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Boy Seaman Edward Collins

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A Freeman : 2018-5-10;18:55

The photograph was taken at Copenhagen and shows Ed on the right, age 16.
The photograph was taken at Copenhagen and shows Ed on the right, age 16.
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This page was contributed by Frank Collins, the youngest of 3 brothers, all of whom served in the Royal Navy. Jack, the eldest, was lost on HMS Dunedin as a boy seaman, Edward, the next senior, served on HMS Diadem and this is his recollections.

He wrote it for the benefit of his children.

Back to 1943 and joining the Royal Navy. As mentioned before, like my brother Jack, I did my initial training and schooling at "St George" on the Isle of Man. There were to be happy and tough times ahead. Designated Boy Seaman 2nd Class. All this meant was that I didn't get caught doing anything wrong.

HMS St George was previously a "Butlin's Holiday Camp" I can assure you that any idea of a "holiday" had been taken away from it. We were allocated four boys to a unit (cabin). Windows and doors removed and come hail or shine we had to withstand the elements. It put us in good standing for some of the situations we would face in the future.

Schooling consisted of an improvement in the three R's plus Navigation, Naval History, Seamanship, Marching, Sports, (like it or not) Gunnery and most important, how to get on with your fellow man!

I remember Sunday nights in the movie theatre when we had a sing-along before the movie started and always finished with our theme song "Sweet Nellie Dean" This came to a halt when a new Commander took over whose wife happened to be named Nellie! She wasn't impressed. No sense of humour.

There was another occasion when "Kippers" were found floating in the Commander's fish pond - no names- no pack drill - but it sent the whole camp into histerics, and the Commander had a fit.

Such was boy service training in 1943. Pay was 10 shillings a week. 5 Shillings went as an allotment to my mother and 5 shillings to spend. Pay routine was to front up to the paymaster, cap outstretched, top up. The paymaster after hearing your name and number, placed the 5 shillings on your hat. Then off to the canteen to buy sweets, buns and chocolate (if any) Mind you, everything else was supplied, clothes, food and bedding. What more did one want?

At the age of 18 in the Navy your pay rose to 12 shillings and we became Kings among men.

During my period at St George I was to meet up with that grand Lady of childhood memories, Lady Mountbatten. She had nursed me on her knee during a ship's dance for HMS Queen Elizabeth. In 1943 she arrived at St George as head of the Women's Auxiliary, and , as Commander's messenger, I was introduced to her. She immediately said, " Not Jumper Collin's son, I nursed him on my knee in Malta" A wonderful Lady, but it took a long time to live it down with the rest of the boys, and the name "Jumper" stuck. Any seaman will tell you about nicknames. Knocker White, Taffy Williams, Buster Crabb, Dinger Bell, Dusty Miller, and many more.

After a gruelling education in seamanship and gunnery, the day came when we were assigned to ships. I was to spend my sixteenth birthday onboard HMS Diadem at Scapa Flow.

The journey began by ferry from Douglas, Isle of Man to Fleetwood on the English Coast then by rail through Scotland to the North to Thurso. Another ferry from Thurso to Kirkwall on the Orkney Islands. This part of the journey was across some of the stormiest seas around Scotland. The North Sea meets the Atlantic Ocean and whips up gale force conditions. Sea sickness is the order of the day, few miss out!

Kirkwall is situated in Scapa Flow, a natural made harbour, and is the Northern Base for the British Home Fleet during time of war.

Scapa is a desolate place. A cluster of bleak, windswept, rocky islands. Population, next to nil. Industry, sheep. Crofters cottages, but during a war, the place becomes alive ships, ships and more ships. It's selection as a Naval Base is due to its good anchorage for capital ships and its heavy defences against air and U-Boat attacks.

Along with 30 other boy seamen, I was taken by barge to join HMS Diadem. A cruiser of the Dido Class. My home for the next twelve months.

HMS Diadem in 1945
HMS Diadem in 1945
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Captain Clifford was the skipper and I was assigned as his messenger or "runner" and in addition, worked as a "communications number" on the port side Pom Pom (anti aircraft gun) My job was to communicate messages to and from the bridge to the gun crew. I had a communication cord from the headset to the gun of some six feet in length. After the first air attack when I found out I couldn't clear the gun platform and shelter underneath, I had the cord extended to some twenty feet. Coward!!

These were the days of the Russian Convoys. Scapa Flow to Murmansk in the North of Russia within the Artic Circle. Our job was to act as flag ship of the convoy with the responsibility of destroyers, frigates, minesweepers and "woolworth" carriers (merchant ships converted to carry Swordfish planes).

British merchant ships would meet up with American ships from Reykiavik, Iceland. and run the gauntlet of U-Boat packs and aircraft attacks from Norway. North to Bear Island then round to the North Cape and into Murmansk in the Kola Inlet in Russia. Oil, planes, locomotives and other war materials.

Apart from the U-Boats and planes, the real enemy in these parts is the weather. Tha cold and mountainous seas are something to be experienced to be believed. Frost covers the shrouds and hand rails in a way that if one placed a hand on an object without a glove on, the skin stays on that object! A heavy sea has waves 40 feet high that batter even a cruiser, and anything not tied down goes overboard, or on messdecks, crockery fails to exist.

HMS Bellona (same class as Diadem) in an Arctic storm
HMS Bellona (same class as Diadem) in an Arctic storm
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Meals, between watches of 4 hours on, 4 hours off, are taken as served, hot or cold. Mainly cold. Drying out clothing is an art in itself. The engine room was popular. Hot pipes to drape your gear on. On the bridge and gun platforms, hot steam pipes were extended from the engine room and gave some relief to those on watch.

Every morning before sunrise and again before dusk, all hands "stood to" In other words they manned their battle stations , on watch or not. Eyeballs would swell from lack of sleep and we stank from want of a bath. Dettol in water was the ideal stand up bath when you could manage it and at least you conserved fresh water!

After running the gauntlet and losing several of our "chickens" we would be escorted into Kola Inlet by Russian fighters, who, during our "trip", gave us no protection at all. In Kola we unloaded our stores and after two days were on the return trip to Scotland and the Yanks to America. God bless those who made it. I did two such trips to Russia before the war ended. Perhaps it could be said this was my baptism of fire. I saw mates killed and saw human suffering at its worst, but I also experienced mateship.

After the second convoy to Russia, HMS Diadem was ordered off to Norway to intercept two German Norvic Class Destroyers. We sighted them off Tronheim Fjord and, all guns firing, followed them in. Shore batteries opened up and we gracefuly advanced ,sternwise! Discretion is the better part of valour. Eventually they surrendered and we escorted them back to Portsmouth. A Civic Reception was held for the ship's crew at Luton (our adopted city) and we were amazed to see an oil painting of our gallant action hung in the Town Hall. Propaganda at its best. All guns firing, plus guns we never had! Anyway the crew enjoyed the hospitality, and it was a change from the North Sea and the Artic.

The war in Europe draws to a close- D Day is launched. We are ordered to stand by to move into the Baltic and take the German Cruiser Prince Eugen at Copenhagen, Denmark. As Montgomery moved in from the South, the Navy moved in from the sea and Denmark was retaken. The few days we spent there were memorable.

Diadem at Copenhagen
Diadem at Copenhagen
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A Freeman : 2018-5-10;18:53

The Danes are wonderful people and made us very welcome. Tales of the occupation were vivid and horrific. I saw the SS office in Copenhagen burned down by the Danish Resistance in the Rhaudhues Plasen (Town Square). I remember going ashore with a party of Marines to take the Prince Eugen with a 303 rifle and no bullets for it! We returned King Kristensand to Denmark, and weeks later, Prince Olaf to Norway. After the victoty parade, we visited Oslo, Kristiansand, Bergen, Tronso, Trondheim to assess German Navy shipping war prizes. At Trondheim we saw the Tirpitz turned keel over, and noted the damage the RAF had inflicted to keep her in port and away from the Russian Convoys.

Back to Portsmouth, and a pleasant voyage "showing the flag" in the West Indes. We sailed for Jamaica, Trinidad,St Kitts, St Vincent, Bermuda then back home. The war with Japan was still on, and 30 boys were transferred to Submarine Service.

I was one of them!

At this time the German U-Boat Fleet was still in the Pacific and had not surrendered. One by one they surfaced and were ordered to Londonderry in the North of Ireland to hand over to the Royal Navy. I was there to see the arrival of the pride of the German Fleet lower their flags in surrender.

I was in the first group to be drafted into the submarine service. Up till now it had been a voluntary service. They had run out of volunteers so we were it! "

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