History & Learning

Convoys Remembered

Derek Gwyther Jones

Derek Gwyther Jones

Written by Derek Jones and Kevin Jones (son)

Derek was a crew member on board the HMS Norfolk in Feb 1943 (convoy JW 53) supporting the convoys taking supplies to Russia via Iceland and the Arctic seas. Their destination Murmansk. The seas were so rough that some ships had to turn back. The Norfolk continued.

Extract from Derek’s War Memoirs that include his experience on the Norfolk.

When the Norfolk, a county class cruiser of about 10,000 tons, turned up I was transferred to it to start genuine sea experience. There were a lot of people on board and a lot of equipment to be handled – 8 inch guns and 4 inch guns, pompoms, a ‘Walrus’ aircraft, torpedoes, etc. The county class cruisers were high out of the water and had 3 funnels – ideal as targets if you were on the enemy side! There were mess-mates who soon befriended me and gave me some guidance as to what to do, when and where. I had to find a place to sling my hammock and make sure that when my watch came around I found my way to the right place. For “Action Stations”, this meant going to the shell room of the fore-top gun turret, which was situated about as low as you could get in the ship. For “normal readiness”, my duty was in the A.D.P. (Air Defence Position) which was an open platform above the bridge with seats all round and binocular positions for look-outs.

Many of the things that made up the daily routine I have forgotten, but certain incidents stand out. On one occasion, when I was emptying the washing up water from the ‘bucket’ into a gash chute which went down the ship about 30 or 40 feet into the sea, I heard such a clatter as could only mean that someone had left cutlery in after washing the dishes! Now I ask myself the question, “is anything really lost if you know where it is?” Another time we hit heavy seas and a wave must have reached the ventilator cowl a long way up from the sea. Unfortunately, my hammock was strung under a ventilator shaft and the water came down and swamped me! I had to find another place to sleep, which was in a corridor on the floor.

The Petty Officer in charge of my station rejoiced with the name of Bill Screach. Another fellow I came across was Charles Treloar, a C.W. candidate who had a better job than mine, but I think he had been on the Norfolk longer. He turned up again as an officer in the same coastal force group as I was in nearly a year later in Yarmouth. One of the officers on the Norfolk was Lieutenant Treharne, whose home was in Mumbles. I think he was the secretary to the Captain and would have access to the details of personnel. He made himself known to me but couldn’t be seen to befriend me or grant me any favours. I believe he was one of the young men in my father’s group when he first became a Christian. His wife had been in Junior School with Brian and me. The evidence that I was being “looked after” was that one of the catering staff, the Captain’s cook, Alf Worthington from Newcastle, befriended me. He offered me an occasional meal at his galley, passed on various goodies and generally looked out for me.

One of the worst storms accompanied the ships that left Scapa Flow for Iceland. I had a good view from the A.D.P. of the tremendous waves and some of the crew felt it was one of the worst passages. One side of the ship deck was off limits and we were normally well above the water. When we got to Iceland it was evident that some of the accompanying ships were damaged. A lifeboat on one was crushed in by the force of the sea and big gun on the other had been forced out of position and stuck up in the air. Coming up on deck in Seidisfjord in Iceland was like experiencing another world. The icy mountains on either side rose hundreds of feet… Or was it thousands of feet? You couldn’t tell. The width of the fjord might be 3 miles or was it 10 or more…? There was no scale reference – neither people nor houses nor traffic.

Our destination was talked about and it seemed we were bound for Russia, protecting a convoy of ships carrying supplies for the war effort. 50 or so RAF passengers were being taken to help with the aircraft being delivered. It was only a few months since the loss of many ships in the ill-fated convoy P.Q. 17 in 1942, which had been ordered to scatter. Three cruisers – NorfolkSheffield and Belfast – worked together and our course took us well north of Norway and into the ice so that the ships cut their way through the thin cover. The time on watch was reduced to half an hour on and half an hour off so that our faces didn’t get too frozen. We were issued with heavy fleece jackets like polar explorers. Eventually we anchored in the Kola inlet with other ships. While we were there it was St David’s Day – 1st March – and the red fleet choir came aboard to sing. I was able to go ashore and walk through a settlement where aircraft had been landed and were guarded by a Russian woman sentry. The road led to a snow slope where many were sliding down, skiing without skis. Because I was cold I wore a pair of pyjamas under my uniform!

We did not meet any enemy action on the way home. I think we fired at a long distance aircraft on the way there and someone told me later than they thought a torpedo had gone under the ship – I was probably asleep at the time. The Norfolk was involved in enemy action after I had left and was damaged by shells from German warships. A lone merchant ship was picked up by a very efficient look-out who saw a smudge of smoke on the horizon but we were able to contact it and leave it safely one presumes.[1] On our return we were due for a refit and left Scapa for Portsmouth Dry Dock via the Minches – a rough passage through the Hebrides, then the Irish Seas and English Channel to Pompey, the Royal Navy name for Portsmouth. Apart from being hoisted up one of the funnels to scrape loose paintwork – a harrowing experience – my memory of life on Norfolk finished there. Lots of us were going on leave and I remember asking one lad about where he was going and he told me that he would be staying – he had been brought up in a Barnado’s Home for orphans.

[1] As I wasn’t above deck much of the time it was difficult to keep tracks of events as they were happening.

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