Thursday, July 14, 2016


Cliff Turner - pictured - now 91 and living in New Zealand, continues his memories of growing up in Brigg. It's now early in the Second World War and he has left Brigg Grammar School to undergo training with the Navy... Follow his story on Nigel Fisher's Brigg Blog

Cliff Turner, now 91 and living in New Zealand, continues his memories of growing up in Brigg. It's now early in the Second World War and he has left Brigg Grammar School to undergo training with the Navy...

For our first year we were only allowed “ashore” on Saturdays and Sundays and had to be back "aboard" at 10:00pm. For the second year we had leave on Friday evenings as well, and for the remaining two years we had an additional evening's leave during the week. Sometime after I joined it was decided we could go out in the summer months every evening after supper at 7:30pm, but only to stay nearby for a walk in the country. This allowed us to get as far as a hamlet called St John's which had a tiny old fashioned pub and, when finances permitted, have a glass of cider. A creek from the Hamoaze ran up to St John's and at low tide it was possible to take a short cut there over stepping stones. I loved this because for the first time in my life I was able to see wading birds like curlew and dunlin.
On our first trip from New Zealand back to England in 1983, Nancy, Mary and I went to the St John's pub and I was a little saddened to find that at some time during the 39 years since I last saw it the old uneven floor of stone flags had been replaced and a general tarting up had taken place. On the same day I went to have another look at the ATE but the person on the gate said we could not go in for a look around. On a subsequent trip, I think in 1993, we found the ATE was closed down.
After two weeks of induction and hours of drill on the parade ground it was time to go to the workshops to really start our training. We were split into groups under Chief Engine Room Artificers who had been recalled from the reserve. We were given a cylindrical block of steel about four inches in diameter and with hammer and chisel and file had to reduce the cylinder to a hexagonal shape. The noise was deafening and many a thumb was hit by hammers.
At the time I thought it a bit pointless and I suspect we were set to do this because that was the way things had been done for generations. We were then set to making callipers. Two years were passed in making things by hand. Every six months we had a test job; I did not distinguish myself but did well enough to avoid "extra factory" on Saturday afternoons which was the fate of those who did not meet the required standard.
One full morning a week was spent in the classroom on maths and science. Once again I avoided the extra study on Friday evenings which boys who failed the six-monthly exams had to do. It was this tuition which enabled me as a civilian in 1951 to gain exemption from the first two years of part-time study for the Higher National Certificate in electrical engineering.
It was during my early weeks in the navy, on a Good Friday, that I first bought myself beer in a pub. One boy in my hut had got chicken pox or mumps and the rest of us were put into isolation, which meant we were kept away from other boys as much as possible. We had meals at a different time and were not allowed out. But the chaplain arranged for us to walk to Whitesands Bay for a picnic on the beach. On the way we passed through the village of Millbrook just as the Heart and Hand pub was opening. It was run by two elderly spinster sisters and they were a bit taken aback by the invasion of a dozen or so beardless youths but they still served us. New Zealanders may think me mistaken about Good Friday but in England the pubs opened every day of the year.
This was also the time that Plymouth suffered two devastating air raids; one in March and another about a month later. I will never forget coming out of the air raid shelter and seeing Plymouth burning, apparently from end to end. It was during the second of these raids that a bomb was dropped on the ATE, about 150 metres from the shelter I was in. It hit part of the workshops but no casualties resulted. Near to the ATE was HMS Raleigh, a training centre where new recruits to the seaman branches of the navy did their first ten weeks training. A bomb from the same cluster dropped there and killed some men. Later I learned that 44 sailors and 21 soldiers of the Royal Engineers lost their lives on 28th April 1941 as a result of this bomb.
It was the day after the second heavy raid that I had my first leave of 14 days. Torpoint ferry had been put out of action by bomb damage to nearby oil storage tanks so we were taken to the navy rifle range where boats were waiting to take us to Devonport. On the way we passed close to a French submarine, the Surcouf, which carried an eight inch gun. I believe that this was the largest gun ever mounted on a submarine. The Surcouf had been brought to England by its crew when the French surrender took place in 1940.
A desolate scene met us on landing at Devonport. The streets were full of debris, some buildings were still smouldering and, a sight I will never forget, a child was crying in a gutter. Strangely I cannot remember how those of us that needed to go to Plymouth's North Road station got there; perhaps the navy organised transport, perhaps we walked.
The station was still functioning but I am not sure now if I reached London in time to catch the 4:00pm train for Brigg or whether I had to wait for the mail train that left at about 11:00pm and got to Brigg at about 6:00am. I know I was very grubby by the time I got home.
It was lovely to be home but I remember very little about my leave. I know my Dad took me to the Queen's Arms pub; the landlord, George Jobson, had known me since birth so knew I should not be there but said nothing. 
Mum, Dad and I had an evening in a Barnetby pub with my Auntie Flo and her husband Chris. I am almost sure I went to Spalding to spend a day or two with Granny and Grandad Hills which must have also involved going to see several relatives.

More memories from Cliff to come on Brigg Blog.


Ken Harrison said...

One thing that's puzzled me, Chris - the RN is the only service that allows beards...
How on earth did a Jolly Jack Tar with a bushy beard get the beard inside a gas mask without causing leaks, or blinding himself with his own hair..
In the other two services, it is said that personnel had to be clean shaven to avoid seal failure around the face when wearing a gas mask.
As a RAF brat I had, as part of my ground defence training, go into a gas chamber of tear gas...take off my gas mask and call out my last 3 and name....sometimes, the instructor claimed to deaf and one had to repeat the exercise...

Ken Harrison said...

Beer at 16, eh, Cliff!
...owing to rationing beer strength was reduced, so a pint shouldn't have caused those sea legs to wobble..
(Irish beers and stouts weren't affected, so Guinness, for example, increased in popularity, if one could get it...)