Monday, 9 September 2019

So, where were you on September 3rd? by Julia Jones


On September 3rd 2019 I had the perfect invitation – I was asked to talk about my father, George Jones’s book, The Cruise of Naromis, to members of the Little Ship Club in London. The Cruise of Naromis, you may remember, is the slim volume I was able to make from my father’s 1939 diary, a suitcase of somewhat random photographs and papers from his wartime RNVR service and the account he wrote of his trip to the Baltic in August 1939. He had returned home on Sept 2nd to find that his call up papers had been waiting for a week.

On September 3rd 1939 therefore he was hurrying north to join the submarine depot ship HMS Forth at Rosyth. The Forth was a floating workshop, a hotel, an operational centre. She had a crew of over 1,100 men, displacement 8,999 tons and was armed with 16 AA guns. Quite a contrast with the trim little pleasure yacht he had just left. 

HMS Forth 
Both vessels had been launched during 1938 but whereas HMS Forth had been built by the internationally famous John Brown shipyard on Clydebank, Naromis was a product of the Norfolk Broads. Her designer, 'Higley' Halliday (Edmund Walter),  was a founder member of the Little Ship Club, established in 1926. The club was part of a movement to establish better facilities and training for yachtsmen and to open up the sport to a wider range of people. ‘Bachelor girls’ were welcome.

My mother bought her copy
immediately after the war -
and then she bought her boat
Some of these early Little Ship Club members might have been among the hundreds who had already bought Yachting on a Small Income by another of the Little Ship Club founders, the newly appointed editor of Yachting Monthly magazine, Maurice Griffiths. By the time my mother’s read-to-pieces sixpenny reprint copy was published (c1939-40) these hundreds had teemed into thousands.

In his introduction to this new edition Griffiths looks back to the 20s: ‘There was a time when a man who owned a small boat brought her into the conversation on every conceivable occasion referring to her with loud nonchalance as “my yacht” or else avoided all reference to anything that floated for fear his acquaintances might imagine he was secretly wealthy and try to borrow £5.

The website MY Seren is
authoritative on this designer
and his work
'When this little handbook was first published in 1925 the Public at large – and that means you, the “man in the street” – thought of yachts solely as those expensive white things that fluttered around in the Solent and cost someone hundreds a year to run. Nowadays, such has been the publicity of the Yachting Press and even of the Daily Press in reporting round-the-world voyages in small sailing craft by bank clerks, shop assistants and the out-of-works, that the possibilities of spending thoroughly enjoyable weekends and holidays afloat and in one’s own little floating home on even a bank clerk’s salary have become more widely known.’

He goes on to talk about the continuing improvements in facilities of yachtsmen, including the Little Ship Club, where Higley Halliday had become Chief Seamanship Instructor. There’s a (newly added?) chapter on The Feminine Owner’ ‘Your joining a yacht club will probably result in your being introduced to others like yourself who are keen to sail but have not the nerve to go it alone.’ This, Griffiths concludes ‘is now the day of the Little Ship and as every year passes her numbers increase like a penfull of rabbits.’ 
I didn't include my oldest
grandson's small ship
in my total

Hmmm, I thought, as I read this…My mother bought this book: subsequently she decided to follow Griffiths’s advice and buy a boat. In so doing she met my father – a yacht agent. That resulted in myself, my 2 brothers and (at my most recent count) NINETEEN small, medium and very small ships in our family … so who needs rabbits? 

On September 3rd 1939 my mother, aged 15, was in church with her mother. She remembered the vicar sharing Chamberlain’s 11.30am announcement and then her mother’s desperate haste to get home to her husband and their family of boys. My grandmother had been a Red Cross nurse in the First World War; she would have felt a justifiable horror what might be about to happen to her family now. Almost all except the youngest children did serve, but their WW2 service was different from their WW1 father and uncles – the majority were with the RAF, mechanised regiments or, in one case, survived the BEF to join a commando unit. Mum was in a munitions factory and a branch of the Foreign Office where they were doing something so secret she never quite worked out what it was, except that it was in some way connected with Bletchley Park and her job was to make the tea, do the filing and ask no questions.

Maurice Griffiths
RNV(S)R
At the Little Ship Club however, many members would be expecting a similar call-up to my father. As the prospect of war had come closer, and the shortage of trained men for the navy became more apparent, yachtsmen had been invited to volunteer for a supplementary branch of the RNVR, the RNV(S)R. There was however no training provided – volunteers were expected to organise (and pay for) their own. The Little Ship Club, with Chief Seamanship Instructor Halliday, had stepped into the breach providing hundreds of hours of instruction to members and non-members. When war came Halliday (born 1875 so too old for active service) was co-opted in to the Special Branch of the RNVR and asked to carry on his good work. 

My father’s trip on Naromis was probably intended as 'training'. Someone from the RNV(S)R London Division had got in touch not long after he volunteered: ‘Crocker suggests I go to Danzig and pay 9 gns.’ (Diary 1.8.1939)  Danzig (Gdansk) was not, however,  a place where you’d want to find yourself in September 1939. The German Battleship Schleswig Holstein had arrived there on a 'courtesy visit' on August 26th  - by which time (fortunately for my future existence) Naromis had been escorted out of German waters by a mine-layer and was hurrying home via Sweden and Norway.  Early in the morning of September 1st the Schleswig Holstein opened fire on the Free City and German troops poured across the Polish border. Naromis, meanwhile, having travelled 1300 sea miles in 3 weeks without mishap, ran aground on a beach in Yorkshire: ‘It had one saving grace, a well-built pub. It was here that we heard the news of Germany’s attack on Poland and the phrase “German troops moved across the frontier at dawn” that was to become so well-known during the next twenty months.’ (Naromis p 91)
Battleship Schleswig Holstein, Danzig / Gdansk 1.9.1939

Not everyone in my audience at the Little Ship Club on September 3rd 2019 had made the connection with Sept 3rd 1939. That’s understandable as we all have our personal significant dates  (also our attention might possibly have been diverted that week by other Europe-related issues). But where were your parents – or grandparents – on September 3rd 1939? And what happened to them next?

As a thank-you for its RNV(S)R work
Little Ship Club members are allowed
to 'deface' their ensign
(My RNV(S)R research isn't over yet -- if you can contribute, please let me know sokens@aol.com)


3 comments:

Jan Needle said...

For anyone who hasn't read Cruise of Naromis yet - do. It's fascinating, like this whole post. Thanks Julia. I'm just off to France, where the nearest I'll get to boating will probably be a bleedin kayak on the Dordogne. Ah me. As long as there's some warmth! Big question - should I
bother to come back to Boris n Dom's paradise on earth?

Bill Kirton said...

I'll dodge Jan's (rhetorical) question and instead just reiterate his praise for The Cruise of Naromis. It's a compelling, highly enjoyable read and gives a far clearer picture of those days which the Doms and Moggs of this world are trying to appropriate. Thanks for the reminder, Julia.

Sandra Horn said...

I loved reading The Cruise of Naromis - not just an account of the voyage but full of subtle poetry