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Author Topic: Pee Cee's World  (Read 126996 times)

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busyglen

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Re: Pee Cee's World
« Reply #51 on: January 30, 2014, 13:48:24 »
Fancy seeing the Northern Lights at Southend!!  :)  Lucky you!

Offline peterchall

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Re: Pee Cee's World
« Reply #50 on: January 30, 2014, 12:26:36 »
Part 4
I don’t remember how it all started – probably someone noticed a 9 year old boy looking wistfully at the boats in the Camber and said “would you like a ride?” But it started a very happy period of going out in those boats listed in Part 3 of my story – except the Customs launch and the Air Commodore’s cruiser. The opportunities would have been during school holidays, weekends, and the lighter summer evenings. I don’t know which boat it was that started it, so let’s look at each in turn.

The steam tug had a deck crew of 2 and I think 1 man in the engine/boiler room. It was used to take men across to Port Victoria, whether as a regular service or on demand, I can’t remember, nor can I remember who the men were – presumably not dockyard workers. I went across and back now and again and I remember a trip up Yantlet Creek to drop something off or pick it up from a wharf there – to this day it is marked on the OS map as a “Danger Area”. The tug was also used to tow a target for the guns on the fort. The target was a raft with a bit of wattle fencing about 10 ft square painted in red and white squares, kept on the quayside beside the Camber. Since the gunnery was usually on a Sunday afternoon it spoilt dad’s almost sacred Sunday afternoon kip.

The RAF launches looked like this, and I think there were 2 of them – definitely more than one:

Their job was to prevent boats going into the danger area when the ranges were in use. An aircraft from Eastchurch crashed into the sea and I think one of the launches recovered the bodies. I got at least one trip on one them and remember they were FAST. I probably got invited because I used to talk to the men in their crew-room.

But the real involvement was with the pilot cutter. It was an open boat about 20 ft long with a square stern. About 4 ft of the bow was decked to form a locker, as was about 2 ft of the stern. There was a seat across the stern and seats down each side, and it was steered by a tiller. The engine was just ahead of the rear seat with a throttle sticking out of the back of the casing, and a forward/reverse lever, all within reach while at the tiller. There was a mast about 6 ft high at the front, on which was hung an oil lamp with red, green and white glasses, reachable by standing on the foc’sle (note the nautical term!).

There were 3 boatmen, ‘Uncle George’, ‘Uncle Ken’, and the one who became almost family – ‘Uncle Joe’, who lived in a weather-boarded house in Blue Town and was a real old Sea Salt – what he didn’t know about ships wasn’t worth knowing. While the others took me out with them because it was the ‘thing to do’, to ‘Uncle Joe’ I was his crew and he let me DRIVE, and I became proficient at getting the cutter alongside a moving ship and going at the same speed without dropping the pilot into the water. Fortunately for me Joe was the senior boatman and was mostly on duty during the day when I was available to assist.

The pilots’ hut was on the sea-wall near the fort and I spent many happy hours there with Joe and the Duty Pilot. If a ship blew ‘two longs and a short’ it was down to the Camber and away – at low tide it was a long way down a vertical steel ladder to the boat and I got used to not looking down. If I was not in the hut Joe would blow a whistle as he crossed the Gun Wharf to the Camber, but if I didn’t respond he obviously couldn’t wait. Taking the pilot off an outbound ship was pre-arranged, and at the appropriate time we would wait for it out beyond where the ‘Richard Montgomery’ is now.

Another occasional job was to visit the Nore Lightship, I think to take newspapers on Sunday morning, and come back with a load of fish. It was then that I learned that a skate has nasty barbs on its back and you had to be careful if it flapped its ‘wings’ while still alive.

One Sunday afternoon Uncle Joe arranged for me to go with the Pilot aboard a Finnish ship taking wood or wood-pulp to Ridham Dock. It was a pre-arranged inbound ship which had been anchored out in the Estuary for a day or two, presumably waiting for a berth at Ridham. It was then that I discovered that climbing the rope ladder up the ship’s side was a work of art, but the  ship was low in the water so, with Joe and the pilot pushing me from below and a couple of the crew pulling from above, they got me aboard. We had tea in the Captain’s cabin and then it was up anchor and away past Queenborough and into the Swale. Presumably because of the better view, the pilot took the open bridge on top of the wheel-house and I was allowed to sound the siren asking for Kingsferry Bridge to be opened. Somehow the pilot’s car was at Ridham and he took me home – I think it was my first ever car ride.

There was a gale on one occasion and a couple of lighters broke their tow off Port Victoria with a couple of men aboard and were being carried out onto the mud-flats off Grain. We watched in awe and with crossed fingers as Joe took the cutter out and took the men off. I don’t know if he got reported in the local paper, but he should have.

One night dad came in after doing his rounds to ensure all was secure and said “Southend illuminations don’t half show up tonight” – next day we discovered that it was a once in a lifetime display of the Northern Lights this far south!

Meanwhile the Spanish civil war went on, prolonged by the intervention of Germany and Italy on the Fascist side, and the International Brigade made up of men from a multitude of countries on the Communist side. For some reason a Spanish merchant ship had been interned and moored in the Medway, and our tug brought a member of its crew into the Camber strapped to a stretcher; he was put into an ambulance and taken away – rumour had it that he had ‘flipped his lid’ due to being confined on board.

In the Japan-v-China war the Japanese were considered the baddies and I remember my younger uncle, having won a vase in the Sheerness amusement park, smashing it because it was made in Japan

Newsreels showing the results of air raids in Spain and China spread the feeling that war must be avoided at all costs. I now remember that the Spanish refugees I mentioned earlier were children and the report said they were frightened by the cameras because they thought they were machine guns. Mum explained to me what a ‘civil war’ was, and that dad and my uncle could be on opposite sides – something I couldn’t get my head round.

There were a couple of searchlight emplacements at the fort, down at beach level and not on top like the guns, and if they were on an exercise we would go round on to the beach to watch. There was an air defence exercise in which sirens were actually sounded, and I remember some twin-engined bombers flying in from the estuary and low overhead, so presumably the Gun Wharf and Dockyard were ‘done for’.

And so came the Munich crisis of September 1938 and mobilisation. I remember troops marching along Garrison Road going – where? Somebody dug a trench in the road that ran alongside the wall that divided us from the dockyard and dad and I put boards across it with the intention of putting sandbags on them

But before we could do that it was all settled, when Hitler, having said “I have no further territorial claims to make in Europe”, was allowed to occupy the German speaking part of Czechoslovakia. Neville Chamberlain came back waving a piece of paper and saying “It is peace in our time”, to everyone’s relief.

Whether as a result of all that or not, dad got the offer soon after of the job of Resident Foreman at Chatham Gun Wharf. It was a wrench for all of us to leave Sheerness, but it was an offer he couldn’t refuse.

So ended one of the most enjoyable times of my life, and dad took up a job with some real ’formaning’ to do

To be continued….
It's no use getting old if you don't get artful

John38

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Re: Pee Cee's World
« Reply #49 on: January 29, 2014, 19:18:48 »
Take it easy, S4. Time is on our side(ish) so any time in the next couple of hours will do :0)

Offline Sentinel S4

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Re: Pee Cee's World
« Reply #48 on: January 29, 2014, 15:09:18 »
S4 fine, just too damn tired to write at the moment, the Romney bit of mine wiped me out emotionally for a while. Now fitted with a Frankenboot instead of cast on damaged ankle so getting there. This is excellent stuff PC, I'm really enjoying.

S4.
A day without learning something is a day lost and my brain is hungry. Feed me please.

John38

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Re: Pee Cee's World
« Reply #47 on: January 29, 2014, 13:47:41 »
A quick Whip around for S4?

Offline Sentinel S4

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Re: Pee Cee's World
« Reply #46 on: January 29, 2014, 12:25:22 »
You're not kidding................. :) :) :) :)

S4.
A day without learning something is a day lost and my brain is hungry. Feed me please.

Offline grandarog

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Re: Pee Cee's World
« Reply #45 on: January 29, 2014, 12:20:18 »
Thats a relief peterchall. I thought Kyn had invented a new punishment to keep us in check. :) :)S4 will be relieved as well. :)

Offline peterchall

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Re: Pee Cee's World
« Reply #44 on: January 29, 2014, 11:52:21 »
PS to previous post: I meant I don't mind being corrected!
It's no use getting old if you don't get artful

Offline peterchall

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Re: Pee Cee's World
« Reply #43 on: January 29, 2014, 08:35:26 »
Thanks for the info :)

Re the total recall, I've commented elsewhere that one memory begets another, and things that haven't come into my head for years come back out of the blue. But I do realise there is a danger of 'auto-suggestion' filling gaps, and don't object to being crested.
It's no use getting old if you don't get artful

Offline helcion

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Re: Pee Cee's World
« Reply #42 on: January 28, 2014, 21:39:29 »
PC     -

Quote
Incoming ships requiring Customs examination would blow Morse ‘C’ (long-short-long-short) on their sirens, and those requiring a Pilot would blow Morse ‘G’ (long-long-short, but why ‘G’ and not ‘P’?)


The siren signals were the same as the 'Pilot Flags' that would be hoisted  -

G   -   Pilot required
H   -   Pilot aboard

P    -  Vessel will sail shortly  [the famous 'Blue Peter]

Thanks very much for your 'life history' & to the other forum members who are doing the same  -  absolutely fascinating & KHF is mining a rich seam of memories that might well be otherwise unknown  -  I'd like to do the same, but most of my working life was outside of Kent & I certainly don't have the 'total recall' of  our 'auto-biographers' [if there's such a word !]

 

John38

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Re: Pee Cee's World
« Reply #41 on: January 28, 2014, 21:33:21 »
The REME launches were more lie the RAF Air Sea Rescue launches <twitch>.

Offline peterchall

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Re: Pee Cee's World
« Reply #40 on: January 28, 2014, 21:12:36 »
Thanks, and compliment returned :)
I'm finding all these life stories interesting.
It's no use getting old if you don't get artful

busyglen

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Re: Pee Cee's World
« Reply #39 on: January 28, 2014, 20:43:19 »
I'm enjoying your posts PC, very interesting.  :)

Offline peterchall

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Re: Pee Cee's World
« Reply #38 on: January 28, 2014, 20:37:42 »
The REME launches are interesting - I wonder if they were the equivalent of the steam tug. The REME didn't exist then, of course - my dad, and probably the tug, worked for the Royal Army Ordnance Corps (RAOC). The RAF had left Eastchurch by 1950.

I'm trying to find a photo of a boat similar to the pre-war pilot cutter, but not much luck. But I bet when I describe it you'll find not much resemblance to the 1950's version. We had 2 cutters, one in use and one up on the quay, changed over at intervals.
It's no use getting old if you don't get artful

John38

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Re: Pee Cee's World
« Reply #37 on: January 28, 2014, 19:24:30 »
This is really interesting at a number of levels, PC. Primarily, it is a good and interesting read, but additionally:

My father worked on the Gun Wharf (circa mid 50s) as a civvy engine fitter working with the REME who had launches there (no sign of the RAF).
I spent quite a while in the Boathouse which looked out across the small basin shared with the Gun Wharf, albeit still inaccessible from the Dockyard.

I remember the Pilot's cutters going and the Red and White pilot flag.

Really looking forward to next bit :)

 

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