I was in fact the last national serviceman to be recruited into the RN from
Derby. I had reported to the office that was then in the Marketplace
with a friend of mine. We both wanted to join the Royal Marines
as swimmer canoeists. They only had one place left and so the
Chief Petty Officer tossed a coin and my friend won. He then
told me that there were eight men coming to take exams to join
the RN and he knew one of them wouldn’t make it, so he
made me take the test there and then and I was in the Andrew
.I joined as a Radio Electrical Mechanic (REM) on 19th March
1956, at HMS Collingwood, Fareham to start my two years of National
On an aside, I had been an assistant stage manager at the Derby
Hippodrome and it was a young Leicester comedian, called Bill
Maynard, who drove me down to London in his big American car.
The following couple of days were taken up with allocation of
kit and registering with Doctor, Dentist and candlestick maker.
After basic training, we started our trade training. If I
remember, it was 30 weeks theoretical and two weeks practical.
This was interrupted by seven days when I was called to HMS
Victory for selection to an Upper Yardsmans course (to become
an officer), but without success. There were twelve of us on
the course: a teacher from Scotland, ten boys from Stowe Public
School and myself. Ten of us were selected and I will leave
it to the reader to guess which ten made it.
Following completion of the REM course, I awaited with excitement for
my posting. It was to Her Majesty’s Ship Orestes, an Algerine
Minesweeper with the Fifth Fishery Protection and Minesweeping Squadron
and bound for Reyjavik in Iceland. I set off from HMS Collingwood, like
many before me, with my hammock and kit bag. I joined HMS Orestes (Lt
Cdr Hugh Campbell Gibson RN.) at Portland.
That night I fumbled with my hammock and was helped by one of the old
salts. The next day we set sail out in the channel to do exercises with
a submarine, namely trying to find it and sink it…with a hand
grenade. We were successful as the sub shot to the service and congratulated
us and we returned to our berth in Portland.
A few days later we set forth round the Cornish coast and up through
the Irish Sea. On the bridge one evening the Navigating officer, who
was on watch, asked me what that small island was off the starboard
bow and I was able to tell him that it was Bardsey Island off the end
of the Lleyn Peninsular, (I had spent happy holidays around there,)
so much for officer selection!
I eventually left HMS Orestes at exactly the same berth where I had
That is all I have time to write at the moment, but I can add to it
at a later date. I am still a member of the Algerine Association, which
is recognised by the Royal Navy. Also we had several National Servicemen
aboard the Orestes during my time with her.
Site of the Algerine Association
with HMS Orestes
The article covers our arrest of the French Fishing Trawler out of
Lorient. The boarding party had already boarded 'A DIEU VAT' on the
night of 17th July, 1957. The boarding party was lead by our First Lieutenant,
Lt Cmdr R Jones. The other officer had on his ticket that he spoke French,
the reason he was chosen to accompany Jimmy the One.
I was woken up to transfer to the trawler as I was half French and spoke
the language. The ship's whaler was already in the water, so I had to
climb down a rope into her This might sound easy to regular Jack Tars,
but to a National Service REM it was a nightmare. I had to swing out
over the sea with the rope and then climb down. Beneath me was the moving
target of the motor boat commanded by the Buffer. One second it would
be thirty feet below in the trough and the next there would be a six
foot gap. Timing was everything! I got it wrong and fell ten feet on
top of the Buffer, a man who detested National Servicemen.
HMS. ORESTES J277 (M277) - Builder Lob. 27.03.42 -
Laid down 25.11.42 - Launched 10.04.43 - Service 18MSF
5FPS 1961 - Disposal & Fate Broken .Up. at Troon - The picture above
was taken at Portsmouth.
On arriving alongside the 'A DIEU VAT' the same problem occurred, only
this time I got the timing right and just stepped on board...and the Buffer
missed his timing and footing. I went straight to the wheelhouse and reported
to Lt Cmdr Jones who informed me that nothing electrical was working and
the French skipper couldn't or wouldn't understand our officers French
and had retired to his bunk behind the wheelhouse.
I woke him up and asked him where his batteries were and after a long
conversation he got up and lifted the bunk up to display what I was looking
for. Once connected again everything came on. I was sent to tell the small
crew down in their cabin what was happening, and on opening the hatch
was hit by the smell of fish, garlic and ripe French cheese.
They were very accommodating, I drank some of their wine and had some
French bread and cheese.
Having been away for several minutes the Buffer came to see where I was
and when he opened the hatch to be met by the smell, he rushed to the
side and was ill. He told me that in twenty-five years of seafaring, this
was the first time he had been seasick.
We took her into Cambeltown, where due justice was carried out in the
local court. For this I was awarded a ship's award with the citation,
'It is considered that this duty was beyond that required of a National
Service REM and is deserving of recognition.' The recognition was £1
from the ship's funds. When I wrote and told my French born Mother she
apparently burst into laughter And replied saying that she could just
see me with a cutlass between my teeth and a pistol in each hand and that
I should be proud of my 'Hornblower' experience. (I was an avid reader
of C S Forester)
I now live in Limousin, near Limoges and in retirement I have accomplished
one of my life's ambitions I have written my first book, 'Grudaert's Diamonds.'
Copyright: John Stonehouse.