-H.M.S. Hood Crew Information-
H.M.S. Crew List

It is estimated that as many as 18,000 men served aboard the 'Mighty Hood' during the operational portion of her 21 year career. Unfortunately, there is no surviving official single listing of ALL men who served in her. Here you will find our attempt at creating such a listing. We are using the few, fragmentary crew lists known to exist, Navy Lists, various official reports, public records, and most importantly of all, inputs from the families of former crew.

Chainbar divider


Eric George Burn

Photo of
Date of birth: 26th April 1922
Wife: Mary
Service: Royal Navy
Rank: Ordinary Seaman
Service Number: P/JX158078
Joined Hood: April 1939 (Boy 1st Class)
Left Hood: August 1940 (Able Seaman)








Biographical Information:

Service History
HMS Caledonia  26th April 1938 - April 1939
I joined the Royal Navy on my sixteenth birthday The Caledonia was a RN Training Ship, permanently berthed in Rosyth Dockyard, Fife Scotland.  The ship was an ex White Star Liner (UK - USA voyager) obtained from Germany as part of the First World War (1914 - 1918) reparations.  The ship was a 56,000 tons luxury liner before the Navy altered 'her'.  She must have been very luxurious, however when I joined her all the luxury had been torn out to make vast open spaces where hundreds of passenger cabins had previously been.  The spaces were used for dormitories, classrooms etc.

Our day on the ⟊lly' started at 5.30 a.m. when dressed in a white canvas suit and bare feet we mustered on the promenade deck to scrub decks (all year round), very bracing!  6.00 a.m. brought a cup of 'Pussers Kye' (RN cocoa, very greasy) to revive us.  Very welcome it was too.  The remainder of the day was taken up with classes.  General education, specialised seamanship lessons, including sailing and rowing in cutters and whalers, also rifle drill and parades.  By 8.30 p.m. we were all tucked up in our hammocks, overseen by a Petty Officer (Instructor) wandering about with a cane or knotted rope end, giving all and sundry a whack whether they were guilty of any misdemeanour or not.  Any semi or serious offender was sentenced to 7 - 14 days 8A punishment.  The worst part was an hour's doubling (running) on the jetty under the beady eyes of a GI (Gunnery Instructor) carrying a rifle above your head (weight 8lbs approx.), not an easy pastime.  This form of punishment broke some, but hardened most, after all we were all aged between 15 - 18 years and very fit. 

My pay as a Boy 2nd class was five shillings and three pence per week (now equal to 26 pence).  'Leave' was three four and a half hour periods per fourteen days and you had to be back on board at 6.00 p.m.  Long leave 7 - 14 day periods to go home came twice during the twelve months of my stay on the ⟊lly',

In April 1939 I was elevated to the rank of Boy 1st Class (a few pence more per week) and drafted to HMS Hood, a Battle Cruiser 42,000 tons, speed 30 knots, fitted with 8 13”; dia guns in 4 turrets, 12 5.5”; dia guns, plus a variety of smaller anti aircraft guns.  The ship was lying in the RN Dock yard at Portsmouth following repairs and refitting.  Life was much easier on Hood than Caledonia, we still scrubbed decks but at a much more civilised hour, wearing sea boots (such luxury), we were also allowed shore leave until 11.00 p.m. (such freedom).

I was allocated my action station on a loading number (one of six) to feed the shells into the breech of one of a twin mounting 4”; high angle AA guns.  As a point of interest, all the Hood's and probably the Home Fleet's AA guns were crewed by boys other than the Gun layer (Captain of the gun) and Trainer.  It made us all laugh some months after the war started (1939) when a high ranking Cabinet Minister stated on BBC Radio that no boys under the age of 18 years were manning the Fleet's AA guns.  Politicians haven't changed, they still tell whoppers.

At the outbreak of War (August 1939) the Hood was lying in Invergorden, where we had been carrying out practice actions and gunnery firing (very noisy).  The Commander in Chief (C in C) decided to take the fleet across the North Sea into the Skagerak (off Denmark) to try and tempt the German Fleet into battle.  Instead of their fleet, they sent their bombers JU 88s etc.  Fortunately for us their bomb aiming was about equal to our anti aircraft fire - hopeless.  Sir Percy Noble, his fleet retired to Scapa Flow (the Home Fleet base) where we were kept busy for weeks at anti aircraft drill and firing at towed targets.  All the towing planes were Swordfish, a torpedo carrier, with a crew of three in open cockpits with max level speed of about 110 mph.  We didn't learn a lot as our enemies planes were capable of 250 - 300 mph carrying their bombs.

After a very cold Winter (1939/40) during which we patrolled Northern waters, working fours hours on and four hours off, except for the dog watches (4 - 8 in the evening) which were two hours each, which allowed a change of watches (duties) each day e.g. one night your watches would be 8 - 12 followed by 4 - 8 a.m.  the morning watch 8 - 12 noon.  Everyone worked their daily duties except the men on watch at their action station i.e. standing by guns etc.

After a month or so of these 'watch and watch' duties we were all pretty well exhausted due to lack of sleep and the intense cold weather and very bad rough seas.  If your duties and action station caused you to be exposed to the elements (freezing and mainly stormy conditions) that made life even worse.  At that we were lucky ones, our destroyer escorts seemed to do everything but loop the loop due to the constant storms.  They also worked watch and watch.  After about 2 - 3 months when the whole fleet crews were like zombies, the general order of 'three watches' was introduced e.g. 4 fours on and 8 hours off except for the ɽog watches' as usual, to effect this change of watches every 24 hours all had to work the forenoon watch 8 - 12 a.m.

In the Spring of 1940 we docked in Liverpool for repairs and the removal of the 5.5”; guns and the fitting of three pairs of twin 4”; AA, plus numerous close range AA guns.  During this period in dock we all had some home leave.  After repairs and new gun fitting we, the Hood, were promoted to Flagship H.  Admiral Sir James Somerville (a gent) came aboard.  He had been recalled from retirement and soon showed his mettle.  We all admired his professionalism and as a man.  Our new base was Gibraltar.  The Fleet H Force consisted of Hood (flagship), Renown, also a battle cruiser, the aircraft carrier Ark Royal, a couple of cruisers and destroyer escorts, mainly ɿ' class, 1400 tons 4 4.7 gun and torpedoes.

By now the British Army had left France via Dunkirk.  The French Navy was available to the Germans.  As Britain was overstretched in all forms of weapons at this time, with the Navy scattered around large parts of the world, we (Britain) could not afford to allow the Germans to take over the French ships.  The bulk of French battleships etc. were in their North African bases, Mers el Kebir (near Oman). 

We sailed off the coast and their base from 6.00 a.m. until about 6.00 p.m.  During this time Admiral Somerville had pleaded  with the French Navy to join us in this fight against Germany, or sail to the West Indies, if not we would attack them.  The French would not agree and we eventually opened fire on their ships and the base, putting most of them out of use for the rest of the war.  No one took any pleasure out of this action for the French had suffered heavy casualties during our bombardment.  This is not to say that they didn't fight back.  We had plenty of near misses from their guns with no casualties to us.  We had some minor damage caused by their shells exploding close to us, with splinters whining closely to those of us on the upper deck and superstructures.

Our following trips were to escort fast convoys to Malta.  This entailed us being heavily bombed from dawn to dusk (or so it seemed) by the Italian Air Force.  Fortunately the 'Ities' (as we called them) did their bombing from 15 - 29,000 feet, we were never hit, by constantly twisting and turning we evaded the bombs, although there were plenty of near misses, very close from 1000 lb bombs.   Our carrier (Ark Royal) kept disappearing behind clouds of smoke and flame and we would think to ourselves there goes the 'poor old Ark', each time when the smoke and flame subsided 'she' would slowly re-appear intact with her guns blazing away, a brave sight.  Some months later she was torpedoed and sank after a Malta trip.

The main purpose of the convoys was to reinforce Malta's air defences with RAF Huricane fighters as the German Air Force was soon to be in action against us.  They were a much more dangerous bunch with their superior (at the time) bombers and fighters,  Our bombers, Swordfish, were useless as fighter planes, also our fighters were Skua dive bombers (220 mph and too slow).

August 1940 'the chief' Slim Somerville, our Admiral, left us and the Hood returned to Scapa Flow to resume Northern patrols.  On arrival at Scapa, volunteers were called for to join Fiji a cruiser leaving Scapa to go abroad.  I and several others joined Fiji and off we went to become part of the escort of a fast convoy carrying troops to invade French North Africa.  At about 6.00 p.m. off the West costs of Ireland, Fiji was torpedoed.  At the time we were struck I was standing with two other volunteers from Hood, Messrs. Hackett and Walls.  We were standing leaning on the guard rails above the after (rear) boiler room on the aircraft hangar deck, about 2- 30 feet above the point of impact where the torpedo struck.  Hackett was blown aft (towards the stern) and landed unhurt about 50 feet away.  Walls ended up two decks down, also unhurt.  I was blown across the full width of the ship ending lying across the job of the starboard side aircraft crane, also unhurt.  We lost the boiler room crew, all killed, the convoy altered course and steamed away at high speed.  The Fiji, with an escort, struggled back to Glasgow for repair. 

As with all seriously damaged RN ships, the whole crew was sent on leave, at the end of which we had to report to Victory Barracks, Portsmouth for disposal to other ships.  On return from leave I was sent to St Vincent to qualify as a Seaman Torpedo man (asst. electrician), which I did and returned to Victory.  Also training with us were a number of Australians, with whom we got on really well.  Almost all later perished in the Battle of the Coral Sea.

In December 1940 I joined the destroyer HMS Boreas, in dock for bomb damage repairs caused during the Dunkirk evacuation.  Repairs were almost completed and the Boreas was whole again, 1400 tons (approx) length 300', beam 30' (approx), speed 32 knots (with the wind behind), 4 4.7 low angle guns, torpedo tubes, various light AA guns and depth charge throwers, plus two DC gravity rails at the stern.   Our Captain was Lieutenant Commander Crighton DSC.  The medal (DSC) he won at the Dunkirk evacuation, where he was very severely wounded, he was a fine man, the CO I served with.

A couple of days before we sailed the lower deck was cleared, all the crew to assemble aft (quarter deck) for the Commissioning Ceremony, where the Captain meets the crew officially and sets out his requirements for the coming duties of the ship.  After telling us we were off to Scapa Flow to 'work up' (all departments to become efficient double quick) we, the ɾxperienced' members of the crew were shaken to the core when we learned that less than a quarter of the whole crew had never been to sea before!  Typical of crews at the time, the navy was expanding rapidly.  A few days later we left the Thames and our comfy billet in the Royal Docks at East Ham.  We had been well received by the local population and apart from the nightly bombings to London, thoroughly enjoyed our stay there.

On  a cold blustery grey January day we set sail for Scapa.  Normally a 2 - 3 day journey, it took us five days.  The weather up the East Coast was really rough, bitterly cold and wet.  Most of the crew were seasick.  The weather was so violent that we only thought of survival.  I spent most of my time trying to make people eat so that they had something to throw up again.  We ran out of bread after 24 hours due to the bread lockers being flooded.  Hard tack biscuits was our lot, plus corned beef.  The weather was too rough for any cooking.  Arriving in Scapa we had 24 hours off, during which time most of us slept, except for the minimum of duties to keep the ship functioning.

After a week or so of practice gunnery etc, off we went to join an Atlantic convoy escort, for the ships bringing food etc.  We had joined the ➺ttle of the Atlantic' as it became known.  The weather of Winter 1940, early Spring 1941, remained atrocious most of the time.  We were even pleased to get back to Scapa Flow, a cold miserable base with virtually no amenities.  At least the ship was still at anchor instead of rolling and pitching our guts out escorting the slow convoys.

Ship convoys were of two types, fast and slow.  The fast convoys were favourite being safer due to speed 15k, with a strong escort force, also being of shorter duration the sooner we would return to port, unless we were re-directed to go to assist another convoy under U Boat attack etc. or pick up survivors, or escort a broken down ship/straggler etc.  Slow convoys were desperate.  Seven knots was the order, however due to the weather and breakdowns, we would often be lucky if our speed was five knots, plus the the normal zig zag and roundabout routes, it probably doubled the length of the voyage.  Due to our fuel limit lat. 25 degrees West was as far as we went.  We would then join a homeward bound convoy for our return voyage.  The outward bound convoy would then continue West with a Canadian Navy escort taking over our duties after a gap of anything up to 500 miles.  The convoy's only defence being bad weather, bad visibility also the zig zag.  Hundreds of ships sunk in the 500 mile gap until it was closed much later.

After a couple of trips we shifted our base to Greenock, much to our delight, where we would go ashore, see people, have drink in a pub. Visit a cinema etc.  After Scapa it was great.  Even better was Liverpool, where we called occasionally to off load survivors we had picked up.  Twice we tied up opposite the Royal Liver Building, right in the heart of the city.  Also we called in there for minor repairs, or boiler cleaning, which meant a few days home leave.  As I lived in Manchester it was great for me to see my parents and old friends and maybe meet a girl!  (this was three years before I met Mary)

To explain my minor part in defending convoys I must explain my duties.  Normally my work was to maintain the electrical equipment in the Low Power Generating Rom (we used a 24V DC system to control our main armament of 4.7 guns fire control).  My Action Station was on the rear end of the bridge, where I operated the depth charge rails release mechanism, also I spent my sea-going watches there.  Four hours on and eight hours off, except for the ɽog watches'.  As we only used the depth charge when attaching U boats, I acted as an unofficial additional look out and listened to any gossip coming from the bridge officers (Captain, Navigator and duty Watch Officers who command the ship).  In action the Captain would take over, how he survived the hours he put in on the bridge I shall never know.  You could bet on it, if he went to his sea cabin (a tiny metal box close to the bridge) to sleep, his phone would ring within minutes and back he came to the bridge and command.  I didn't envy him, I could normally count on four hours sleep at a time (unless there was an alarm).

Action 
Normally we were attacked during the night when the U boat/s would get into the lines of ships and pick off their targets.  Oil tankers being their favourite target as these either exploded and disappeared within seconds or burned, lighting up the whole convoy, thus allowing the U boat a clear sighting of their targets.  Ammunition ships if hit normally blew up and disappeared in seconds.  General cargo and timber carrying ships took anything from five minutes to hours to sink.

How did the U boats get into the convoy lines?  Simple, if you had no radar, up to sixty ships to look after, with an escort of six or seven warships (if lucky), which consisted of a Sloop (long distance escort vessel) a couple of old destroyers, a couple of corvettes and or trawlers, covering an area of ocean occupied by the convoy of about 30 square miles.  Only the destroyers were faster than the U boats when they were on the surface, also Asdic (underwater detection device) which due to varying conditions of the sea was not fully effective.  So you see at that time the convoy's protection was minimal. 

During one night attack we lost twelve ships, torpedoed within three to four hours.  As each ship had a crew of about thirty men (average) we lost over two hundred Merchant Seamen within the space of four hours, plus their ships and cargoes.  During these attacks we raced about dropping depth chargers, but we never saw any trace of a sunken U boat.  It was normally pitch black, except when a ship was burning and as fast as we attacked one U boat, we would have to race off to attack another which was attacking the convoy, or return to the convoy via orders from Senior Officer Escort (SOE).

Any survivors from the sunken ships were left to the ship designated to rescue them (if it hadn't been sunk), occasionally we would return and pick up these poor men who were often badly burned, injured and soaked in oil.  Merchant Seamen had the highest percentage casualty list of any of the Services (Army, Navy, Air Force), also in those early days of the war, once their ship was sunk their pay stopped!  As civilians they were classed as unemployed, this outrageous treatment was much later rectified.

For a couple of weeks, due to the serious loss of ships, we were attached to a high speed force of destroyers based off the Faroe Islands.  Our task was to race at high speed to reinforce the convoy escort under attack.  Normally by the time we reached the convoy the attack on it was finished and the U boats had vanished.  We (the force of four destroyers) was commanded by Captain Lord Louis Mountbatten, later to become Admiral of the Fleet and Viceroy of India (the last one in fact as India and Pakistan split into two separate countries).  Lord Louis' three other destroyers of the 'J' class, were almost new, very fast and much superior to the poor old Boreas.  As a comparison they were three swans and the Boreas was the ugly duckling.  At this time our defeat in Greece necessitated Lord Louis force to be called to the Mediterranean to assist in the evacuation of our troops.

We re-fuelled in the Faroes and off we went to Gibraltar at 30 knots!  Our Chief Engineer nearly had a fit, he knew, the Captain knew and most of their crew knew that the poor old Boreas could not sustain that speed for long.  Our hull was twisted due to the damage sustained at Dunkirk, which meant any prolonged high speed caused our propeller shaft to overheat and if the speed continued too long we would stop altogether.  By the time we got to Gib we and Lord Louis and the other ships were down to about 20 knots and we needed serious repair to our prop shafts which took about a week and our top speed was lowered to about 25 knots for very short bursts.  As we were no further use to him, Lord Louis sailed for Greece and Crete without us.  Where, after a harrowing time caused by German bombers his ship 'Kelly' was sunk and most of the crew perished along with many other fine ships trying to rescue our troops.  Greece and Crete was a very bad time for Britain.

Whilst that was happening, we completed our repairs and joined a convoy (fast) to Freetown (West Africa).  After the North Atlantic it was marvellous, smooth seas and warm, and so it remained for the time we were based there.  Food wasn't too good as the U boats kept sinking the supply ships, which came once a month from the Cape (South Africa).  For some weeks bread, mangoes and corned beef became our staple diet.  Mangoes are delicious eaten infrequently, if you have to eat them day in and day out for weeks on end you soon become sick of the sight of them.  Eventually we managed to escort one supply ship into Freetown and we all ate well for a while.

We (the Boreas) mostly operated alone, joining up with a convoy's escort for a few days and then returning to Freetown.  We still had our action moments, but always in a warm climate and mostly calm seas.  Ashore in Freetown there was little in the form of amusement.  At few 'tin shack' pubs selling poisonous drink (one visit was enough).  Most of the time we spent on a beach nearby, swimming and trying to surf on bits of plank.  I really enjoyed that.  Sharks were kept away by firing small explosive charges under water, which kept them at a safe distance.

During one of our trips up and down the African coast I had the afternoon  watch on the bridge where we all saw an amazing aquatic display by fish, starting with flying fish landing on our focsle deck after being chased by porpoises and dolphins.  Later there were whales and manta ray leaping out of the sea and falling back into the water, like huge blankets falling through the air.  Porpoise and dolphins were leaping out of the water, swimming close alongside and tumbling in the ship's wake, it was an incredible sight.

Another memory was when we were getting short of food, our ASDIC operators would locate a shoal of fish on which we would drop a depth charge.  Not very nice for the fish but we were really hungry.  We swooped the fish out of the sea with 'survivor nets', similar to a basketball net and post, without the hole for the ball to fall through.  So for a day or two, if we were lucky, there was contented burps from our fishy diet.

Other recollections of the Boreas were the time two torpedoes passed us, one on either side of the ship.  I was on watch on a lovely day near the Azores, all was peace and quiet until from the ASDIC office came a message from the voice pipe, torpedoes approaching from starboard.  We all came to life in an instant, the Captain  cool as you like, ordered hard a starboard, then midships the wheel, we were able to see the twin wakes of bubbles from the torpedoes racing towards us.  The Captain had judged it nicely, each torpedo, one to each side of the Boreas raced past us, nobody breathed until they passed us.  We hunted the U boat but couldn't make contact.

Off Freetown we picked up a Chinese man survivor whose only means of support was a small  (5' x 2ɶ”;) heavily insulated wooden door which probably gave access to his ship's radio room.  He was the only survivor we found from that ship and we learned little from him as his English was very poor except that “the ship went boom”;.

One or two of the convoys we escorted had one ship carrying a Hurricane fighter plane, launched from a catapult.  There were known as Cam Ships.  It was a one way trip for the pilot, his job was to shoot down or chase off German long range bombers (Foccke, Wolfes) which radioed the convoy's position to bring up the U boats to attack the convoy.  After shooting down the bomber or chasing it away, the Hurricane pilot had to fly back to the convoy and parachute down, the pilots were very brave young men  As ɾscort Carriers' came into service in more and more numbers the use of Cam Ships was superseded.

At sea we often picked up survivors and occasionally chased after a U boat observed by the RAF Sunderland Flying Boats (God bless them).  We didn't sink any but must have made it very uncomfortable as we liberally disposed our depth charges around the U boat.  One surface ship attacking a U boat has little chance of success.  It took at least two ships working together to carry out a successful attack and sink the U boat.

One almost successful attack on a U boat we carried out when we were sent to escort a tanker to Gibraltar.  We sailed from Freetown and rushed up the African coast to reach 'our' tanker.  En route, about 2.00 p.m., we picked up the tanker on our radar (recently fitted), RDF as it was then), slightly astern of the tanker was a small ɻlip' on the screen.  At that time we were about 20,000 yards astern, catching up fast.  Our skipper decided the ɻlip' was a U boat, also chasing the tanker.  We managed to get within 9,000 yards before we were spotted.  We opened fire immediately, getting very close with our shell but not hitting it, in a matter of seconds it was submerged.  By this time we had contacted the U boat by ASDIC, we had a clear double echo (ping poing) the sound of our 'ping' striking the U boat and the sound returning to us as a poing.  We attacked the U boat for over two hours without sinking it and then we were ordered to rejoin the tanker which had long since disappeared over the horizon and reached Gibraltar safe and sound.  The whole crew were deeply annoyed at having to leave the U boat, as we felt that we must have damaged it and sooner or later we would have sunk it.  We caught up with the tanker and had an uneventful few days voyage to Gib 'nursing it'.

By the time we reached Gib with 'our' tanker, the chief engineer was muttering gloom and doom about his propeller shafts, high speed runs and heavy depth charge explosions (some hundreds, each depth charge contained 350 lbs of Amatol).  This hadn't done our 'tender' prop shafts and bearings any good at all, so we were ordered back to UK for repair, joining a homeward bound convoy escorting 29 ships.  A slow convoy.

The first couple of days were quiet, the convoy settled down at a speed of 4 - 6 knots due to one or two ships being unable to maintain our scheduled speed of 7 knots.  We were observed on the third day by a German long range bomber (Focke Wolfe Kondor or similar).  The plane circled the convoy signalling our position but keeping out of range of the AA gunfire.  After an hour or two of the plane circling us in one direction, the Senior Officer Escort signalled the plane (Morse, via a flashing signalling light) asking it to fly round the other way as it was making him dizzy, the German obliged and reversed his direction!  As night fell the bomber took off, having called up his U boat colleagues, who would be preparing to attack us after dark, which they did.  In no time we had three of the convoy ships burning and sinking.  Two of the victims were within the lines of the ships, which meant the escorts had either passed over the U boats or they had raced up from astern and entered the convoy columns of ships.

A U boat at night is virtually invisible unless silhouetted.  We spent most of the night chasing around the ocean, occasionally carrying out depth charge attacks without any luck.  Come dawn we had lost 12 merchant ships and one of the escorts, a Corvette which blew up and disappeared in an instant.  This form of attack continued for three more nights by which time we had lost over half the convoy ships and two more of the escorting RN ships, a second Corvette and an old V and W destroyer (of first World War heritage 1914 - 18).  Unknown to us at the time we were being attacked by U boat packs of up to a dozen at a time.  As the escorts numbered only seven to start with, we had no chance, as there was no time to carry out prolonged attacks on the enemy.  It was a case of dash here and there, firing depth charges at one U boat and dashing off to give assistance elsewhere.  Trying to keep the U boats submerged where they would do much less damage to the convoy, as their submerged speed was very slow, 1 - 8 knots approx.  On the surface a U boat could do 18 knots, which meant they could run rings around the merchant ships and all of the escorts, except for the destroyers of which we had four to start with.

The whole operation was a nightmare, after four continuous nights and the odd day time attack/alarms, we (the crew) were exhausted.  As for our Captain, he had not left the bridge the whole time, sleeping for an hour or two on the deck or in a corner of the bridge, or dozing on his bridge chair.  Also by this time we had some forty odd survivors on board, many of whom were in a bad way from burns, scalds, broken bones and the effects of swallowing oil from the surface of the sea.  Our Doctor and his assistant worked non-stop too, saving many lives.  Relief came when we were joined by an additional escort group and we had no further attacks up on us.  Liverpool looked marvellous as we sailed up the river Mersey after that 'trip'.

After Liverpool we sailed for Newcastle for repair.  However, after the ship was surveyed in dry dock it was decided to 'pay the ship off' and return us al to Victory Barracks, Portsmouth for dispersal.  The repairs were going to take months, not weeks to complete and the crew weren't going to be left idle.  Prior to us leaving the ship the Captain spoke to us all, thanking us for our efforts and his new promotion to Commander RN, we thanked him for keeping us alive.  He well deserved his promotion.  I and all the crew of Boreas were reluctant to leave the ship, unfortunately we had no choice in the matter, 'she' was a very happy ship, good officers and a good crew.

So it was back to Victory Barracks and disposal.  I was sent to Roedean College at Brighton to qualify as a Leading Torpedo Operator/Electrician (LTO).  The College pre-war was a very up-market girls boarding school and still is.  I was there for about five months and enjoyed a full night's sleep every night.  On completion of the course my class were all sent off to various ships.  I was lucky, I was down to go to a brand new Fleet destroyer.  However one of my class mates, a married man with a family objected to going to the Submarine Service (SS) when he knew I had earlier volunteered for the SS.  Our submarines had and were suffering tremendous losses and were much riskier to serve in than surface ships.  He asked me to exchange places, which I did.  Off I went to HMS Dolphin (the home of all submarines and training school).  Within a matter of days I was in hospital with suspected kidney trouble, which ruled me out of submarines, even though nothing was found in the hospital examination and I wasn't troubled again for the rest of my life.  The man I had exchanged places with was unlucky, whilst serving in the Med 'my ship' was torpedoed and sunk, he didn't survive.

My next ship was a new battleship HMS Howe, a very unhappy ship.  We spent our time mostly at anchor in Scapa Flow waiting for the German fleet to come out.  After a few months I escaped this ship and joined an ex-American destroyer, one of the fifty first World War boats obtained by Mr. Churchill (Prime Minister).  This ɻoat' had four funnels 4 4”; guns and Dcs.  'She' was a bit of a mess, always breaking down, even on occasions being left behind the convoy drifting powerless.  One amusing occasion happened when we returned to the Clyde and the Captain decided that we were all physically unfit.  He arranged with the Army stationed on the Isle of Arran that the whole of our crew take part in a paper chase laid out by the Army.  We were up and down cliffs, over bogs, rivers, through woods and any other physically demanding areas, the whole course was about ten miles.  About ninety of us started out, none finished the course, most of us got fed up and ended up in village pubs etc. where we remained until it was time to go back to the ship.  Many were drunk and all volunteered to go on further paper chases!  Our Captain was not amused and no further tests of our physical fitness was required.  How could we be fit?  Cooped up on a small ship, lack of sleep, too much smoking (duty free cigarettes), poor food, bad weather etc.  Eventually our breakdowns became so frequent that the ship was paid off and back to Victory Barracks we went.

My next move was to HMS Dryad.  Making enquiries to find out what sort of ship it was nobody knew or wouldn't tell.  HMS Dryad turned out to be a 'Stone Frigate' (unofficial title of all shore establishments).  Dryad was an old mansion set in its own beautiful grounds at the village of Southwick, about 5 miles from Portsmouth in the Meon Valley.  Also where I met Mary.

Dryad was a Navigation School and an Action Information Training Centre, known as AITC.  Our small staff made mock up rooms to full size in which were fitted all the equipment that would be fitted in the ship the ɼlass' were going to learn to operate.  The normal training period was from two or three days (for small ships) longer for larger ships, e.g. aircraft carriers etc.  Shortly after I joined Dryad, two stunning blonde Wrens joined the staff, they were the talk of the whole male staff, Mary and Marco.  Within a matter of days I was to meet Mary on a coal lorry on which she had hitched a lift, after that romance between us blossomed and within a year we were married.

Mary and I had a wonderful happy Summer, comfortable duties and living conditions.  Mary lived with her Wren colleagues in a large old house, The Elms, in the village of Southwick.  I lodged with Mrs. Faithful and her young daughter in a lovely old cottage a few hundred yards away.  What a Nave, I thought I was in heaven.  In our spare time we roamed the countryside, villages, pubs, also earning pocket money by picking mushrooms.  We were a happy band of half a dozen friends, one of which, Freddy, was a professional pianist in civilian life, when he felt like it he would entertain us when he could find a pub with a piano.

After a while we began to notice many changes and new faces living in the Mansion.  Outside in the grounds commandos and military police patrolled the grounds and security grew tighter.  Later still Admirals, Generals and Air Marshals were arriving and leaving like snowflakes.  Something big was on, the house was taken over as HQ for the invasion of France, D Day as it was called.  As the Dryad staff worked in what had been the stable block outside the house, we carried on our normal duties which helped to keep the secrecy of what was going on in the house, namely the plan and operations for D Day.

All good things come to an end and my time at Dryad was up, I was drafted to HMS Sefton, an infantry landing ship barge, to give her her full title.  Very reluctantly I left Mary, Dryad and friends to join Sefton.  She carried 22 assault landing craft crewed by Royal Marines, primarily 'she' could carry about 800 soldiers, who would use the LCAs to assault an enemy beach.  The ship was American built (1943) of some 7000 tons with turbo electric engines giving a speed of about 18 knots (about 20 mph).  The crew were 50% Merchant Navy and 50% RN.  The Captain (MN), the Executive Officer (RN), not a happy arrangement, they did not get on and we (RN) did not get on with the MN members of the crew.  The vast difference in pay was largely to blame for this, we were jealous and they considered us amateurs!  However the ship was very comfortable, food good and my duties less than onerous.  I joined the ship in Birkenhead lying in Bidsdon Docks, from where at weekends I used to take off for Southwick and Mary.  Happy weekends, during one of these weekends Mary and I were married. 

I returned to my ship now anchored off Greenock in the Clyde, as time for our sailing drew nearer ɻuzzes' (rumours) abounded thick and fast as to our destination, Burma and the Pacific were favourite (we actually embarked with 600 troops for Bombay, India).  As we had no warm clothing aboard it would not have surprised me if we didn't end up in the Arctic.  It had happened many times before as sailing orders were changed at the last moment due to Strategic changes being forced upon commanders e.g. Lord Mountbatten's high speed anti-submarine force in the North Atlantic ending up in Greek waters, after only a couple of weeks assisting convoys (see service in the Boreas 1941).

After a week with a fast troop convoy, we entered the Med and on with 'tropical clothing', white shorts and shirts.  During this voyage Germany surrendered as we were passing through the Suez Canal.  As we sailed through the canal we passed many British soldiers lining the southern bank telling us we were going the wrong way!  Evidently they thought they would shortly be going home, many ribald comments passed between our 'passengers' going East, the Japanese and the men on the bank of the canal, hopefully going home to UK.

To sail past the Pyramids was an experience most of us aboard Sefton had thought we would never see.  We anchored off Port Suez and were soon surrounded by the local ɻum boats' full of begging youngsters who dived into the water to retrieve coins thrown by all and sundry.  Other boats were full of fruit and junk jewellery.  It was a colourful and exciting experience.  Shortly we upped anchor and sailed for Colombo, the capital of Ceylon (as it was then) now it is Sri Lanka.

Entering the Red Sea is hot and forbidding, giant red coloured cliffs dropping sheer into the sea.  Colombo was a delight, cooler and masses of vegetation and colour.  I went ashore and met Mary's uncle who managed the local large repair yard.  He was Mary's father's older brother, nice chap, who entertained me to dinner in Colombo's largest hotel.  Very luxurious, with superb service, it made a pleasant change from RN food and surroundings.

We sailed the following day for Bombay in India, where the last of our 'passengers' disembarked and we (the crew) wnet ashore to explore this large sea port and city.  Whilst in Bombay I bought Mary a new wedding ring, which I had engraved Bob to Mary 1945 (we married in April 1945).  Her original wedding ring, the only type available was called a 'utility' ring and of very poor quality.  You may wonder at my calling myself ɻob' this came about early in my Naval career by colleagues, because my surname was Burn, my Naval name became ɻobby Burn/s', similar to ɼhalky White' etc.

After a few restful days in Bombay we sailed to Madras to get down to the business of training Indian troops for invasion.  They had to learn how  to live in a ship, how to embark in our Landing Craft Assault (LCS), head for the beach and disembark without drowning  themselves, leaving the LCA fast to disperse on the beach and get quickly into cover of the jungle, making it as difficult as possible for the defender.  This went for some weeks.  We had a break in Calcutta, very hot, very crowded and dirty.  We even had a family living in a concrete sewer pipe (new) 6' in diameter by about 15' long.  The family consisted of the parents and four or five children aged from baby to about five or six years of age.  Their food consisted of our food waster which was thrown into a large open container on the jetty, into which they jumped and scavenged.  We were forbidden to give them any proper food.  Poverty and starvation then, 1945, was evident and common all over the Indian ports we visited.  Even dead bodies on the streets weren't hurriedly moved and rats (giants) seemed to wander about freely.  The only clean area we saw was when we had a week's leave at Ootacamand, a tea growing area in the Nilgire Hills.  The scenery from our 'holiday camp' (Fort Wellington) was outstanding.  On return we embarked troops (Ghurkas and Sikhs) and sailed fro Trimcomable in Ceylon, our base for the invasion of Malaya.

'Trinco' was full of landing ships and we sailed for the invasion, en route the Atom Bombs were dropped on Japan and all hostilities ceased 24 hours before our troops invaded the Malayan coast near the town of Klang/Kallang?  It was just as well the war had ended prior to our invading, the Japs were well prepared with massive defences and even an airfield full of all types of aircraft with the bombers loaded up.  We all agreed that the invasion would have been beaten off by the Japs with heavy losses to our troops and ships had it not been for the dropping of the Atom Bomb.

The sudden ending of war caused all sorts of problems so far as logistics were concerned.  Troops had to occupy all Japanese held overseas islands, countries etc.  Starving people, ex POWs etc had to be rescued, fed and in many cases moved quickly.  During the next months we travelled to Singapore, Sumatra (now Indonesia), Java (now also Indonesia), Saigon (now part of Vietnam), where we were caught in the cross fire of French and Vietnam rebels.  Even then the Vietnamese did not want the French back and be returned to a French colony as it was prior to the Jap conquest of the country.

Various islands in the Pacific and China seas were visited carrying service personnel to and fro.  In about March 1946 we sailed from Singapoe to Bombay to ferry troops home to the UK.  I came home to my beautiful young wife Mary for good, some weeks later I started a civilian life in Hartlepool where we lived and raised our family of Linda, Neil, Philip and Richard.  We stayed in Hartlepool until 1986 when we both retired, I in September and Mary in October.  We moved to March in Cambridgeshire, where with a great amount of financial help from Neil and Gina, we occupied Mary's favourite house (she loved it) until her death in January 1995.

That was my 'war' from 1939 to 1945, I was lucky, many friends and acquaintances did not survive, I did, and only through the war did I meet my lovely Mary.  For mankind the war was a disaster but just.  We, the Allies, were lucky and if it had not been for the English Channel and the Navy and Air Force, we would have been defeated with disastrous consequences for us all.  Hitler would have massacred out Jews and used the rest of the population as slave labour.  So be thankful, we, with our many allies, won the war and democracy prevailed.

Note 1
Mary and I met at HMS Dryad in the Spring of 1944, Mary was 18 and I was 22 years of age.  Mary was a Wren and I a Leading Electrician.  Mary's duties were tracing engineering drawings, mine was the installation of equipment in the spaces allocated for the ship's defence/attack gear (AI)  All our equipment was situated in what had been the stable buildings of Southwick House an old mansion taken over by the Navy and used as a Navigation Training School and later AITC, the department Mary and I worked in, she in the drawing office, I in the workshop and the AI rooms (actually mock-ups) which in timber and hardboard duplicated the room in size in which the AI equipment would be installed in the ship.  The officers and men who were to use the AI gear came to Dryad to learn how to use this new development in Naval warfare.

AITC was Action Information Training Centre, AI was Action Information e.g. radar warning of air or surface or underwater action information from Asdic etc.  In addition all the ship's movements were plotted, the information was filtered to a senior officer whose duty it was to pass on the most vital news to the ship's captain.  So you see we both played a useful part in the war effort, even though we were situated in idyllic surroundings.

Note 2
My first sight of Mary was when we, the staff, were having our 'stand easy' (tea break).  We were standing outside the rear entrance to Southwick House on a lovely warm Spring morning, counting our blessings for having such a ɼushy' job instead of rolling about on some ocean looking for trouble (the enemy).  Suddenly around the corner of the stable yard, approaching the AITC buildings, came two beautiful young blondes, Mary and Marco.  Mary golden blonde, Marco ash blonde, they were the sole topic of conversation for the rest of the 'stand easy'.

On the following Sunday afternoon, a crowd of us were standing in the village and chatting when a large open RN lorry stopped beside us.  On the platform was Mary, she had begged a ride into Portsmouth where she had a date to go to a Cinema.  I tried to talk her into joining us a mixture of Wrens and Sailors) she said she would like to but would not break her word and leave this chap standing about waiting for her.  We did not meet again for some days and I learned that her trip to the cinema had been a disaster.  Her date had been a very unpleasant character and Mary had left him with no intention of ever meeting him again.

Our off duty was centred on the village pub, The Golden Lion, home brewed beer!  Into the pub came Mary with a group of Wrens, during the course of the evening I managed to get close to Mary and invited her to join our crowd of Wrens and Sailors.  We chatted for most of the evening, with me ɿighting' to keep my male friends away, from that meeting our romance never looked back.  We had a marvellous Summer together and I proposed and was accepted a few months later.  Those times were the happiest of my life, none of us had much money and we had to make our own entertainment.  We went around the woods and fields mushrooming (for pin money) and visiting pubs in adjoining villages.  Occasionally Freddy would play for us and we sang and danced the evenings away in the lovely Hampshire countryside.

In the early Winter of 1944 my dream job came to an end and I was drafted to HMS Sefton, a ship lying in Birkenhead being overhauled prior to sailing for the Far East campaign against the Japanese.  As I expected to be away for at least two years I talked Mary into marrying me before we sailed, I was terrified of losing her.  We married by special licence in St Paul's Church, Hartlepool, our honeymoon was one day and one night in Newcastle.  After that I had to return to my ship, now anchored off Greenock in the Clyde, from where we were to embark 600 troops and sail for Bombay, India.

Mary managed to get a weekend leave and came up to Greenock, where we lodged for two days.  That was not a happy time, we had a fish meal the evening Mary arrived and she shortly afterwards became very ill.  She had food poisoning and was ill for a week.  Meanwhile we had left Greenock for India, I was worried sick about her and didn't hear from her until we reached Bombay, about a month later.

Not hearing from Mary was not her fault, communications in those days were very limited due to the War.  No telephone calls from overseas on the ship were allowed or possible, letters and in only the gravest situations were telegrams allowed.  All our outgoing mail was censored for reasons of security.  Receiving her letter stating that she had recovered lifted a dark cloud off my mind.  I dashed ashore and bought Mary a new wedding ring and clothing.  Clothing was rationed in Britain, it as also expensive and difficult to obtain due to war time shortages.  Unfortunately the clothing I bought her was much too small, designed for Indian ladies, they came nowhere near to fitting her.  I can only plead ignorance of female apparel, I had no sisters and my mother was very old fashioned, she didn't wear a bra and wore ɾTBs' as Mary described Wren knickers.

a year steaming around the Indian Ocean, China Seas and Pacific, we sailed home to UK, the war having been over for some months.  On arrival we were all granted fourteen days leave, I took off like rocket for Mary and Hartlepool.  With me I had a kit bag of tinned food which Mary's mother Flossie, the wife of John Lownie, was delighted with.  They were a marvellous couple who were wonderful to Mary and I until we could get accommodation of our own.  Like food, housing was in very short supply, if you didnt know anyone who knew someone, there was no chance for years to get accommodation.  Mary and I lived with ɿlossie and Pop' for four and a half years until we got our own home, by which time Linda and Neil were born.  It was a council house, without two children we would not have been considered for a tenancy.  Later Philip was born and we bought our first house, Dawlish Drive, which Mary loved.  In that house, much later, Richard was born, our fourth and last child. 

After eleven years in Dawlish Drive I got wind of a centrally heated bungalow.  The Dawlish Drive house was not heated apart from a coal fire in the lounge and dining room.   Whilst Mary loved the thought of central heating she wasn't too keen on the bungalow, nor I.  After eighteen months we moved again to Coatham Drive, had made it, 'nob hill'.  Mary being a Hartlepudlian knew of the value of that address, I a Mancunian/Geordie, just took it to be another house in a nicer part, also with central heating, gas ducted air which was inefficient and very expensive.  However is was 'nob hill', an excellent area for the children to grow up in, although by that time Linda was 21 years old and married to Michael Robinson (Mick to all his friends) a teacher.

After thirty nine years in Hartlepool, we both retired and moved to March in Cambridgeshire to be nearer our family.  Neil and Richard in London, Philip in Hampshire and Linda with four children in March, where we felt we could be helpful.  March was also in the countryside and central for visiting our children and returning to visit Mary's many relatives and friends.  The arrangement went on until Mary's death in early January 1995.  So ended forty nine years and nine months of a successful and happy marriage.  This is not to say all was bliss, we had many ups and downs.  The ups made more than the downs and in the main we were a close and loving couple.  Since Mary's death I have missed her terribly and will do so for the rest of my life.

  1. Ship/Shore Establishment Assignments

 

Medals, Service Stars
In order of wearing from centre of chest:





Additional Photos



Eric and his 4" gun crew in Hood.




Eric and Mary




Memorials
No known memorials



Sources
Commonwealth War Graves Commission
'Register of Deaths of Naval Ratings' (data extracted by Director of Naval Personnel (Disclosure Cell), Navy Command HQ, 2009)
ADM 101/565
Service history