Ship ahoy! A first taste of life at sea – Sailor James Kidd

So what happened after Jim finished his basic training at HMS Ganges? Well we know from his service record that in November 1939, just a couple of months after war was declared, Jim was assigned to the heavy cruiser HMS Berwick (motto: Glory is the Reward for Victory) and on 9th December sailed from Portsmouth to Scapa Flow. Christmas Day 1939 saw him stationed on the Clyde in Scotland….knowing dad he probably had a good time (he was always up for a party!), but New Year’s celebrations were probably more muted as by then the Berwick had sailed for the North West approaches on Atlantic deployment.

With brief periods of shore leave the Berwick remained in the North Atlantic until October 1940. During this time she was involved in a number of critical actions; in March 1940 she intercepted two German freighters, SS Wolfsburg and SS Uruguay ( SS Wolfsburg was disguised as the Norwegian ship ‘Aust’) north of Iceland. In both instances the German crews ‘scuttled’ their own ships to stop the Navy being able to use them – this meant that they set them on fire just as the boarding party were coming on board, and though all of the German crew members were rescued the Berwick had to sink the ships by gunfire before departing the area. The attached photograph shows a picture of the captain of the Uruguay on board the Berwick after being taken prisoner.

The Northern Patrols were famously harsh and crews were frequently freezing cold, wet and exhausted as some of the operations took place within the Arctic Circle. Add to that the constant vigilance required, the ever-present threat of German air attacks and in between the mind-numbing boredom of routine and lack of activity, and I’m pretty sure young Ordinary Seaman Kidd was wondering why on earth he ever signed up! Balanced against this though was the adrenaline rush and sheer terror I suppose when any hostile action commenced…and the sense of being part of something bigger.

In April 1940 the Berwick, along with HMS Rodney, Valiant, Warspite and Furious was taking troops to Norway (once the German invasion of Norway had been confirmed) when they came under heavy and sustained air attack. Another ship, HMDestroyer Gurkha was sunk – but the troops were landed safely. The Berwick then provided escort for the Furious  during air attacks on Trondheim; and later on in the same month took part in the first ever joint aircraft carrier operation with HM Aircraft Carriers Ark Royal and Furious, HM AA, Cruiser Curlew, and HM Destroyers Fearless, Fury, Hasty, Hereward, Hyperion and Juno during passage to the Norwegian coast for air operations. There were a few days of downtime after this however, as the Berwick was deployed as escort for the Ark Royal during its rest period off the Faro Islands at the end of April.

Next time I’ll tell you more about the Berwick’s further actions in 1940, including the significant Battle of Tarranto off the Italian coast.

It’s difficult to put oneself in the mindset of a mere teenager faced with such extraordinary circumstances. Having come from a fairly cosseted existence within his family, then the culture shock of basic training on the Ganges, then the harsh reality of life at sea and the distinct possibility of meeting a watery grave – and not yet 19. Sadly we don’t have any letters or diaries where dad might have recorded his innermost thoughts so can only guess; but this has really made me appreciate how hard it must be for service personnel to readjust when war is over, or their time in the forces comes to an end. My dad was always the most placid of people, with a ‘come day, go day’ fatalistic attitude towards life, and firmly believed that when it was your time to go there was no dodging the metaphorical (or actual) bullet…..maybe this was born of his experiences at war, understanding the randomness of who lived and who died and that at any second your number might be up…who knows. But it might also be the reason why he rarely stressed about anything and why he was always prepared to act the fool to raise a laugh. Amongst the many things I miss about him, his sense of humour ranks highly.

Well that’s all for now! I hope to be posting more soon and in the meantime, please take a look at ‘The Blog Proper’ page to find out the latest developments in our search for his medals.

 

So now having had chance to study the found service record in more detail I can start to flesh out the early years of Dad’s naval career.

We can see from the front page of the record that Dad’s date of volunteering was 22nd November 1938 when he would have been just 16 years and 16 days of age, and that the period volunteered for was 12 years. We know he would have left school at 14 and that he worked as an errand boy for a butcher situated on the Willenhall Road, very close to where he was born and still lived at number 60 (I think roughly opposite to the corner of Old Heath Road – the buildings are no longer there). The record states that he was sent to HMS Ganges, a shore-based training facility at Shotley near Ipswich, on the banks of the river Orwell. He was to remain there until 16th November 1939.

There is nothing to signify on his record that anything remarkable happened during his training, but thanks to his sister Doreen we know that he and a friend absconded once – they were found under a hedge by the naval police and returned to base! Jimmy’s mother received a letter from the base commander saying that Jimmy would be unable to write to her for a few weeks as he was in ‘jankers’ as a punishment. My guess is that he had a bit of reality check – he had after all come from a household of adoring females and was used to having everything done for him! It seems he wasn’t alone though in finding basic training tough…amongst his possessions we found the attached poem, ‘The Legend of the Ganges’, which portrays a rich picture of life as a ‘Boy’.