We would like to
thank Bert Ward for the photographs and following text.
class went on draft leave from Ganges at Christmas 1939, then to Pompey
barracks, HMS Victory in Queen Street.
We messed in the barracks but slept at Aggie Weston’s in
Commercial Rd. Aggies was two buildings separated by a side street but
joined on the second or third floor by an enclosed bridge. We used to
cross that bridge to our individual cabins. A petty officer and leading
seaman were in charge of us. We joined HMS Revenge in January at anchor in
Plymouth Sound. Revenge was one of the five R Class battle wagons;
Ramillies, Resolution, Royal Sovereign. Royal Oak had already been
sunk in Scapa Flow. These ships were unmodernised. Top speed about 21
knots. Main armament eight 15inch guns; secondary armament twelve 6inch in
two batteries Port and Starboard; AA eight four inch on four twin
mountings; two eight barrelled pom poms; and two 4 barrelled point five
inch machine guns.
Revenge was ammunitioning and sailed within a day or two for
Greenock and the North Atlantic convoy run to Halifax Nova Scotia. I was
lucky in that I was never sea-sick. On my first night at sea I felt a bit queasy and Petty Officer Bing
*Bingham gave me permission to leave the
shell room, my action station, to go on to the upper deck. The fresh air
and wind blew the feeling away and I never had it again.
U boats in those early days did not get far out into the Atlantic.
The danger was surface raiders as the sinking of the armed merchant
cruisers Rawalapindi and Jervis Bay illustrate. Those ships were armed
with six inch guns and stood no chance against the 11inch and 8inch of the
German warships. The routine was to escort a convoy from Halifax which was
met by destroyers off Northern Ireland escorting an outward bound convoy.
Revenge then turned round and escorted that convoy to Halifax., tied up
alongside a jetty and took on provisions and oiled. We would be in harbour
48 hours and maybe a bit longer, then off again. Usually two to three
weeks at sea.
My cruising station and defence station as a boy was look-out on
the ADP (Air Defence Position). The R class had tripod foremasts on which,
in the case of Revenge there was an open bridge. Above and abaft that was
the ADP which was an open platform, and above that was the spotting top
which was enclosed. That was the gunnery officer’s action station. If my
memory serves me right there were eight lookouts on the ADP, port and
starboard, sweeping all sectors with glasses. An officer and petty officer
were in charge. The view from the ADP was quite dramatic, particularly in
bad weather. With seas running high it was like mountains and valleys. For
a boy just turned seventeen, first ship, to be up there when Revenge
seemed to hang on a mountain top, then start to run down the side of the
mountain heading for the bottom of the Atlantic, and looking down on the
heads of the skipper in his captain’s cap and duffle coat and other
officers, not a bit concerned, and then the ship digging her bows into the
wall of water on the other side of the valley, picking it up and throwing
it up over bridge, was truly awe inspiring. When we were in the valley
there were no other ships in sight. Then back on the top of the mountain
with the convoy, or some of it in sight, we would hang for a moment, and
then hell for leather down the other side. As we approached Northern
Ireland we would sometimes see a Sunderland flying boat and wave to its
crew, and later the American built Catalina's flying round the convoy.
Winter in the North Atlantic 1940 was very cold. The guard rails
became solid ice, I have a photograph, and ice hung on the guns. To
prevent them freezing up they
were layed and trained every
Although Revenge did not have a loudspeaker system it did have
wireless on the mess decks for getting the BBC and a system for records to
be played. Operating from Halifax as we did the men responsible for
playing records could buy the latest American disks in advance of them
reaching the UK. ‘Blueberry Hill’ was one of them and even today,
sixty years later, whenever I hear ‘Blueberry Hill’ I am carried back
to the Revenge escorting a convoy from Halifax.
My action station was B shell room, just below the magazine. Every
evening as dusk approached the ship went to action stations. There we
practised until the order came down the voice pipe, second degree of
readiness. Then watches would be set, I think we did an hour each in
pairs, while the others slept. As dawn approached it was back to action
stations and practising. And then cruising stations, breakfast, clean ship
and quarters clean guns. Practice in a fifteen inch turret meant
practising loading the guns. We could load a fifteen inch gun in one
minute. That meant getting a one ton shell and four quarter charges from
the shell room and magazine up to the gun house to be rammed into the
A fifteen inch turret resembles a mushroom. The gun house and
barbette are visible. The stalk or trunk extends to the bilges. The trunk
is hollow, with footholds cut into the side for men to climb. Also a
knotted rope hangs down the centre. Surrounding this hollow tube is
another tube enclosing the port and starboard cages which carry the
ammunition to the guns. When the turret revolves this means the entire
structure revolves. Consequently, when the guns are trained on the beam
the cages are no longer on the port and starboard sides but are fore and
The shells lay in rows in shell bins which were sunk into the deck
with a coaming two or three feet above the deck. They were picked up and
carried by grabs operated by hydraulics. Circling the trunk is a large
gear or cog wheel. The port and a starboard cradles are moved round this
by hand wheels. The shells are lowered on to the cradles in a fore and aft
position, and then lined up with the lift doors, wound into the lift, the
lift doors shut and the working chamber below the gunhouse informed. Above
the shell cages are cages for the cordite charges loaded by the magazine
crew. When the cages were loaded they were whisked up to the working
chamber where the charges were pushed to the rear of the shells and sent
up to the gun house.
At sea hammocks were not allowed to be slung. Everybody who could,
slept at action stations. Exceptions were lookouts and the four inch guns
crews who were allowed below where they slept on mess tables and stools,
or the deck. The captain, ‘Rammer’ Archer slept in his sea cabin next
to the bridge. In the shell room we slept on the shells, with our caps or
lifebelts for pillows. It was bloody cold. But we had make and mend every
day at sea. The captain of B shell room was Petty Officer Bing
The trunk was towards the after end of the shell room and the lights on
the bulkheads were in that area. The result was that the furthest end of
the shell room was in perpetual gloom. The ladder down into the shell room
was in the area near the trunk. After reverting to second degree Bing
would get his harmonica out and we would have a sing song. As sound
carries under water we probably frightened Gerry off. The down side of
that was that when the escorts were dropping depth charges it sounded like
somebody hitting the hull with a giant hammer. We got used to it.
Sometimes as I lay on the shells trying to get to sleep I used to wonder
what would happen if we were torpedoed. Escape was impossible. Main
hatches were clipped down and only escape hatches letting one man at a
time through were open. I imagined the ship going down with lights on and
we would be trapped. One night I dreamed we were torpedoed. As the ship
sank she turned over and all the shells came tumbling out of the bins. So
that was that problem solved.
The gun house crew gained access to the gun house through a hatch
under the gun house. In bad weather that was not possible so they came
down to the shell room and climbed the trunk. One boy who often came down
to the shell room, even in good weather, to climb the trunk was Ginger
Frith. He came from Devon or Cornwall and had their distinctive accent.
The senior members of the shell room’s crew would never allow Ginger to
climb the trunk until he sang a song. And always he sang ‘The Trail of
the Lonesome Pine’. Then we would hear the sound of his boots as he dug
them into the footholds in the trunk as he climbed to the gunhouse. I did
hear that Bing, who I believe came from Portsmouth, was invalided with TB.
In 1940 there were fears of invasion. Revenge sailed for Plymouth
where we ammunitioned with a special shell for bombarding. We were at
anchor in the Sound when we
had our first taste of bombing. A high flying formation came over.
Somebody said, “They’re ours.” then we saw the bombs falling and the
bugle was going ‘There’s a bomber overhead. There’s a bomber
overhead.’ There were no hits or casualties although some bomb splinters
came inboard chipping the paintwork. Incidentally, Revenge did not have a
loudspeaker system. Orders were transmitted by pipe, call boys and the
bosun’s mate going round the ship, as well as ‘Sticks’ the bugler. I
was a call boy and later bosun’s mate.
I remember arriving in Halifax
one morning. At sea we changed from morning to afternoon watch at 12. In
harbour 12.30. As bosun’s mate in harbour one of my duties was to ring
the bell on the quarterdeck. I lost track of the fact that we were no
longer at sea, and at 12.30 I rang eight bells. The security killick
‘Bomber Thrower’ said to me afterwards, “I heard two bells and
turned round and you were getting ready to ring another two”. We laughed
about that but nobody had noticed.
To return to Plymouth. We sailed on 13th September 1940 and
bombarded the invasion fleet assembling at Cherbourg. Then we headed for
Pompey while at day break the German bombers headed for Plymouth. That
must be the time that Pompey was blitzed. The county class cruiser
‘Berwick’ was in Pompey at the same time. I had a townie, in fact we
came from the same street, Danny Wright, on the Berwick, so we had a run
ashore. We walked up Queen Street and lost our bearings. The devastation
was complete. Aggie Westons, a landmark had gone. We got well and truly
drunk and walked, if that’s the word, back down Queen Street singing
‘Begin the Beguine' at the top of our voices. The best rendering of
that song was by Chick Henderson. Forget about Hutch. We couldn’t see a
thing in the blackout and Danny fell down a bomb hole and lost his cap.
There was a little pub at the top of Queen Street, the same side as the
Victory and near the corner with Commercial Rd. It was only a small bar
and it was always packed with matelots. Its walls were covered with cap
tallies. I wonder what happened to them. They would be a real history.
In November we had four days leave from Plymouth. Either the first
or second day we got telegrams to report back on board in Greenock. The
AMC (Armed merchant cruiser) Jervis Bay had been sunk on 5 November by the
On Saturday the 24 May 1941 we were in Halifax and I had the
morning watch as for’ard gangway sentry. Shortly after 4 am an oiler
came alongside. The timing was unusual. Oilers never came alongside until
the time was approaching for us to leave harbour and we had only just got
in. So I knew that we were under sailing orders sooner than we had
expected. I know now that at 5.56am on Saturday 24 May 1941 the Bismarck
sank the Hood. We were at sea when a buzz went round the ship that the
Hood had gone down. We speculated as to whether it was a U boat or dive
bombers that sank her. Later we were told that the Bismarck was out and
that we had to intercept her if she took a westward course. Then we
learned that Bismarck had sunk the Hood. A very thick fog came down and we
were steaming through it sounding our siren. Then we learned that we were
out of the hunt. Ramillies was much nearer to the Bismarck but she was
escorting a convoy to Halifax. She left the convoy and we picked it up.
After the French had surrendered, the French fleet had to be
prevented from falling into German hands. I forget whether we were in
Pompey or Devonport, but the old battleship Paris was tied up astern of
Revenge and the submarine Surcouf was tied up alongside her. In the early
hours of one morning we went to action stations and sent boarding parties
to take both ships. The sentries on the Paris were taken by surprise. The
first man down the ladder on the Surcouf was leading seaman Webb. He was
shot and killed by a French officer. The British officer following Webb
then killed the Frenchman.
Revenge was one of the ships carrying Britain’s gold reserves to
Halifax from Greenock. Security was tight. The boxes contained either four
gold bars or bags of coins. Guess how Jack found that out. The gold
arrived in Greenock harbour in railway box wagons. Marines were the
guards. One officer checked the boxes, which were numbered out of the
wagon. An officer checked them going into a boat. An officer checked them
going on board Revenge, another checked them being lowered to the bomb
room and another checked them arriving in the bomb room. The procedure was
reversed in Halifax.
We also carried the Polish General Sikorski to
Halifax. I have a photograph of him leaving from the quarterdeck in
Halifax (see left).
Dhobeying and bathing on the Revenge was in buckets or hand basins.
Access to the bathrooms, which consisted of a row of hand basins, was down
through watertight hatches which were only open for certain times of day.
Sometimes the valves, whether through somebody’s carelessness or not I
don’t know, allowed the sea into the bathrooms and flooded them. So you
raised the hatch on chain blocks and what you saw was the Atlantic. So it
was move on to the next bathroom. The flooded bathrooms were then pumped
Between A and B turrets there was a main hatch. This hatch was
watertight when the sea was flat and the sun shining, rare events in the
North Atlantic in winter. So a large canvas bath was rigged up under the
hatch with pumps to pump it out. A consequence was that in bad weather
there was always water swishing around on the deck. The foc’sle and top
mess decks were on the same deck so sea boots were essential at all times.
Another of Revenge’s idiosyncrasies was the lower decks’ heads
which were right for’ard.
The lavatories were two steps up from the deck, in cubicles with
half doors on so that it was possible to see if they were occupied. They
were flushed by pushing a large brass button. Unfortunately sometimes the
valve which allowed the contents of the pan to be sent out into the ocean
failed and the Atlantic came in. We could tell by the water surrounding
such rogues which to avoid. But if a valve had not previously failed there
was no way of knowing. In that case the Atlantic came in and the matelot
who was sitting there got a right slap in the face, so to speak.
The mess decks were open mess decks, not the small compartmentalised
messes of the modern ships such as the KGV class. When I became an OD I
moved into the top mess deck. Revenge was general messing which meant that
we peeled the spuds but apart from that everything was done in the galley.
We carried all meals from the galley to the mess. Everybody took a turn at
cook of the day which meant collecting the food, dishing it out and
washing up after the meal. The washing up water and gash were carried on
to the upper deck and sent down the gash chute. If a piece of cutlery had
been left in the water it could be heard hitting the sides of the chute as
it went down. That was where I learned the ditty; “Tinkle tinkle little
spoon, knife and fork will follow soon”.
Leading Seaman Telford, a decent man in one of the foc’sle messes
had a weakness for rum. The rum, two and one, was poured into cups.
Telford was known for always scrutinising the cups to see which he thought
had the most in. So one day his mess mates filled one cup with vinegar,
and they all waited for Telford to arrive. His eyes flickered over the
cups and then he bit. There was uproar, with everybody laughing their
heads off and Telford fuming and threatening all sorts of mayhem. But he
was a decent sort and nothing came of it. Tasters, sippers, gulpers and
swipers were the rewards on birthdays or for favours rendered.
At some time in 1941 we escorted a troop convoy to the Indian
ocean. Before we reached the Cape we were rammed by the troopship Orion.
We had the usual ceremony for crossing the line. I have given copies of
photographs to the museum. The sea hag was ‘Guts Parritt’. That is the
pronunciation, I am not sure of the spelling. Guts was a three badge AB, a roly poly man with a terrific
sense of humour. On Christmas Day 1941 we were at sea and Guts came
running round the mess decks wearing a children’s cowboy outfit and
waving a toy gun. I don’t know the name of Neptune or his servants but
they had a big parade round the upper deck and Neptune challenged the
skipper for being on his territory then giving him permission to proceed.
Everybody who had never crossed the line before had a good ducking.
I saw my first burial at sea when the sailmaker collapsed and died
at sea. There was an amusing incident. The sailmaker was laid out on the
boat deck with a white canvas sheet over him between the boats, which were
on the same deck as the four inch guns. Sentries from the four inch were
posted. During the night, and of course it was pitch black, a wind lifted
the sheet. The unfortunate sentry took fright and ran to the four inch
shouting that he had seen a ghost.
There were two fleet champion boxers on board. Bellamy who was a
light heavy and Lord who was a fly weight.
We were in three ramming incidents. Coming out of Halifax one
evening we rammed the boom defence ship. One night at sea we were rammed
by a tanker and as already mentioned the liner Orion during broad
daylight. Captain Archer
already had the nickname Rammer before these incidents so why he had that
name I do not know.
Ward 7 January 2001
Officer Bingham. I might have his name wrong. It might have been Ingram.
pictured (courtesy of Bert Ward) from top to bottom are as follows:
& B Turrets on HMS Revenge North Atlantic 1940-41, View from the
Bridge of HMS Revenge note ice; Port Forward 4 inch covered in ice, HMS
Revenge North Atlantic, winter 1940; HMS Revenge from the Foc'sle in
Halifax winter 1940;
Laconia Astern of Revenge, North Atlantic 1941; General Sikorski.