Royal Navy – WW2 D-Day and beyond

After the ships steering party was drafted I was sent to Portsmouth Barracks. I went home for some well deserved and on my return I was drafted to Combined Operations’ which was at HMS Mastodon, at the Lord Rothschild’s Estate in the New Forest. I became gunners mate of ‘HMS Mastodon’, ‘ Bucklers Hard’, Lady Forsters House and another estate at Lepe Point. The main area was controlled by Lord Rothschild’s Estate (Com/Ops). The area was used by landing craft ready for deployment as required and the training area for beach landing parties. ‘P’ Unit was Royal Naval personnel; ‘R’ Unit was Canadian. Stationed at Bucklers Hard, Lymington, was a US Naval Section of landing craft with personnel using the main house. Exercises were constantly carried out by both P and R units, and there was great competition between the two.

The river that came through part of the estate was a salmon area and one day the Game Keeper said to me “can you come down and look at the river?” On arriving we found about 12 salmon stunned or dead, so we collected them and took them to the galley (cooks house). We inspected the area and found a trip wire rigged from one bank to the other, and the grenade pins when inspected, gave away the culprit. It was ‘R’ company who had been doing a little bit of fishing that day. I sent for the Canadian Petty Officer – a man called Thackery – and requested the return of all pins (grenades). As I suspected he was short of 2 grenades. I informed him that they would be dining on salmon for tomorrow’s dinner, and that to save a lot of trouble, they would be paying the gamekeeper for them.

After a period of time the Commission Gunner – Mr Green – said we would be clearing lower deck and all ships company will be mustering in the cinema at 21:00 on June 10
th. When we had mustered and accounted for we were informed that D-Day was in motion and large movements were under way and we were all confined to the Estate area. We were released to duties and sentries posted on areas that had been designated earlier, and no one other than servicemen were to be allowed into the area. Everything seemed to go like clockwork as the main section were on the move in no time at all and Bucklers Hard was soon clear of most personnel – including most of the US personnel too. After all assistance had been given and it was clear that a good foothold had been obtained on the continent, all of the areas had to be closed down. After a few weeks a Care and Maintenance (C&M) party was detailed by the Captain and all area buildings were to be stripped and cleaned. I was the senior rating. My orders were to stay behind and ensure that all areas, were as much as possible, returned to normal. This consisted of Lord Rothschild’s house and outbuildings and the return of the portable dome we used for training on aircraft attacks, distance and speed, and aircraft recognition. We also had to close Bucklers Hard, Lepe Point and Lady Fosters house, which had been used for bases by the US Navy Units (landing craft).

Before D-Day one incident we had to deal with was refilling a compass bowl that had been drained of its alcohol (it had been used to drink with orange juice). If it had not been refilled the officer on watch would never have known where he was!

One incident stands out to me during the closedown period at Lady Fosters House. The young American Lieutenant who showed us around for checking and handover purposes said as we approached one of the small rooms centre “Oh, by the way we have left you and your company a couple of crates in that room over there.” When we examined them we got the surprise of our lives as they had left us tins of chicken, beef, ham, bacon and some other foods. I said that we couldn’t accept them but he simply told us that they had been written off and that we could ditch them if we preferred… Needless to say we were fed very well for a few weeks!

I had continued writing to Jess and had visited her whilst on leave. It was whilst I was at HMS Mastodon that we were married. Jess and I had originally planned for the 8
th June 1944, however, with the post D-Day activity all movement in the area was stopped for miles around as far as Southampton. Our wedding had to be postponed. When we were close to closing down HMS Mastodon we were told to standby for drafting and that it would probably be to sea-going ships. As a result my future wife came down from the North of England. I had decided to ask permission to get married in the August as I did not know what was happening, or where I may be drafted.

We were married on 4
th August 1944 and it is often said “it was a shabby wedding” as we only had Jess’s Dad there. Due to the bombings in London most of the family had returned to the North of England – but at least we were married in a church.