Why is your horizontal [left-right] scroll bar showing?

Because there are large pictures to view! Keep it over to the left when viewing text and smaller pictures.

You know, if websites were not that expensive, I could easily fill up this page showing submariner sparkers {my kind} who were characters without parallel in the Fleet, and not even bother about the rest of the navy. Old Chiefs, for example, who were really expert maintainers as well as being the models on which the Creed Morse Code auto-head were based, such was their wrist dexterity when sending the Morse Code.  In addition to that expertise, they were doyens of the submarine service and knew every nut and bolt of the boat[s] in which they served and proved it daily, for being a submariner came before being a sparker. Communicators in ships and shore stations were more than a match for these guys communications-wise,  for they dabbled in other skills in addition to Morse code, but they were, and still are, parochial sailors, averse to navy-things, excelling in their duties as communicators, but hiding [or shunning] their responsibilities as sailors; as a former FOST [Portland] sea-rider, ask the first NBCDI you meet up with to vouch for or agree with that statement!

So, most of my possible data on this subject will lay, undisturbed, in books and on disks, but I thought that I would show you a few 'special' people and things which are not from the undersea world.

    Story Line 1.

We start off with this lady, a lady of WW2.


Her name is Chief WREN C.E. Gilbert. Note the branch badges and the medals.

Did you see this page SIGNAL_SCHOOLS_OF_THE_ROYAL_NAVY and particularly this section

" HMS SCOTIA.  SCOTIA was a naval establishment at Ayr Scotland from 1942 to 1946 in a former Butlins holiday camp.  It had a Signal School and trained many thousands of communicators for the Fleet. In 1946 it was given back to Butlins and Scotia relocated south to Warrington, Lancashire where it occupied two camps, side by side, known as North and South Camps [rather like Leydene !].  North Camp trained all National Service communicators in communications except for wireless telegraphy which was to be taught in South Camp commencing in 1947. However, that didn't happen and all National Service Telegraphists were sent to RNSS Fort Southwick or RNSS Cookham Camp. WRNS Teleprinter and WRNS Telephone Switchboard were trained in North Camp. HMS Scotia closed down on the 20th December 1947 when all aspects of communication training for all comers was transferred to RNSS' Fort Southwick and Cookham Camp. It trained a total of 21774 communicators in its five years of operating. Below a couple of photographs:-"

and specifically the the sixth sentence viz, telephone switchboard operators.

What wonderful stories this woman could have told about WW2 and the protagonists of that period. Her official title was Chief Wren Switchboard Operator and in this picture

Chief Wren Gilbert is receiving her Long Service and Good Conduct Medal from the Commanding Officer of RNAS EGLINGTON, Captain T.W.B. Shaw DSC R.N., in 1955,

and here she is again, as the only female member of staff of the Devonport Signal School in 1958

Story Line 2.

Next comes this male officer.

It is self explanatory and needs no further embellishments.

Story Line 3.

And what of this?

The Royal Yacht's communications department {1954} known as Royal Naval Party 1000, and note, all at the very least supporting branch badges of V/S 3 or W/T 3 {two stars} - nothing lower. Their names and the name of the Royal Yacht are:-

with Commander R.R.B Mackenzie MBE RN., whose duties were Flag Commander to FORY, OIC Naval Party, OIC Barges and stores, and Press Liaison Officer.  In addition to this RN Communicator Staff, there was a second RN Party headed-up by Lieutenant Commander N.E.F Dalrymple-Hamilton MBE DSC RN., and he, with WRNS Second Officer J Bevan and WRNS Third Officers S Rigby and D Wilson, manned the Royal Cipher Office. Gothic, being a merchant ship, also had four Marconi civilian Radio Officers and they busied themselves on 500 kHz and transmitting outgoing Press using an Ocean Span transmitter with a World Span amplifier.  The RN Party had SWB 11 Transmitters, commonly known as 'SWABS'. 

This was the Royal Yacht Gothic whilst awaiting the work-up etc etc of HMY Britannia.

Since the FORY [Vice Admiral Conolly Abel Smith] was away at sea in the Gothic, the new Yacht built at John Brown's Yard was accepted by Acting Captain J.S. Dalglish R.N., and the White Ensign was hoisted.

Her Majesty's very first use of HMY Britannia was on the 2nd May 1954 when she reviewed the Mediterranean Fleet under the Command of Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten of Burma, having left the Shaw Saville liner Gothic at Aden. Her Majesty, with the Duke of Edinburgh embarked in Britannia at Tobruk having flown from RAF Khormaksar.  The Royal Yacht had travelled from the UK to Malta on completion of trials, with a nursery supporting Prince Charles {6} and Princess Anne {4} arriving Malta on the 22nd April 1954.  Therefore, both children used the Yacht before their parents. Britannia sailed from Tobruk back to Malta being met approximately 200 miles off Malta by the Fleet, at which time Admiral Mountbatten, flying his Flag in the cruiser HMS Glasgow, transferred to the Royal Yacht. This picture shows the Yacht arriving in Grand Harbour without her Royal Presence [no flags on the masts] and with a gathering of interest on the flight deck of HMS Ark Royal where, given that the Commanding Officer of the Yacht was a Rear Admiral, the pipe [or was it a bugle call ?] "attention on the upper deck - face to Port" would have been made/sounded. The Yacht is escorted by LCVP's [Landing Craft Vehicle and Personnel].

Story Line 4.

1955 in the days when the Yeoman made flags/bunting using the V/S Branch sewing machine, a 'tool' as important as an Aldis Lamp !


Story Line 5.

 Most of us know that the Main House in HMS Mercury was once owned by Lord and Lady Peel but how many of you are aware of their correct title and who Lord Peel was ?

When correctly addressed, Earl Peel was PC., GCSI., GBE.

The text snippet above is wrong in one respect namely the size of the plot.  The Admiralty bought 100 acres only, the vast and major part of the Estate being sold off to neighbouring land owners and farmers.

Story Line 6.

 Admiralty, but specifically Whitehall Wireless was a draft to die for and it became so popular with the millions of drafts to its central London ramparts [when others, like my good self, were at sea - didn't we join for that?] that it offered a good night out for all comers.

Story Line 7.

 ...and the story of HMS Mercury itself, generally not known before 1941!  Well, have a look here to the last "proper" warship [afloat] called HMS Mercury.

This ship [afloat] named HMS Mercury was followed by two others, one in WW1 and one in WW2 before H.M. Signal School at Leydene was named HMS Mercury in 1941. Have a look here

 THE STORY OF HMS MERCURY (2012_11_19 20_20_07 UTC).htm

Story Line 8.

 The Staff of HMS Ganges in 1958 made very large on purpose [so you can see faces properly].

Story Line 9.

 Now, just a general naval observation without a communicators' overtone but very very relevant to our navy of 2011. We have no fixed wing platforms at sea, but what the hell, we don't have any fixed wing aircraft, so no problem: we should have, but we don't have! So, get a load of this article dating from 1950.

Story Line 10.

 Now back to HMS Mercury, and first to a bit of cheeky fun.

Story Line 11.

 Today, we have the freedom of information act, but can you just imagine the MOD putting an advert in a magazine to tell us what the fit of radio communication equipment is in a brand new Astute class nuclear submarine? First, from 1948, the 600-Series, which to a sparker in the 1950's was "star-wars" technology,

followed by this in for the UHF equipment 692/CUJ

 Story Line 12.

 HMS Mercury, as most of you will remember, had the naval proverbial "wet" and "dry" ceremonial divisions venue - no matter what the weather, you could not sneak out from going on divisions. Before that time, divisions were often cancelled or moved to instructional blocks and even messes and this picture shows a VIP Admiral inspecting his Guard of Honour in the entrance to the Main House.

Story Line 13.

 If you remember the situation in HMS Mercury of those time, a north/south divide - no not financially or housing - but literally, a north and south camp, split by a main road, the Droxford Road, then you will remember this, a bit from Frankie 'P' the creator of modern day HMS Mercury.

Story Line 14.

 Now what about the Buntings favourite story? The Battle of Jutland and of course the
famous signal

Story Line 15.

 In 1961, the new Tamar Road Bridge opened to much acclaim. This picture shows the car park for the 'best view in town' which was not far from the old STC at St Budeaux.  Isambard Kingdom Brunel's rail bridge can be seen to the left of the road bridge.

Story Line 16.

 An advert from the mid 1950's

Story Line 17.

 The mast at HMS Ganges was legendary because of its height, its timing [until 1973 for juniors and until 1976 for adult entry], its 'button-boy' and because naval boy's [later from 1956, junior's] and not men climbed it. Had men climbed it some of the legend would have lost its shine. The ship, HMS Impregnable [a boys' training establishment in Devonport] had a very tall mast which the boys had to climb [click here to see a stunning picture of it]. When the boys started to move to shore accommodation in 1936, to St Budeaux Barracks, a mast was built on terra firma for them to climb, similar to the mast at HMS Ganges. HMS Impregnable closed down many years ago [1948] and so is not in the public eye nor has it been for many a long year so the knowledge of that Mast is sparse to say the least. Whilst in ordinary times post 1940, the mast was not used for climbing or for training, it stood proud overlooking the Devonport North Yard Extension almost begging somebody to climb it for ceremonial reasons. It got its wish [click here and scroll to the RNSS Devonport section to see and read about the mast manning] which, whilst not as splendid as the mast manning in HMS Ganges, was nevertheless an achievement given that the manners were on course communicators at the STC, who trained in their own time.
This is the figurehead of the Devonport STC

Story Line 18.

 Our National Flag, or, for the Royal Navy ONLY, the Union Jack ! One of the reasons for showing this file is because recently, whilst with members of the RNA preparing their 2011 Remembrance Day parade details, we got to talking about Standards and Flags [even though these are not used at the Cenotaph in Whitehall] but often at local parades. Whilst talking about National Standards which generally use the Union Flag, one Scottish chappie stated that he would prefer the Saltire to the Union Flag, which he believed would be the case when the Scots vote for total independence.   Teasingly, I asked him to which Saltire he was referring to, and his answer was a stern repeat of 'the Saltire'.  It transpired, that he believed  the Scottish Flag to be 'The Saltire' instead of it being 'a Saltire'. He didn't appear to know that a Saltire was a diagonal cross, and being such, the Irish Flag is also a Saltire of St Andrew!  Click here...........

Story Line 19.

 ............leading on naturally to 'Dipping The Ensign'.  A 1961 ditty about naughty Americans - or were they ? Click here Did you know that dipping "flags" was an intra-RN thing? Lord Mountbatten revived this procedure at the Fleet manoeuvres held to say goodbye to him as C-in-C Mediterranean.  At the end of manoeuvres there was a sail-by and each of the four Flag Officers present lead their group of ships past the Surprise and dipped their Flags in salute. The C-in-C's Flag was dipped in return. It was an age old tradition, but with so few ships today and even less Flag Officers at sea, it has no meaning or use today!

Story Line 20.

 HMS Mercury at Leydene - see below for the file. It always baffles me when the grandees of the Communication Branch talk about the early days in HMS Mercury. The article you are about to read is no exception.  The truth of the matter was that before Mercury could open its door to all and sundry it had to make sure that the basics were in place. Now, being a diesel submariner I can tell you with authority that there is no real need to wash our bodies; we simply do it because it is expected of us. In a diesel boat of the 40's-60's nobody washed so nobody was offended - all in the same boat kind of thing, so it proves my point. However, the delicate issue of the heads and the provision thereof, is a necessity no human being can do without [for WRNS see Story Line 39 as well].  It should now come as no surprise that in early 1941, many deep cess pits, which had to be emptied, were dug around the camp, and guess what?........all of them were used as ratings heads!  The Main House had, surprise surprise, flush toilets which emptied into a more sophisticated septic tank which also required emptying but the contents of this tank were basically foul water, the other 'stuff' having been eaten by the bacteria which frequents such tanks [by design]. In the cess pit's, the 'stuff' just collected and remained roughly in the same shape and form as when put there. Additionally, the CPO Mess, had a few flush toilets for their use, and volunteering as a brown-card job to be a Chief's Messman, allowed junior rates the use of  these toilets. As the war progressed other septic tanks replaced cess pits and were fitted with water flushing systems.  These advances continued, albeit slowly, until it was decided that the answer to Mercury's 'stuff' problem was filtration, leading to a sewage farm being built south of the broadwalk.  When piped-up, flushing systems were widely fitted. Eventually, even the Captains House got its own sewage farm, south of the House which led down a steep embankment heading for the Isle of Wight. So when you read this article, have this in the forefront of your mind.

HMS Mercury had a problem. The ceremonial entrance to Leydene House was a long way from Leydene House, where in or near to, everything happened. For security purposes in this remote [but beautiful place] a decision was taken to build the 'naval' main gate half way between the ceremonial entrance and the Main House, and at that point, they built a small brick building and a manual road barrier. The fire and emergency party slept in this main gate building. Here is a picture to orientate you.

Given the location of HMS Mercury and its likely affect on the morale of the ship's company, the first building on the drawing board was the cinema which was completed for use in early 1943. It was built immediately opposite the main gate for a good reason, that being the cinema also doubled as the dance hall and the girls coming 'up' from Clanfield and East Meon posed no security problems when under the eye of the Gangway Staff - the WRNS from Soberton [from 1946 - see Story Line 39 below] and the girls living in the camp as ship's company also attended functions here but they of course were bona fide. Just to the right of the cinema as you view it in the picture above and thus outside the barrier so technically outside the 'camp', there was a group of trees and a generous plot of shrubbery which backed on to the Droxford Road, now having turned through a sweeping left hand bend and travelling more or less parallel with the camp road in and east/west direction. This is where the final kiss of the night took place before the goodbyes. Imagine the horror when later on, whilst the cinema continued to throb on certain evenings, they bulldozed this area and built two brick classrooms, which again, were technically outside the camp - I used these classrooms for A/T during my 1969 RCI Course.  However, and almost simultaneously, the road barrier and the Guard House were removed, and security was transferred to the OOW Building which was next to the Scrumpy Bar area approaching the rear entrance to the Main House. It was moved twice after that, once to the Droxford Road end of the new Administration Building built in the old Garage Courtyard [I was the Standing Officer of the Watch there in 1979/80] and finally, to the entrance [also off Droxford Road] to the west of Mountbatten Block opposite the NAAFI, many hundreds of yards from the Guard House of the 40's.

Whatever happened in and around HMS Mercury from 1941 and 1948 was to be of a temporary nature given that the Main House and grounds belonged to Lady Peel and not to the navy.  In 1948 the Admiralty negotiated with Lady Peel the sale of property [much against her wishes] and in early 1949 transferred the sum of 60,000 into her bank account.  Just think, 60K for the stately home and 100 acres of land: where my son lives in Greenwich there was a stand alone lock-up garage for sale at 65K and that was in 2010. After receiving her reluctant willingness to sell the property, the Admiralty gave the nod to HMS Mercury to start building a permanent camp and the first sod was cut by Admiral of the Fleet Lord Fraser in 1948.  The first permanent blocks of dormitories was opened in  November 1949 by Rear Admiral Crombie built where seven Nissen huts had occupied the North Western parts of the camp {later to be known as Crescent Road - all the Crescent Road accommodation blocks were built under contract by Messrs John Hunt Limited of Gosport} and in 1950, these were occupied by some members of the ship's company. CPO's had their own cabin house {later re-modelled back to being eight dormitories {the same as all the other blocks/houses} when the new CPO's Mess was built in South Camp West}, PO's had two house with eight dormitories each accommodating four PO's and five similar houses for other ratings accommodating ten ratings. Where Mountbatten block now stands [sorry, stood] was, inter alia, the dining hall, the galley and the servery. On the night of the 20th July 1951, the dining hall and the servery was totally gutted by a major fire, the only major fire recorded for HMS Mercury. It is recorded that in this area too the CPO's had a small mess and a bar. Four CPO's  were greatly praised for their action on this night. One for finding the fire when doing his night rounds; one for dashing in to save the Mess cash; one for doing the same but this time to save the kittens {?}, and CYS Munro, the Camp's Fire Chief who quote excelled at his duties unquote.

Before I leave you to read this file, I want to tell you that in the war years [and after, into the 1950's] HMS Mercury had its own volunteer dance band, which in 1946, played at over fifty dances and more than 15,000 dancers, danced, up and down the hill, to their music. One of the most important officers in HMS Mercury was the Entertainments Officer. This officer organised all the now famous visits to Mercury [and if you have never heard of these names, forget it, and browse to another area] like Noel Coward - great friend of Lord Louis - "Much binding in the Marsh" - "Stand Easy" - "Twenty Questions" - "Merry go Round".  The war years [on going] produced many wonderful thespian societies, not least in the Southern Hampshire areas, and the HMS Mercury players plus "Southern Hampshire players" put on shows in Petersfield and in HMS Mercury which today, might challenge the London Palladium shows televised in the 1970's. On top of all that many visits were made by the Forces Broadcasting Company.  This company visited Service Establishments recording shows for eventual  rebroadcasting  over the Forces Broadcasting Network Abroad.  A typical show recorded in HMS Mercury's Cinema was Charlie Chester heading up a marvellous starring event including stand-alone comics, swing bands, singers and choirs - all in all, a cabaret of talent, loyalty and patriotism.

Do you remember the Christmas Parties given for the kids in the 60's-70's? My kids went and I remember them [the parties] being the start of Christmas for my children. Back in WW2 [and after until 1955] the same parties were given but the ship's company had to go one step further than we did to see it through, and that was that they had to give their ration book coupons as well as their money, to make sure the kids left with bags of sweets and other goodies. By 1955, all war rationing had ceased and if the money was available, for the first time in over 15 long years, you could buy anything your heart [and stomach] desired.

Do you remember the HMS Mercury Pig Farm? Well it all started off [with plenty of troubles and thoughts of "is this really a good idea"] in the Autumn of 1950 when some WW2 radio vans [see this page NAVAL SPECIALISED MOBILES_P] were used to house the first of the young sows one called Amber and the other called Mercuria. This is Amber awaiting her first litter in October 1951, sitting in her radio van.

 Mercuria delivered shortly after Christmas.  The idea was first mooted because daily, Mercury had a lot of waste food from the galley and from the dining halls and what good pig swill that would make: additionally, several Naval Establishments had pig farms. Any ambitious ideas of "farming" pigs was soon scuppered and Mercury's pig farm was really a feeding house and a caring house for sows which became much loved believe it or not. For over eight years those radio vans provided a good, warm and clean home for these animals and the pigs came, were fed, fattened and went for slaughter and meat sale under expert civilian farm management. The money this raised was for the sole use of the HMS Mercury Welfare Fund and it provided all kinds of benefits to the Camp, like for example, the building of a squash court and the provision of an SRE system in Mountbatten Block. By Easter 1959 a new purpose built pig sty was completed and the pigs got a draft chit. The farm continued for many years in its new environment and the Welfare Fund had full coffers! Just as a matter of interest, RNB Portsmouth had a big pig farm, and they gave 350 of their money to help start the first publication of the Navy News which was on the 1st June 1954.

And finally, to my certain knowledge, HMS Mercury only had one serious fire in all its 25 years - I know that because as the Standing OOW in 1979/80, I was the Fire Chief and I had the Log of Events. I left the Service in 1983 and would have heard of major fires subsequent to that date.

Incidentally, in 1946, the Sparkers were a flip to the fore and produced a magazine called "The Sparker". By all accounts, although popular, it was amateurish, and in 1947, quite rightly, The Branch {and not sub branches} forced the issue and "The Communicator" Magazine took its place. It was, throughout the whole production run of many years, a pan-navy popular Magazine and a very professional document. 

Happy days I am sure. God Bless!

Now read the file LEYDENE.pdf

Story Line 21.

 In 1967, the first trials with satellite communications from a warship at sea were trialled using a shore facility at Christchurch, Dorset. The trials ship was HMS Wakeful and this tells of the beginning of a successful story.


Story Line 22.

Traditionally, the youngest member of the ship's company has two unique roles.  One is to help the Captain [sometimes with his wife alongside him] to stir the Christmas pudding before cooking it, and the other is to wear the Captains cap [and other items of uniform clothing as appropriate] on Christmas Day when visiting the mess-decks with the Captain. On HMS Eagle back in 1959, he had another role! On this occasion, the youngster was a baby stoker, The Queen was 33 and Prince Charles was 11, and, the full size grog [or rum] tub bearing the words THE QUEEN GOD BLESS HER which HMS Eagle used, had still eleven years of daily use left before it too became an ornament like the miniature version given to the young Prince. The Captain is adding neat rum as a recipe ingredient.  


Story Line 23.

 HMS Mercury's Re-Development - started in May 1967 and finished in the mid 1970's. In this PDF files I have cobbled together three sections of the re-development. The first tells one what is going to happen in the future and shows the beginning of the clearance of Nissen huts; the second preceded by a photograph with numbers and related text, and the third, yet another numbered photograph and text leading to the near end of the re-development.


Story Line 24.

 HMS Mercury's MOUNTBATTEN BLOCK from start to finish!

In the summer of 1956, Admiral, The Earl Mountbatten of Burma, the First Sea Lord, visited HMS Mercury arriving in a helicopter which parked on the Broadwalk near to the Main House Rose Garden. Apart from ceremonial division, which in those days marched past the saluting dais which was on the Main House side of the roadway and not, as in later years, on the mast/pond side, he laid the foundation stone for Mountbatten Block.

Picture 1 is an artists impression of what Mountbatten Block will look like when built

and picture 2 tells us of what the facilities will be and what the building replaces

Picture 3 shows Lord Mountbatten laying the foundation stone inter alia

and finally, the opening of Mountbatten Block

Although we talk affectionately about Lord Mountbatten and rightly claim him to be one of us, a communicator, I wonder how many know that his career as a Signal Officer ended in June 1933, the month in which he was promoted to Commander. After that date, Lord Louis never again held an appointment solely connected with naval communications, although he followed the branch' fortunes from a distance.

Story Line 25.

 Still operational in the mid to late 1960's was the old manual telephone exchanges. This picture is relevant, for it shows the exchange in the Old Admiralty Building London

Story Line 26

Story Line 27

Story Line 28.

 KRANJI W/T Swimming Pool

followed by a story about the RN W/T Station at Kranji from 1939 until 1942 click here.

Story Line 29.

 Just how did the Admirals [in the Old Admiralty Building] communicate with their subordinates in the premier ports of Portsmouth and Plymouth in the days before the Telegraph and the Telephone? Have a read of this interesting article THE OLD SEMAPHORE LINES.pdf
After I left the navy in 1983, I was invited by Alan Colmer, the then OIC of Whitehall Wireless and a good friend of mine, for a tour of the facility. Through his contacts, we were also given a tour of the Old Admiralty Building in Whitehall.  Wonderful experience to wander where Nelson had visited on many occasions, the better in that very little had changed since his time. Apart from the privileged few, not many people enter via the front door. This history was wonderful and quite unexpected. You may of course know that after the building was completed and their Lordships took up office, they soon realised that they were working in a gold-fish bowl so to speak, and that everybody who passed the building  going about their business [and being nosey at the same time] could see in. That wasn't acceptable, so a screen was built to afford some privacy. Like you all, I have passed this screen so many times but the reason for its erection was unknown to me. Now I like to tell everybody.  I also liked hearing of the Admiralty Clock which all comers could [and can still] see which told the time. Back then clocks were so rare and expensive, made that way because the government imposed a tax upon them to raise more money,  lessening the chances of public ownership. Several organisations, including the Admiralty, opened up their hearts and granted public viewing to the masses.  A few photographs to support the text above plus one of the MOD Building.

Privacy achieved? The Adam Screen George III clock Whitehall 1810 Built for the Board of Trade starting in 1938. MOD moved in in 1964 Old Admiralty now used as the overseas development office

Admiralty House in 1935. Three floors, master bedroom en-suite, six further bedrooms sharing two bathrooms, central London - any takers?

Story Line 30.

This advert comes from an early 1960's magazine.  It shows HMS London {D16}. The first four DLG's [Devonshire, Hampshire, London and Kent] were built as 640/CJK ships [COMIST] later modified by replacing the CJK with the CJA receiver, and the second four [Fife, Glamorgan, Antrim and Norfolk] were built as ICS1 ships [TDA/CJA].  Much later on, the first four were converted into ICS2 ships TDC/CJM.

Story Line 31.

 A 1955 advert employing the skills of the dear bunting tosser.  It has an important relevance.  Barclay's the brewers, Quakers with all that that means, sold up shop and became BANKERS reopening [as it were] as Barclay's Bank!

Story Line 32.

Six more early 1960 adverts from a couple of magazines

Click to enlarge


Click to enlarge

Type 689

Click to enlarge


Click to enlarge

This one widely fitted in FAA Fixed and Rotary Wing A/C

Click to enlarge

Stand alone 640 on left. Wideband Amplifier in ICS1 Fits on right

Click to enlarge

Type 635

Story Line 33.

 Back to sea AFTER FIVE YEARS NOT AT SEA ? Read on. The start of the 1959-1961 commission for the Cruiser HMS Belfast.

Story Line 34.

 Not an ET1, ET2, ETLR, HET, but something which was introduced in 1908, this being a through-put dating to 1929

Story Line 35.

 Whose Flag is this ?

It was the Flag of the Old Admiralty Board , which is three gold anchors on a red background.  It was established in 1545, lasted for 287 years, and abolished in 1832. It is now the official Flag of the National Maritime Museum which came about in the late 1950's, and on special occasions it is flown from the 103 foot mast, erected at the NMM, formerly the mizzen mast of the old Royal Yacht Victoria and Albert [1899-1955] and the Gaff, the fore t'gallant of the Cutty Sark [1896]

Story Line 36.

Communicators/Communications  in 1913


Story Line 37.

The most famous of all R.N., officers in the world of communications.


Story Line 38.

 An accomplished artist [whose work is little known today] who had hobbies and pastimes, the latter making him famous, his name now a household word.


Story Line 39. 

First Wrens of the Communications Branch to be trained at HMS Mercury.

Before WW2 and for the first 1 years of the War, Wren communicators were trained at the Signal School in Portsmouth. When the Signal School was shifted to the Meon Valley which became HMS Mercury, facilities there resembled a Klondike-type of camp barely suitable for men but definitely not for women, especially women in large numbers. Wren Communicators were sent to HMS Cabbala [1940-42] and from there to HMS Scotia [1942-46] - See

This article tells what happened in 1946

Story Line 40.

The Winter weather at HMS Mercury could be absolutely atrocious. I can remember the Winter of 1947 helping to dig out the family home up in the Yorkshire Dales. As was so often the case back then, the North, Devon and Kent seemed to get the worst of the weather, but in 1947 everybody got it and for weeks upon weeks upon weeks. Here we have just two stories written as poems, one by a person with the initial of R.S., and one by J.W. which we are sure stands for Jenny Wren.


This one is a spoof on a tune/song of a popular radio programme of those days called "Much Binding in the Marsh"

Story Line 41.

The old warrant ranks.

From the rules hammered out by the MOD in 1970 for the introduction of the Fleet Chief Petty Officer Rate, BR1066 and Form S264C made it clear that prospective candidates for this new rate had to have two GCE 'O' Level Certificates, one being English Language or the equivalent in the HET. Way back in the war years and until 1948, Warrant Officers had to have specific educational qualifications which differed from Branch to Branch. These are the requirements list for the Communications Branch.

Story Line 42.

Biblical Quotes  from the Bible! Do they still use them today?

In the 1950's and 1960's certainly, officers used to use Bible quotes to signal observations which were unsightly, unprofessional, or 'flying too close to the wind'! It was known to be a Captain 'D' "thing" but it was used widely particularly in destroyers and below. This little file tells some of the detail.


Story Line 43.

In 1950, when Vice Admiral Sir Alec Madden was the Second Sea Lord with a strength of navy of 142,000, the practice of compulsory church parade was abolished. Given that many churches are said to be empty today, and that we are as a nation becoming more and more secular, it is interesting to look back to that watershed to see just how church attendance held-up [or otherwise].  HMS Mercury for whatever reason, jumped the gun and this report is dated 1949!  Note: Church Parades remained compulsory for those in basic training whether boys or adults.  Have a read of this piece:-


and then click here to see what else happened in 1950 in the navy.

Story Line 44.

Some years ago I told a couple of stories about Malta which can be found here and

What follows is information which I didn't include.

From as early as the year of Trafalgar in 1805, British forces had used part of the enormous and beautiful Auberge de Castille [as often as not, shortened to Castille] as their Malta HQ's. The Castille, now fully restored to former opulence and grandeur is in Valetta, in Castille Square, just behind the bombed-out former Opera House visible on the right as one enters the city from the bus station. From 1972, it has been the Office of the Prime Minister of Malta. This is what it looks like.

Note the symmetry. The left hand side [wing] of the front door/upper gallery was the HQ of C-in-C Mediterranean and the right wing was  The most famous signal station in the world, both peacefully working together from the earliest of times* right through to 1942, when the 'Siege of Malta' was still a dangerous threat by the Axis forces. In 1942, the right hand side of the building took a direct hit, and put paid to the operations of the signal station. The C-in-C and his Command worked in a piecemeal fashion as regards communications some of which were done from capital ships whilst other stations on the Island, like the RN Signal Station at  Dingle for example, were used to help control the transmitting and receiving stations assets. Transmitters in the UK, Gibraltar, Alexandria and Beirut increased power and used diverse frequencies to cover for shortfalls in services. However, after the Castille was bombed in 1942, the C-in-C left the Island with his staff and travelled to Algiers where he flew his Flag in HMS Maidstone the submarine Depot Ship. This section comes from my story about 'Malta and her Submarines'..... There, the Brits controlled their naval operations for the years 1941 to 1943. This led to a very rare sight indeed. On January 21 1943, at 0800 sharp, the C-in-C's Flag {the St George's Cross} was hauled down in the Flagship {Maidstone} and in its place the Union Flag was hoisted. Why? Because on that day, the C-in-C, Andrew Browne CUNNINGHAM was promoted to an Admiral of the Fleet, the Union Flag being a five-star officers personal Flag..... In May 1943, what was left of the German Army [now under a new Commander, Rommel having left in March 1943] surrendered in North Africa and all eyes looked north to the Italian mainland.  By September 1943 the Italian Nation had also surrendered, and that allowed the C-in-C to leave Algiers to set-up camp in Italy with other Allied Commanders. A couple of months later, some of these Allied Commanders had joined the Supreme Commander, and in less salubrious surroundings, were in Southwick House [the home of HMS Dryad the Navigation School] at Southwick, Portsmouth, planning the final attack on Europe namely that executed on D-Day 6th June 1944. The Navigation School had to move, and they upped, lock stock and barrel, to the Seaman's Hospital at Greenwich where they stayed until after the war.

* In 1860, a signal station was set-up on the roof of the building to communicate with ships in harbour.

The C-in-C's new HQ's from 1943 until early 1946 were in the Royal Palace, in the town of Caserta, 22 miles north of Naples.  Here, he used communication hardware assets abandoned by the Italian Navy and also new hardware assets rapidly engineered by the Americans and the British forces.  The software [personnel] assets were British Communicators. The C-in-C had a good eye for quality surroundings in both Malta and in Italy.  They were:-

1942 - Acting Admiral Sir Henry Hardwood
1943 - Admiral of the Fleet Sir Andrew Cunningham
1943 - Admiral Sir John Cunningham
1946 - Admiral Sir Algernon Willis

Below three pictures of the Royal Palace.

In 1944, with still over a year of the war left to prosecute, it was decided to build a new HQ's for the C-in-C in Malta. They chose the ex-army barracks at Lascaris situated immediately above Customs House and its famous steps. In March 1946, the new Malta Main Signal Office [MMSO] was opened on the top floor of this Lascaris HQ, and in June another signal station was mounted on top of this building.  At this point, Palace Tower Signal Station [on top of the Castille] which had continued to act as the Port Visual Signal Station after the C-in-C had left, was closed down and reduced to being a harbour look-out post. Since the new [top] Lascaris Signal Station could only serve the Grand Harbour and eastern approaches, another small one was built on the roof of the Manoel Island Canteen to cope with Sliema and Lazzaretto Creeks. The Flag Officer, Destroyers [FOD] had his HQ's in Fort Manoel which of course we all knew as HMS Phoenicia.  Lascaris and FOD held regular communication exercises which were called 'MARSEX', the MAR for Marsamuscetto Harbour.

When the Lascaris MSO opened, the staff comprised of RN, RNVR, WRNS and civilians and the traffic was said to be heavy. The staff totalled in the region of 400 [yes, 400!] and handled over 1500 signals a day.  Naval ratings were accommodated a ten minute walk away in Camarata Barracks, wherein the station swimming pool was to be found as well as a small Signal Training Centre [STC]. The Wrens lived in temporary accommodation in a three star hotel in Sliema.   Lascaris was still finding its feet and dubbed "semi operational" when troubles in the Adriatic and in Palestine flared up, which saw the start-up of the first RT/P [Radio Teleprinter link, later called a Fixed Service] with Admiralty.

Now nothing is new and the hard times the Armed Forces are facing today in 2011, have been repeated several times over the years, not least in early 1948.  Just as Lascaris was finding its feet, draconian reductions and economies took precedence over operational needs. The war had emptied the Governments coffers and they needed to be refilled. In a very short period of time, the RNVR Signal Officers were gone replaced by a couple of Chief Yeomen, and virtually all the Wrens had left amid floods of tears.  The Fleet suffered heavily, a fleet destroyer having its complement reduced to one senior and two junior rates in both the V/S and W/T departments rendering a watch-bill useless and reducing its continuous watch to DOP's or SOP's [Double Operator Periods - Single Operator Periods] a communications watch expected of a very small vessel.

Ever heard of a 'false economy' ?  Tell me about it!

Guess what happened next? Lascaris could not cope: surprise, surprise!

Civilian employment then had a boost and a WCO {see below} donned a brassard marked "Foreman" and had his work cut out interviewing hundreds of ex-Army signalmen, RAF T/P operators, and young ladies of all shapes and sizes.  Efficiency suffered. Not all were taken on!

Malta in those early post war years wasn't the place many of us remember from the mid 1950's onwards. The obvious downside was, was it an accompanied draft or not? - and the answer may be ascertained from this personal message from the C-in-C of 1948, Admiral Sir Arthur Power.


Let's face it, Malta was fun because there were families and because there always lots of Wrens to make the party go with a bang.  At this time, Malta had very few British ladies, whatever their availability!  It is unnatural not to have girls around!

Returning to the economies made in early 1948, by the time Summer was at its best in July 1948, someone had seen sense, and on the Lascaris books at this time we count no fewer than 18 signal Wrens and two Wren officers. Ten [four leading Wrens and six Wrens] work in the Cryptographic Office and the remainder [two PO's and six leading Wrens] in the Secret Cryptographic Office.  These last eight arrived fresh from their conversion course.  They are overseen by two WCO's# [Warrant Communication Officers] and two CYS [Chief Yeomen of Signals] and gave a good professional account of themselves. By this time, the temporary accommodation in Sliema has been replaced by the splendid proportions of Whitehall Mansions at Msida, but not filled by any means at this period. In those days, all Msida Creek had to offer Whitehall Mansion viewers was an old reserve fleet  destroyer plus a few minesweepers all painted in light blue instead of pussers grey  which became the pan navy colour irrespective of where the ship served. However, almost coincident with the arrival of our [communicator] Wrens was the arrival of HMS Forth with her submarines. She was to be the constant companion of Whitehall Mansions for twelve years returning home to the UK for duties in Devonport in 1960. 

# In late 1947 {under AFO 4190/47] the ranks of Warrant Telegraphist and Signal Bosun were abolished and they were amalgamated into one communication branch rank known as Warrant Communication Officers. WCO's were the first of our commissioned officers from the rate of CYS and CPO TEL as this cartoon clearly shows with of course the proverbial wardroom title of 'MR'.

Meantime, all who were already Warrant Officers in 1947 became Branch Officers, the under 10 year seniority Warrant Officer becoming a CCO, the over ten year seniority WO becoming an SCCO, the Commissioned WO becoming a Communication Lieutenant and a former WO who had been promoted to Lieutenant became a Communications Lieutenant Commander.

 In 1949 WCO's were abolished and they became part of the Branch Officer scheme as CCO's.  In the normal course, CCO's became SCCO [Senior Commissioned Communication Officers] and then Communication Lieutenants - no higher!  However, the norm wasn't always the case, and an outstanding CCO could bypass the rank of SCCO and be promoted to Communication Lieutenant: this list of officer appointments in 1948 gives a good idea of WCO's, CCO's, A/CCO's, Temporary WCO's, Temporary Acting CCO'S - note the entry of W.L. Driver from CCO to Communication Lieutenant.

Although not shown here, the Communication Branch was a very busy affair having in addition to those mentioned, a CCO [Air], Telegraphists [F] and Telegraphists [S], where 'F' meant Flying [the old TAG - Telegraphist Air Gunner] and 'S' Special. By the start of the war and with an ever increasing role for the FAA, TAG's were needed in great number.  Fortunately this was met by direct recruiting of HO's into the TAG Branch and by 1941 there over a thousand of them. They took the full share of the brunt of the conflict, many of them being killed in action or lost at sea and many were taken prisoners. After the war it was thought that the Fleet would be sustained by single-seat aircraft especially relevant to jet aircraft. So the TAG branch was disbanded and abolished. Those that remained became aircrew and were not trained for TAG duties.  Then the policy changed to having bigger and more sophisticated aircraft packed full of electronic gear.

The navy decided to recruit a new breed of aircrew with specific duties for electronic gadgets. From the Fleet they asked for volunteers from the seaman branches, the V/S sub branch and the W/T sub branch and all were trained and subsequently employed as 'Flying Telegraphists' - Telegraphists [F], virtually all of them in anti submarine aircraft, particularly in the ASW Gannet though others flew in the AEW Gannet's.  Surprisingly, this phase in the history of the FAA was short lived.  New techniques in submarine hunting required a different type in the back seat of the aircraft and the training of Tels [F] ceased in July 1957.  As their periods of four years with the FAA expired, they were returned to the Fleet into their original branches, being allowed to keep their wings and to volunteer again should the need arise:  it never did.

The TEL 'S' Branch was in its embryonic days just after Christmas leave 1954 as this article shows:-


 Somebody, obviously thinking about smoke signals and Red Indians, set this poem to the tune of "My Bonny Lies Over The Ocean".



 Any CCO/SCCO could be appointed as an Acting Communications Lieutenant to fill a specific appointment, and when this happened [which was quite often] on being reappointed, the former CCO became an SCCO and the former SCCO was reappointed as a Communications Lieutenant. Just for interest, a WEO today, is a Weapons Engineer Officer [at first, Weapons Electrical Officer] but in 1948, a WEO was a Warrant Electrical Officer usually followed by the letter 'R' or 'L'.

The tiny STC mentioned above in Valetta's Camarata Barracks {and before that in Verdala Barracks [HMS Euroclydon]}, moved in 1948 across the harbour to Fort Ricasoli, named HMS Ricasoli. It is a very large establishment/area and not only has a more than generous STC [about the biggest in the navy], but also a Leadership School - Cookery School - Fleet Photographic Centre - Fleet Target Centre and Rifle Range - Football, Cricket and Hockey pitches inside the Fort - and just outside and below in Grand Harbour is the Fleet Bathing Lido complete with rafts, diving boards and a water polo pitch. For indoor sport and leisure there is a cinema, a canteen with billiards and table tennis, a renowned bar called the 'Blue Label', a fully equipped gymnasium, a boxing ring and a badminton court.  What more could you ask for?  The poor old Malta STC had yet one more move to tolerate, that being from Ricasoli to Manoel Island.  By 1966 it too had closed and all communications training was done in Lascaris situated in Lascaris Tower from where harbour exercises were also conducted. 

Story Line 45. [See also Story Line 62]

I remember well the Depot Base Drafting and Advancement system.  When in basic training, we could either choose a Depot but just as likely, be put into a Depot. There were three of them for the surface navy, they being Devonport, Portsmouth and Chatham: submariners were automatically part of the Portsmouth Depot but independent of it. Once in a Depot [mine was Devonport] one's whole life was controlled by the local barracks serving that Depot, so in my case it was HMS Drake. They paid you, advanced you up the ladder and they sent you to sea in one of their ships. There was no mixing or matching until late on in the 1950's when some ships, but relatively few, were mix-manned, sometimes having crew members from all three Depots. Whilst a request for a swap draft was a regular item in the Navy News, the following request was very rare indeed

There was one notable exception to this rule, and this ship, by design, had ratings from all three Port Divisions [Depots].  It was the brand new Royal Yacht Britannia


 What I didn't know until recent research although it is common sense with only three drafting authorities covering the surface navy, was that their powers also covered shore stations!  In the 1930's, Chatham for example, manned Hong Kong W/T, callsign GZO, and that was considered to be the plumb job. Kranji W/T in Singapore, callsign GYL was a Portsmouth Depot manning [from all accounts not a popular draft in the early days] whilst Malta callsign GYX and Gibraltar callsign GYU were covered by Devonport, the largest of all Depots. That remained the case into the post war period until the Suez War of 1956 when Central Drafting [and advancement] became operational [56/57] first as HMS President and then as HMS Centurion at Haslemere Surrey in the old ASRE building. From that time onwards, anybody could be drafted to anywhere regardless of their Port Division.

 This picture gives you some idea on the importance of Depot's. The mighty HMS HOOD was a Devonport ship from her commissioning in 1920 until 1929 when she underwent a major refit and updating. In her first nine year period, all her sailors would have had an official number beginning with the letter 'D' and supplied from HMS Vivid the Devonport Depot RNB - in 1934 changed to HMS Drake. After that time and until her demise [her sinking on the 24th May 1941] she was a Portsmouth ship, with her sailors having the letter 'P' and supplied from HMS Victory the Portsmouth Depot RNB. The change over of Depots was such a blow to Devonport that questions were asked in the House of Parliament.

Story Line 46.

There is a saying in the navy, that the subjects of sex, mail, religion and politics should be avoided at all costs for they all lead to trouble in some way or other. I would add [and very very carefully] that one should also avoid talking about or criticizing somebody else's war and that I will do, except to say that we interpret war today in terms of Iraq and Afghanistan. We shouldn't really, because compared to other wars post WW2 it really is small beer, and fortunately in terms of numbers versus years of engagement killed, the losses although dreadful and unacceptable, are light! These wars, unlike many with the possible exception of the Falklands, are media-driven, and were the media not so gung-ho in their search for "headlines" the war in Afghanistan would be seen for what it is, an un-winnable fight against a largely unseen civilian guerrilla army who kill using IED's rather than manly face to face fighting. It would appear then, that the pre-occupation of our troops is not in fighting but in being circumspect when patrolling roads whether as a pedestrian or part of a vehicles crew. Above all else, apart from a few pirates here and there, we don't appear to have a enemy at sea, nobody stalking us or threatening us with WW3 in maritime terms unless you count a few hot-head Muslims dashing around in fast motorised rowing-boats. Very recently, I found a Staff Paper on which there was a written brief on the 'Operation Telic/Iraqi Freedom' of 2003. I enjoyed reading it until I got to the part which mentioned the maritime forces, and a comparison with the Suez, then I ditched the paper and hurried to my keyboard on which I could vent my anger, sorry disbelief. I am going to ignore the non-naval forces involved because I can remember the skies over Port Said blackened by papa troopers dropping to secure the land masses after we the navy had 'softened' the Arabs up a little bit, and this was the very last time the para's were used from the skies in 1956. They would have out numbered many fold the numbers involved on the ground in and around Baghdad in 2003. Anyway back to the ships in this brief, but before I do that, please do not misunderstand me, for Baghdad was 'hammered' far greater than was Port Said by almost wholly air assets whether fixed wing aircraft [e.g., B52's at 60,000 feet ceilings dropping mega-bombs and cruise missiles], or by flying weapons like tomahawks for example. 

If you want to remind yourself of the ships which were at Suez in 1956 look here but in the meantime here are the naval units involved in the removal of Saddam Hussein-

1 Carrier - Ark Royal
1 LPH - Ocean
2 Submarines - Splendid and Turbulent
6 DD/FF - Chatham, Edinburgh, Liverpool, Marlborough, Richmond, York
8 MCMV - Bagnor - Blyth, Brocklesbury, Grimsby, Ledbury, Ramsey, Sandown, Shoreham
1 Survey Vessel - Roebuck, and
14 RFA's

Now what was that in my Suez file above?  Was it SEVEN Aircraft Carriers etc etc?
Now that is off my chest, let's look at the 20 years or so after WW2 i.e., from 1945 to 1965, or so.

Stretching, stress, privations, separations are relative, and whether we have a large Fleet with thousands of men or a small Fleet with a vastly reduced head-count, each can be subjected to those morale-busters.

In the years under scrutiny [or so], the Royal Navy's primary role was the COLD WAR, in short avoiding a WW3 by making sure that the great bear, Russia with its vast global combatant navy and equally ubiquitous global fleet of AGI's [ Auxiliaries Gathering Information - trawlers and merchantmen] was at all times monitored and shadowed. Believe me, it stretched our navy and its resources to the point of breaking and we had HUNDREDS of ships especially in the 1950 period. Have a look at this bit of text:-

ON TOP of this twenty four hour a day commitment against a REAL MARITIME enemy, we were subjected to war upon war with little respite and unspeakable death tolls: over a million souls in Korea alone not to mention thousands of prisoner-of-war who were tortured for many years before being released. In this period, to name the important wars and campaigns, we witnessed Korea, the Mau Mau, EOKA in Cyprus, major uprisings in Persia and Egypt, Berlin Airlift, Malaya Communist Insurgency, the Suez Crisis, the Yangtze Incident in China, and although slightly out of my stated time frame [or so], the IRA murdered 1100 service personnel and 630 civilians, and Iceland wanted, and got a naval punch-up which they lost.  In Cyprus, soldiers wives were shot down dead in the street whilst out shopping in the Capital city of Nicosia.  Whilst we were coping with these crises, Russia was attacking Hungary and the Israeli's were attacking Egypt.  All in all, a bloody hazardous period, the likes of which with the fall of Russian-style Communism will not be repeated, and the Navy has no fear whilst at sea today. That said, looking ahead past this period [or so] and skimming over Aden, Borneo, Beira, and others to 1982, Falklands, a brilliant logistical war fought at the end of an 8000 mile long chain with success but mixed fortunes for the Navy, really was Britain's last shot at being a maritime power, and now, with absolutely nothing to match the Task Force of 1982, perhaps we should be fearing the Argentine Navy for Argentine's claim on the Falklands is as strong as ever and growing almost daily. Can we or could we stop their advances this time - I doubt that very much unless a third party assists us! Remind yourself of that 'fact' by reading The Chancellors Autumn Statement of November 2011:-


In the late 1940's the British, fearing a major uprising in Egypt, set-up a massive General Headquarters [GHQ] which included a BMH [British Military Hospital] and an airfield at FAYID on the shores of the Great Bitter Lakes south of the Suez Canal. From this desert position they hoped to cover all the hot spots. The GHQ had various Army HQ's attached, plus an RAF HQ and a tiny [by comparison] RN HQ. This GHQ lasted until early 1956 when Nasser Nationalised the Suez Canal, and it is these people who quite recently [2010] finally won a Suez Campaign Medal [1947-1956] having been repeatedly turned down by various Governments. We know that in 1956 Britain and France jointly attacked Egypt, and for that a Campaign medal was issued at the time of the event.

Meanwhile, over in Persia [now Iran] at Abadan, the Persians had Nationalised Britain's largest over-seas asset, namely the Anglo-Persian Oil Company which increased the British coffer by billions of pounds each year.  Fearing the worst for the tens of hundreds of British and Commonwealth people working in the Persian oilfields, the British, already stretched to the limit with supplying warships to the United Nations for the Korean War, despatched many ships to the Persian Gulf ready, if needed, to evacuate the British workers and their families. As a post script, the Anglo-Persian Oil Company became BP [British Petroleum] in 1954.

At the same time, they reinforced the RNHQ at Fayid with communicators and their equipment, building three more Nissen huts into the bargain. Many of these communicators were Wrens who replaced the men needed for an ever increasing role at sea. The Wrens were accommodated in the WRAC Barracks but in a self contained unit, and the men, what was left of them, kipped down in the Nissen huts. The communication medium was Morse Code {using SWB transmitters known as SWABS and army-type field receivers} and it was the job of RNHQ Fayid to communicate directly with the Flagship of the East Indies {the cruiser HMS Mauritius, international radio callsign GBML*} standing by in the Gulf with other ships awaiting orders to evacuate. One of the reasons for keeping back four RN male telegraphists was that the Wrens could not be left alone at night when on watch in the Communications Room and so had to have bodyguards. 

*....and all this in 123 F and NO air conditioning....have a look at this

In 1949, the recorded strength of GHQ was in excess of 3000 people, but on the 2nd November 1951, 6000 more fighting troops from infantry regiments were flown into the Fayid RAF Station - this is a typical website of this period:-

At first being stationed at the RNHQ Fayid was fun, and they were able to cadge lifts on warships which were queuing in the Bitter Lakes awaiting a north bound transit through the Canal into the Mediterranean, where they would take leave on Cyprus either in the Troodos Camp or the Famagusta Camp. The route back to Fayid was also by warship or RFA. Fayid had many dances with lots of girls from the WRAF, WRAC and WRNS stationed in GHQ. However, as things came to the boil and the threatened revolts both in Persia and in Egypt came to fruition, attacks on personnel became regular features and the Base fortified itself ready for war.

One feature which is greatly reported upon, was the journey home of the London and the Amethyst* [ex Yangtze Incident]. The entrance to the Canal in the south was heavily lined with personnel from GHQ who cheered themselves silly whilst the RAF gave a flying display ending in a fly past salute, witnessing with some emotion, these brave ships on their way home to the UK. For the record, they made many stops on the way home and when they got to Malta, the Lascaris Wrens were among many diners at the C-in-C's residence at Marsa who threw several of these dinners in order that as many as possible could see these brave men and wish them God Speed for the UK. All in Lascaris were particularly please to be able to meet and chat with Telegraphist Jack French who had been awarded the DSM for his watch-on-stop-on stamina and bravery during Amethyst's arrest period.

*Just a little ditty. Many moons later they decided to film the Yangtse Incident as a major movie. By this time the Amethyst had been laid up awaiting her journey to the breakers yard, but they decided to reprieve her just to achieve a bit of authenticity to the movie. However, during filming some over enthusiastic props man, endeavouring to make credible shell fire, blew a bloody great hole  in the ship below the waterline and it started to leak, a trifle. The original Captain of the Amethyst, whose services had been secured by the film director, Commander John Kerans RN, ordered everybody off the ship which included 150 actors and technicians while a steel plate 8 foot by 4 foot was welded over the damaged area.  Only then could the camera roll again, and take [whatever number] could be 'clapped' again. 

Those sent to Fayid were drafted to NP [Naval Party 1102]. However, it was called HMS OSIRIS after  the Egyptian Male God [the little green man] called OSIRIS. At that time there were no seagoing vessels using that name [there has only been one ship and two submarines with that name].  The next user of the name Osiris was the Oberon Class submarine, and she used it from 1962 until being sold to Canada in 1992.  Finally, in 1955, GHQ was disbanded with the Naval Contingent going to Nicosia {minus the WRNS} in Cyprus to HMS Aphrodite, rapidly becoming another hot-bed centre with the onset of Eoka terrorism [see also Story Line 66].

Story Line 47.

St John's Newfoundland - the closest port on the North American mainland to the UK.

My submarine 'Auriga' was stationed in Canada in the Sixth Squadron based on Halifax Nova Scotia. We used to call in on St John's Newfoundland on our way north to the ice where lurked Russian submarines pursuing the Cold War. In the Summer, the Cabot Straits, the Gulf of St Lawrence and therefore the St Lawrence Sea Way were open but in the winter months the whole lot froze over and was shut to sea traffic. Halifax was the most northerly port opened all the year around. This map shows the area:-

In the winter months we used to penetrate the pack-ice in the Cabot Straits and then dive under the ice in the Gulf of St Lawrence.

So, to my story about St John's. There is not much to do or see there, but my, are the people friendly. They are also a hardy bunch of people. In 1500 approx, John Cabot {an Italian navigator} found the land mass and quite literally called it his 'new found land'.  He also explored the sea around this land mass, passing between the southern tip and the northern tip of Nova Scotia [which bears his name - Cabot Straits] and found the Gulf of St Lawrence with the route inland deep into the province of Quebec. Just to the north of the town at about 500 feet above sea level is a substantial stone tower built on Signal Hill. It was erected in 1900 and it commemorates the 400th anniversary of Cabot's discoveries. In 1932 it became the HQ of the St John's coast station and operated on many frequencies using the calling VON. Just 6 yards away from this tower still very much on Signal Hill is another stone pillar, tiny when compared with the Cabot Tower on which there is a plaque commemorating Marconi.


Now, for Marconi to receive signals on this very spot [see picture to right] he would need an aerial and a receiver and bearing in mind that the Cabot Tower was new in 1900 with no occupier, this experiment of 12th December 1901 would be conducted in and from the Tower?


Marconi flew a kite aerial from this spot and the other end was connected to his receiver which was in a hospital building a little further down the Signal Hill which is now long gone. Strange!  Marconi received radio signals from Poldhu in Cornwall nearly 2000 miles away on a frequency of 38 kc/s, now of course kiloHertz [kHz], which is just inside the LF [Low Frequency Band of 30 to 300kHz] which interested us as submariners. With a great deal more power, we could receive Rugby [GBR] on 16kHz QRK/QSA5 when on the surface, but once dived the signal was rapidly attenuated and unusable, so all made sense to us.  It was very much a ground wave propagation when at that time the ionosphere was little understood and nobody expected to receive sky waves [HF or short wave].

Why did Marconi choose St John's for his experiment? Presumably for the same reasons that Alcock and Brown took off from St John's passing over Signal Hill as they climbed in their historic flight across the Atlantic.  It is the closest seaport on the North American Continent to Europe.

Before we leave the story of Canada, I'll leave you with a quite staggering fact.  I have already published two pages about the "water" in, on and around the North American Continent giving details which truly are amazing, and they can be found here TWO CRUCIAL INTERNATIONAL MARITIME MEASUREMENTS and here Bits and Pieces Volume IV  and Scroll to Story Number 11. In this case the art/skill of a top notch navigator [assuming one does it once or twice only in a career, and not every couple of weeks to earn a living] is definitely required, threading ones way through thousands of rocks, islands, hazards of every kind and very few straight lines - in transit ships are nominated "downbound" and "upbound" and queuing is often required. The Royal Navy has done it on several occasions, some of them to keep very important engagements! I have done it, but as a passenger only. We are now going to enter the St Lawrence river/Seaway as shown above and we are off to Thunder Bay which is in Ontario.

This is the route we are going to take which looks easy, but let me assure you that it is far from easy.

The start of the journey takes us through the heartland of Canada passing Quebec City and Montreal en-route to Lake Ontario. There the Lake feeds the River Niagara which travels south, over the horseshoe falls and eventually down to the City of Buffalo where it drains into Lake Erie. We pass down a much smaller waterway someway to the West of the River Niagara also into Lake Erie joining the Lake at Port Colborn. We pass up through the centre of Detroit across a waterway leaving at Port Sarnia into Lake Heron. Across Lake Heron passing through rocky territory and zig zagging our way through many Islands [the most tortuous and dangerous passage], passing by Salt Ste Marie/Pointe Aux Pins and into Lake Superior, called so, because it is the top Lake [most Northern] and therefore above all others. When we arrive at Thunder Bay [a largish township] we are approximately 2000 miles from the open sea. But, and much more importantly, we are 600 feet above that open sea we left behind, so how did we do it? Well after Quebec City and before we leave the River St Lawrence to enter Lake Ontario there are six very large locks [massive ships transit this waterway], some reasonably close to each other, but some spread very far apart, and by the time we have got to Lake Ontario we have been lifted nearly 450 of those feet, approx. Shortly after have entered the narrow waterway at the SW end of the Lake [running if you remember in parallel with the River Niagara over to our left] and heading South, we encounter two more locks between that point and the leave point [Port Colborn] [locks 7 and 8] which lift us the remaining 150 feet. Two thousand miles from the sea and 600 feet above it is unique and a good experience to witness.

Story Line 48.

Today, NATO is well known, indeed the war in Afghanistan is a NATO war and not a British or an American war as some believe.

The NATO agreement was signed on the 4th March 1949, very much with the French taking a leading part. The first Chairman, a British General said that it was designed to keep the Russians Out, the Americans In and the Germans Down.  Before the term NATO was coined with all that it means {militarily, financially and administrative} the willing cooperation of nations prepared to address the problems of post war Russia and its expansion, was called The WESTERN UNION.

The very first major exercise [chiefly of communications] in the Western Union was called Exercise 'VERITY' which took place in the Summer of 1949 off Penzance, Cornwall, in the Western Approaches*, master-minded by the Royal Navy. It was and remains to this day, the largest naval exercise ever conducted.

* The Western Approaches had/have two meanings, one an Allied WW1 and WW2 meaning, which was an area from the West of Portland up to the Mouth of the Clyde beginning far out into the Atlantic to the West of Ireland with the C-in-C in either Liverpool or in Plymouth. In 1949, at the start of The Western Union/NATO/OTAN, it was defined as per these maps:-

where clearly its defined limits have been much altered, now running way north of the Outer Hebrides. Note that the Plymouth Command stretches East to Brighton and that the Nore Command starts at Brighton.

Note that the IBERLANT Command has not yet been formed in 1949.

It involved a huge pre-exercise phase where all the RN Signal Books, flag-locker sets, certain codes, procedures and disciplines, transmitter/receiver quartz crystal holdings, frequency plans etc, where given to the foreign navies taking part by RN teams of communicators each led by a FCO {Fleet Communications Officer}, known as FCO French, FCO Dutch, FCO Belgian etc etc. The agreed language for all involved was to be English. These teams crossed into the foreign participating countries and not only physically took the 'goodies' mentioned above, but also started an intense shore training period. Back home in the UK, to try and overcome the difficulty of language on voice circuits, RN Midshipmen were used as actors speaking in broken-English, and by all accounts enjoyed doing it.  The exercise planning which took many months was undertaken by C-in-C Portsmouth and by C-in-C Home Fleet.  Phase two of the pre-exercise was a week at Penzance at anchor or day-running, each foreign ship having RN observers/instructors embarked. When all was ready, the exercise, designed to work together  for the defence of convoys against submarine and air attacks with a large involvement in a minesweeping task, engaged this massive force at sea and air assets ashore for just over one week.  The exercise was deemed to be a success with limitations.

The British provided the bulk of forces, naval and air, under the sea-command of  Admiral Sir Rhoderick McGrigor C-in-C Home Fleet  flying his Flag in the carrier Implacable. Every unit in the Home Fleet was involved including several aircraft carriers, two battleships, many cruisers, even more destroyers and frigates, depot ships [destroyer and submarines], fourteen submarines, minelayers, minesweepers, ML's, MTB's, RFA's, a hospital ship, dozens of RAF squadrons and FAA squadrons not embarked in the carriers with fixed wing and rotary assets, and all that lot was joined by the Nore Destroyer Flotilla, the Devonport Destroyer Flotilla and the complete Second Training Squadron based on Portland. The French were the next superior power supplying one light fleet carrier, three heavy cruisers, four light cruisers, six escorts, five submarines, eight minesweepers, one submarine depot ship. The Netherlands provided one cruiser, one destroyer, two escort vessels, two submarines, seven minesweepers and a depot ship. The Belgians provided four minesweepers.  All in all, over a hundred ships and air squadrons.

More exercises followed but not on this same scale. More countries joined NATO but all was not well in the military side. Countries, especially the protagonists, began to doubt the wisdom of such a union, and doubted the sincerity of member countries to fulfill all their NATO obligations, especially their financial obligations - somebody had to paid for the organisation and the HQ Building down in Fontainbleau.  In 1956, the French and British joined forces to attack Egypt ostensibly to claw back the Suez Canal from the clutches of Colonel Nasser, Egypt's leader, so an aggression independent of NATO. The Russians started a most industrious period of building submarines many of them nuclear powered, and flexed their muscles in a menacing manner. They also checked their own satellite countries forming the 'Warsaw Pact' and in 1956 entered and attacked Hungary. Later Poland got a bloody nose! NATO, for some members, didn't appear to heed the warning which led to France withdrawing from the military side of NATO to pursue its own independent nuclear weapons manufacture and deployment. Naturally this threw a spanner into the works not least involving the changing of all the documents and publications held by the French on leaving the Pact which were now compromised.  France, whilst always paying more than lip service to the defence of the free world despite being voluntarily outside the military section, returned officially back into the military covenant in 1995 and today, "plays and pays its way."

Story Line 49.



Story Line 50.


Story Line 51.

A photo-based biography of each of the 25 Captains of the Signal School at HMS Mercury from its start to its finish.


Story Line 52.

For submariner communicators but for all others too


Story Line 53.

Story Line 54.


Story Line 55.

In 1953, the City of Portsmouth with the Royal Navy "pulled out all of the stops" to give the people of Portsmouth and the sailors from around the world, the most wonderful programme imaginable. Remembering other Fleet Reviews [in other sea areas as well as at Portsmouth] and particularly that for H.M.'s Silver Jubilee in 1977 at Spithead which was splendid; with the damp squib almost non event for her Golden Jubilee in 2002; and the proposed "Sail Past" [which my wife and I will be attending] on the River Thames for her Diamond Jubilee next year;  do you notice that we are going backwards and the celebrations are getting WORSE as time goes by,  I wonder what the RN and Portsmouth will do to celebrate 2012?

From the City of Portsmouth's Souvenir Programme of the Coronation, I have cobbled together the following file. It is an interesting read and notice that HMS Mercury is mentioned. What a sad country we have become, and I feel sorry for the navy who are obviously dying to emulate what we used to do in terms of pageantry but they are not allowed to 'cos there just ain't the money.  I wouldn't mind but scrimping on rewarding our Queen for 60 long and faithful years of Service is to say the least churlish in the extreme. Your Majesty, may I humbly and unreservedly apologise on their behalf for they knowest not what they are doing?


Story Line 56.

Draft to Germany, immediate post war! Not the best of jobs especially when the Germans were not in party mood! Click here

Story Line 57.

Many of you will remember the air waves being filled with the callsign GZP coming from the Island of Ceylon now of course called Sri Lanka. Originally Trincomalee in the NE of the Island was the naval base HMS Highflyer [1943-1957] which included a Signal Station and The Base MSO. There was a teleprinter link from Ceylon West to Trincomalee [160 miles] over land lines outside the navy's control and which often failed - *more about that in a minute*. It was a necessary link because the MSO served the ships and authorities at Trincomalee [SBNO Ceylon and C-in-C East Indies], and during failures a VHF RTP [radio teleprinter] link was used and when that failed, both ends resorted to HF Morse Code known as "EM FIX" {emergency fix}. Everthing at Trincomalee finally closed on 30th September 1958 {but the official transfer of the base to the Ceylonese Navy was on the 15th October 1957} and the name HMS Highflyer transferred to the other side of the Island [to the West side] just eight miles north of the Capital Colombo to 'Ceylon West' effective from 1st October 1958. CEYLON WEST W/T comprised of a receiving station [CWRS] at Welisara {shown as Welesara on map} a 125 acre site, and a transmitting station just eight miles to the north of Welisara  [CWTS] at Kotugoda a 375 acre site. Ceylon West closed on 1st March 1962 and its function East of Suez [the old East Indies Station] was taken over by HMS Mauritius. Welisara became the main naval shore base for the Sri Lankan navy. 

Apart from it being a former RN W/T Station in the world wide communication chain, Ceylon West was also famous [small 'f'] because members of her ship's company helped in the making of the famous [big 'f'] film "Bridge on the River Kwai". The film was made in Western Ceylon, and the filming started on location in Mid January 1957, the movie becoming the best money-spinner of 1958 outranking the films Peyton Place [2nd] and Sayonara [3rd] being released in the UK in early 1958.  The article below is not, nor was it ever meant to be, authoritative, and it has some inaccuracies when compared with other more reliable data. The river and bridge scenes were filmed 60 miles NE of Welisara on the River Kelani using the bridge at Kitulgala.  Anyway, enjoy the read and if you are in the pictures, we say well done to you.


This article was published in 1958 CEYLON WEST.....jpg

* That VHF link between Ceylon West and Trincomalee was an actual W/T station manned by Telegraphists detailed from Welisara. It was either a wonderful place to be, or an absolute derg.  In those days, I would opt for the latter. Read this little snippet about RANGALA W/T


Story Line 58.

And yet another block buster of a movie, this time a naval movie, the Brits versus the Jerry with love scenes. Part of it was filmed in the cruiser HMS Cleopatra and the film was released in the UK on the 11th June 1953. It is called "Single Handed". The plot is basically this:-

A British naval officer has a brief affair with a woman in England and never knows that she bears him a son. 20 years later the boy is on a ship under his command when he is tracking a German Raider. When the boy is captured after his ship is sunk, he finds a way to slow the German's progress while a lethal hunt for him goes on.  The boy {20 YEAR OLD MAN} therefore is the hero of the film and he plays the part of a Leading Signalman - he is an American whilst all the rest of the stars are Brits. A good story, but then it has to be when written by C.S. Forester and Directed by Roy Boulting

It seemingly was a 'must see film' because it had several real R.N., communicator's in the film as mentioned in the following file.

hms amesbury.pdf




Like all of us, I look back to the days controlled by procedures to be found in ACP 124 and ACP 125 [W/T and Voice], to my swan song in the navy looking at ICS3 and the automatic message handling system which was a major part of the sea-going package. Now, to a large extent, the navy relies on a military email system carried wholly by satellites. When TARE [Terminal Automatic Relay Equipment] was commissioned, everybody marvelled at its speed and accuracy, though SNAGS worked full pelt because of inaccurate entries into the system by careless operators. However, the true marvel was its predecessor STRAD [Signal Transmitting Receiving And Distribution].  STRAD was introduced into the navy in the first half of 1957.  Do you remember it?


Story Line 61.

In October 1956 time, whilst the Israelis were knocking the stuffing out of the Egyptians; Britain and France were doing the same; Russian was doing it to Hungary; there was unrest in Malta and Singapore, and to say the least, dreadful riots in Hong Kong - what happy times we lived through?

HONG KONG 1956.pdf

Story Line 62. [See also Story Line 45]


Story Line 63.

A story from 1952 when the Hong Kong Dockyard was still in action wherein junior rates were accommodated as senior rates lived in HMS Tamar.

Story Line 64.


Story Line 65.

Believe it or not, the miserly-hand of the powers that be, have closed down 100 [or so] Service Museums as a cost cutting exercise. Many of these are naval Museums, the likes of which were dotted around in various Establishments like HMS Excellent, HMS Drake, HMS Nelson for example, and sad to say, also HMS Collingwood which played host to the RN Museum of Radar and Communications. It was a wonderful Museum but now no more. Fortunately, back in 2006 when I was the Museum's librarian and archivist, I wrote a website about the Museum, its exhibitions, history and facilities and that, hopefully, will not die. When you have a few WEEKS [if your read everything] to spare why not look here, or visit its pages piecemeal when it takes your fancy 

Story Line 66.


Story Line 67.

Singapore MSO in 1950.

In the following PDF file, reference to the Rt Hon Malcolm MacDonald PC [Privy Councillor] {the C.G. of South-East Asia} refers to the Consul General. Reference to Keppel Barracks are near to Kepple Bay just outside Singapore itself and Phoenix Park is shown on the map below. The MSO was at the opposite end of the Island from the Naval Base which was in view of the Malayan mainland at Johore.

Now read the file SINGAPORE MSO IN 1950.pdf

See also the continuation story of when the C-in-C abandoned Phoenix Park for the Naval Base - Story Line 75 in Part Two here

Story Line Page 1 68

Quite separately what of the following?

That officer on the left is the OIC of this outfit and he is an RNVR Surgeon Lieutenant Commander! Note his wife sitting behind him and a very smart QARNNS Sister standing behind her! The wife has the star role in the ceremony you see being acted out. The plot thickens! Timeline is 1944! Its an RN signal station [some say a SIGINT} and a MET office combine! Its foreign, to the deep SSW of the UK although not as far South as a 1982 visit the RN had? Where do you think it is, and have a guess at its name which of course is an HMS?

Story Line Page 1 69

A very brave PO Telegraphist awarded the Albert Medal which today is the George Cross of pre WW1 and WW1 itself!