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In the Navy by Don Colledge

In 2005 Hartlepool's Museum and Library Services worked together on a project called 'Their Past, Your Future', which commemorated the part played by local people in the Second World War. As part of the project war veteran Don Colledge reminisced about his time serving in the both the Merchant and Royal Navy. This is his story, in his own words:

I was born in West Hartlepool in 1925. I started off as a Sea Cadet. I did most of my training down here and at HMS Paragon, which was at the bottom of Church Street. It is now the Royal Chambers. It’s a pub now. It used to be a pub before that and it was taken over by the Royal Navy and from there they moved to the Grand Hotel. I was what was called a Bounty boy. That’s the name of a training ship down in Worcester, and you used to go down there for a month to bring you up to speed before you went down and actually joined the Royal Navy down at HMS Collingwood in Fareham in Hampshire, near Portsmouth.

I was waiting to go in the Royal Navy through the Sea Cadets and in the meantime I joined the Merchant Navy. I joined the ship at Teesport near Middlesbrough, and we went to Dunston in the Tyne and loaded a cargo of coke to take to Huelva in Spain. On the sixth of June we were torpedoed at about five to twelve in the morning. I didn’t know anything about it. I was asleep just underneath where the torpedo struck. The carpenter came in and told me what had happened. He said “you better get yourself in the lifeboat”. I had my instructions. I had to go up to the store, near the bridge, and get some condensed milk to put in the lifeboat in case you were adrift for so long. When I got up there the steward was getting all the whisky and cigarettes and stuff. He would be on the fiddle, I suppose. Anyway, me and him were left on the boat until a sloop picked us up. We were on it for two days before we got to Gibraltar and I was on Gibraltar six weeks. They didn’t tell my mother where I was or what had happened or anything, just that the allotment (money) had stopped. I used to send her an allotment every week. But when the ship was sunk I was unemployed, so I lost my pay.

I was in the Sailors’ Home in Engineers Lane on Gibraltar, which we had quite a good time down there sunbathing and swimming in Catalan Bay. But my mother didn’t know where I was, and I got a chance to work me passage coming back. It was some menial job washing up or something like. We landed at the Clyde, and I was given half a crown expenses and a travel warrant for the train. I got to Newcastle on the Saturday night from Glasgow and I was asleep on the platform because I had missed the last train to Hartlepool. A policeman came up and he asked me what had happened? So I explained and told him I am just waiting for the first train in the morning. He took me around the corner and they used to sort the mail for Hartlepool at Newcastle, and he shouted “who’s going to Hartlepool?” and a bloke said “I am” and he said “Well, you’ve got a passenger here.” So he looked after me and got me there, and I walked in on Sunday morning and me mother said “where have you been?” I explained to her what had happened. She said “Oh I got the letter about your money, but I’ve been putting money away for you, so you’re all right.” And that was it. Plus I had just a pair of shorts on when I was picked up. That’s what we used to sleep in because it was dead warm on the ship. When I went ashore I got kitted out, and I had been home about a month when me mother got a bill for eight pound fifty for clothes, which she refused to pay. And she wrote to a magazine called the John Bull, she was a bit “bolshie” like that. Anyway it was all squashed. She said she would rather go to jail than pay. 

Anyway I finally got into the Royal Navy and the pay was six shillings a fortnight. So then I couldn’t afford to send me mother an allotment. In the Merchant Navy I was getting more pay than that. Why I went into the Royal Navy I don’t know. I think it was 1942 when I joined my ship, and I had me eighteenth birthday on it up in Tobermory at the Isle of Mull. We used to do trips to St Johns, Newfoundland. That was Atlantic convoy. And we used to alternate with Gibraltar and Iceland. We were an escort on convoys. A fast convoy was seven days, a slow convoy was eleven days. Then we used to have a week in harbour after that, to get ready for sea again. The Atlantic convoy was the worst, especially the weather in winter in the mid-Atlantic. I was more bothered about bad weather than being sunk. I was a radio operator. Telegraphist they used to call us, and I’d passed all the exams to be a Warrant Tel., which is an officer.

I went to D-Day. We were right next to the Yanks, patrolling off the beaches. We used to do anti-submarine patrol round all the merchant ships that were coming in to Mulberry Harbour. But I can’t remember a thing about it. Maybes I didn’t want to remember. I blocked it out of me memory.

I was based in Iceland for nine month. We used to go up to the Arctic Circle and pick the convoys up coming from Murmansk. We were the guard ship, and there was an incident on VE night. There was nine of us escorts looking after one empty tanker which had unloaded his cargo in Reykjavik and it got sunk. I think it was one of the last ships sunk like that. We never got the submarine that sunk it. But we heard about VE-Day by a broadcast message. We went and got drunk. 

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