I always wanted to be a sailor when I was young, but my father was in the Army, a Sergeant in the Army and he wanted me to be in the Army in his regiment. I said, “Dad, I’d like to be a sailor.” “Oh, no, no, no, no, you don’t want to be a sailor, you want to come to my regiment.” So anyway, he died when I was 12, so therefore, it was no choice of going in the Army, and so I had my own way and I would join the Navy when I was old enough. And I joined the Navy because all the girls like a sailor.
I was in the sea cadets first and I learnt semaphore [a visual signal system used for long distances] and Morse code and a few bits about flags, international flags and things. But by then I got transferred from there into the Boys 2nd Class in the Royal Navy. I volunteered for minesweeping because we got extra schilling of the day, extra schilling a day for minesweeping and the danger money and extra schilling a day for hard laying money because we didn’t have hammocks, we had bunks, and being on small ships, we often got nearly thrown out your bunks in rough seas. So we got extra schilling a day, extra for that. That’s about 25 cents a day in Canadian money.
Well, minesweeping is all types of mines, mostly there’s three types, generally. There’s the ordinary mine, which is anchored to the bottom and it’s, if you touch the horns, it blows up. And that’s with the ‘Oropesa’ sweep [a towed body used to maintain the sweep at the desired depth and position] and another type of mine is a magnetic mine, which went up by electricity of the ship. And so if the ships pass over. And then the enemy or the Germans were clever, and they used to make it so is not the first ship would blow up, it might be the fifth ship or sixth ship blow up. They had a timer on it, so …
See, so we had, when we swept, when we knew it was magnetic mines, we had to go backward and forwards four or five times before they blew up, you see. And that was caused by what they call two double L sweeps. They called it L sweeps because they were just long cables behind the ship, two cables and generally two or three ships and in different formations you have, according to how many ships there are minesweeping. And we’d turn the electricity between north and south electricity and it would blow the mines up. So as we pass over them, the mines would blow up.
And the ‘Oropesa’ sweep we had out, used to cut the mines, and you had a long wire and it goes under the water with a float at the end and another thing called ‘otter’ [a steel frame with angled fins], which made it go a certain depth. So as we swept along, the mines would get, the mine’s sticking up straight like that, and they get on the wire and we’d go along and we could make a noise underwater. And on the wire, there was things there which cut the cable and the mine would come to the top. And then we would get our guns and fire at the mine and sink because fastly got water in it. But these mines are about two foot diameter, big. So you can imagine that filled with dynamite, whichever it is, it can really make a mess. If one of our ships got blown up, which I had a picture of that, there was nothing left of the ship, nothing at all. It’s just like all the bits of wood, mostly outside ports, because that’s where they put the mines. There was no point in putting them where no ships were going to be, so they knew where the ports were, the enemy knew where the ports were.
So it was mainly at one time, it was for defense purposes. Then they got wiser and they used it for attacking. And we also laid mines in the French ports and the German ports, we also did that as well. So we were just as bad as they were. And often, we were sweeping the area and then at the aircraft, the enemy aircraft would come, lay some more mines during the night. And I know in the Thames [river in England], they put them outside the Thames in London, and we used to have spotters there looking for the aircraft, when they dropped the parachute, the parachutes on the, down, and they used to spot the parachutes, so they knew somewhere being dropped.
One memory was sweeping the Grand Canal in Venice. Yeah. And no ships could go in there because it was all mines in the Grand Canal. And we blew all the mines up in the Grand Canal and I remember the mines blowing up and also the ships, little boats, the Italians come out in their little boats and catch the fish because they were stunned. So the fish go to the top. So we used to shout, “Via! Via casa!” That means go home. Because it was dangerous because we went two or three times before they start blowing up.
We used to get rough seas in the Mediterranean [Sea], but I think the worst rough sea I had was in Northern Ireland, in the Atlantic [Ocean] there. And I know we wasn’t sweeping, so we had to stood out and do signals to each other and I couldn’t see the other ship because we’d go, wait until we got on the top of a wave and see it. Or sometimes I’d caught the light to a cloud and then we’d read off the cloud. So that was, that was about the biggest sea I’ve seen in big seas. I don’t know, 50 foot high I suppose. A bit scary. And those are the ships like a cork in a bath and you get thrown everywhere.
No, I can’t remember the end of the war, because we were sweeping. When I see pictures now of people celebrating, I thought, I can’t remember the day it was even, because we were sweepers like any other day.