Class 297 of HMS Royal Arthur, Skegness, Lincolnshire, England. Richard Dudley Clements is first on the left in the back row.R.D. Clements
HMS Cygnet, Portsmouth, England, 1946.R.D. Clements
HMS Blencathra, Portsmouth, England, 1947.R.D. Clements
Richard Dudley Clements (left) with his sister Sheila Joyce MacKenzie (née Clements) and his brother John Austin Clements, at Ufton Nervet, England, May 23, 2009.R.D. Clements
Richard Dudley Clements's Certificate of Service, covering the period September 19, 1944 to May 2, 1947.R.D. Clements
"I’ve said to people, I wouldn’t wish it on my worst friend, worst enemy, but I wouldn’t have missed it for the world."
After high school and sea cadets, I volunteered for the Royal Navy. That was in June of 1944. And I was called September 19th, that year. And went up to, from Birmingham to Skegness in Lincolnshire on the east coast of England for basic training at HMS Royal Arthur.
I’d actually volunteered as a boy seaman because I’d taken all the sea cadet training, but when I got there, they said, “Well, we’re not taking anymore, we’re not training anymore boy seamen. You have an option, you can either go home or you can stay and do the stores training.” So I did. Basically, it’s divided into two parts, with naval stores, which meant really hardware, you know, nuts, bolts, things like that. And then of course, victualing, which is the food, which is pretty vital. You’ve got to have enough food on there for the crew. So that made it kind of interesting. The downside was the accounting for it all, because in the UK, you’ve got four rolls of columns. You know, if it’s Canada or the U.S., you’d have dollars and cents. I had pounds, schillings, pence and fractions of pence. And that was a bit of a bugbear.
Being the navy, we had to give everybody a tot of rum every day. And so that fell to the stores people to do that. Usually, the bosun or some other chief petty officer. And that was another very difficult thing to keep track of and account for because you know, well, any bartender will tell you he gets spillage and loss and stuff, and it’s all got to be accounted for. My recollection was that it was in kegs and I had some sort of pumping device and measured it into, I had a set of those metal measures. And then of course, you’d get down to the tot, which is what each individual got. But somebody would come and draw the, the rum ration for the mess, you know. This is my recollection.
For the lower ranks, we had to add water to it and that’s, I think that’s where the term ‘grog’ [meaning weak beer] came from. Petty officers and chief petty officers were allowed to have neat rum. And then many of them, you know, would keep a flask or some other container and were allowed to keep it. That wasn’t, the lower ranks were not allowed to do that.
And I was a Devonport rating, so I went down, which is just outside Plymouth, so I went. And then I got on a draft to Ceylon, which is now Sri Lanka I think, went home on leave and got whatever the winter flu was that year. And ended up sick on shore and missed that draft. So a medical doctor came to me at home and said, “No, you’re not well enough to travel.” So then when I went back to Devonport, I got re-drafted and ended up going to Freetown, Sierra Leone.
In Freetown harbour, there was a merchant ship that had been commissioned. So it was HMS Philoctetes. So it was a supply ship, see, for the Royal Navy vessels that were working that coast. First of all, I was in a camp, just a holding camp. And then I was on, I was on the Philoctetes, I was working as a stores assistant on the Philoctetes. We went ashore one afternoon with a bunch of buddies, we went swimming from, from a beach, you know. And that’s when one of them noticed that my eye had swelled up and he said, “Dick, we’re going to have to get you back to the ship.” So they took me and took me right to the sick bay and, you know, there’s a male nurse on duty. In the Navy, they used the term, sick bay tiffy, TIFFY, which is the slang term for articifer.
When you’re in the tropics, for example, one of the things you’re required to take is mepacrine tablets. And they’re yellow. And after you’ve been taking them for a few weeks, the skin colour changes, the pigment, and it goes yellow. So I had that long enough that, you know, my skin had done that. So, and it’s supposed to be a preventative of malaria. And so whether or not officially I had malaria or not, I don’t know.
I was back in England before my 18th birthday. They sent me to Ardrossan in Scotland. Because the war was still on. And at Ardrossan, it was a shore base for the minesweepers. They’d converted the fishing fleet to minesweepers. So we had this food store right on the harbour, the Ardrossan harbour. So you know, these trawlers, what been converted to minesweepers. This, they’re small vessels, they can only carry a certain amount of storage. So we manned that store for 24 hours a day. And during the night, one of us would sleep on a camp cart in the office at the back, so that if one of the sweepers came in and the men were hungry and there was no food, a cook could come to the door, and, you know, wake us, and we’d give them enough food to feed them until the next day.
So I was there in Ardrossan when VE-Day happened. It was amazing. People just poured into the streets. We lived in a house, actually, in the town that was a billet, like, you know. And somebody cooked meals for us there and we had a dorm type setup for sleeping. But I went downtown just to have a drink and was virtually mobbed by people. And I had this horrible mepacrine thing, (laughs) it was still fading, you know. But it made no difference. People just, you know, if you were in uniform, even if you’re doing the most mundane thing, you’re like a hero or something. But it was a wonderful feeling. I mean, you know, the six years of war and suddenly, it’s over.
You know, I’ve said to people, I wouldn’t wish it on my worst friend, worst enemy, but I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. Because it kind of gives you an incredible sense about what’s important.