make-believe world. We did not want to believe that the bad things we read about could happen to us; also we had the feeling in those first few months of the war, that peace would soon be with us once again, that we were immune from bad things, and that soon we should be home and back at the job we liked doing, fishing. What an illusion that was!

And so the time came for us to leave the safety of Barrow, and make our way to join up with the other four ships who were to make us up into a flotilla; they were the Northern Dawn, the Northern Wave, the Northern Spray, and the Northern Pride, all built in the land of our enemy at Bremerhaven, all almost identical to each other, but to me the Gem was the best of them all. Our destination was Milford Haven, which was to be our base for the next three months. I suppose we were important in that area; a vast amount of shipping was passing along that part of the coast at that period. I can remember the times when just three or four trawlers escorted up to fifty or more merchant vessels, up that part of the coast, through the Irish Sea, and the North Channel, and saw them off into the Atlantic Ocean, where they made their own separate ways to their destinations. The Royal Navy were short of destroyers for escort duties, and were to remain so for many months to come.

Out at sea life was very relaxing; nothing much was happening at all for it was the period of the Phoney War, at sea as well as on the land fronts in France. Most times after a trip we dropped the anchor in the haven, and anyone who wanted to go ashore did so by tender, only when the ship required coal or water, or any repairs done did we enter the dock.

After Milford Haven we were ordered to the Clyde and Dunbarton where we were given leave starting on Boxing Day 1939. We had been given a reception by the Mayor and Council of this friendly town on Christmas Day, and a great meal was enjoyed by all. We were well treated and well looked after during the whole of our stay in Dunbarton. We did not know what they were going to do to the ship, only that she was going to have an extensive refit. The weather was the coldest for ages; I remember that even inside the railway carriages taking us home there were icicles hanging from the roof, and we were all perished from the cold, but at least we were on our way home, our first leave of the war.

On arriving back onboard the Northern Gem, we were to find absolute chaos. The after fishroom had been torn apart, and a mess deck had been built into it. This was to be the seamen's quarters; the firemen were still living down in the mess deck over the rudder and propeller. What had been our living quarters under the bridge was now turned into officers' quarters. There were two small berths for the two extra officers that we were to 'acquire', and they now had a proper officers' wardroom there as well. Apart from the officers, our crew had been increased with the addition of a signalman, a wireless operator, an officers' steward and a couple more seamen.

Next time our move was northwards to Scapa Flow, from where we made several trips out on the Northern Patrol, scouring the seas between the Shetland Islands and the Faeroes, keeping a look-out and a listening watch for U-boats, or ships trying to get back into German waters. Needless to say we had no joy there, but on one of these trips we suffered some appalling weather and were, I believe, given up for lost as we were some days overdue. It was always a relief even to get back to Scapa Flow where there was an abundance of mountain goats and sheep, but very little else. This was a monotonous part of the job, and one that we wished would end with our being sent to the South once more, for a bit of life, but it was not to be. Other things and other places were in store for us.

Early in the morning of April 9th, the Phoney War came to an end as Germany invaded Denmark and Norway. Denmark surrendered that same day but Norway resisted for some weeks. By the 3rd May however it was all under German control. The important port of Narvik was captured after fierce fighting on 9th April just forestalling a British naval force sent to prevent it. In the First Battle of Narvik early on 10th April, a destroyer force under Captain Warburton-Lee sank two German destroyers and damaged five ships, and on leaving the scene the destroyer Havock sank the ammunition ship Rauenfels. In the Second Battle of Narvik two days later HMS Warspite and nine destroyers under Admiral W.J. Whitworth sank eight enemy destroyers and one U-boat, in return for the destroyers Eskimo and Cossack which suffered heavy damage. On 28th May the Allies retook Narvik, but abandoned it a few days later after Dunkirk and the imminent fall of France.

Suddenly in April 1940, after coming in from one of those lonely patrols, we were coaled and watered in double quick time, food was dumped onboard, and we were given orders to join a convoy of troop ships and merchant ships. Rumours were rife. Finland, France and several other places were mentioned, but as it turned out we were all bound for Norway. We arrived at Harstadt without any incidents. Once again I was retracing my steps of pre-war days, but now there were added dangers of mines, bombs, and torpedoes; there was sudden death lurking about. I think that it was about now that we saw just how serious war could be, for bombs had fallen and a lot of places had been hit. Wooden houses and chalets had been burnt to the ground, people were dead and others were homeless. To me it seemed tragic indeed; it was a lovely country and the people had always been very friendly towards us fishermen and it was sad to see what was taking place now.

After a day or two being ferry boat, running troops and stores ashore and surviving the odd raids by German aircraft, we were sent further south to Lodingen in the Lofoten Islands. We were to fill up with coal and water here just as I had done in the old fishing days. I met one or two old friends on the coaling jetty, recognition was almost mutual. It was while we were alongside this jetty, that we saw our first air fight, between what we assumed was one of our fighters and an enemy plane. Most of us at the time were below in the mess deck, some playing crib, others writing home, myself and another Hull man, an Asdic operator, were making Xmas decorations out of silver paper and cardboard - why at this particular time of the year I cannot remember, but I do know that I took those that I had made home with me, and I think that my mother still has them after all these years.

However there we were, pre-occupied by our various occupational therapies, when the alarm bells started to ring out the air attack warning; they put the fear of God into you. At first for a second or so you froze into your seats or bunks or wherever you were at the time, you felt a heavy thumping in your chest, from your heart working overtime, getting the adrenaline going; your chest felt constricted and your breathing got harder, but believe me after that first second or so you moved. If you can imagine some fifteen or twenty men, all moving as one, grabbing tin hats and life jackets at the same time as they were all moving towards the one ladder that led up on to the deck, then you can understand what panic it must have looked and felt like. Don't forget this was the first real action call and we had all been caught down below in the mess deck. We didn't know what we were running into. It turned out to be two aircraft, the British plane chasing the German plane up and down the fiord, the engines roaring like mad and the machine guns chattering away. They waltzed about for a few minutes and then the German seemed to fly straight into the side of a mountain. Whether the pilot had been hit or had just made the mistake of his life, we never knew, but how we cheered, and waved and jumped for joy. Suddenly it was all quiet again, and no one mentioned that a man had just died in a huge explosion and a big ball of fire.

We were paired with the Northern Spray, and our patrol area was Ofot Fiord, the scene of the two great destroyer battles that had taken place a short time earlier. We were not allowed to go up the fiord as far as Narvik; we each took one side of the fiord, and our job was to patrol up and down, keeping up an asdic watch for any enemy submarines that were trying to get up to Narvik with supplies for the German troops who were still holding the port. Also we were there to stop any surface vessels 'of any kind' trying to leave that area, for many German destroyers and some of their troop transports had been sunk or damaged in Romsbak Fiord during the battles. Many of their troops and sailors had been killed and wounded in the action and though they still had a foothold, it was thought for a time that they might try to evacuate the area. What two armed trawlers of our size could have done in the event of such a breakout I don't know, but I am sure we would have had a go at something or other; after all that is what we were there for.

On our side of Ofot Fiord, was a German ammunition ship, the Rauenfels. Her fore part was right up on the rocks, and she looked as if she had been hit right in the stern by a torpedo from one of our destroyers, because the rear end of her wasn't there any more, and we could see right inside her. The after part of her deck had been blown upwards and right over the top of her bridge. It looked quite a shambles. One day as an exercise in abandoning ship, or getting one of our small boats away as quickly as possible, the Skipper let some of the crew go over to have a look at her. They boarded the vessel and had a walk around as far as they could, but there wasn't much left, two or three long gun barrels, and what seemed like many hundreds of 'Horse Shoes'. I've often wondered what became of them.

Days on patrol up and down the fiord were many and varied. Mostly it was a dull routine job, keeping an anti-submarine watch in case the enemy tried to get supplies up to their troops by U-boat. There were the odd Norwegian (puffers) fishing boats, that came along which we stopped and searched, all of which were on lawful trips. Some were full of women and children being moved to safer places; it was tragic to see them and to have to examine their few belongings, but it had to be done.

There were times when we could see troops moving about in the distance on some remote mountainside amongst the snow, and we had to stand to. On several occasions we spoke to troops on the shore line, as far as I can remember some of them were part of the South Wales Borderers, and equipped with skis. Others we spoke to were French Alpine troops, I believe. They all told us of the several skirmishes that they had had, and they also gave us the positions of the German troops in the area. It seemed incredible to us at the time that we could have been scrutinised by them, and the possibility of a sneak attack from the shore by an enemy patrol, armed with rifle and machine guns, or even something heavier did not escape our notice or make us feel any easier in our bunks. The war was definitely catching up with us.

The weather was changeable. Some days we had brilliant warm sunshine, on others we had rainstorms and gales of wind, but on the majority of those April days we got frequent snow squalls, some of them very heavy at times. It was on one of these days that we got a hell of a fright. We were doing our normal sweep on the south side of the fiord when an urgent signal was received over the radio by both the Gem and the Wave, warning us that several unidentified warships were entering and proceeding up Ofot Fiord under cover of the snow squalls. All hands were placed on the alert and all guns were manned: our First World War four-inch gun, our three vintage twin Lewis, and even rifles and some revolvers were issued, though what we were going to do against these or any other warships, in the confines of an enclosed and rocky fiord in such bad visibility, made the mind boggle.

All hands were now in a cold sweat and eyeing the quickest way to the shore should the need arise - that was with one eye, the other one was keeping watch in the direction of the entrance to the fiord, and straining to penetrate the falling snow, with all sorts of thoughts running through the minds of each man. Charlie Keen, the signalman, was at his action station on the top bridge with the CO; he had his Aldis lamp at the ready, and was concentrating on the challenge signal for the day, and also on the reply that he was then hoping to get back from them. But if the powers that be had sent a signal to say that unidentified warships were proceeding towards Narvik, who else could they be but German naval forces.... Well, we would soon find out, for at that moment coming out of the swirling snow and into our view came a destroyer, and a short distance away another one appeared. Out went the challenge from Signalman Keen, then again, until after what seemed like an eternity to us all, back came the answer that he and the rest of us had been praying for. They were ours, and we thanked God for that, for also into view came HMS Warspite (above - later in the war, courtesy Maritime Quest). Hell, didn't she look huge and majestic, especially in that sort of visibility; she and her destroyers were tramping along at a great rate of knots, and they were pushing ahead of them great bow waves which turned the placid and still waters of the fiord into what was a heavy sea to us on the Gem and Spray. We heaved up and down like ships in a gale of wind until the wash from her and her escorts had passed out of sight and were lost in the snow once more.

As it turned out, the Warspite and her flock of attendant destroyers, were on their way to bombard Narvik in an attempt to stir things up in that area, and to let the Germans know that they had not got things all their own way yet.

This run of the Navy kept up day after day. Along the fiord they would come, and not long afterwards we would hear the Warspite's big guns firing off their salvos in a 'salute' to the enemy garrison. Intermingled we could hear the sharp crack of the destroyers' lighter guns. It sounded as if all hell was being let loose, and it was a good boost to our morale. Our 'beat' did not seem so lonely now, and we who were there to see this great flotilla pass by in those grand surroundings, were very thankful to know that they were in the area, and also it made us very proud to be a part of the British Navy, albeit just a very small part.

And so all through the month of April and into May we kept up our patrol and Asdic search of Ofot Fiord. While on patrol in the fiord, we would sometimes lie close up to the shore, with the engines stopped, the Asdic operators keeping a listening watch with their hydrophones, on which they could pick up any underwater sounds, such as the noise of a U-boat's engines and propeller while travelling submerged. This was the time for us to get out our fishing lines and endeavour to catch ourselves some fish for dinner or tea, even for breakfast on odd occasions. Whichever meal it was for, it was a change from the eternal tinned sausage and Red Lead, (tomatoes), corned beef and pilchards, and the inevitable Chinese Wedding Cake (Rice); meals got monotonously repetitive at times, though this was no fault of the cook's; he always did his best with the food he had, and we often got freshly baked bread, onto which we spread lashings of Ticklers jam to 'tickle' our palates. However the days went by, and then came 8th May 1940.

This day was to be a memorable one for some of us, myself included, but for one of our crew and one of the Spray's, it was to be their last. The next forty-eight hours were to become a sort of nightmare. I know that they turned me from being a naive sort of youth into a man, and made me realise that in war one could get killed or maimed as easy as falling over a matchstick.

The morning started off in much the same way as usual. The different watches had their breakfast, look-outs were changed, the day men scrubbed the decks down and gave the ship its general clean up. Then at 11.30 a.m. Up-Spirits was called which was when all the men who were entitled to a tot of navy rum were issued with their ration; they were given 'neaters', pure rum, not adulterated by water - some ships ' crews were given 'one and one', others 'two and one'. This meant that they were getting a tot of rum with either one or two tots of water added to the rum - the issue much depended on the CO or the 1st Lieutenant of the ship. When the lads had taken their rum ration, it was time for dinner, and a change of watches, and during the afternoon, I suppose we would have had a few practice shoots, sometimes with rifles and at other times with the Lewis guns, firing at objects floating past as we continued up and down, or on occasions at some prominent rock that had been picked out as the target. On one or two days we were allowed to have a go at the shattered remains of the Rauenfels, as we could not do her much more harm. This particular afternoon passed away quietly enough, but when we were sitting in the mess deck aft having our tea, the alarm bells went off on their deathly racket, a series of short rings that told us that it was an air attack warning.

Everyone went off at their top speed to their own particular action station. Mine was to take up a position on the deck armed with a rifle to repel boarders in the event of it happening. A German plane was overhead, and it had a trail of smoke coming from it. Our gunners had only the chance to get off one burst of fire at it, before it went out of our sight, disappearing over the land on our starboard side. We learnt from the watch on deck that the aircraft had appeared from over the mountains on the other side of the fiord; the Northern Spray immediately opened fire at it. The plane was already smoking then so there was no doubt that it had been in a fight before it came into our sight, and it was obvious that it had been hit and was in trouble. However it was now lost from our view, so we all stood down, and went back to the mess-deck to finish our tea.

An hour or so later, a Norwegian fishing boat was observed going alongside of the Spray; after a time it left them and made its way over to us. On its deck were six or seven of the Spray's crew, and all were armed with rifles. The officer with them went up on to our bridge to talk with our CO who shortly afterwards called for some volunteers to go on this fishing boat, with one of our officers in charge of the party. The ones who stepped forward were: Charlie Keen the signalman, Jack Sullivan Asdic operator, the gunner Fred Powell, along with myself and another seaman rating. We were given rifles and ammunition, and the gunner took a Lewis gun and several of the circular magazines of ammunition for it. When we got on the 'puffer', and she was making her way down the fiord, our officer gathered us all around him on the deck, and began to explain to us what it was all about. He told us that the owner and skipper of the boat we were on had seen a German aircraft come down in Ae Fiord, an offshoot of Ofot Fiord, and had gone to the Spray to report its crash. He had then agreed to take a party of armed men to the position of the crashed plane and put them ashore to see if there were any survivors or information by the way of documents that had been left on it. Our officer then went on to tell us what we were going to do when we arrived at Ae Fiord; half of us were to go onshore with him, and the remainder, including our gunner, were to stay on the boat keeping a good lookout around the surrounding hills or mountains.

Fred Powell was to set up his machine gun in the bows of the fishing boat, to be in a position to open fire in the event of our being attacked when we reached the shore. We steamed or as we said at the time ' puffed' our way to Ae Fiord. These Norwegian boats had a srnall funnel that bent itself around the small wheel-house and the end of it came just above the top, and as they went along they made a noise which sounded like 'puff-puff-puff-puff' hence the name that we gave them. The funnel also emitted dark black smoke rings some two or three feet into the air above the wheel-house. As we went along we were beginning to wonder what we had let ourselves in for. One of the last things that my father had said to me, was, 'Whatever you do, lad, don't go and volunteer for anything'. Now I'd done just that.

The boat nosed its way into Ae Fiord around a headland, and almost immediately we saw the aircraft. The pilot had made a pretty good piece of work of the landing; he had put it down on a flattish bit of beach covered with shingle and a few small rocks. We could see that the tip of the port wing was in the water, and there really did not appear to be much damage. None of us could tell what sort of plane it was, but with hindsight I suppose that we should have guessed. As we closed in to the shore we could see that the door on the port side of the cabin was missing, and there was no sign of any of the occupants. This in itself should have made us more wary of the situation than we were. There was a lot of gear strewn about, and we assumed that the crew had got away and were now hiding in the fir trees higher up on the mountain slopes, as these trees were abundant all around the snow-covered fiord.

Still our officer said that we would go in as planned and investigate the aircraft. Looking over the bows and into the water we soon found that we could see the bottom very easily, but the clear water made us underestimate just how deep it really was. So over the side we went. Jack Sullivan who was about five feet four inches in his stockinged feet found himself up to his armpits, and gasping for breath; the water was freezing cold. One after another the rest of the shore party followed him in: our officer, the coxswain, Chris Wilson, myself and four others. We forged our way to the beach where we stamped our feet and jumped up and down to try and warm ourselves up. I remember that we had a good giggle about paddling and getting paid for it, when suddenly the Lewis gun that was set up in the bows of the boat, opened up, and we saw tracers going over our heads. What we didn't know at this time was that Fred Powell had seen some movement in the fir trees above us and had pointed this out to the Spray's officer, who was in charge of the men left onboard. He told Fred to fire a burst over the heads of whoever was up there as an invitation to get them out in the open to show themselves. Instead we onshore found German tracers coming back on a reciprocal course to those of ours from the boat, and we were aware that we were in between.

We had all dropped to the ground as soon as the firing started, and got under or behind what bit of cover there was. We hugged the ground a bit closer, and noticed the Lewis gun on the boat had stopped firing. Turning to look at the boat from where we lay on the ground, we saw that it was moving full astern out of the fiord, with the German fire hitting it all over the place and chopping it to pieces. From where we lay it looked a shambles, and we feared for our shipmates' lives; but we had to think of ourselves now and of the position that we found ourselves in. My own concern now was whether I could get any better cover. I was between two large rocks which were slightly apart. There was some sort of plant life around them, and I realised that there was a trickle of water coming through between them and I was right in it. I know that I wet myself then, whether from fear or fright I can't be sure as I honestly at that time did not feel I was unduly afraid. Looking up towards the trees, I could see a German soldier standing out clear of a tree, so I lined his chest up in the sights on my rifle and pulled the trigger. Nothing happened and I found that in the excitement of the last few minutes, for that's how fast the time had gone by, I had forgotten to open the cut-off and put a bullet up the spout.

I did not get a second chance, for Jackie Sullivan who was lying alongside of me said, very quietly: 'Don't look now, Sid, but there's a dirty big jerry behind you'.

I let go of my rifle and turned over, and sure enough there was. He stood over the top of me with his rifle and the bayonet attached to it, held steady a couple of inches from my back. We all stood up and put our hands over our heads, and that was that. We were now captured and were prisoners of war.

The German troops herded us all together by waving their rifles at us in a hostile kind of way, and a couple of them picked our rifles up and threw them into the waters of the fiord, where I suppose they still are to this day, maybe to be found in many years' time by some future generation. I would like to go back there to see if I could find them myself, and to see those beautiful fiords once more. As we were being herded together, we noticed that our officer was not amongst us. We could not see his body lying about in the vicinity, and we were at a loss to know just what had happened to him.

However once we had been gathered together, we along with the German troops, who by now had stopped shooting at the boat, watched her going stern first out of the fiord. We wondered how many of those that we had left onboard were still alive, and at that moment as these enemy troops ordered us up the mountainside, we counted ourselves very lucky to be in their hands and still alive. So we started to climb up in the direction that they indicated to us. By this time we were all chilled to the bone, for our clothes were wet through and we were not dressed for this sort of caper. I myself had come ashore as I had been dressed at the time on the Gem; I had on a pair of fisherman's fearnoughts, which were trousers with a drop down flap, similar to the normal sailor's trousers, but an off white colour and made of a heavy woollen material, which I was now finding out was holding the water that they had soaked up. I also wore a fisherman's abb wool jersey, and a muffler around my neck, my tin hat, and just a pair of slip-on walking out shoes that were handy for walking about on the deck of the Gem when the weather was dry. Underneath, I had on longjohns and a thick woolly vest, so apart from looking anything like a British sailor, I was feeling pretty soggy, and most uncomfortable, but I am pleased to say that I was not on my own in my piratical rig-out. I think that there were only two dressed in the proper rig of the day, our coxswain and signalman. The latter's watch had stopped at 10.20 p.m., through its immersion in the salt water so at least we knew the exact time of our paddle in the fiord, and the time that we were taken prisoner.

The higher that we climbed up the mountain the colder it became, and we were soon knee-deep in snow to add to our discomfort, as our clothes were beginning to freeze on us. We eventually arrived at a sort of base camp that the German troops had set up on an escarpment. There they had two fires alight in no time at all. One they built into a huge bonfire, and instructed us to strip off all our clothing; with some odd thoughts going around our heads at the time we did as we were told. To our surprise they then made us lay our wet gear on the floor around the fire, and even helped us to do it; as we stood shivering the 'enemy' gave us their greatcoats to put on whilst our clothes dried.

These soldiers were part of Jager battalion, crack Alpine troops, who had been on their way to Narvik in the plane, which was a troop carrier. It had been fired at from above by a British fighter. They told us that their pilot had been wounded in the legs, but had managed to make that wonderful landing on the edge of the fiord. He now lay well wrapped up, and laid on the door of the aircraft which we had noticed was missing earlier from it; it had been put to use as a stretcher to move him up to the camp site. There were about thirty five soldiers and air-crew as far as we could see, and there were lots of guns and ammunition and equipment laid around; they did not seem to be short of anything, except transport.

Soon our clothing was dry and we were told to get dressed, also we were ordered to keep on the greatcoats that we had been wearing. We were grateful for this as it was freezing up there once you moved away from the fire, and the snow was, as I have said before, knee deep. Talking it over later, we decided that the idea behind this generosity of theirs, was that if we were sighted at all, should anyone be looking for us, dressed like that we should make their party look larger than it really was. There were other reasons running through our minds also, but at this moment our main worry was that if we were going to do any climbing or marching, we only had thin dress shoes on.

Time was lost to us now, and we managed to sleep for the odd minute or two. After what seemed like hours, there was a flurry of commands and movement, and the German troops started to dash about. The fires, which had been allowed to die down once our clothes were dry, were put out with great alacrity, gear was being stowed into containers, and we were told to stand up and prepare to move off. All of us were given something to carry. I had belts of ammunition for their Spandau machine guns flung over my shoulders and around my neck, and was also given two metal boxes containing ammunition to carry. Jack Sullivan was given the Spandau and was told in no uncertain terms to take good care of it. We were wondering what all the sudden panic was about, when one of our party said quietly, 'Look down there', and pointed down the mountainside. We saw a fine sight, a British destroyer, or so we thought at the time. From the height and distance we were from her, we did not recognise our own ship, the Northern Gem! No sooner had we had time to look at her than we were told to move away on the trot to get away from the area, and we had no choice but to do as we were told, but our hopes were raised now with the thoughts that we may soon be rescued, for one of our party said that there had been soldiers' coming ashore from the 'destroyer'.

The next few hours were full of frustration and despair, with mixed thoughts of being taken into captivity, and of being rescued. We were being marched along over mountains; sometimes we were waist deep in snow, then we were ploughing through icy cold streams of melting snow rushing down the mountainsides to the fiords below. We were not used to this kind of exercise after being cooped up on a trawler for so many months, with nothing more strenuous to do than scrubbing decks, coaling ship, or painting. We thought that we were on the mainland, but as it turned out we were actually on an island. One of the Germans told us that they had fired on the Norwegian fishing boat that had dropped us off, because they wanted to capture it for themselves to use to get off the island. When this was denied them, their only other alternative was to make their way to the only village on the island, and there find a boat to make their escape in.

During our forced march, at one time I began to feel thirsty, so I stopped at a pool of clear ice water cupped my hands and prepared to drink some of it, but my hands were knocked away from my mouth by one of the German air-crew, who then advised me not to drink as this water would give me severe stomach cramp. He then took from his pocket a tin from which he took two tablets, passing them to me for me to put in my mouth. They tasted like sugar, and probably were, but at least they got rid of my thirst.

This man and myself then carried on a conversation as we walked along; he spoke good English, and told me that he liked England very much, and that he had flown there several times before the war, as one of the crew of a passenger plane. He asked me why I was fighting in this war. I told him that as a deep sea fisherman, I was also a reservist, I could do little else as it was my duty to do so once our government had called us up. As we were walking along, I said to him at one time that I would have to stop to pull up my long johns, indicating that the loops which went around my braces had broken, and my johns were down to my knees and were making it difficult for me to walk, let alone climb. He told me that he would give me one minute only, after that time he said that he would have to shoot me, for if he didn't, the Nazi would come along and do it for sure, and that he himself would be put on a report. Apparently there was one of these Nazis with each group of soldiers, or other services, and they were fanatical; the one with our group, whom he pointed out to me, was a fierce-looking fellow and his eyes seemed to be all over the place the whole time. It may have been my imagination working overtime, but I can assure you that I had my longjohns hoisted into place and secured to my braces with a couple of half hitches in fifteen seconds flat, I'm certain that may have been a record under any other circumstances.

Some time later after marching, climbing, clinging to rock faces and bits of moss and lichen, we eventually arrived at a point overlooking the small village of Underulet; it sat on the edge of a bay, which was surrounded by steep cliffs, and a promontory on either side of the bay which pointed out into the fiord. Under guard we rested here while the remainder of the party went down into the village to see if there was anyone left around in the village or not; from where we sat we could see no signs of movement other than that of the Germans who were trotting from house to house, nor was there anything that looked like a boat in the bay or at the side of the small jetty. The German troops were soon lost from sight amongst the buildings of the village. It was an hour or so later that they eventually returned, and when they did so, after a few minutes' discussion, the whole group of us moved down the mountainside and into the village, where we from the Gem and the Spray found ourselves being pushed into one of the houses along with the pilot who still lay on the door of his plane, and had been carried the whole of the way by his comrades. He was put down in a corner of the room, and we rested wherever we could. We were very tired indeed, and the bottom halves of our bodies were chilled to the marrow, through our clothing being once again soaked through by fording streams, and by the melting snow. At the same time the tops of our bodies were sweating from the exertions of our marching.

Taking a look through one of the windows, one of the seamen shouted that he could see people coming round the headland and along the edge of the sea, making their way into the village. We all got up to have a look, and as they got closer we saw that they were wearing khaki, and then into the bay steamed the Northern Spray. Going over to the other side of the house, we could see the Germans running back up the way we had come from. The Spray's antique four-inch gun started to fire and we saw the explosions of the shells near to where the Germans now were looking for cover amongst the rocks. Back again to the other window, we could now see that the khaki-clad figures were in fact British Marines, who were now charging along and shouting at the top of their voices towards the village of Underulet. What a smashing sight it was to us in the house.

They then surrounded the house we were in, and we could hear one of them shouting: 'Some of the bastards are still in there'. Charlie Keen opened the door answering as loudly as he could over the racket that the Marines were making, 'We're British sailors' just as a Marine lunged at him with a rifle and bayonet, pulling it back in time. It's a good job that they didn't throw in a couple of hand-grenades through the windows.

A feeling of relief came over us now that we had been rescued, and our exhaustion went from us for the moment as we stepped outside the house, and gathered up bits of equipment that the Germans had left behind in their haste to get away from the Marines. We wanted to keep them as mementoes and souvenirs of our two days of captivity. I went all out to try and get hold of a cine camera with which one of the group had been taking photographs of us during the march, but I was much too slow, and one of the Marines got hold of it first.

Once the Germans had been rounded up and our positions had been as you might say reversed, we saw them lined up. The pilot had been carried outside on his makeshift stretcher ' I don't think that there had been any casualties amongst them, or the Marines, for by running back up the mountain, the enemy troops had run right into the arms of those 'soldiers' that had been seen being landed from the ship in the fiord at the place where we had been captured. These soldiers were in fact more Marines, and they had followed the tracks of our flight; apparently they had at times seen us and could have opened fire, but with finding no bodies (ours), as they came ashore near to the ditched aircraft, they guessed rightly that we were in the group. They were not sure however who were the Germans and who were the sailors, for all they could see were a group of men dressed in German army uniforms, so they held their fire, thank God. However as. the German troops broke from the village of Underulet, they ran into the trap that had been set for them, and gave themselves up. The last time that I saw them was as they were all being taken aboard the Spray, for passage to HMS Resolution, the Royal Navy vessel that the Marines had come from.

We were taken back aboard the Northern Gem, and as we climbed back over the ship's rail, we were greeted with shouts of, 'Glad you're back', and 'It's your watch now'. We were taken below and given a couple of tots of rum, and then after a short explanation of what had happened to us over the last two days, we were allowed to have a bath to get rid of some dirt, and then get turned in and sleep off the exhaustion that had taken us over once again. The 'Neaters' rum was having a great effect on our empty stomachs; we were told what had happened to the fishing boat and those on it, but none of that sank in to our very tired minds. Later after a good sleep and feeling better for a decent meal of sorts, we started asking questions.

Gradually we were told the story of those we had left on the boat when we had gone ashore in Ae Fiord. One, our gunner Fred Powell, who had served his time in the Navy from being a boy, retired, and had been working as a postman in London, until he had been called back, had been killed in that first exchange of fire from the German Spandaus. He had been hit in the head and had known nothing about it; he had died instantly with his head shattered. He had been my 'Oppo', rather like a father figure to me; the last sight I had of him had been as he was knelt down in the bows of that fishing boat, checking over his Lewis gun once more. I was filled with a sense of grief for his loss.

Harry Peake, a fisherman from my home port of Hull, had died of wounds just after being taken onboard the Northern Spray, his ship; all the rest of those onboard the boat had been wounded in some way during the exchange of fire, but whoever had been in the little wheelhouse of the boat, must have had sufficient control to get her out of the fiord stern first, as we ourselves had witnessed. He got her alongside the Spray, where everyone was taken onboard as the Spray made full speed in order to find some Naval vessel which had a doctor on to give better aid to the wounded. Trawlers in those days did not even warrant a sick berth attendant in their crew, and had to rely on what the skipper or anyone else knew about first aid.

The Gem's officer, whom we had realised was missing when the Germans surrounded us and took us into their 'care', had apparently, when the shooting started, been near to the water's edge, so he dropped to the ground and immediately rolled into the water, then crept around the rocky shore, still in the water and unseen by the enemy, until he reached the outside of the fiord and got within hailing distance of the Northern Gem. He was picked up and taken on the Gem, where he was stripped off and filled up with gin while he told them his side of the story. The Gem with Lieutenant~Commander Scarlett RNR as CO then made haste to the Northern Spray, which was now tied up alongside the HMS Resolution where she had put her wounded. A conference was then held on the Resolution, and a plan to put the two parties of Marines ashore from the two trawlers, was formulated there once that it was realised that the Germans were on an island, and that it was possible that some of those who had dropped to the ground, as the Gem's officer had done, when the firing had started, might still be alive, in which case they would have been taken prisoner. This plan I have explained in the simple terms of an ordinary seaman, without frills and in the language that all can understand.

After we had finished giving the story of our side of the action, and we had such a lot to tell, we picked up once more the routine of the ship, and slipped back into our original watches, and were then left each of us with our own individual thoughts. But this calm and peace was not to last for long. We were sent a replacement gunner for Fred Powell. I think that the coxswain was the only man of the ship's crew to know this man's name. No one else really got the chance for some twenty-four hours later he too was dead.

The morning following our return to the ship, our skipper received orders to proceed to the village of Underulet, to see if any of the Germans had been missed, so off we steamed keeping our eyes open for any enemy aircraft on the way. However we arrived in the bay, without our seeing one at all. As the village came into view, we saw a small fishing boat made fast alongside the jetty. There had been none there on the previous day, so we made our way slowly towards it. All of our guns were manned, and every man on board was on the alert. The occupants of this fishing boat had seen us arriving in the bay, for they immediately cast off their ropes from the jetty, and made all the speed that they could to the far side of the bay on our starboard side. It was obviously a move to avoid contact with us. In spite of signals, and warnings shouted over the loud hailer, plus the fact that we had quite a bit of armament showing, they took no notice so Lieutenant Commander Scarlett ordered a shot to be fired across his bows as a stronger warning to stop, in true naval fashion; that seemed to do the trick for when the four-inch shell landed and splashed in the water ahead of them, the boat slowed down and turned towards us.

When it got closer, it was ordered to come right alongside the Gem, and eventually made fast with her port side up against our starboard side, with two ropes out, one from forward and one from aft. There were four men on the deck, and wheelhouse, all dressed in the garb of Norwegian fishermen. Our CO asked who they were and why hadn't they stopped when we first signalled them to do so. Not one of them answered, and they looked surly and very suspicious, so the officer who had made his escape from our landing party some two or three days previously, took the two men nearest to him on the deck of the Gem, saying, 'Come on follow me.' They were a seaman from Stornaway, and the new replacement gunner who had only come on board the day before and they climbed over onto the deck of the fishing boat. All three were armed with revolvers, and spread out to make a search of the vessel. As they did so the man in the wheelhouse shouted something out; at once the boat started going full ahead, the ropes holding both ships together became taut and the men fore and aft cut the ropes with knives. All this happened in the blink of an eye, and was so sudden and unexpected.

In the space of a couple of minutes she was a good distance away from us, and we could see a fearful struggle going on on her deck. Our officer was grappling with one of the men, when one of the others came up behind him and hit him with an axe; he fell to the deck with the axe still lodged in his back. The gunner was being stabbed repeatedly with knives, but both he and the other seaman had the presence of mind to jump over the side and into the water. Up to that time we had dared not to open fire in case we hit one of our own men, but now that they were off the boat, and as far as we knew, our officer lay dead where he had fallen, everyone opened up with whatever they had their hands on, rifles, machine guns, revolvers. Within minutes she was stopped dead in the water with no sign of life to be seen anywhere on the deck.

First we stopped to pick up our two men out of the water, where the seaman was supporting the gunner. Myself and another seaman reached over and pulled him upwards so that others could get a better hold of his arms and his clothing to heave him inboard. As we got him over the ship's rail we could see the blood pumping out of the rents in his clothing; blood and salt water ran out of his seaboots and onto the deck like miniature rivers. It was tragic that as we laid him on the deck he gave us a great big grin, then he died. I have seen this happen in my mind's eye many times since then, but I am sorry to say that I never even got to know his name, his membership of the crew had been so short. Our other seaman was unscathed.

We now went alongside the fishing boat, and several of our men then jumped onboard her and made her fast once again. Others had run to our officer who still lay where he had fallen. The axe was still buried in his back, he was still alive but unconscious and was lifted up very gently and taken to the wardroom on the Gem. Here he was made as comfortable as possible. No one had the knowledge to treat such a wound so time was of an essence to get him to a doctor.

In the meantime some of our crew had looked at the crew of the boat. All four were dead, two had been shot at close range by revolver shots, the other two were riddled with machine gun bullets. The wheel house was a shambles, the engines were shattered, she was taking water in rather quickly from the bullet holes in her hull, and how she hadn't caught fire no one knew. The seaman peering down the forecastle shouted that he could hear someone down there; he shouted down the hatch for whoever it was down there to come up on deck, once, twice, and a third time, and as no one appeared he fired couple of shots down into the deck below the hatch. This brought a response straight away, but imagine our surprise when up the forecastle ladder and onto the deck, came an old man of about seventy years of age, followed by a young woman with a small baby in her arms, then came an old lady. None of them was hurt at all, but they were all in a state of shock, and when they saw what had happened on deck and the four bodies laid there, the two women burst into tears. The sight the bodies and the deck literally running with blood as it was must have stayed with them for the rest of their lives, as it has with me. They must have been terribly frightened for themselves at that minute.

We ourselves were stunned and just couldn't believe our eyes. Two men who had gone down the forecastle to have a look round came back up and reported that there was no one else below, but that there were holes all over the place and water was coming in. In their own words it was like the inside of a colander down there.

The old man, the two women and the baby, were taken onboard the Gem, the ropes were then cast off, and a few four inch shells were fired into her hull. As she settled deeper into the water, we in the Gem set off once more to seek out the Resolution to get medical aid for our wounded officer, and to land the bodies from the foredeck.

In the warmth of the Gem's after mess deck, as she steamed along, Some of us were still wondering at the miraculous survival of these people. They were now being given hot drinks and a good meal, the sympathy of the British sailor now coming to the fore as it always seems to do in cases like this. It was really heart-warming to see a big six-foot stoker who hailed from Grimsby, rough and ready, and just in his vest and trousers, off watch, and handling the baby as if he were the mother of the child, feeding it with diluted Nestles milk in warm water with a spoon, and making a damn good job of it. As the time passed and the remaining three people relaxed a bit, we learnt from them that the old couple were man and wife and also the grandparents of the baby. The four who died on the boat were friends and relations, including their son, the young woman's husband and the baby's father. Apparently the day before they had seen what had happened at their village of Underulet; the boat had been out on a fishing trip and when it arrived back, they had decided that it would be best if they left the village for a time and went to stay with friends further north. They had just got ready to leave when they saw this ship, (the Northern Gem), come into the bay, and thought it was a German one that had come back to take revenge for what had happened to their troops. This was understandable to those of us who had been fishermen, as the Gem was German-built, and she looked like many of the German trawlers which passed through the fiords in peace-time making their way to the White Sea fishing grounds.

The big White Ensign which we were flying had meant nothing to them as they had not seen one before, and even when they were alongside us and hearing our skipper questioning the men on deck, they still thought that we were German. That was why the ropes had been cut away and the engine put on to full ahead to get away from us. Instead their four men were all dead and now lay with our dead gunner under the whale-back, and our officer was in the ward-room with severe if not fatal wounds. When eventually we arrived at the Resolution, and these unfortunates had to go onboard her, they didn't go empty-handed, for they took with them a substantial amount of money in Norwegian kroners, given very willingly by every member of the Gem's crew to help to make up for the loss of their relatives and friends.

After this episode we were sent for a rest to the small port of Svolvaer in the Lofoten Islands. I remember the day well - there was a brilliant blue sky, with hardly a cloud to be seen and the sun was shining and there was not a breath of wind, with the surface of the Vest Fiord looking like a huge sheet of glass. All hands except the lookouts and those on watch on the bridge were finishing off the job of cleaning up the ship. The last traces of blood and the empty cartridge cases had been erased from sight. We were about three or four miles from Svolvaer and we could pick out the individual buildings, houses, the church all cluttered around the foot of the mountains around the port. The town itself we could not see properly, only the tops of the fuel storage tanks near to the docks. It was at this point that an aircraft was reported coming towards us. At the moment it was just a speck in the sky but getting larger every minute. Soon it was close enough for one of the lookouts to identify it through his binoculars as a Junkers 88, but we weren't too sure as we hadn't seen one before. He was making straight for us at a height of about two to three thousand feet.

The alarm had sounded and every one was closed up at their action station. We had no gunner onboard now, and what was worse we only had star shells to fire from the four-inch gun now. As it was not much use against aircraft, there did not seem to be much point in manning it but the guns crew did so. The gun was elevated to its highest point and a star shell was fired in the general direction of the plane; when the shell exploded in our puny effort to put him off, he turned away, but then made two more attempts or passes at us, each time a star shell was fired off towards him. After the last one he veered away from us and went out of sight without making a determined effort to carry out a proper attack on us, for which we were all very grateful. If he had come back we did wonder what would have happened because we had not much to throw back at him. However we all stood down, with one eye on the far and distant horizons as we went on with our work again, and the ship's head pointing once more towards our destination, the port of Svolvaer.

On our arrival there we were quite surprised to see a crowd of the local people on the quay-side, all clapping their hands and shouting to us in Norwegian, with the odd bit of English here and there. They were headed by the mayor or whatever he was of the town, and it was only when he came onboard to welcome us that we found out why most of the population of Svolvaer were here to greet us. It seems that some one had seen us making our way down the fiord, and had then got sight of the plane making towards us, word had gone quickly round, and everyone had made for the shore line on the edge of the fiord or some other vantage point. They had watched us shooting at the aircraft and from the way they were behaving had thought that we had fought him off. It's probably as well that they did not know what had really happened.

Opposite the Northern Gem, on the other side of the dock, lay the destroyer Eskimo, which had been torpedoed in the fore part. It looked as though the whole of her bow right up to the bridge had just completely disappeared, compartments and all. Her fore deck had dropped down into the water over the remains of the lower part of the hull; the bulkheads had held and saved her from sinking, but until the day before we arrived there they had not been able to get at their dead shipmates who had been trapped in the debris. On that day they had buried them out in the deep water of the fiord, and we were told that they had buried our two gunners and the lad from the Spray in a sailors' grave in Vest Fiord not far from the lovely town of Svolvaer.

When I heard this, I broke down and cried for Fred Powell my late friend. I shall never forget Bill Maitland chief engineer of the Gem, a trawler engineer from Aberdeen for he put his arm around my shoulder and talked to me like a father; it was he who made me realise that this sort of thing was now a part of our lives. It would get worse, he said; until the war ended we must expect these things to happen. I really grew up that day in Svolvaer. I'd had my twentieth birthday just five weeks before, and although I had been through many storms, and had several escapes while fishing I did not think that I could go through much worse than I had been through in the previous few days. Along with a couple more of the crew Bill took me down to his cabin, where I had more than a few glasses of rum and whisky. Later I was dropped into my bunk in the forward mess-deck, and there I had the best and longest sleep of the whole time we were in Norway.

All too soon like all good things, the time arrived when we had to leave this lovely town of Svolvaer and its hospitable people. Back to Ofot Fiord we went to continue our patrolling in the same monotonous way, except that there now seemed more and more German aircraft flying overhead. We were much luckier than our compatriots further south at Namsos, though we did not know that then.

We carried out our patrols for another week or so, and then we got an urgent signal telling the skipper to make for Harstadt together with the Northern Spray. When we arrived all seemed utter chaos, and there was a sense of frantic urgency. Small boats were dashing about all over the harbour, and the town seemed in ruins from the constant air raids that they had suffered. Now we knew where all the German aircraft had been making for; they had been after bigger game than a couple of trawlers, for in the fiord at Harstadt there were large merchant ships and troop transports. The job we were given was to ferry out the troops for as long as it took. Many smaller trawlers were made fast alongside the quay; these were having a field day collecting up all sorts of goods and stowing them aboard their ships, motor bikes. Some even had cars on the fore decks, not just one but two or three. Quite a lot of new furniture was vanishing into the bowels of the trawlers, and we were told that one of them had in the seamen's mess deck below fitted carpets, and a grand piano complete with potted palms, and from what we saw going on, we could quite believe that story. From what we could see this was the end of our stay in Norway, for ships full of troops had been pulling out for days. It looked as though the trawlers or what was left of them were going to act as rearguards, and we wondered what our role was to be.

The Chief said that we had enough coal to get us back to the UK; from somewhere we were given an Oerlikon gun, and we had to go on shore and procure two railway sleepers; they had to be made into the shape of a cross, and then they were bolted to the deck on the port side forward. Once this was finished the Oerlikon was then bolted into place in the centre of the cross, on its stand and we finished up with a do-it-yourself gun platform. With the Oerlikon came a navy gunner and plenty of ammunition, which was a good job because we could get none for our four-inch gun; not one vessel had any to spare and there was none on the jetty amongst other supplies. Maybe the powers that be thought we could spit at the Germans, or did they think that it would be a waste of supplies giving such things to trawlers? It seemed like nothing short of a suicidal one way trip for us in the Gem and the vessel that we were to act as escort for.

A Norwegian passenger cargo vessel named the Ranen, had been taken over by the British, and been re-named the Raven. She was now to start on the journey back home. Her crew was a mixture of men from different services, RN and RM, and some men from the Army units in the area, volunteers from the Royal Scots Guards and the Royal Welch Fusiliers I believe. If I am wrong on that score then I must apologise for my error.

The Northern Gem was to accompany the Raven, and both ships were to make their way out through the Vest Fiord, which was now virtually enemy-held territory. As far as we were told in the Gem, the task given to our minute force was to steam down the fiord and shoot up anything in sight, telephone lines, oil tanks, in fact to destroy anything and everything that we could, and then make our way out into the North Sea and make directly for Scapa. None of us on the Gem fancied our chances at all, and wondered why we were picked; it must have been that someone somewhere either did not like us, or they thought that we were the best ones for the job. But we knew that we had to do it and the sooner the better as far as we were concerned. Before we left Harstadt we saw many more refugees fleeing to get away from the now quickly encroaching German forces; they were Norwegian men, women and children coming along the fiords in boats of all types and sizes. Some looked as though they'd had to get out of bed quickly, and had no time to get dressed as they were still in their night clothes. It was a pathetic sight and one that made us forget the dangers on our forthcoming trip, and even more determined to get home.

Soon we were on our way, the Gem and the Raven, along Vest Fiord, where we turned onto a course that would take us towards the North Sea and home. We kept watch for any signs of the enemy, while along the way we were constantly taking long distance shots at telephone lines, and any other small targets that we saw. Whether we did any damage at such a distance is anyone's guess. Very shortly we were approaching Svolvaer, where we had enjoyed our few days' rest with the good and generous people of the town. Was it only three weeks ago? As we got closer to the port, we saw what we on the Gem took to be an armed trawler of some description close in under the land. She was flashed the recognition signal of the day but did not answer, so the CO of the Raven, told us to open fire with our four-inch gun! But the men on the four-inch - and I was acting trainer on this occasion - managed to hit the target three or four times, including one shot that landed slap bang on the bridge, starting a fire. He turned away to starboard as the fire took a hold, and both Gem and Raven were steaming straight for him, when suddenly he laid smoke and vanished from sight.

Even now it still isn't clear as to where he got to. The Raven went right into Svolvaer, whilst we went along the coast looking into the rocky inlets around the area, but neither we in the Gem, nor those in the Raven ever saw him again. We were certain that the vessel had not sunk, as the star shells alone would not have been sufficient to cause that amount of damage, so her vanishing trick remains a mystery to this day. While the Raven was inside Svolvaer she shot up the oil tanks and installations, and also the telephone exchange and put that out of action. I was glad in a way that it was not us who had gone in to do this bit of dirty but necessary work after the way we had been treated by the inhabitants of the town.

Once this destruction had been carried out, we both turned onto a course which would take us out into the North Sea, a matter of fifty or sixty miles or so away in a south by east direction. Once we saw the island of Vaeroy we could come round to starboard and onto a southwesterly course which should take us home to that great base of the British Navy, Scapa Flow. After leaving those burning oil tanks on the island of Ostvaagoy behind, we had seen no sign of either enemy aircraft or shipping. We were hoping that it would carry on in this way until we got to safety in the UK, but it was not to be like that at all.

At dawn on the following morning, we were called to action stations by the sound of the alarm bells giving out their warning of aircraft in the vicinity. Every one of us was up on deck in next to no time at all, to find that we were being circled by some eight or ten enemy bombers. From the start it looked as though we in the Gem were going to be the main target, and that the Raven was going to be left alone. Talking about the attack later, none of us could remember there being one attack on her.

On this particular morning in 1940 we learnt a new lesson in survival from air attack. The planes came in at us singly after breaking away from the circle going around overhead; the first one came in from ahead and dropped a full stick of bombs. We were pleased to see them all explode some distance off our starboard side. A second one too came in from straight ahead. He also dropped what we thought was a full stick, which again went well over to starboard before dropping into the sea. Then the pattern of the attack changed: the rest of the planes took turns in coming in towards us from different directions, sometimes two came in in such a way that as the bomb from the first one hit the water and exploded, the second plane was releasing his above us. They only dropped one bomb at a time and it seemed to go on for an eternity.

It was fascinating to watch these black objects leaving the bomb bays under the aircraft and to watch them getting larger and larger by the second. It was anyone's guess where they would land, for with the movement of the ship as she rolled and owing to the Skipper's instructions shouted to the coxswain at the wheel, the bombs seemed to be wavering all over the place, and I'm glad to say that none of them came near enough to do any damage. I can't say how long it took them to get rid of all their bombs, but when they had done so they formed up quite leisurely as though they were out on a training mission, which they may quite well have been, with the first two showing the others how to do it. Once they had all joined up in formation, they turned and went off in the general direction of Southern Norway, much to our relief.

I think it was about this time, that our CO Lieutenant Commander Scarlett decided that he was taking the Gem to Aberdeen, and not to Scapa Flow as he had been instructed; he then advised the Raven of this decision, and was reminded that the Gem was to follow the Raven into Home Fleet's anchorage at Scapa. Skipper Scarlett repeated that he was making for Aberdeen; he shouted to the Raven that once you got into Scapa, you never got out of there without difficulty, and anyway they only made trawlers into glorified liberty boats. After a few more exchanges both vessels parted company, and went their different ways.

Steaming along as fast as the engine and the propeller would take us on our way to the Granite City of Aberdeen, we sighted a huge plane coming towards us from the direction of England, and as it came closer we realised that it was a Sunderland flying boat. He challenged us and was given the correct reply; then our signalman Charlie Keen told him about our being attacked an hour or so earlier by those German aircraft; the reply from the Sunderland was, 'The bastards. I'm going over there now and I'll look you up on the way back.' We could see under his wings some large red and yellow cylindrical objects, which we took to be bombs of some kind or other, and off he went on whatever job or work he had been sent off to do. We did not see him again, and I can only hope that he did arrive back at his base safely.

About the time we thought that this Sunderland would be on his way back, all hands were on the deck keeping a look out, when up from over the horizon from astern of us came a plane towards our starboard quarter, flying low down as near to the surface of the sea as it could possibly get without hitting it. As it got closer we started to wave and shout, for we had been waiting eagerly and watching for the Sunderland coming back. We soon found out that we had made a big mistake about the identity of this particular one, for he manoeuvred himself around until he was on our starboard beam and then came in like a rocket. He was now just above mast height and the gunner must have had his foot hard down on the trigger of his gun, for we could see the water being churned up in fury as the row of bullets hit it and came nearer.

Jack Sullivan and myself were near to the stern, so we ran towards the iron ladder which led up to the top of the galley where one of the twin Lewis was situated, but this pair of guns was out of action so we took what shelter we could, shoulder to shoulder at the side of the steel mizzen mast. Each time the plane came in at mast height and shooting, we stood on the opposite side to the one he was coming in from. On each side of us were the lifeboats in their davits, and we watched great big chunks of timber being knocked out of them as the bullets blasted their way through from one side to the other; water pipes started spouting water out of holes that suddenly appeared in them, and ropes and rigging were being cut as though by an invisible knife. jointly Jack and I decided to wait until after his next attack and then make for a safer place - if we could find one.

During the whole of the time that he was attacking the Oerlikon gun on our foredeck had been having a go at him on each of his passes; his next one was from port to starboard and once he had gone over, we ran forward along the casing towards the funnel and ventilators. The explosive bullets that he was hitting us with were making a right mess of the galley top and the boats and boat deck, and as we thought that discretion was the better part of valour, away we went running as fast as we could go. On arriving at the area around the funnel we stopped to have a look to see where he was. He was just completing his turn and now started to make a low run towards the front of the ship. We just had time to step onto the veranda which led to the W/T Office, the CO's cabin and bathroom, when with a terrific roar he hedge-hopped over the whale-back. As he did so he released what looked to us like a cigar-shaped object, silverish in colour and about eight or ten feet long. It dropped towards the whale-back, and as the ship rolled to starboard as the wheel was put over, it slid down the port side of the bow, and into the sea alongside without exploding, thank God.

We got back on to the veranda to find the crew cheering, for shells from the Oerlikon gun had been seen to hit the plane as he turned away. Now he was going back towards Norway with black smoke pouring out of his port engine, and leaving a long trail behind him. We watched as he seemed to us to be getting lower and lower, but he finally went out of sight below the horizon. The next few hours went by without further trouble and we arrived in Aberdeen. We tied up alongside the fish quay, where quite a number of people stood watching us in.

Everyone wanted to know where we had come from, and how we had got ourselves damaged in such a way. After the last attack by the single twin-engined aircraft, we had gone around the deck picking up little steel darts which had apparently come out of the bullets that had been fired at us from the plane; as the bullet had hit something, its outer casing had opened up and the little steel dart had carried on in the original direction, making great holes in whatever it had hit. Fortunately we had not suffered one casualty aboard the Gem, which amazed us when we worked out how many times the plane had come in firing at us.

Amongst the crowd on the quay was my Uncle Harry, he came aboard for 'sippers', a drop of the old navy rum. He was one of the crew of a trawler minesweeper out of the port, and it was he who broke the news to me about the death of his brother and my favourite uncle, Ted, who had lost his life on the way to Dunkirk. He was then a member of the crew of a wooden drifter sweeper named the Frons Olivae, which had left Ramsgate to go to the rescue of the troops from Dunkirk, when they were evacuating from France. Apparently the crew had all been ashore when the urgent message came for them to put to sea, and once they had been rounded up from pubs or cinemas, or other places, and the ship had left the harbour, those not on watch had congregated aft. They were sitting on the ship's quarter-rail yarning, when suddenly Ted lost his balance and fell over backwards into the sea. He was a very strong swimmer, but he must have been drawn into the propeller by the suction, and was, so I was told later, killed instantly. It was not until I went home on leave that the news really sank in and I felt the full shock of his death.

Some months later we arrived at a port the name of which I have not been able to remember, and I saw tied up to the quay astern of us a wooden drifter. just out of curiosity I climbed onto the quay and went over to have a look at her; to my amazement I found that she was the Frons Olivae. There was a quartermaster on the gangway, and I asked him if he had been aboard her when she went to Dunkirk. He wasn't, but he said that he thought the motor mechanic was with her then, and told me to shout down the engine room hatchway. This I did and shortly afterwards a CPO engineer came on deck wiping his hands with the inevitable bit of oily waste, which all men who work below in the bowels of the ship seem to carry about with them.

He asked who I was, and when I explained to him what I was interested in, he told me that after falling over the side, my uncle Ted had come to the surface, and that he, the engineer, had immediately dived into the sea and gone to his aid; but he realised as he got hold of Ted, that unfortunately he was already dead, having been killed by the propeller. I thanked him for telling me this and for what he had tried to do; it takes some guts to dive into the sea and I appreciated this fact.

Back in Aberdeen once all the visitors had gone, we sat down to a good meal which we all enjoyed, mainly due to being able to sit and eat it without being disturbed. Like many of the crew I then went ashore to see if I could find a telephone, so that I could get in touch with home, and let them know that I was safe. I decided that I would phone my father at his place of work, and when I did so he sounded very surprised and happy that I was back in Britain again. Yet it was rnyself who got the biggest surprise of all when he asked me straight out of the blue: 'Just tell me one thing, while you were in Norway were you ever taken prisoner at all?'

When I replied, 'Yes,' he said, 'Your mother was right then', and he would tell me more when I arrived home on leave.


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