Archive number: 70
Date interviewed: 08 May, 2003
You are listening to the interview audio
Interviewee: Clive Tayler Archive ID 0070 Tape 01
What I would like to do as I just said is to ask you a bit of a potted history of your life where you were born, where you went to school and how you came about joining up and so on?
Well where I was born was very easy to describe all you have to do is go down to the Caulfield Racecourse sit in their nice new stand, or it is not a new one now and the lovely stand they have there, look down the straight to where Queens Avenue which is on the east side of the course and you see a house out the back and that is on the other side of Queens Avenue and I was born there so
and grew up…
And how many children in your family?
I have an elder brother and an elder sister in fact my sister was 9 years older than me I was bought up virtually as an only child.
What do they call that then a, well a surprise I suppose?
Yes and they made it quite clear to me, my mother did my father never discussed anything with
me of any significance.
Just excuse me Clive, sorry to interrupt you.
I wasn’t wanted at all it was a terrible mistake and so I have had to live with that forever. It’s never worried me I have rather enjoyed that.
Oh good. So you don’t think you were wanted but it didn’t bother you.
So what about primary school, where did they send you?
I went to a little prep school called The Grange which had previously been in the main road and was run by a private family called Turners and it was moved right out to East Melbourne right out where the tram stop is near Darling Road there and as I lived in Bourke Road I could
easily walk to school from there.
And high school?
That little school age of 12 or something, I was its last captain and it packed up after that because the numbers were falling away because it was quite a different situation from when they were in the main road. No I didn’t go to high school, I went to Melbourne Grammar
and for the last 4 years and I didn’t enjoy that very much.
And why was that?
I had a headmaster called Franklin who was a most undesirable character which has been established over the years.
Was he physically brutal?
No. Some of the masters were but he wasn’t. Physically unsuitable is what we call it
and that is all I will say on that matter.
So did you know back then that you wanted to join the navy?
No. I never had any thought of it but due the fact that my father had spent his entire non working life on the golf club, the golf course, the neighbours, the people opposite in Bourke Road they used to take
me around with their children because it suited them I think and I was roughly the same age as the Tonimans[?] and the Gowans and they had properties around the place and the Gowans particularly one down at Portsea and I was very young like 7 or 8 or something I was heading off for Portsea and that was 2 or 3 hours in an old Dodge
and the net result of all that was I was more, what shall I say, I got my initial training in love from other families rather than my own. My father and mother, this makes it even more strange, were really estranged, they never went out together, they never played cards together and they never did anything. Father
used to eat his meals on his own and so I thought this was quite normal for a family but I found out differently later.
Did you notice any discrimination toward you as a result of that??
No not really.
It was never discussed.
The strange thing was there were 4 houses in Bourke Road 2 on one side of the road and 2 on the other and opposite each other and all the children were going to Melbourne Grammar
and so we were all in a group in that sort of respect.
So what were your ambitions then when you were in grammar school?
I didn’t have any at all. I was just sort or wandering because in those days they never taught you anything and if you weren’t studious and didn’t get on with it yourself you were just dropped off the field. My specialty was really science
and mathematics which I enjoyed very much but everything else I let go and I could really hardly pass my Intermediate because not being able to pass French or something like that and this carried on and when I left school I didn’t matriculate but I went to work the
State Electricity Commission as a what they called an Improver and I think I was paid 15 and 6 a week to start with on the basis that I worked in their Transformer Department but I had to go to Swinburne 2 or 3 nights a week which I did for 3 years and in that time I picked up quite a lot of, I was
doing engineering and mechanical and electrical so I got quite a nice education in round terms of that I had certificates in most things but in the end I didn’t go on with it I abandoned it but it left me with that information which ultimately was pretty useful in the submarine business
more than because I joined the Yachtsman’s Scheme.
Having mentioned that let’s talk about that because that was a rare thing in terms of the war but I think it turned out 500 men who went straight into…
501 to be exact.
And you were the one?
On my figure calculation I had been doing the list together because what we had throughout Australia
is something like there were 4 people, there were 2 in Western Australia and 2 in Victoria working on the story of the Yachtsman’s Scheme and they worked for years and one even made a trip to England to go back and see what he could find over there in the way of records and the records were thin on the ground everywhere
because really they just built it into the rest of the act and the Yachtsman’s business wasn’t emphasized very much and the records that did appear that were kept were most insufficient and so these 4 people who are now all dead but my friend Keith Nichol is working on their papers,
their widows have made their documents available to us and we’re making what we can of it and we are about one quarter of the way through but I finished a stage the other day where we’ve actually got to the best of our knowledge a complete printed list now of everyone and the ports they went through and the decorations they have.
It’s not bad for a start. There are other columns. Keith has all these documents, that’s Keith Nichol, he has all these documents because he has a large house out in the east there and he has room to stock it all, it is quite enormous the amount of stuff we’ve got.
Unfortunately none of them put it in writing, they didn’t write the story.
Can you say for the record, give us a good idea about it…. was it like the Empire Air Training Scheme in that the British put out the call and said we need a certain number of men who will be trained in a this similar fashion?
Some were like that, the big difference was that we joined up here, did a nominal month or
six weeks’ training, I joined in Sydney so we were based in Rushcutter’s Bay there right next to the Anti-Submarine school and the first group had already gone. I’ll go back to the beginning of it from my point of view, my wife and I lived at Rose Bay in a flat there and we were both working and in the mornings we would very often have a round of 9 holes
of golf at the little local club there, in case you are thinking that I’m referring to Royal Sydney, and one day when after the war had started and it had gone quite a while and I was getting a bit fidgety because things weren’t going too well, my parents were both Londoners, they were both born in London and came out here,
so I had a bit of a feeling for the place so I was wondering how to get into the act. I tried the army first and when the learned that I was an engineering draughtsman working for the Department of the Interior they could probably put me on munitions or something like that something that would use that I would be sitting at a drawing board or something most of my time and the navy were very
off hand said, “Yes we’ll take you as a stoker.” I didn’t feel very attracted at that so playing golf one morning this chap we used to play with was actually an Englishman and his wife living in Sydney and he told me about the Yachtsman’s Scheme which wasn’t highly publicised
in Sydney at all or I suspect anywhere else I suspect except Perth.
Now can you tell me at what stage of the conflict this was in?
Yes. They had just started bombing London at this stage.
So sometime in 1940?
Yeah. Sometime in 40. In the middle of 40 I tried to join and it wasn’t until a bit later when the Yachtsman’s Scheme cropped up and they accepted me for that and
I duly joined the navy on Trafalgar Day.
So what had been your experience at sea or on boats if at all?
Mucking around in boats down at Portsea. I could certainly row a boat, yes. No yachts, I hadn’t done any yachting.
So I imagine a lot of the other chaps were the sons of men who owned fairly expensive yachts perhaps?
A great rarity.
My friend Ron Myer I think was in our group of the ones that joined in Sydney, I think there were 5 of us and only one out of five who had any real yachting experience at all.
Did that strike you as unusual, that they were recruiting from people who perhaps didn’t know a rope from a piece of string?
Well. No not really. It certainly didn’t worry me
they seemed to take anyone. We had a mixture that finally went, there were 5 or so from Sydney, 5 from Adelaide and a few from Melbourne and it think there were only 14 of us in any case.
So where did you do your training?
Well over here we went to Flinders Naval Depot just for a
fortnight at one stage just to do a bit of training there and then back to our original depots which were Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney and in the end we sailed in the middle of December 1940, sailed for England in a thing called the Lions Bay. So we were a great mixture, some of the selection I thought were quite, quite unsuitable in my
In that they couldn’t cope with the training or…
Well out of our group, out of our 14 one, two of them never qualified as officers, they weren’t considered to be (UNCLEAR).
When you started the Scheme did you have to enlist first or did that come later?
No. You had to enlist. You were sworn into the navy and in the first hour on the depot, the first thing
you do you go in to a swearing in ceremony and from that moment you are part of the navy.
And when did they give you the uniform? Did you give you the uniform at that time too?
They gave us the uniform the same day and when we were lined up there the telephone rang for me, this was my previous, he wasn’t the boss he was the head of the
Department for the Interior’s certain section because they hadn’t given me permission to go. I had given them notice that I was going, I gave them a fortnight’s notice that I was going but they didn’t take any action until the morning I had joined up by which time I had been signed in and the moment I was signed in that was it the navy would have been a great nuisance for them to….
I imagine they would have considered your training to be valuable to them and they might
not have wanted you to have gone.
Well I don’t think at that particular stage I don’t think they had analysed the position, the people in Australia were only doing a bit of temporary training for us because they knew they were going to lose us.
So, had you told your wife that you were joining up when you did?
Of course. Yes well we were living together in Rose Bay.
So she was aware of it?
She was aware of it as well. She had a job with a shipping company
Was that just a coincidence that you both had an interest in the navy or ships?
No I don’t think so, or coincidence or whatever you like to call it, yes, no, that didn’t affect my joining and yes I sailed and she came back to Melbourne, back to another job here, joined the WAAAF [Womens Auxiliary Australian Air Force] and was an equipment officer
for four or five years.
Before we get to that about 6 months before you sailed I would love to know about how they trained you and the ranks of the men who trained you and so on.
Well we had petty officers just marching us around the barracks and things and when we went to Flinders Naval Depot
we did a little bit of boating just to help things along a bit and that was quite enjoyable because you know where they are down near Flinders there?
It wasn’t really training, it wasn’t really serious, serious training because it was sort of a rushed trip to get us on our way, because
we were needed over the other side because they repeated the whole thing when we got there they put us into their training system and we were already far better trained than the others that they had around us and we were thrown in with the rest of the intakes.
What did they insist that you needed to know what sort of experience?
Nothing? So in 6 months did you feel that you were
just wasting your time or you actually gained some of that knowledge?
Yeah. Yeah we were all pretty irritated by it and that was the drill and you just got used to it and didn’t go on about it but some of us could have gone to sea straight away I think.
And did you live in the barracks down in Flinders at that time or were you given daily hours and your could go home at the end of the day?
We all met, the three groups Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide met at Flinders for the first time, these were going to be our shipmates which was what they were and we all came back to Melbourne, no, we left from Sydney as I mentioned before, the ship stopped at Melbourne, picked up the Victorians and the Adelaide people came across
and we went straight to Perth and across around the Cape.
And it Perth was there more training or were you just waiting there to head over to Britain?
Oh no on the way we were in the transport ship the Lions Bay and that took quite a while getting over.
So by the time you sailed there was a fair amount of conflict going on, especially at sea, was there any expectation on the ship going to Britain that
you could run into trouble?
Yes. Quite a lot. We were apprehensive all the while. It so happened with good results it was a good thing because one of the raiders was down there at the time, one of the surface raiders that the Germans had roaming around the place.
Off the west coast of Australia.
Yep. It was between Australia and South Africa and they went down to interfere with the fishing fleet down there, so they were about at that time we weren’t sighted and
we didn’t see anything. We had one gun pointing aft at the back and we used to exercise on that.
Did you get to fire the gun at that point or..
No. We never fired it but, because we were only playing with it, the ship’s crew had their own gunnery.
Tell me a little bit about that trip across was like then, you were fairly green still in terms of your abilities and experience what did you actually...
Yes it was quite interesting because we were only half in the navy and we were told to bring civilian clothes so that we could all get into civilian clothes in case we were taken by, or captured by one of the raiders around the place.
Not that’s quite interesting because if you were captured in civilian clothes, wouldn’t that have
exempted you from any of the Geneva Conventions?
Well, if we had been in the, no the reverse really. We could have been civilians well that’s what they imagined.
What did they think the Germans would make of a group of young men, civilians just ambling and traveling around the southern…
Never even thought of it but we were encouraged to wear our civvy [civilian] clothes when
when we’re at sea,
So what else did you bring with you then?
Not when we went ashore at Durban where we were in our uniforms.
I find that most unusual what else did they ask you to bring along?
Nothing else, just a few essentials.
What were you able to pack?
One shirt and a pair of trousers and a jacket that’s about all.
Just in a bit of a duffle bag?
Yes it wasn’t a big deal. The first ship that went was the Strathnaver and it was the odd one because they had 72 people on that and some of them were already officers that’s the other thing about the Yachtsman’s Scheme. If you were over 25 and had a yacht certificate of some sort
they made you an officer straight away so we had a few officers but we were never in touch with them, I mean you’re talking about people that I knew.
One of your first ports, was that Durban you said?
And what did you experience there, what did you discover?
We were briefed before we went to Durban. In those days we didn’t have any badges indicating where we had come from
but HMAS [His Majesty’s Australian Ship] might have given them a bit of a clue but we were told not to admit that we were Australians.
Why was that?
The 6th Divvy [division] had been through not long before and they had wrecked the city of Durban in a big way they upset the apple wagons on their side and this sort of thing so that was the atmosphere we were in at Durban so we were very careful.
So when you got there could you
actually see visible proof of what the 6th Division had done?
So you didn’t see smashed buildings…?
Oh they had cleaned it up; they didn’t burn buildings down or anything like that they really held up the progress of the town for a day or two.
And I imagine fresh young lads from Australia off to…?
Well the first intake into the army was a bit of a rough one you see, people who weren’t employed and
they were working it out… it was quite extraordinary.
And Australians don’t have the best reputation for appreciation of foreign cultures, was there any evidence in Durban of…?
Well we had to speak to one, he was another sailor, he wasn’t one of our group or anything, but another Australian and he’d had a few grogs and in the center of Durban knocking fezs off people caps, I saw him do that.
And how did you feel as an Australian witnessing that?
Very low indeed.
Did you feel that you were all tarred with the same brush by the time you got there?
Probably, I don’t know I don’t associate myself, me, none our people were up to anything like that.
Well, there is always quite a division between the services isn’t there and I imagine the navy at that point might have held themselves in slightly higher regard.
I suppose, what I’m saying wouldn’t
be very popular in certain circumstances, because there was a war on and I bet the Australian public never got word of what happened in Durban.
As far as we understand there was very little information traveling backwards and forwards and I don’t thing the Australian public had much of an idea as to what was going on at any stage so did you have any idea what was happening in Europe at this stage?
And what was your appreciation
of what you were about to do, what did you know of Hitler’s movement at that time and Britain’s actions?
Only what we read in the papers. Of course that was enough to give you a pretty good story I don’t think we were suffering out here from not knowing what was going on around the place.
Did you have a good appreciation of what you were going to do, what did you anticipate would be
your daily routine?
We soon got into it because ship’s routines, it doesn’t matter what sort of ship you’re on your routine wasn’t very different and you usually have a watch at 3, red white and blue and say you spent 4 hours on and 8 hours off as a rating, in fact as a rating
one of the of the most pleasant times that I can remember because I never had to do any thinking, you just had a book and sat around in the sun most of the day and as an ordinary seaman you would be working a bit in the forenoon but in the afternoons work would cease.
What watch were you on when you arrived at Durban?
We weren’t doing any watches at all except
manning the gun about one night, each one, each person, you’d go out once every once every three nights on the gun or something for a few hours but I don’t think that lasted long.
Looking back and traveling on that ship with one gun did that seem horribly naïve in retrospect?
No because the
merchant ships were allowed to have a gun and one gun that would fire aft to protect themselves without being qualified as men at war and the crew were all trained in the gunnery, we were never going to be firing it in any case.
OK So from South Africa you traveled up to, straight to Britain?
No we called in to Sierra Leone for about 24 hours
I don’t know what for, fuel probably, I’ve no idea.
You didn’t go ashore there?
No we weren’t allowed ashore there.
And by this stage, had the group you were traveling with, had you kind of bonded into a proper unit or were you still lolling about wondering how to become sailors?
Well we were. We’d made our own friendships and we strangely enough 3 of us had got
together, a chap called Ron Marr who remained my friend until a few years ago when he died, my closest old friend shall we say, and one Bill McGregor called who’s in there, Ron’s not in this photo because he took it, I can remember that we used to get a bit of PT [Physical Training] every day and he took that particular photo
and the three of us were fairly friendly and I’ll come to that story, that goes on a bit later and the long and the short of that is we remained friends because when we got to England we were shot straight down to Portsmouth to a town called Fareham which is only a few miles away from
Portsmouth and the HMS Collingwood who was one of Nelson’s Admirals, I thought I had a better one than this photo, and this was our class at Collingwood.
Now we’ll take a lot of these photographs with the camera towards the end of the interview tomorrow but because the people who are watching this can’t really appreciate the photographs I might just get you to describe what it was like.
There’s a real mixture there with the Pommies, so that’s not all solid yachtsmen there.
Australians weren’t a unit by themselves they were immediately integrated into the RN [Royal Navy].
Yep and when we left Collingwood, and that was two months or two
and a half months or something there because we went in with the new entries from England and we didn’t think much of them
Why didn’t you think much of them?
Well we reckoned we had a whole lot of deadheads with us and sure enough one of the petty officers mentioned later “Oh.” he said, “We thought we’d toughen them up so we put them with the Aussies.” So people who had
already started to build up a crook record in the navy so they popped them in with us.
Well the Australians seem to have had a reputation in all the services for being perhaps a little bit more courageous, I’m sure some people wouldn’t appreciate that, but that was the reputation…
That’s what we had you see.
Some say courageous, some say reckless. So you hadn’t been to England before this time, your parents were both Londoners but this was your first trip.
No this was my first visit to England.
And you said that you had a lot of feeling for England,
was it as far as you were concerned, your real home?
Oh I don’t know, I just had a…look when you get used to the word home being England all the while between your parents and when they referred to home it was London.
Had you joined to protect England or joined to protect Australia?
No I just
joined because if felt I had to. There was no excuse for me not going.
That was the prevailing feeling that you had to do something?
I think it was when I looked at it. It was quite a pretty horrific decision because I was virtually dumping my wife, our marriage was batting along all right and we had no children, that might have made a difference, but there were no children.
Did you give much thought to that at the time that by joining up you were effectively
not so much deserting her but certainly leaving her to fend for herself/
Yeah, yeah. I didn’t feel good about it.
Was she understanding or was she upset about that?
She was pretty upset.
Did you have words before you left or did you leave on good terms?
Oh no we left on reasonable terms.
And I bet you had no idea that it would be 4 years until you saw her again though?
Was there an understanding that the war might be over within 6 months?
not amongst the sailors and everything. Never ending indications because at this stage we didn’t want it to end in 6 months because we were unquestionably on the losing side and the navy were having a terrible time.
Well the losses were horrific weren’t they in the first year or so?
They were, very early because the
navy, well the army hadn’t been engaged and they hadn’t crossed to but they had partly, I’m sorry, I take that back, the army were involved but not a lot of fighting or anything, that hadn’t quite come about then, but when it did, I’m getting a little bit mixed up on this one,
but the navy, they had the thing called the phony war in Europe and there wasn’t much doing for the British Army for a while but the navy from day one the navy were up against it because the war at sea was in full flight from the
very beginning and there were submarines all over the place doing almost what they wanted to.
Two thousand days I believe the Battle of the Atlantic raged, and so in the time you started, there were ships sinking at a rate of knots, that’s a terrible pun, so can you sort of tell me for example at what stage after the evacuation from Dunkirk
did you arrive in Britain?
What would it be? Six months or seven months and in all this time the problem with the navy was manning the ships they put 2 hours on 4 hours on and 8 off, they were having to work longer hours because there just weren’t the trained people to keep all the ships at sea.
What was the prevailing
atmosphere when you arrived in England then?
Apprehension. Apprehension. The Battle of Britain, the air battle was over by then and that would have been Hitler’s biggest mistake he ever made other than the incursion into Russia, the idea of bombing London, they virtually had the Germans had the
RAF [Royal Air Force] just about out of business, all they had to do was to continue to bomb the airfields, they shifted all the emphasis on to the cities and my experience of that was when you go into a bombed city, people are, their spirits haven’t been broken really, they’d become determined characters you see this out and it hardens their
feelings about the whole business.
So you think you galvanized the civilian effort by doing that?
And what did you see in London?
Well particularly when you had the air force in such a terrible state.
So I would just like to ask was London in quite a mess by the time you got there?
Yes. Yes there were still bricks and things all
over the place.
Was there a sense when the members of RAN [Royal Australian Navy] arrived that you would be of great value to them or
No. Nobody noticed, you couldn’t get sense of it because there was only an instructor here and there around the place and one of the things that they would do with you when you actually got to officers’ training
class, after you would come back, they would really wind you up a bit and see how you performed, they were most insulting to you and watched you and if you put on a bit of an act, you were probably out you weren’t going the distance.
You climbed the ranks reasonably quickly comparatively.
We’ll work our way through those promotions and what they meant,
so we’ll come back and take it from you experiences down at Portsmouth when you were sent out to sea.
Interviewee: Clive Tayler Archive ID 0070 Tape 02
So perhaps to get an idea of what you were involved in, how much time did you spend at Portsmouth before they sent you out?
Now, now we come to it.
Well quite some time, we’re now into April 1941 and we haven’t got to sea yet and we finished up down at Collingwood from there and we were in Portsmouth barracks and the fates weren’t very
kind to us.
In what respect?
As a sheer coincidence Ron Marr, Bill McGregor and myself were sent to one night it was a duty night we were on the night to do fire watching in the warrant officers’ mess at the barracks.
Tell me about fire watching and what that entails?
Well the barracks were a target
and the Luftwaffe [German Air Force], and we had to be prepared with very little training in what you actually did, you had a bucket and the first thing you did before you went to sleep or you tried to lying down on the floor, was to fill the bath the so there was always water there in case of
fire in case the mains had broken down or something and we were waiting for what happened.
Now I take that you weren’t under the restrictions of the Plimsoll line at that point?
The Plimsoll line. So you had access to as much water as you needed I imagine.
Oh yes. The Plimsoll line yes, well the naval depot has a big chunk of land in the middle of Portsmouth and HMS Victory
is not far away in the docks and it’s still there now and in any case in the middle of the night, oh it wasn’t even in the middle of the night about 10 o’clock I’d say the sirens started going, then you’d hear the buzz of the aircraft above you and by this time we’d got up and we’d been trying to get a bit of sleep in on
the floor of the place and what was the sequence, yeah the first word went out, someone sung out, “Fire bombs!” now that’s not good news ‘cause what happens with the fire bombs they release the fire bombs which go down fairly slowly and with them a great big thing called a land mine
on a parachute and so the bombs hit first, the fire bombs and hopefully set the place on fire and then the big bomb comes and that wipes out, wipes out…
Now you said there was a land mine on a parachute?
Oh yes because they were quite common and much more effective than bombs because the bombs were traveling at such high speed they
were about 10 feet underground in the clay before they exploded and we’d been bombed down in Collingwood and just 50 yards away you just heard a boomp like that under those circumstances mainly because of the clay soil, these other things land gently and then the blast goes off and is very effective and so that was happening. I
walked that way down a passage cause with my bucket going down to fill it and Ron Marr stayed where he was and Bill McGregor for some reason which we will never know, went that way and then the bomb, the thing went off right outside the warrant officers’ mess and blew half the building down [Editor’s Note: Date 27th April 1941]
And how many of the men?
I don’t know how many. I think about 6 or so I think.
I went down, I was in the passage and I was airborne and I can remember floating through the air and hit the wall at the end and picked myself up and put my hand in my pocket, quite extraordinary my duffle coat was full of broken glass the pockets were on both sides, how that happened God only knows.
So tell me when something like that happens, is it like a car accident where you see everything in slow motion, or do you get any time to appreciate what is happening to you?
No because I worked out later from then there was a big blank in my mind until the following morning although I can remember once just wandering around I was obviously concussed and no bones broken, nothing was broken, nothing at all except my war wound, I cut my
finger. I’m only joking about that.
So one man had his ears damaged that was the sum total of his, Bill had walked in the direction of where the land mine was and as far as I was concerned the building fell on him and he was…gone
So he didn’t even get to see.
You had been in the services for a year and you had not seen active service in that time and this
was the first time that perhaps you realized what the war was going to mean to you?
Yeah, no I don’t think so. I was apprehensive all the while. You had to. I reckon if you have to survive you have to be apprehensive.
But was this the first really serious…
Yes this was the first altercation we’d had. We’d been bombed a little bit. One of our team was in the Café de Paris on leave
when that was bombed that night would you believe, he wasn’t injured or anything like that. So we knew that we were pretty close to it particularly living in Portsmouth barracks that was a bit of a target for the air force.
And did the place go up in flames as well as collapsing?
No. It didn’t burn.
On that part of you service you didn’t need to take action on but did you know how
to begin an evacuation or a resuscitation, did you find any of the men who had been wounded and …
No. The following morning we got up I’d apparently got over my concussion and that’s all I can conclude because I didn’t go to any medical place or thing like that because I was functioning all right. We went for a march through the
What about the bombed building outside the warrant officers’ mess, did you have a lot to clean up or sort out?
No. Somebody else, we weren’t doing that. At that stage Ron and Bill they were out of my ken [knowledge] and I had a bit of trouble finding out where they were.
And when you discovered that Bill was dead…
The way I discovered that is was nobody
could tell me anything because an ordinary seaman you can’t go around charging, demanding, running around demanding to know anything at all but I asked about Ron and I’d still didn’t get any replies so I went down, this was probably, for one day it was very busy in the morning and
there was other bomb damage in Portsmouth and they sent the navy had to do a march through the town to restore faith in the services and in the navy in particular and we went straight into the cathedral. I’ve got a story I can tell you about going into the cathedral.
Well this would be the time to do that.
Yes. But it will have to be expunged
You would like this to be embargoed?
Did you say you would like this to be embargoed? All right let’s hear it
It should be but you can use your own judgment then. They had this Petty Officer Blanche who was in charge of us, as we walked in, Petty Officer Blanche, who’s a most horrible character that you could ever come across, he was standing
at the gate of the cathedral and the chap in front of me was a bit slow in taking his cap off, there is a special way in taking a sailor’s cap off, you don’t grab it by one brim and lift it up like that you reach over with your hand and take it off like this and this chap was a bit slow but anyhow I was
behind him on the thing and he said “Take your bloody cap off in the fucking house of gawd!” That’s a memory I’ve never forgotten it was of the most famous sentences that I could remember of the war. In any case we finished this march, we went a quite a long way, we were
marching for about an hour through the town and then went to the cathedral for a service and we got back to the barracks later in the afternoon and I was, I never got anywhere and it was the following morning when I had a certain amount of spare time I went down to the main gates of the barracks where they check you
in and out so obviously they’ve got all the records and things and I just said to the fellow in the office there what was the result of the other night I’m looking for a couple of chaps who aren’t here from the bombing. He handed me a sheet of paper and there was Ron Marr has gone to Hounslow hospital, and
Bill’s name is written in red ink so that… there is a sequel to that because a fortnight ago about three weeks ago the phone rang and it was Jan Bullitt and I had come to know her quite well because she was working on the Yachtsman’s Scheme with us, she’d given my name to a character and said, “Would you know anyone who
was in Portsmouth in April of 1941 called Bill McGregor and he was killed there?” I froze and I went cold.
Did it come back to you immediately that sense of what it had been like?
It’s been with me forever that one.
How does a young man cope with a situation like that? You’re trained to just move on.
Well, you know, I just liked Bill he was such a nice guy. It was strange, with the 3 of us just the connection seems very odd, pre-ordained almost that the 3 Aussies we were a working party of 6 in the warrant officers’ mess, it think there were a total of three killed. The working party
of 6 and the three of them were the 3 of us, the friends and you know we were special friends and the fates had drawn the lottery somewhere or other of us where we were sent away together. There’s no records anywhere that say that these guys like to go together anything like that, it doesn’t work that way.
Did the navy provide any sort of funeral?
No. I never knew what happened.
I imagine it drew you and your friend Ron Marr much closer together.
Much closer. Marr, Ron Marr was at Hounslow hospital so I went there and told him about Bill and the day after I was notified what ship I was going on and I was off the following morning. It was all water under the bridge then.
And I take it that you and Ron were separated from that point for some time?
We were all separated. From that point everyone broke up and went singly and about 4 of them went to the [HMS] Hood and they were lost in the one smack not of my group but the Strathnaven group the first one, the big one, there were 4 lost in the Hood but they generally they were disseminated and broken up into ones and maybe two.
So they sent you out on a ship?
And you found yourself in the Atlantic or the English Channel.
I was on the east coast of England running from Rosyth to the Sheerness in the North American destroyer.
And your duty was convoy was it?
And what were you convoying?
Taking bunches of ships down from the top of the North Sea there down to
London the Rosyth and Sheerness was our escort the Sheerness is in the bottom of the Thames so that when we left them there they were into their home port.
What were most of the ships carrying that you were convoying?
I understand that so many ships went down with food, provisions and contributed to people really suffering enormously.
Terrible. That run was terrible and I was made the
what was it, the navigator’s yeoman I was called because I had been an engineering draughtsman so I had to do all the charts, I was altering the charts about, I was putting a little black cross in about twice a week.
And a black cross was?
At a certain point, you had to put it in because you had a ship underneath there, check the depths and that sort of thing.
So when you were on the English Channel for a first question, how many months?
Time. Did you get any time off at all or were you on permanently?
I got one, I think they did a boiler cleaner or something, and I think I had 4 days at that time.
Which would indicate how serious things were I suppose.
How long did it take to get to the south of England where you were sailing from?
Oh a couple of days.
And can you give me an idea of the number of problems you would encounter along the way apart from there would be U boats and there would probably be sea mines/
No we didn’t, the
British had mined the area sufficiently to keep the submarines out our main problem was gun boats, very fast boats torpedo boats they were and they would come over and slip a torpedo into you and buzz off and you would hardly know they were there, you’d pick em up on your radar and they were a great problem.
And as navigator’s yeoman did you find that the charts
were constantly changing and you had to continually update your records to know as to where everything was?
How did you manage, did you feel equipped to do that?
It was pretty simple really, pretty simple
How as it simple, how did you actually orchestrate that sort of work?
Well you got the signals, they just handed you the bunch of signals telling you what to do and everyone had to alter their charts and
keep them up to date.
So tell me how were the signals operated then. What did you need to know to be able to read signals?
A position and manning the ship.
And did you receive a daily record of which ships were sailing from which ports each day?
No not then.
So that would have been quite complicated?
Yes it was
And you weren’t able to communicate from each ship were you,
I think it was a bit of a no no in terms of being able to communicate from on to the other.
If you did, if you were in sight of each other you’d just send a signal with the Aldus lamps you’d get the signalman to do that for you and you wouldn’t normally you wouldn’t break radio silence unless you had a pretty good reason for it.
Forgetting that everything was blacked out, and also given the
climate, though I guess by that time it was coming into summer time, what was that like at night sailing around with the number of dangers lurking about?
Well this was another thing. They saw fit to light the channel the whole way down there about the only lights you saw in those days all that I saw at sea
because normally everything was done with lights out it was opted because the channel was pretty narrow and to mark it, you left these lights on and you went from virtually light to light.
Were they buoys?
Yes and it helped the motor torpedo boats
considerably because they knew exactly where to wait and it was a very popular thing for them to tie against the buoy so that they couldn’t be discriminated from the radar, the radar couldn’t pick em up, the buoy was giving the echo too.
So how sophisticated was the radar equipment?
Not at all in those days, it was pretty primitive.
My question was how sophisticated was the radar?
Not at all, it was early in the piece and within a year I was a radar officer amongst other things in another ex American destroyer and it was quite apparent that radar sets did not like salt water
That wasn’t very convenient?
This was giving us a bit of trouble at that time. But coming again, the whole ship was in a state of nerves really, everyone was.
How many men on board?
Oh I don’t know, there would have been 100 or something like that.
So quite a small ship comparatively?
And all in a constant state of anxiety because (UNCLEAR)
I would have thought that’s how I described it. I was bosun’s mate as well. I remember one scenario our captain was a retired commander RNR, that’s Royal Naval Reserve one, they had their RN
VR’s [Volunteer Reserves] the same as we had our ANVR the volunteers reserve and in no time there were far more RNVR officers about than anything else so they quite outnumbered the permanent people and this chappy was getting a bit beyond it and Commander Bell was captain of this thing that was called the Leeds
and it was a 3 funnel one which was unusual because all the American ones had 4 and they were built in about 1920 or 1921 or something.
So did you feel that you were sailing redundant ships that they weren’t up to the job?
The ships? Not really because even the latest, we had the latest one, a brand new escort
destroyer I called it the Hunt class and it was just lost one day under dreadful circumstances I couldn’t say they were, the American ones were doing any more or less than the brand new ones so when the classic loss it wasn’t in our convoy but in another one, there were about three or four convoys a week going down the east coast
so there was tons of activity there.
How soon were you out to sea before you came into contact with the enemy?
Well just depends which end, down in London as soon as you put your nose out you right in, up the other end there was a bit of protection, not protection but it was much more
unlikely up around, we were just near Edinburgh there in Rosyth that was on the Forth, on the Firth of Forth so we used to go under the big bridge.
Into the big what did you say?
We used to go under the big railway bridge there the Firth of Forth one there to get out to sea. Any case there was a fog up there and here’s this brand new destroyer
sitting there and they decided to stop and what they didn’t realize was that the top of their mast was sticking above the clouds and a dive bomber came along and took em right out with a bomb down the funnel virtually.
How close were you to this destroyer?
We weren’t near. It wasn’t in our convoy at all.
It happened when we were there and everyone was going hooray at this beautiful new model.
Sorry, I’m confused, it wasn’t near where you were?
No it was on the east coast you know a couple of hundred miles down.
Oh OK so you didn’t actually see it bombed or go down?
Did you encounter any enemy action during those convoys?
Yes. Yes we
were, I’m getting a big vague now, I’m a bit vague.
I’m a bit vague. I can’t remember what action we actually had. I can remember seeing aircrafts
flying over us.
And were you bombed from the air?
Yes we were bombed from the air.
And any direct hits?
Any spray in the water?
Mmm? No nothing really close to us they weren’t really bombing us they were going for the merchant ships. One, we had nearly finished the
run down to the south and we lying ahead and we were the senior ship so we led it in and the merchant vessel behind us blew up, there had been a mine set. The real problems, I think probably more than those were the other threats that I was talking about, those torpedo boats
and mines, because you were having to sweep the channel almost every night for dropped mines, because it was the easiest thing to drop mines in the channel which was all lit.
I wanted to ask you about that because you were on a minesweeper and I wanted to know how a minesweeper removes a mine?
Well, fairly simple, the sweepers have each side of them
a wire rope going out with a, holding shall we call it, a knife on each side and when they pass a mine which is supported on the bottom with a steel wire the wire
runs up through the rig they put under the water there, it runs up the wire until it comes to the knives and the thing’s cut off, they just cut it through.
So the mine bobs free.
So the mine pops up and you hit it with a rifle or something and sink it that way.
Just a rifle to explode it?
Yes. You don’t want to explode it if you can it’s better off to put holes in and let it sink to the bottom.
So if a ship were to hit a mine, the explosion would be reasonably minor but it would knock a hole in it and sink it.
Well if a ship hits a mine they normally blow a hole big enough in the ship to sink it.
So when this merchant ship was hit with a sea mine was it incendiary or did they send out a mayday signal that they were going down or I’m sorry I’m just…
Well we watched it, we were only a 100 yards in front of them
and we heard the row and put our sea boats out and picked up the survivors.
How many on ship for example?
How many survivors did you pick up?
I can’t remember. I think they got most of them out of the engine room because they are usually the people who cop a lot and below decks. And then we all had onions for a couple of weeks, because bags of onions were floating about and that sort of thing.
I hear a lot of stories where these sort of ironies are some of the strongest memories and in a way that sort of seems funny or comical.
To substantiate my story that everyone was a bit apprehensive at actions stations, my job was what is known as bosun’s mate and it was to go up on bridge and bring the tea up for the officers that was my main job
and keep cups of tea or coffee up to them.
Given the circumstances that you could be attacked from above or below any which way at any given time, what’s it like for a sailor to have the responsibility of carrying the tea up to the bridge?
The tea, bit of a joke really.
It’s so very English isn’t it?
Oh, but you had to pour it too it wasn’t in cups or anything you had it in I forget what you call it in a tea caddy… I know that it was referred to as cha. In any case to illustrate my point that everyone was a bit apprehensive I arrived on the bridge at one stage just when a few Luftwaffe aircraft were coming over shooting up the fleet or doing something I don’t know what it was but I was standing there
holding a tray of tea, by this time I think I had poured it, offering a mug to the captain who was crouching down under the protection of the front of the bridge, he was just about down on the deck keeping out of harm’s way of the thing.
Was there a drill you had to follow under those circumstances when
the Luftwaffe came over?
Not for me not as chief bosun’s mate put it that way but the others the anti aircraft people who had been firing their guns.
And as navigator’s yeoman were you supposed to know where the German mines were or was that impossible?
No it was impossible.
So in that experience when the merchant ship had been hit, gone down and you had collected whatever survivors
you could, what became of your mission then was that the ship that you were convoying and did that…
No that was the first of the convoy the others just passed by, so all we could do was keep going.
And in a convoy situation are you there, what am I trying to ask, are you there knowing that they will be aiming for the other ships they’re not going to be aiming for you so you just have to carry on as best you can to get them through a bit like a mother hen?
Yes. Yes. So yes. It was quite a good introduction to the navy in that you were very active and you weren’t spending weeks out in the ocean seeing nothing.
Not in a place like that. In the 6 months apart from working on convoys you were also doing minesweeping duties there, and did you have any other duties on other ships that you sailed in at that period of time?
No one of my duties was the bosun’s mate used to have to pipe messages through the ship blowing his pipe and calling hands to lunch or something like that
that’s when we went to action stations.
So a day in the life of the navigator’s yeoman for you, tell me how that worked with watches on and watches off.
Can’t remember any. We’re going back about 50, 60 years now.
I know, it’s a bit of an ask isn’t it?
You had a lot of time, you had a lot of rest you weren’t doing much work at all
except there was a steady job going and that was chipping paint off the upper works of these old destroyers. They had been built in 1921 and I think the Americans painted them once every year or something and there were some tons of dried paint on them and we put all the new equipment in and they weren’t all that seaworthy for a while until you got rid of some of this paint.
How close did you get the
French borders or even further north, did you come..
Nowhere near them.
Never south of them?
Never crossed. I never got over there.
And how close did the planes come when they were bombing to the ship?
They were pretty low down.
Close enough to see the wheels on the plane, close enough to work out any of their numbers on the side?
No. Particularly, they used to come down pretty low
and you would see just a sort of dot on the horizon and the next thing you’d know they were just about past you, we didn’t shoot any down while I was there.
Was that negligence on the part of your anti aircraft gunners or the luck of the draw?
The luck of the draw as far as I was concerned.
And did you feel that you and your ship were doing at this stage or were you on the back foot trying to sort yourselves out?
Interviewee: Clive Tayler Archive ID 0070 Tape 03
So Clive I would like to ask you how it came about that you were able to became a submariner. You said that you wanted to be from the very beginning did they put you into training on board ship for a while?
Yes well as I told you before they changed all the rules while I was in the HMS Ripley
it was my first appointment after going through the officers’ training course. The last ship was called the Leeds and they were known as the town class destroyers because they Americans had sold them more hard than they did to the British Navy and they named them after cities or towns which were both in America and in England. So I went from one the Leeds the first one
through to the officers’ training course and that took about 3 or 4 months before I got into another ship, I’ve been looking at that the thing and I can’t really account for that. The officers’ training course was I think only 2 months and I had to stay on after I had become a
sub lieutenant to do a navigation course because I had asked to go into destroyers.
So you were on land for 4 months then between your time in the channel, where did you stay during that time?
Most of the time down at Brighton-on-Hove that’s where the officers’ training course…
Were they in as much danger as London?
Much of the time no, we never bombed or anything
like that and the war was starting to look possible because there was a change in the atmosphere a bit round about those days.
So tell me a little bit about the officer’s training and the types of courses they put you through and the regiment?
Well I can’t
remember much about the actual courses and what we had to do. There was quite a bit about, you had to spend quite a bit of time on signaling and also on navigation that was the, when as I have said going to a destroyer you’ve got another 2 or 3 weeks extra you would do another navigation course but
it was a strange sort of life because you were billeted out round Hove and Brighton most of the time in private houses.
And the people that you stayed with, were they a family?
Yes, you stayed with the family.
Did they have small children or grown children or did they have…?
Mainly I noticed that they were elderly
single women really. There always appeared to be a landlady but you never had a male in the situation but that was just my memory of the whole thing. The whole thing was thick around Hove there it was heavily built over with tiny little houses with small frontages and things and within walking distance of HMS King Alfred
which was the name they gave the place, it was the old Brighton swimming bathes they just boarded them over and I think there was a ceiling on already it churned out a tremendous number of officers.
And I imagine at the time that everything that you were doing was very hush hush?
Oh nothing really confidential about it they weren’t
teaching us about the intricacies of radar or anything like that.
It just seemed such a long time to send young men to training.
Yeah I thought so too. We went all the while at the baths, we went and stayed at Lansing College for about a fortnight that’s one of the big public schools of England or big private schools
I suppose we have to call them, very well known one and they took over the whole school, it was a big boarding school so there was tons of room there for accommodation and I have quite a few photographs of Lansing College because they were always photographing us in those days
So when you finished your training was there a graduation or did they post you immediately on…
Oh they posted you off immediately on. They usually send you for a week’s leave or something after the course. I had an uncle and aunt in Hampstead so I used to go there.
So tell me about your first time then on a submarine and tell us what it was like, take us through what it was like to go through the interior knowing that you were going to spend a lot of time there?
Well that’s jumping my experience in the Atlantic.
We had better do that first because it’s in chronological
You’ve got the call, go for it.
I’ve got, in this Ripley. It won’t take long because it was a pretty extraordinary situation in which this thing called the Ripley I think what the called the 7th Flotilla and or escort group, and we had a charmed, a charmed
experience. For about the 6 months that I was on, not one convoy on which we were escorting was attacked by a submarine.
How did you account for that?
One way I account for is that they had a, they would have read every signal that we ever sent in those days from what I can make out and they had the British codes cracked just the same as the British had theirs cracked and
I think they’d picked easy marks somewhere and I can’t say for sure but the Canadians always took a beating when the Canadian escorts took a convoy over, it was usually bad news for the convoy, they seemed to know that it was going to be a different one from the others because they were concentrating on them.
And why do you think the Canadians were an easier mark?
They never had the navy really in the first place, it was a very small navy they never had any cruisers and things like that and they were just small ships.
So after your training, why did they put you back on a ship instead of sending you to a submarine?
That’s when they wouldn’t send me then even.
seemed to run into bureaucracy all along the way.
Now wait a minute no, we’ve got this wrong, this is the first time I had an opportunity to nominate what I wanted and when I got over there the first time and you’re into the Yachtsman’s Scheme you just went where you were sent, quite a big bunch finished up on the [HMS] Kashmir in the Mediterranean, there were quite a few, there were about 6 or 8 Australians in the Kashmir when it was sunk
but that has a very interesting story to it. Because of Ian Rhodes he was a fellow I got to know quite well afterwards because he was a good golfer and I used to play a bit of golf then. [Editors Note: HMS Kashmir sunk 23rd May 1941 off Crete]
So in any case, we’ll leave that, we’ll leave that section
until a bit later. The Kashmir, the sinking of the Kashmir involved quite a few Australians about 6 of them I think one was actually killed in the thing, in any case, I could only express when I became an officer that I could express a wish to go into any sort of ship and I asked for a submarine and they said, “No they weren’t taking at that stage
yet.” and people that hadn’t been to sea they sent me off so I virtually had 6 or 7 months in the Ripley at which time I was elevated from a sub lieutenant with no time on the board
no time as an officer at all and something like 6 or 7 months after that I saw myself as senior officer of the bridge as a watch keeping officer.
I understand that was a freak of destiny I suppose but it was brought about by the upset.
Well it was yes and I changed
over the officers were always coming and going with changes and I had to be thrown into the watch job and that meant
And just before we start I wanted to ask I notice you say lieutenant, sub lieutenant is that a naval term as opposed to a lieutenant in the air force?
OK I just wanted to get that I think I was calling you a lieutenant…
So I was signals officer all along there and that was quite a difficult job because it gave you a lot of work between
watches you were 4 on and 8 off but very often you were 8 on and 4 off because of the signals stuff because you had the job of doing the deciphering and decoding.
Just for the record take us through how you got promoted so quickly and how that affected you as a member of the navy?
I didn’t have any options there were no other people’
about, they were very short of skilled staff.
Did you feel ready for the position that they gave you?
I didn’t have any feelings about it at all, I just had to do it and I never quite realized what you were getting into with this.
And were you taking on more responsibility having men underneath you?
No not really but there was major hitch,
nearly a major hitch, I’ve written a short story about it, it hasn’t been published or anything there but it’s in somebody’s archives in that when I’d got this, I’d been promoted to run the watch I was, we’d just left the convoy up near, up near
Glasgow there where we used to part company with the convoys and we were going down to Liverpool to have something done to the boilers or something like that for a while so we set south through the top of the Irish Sea there and I was given the watch at midnight and I had with me
an ex warrant officer as an offsider to help me but I got the job because he had proved that he wasn’t satisfactory at it but we were still pretty friendly he didn’t bear any malice towards me, we got on very well together. So I had him on the bridge
he had two lookouts one each side and of course he’s the helmsman just one level below steering the ship no it was the same level, yeah, no it was down a voice pipe to the helmsman and so we’re the only ones on the bridge so we set off for this 4 hour this 4 hour rather, and all I’ve got is
instructions to steer at a certain speed on a certain course and after about three and half hours everyone was a I think a bit, I think they must have got a bit sloppy down below, neither the captain nor the first lieutenant or the navigator came up to see me
and I’d had very little experience as officer of the watch and we’d run three and a half hours and nothing had happened at all and I hadn’t even gone into the chart room to see where we were or what was going on, it was as if we were in the middle of the Atlantic
whereas we had had to pass by the island there the one in the middle of it, fairly close to it. Of course we did that and when I’d been on the east coast run there’s one thing I did know when I smelt it, I smelt new mown hay.
You smelt new mown hay?
New mown hay.
So I sung out to the captain who was asleep in his cabin, “Permission to use the echo sounder?” and he said, “Yes.” in a dreamy sort of way and I switched the thing on and it said five, four and a half so without wasting a second I shouted down the thing, “Hard to port!”
and we started to swing over, we were doing about probably 17, 16, 17 knots and pulled over and just after I said it looked up and there was a light and we were just about ashore on a lighthouse there.
Take me back a little bit to turning on the echo sounder how that worked and how you were able…
It just sends a
noise down to the bottom and the noise bounces back and they measure it and they know what the depth of water is.
So getting a five or a four back would be quite alarming I take it.
Was it ever. And I realized later when I had a look at the chart I reckon there was only one mark there a long way away and they never put them on of course during the wartime the lighthouses just don’t work.
So would that have been, I take it that would have been an easy mistake to make then, that’s what a lighthouse is for.
I don’t know. It was a gross mistake on somebody’s part. A terrible mistake because I’m nowhere near Liverpool, I’ve nearly gone as far as Liverpool is in any case and way off course into Angelsey just about to crash into Angelsey.
So whose responsibility would that have been?
Well, the watch changed over immediately afterwards, the captain wandered back slowly cause I told him what had happened and gone about and that I am on a reciprocal course in going back there then the watch was over and I left them at that and a new team and I don’t know who it was, it might have been the navigator taking over I think as I hadn’t seen anyone.
And were there any recriminations for that?
Well I remember going to sleep and thinking now this is,
this is going to be interesting what happens tomorrow, what happens in the morning, I thought there would have to be a meeting a great big discussion to where it all went wrong and how I came to be in such a position as that. I thought oh well I can see myself actually as the villain of the piece quite easily.
Well you were steering the ship.
I said on the other hand, I thought it might be seen as nothing happened to the ship and I took quick action when I had to I might have been praised a bit for being pretty sharp to have a sharp nose to have smelled the damn stuff in the first place. Nobody else did. There were three other people on the bridge and no one said they could smell land or anything it was due the fact
that I was on that east coast run that I was well versed with it and I can’t remember what happened. The answer is there was no meeting, nobody ever referred to it again.
Was it recorded in the captain’s logs?
No it wasn’t recorded anywhere cause it wasn’t in anyone’s interest to do that we were still alive and this would,
this might be picked up by some of the authorities if they read this report on this sort of thing.
So it that to say there was a degree of collusion that went on when things weren’t when they didn’t have any consequences, like a situation like that, that was a close scrape and you were very lucky to get out of it.
I think I was pretty lucky to get out of it because the strange thing was the previous commission, this same destroyer
had run aground on Flamborough Head, it would have been the second time.
So was it possible that it was jus that the ship was unlucky?
Yeah. Anything could happen, I just think it was quite extraordinary in any case we got back to Liverpool on time and there was no.. it was a bit scary when I saw this light come on.
Where do you set out from on a mission like that?
Oh Halifax. We’d crossed the Atlantic.
OK. And was it like the operations that the RAF [Royal Air Force] flew where you had a certain number of knots to cover in an operation before you could return?
A knot is not a distance.
Excuse me it’s a speed isn’t it?
A speed, yes.
Yes well there you go there’s my fantastic ignorance coming to the full.
Nautical miles to come.
That was very nautical of me. Your role then was then to
patrol the borders, seek out any enemy craft and I’m actually asking you here if I’ve got this right, is that what you were sent out to do at that point?
At that point. When we were right into the Irish Sea. The role wasn’t anything but take the ship to Glasgow. The German submarines and things like that never got into the Irish Sea.
what was you role then?
Just to keep the ship on course as a watch keeper I didn’t have to fire guns or anything like that. So all’s well that ends well.
I would like to talk about your time on the submarines.
Well that’s the next thing because I’d had enough,
well rising out of this, I asked the captain for my watch keeping certificate and he gave it to me straight away but I can’t remember whether it was before or after this incident, once I got the watch keeping certificate
I asked for and put in a request to transfer to submarines. That’s how it came about.
And this time it was granted?
It was granted, oh yeah.
How long had you been spending on watch keeping. How many weeks or months?
I’d been watch keeping as a second officer from the day I got on board the destroyer, I’d been doing watch keeping there but always as a second officer.
Can you just explain to me why a destroyer is spending time then in the Irish Channel or nearby if there wasn’t any threat of U-boats [German submarines] or…
It was going to Liverpool where there was a dockyard where they could fix it up.
We were working, that was actually our, Liverpool had become our permanent base at that stage but I left shortly after then and went to the submarine place.
Where did you have to go to train then for submarines?
I should say then, I should probably tell you just a little bit more about escorts on the Atlantic run.
Because we did one down to Aruba which is right next to Curacao and went down to get oil there and that was a bit of a change for everyone because they were out of the North Atlantic clothes
and wearing whites all round the place it was something quite different and our generator, one of our main generators broke down, just as we were passing the islands there and we spent a night ashore, oh I should have swatted this up, I’ve forgotten for the time being, we didn’t spend the night ashore we
spent the night tied up to their jetty there while the rest of the convoy went on to Aruba, we picked it up, San Juan it was, we picked it up later the convoy and went to this terrible island that was but that’s where the oil tankers were and there was virtually
nothing on the island except a golf course which was made of sawdust and oil. The smell of oil all around the place was tremendous.
Did you get 9 rounds in?
We were escorting of course the oil tankers backwards and forwards there so we did one bound from Halifax down to Aruba and then one back again.
any threats along the way?
No. We had a charmed run again. This was the same that…
So I guess what I’m curious about was there anything that you were doing so right that enabled you to have such a charmed run or was it just luck?
No we couldn’t do that, no it was just luck I think. We couldn’t make it out really, everyone else was getting concerned and nobody ever came near us.
We had a very skilled captain a very well known chap running the flotilla this particular escort and one of the corvettes there, the Flower class was full of Australians and even an Australian captain.
How close is your relation to you captain in your position as a sub lieutenant?
Not remote at all. It would depend if you were a sub lieutenant and 18 to 20 years old or something like that it might have been different but when you’re in the wardroom or anything with the captain but he is still part of the wardroom
the captain is still the captain with normal discussions nothing to do with the navy so you have to be fairly close to each other and things like that.
Comparatively, you were quite a bit older than some of the other lads so I’m sure that ...
Yeah I was. I was up to about 27 or something by then.
So if you have a lot more in common then just on a personal nature nothing to do with the service does that lead to a better relationship
as military officers together like were you privy to more information than you would have been had you been younger do you think?
No I don’t think so, no. But no I don’t think it made any difference to the sort of work they sort of gave me they gave me work that just had to be done. There was a Canadian officer and he was an absolutely excellent lieutenant and when we
went to Halifax this was on the last trip that’s when the Canadians wanted him back.
So after you were just saying, you had either a freak of luck and you were doing something right or the gods were on you side in terms of…
never quite explained itself to me because what we did have, or what I did have as signals officer a dreadful signal that used to come in late in the afternoon depending on the time and what longitude you were on, and it used to come to the whole of the fleet and it gave you a position report of every convoy in the Atlantic its course and speed of the number of ships and I used to have decode
this and it was a huge one it used to take you about half and hour or three quarters of an hour to decipher it would have been then.
How often did you receive those?
And how long would it take you to decipher the code then?
An hour, half an hour, don’t know, can’t remember somewhere about then. But it transpires now the time I was cracking out there, there was somebody was doing the same thing in Berlin or somewhere.
Yes well that’s the irony of war isn’t it?
And that leads me to believe the Germans knew exactly where the various ships and groups were, they probably didn’t quite know who was doing all the escorting which ones but every now and again on the position report
we found a convoy of one speed advance 28 knots so you knew the Queen Mary or the Queen Elizabeth was on the go, now the question I’ve always asked and I’m not too popular for it is why didn’t they try to knock em off. They knew where the thing was going, whey couldn’t they, one submarine wouldn’t probably have
been enough to do it but a you had a cover in and you had a position course and a speed of this one thing, admittedly they used to zig a lot but I never heard of anyone even having had a torpedo fired at them or the Aquitania.
Have they come up with any conclusions since?
There might be an answer somewhere, I haven’t studied it, this is just a casual observation but there might have been, there would have been papers,
somebody would know exactly why, why that happened or why that didn’t happen or whatever you like or however you like to describe it. It’s always been a great mystery to me it just seemed too easy a target. It’s possibly a dangerous one on the world standard because remember they did the Lusitania over and that became
a horror action forever and a day and possibly the German naval people said it’s possibly best to leave these ships.
So what was your opinion of the German Navy then?
Terrific. Their submarines were so much better than ours absolutely.
All the way through?
Oh yes. Just a bit. Ours were just tin cans. Of course we captured a few or a couple
you know and the German submarines we had a look at them and they were in a different class altogether.
And so you mean you personally captured a few or a couple submarines?
No, not personally, but the British Navy did or the air force pick up one too?
What about the Italian Navy, did you have anything to do with them?
No I never did, but they were um… is this in the submarine business?
Just in the navy.
They were noted for their underwater work my recollection of it was the most damage they did was they continued to take limpet mines into Gibraltar under water and stick them on the bottom of ships in Gibraltar and every now and again they’d blow up and they’d just swim back to Spain
or whatever it was, because it’s not far away from the Spanish border. They never featured very much and they had some of their own submarines too.
Yes the Italian submarines don’t get much of a wrap in terms of history.
No. They don’t.
So did you feel that you were part of the British Navy or did you feel like a member of the Australian Navy working
for the British Navy?
No. Totally British after 4 years.
And was there any differentiation made by the fact that you were Australian Naval officers?
Yes I think we were on a slightly different pay that’s about all.
So you definitely were slightly different And on that note tell me how much of an improvement there was in terms of pay when you went up the ranks?
Well I was just coming to that
there’s my first pay book. Makes good reading. As an ordinary seaman, excuse me, I want to look at that, yeah there it is… 42 shillings a week of which I had to give 21 to Beryl.
The net result of the whole thing my issued pay was 11 shillings a week.
What would 11 shillings a week get you?
Even in those days not much. Yeah but it soon went up. In the end it was much more substantial.
Did you have to go through the tradition of putting your
cap out to receive your pay each week?
Was it kept for each week…
No. That was for cruisers, battleships and things and that sort of caper I think.
On the destroyer how did they give you the money then?
I can’t remember how but it was nothing formal
as far as I can remember.
Your company back in Australia, did they continue paying you a wage while you were in the navy or did they cut you loose?
The people you worked for back in Australia?
Oh yes, no I didn’t get paid, that’s where Bill McGregor had it over me, his bank continued to pay him his difference in salary.
And even greater the loss then I guess.
That was the State Savings Bank of Victoria.
So how soon after your time on the destroyer then did they post you to a submarine?
After my time in the destroyer?
Oh I had about 7 months at sea.
Including the time on the Leeds?
Oh no the Leeds was a year before and so I was about 6 months in Leeds.
So they certainly made you wait then didn’t they?
Yep but nobody was saying, this guy, we’re making this guy wait or anything, nothing like that was done deliberately. It was just the way the cookie crumbled. Maybe if I had been commissioned a month after I was maybe they’d changed the rules as early as that, I never knew but I know when I got to the submarine training class which we will start on tomorrow,
submarines tomorrow and that would cut out fairly well.
Interviewee: Clive Tayler Archive ID 0070 Tape 04
Yes well I went directly from HMS Ripley, the ex American destroyer that I have just finished talking about and straight, well not straight to the actual school for instruction for coming submariners but to the working up
flotilla of submarines when I say I say the working up, well it was the training area for submarine crews and the purpose of it mainly was for new boats coming along we had all these old ones called H-boats built in about 1919 or 1920 and we were still using them for exercise purposes and the argument
seemed to be if you could run one of those for 6 weeks or so you could pretty well run anything because everything was always breaking down so you were full of sort of odd situations, it was very very good training from that point of view.
Well on that point I imagine that First World War 1 technology even at the best of times must have been reasonably primitive I am wondering what those First World War 1 subs were like, I imagine they must have been awful things.
Well they were. They were tin cans and a couple were sent out on operational duties in an emergency and I know that one of them was lost and never came back, I never did find our what happened to it, no they were all right they got you into, you know there were so many things breaking down you got to understand
what made it all tick.
What were the engines like in comparison to the newer submarines?
They were very small, very small indeed but they worked on a direct drive to the screw at the back, the other ones they had the more modern ones had a
generator attached to the engine and it generated the electricity and there was a motor at the back to drive the screws, that was the big difference it was the working it was called working up the flotilla as well the system was that you had a crew allotted to you and they all went into these old boats
and you trained together so that you were bringing up a whole lot of people who were going to work and if you didn’t like anyone in particular or anything like that you got rid of him before you went into you new boat.
So you worked as a unit from the start?
I did. I didn’t need to but I will come around to that in a minute because at the very start I was sent to the school in Blythe which is over on the east coast and we did about
six weeks there just sitting at desks being lectured on submarines and that type of thing, there was on one submarine kicking around there and we only went into for a couple of days and there were 16 in our class, one was a lieutenant and all the rest were sub lieutenants and we
had this instruction with just a few examinations but shall we say everyone passed and while I was there my promotion came through, I’d served 12 months as a sub lieutenant and I had applied to be a lieutenant and I did that by having to write a letter to the captain of the Ripley and he wrote back and said,
“Yes that’s fine.” he couldn’t have done much else because he given me the aforementioned watch keeping certificate and so there were two of us lieutenants so we were pretty senior, particularly the other one in age who was older than I was even and we just went through this course, there was nothing spectacular about it and our only recreation,
we used to go down to Blythe was too small, there was a town just down south, where we’d to go down for a bit of a break but it was only every now and again, so we were really boxed up in this place.
During this training did they test you for your psychological suitedness, of being suitable for being confined under water for months on end?
No, not at all.
What about for claustrophobia?
No. Oh one chap we did meet, cause during this training we had to go down to Portsmouth for the deep dive they had a tank with about 60 feet of water in it and you got into a compartment down the bottom and they flooded it up and the pressure came and you went up the thing because that was part of the work for the current DSEA, the Deep Sea Escape Apparatus which
every submarine have. So no, we only went to Portsmouth for a couple of days and then we came back and got on with it and there was no training at all, no suspicion that you weren’t suited for submarines.
I think that’s quite remarkable in hindsight do you?
No it was trial and error. I don’t think so. To the best of our knowledge we had 16 and only one
of them proved to be really difficult in that area and we could have picked him because he had trouble in the deep dive business, he didn’t like being under water much. It showed up later that he had just got a job with a submarine just doing training, training work for other submariners and
the time came when it was over and we were all asked where we wanted to go, now that set a strange direction for me because whereas I was dead keen to get into an operational boat my wife had written me and said, “I’ve been allowed to get out of the WRANS [Women’s Royal Australian Naval Service] Australia, the WAAAFS
what were they then...
The WRANS were the women’ navy.
They were, she was in the air force as a WAAAF.
She was an equipment officer as a WAAAF and they released her to go over to England on the basis that she was going to join the WAAF [Women’s Auxiliary Air Force] over there and this was on the basis of not having seen me for a couple of years in any case, three years at that stage, so
I thought well if I get an operational boat now and if I ask for one, I will be sent overseas straight away, most certainly. So I went back and asked for another term in the training flotilla for a new submarine. They said yes that’s fine
and I went down to this brand new submarine, well we didn’t go straight to it there. We went to one of the H boats and met up with all the crew and the submarine turned out to be an S class a large sized submarine and it was just about finished and it was called Sea Rover
and it was building at Barrow-in-Furness, we knew that and we worked for a while in the H boat getting used to each other and submarines in general but most of these people had come from, they’d had a lot of submarine experience between them because they had come out of an old boat that had been scrapped and moving into a new one which was going to be Sea Rover
so we’re battling along quite unhappily because the first lieutenant and the captain were always at each other’s throats, one had been trained at Dartmouth and they viewed themselves as rather superior to anyone or anything else and the other one was what is known as a ‘pub’, he was a public school entry and
they didn’t hit it off too well together and it was quite a bad atmosphere. In any case the captain got pains in his back for a couple of days and the first day we were working at Scapa Flow training with the fleet with the big ships so they needed submarines around
too so that they could dart up and down and they do their anti submarine work trying to detect you, trying to find you and this sort of thing so that was really the main use for those H boats was giving the fleet the real fleet exercises in how to find them under water because we had a pretty elaborate, very nice anti submarine
I would like to talk about that.
In fact I will talk about that right away now, because it was developed by the British and they really spent all their money on anti-submarine stuff, they spent a packet, because they knew their vulnerability in getting goods across the Atlantic in case of war and so that had been going for quite some years. In fact there was an anti-submarine school started in Sydney before the war.
I just lost the track for a second. So it was Angel with something wrong down in his stomach or somewhere and he was in great pain one day and we were working with the Home fleet and when we did this we were at Scapa Flow
and the submarine always signaled on the morning permission to come aside some of these big ships and they always said yes and so we tied alongside an Indian sloop working up and the Indian doctor had a look at him and said he’d be all right and have a bit of massage and the next day it was even worse for this chap
called Peter Angel was his surname, it was misnomer if ever there was one.
Was he a devil?
Yeah he was probably the main problem. He came back, he slept on board that night and the following day he was even worse after that and there was a British cruiser in
and we asked to come along side that, and the moment the medical guy on board that thing saw the fellow Angel, they took him straight out of the boat and said, “You’ve got pleurisy.” and so all the first lieutenant had had the job of enjoying himself rubbing this fellow with fluid up and down to get this massage and there was sweat pouring out of Angel’s brow.
He went and a new one came along within about12 hours or so, they flew a new one in, a chap called John Varley and the long and short of it was after we had been working there for a week Angel wasn’t back but he was coming back a few days later and Varley said, “When I go I want to take you as my first lieutenant.” I’d been in that boat there was only the
captain, the first lieutenant and two third officers they called them two others so that we were in the situation where for normal cruising in a submarine there were three of us to keep watch, the first lieutenant and the two 3rd officers and the captain didn’t keep watch but he was always available but that was the makeup of it
but here comes the rather interesting part cause you will note at this stage I hadn’t done a war patrol I hadn’t been out to face the enemy in a submarine and here I was being invited to be the first lieutenant of the thing which is a second in charge say of a submarine without having had any experience of it.
Was there such a thorough dearth of officers due to losses, I’m not suggesting that you
were inadequate Clive but was that the case or did he think this chap was outstanding.
No the case was this was he’d had a look at the potential of first lieutenant officers that were about in the depot ship and didn’t like any of them and so he didn’t quite say that I’m taking you in desperation but it sounded a bit that way.
So you were the best of a bad bunch perhaps Clive. He gave you the benefit of the doubt.
Yes even I had not had this experience with contact with the enemy
so I jumped at the opportunity because the business of the submarines was interesting me very much I wasn’t tested in many ways at all of life in the submarine and particularly due to my training at Swinburne Technical College that I think mentioned before where I did electrics and mechanics and mechanical engineering,
that’s just what you want for submarine people.
Before we move on to your work with this captain, I have a couple of questions about the interim time, you had a wry smile on your face when you talked about Peter Angel and you said that he was the cause of the trouble, what sort of man was he, was he a rascal or a opinionated man?
He was, I’m afraid I would have to say that he was really a
ratbag, he finished up by being dismissed by the submarine service, that’s another story I won’t waste on me but he worked hard to do that too, but the grog had got at him a bit and so I left the Sea Rover there and then.
My other question
on that is that did you manage to find time to be with your wife when she came over or did you miss out in the end?
Oh well what happened in the end she didn’t come.
That must have been a disappointment?
Well yeah, certainly. By the time I’d
went on my first patrol, one quarter of my training class had gone, they’d been called and because this is what we’re getting around to he took me on and it’s the training flotilla all over again and we went first to another H boat.
That must have been frustrating?
Yes, time was rolling on. Yeah it was frustrating in one point of view but it wasn’t too bad being
first lieutenant because I sort of worked up to that stage in the destroyers and it never really worried me, and yes it was disappointing that I didn’t see my wife but she didn’t come so I joined, went of to this other H boat
and formed up quite a good crew got rid of a couple of people and all this took another three months in the H boat then across to Newcastle on Tyne where the new submarines, were building it was the one you photographed, the one called the Vivid. [Editor’s note: HMS Vivid was launched on 15th September 1943]
And that was an S Class?
No it was a U or a V.
One of the things I would like us to do on these interviews Clive is to try and have some word pictures, and I would really appreciate it if you could walk us through from stem to stern through the Vivid and describe what you see in each quarter of the ship as you pass through?
Well I’m straining my memory a bit. I must say what I
did have was quite reasonable documents taken from submarines showing the cross sections of the S boats and the V boats and things and I could have held it up here and shown it to you.
We want your impressions.
So I’m working from memory, it was all pretty simple unlike the current submarines. All those other documents I sent down to Geelong because there was a submarine
display attached to the museum at Osborne House, in North Geelong that had been a bit of a drama but they’re still there. Right where will we start, we’ll start up forward and the very front bits where all the torpedoes are, it’s called the torpedo tube compartment, the tubes were there and
the torpedoes were in the compartment behind and that’s where the sailors slept, they slept on top of them roughly cheek by jowl with the torpedoes.
How much room would sailor have on a berth on a submarine?
Minimum. Almost undescribable.
The other chap’s bunk would be right there…
No not quite, there was no bunk on top of them,
it was their mess deck as well, and they had to sleep where the mess deck was, so they slept on the, mainly on hammocks on a couple of seats set along side each other with about that much width, and you dropped your hammock on top of that because you can’t swing in a submarine or anything like that and they just
slept on the seats on which they sat for their meals that was my memory of the thing, it was all crowded up. Yes they were, the ratings were pretty badly done by, petty officers had their own mess and they were in a more comfortable situation so we had to go through what was called the
nifty fifty the age fifty and duly worked up there and went over to Barrow-in-Furness over to Newcastle on Tyne, the submarine there was just about finished there with building but not quite it wasn’t yet, yes it was it was floating, that’s right it was not in dry dock
or anything and it took about a month there before we got away before it was absolutely complete and we then went around to, right around to the north of England. Up the Clyde because that’s where all the submarine business was done up the Clyde during the war, they took them away from down south and the main center
used to be Portsmouth but that was too close and subject to attack from the air in particular.
With this Vivid, the submarine, I’m sure it would have been the cutting edge of British submarine technology at the time being straight off the docks, if we can just continue our journey through the ship from the torpedoes to the ratings quarters, what was behind them?
Righto. We’re going from the front, yes,
so we’re going up, it all narrowed down to a compartment which was compartmented off at this particular place oh yes there was one up forward too, water tight compartments they were and you fed the torpedoes through the doors, and into them, and normally, when you’re on patrol, you had the
torpedo tubes always filled occasionally you had open them and pull the torpedoes back and give them maintenance, there was always maintenance to be done on them and then you came to the pump room where there it was full of all the pumps like you were pumping water backwards and forwards to keep a submarine
trim you have ballast tanks which keep it afloat and separate tanks, compensating tanks down below, so that when you dived the ballast tanks would fill up in any case and pump water from one to the other of flooded from the sea or pump into the sea to just keep the thing trim because people are moving around and a submarine
takes on and you are eating all the food all the while and using up the fuel and it is not difficult and you get used to that in no time, trimming the submarine.
So it not an automatic process, someone has to constantly trim it.
No not like now, it’s quite different now and we used to, there were 4 planes up the forward and aft the planes
down aft, tilt them and get you diving and you put them in a certain direction and you’d start diving down and you would reverse it on the way up but the main way when you come up you come up to periscope depth first then put your periscope up and have a good look around.
What would be periscope depth on a V Class submarine?
Well something like
you can see out when you get about 25 to 30 feet between the center line of the submarine and the top of the periscope that’ll be sticking out above water there at that particular stage and the submarine will be still be under the water but basically the structure but the periscope will be sticking out. I must get back to these things because we then come to the accommodation section, the captain,
had a, no he didn’t even have a small cabin of his own in these V class submarines.
Where would he sleep then, with the officers?
Slept with the officers. Yes with the officers yes, or something similar. There were 4 bunks and it was all crowded up and then we came to the galley, no before
that before the officers’ section that’s where the galley was and underneath the galley was all the ammunition because we had a gun which we fired with pretty good purpose which you will hear shortly, it was a 3” gun and one of the 3rd officers was the gunnery controller and he used to have to get the, when the gun action was on he would have to get it from the galley
they’d pull the floor up actually and pull the fixed ammunition out that means the charger and the projectile were all one piece and carted up to the top of the conning tower and run it down on to the chute next to the gun which is just ahead of the bridge structure on the conning tower.
That came in and then we came into the main control room and that’s where all the action took place and we’ve got two people controlling the planes one front and one back and another one steering and the officer
of the watch and we had somebody the anti, the chap with the listening gear he was down one end and outside ERA this was all just when you were just cruising around that‘s all you had in the control room, and the officer of the watch who would be working the periscope and the
captain used to just drift in occasionally. Then you came to the engine room and through compartments, water tight compartments and through the water tight compartments down into the engine room and that went right down we were in the Vivid
the one I’m more interested in it was the one that had the generator up to that stage, the motor drove the generator and the generator, I’m sorry the engine drove the generator and the generator supplied power to the boat and for driving the motors and
in between the motors and that were all the batteries too so that when you were on the surface at night you’d have the hatch open, leave the hatch open, run your engines as hard as you could to charge the batteries and when they were fully charged, you’d shove the, you were still on the surface of
course and you’re running on the engine all the while but at some stage you had to surface, what was I saying now, we had surfaced already at some stage in the morning you had to dive and the moment you dived you had to shut all the hatches down and make sure you were in the boat yourself and lock yourselves in for the day and that’s
the way it went. If you got into serious trouble you could last about 24 hours, no you were safe for 24 hours if you haven’t been able to surface for 26 or something it gets a bit dicey.
And a bit smelly too I daresay?
Oh well I don’t know you’ve got this smell there all the while probably, the main smell in a submarine
is the permanent smell of fuel oil.
Is it diesel that they burnt?
Yep it was diesel oil.
A hell of a stench.
Yes but you never noticed after a while you know and nobody bathed then, a bit of a sponge down that was all you could possibly do. There are no facilities
in submarines for showering or bathing, so you just did as well as you can.
It would have been a heady atmosphere for somebody coming on board ship I’m sure after…?
Oh for sure it would have been.
So after the control room heading aft where do we go then?
Well the control led straight on to the engine room the next thing you see is the last of it there’s another compartment down there and there’s the, oh the last compartment had the
motors in that was one of the advantages, the electrical switchboard came after the engines, the electrical switchboard no the motors were opposite then there was a compartment and then the shaft, the driving shaft, and we had two, two propellers one each side and that’s how we got along. It meant, the big advantage
of that sort of thing is that you can be going flat out, flat out ahead on your with your motors and when you’re on the surface even, you can go full astern almost immediately all you do is pull the plugs out and you don’t have to stop the engine and it keeps plugging along charging or supplying electricity for whatever
reason and all you do is adjust it on the switchboard so it reverses your engines, so it’s pretty flexible.
And so would you be able to actually move in reverse fairly quickly or would it take a long while to slow the submarine down?
It would take quite a while to slow down. If you’re on the surface and going fairly fast and if you do what I say you go from full ahead to full astern the screws cavitate they pick up,
this was a well known problem, they pick up oxygen out of the water and the wheels start spinning around in the gas rather than in water, it loses its grip on everything, bubbles everywhere and you’re still soldiering on.
I didn’t know that.
So there’s not much point in going full ahead to full astern you have to wait until the ship slows down a bit before and still maintain a grip
on the water.
And during the day when you’re in the submarine are you operating at approximately periscope level until you find enemy shipping and then you dive or surface or whatever you do?
Oh yes I suppose you do, yes that’s basically what you’re doing. You start at periscope level and well in due course we sailed for Malta,
all this was taking time, weeks and weeks and weeks going on… oh, sorry just before we sailed to Malta we were working with the Home Fleet and we were alongside them at midnight and the signal came down message to the captain asking when can you be prepared to sail and he said 0600
and so he gave the orders straight away prepare to sail and it was a wild rush from then onwards because it was after midnight when we got this, when I say it was a rush we had to
mainly, our job was to get everyone into their positions, I must admit that didn’t take long but we had to wait for chance and things to come because we were being sent over to Norway, they thought the Tirpitz which was a battleship, they thought the Tirpitz was on the move and began to seal up all the fjords and
everything around the place so we went up and had to refuel just a bit north of Scapa Flow and across into Norwegian waters so people have asked me have you ever been to Norway, well I’ve said I’ve been up a fjord in a submarine
mid winter and that’s about what it was. All I saw of Norway was through a periscope. When we got back it was all called off in the end the Tirpitz didn’t move and we came back we’d been working on these Canadian charts, and found we’d clipped the corner of one of our own minefields without knowing it,
we’d just gone through the corner but that was all aftermath and very shortly after that. That counted as our breaking in patrol and we were sent off to Malta then.
Before we get to Malta, I think we’ll pick that up on the next tape because this is about to run out I would like to ask a couple of questions more about the submarine. How many crew on the Vivid?
Oh 53. (Editor’s note: Official sources say 33)
And how long was the Vivid? Just trying to get an image of the space.
I can’t remember the overall length of the thing I really can’t.
OK then was it all on one level or were there separate decks in any area?
No we didn’t have room for decks we were on the top level and the batteries and things sat in a spare space underneath that and all sorts of tanks….
I imagine then
there must have been a wealth of foldaway, hideaway gadgets, every space would have been at a premium were there any particularly wonderful space saving gadgets or so forth on there?
No there weren’t, there was nothing. Nothing subtle about it all. I didn’t tell you about surfacing when you go to the surface,
what you had to do then.
We might pick that up on the next tape.
Interviewee: Clive Tayler Archive ID 0070 Tape 05
Yes, I was telling you about surfacing what you have is main vents and when you open the main vents the air goes out the top and the boat sinks down like that and until the tanks fill up by which time you are then under the water and you have to do probably a little bit of pumping here
and there that you keep on the right level. If you want to surface you shut the main len the main valves they are running along the top of the casing not the casing of the pressure hold and blow high pressure into the tanks and I’m sorry the air is, you blow high pressure air
into the tanks when the valves are shut they are normally open when you are at sea under sea pressure there, it doesn’t matter, you can shut them but to surface you had to have them shut and you then blow off the high pressure air and it blows the water out of the bottom it goes
out of a sort of hole in the bottom of the tanks there and when you do that before you know where you are your bow’s gone up like that and sticking out of the water and that’s what you do when you’ve got to the surface you then put the blowers on to separate motors altogether, to blow it up so that you’ve got plenty of buoyancy and not just
a little bit you need quite a lot of buoyancy so the thing doesn’t get its nose in the water again which has happened from time to time.
You often see submarines breaking to the surface like that they don’t sort of come up straight do they unless they come with the periscope or something?
Yes nowadays they are horizontal all the while they don’t do any diving or.
That must be much more comfortable for the men on board?
The opposite of surfacing it has just occurred to me, diving, what was the maximum depth you could go in the Vivid.
Well, we were built in such a way that we could get down to about 600 feet that’s all.
Is that deep for a submarine or not?
No that’s pretty shallow particularly for modern submarines they go much deeper than that now we don’t know, nobody will ever tell you nor will they tell you what speed they go but it something
like over 40 knots under water, the boats go better under water than on the surface.
Because of the streamlining on them. No waves to impede you.
Did you ever get down to 600 feet?
What was the deepest you took the Vivid?
A deep dive? You do a deep dive test when you take it over from the makers and our deep dive,
our deep dive test was done in up under the Scottish Lochs and I think we got down to I think it was 500 feet or something.
Did the hull creak at that depth?
Good, so that’s another mistake from the movies. So take us to the Aegean Clive, to operational service with the Vivid.
Yes let’s go straight away, although there was a dicey time for me in Gibraltar because the instructions we had from Malta was to bring as much grog as you could and Gibraltar, we called in at Gibraltar, we then went in convoy.
As we left Gibraltar we had so much sherry on that I had to try to trim the submarine and we pumped out pretty well every tank we had to pump out every compensating tank we had, there’s only three one in the middle and one at each end and we had to pump em out and they were almost absolutely dry when we finished pumping and we’d just caught a trim then,
a submarine that can’t catch a trim can’t stay at sea it just has to go back and take something off and we would have had to unload sherry and this would have looked pretty rum sort of behaviour.
The boat was drunk in effect on all this sherry.
Yes. We escaped that, however we got to Malta without any interference anyhow by this time the Mediterranean
was taken was taking on a different profile altogether and the British were mainly in control of it by then and it was a much different situation from two or three years before where the convoys would be bombed, some of them well they finished up with one ship getting through out of ten or something dreadful like that trying to get to Malta
but we had no trouble and so we started doing these patrols into the Aegean Sea because the Germans had just about been chased clean chased out of the Mediterranean and it its surroundings although they still occupied Crete and so we did five patrols into the Aegean from Malta and that was when the excitement started for us and we sank quite a
large ship and…
Tell me about that.
It was rather interesting one and we were on the surface at night and we were advised that the ship was likely to be there because there was a lot of leakage of information from Crete in those days and we had our troops behind German lines there for years at a time we had people
snooping around and passing information risking their lives very much so and in any case we got this thing in quite a strange way, because we knew roughly where to wait for it and sure enough it turned up absolutely on time and the moon was up to such an extent that the captain decided to
use the periscope to do the attack and so we dived but only half way down, and the main reason why I dived was because I had 4 escort vessels buzzing around the, this was a merchant vessel of 5000 tons or something like that and these things they’re escort vessels have depth charges and
he felt it was better to dive and not be seen rather than be spotted, particularly with moonlight about so he dived and put the periscope up and it would have been sticking 10 feet out of the water and caught the thing in the moonlight and it was really a bit of a pushover we fired torpedoes and two of them hit and the following day we came back to have a look at the spot
and it and there would have been drums full of oil I think would have been floating around all over the place so that was the end of that.
When you torpedo a ship do you have to be pointing straight at it or can the torpedoes be directed?
No. Well at this stage of the war you had to fire torpedoes would only run dead straight so you fired a thing like that you had to estimate what its speed was and
to practically allow for, you’d fire ahead of it you’d set the periscope ahead of it so that the torpedoes would go at the head of the ship, you fired one and then you wait about 10 or 20 seconds and fired another one and it was called the spread and the 4 of them would have been over a nearly a minute or more than half a minute.
You had to fire them
in a straight line then, and a crew member had spotted a torpedo coming, they’d know roughly where you were wouldn’t they?
If a crew member could see the torpedoes coming?
Would they be spotted often?
Well they wouldn’t be spotted at night but during the day if the water was very flat, you could see them but only when it was too late because they’re doing about 45 knots or something.
So it wasn’t necessary to shoot them and take evasive action immediately?
Take evasive action beforehand and move away and get off track of the torpedoes in any case because that’s what they would be able to see, the British torpedoes unlike the German ones, the British ones in those days, I hope they don’t do it now, always there was an air vent going up and the fumes from the engine would bubble up to the surface
and the English ones are fairly easy to spot from that point of view.
And so you had to leave the scene before you could confirm that you had sank the ship was that the case?
Well the confirmation was the following day when we found all this stuff there but there was no doubt that there were people on board our boat and one them came into the
control room afterwards because the control room had a few people in it by this time when you were at diving stations and you need a few more about and he sung out those were definitely depth charge hits, because we’ve heard them plenty times before or something like that. That was just a side issue, normally people are not encouraged to come in and give any observations but
that was welcome, welcome sort of news. In any case, you get with the timing you know roughly how far you are from it and how fast they’re going and you’re looking at your watch to see how long it took to get there.
And how did that feel to be part of the action after so many months of training and waiting and you’re in there and in the action, how did it feel to be in there?
Well you had a pretty good feeling because this is what you are there for, you couldn’t be too worried too much if
you were in submarines and you had to get used to the fact that people up the other end are going to get killed as you’re going to get it if you get caught and so it’s a matter of fact sort of business, you don’t go and try and take prisoners or try and help any people in the water. They were all escorted in any case, so all those escorts would have picked up any bodies
that were about.
It would have been very hard to find room for prisoners on board a submarine anyway.
Yeah. We used to squeeze them in somehow, many, it has happened. Ours was the smallest class of submarines so we were worse off than anyone else.
How long would a patrol last, you said you did, was it 5 patrols in the Aegean?
Yeah. We were roughly yeah, roughly there for 5 months
and we spent regularly we went out for a fortnight and came back for a fortnight, we were working on the boat there was always something to be done on the submarines.
Would you have to refuel or re-arm during that fortnight?
Yes, yes, yes we would. Now that was, our first
patrol was one of our best but in the event we finished up sinking 4 ships in various classes and one of them was a great big kayak that is the local trading thing, which is driven by motors but it had a bit of sail up too and they used to move around from island
to island and we had quite an exciting time with that one because it was a convoy and it had an escort an anti-submarine vessel escort it was quite a bunch of little kayaks and the big one was quite a decent target and the captain decided to gun it which would be the only sensible thing to do and didn’t really want to waste a torpedo on
it and so we actually surfaced and with our main gun started shooting at this kayak which was leading the convoy with our 3” gun and the convoy was getting away from us a bit and of course we were having to pay our attention to the escort
who had a Bofors gun which was firing at us, and we had to keep him away and we only had the Oerlikon to do it with so that we’d have to stop firing with the 3” gun on to the target and shift to the other target and this was done and we put a couple quite close to him and he was not persistent and he left us alone then. We shifted back to the main target and
the they used to do, you wouldn’t fire the gun indiscriminately, you’d fire one shot and see where it landed, because you go up there and you would see the splash of water and you could adjust your levels with the gun to reset the levels on the gun to fire again then we came back and started again and about the second shot there no water
spout, and you then say salvos and you leave them sitting on the gun exactly where it is and fire off shots as quickly as you can.
And down she went.
Full throttle then and she blew up and she must have been carrying petrol or something.
When you’re attacking a convoy are the merchant ships your first target as opposed to warships, is that right?
Yes those are the rules. Then we had one a bit later
and had three destroyers running alongside one either side and one out front and the one on our side we were attacking it from the ship starboard side, the tug, and we were right ahead of this destroyer and they picked us up and it was no question about it,
they went right over us, bang over, my memory of it was the one time I did think that oh well this was probably it but were still busy because of the noise was terrific from the engine room, we hadn’t got down that far we were only a few feet below the, from the damn destroyer and
they would set a shallow charge with their depth chargers because they would drop a ring of them around us and we were gone, but yeah the terrific row from their engine room was so close and we were just waiting there and nothing happened (UNCLEAR) ran out and still kept in contact with us, we could
tell my hearing was pretty good and I’d done anti-submarine work with the Ripley I’d don the course up the Clyde and you can tell when you’ve been pinged on because they had us absolutely perfectly as I said, wow it was so close. They did a circuit, came right back came over us again by which time we were down to 150 feet
and started dropping a couple of depth charges.
Were you too low then for that to be any problem?
Well it wasn’t a problem as it so happened they didn’t hit us I don’t know what setting they had on them but they weren’t the closest depth charges we had, we got them at another place. I think we averaged about one
depth charge an attack on every patrol we went on.
Depth charges don’t have to actually hit you do they, they can cause concussion in the water.
They don’t do this at all, they are set at a depth and they all go off, when one goes the whole lot goes, they all go together.
Tell us about the closest the most troublesome depth charging incident you ever had?
I can’t remember what led up to it but it led to a
slightly amusing incident, we had the galley with old fashioned steel saucepans, the really old ones, all steel handles and the big one was hanging on a hook on the thing and was close enough to shake it off and the thing jumped off its hook after the depth charge, that was
the closest one we ever had and the aftermath was the because we threw all the broken bits out that night and at some stage later about 10 days later when we were back in the depot and some petty officer came up to me and said, “Where’s the saucepan?” I said, “We chucked it overboard.” and he said, “You shouldn’t have done that those were goods on permanent loan and should be accountable for.” I should have kept the bits apparently.
We didn’t take it very seriously we laughed a bit over that.
Now I’ve read that sometimes when submarines that were depth charged in order to fool those on top that they been damaged that they would let rubbish and stuff out the chute or old things to float to the surface to look like they’d been damaged?
There is no provision anywhere to be able to do anything like that, the only way of getting rubbish out or anything like that was when the torpedo tube emptied you’d fill it up with what you didn’t want
and fire it as if it was a torpedo. I’ve never heard of anyone doing that.
I’ve picked it up from the movies then?
Yes of course, you didn’t give anyone the slightest idea, you could blow rubbish out and it wouldn’t go more than a couple of feet away from the submarine and you were just be disclosing your… oh some of those films were ridiculous I wouldn’t even trouble to go to them.
One I saw certainly the Red October was a great one, even there it was a bit of farce, when you see them firing guns at each other in submarines you know its cloud cuckoo land
Is that because the bullets ricochet or pierce the hull?
There is so much stuff, particularly in a modern submarine it wouldn’t matter what you hit you could fire from their control, anywhere and in any direction you like and the shots you would like to fire you would do about five hundred thousand dollars worth
of damage to something or other because its, all the stuff is so vulnerable.
What other furphys [untruths] did these submarine movies perpetrate?
What they did, the real furphy is that when a submarine is going into attack it’s the quietest place in the world because the engines are shut down and you are
under the water and the captain’s the only one who is speaking simple as that except when he says fire one I have a microphone, the first lieutenant has a microphone or a telephone to the compartment to the torpedo compartment and you just say fire one when he does and at the same time
you put your finger on the red button over number one and press that so it confirms that you have a double go at it. It’s as quiet as anything, and if anyone dropped a spanner or anything then they may well as… because that would be very…
And is that because the surface ships would be listening out for any noise?
Oh yes, mmm.
I suppose, obviously the greatest fear of all, or perhaps it’s not the greatest fear but I imagine the greatest fear for a submariner would be if something went wrong with the submarine and you just sank and you had no way of getting out.
Yeah, well if it sank in deep enough water it would but I don’t know of any submarine sinking
but you wouldn’t know because the submarine would be lost and you wouldn’t know but generally you would need to be depth charged or something. We finished up on our fourth patrol with water leaking in through the stern bland at the back and we had to call the patrol off because there is no means of stopping it and you can’t pump, and if you start pumping it all you are doing is leaving a trail of oil wherever you are going
so you just have to put up with any inconvenience and you just have to call the patrol off which is what we did.
As a submariner it must have been a special, not special that’s not what I’m trying to say, the feelings you must have felt when you heard the Kursk in Russia sinking with all hands and those poor
fellows dying down there.
It was terrible, those Russians, it should never have happened, because the British had the same thing happen 20 years before and they gave up that system. The Russians played around with it.
When was that?
Oh they were using something quite simple and I can’t remember what it was it something that you use in your kitchen pretty well what you fuel the torpedoes with and it was one
of those things that used to react quite badly to copper if you run it through copper pipes and things like that it would corrode the copper, and this is what they were doing. It was dreadful because they really established the truth without any shadow of a doubt but what happened with the Kursk they were mucking around with the torpedoes
and it exploded first and its explosion which came about 10 seconds after the big one came when the first explosion detonated the next one.
That would have been a horrible way to go.
Dreadful. We had another interesting one
because we were off an island called Piscopi and we were told to look out, we knew there was ship about be it a small one and Piscopi has one of these very narrow heads and we could see through our periscope into the harbour and we could see this ship tied up against the wharf there, a couple or two or three miles away it would have
been so we just went in there and lo and behold when we get there there’s a anti submarine and escort vessel and people running all over the fo’csle and getting, pulling the anchor up because they had detected the fact that a submarine had come in to the bay but that was our interpretation because there was no doubt we didn’t know it was there and when we saw it they knew
there because they were all rushing around so we just carried on fired torpedoes and hit with one and that finished that ship off right at the wharf and we set the torpedo fairly shallow to make sure and up she went and then we had to cope with this other thing
and they just turned round and they went out the harbour and I don’t know what it was if we had been detected going in or while we were out there or somehow or other, because they just went out and turned left and went out virtually underneath them as they went out and we were just a few yards or a couple of hundred yards behind it
because we were following their motors and things because they were giving us good steer of course to enable us to get out of the harbour without having to put periscopes and things up.
Is that a good way to hide, being virtually underneath a ship?
No. Well yes I think so, it’s not the situation that you want to put yourself in at any stage.
You’re right in the lion’s mouth I suppose.
Because they didn’t even have their anti submarine stuff going
and they had all the British, you know this is the problem you know when the French piled up and went over to Vichy France in the war they surrendered a lot of their ships and things, and the Germans took em and with it all our hard work on how to make anti submarine devices, a pinger,, a thing that sent out a sound signal and bounced back at you.
Is that like an echo sounder really?
Do you think then, that sounds to me like that was a stroke of luck, they didn’t for any reason turn it, do you think that a lot of the success and failure of people in war hinges on luck? Like it they had it on they might have got you right there but luckily they didn’t.
Yes well we must have had some luck somewhere when that ship went so close to us.
Incidentally, I think in a friendly way but the captain with whom I had become great personal friends for years we always kept in touch my son’s his godson and that sort of thing and always visited him when I went to England and he died a couple of years ago. But he was a bit critical of me when he said, “When we were just running into that lot of trouble
and that destroyer that passed right over us and very close to us…” he said, “You put your, you put your chin under your shoulder like that.” he said. I said, “Yeah, yeah I would have done that cause I used to do a bit of boxing you know and you put your chin under your shoulder when you’re boxing.” It was a mild blemish
Did he think you were cowering or hiding?
Yeah yes which might have been true cause I didn’t realise that I had done it, but that’s what you do if you’re in trouble in boxing the first thing that you do is you stick your chin in or otherwise you….
Did he admit this, oh well I understand that what you told him then or did he still think …
Oh no he was only kidding a bit he wasn’t critical. That stuff you
read about me in the for getting a mention in dispatches that was written by him and nobody else I can see that from the writing and the way he wrote and everything.
Being mentioned in dispatches is quite an honour isn’t it?
Oh yes it’s better than nothing. He got a DSC [Distinguished Service Cross] out of it.
And you got a mention.
And I got a mention and quite a few of the sailors got DSM’s. [Distinguished Service Medal]
NB. This section of transcript is embargoed. Embargo ends 01/01/2034
How were you coping then?
And the real problem in my mind, I have recalled it often enough it, that was not typical of me I never got that, I would drink plenty of grog and everything but I never got so stupid and paralytic
the only occasion when I think I did which was a great pity.
Do you think because you were missing home that you were a bit frustrated…?
I don’t know. No I think mentally I was a bit of a mess
How were you feeling at that stage about home?
I had forgotten about it.
Really, there was no desire in your mind to perhaps be fighting in the Pacific theatre defending Australia?
yes as soon as I found out well it coincided I found out roughly at the same time that there was a submarine flotilla working out of Fremantle by then and so I applied to go to Fremantle after the 15th because the war was finished. On our last, we went to
one of the islands just off Turkey, it’s a popular one, one of the tourist ones and we were entertained by the locals, the Germans had left the previous morning, they’d gone out by sea they’d been occupied.
That’s a quick turnaround isn’t it?
These people either side of us are Greeks a couple of them lived on that
island, the ancient island of Lesbos, it’s got a new name now.
I was unlucky in that there had been a series of senior officers, captains of submarines that by this time had all relaxed a bit, there had been something like three incidents around the depot, mine came as the fourth so the captain of submarines
at our base, he was sort of vitriolic because the others had been firing guns around the joint.
I imagine no matter how well adjusted you may be or how suited to the life you may be, the life of a submariner would have an inordinate amount of stress and tension attached to it.
Well it did.
It must have shortened the operational lifespan of some of the men on board do you think.
yeah. The most I could find was that most of them finished up with tinnitus so that was the one thing that you finished up with your ears buzzing.
Is that terribly noisy all the time?
Well it was noise a combination of noise and a change of pressure when they took, if you’d you spent a day dived, when they took, open the hatch at the top of the conning tower, when you surfaced and you opened it there was
a whole lot of air pressure would be brought in and my ears used to ache you know how sometimes ears click when you were going uphill I had that happen to me regularly.
The pressure change would happen like that would it?
No gradual, that would give you an awful strain on your ears. Do you know about in the post war era were submariners particularly given to stress, did they come out of the war
particularly shaken up after all that tension, do you know?
No I wouldn’t know I wouldn’t know, I mean quite a lot of other people were better or worse, take the air force, take those people who had been over Germany 24 times and that and just lined up and just a few months holiday and then they go and do another 24 sort of thing so that was a terrible loss.
Yes that was a remarkable death rate - those poor chaps over Germany.
We took 42 of them
over when I went over as an ordinary seaman as part of the Yachtsman’s Scheme we took 42 of them, they were either pilot officers or sergeant pilots and they had been trained before by the Empire Air Training Scheme and in 4 years time I met a chap called Jeff Brewer who knew about it, a chap I had been at school with I think I met him in London it was, and
he said that there were only 5 of them left.
That’s an awful death rate isn’t it?
These were fighter pilots they weren’t the bomber ones.
Fighter pilots had a spectacularly short life span didn’t they?
So from relatively, I don’t feel so badly off at all.
Interviewee: Clive Tayler Archive ID 0070 Tape 06
So have we finished with the Aegean Clive or are we moving on to Fremantle.
No not quite I’ve got a couple of things to do. One night on watch in the Aegean I was on watch in the middle of the night and I thought I saw something in the, I couldn’t be too sure, something on the horizon and called the captain
up and he had a look and he said, “Yes it’s something but I don’t know what it is either.” this went on for about five or six minutes and I said to him, “Permission to send the lookouts down?” because we had 2 lookouts up there because I thought things were starting to smell a bit and he said, “Yes that’s all right.” so I got rid of the lookouts and a minute later I said,
“I think I had better go down into the control room just in case.” he said, Righho.” and before I had got to the bottom of the thing, he was screaming out to me, “Get her down number one, get her down number one!” so I sang out, we used to say, oh I forget the word we used, we didn’t say, “Dive, dive, dive!” it was, “Klaxon, klaxon, klaxon!” we used to say,
because ‘dive, dive, dive’ became interpreted once by somebody to steer 3 five five or something and in any case there was a ship up there, a tiny little one which we found in the morning, nearly rammed us, put a 3” hole through our casing and the thing didn’t explode and there was a mist up in the morning and the captain was up there on the bridge and said, he said, “Oh can you see it?”
“Oh barely.” “Well let me send the gun layer up with his telescope and if he can see it we can do a gun action.” And that’s what happened, it was murder really because we shot the guts out of the thing cause we could see them and they couldn’t see us it was as simple as that. It was only a tiny vessel.
And you sank it.
It didn’t sink, one of our
projectiles jammed in the gun and we couldn’t get it out, couldn’t get it in or out it was just stuck there but we had a report on it later, it had gone into dock and never went to sea again, it was a write-off.
That’s as good as a sinking really if it can’t be used again.
Yes, yes it is.
And was that a no-no to be that close to a ship on the surface?
Was that anybody’s fault or would somebody be charged for that?
No, no well you couldn’t be charged because we left the captain there to handle that particular problem because you couldn’t tell, you see what he imagined was quite a nice sized ship quite a long long way away and it was a tiny little one right close up so that was not a good experience. The other one that
I wanted to talk about was that we knew we used to go into the north part of the Aegean Sea through a minefield and we knew it was there and we thought it was there, and one afternoon we’d dive to get underneath the mines and go through it and we heard the wires scraping down our pressure hole going passed. We knew it was a minefield
there for sure.
Would that cause, was there any danger that that might explode the mine?
No they were pretty unsophisticated, but they were all contact mines.
So is it a magnetic thing or is it the actual hitting contact.
It was scraping down the side, they were all moored, there was a wire up the top and a weight down the bottom holding mines in position.
But I mean to detonate the mine; you have to hit it hard.
No. They are quite delicate little points sticking out
and all you have to do is break one of those off and it fires
And is a mine big enough one mine, big enough to sink a submarine?
Oh as close at that it would, yes, yes, yes it would.
Is there anything else from Aegean that you think we should touch on?
No that’s about the end of the Aegean
as I said we finished up on the island of Mitilini it was, Mitilini.
The island near Turkey.
Yes that’s it and that’s where they had us for the day and the officers were eating goat and we’re eating goat and drinking ouzo and it wasn’t a very good combination that’s my memory of Mitilini. A few of the people living here they are from Mitilini.
That’s a remarkable coincidence.
And did you feel on that day would you know that the Mediterranean had been basically cleared of Germans?
Yeah we knew that because one of our cruisers was in the area and we passed it during the night on our way back, we were packing up going to Malta, it was the Black Prince I think it was called came past.
So you job was effectively done wasn’t it?
Were you itching to get home in some capacity?
for the first time there was a good reason and an opportunity and I asked permission to go to Perth, to Fremantle in Western Australia and they said, “Yes there’s a depot ship there and we’ll transfer you straight away.” and in about three days they popped me on an aircraft a DC3 that took me to Cairo and then I was on my own and it took me about another three weeks before I
could get to Sydney, to Fremantle in various stages. That’s a story on its own but it’s not interesting enough but I finished up by going down in a destroyer which was being given to the Australians or sold to the Australians by the British Navy a thing called the [HMAS] Kiandra.
Were there any incidents at all in that trip?
at all. The alternative would have been waiting quite a long while because a first lieutenant you haven’t got much priority amongst the people who are flying in the PBYs the flying boats they were going down to Perth from Trincomalee which was up on the island of Ceylon in one hop and it was called the flight of the double door and you took off an hour before the sun came up
and an hour after it arose the following day, it was in the air for 26 hours.
That was a long time for a plane in those days.
So they had a very strict amount of luggage too and I had quite a bit which most of it would have had to come at some later date I was hoping to bring that down on the destroyer with me. What I did finish up with was this little leather suitcase belonging to who was then Captain Collins and he became Rear Admiral Collins in the navy.
And why did you end up with his suitcase?
He was overweight, he was on the flight and they wouldn’t take his suitcase so I brought it down and handed it over to a courier. When I got to Perth they had got the ship’s boat out and sent it across I think they only used it as an exercise from north Fremantle to south Fremantle where the [HMS] Queensborough had pulled in one side and the depot
ship was over on the other and so they came up in great style up the side of the, it was called the [HMS] Maidson and there was captain submarines, not captains, commander submarines it was, who was the second one who was waiting for me at the top of the gangway, it was quite a good welcome there.
Why was that, what was the….
Well I don’t know it was the man himself a chap called Miers and had got a VC [Victoria Cross] in submarines.
Your friend Ron?
No Miers. Anthony Miers he was called, but Sir Anthony in due course and goodness knows what. No, he said to me, he said, “You’re Australian?” and I said, ”Yes.” and he said,”Are you married?” and I said, “Yep.” and he said, “Did your wife know you were coming here?” and I said, “No.” and he said, “Come down to my office, I’ve got a landline where we’ll ring through.” said she’s at Wagga
at SG or 2TG it was called the air force base. In a few minutes I was talking to her.
How was that after so long?
Ooh that staggered her a bit. And in any case they put me on leave straight away and the air force gave her leave on the strength of it, they were very, very co-operative and she met me and she came down
first to Melbourne her home town although we joined in Sydney I came across by air first and the last night by train from Adelaide and I’ve still got the photo of the thing that the press had somehow got word of it and there was quite a big photo of the two of us, service wife meets service husband on the thing and people were nodding at me when I walked up Collins Street that day.
Where did they take this photograph?
In Spencer Street station.
Is it taken as you just met?
It must have been a bit of an annoyance to have cameras there when you had just wanted to say ‘hello darling’ at the very least.
Oh I don’t know we were almost at arm’s length still a quick hug and…
How long was that, was it three years at that stage?
It was 4.
It would have taken a while to get to know one another again.?
Yeah about half an hour.
Right the rest is all where we fade to black as the lovers kiss on the balcony.
No we started off with a better relationship than I think we had had before.
She was pregnant in no time and the air force sent her over to Perth they knew I was based there, the air force was terrific to her and they said there was only one job for her in Perth
and that was occupied so they pitched the girl out from Perth and brought her back to the east coast and sent my wife over and our first child was born in Subiaco.
So that was a wonderful reunion then?
Oh yes everything went well.
I imagine for many men going away for so long the reunion couldn’t be anything but that if you had grown apart and after two or three years.
Oh we’d grown apart we’d probably matured a bit and
she, we just didn’t discuss what we’d been doing in that area at all while I was away from her and she was away from me sort of thing it was a subject that was never brought up, so it was lovely, we had four children.
And they were all healthy.
So I suppose what you were saying then
any peccadilloes were just so much water under the bridge and it’s wartime and so forth.
It’s a very modern attitude for that time do you think?
I think it probably was it was only way, it had to be a clean start and you wiped the board totally and started again. It was better the second time than what it was the first.
I think it is a remarkably what’s the word remarkably clear headed decision and way of thinking. Do you think war brought about a certain maturity and directness in people, look I’m not going to mess around this is where we are and we’ll start from here?
Well it’s all I had when she came back here when I came back here, in that I didn’t have a house and I didn’t have any property
or anything and we had problems straight away as to where we were going to live, that was our worst problem not anything we were doing or had done or anything or whatever it was just trying to get somewhere to live comfortably.
So in Perth were you living on base or we re you living together off base?
Both, I was on base for quite a while until
when she came across and then we started living together ashore and at one stage the ship filled up and I was told to find accommodation ashore which I had already had and in any case I wasn’t living ashore I was living up in west Perth having rented half a house for a while and by this time she was getting
pretty heavy with child in any case, oh not that was a bit later that’s getting on a bit she had the child from this house and yeah so I was sent ashore and given a terrific allowance a couple of pounds a day or something on to my salary to live ashore.
It was terrific.
Were you sent on many patrols out of Fremantle?
I was spare crew first lieutenant and the sister ship to Sea Rover had been out here and involved in a collision with another ship somewhere and it was gone it was written off for any further war service and in any case the war was getting on a bit we were now talking about before I’d got there, it was, I’d got there at the end of 1944
and the Sea Rover had gone in fact I never knew it had been there for a long while. In any case the sister ship of Sea Rover there were only two made of that particular type was Sirdar and it was there and the first lieutenant of Sirdar shot a bit of his thumb away when he was exercising prior to going on patrol and a Verey’s pistol, you know firing a flare
and with 24 hours notice I was thrown in as first lieutenant which was natural enough because I had been in the sister ship and there was no escaping this but it had a rotten reputation that ship, gee I seem to be always running into that sort of thing and it was a pretty sloppily run boat but we got it up there and got it back again
which is something in itself when we are in the Java Sea there were no targets worth worrying about and the only thing that happened of showing any aggression at all is that one afternoon when the water was like a mill pond we were bombed from overhead we were under the water at periscope depth and this bomb or depth charge or something hit us, it didn’t hit us, it wasn’t all that far
away, the first we knew of it of course when I said it was a sloppy ship because one of the things you are supposed to do with a periscope is you just twist the handle like that and you can search the sky and it just doesn’t show forward along sea level focus and when you’re on watch on a thing like that you’re supposed to do that ever now and again to see if there are any aircraft about, however it didn’t do any damage.
And was that periscope not functioning properly you couldn’t
turn it up…
No you could turn it up it was functioning all right, they didn’t turn it up they just concentrated on the horizon.
So, when you say it was a sloppy ship was the crew sloppy as opposed to the ship?
Yes, of course if the officers are it goes down to the captain he was a very nice guy but for instance coming back, the eng… there was a knock in the engine, the engineer
was elderly shall we say and he’d really had some time in submarines and he shouldn’t have been out there a warrant officer engineer and we got this knock out of the engine, bang, bang, bang, it was going and I said, “Gee, what are you doing about that?” and he said, “That’s all right that’s only a sort of broken piston.” ring
“Oh.” ten minutes later, bang the main bearing gone, broken crank shaft, one engine right out and they were out of the war from then on to Perth at low speed and that was the end of the Sirdar from that point of view.
And on that patrol was that the time that your wife was heavily pregnant?
She was pregnant then, yes.
The problem was before I had taken over as first lieutenant on the thing I told her, we went down to a cocktail party we used to do that, at that stage the war was at and they had a party some time before we sailed and I said to her, “I think I would cut my throat if I had to go to sea in this thing, that’s tempting the fates.” and
I finished up in it. In any case we got through Lombok Strait which was the main problem; the previous controller didn’t even get through Lombok Strait into the Java Sea. Lombok Strait was a tricky place because you couldn’t tell there which way the tides were going and I think I would call it an unlucky ship in any case.
Sailors are fairly superstitious folk aren’t they?
Sailors are fairly superstitious?
And would you let it be known throughout the service that that was an unlucky ship and stay of that if you can and…?
We’d never talk about it maybe one on one would say that to somebody.
Are there any superstitions that pertain solely to submariners? Do you have any special traditions or other things
that you shouldn’t bring on to a submarine that are bad luck?
I’m just trying to think, yeah. The captain wouldn’t go down if there was a clergyman there and that gave me the job in Londonderry on one of the H boats yeah John Varley he left the submarine for the afternoon when he knew when the Anglican, no the Catholic Archbishop
of Londonderry they had 2 Archbishops there, they had an Anglican one as well and the Catholic came over and I showed him the submarine but the captain wouldn’t come near the place or anything.
Do you know what the logic is behind that superstition?
No. But I never queried it we remained very good friends and I wouldn’t get on to him like that but I smiled a bit because he became
the sort of local laird where he lived in Sussex and he would be seen reading the lesson at the Sunday morning there and being the laird or something he felt obliged to go along and do it, but that was later and I don’t think he had any (UNCLEAR) in any case he was a great guy and we got on well together.
After that one patrol in
out of Fremantle were you, did you spend the rest of the war on base or were you or were you demobbed?
I was on base I was transport officer, 17 vehicles we had just in case you thought that was a (UNCLEAR) sort of a job and also leave officer I was looking after officers’ leave. A lot of nice people around Perth were offering to take the officers on their leave.
And were you glad then to have finished had you done enough?
Had done enough. Yes I was running down there with a child about to be born.
And was your child born before the end of the war?
Yep it was born between VE [Victory in Europe] day and VJ [Victory over Japan] day so it was in fact, she was born just a couple of weeks before VJ day.
That would have been a fairly joyous time then
the birth of your child and VJ day?
Yes everything came together.
Can you remember where you were on VJ day or what happened when you heard?
When I heard what?
When you head that the war was over.
Oh yes the usual thing, spliced the mainbrace and then went for the rum a bit and that sort of thing.
I know what splice the mainbrace means that you all get a tot of rum, do you know the origin of it becoming
the term of you say let’s have a drink?
No. I don’t know. Splicing the mainbrace was a very big job and if they had done a big job and done it successfully then it was up to the captain every now and again and they used to say splice the mainbrace because he was particularly pleased with the crew. That was the biggest job that they could do, having to re-splice the mainbrace or something which was a great job of work.
So that just about sews it up.
I have a few more general type questions if I may bend your ear. Yesterday when we were talking about the Yachtsman’s Scheme you mentioned, I made some notes of these, that you were supposed to have yachting experience and so forth but many of the men involved didn’t have any experience at all I’m
wondering what sort of qualities they looked for in these men then?
Well what they wanted was some people with knowledge of navigation that’s really what the yachting would amount to, a knowledge of navigation is primary what they were looking for they said that if you had a knowledge of trigonometry and mechanics and that would be a help too and that’s where I came into it so things were right there but
in effect the selection team didn’t take any notice of these people.
So anybody could have done it?
Eh. Well they did. There was a schoolteacher and we had an architect, Ron Meyer was an architect, one chap was I think I told you this before did I not put this in he was a radio announcer a little bit on the effeminate side too
as well so you’d think he wouldn’t be much good and that sort of thing. We never knew what really happened when we all split up, even now we can only trace the number of names of everyone who went and where they joined.
Another question I have then is when you were in England I noted that you visited the cities of London,
Liverpool and Portsmouth. How were these bombed cities, it must have been quite a shock to see..
London was one of the worst and Portsmouth had a bit of a battering, Liverpool wasn’t so bad and Manchester which is not far away from Liverpool, that copped one of the worst the whole center of the city got burnt out and with it all the gold braid for the Royal Navy
so we were working on synthetic yellow braid for most of the war.
Really, so it was all stored in Manchester.
Yes it was all in Manchester just in one store there.
I’ve never heard that before, that’s an interesting fact.
Yes well the whole city got burnt right out and this in Manchester in later life.
So I am interested in your impressions coming from Australia which has been untouched from aerial bombardment
apart from Sydney and Darwin.
Oh it was all pretty horrific. As I have said my uncle and aunt lived in Hampstead and there was a bit of bombing around Hampstead even just down the road a house got knocked over one night when I was asleep though I didn’t even wake up and it was an indication that I had been to the pub the night before.
Another mainbrace splicing expeditioin? You mentioned on the boat the ship you were in nearly ran aground in Anglesey that there was no report written because it is pointless getting people into trouble when the situation had been averted, was that a practice that was continued often through the war?
I would believe so.
It was pointless just getting men into trouble just for the sake of it.
Yes that’s what it would have been.
And in war…
Mind you when something like that happens the worst score goes up against the captain of the ship. Somehow or other he should have supervised to make sure that somebody supervised somebody else to do it. The captain had no interest in what happened, he was still there and they were all going.
I imagine in the chaotic nature of
war especially when you are at battle stations that such oversights must have happened on numerous occasions and it would have been an administrative nightmare coping with all the infractions which may have occurred. Would that be fair to say?
Yes, I think so.
How did war strike you, did it strike you as a chaotic thing or did it seem like an ordered….
It started, you had the feeling of chaos when you went over to England after the bombing was fresh and they hadn’t got themselves too well organized. England was really under threat until I managed to control the German submarines in the, towards the middle of the war and once the Atlantic
thing changed round all hope and everything improved greatly in the British people. Even though the V1 and V2 bombs I think they called them V’s didn’t they, were falling on, mainly on London, they put up with that because there was a feeling that they were going to win this war.
On the topic of German submarines you mentioned yesterday that they were vastly superior,
in what respect?
Oh bigger torpedoes, faster torpedoes they could travel faster than we could and they could dive deeper and as I said we captured a couple they sent the periscope from the German submarine to Byron Stroud who were the makers in Britain and things and they said they were pretty hard at it but they could probably get around to producing a telescope like that I think it was in
about two and half years or something that was the degree of subtlety of the optics and things, they were very good at optics there was no question of that.
So what defeated the German submarines was it allied submarines or allied surface ships?
Well it certainly wasn’t allied submarines you’d be lucky to find a submarine that you could have a pop at but there were a few but that was a very unlikely event.
The turning point came when the air force allocated some long range bombers to cruise over the Atlantic a bit and that start made all the difference, it really finished it, because they surprised so many German submarines on the surface at night with the system of things and sunk a few, I think from that moment onwards things were really looking up.
On the subject of naval warfare, more so I think than land warfare, but probably on the same level as any warfare both sides are equipped with fairly dense technology, you’ve got an awful lot of hardware at you hands, you’re basically on a floating gun machine so considering that both sides have got that to a fairly similar degree, is it the qualities of the crews that really
makes a difference the quality of the men behind the machines.
I would say probably no to that I don’t think, although what I have got to admit is that the Germans were better submariners than the British were in toto when you look at
what they did, and immense amount of damage and that one that started off in Singapore and came all around and got back to Germany on its own after refueling a few times at sea by German, the Germans had fueled ships carrying fuel and stuff all over the oceans for most of the war. You know, shall we say,
their losses, we lost 82 and they lost three one hundred and something so their experiences were enormous.
And they lost more because they had more or because of that…
They had more.
Because they could be more reckless you think?
No, I wouldn’t think so, no.
So if you think that you had a similar number of submarines you would have lost exactly the same amount perhaps if not more?
It just depends, one of the reasons why they lost them was because we were getting
so many anti submarine vessels into the Atlantic combined with the aircraft coming in and the aircraft stopped them cruising around by night and…
Was it the case that there was an area in the middle of the Atlantic initially that the planes couldn’t reach and they would mainly group there.
Yes that was one of the problems, they didn’t attempt to at first for years they had a concept of a big aircraft cruising around to pop off submarines
had not been considered that was the real turning point in the war.
You mentioned yesterday that there were no German subs in the Irish Sea is that because they would be trapped coming in and out?
Yeah there probably were at some stage they might have gone through one or two or something but they were never much of a consideration by the time we were using the place, why would you go into the Irish Sea
and wait when the ships were coming out one end or the other and it’s better to wait top and bottom for them where you know they will come out on a sort of very narrow way if you wanted to go for that, that’s where you’d stick around you wouldn’t go inside it.
And the motor torpedo boats you mentioned were they operating out of the Channel Islands at that stage or out of France?
I think these were coming across from Holland I think it was.
They were rather a nifty warboat weren’t they?
Did you see any of them close up?
No I never saw any close up at all.
They were very fast and would be a strike weapon in and out?
Yeah, very fast indeed. The British had some similar ones you know.
Another point I picked up on yesterday you said to survive in the war or perhaps just in the navy you had to be apprehensive by that did you mean wary, constantly wary?
Expect the worst?
Expect the worst all the time.
And what other qualities
would you say were necessary for survival or is that the overriding one?
Well I think apprehension and a bit of luck you needed to survive that war.
Could you make your own luck….
No you were always in somebody else’s hands or occasionally you get to make a decision that might have turned the events a bit but that’s mainly commanding officer stuff they decided what each ship
was going to do, the captain was the man, the man on the spot.
And on a submarine you’re all in close quarters are the ranks as, what’s the word, delineated as they would be say in the infantry, would they say yes captain, no captain or is that discipline relaxed a little on the ship because you have to (UNCLEAR)
Oh it’s totally relaxed on board the ship
So no saluting, no…
Can an ordinary rating approach the captain?
No not in the ordinary course of rank, he could cause the captain was there but he wouldn’t he’d be duty bound to pass it through his next above him, no good short circuiting, unless the captain approached him and asked him what he wanted
sort of thing.
You were saying earlier that dropping a spanner say during battle stations…
Oh that would be murder.
Murder. What other sins could you commit on a submarine?
I don’t know I just picked the worse possible thing, no.
And one other question, I’ve got a million questions, I could go on for ever but we won’t, back to the movies now whenever a depth charge detonates close enough to a submarine
in the movies, there is always a high pressure water pipe that bursts, what sort of damage does it cause on a submarine if it doesn’t rupture the hull?
Nothing at all.
Well I think things fall off shelves and things like that and that’s the most we ever had. I have no doubt that if you dropped a propeller shaft or some things like that if you had one coming in from behind you that sort of damage
but yeah I don’t really know. At this stage I think I should say that in the end I was mentioned in dispatches and what else happened and after the war I was promoted to lieutenant commander I got my half stripe by being on the naval reserve it wasn’t an active reserve
you just put your name on the list in case you were wanted again which we weren’t.
You were pleased by that promotion?
I beg your pardon.
You were pleased by that promotion.
Oh yes a lieutenant commander is better than a lieutenant and you are entitled to use it for the rest of your life well you can do the same with the lieutenant but I was very pleased to do that. I was probably the last person in Australia to be promoted
on war service because they had sent the list out and said that this was the last list, my name was just about on the bottom of it somewhere and it was in 1950 by this time. They duly sent round my document certifying that I had been appointed a lieutenant commander on a certain date.
Nice note to end.
So from that point of view that was a nice
thing to have happened and probably a suitable one to finish.