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The Story Of John Hornby 1901-1974

Author - John Haydn Barker Hornby, 2001. Edited and Published 2003 Copyright © Hubmaker
No part of this publication may be reproduced by any means without the prior consent of the publisher.

Chapter 2 - A Boy Seaman

My father's first ship was HMS Powerful, a Boy's Training ship at Devonport, Plymouth. She was an old cruiser, 1st Class and he served on her from 14 September 1916 to the 9 March 1917. When his training ended, he was rated "Boy, 1st Class". In 1966 he wrote in much detail about his life at that time, in an article "Memories of Scapa Flow".

I joined the Royal Navy on 16th September 1916, almost fifty years ago to the day, and went from Liverpool to Devonport by train, there to embark on H.M.S."Powerful" which in those days was a boys' training ship. When my training was completed in March 1917, I was rated "Boy 1st Class". From then things began to happen and I was drafted, along with many other boys, to H.M.S. "Vengeance" where we had to await dispersal to other vessels for duty at sea. Our turn was not long in coming and I heard the rumour that most of us were to join the Grand Fleet at Scapa Flow. Our destination was supposed to be secret, and it eventually turned out that we were not far out. Early one morning we were called to "lash up" our hammocks, pack our kit bags and assemble on the upper deck, where we found a working party of sailors already on the quayside with huge lorries with side railings waiting for us to load up our belongings which we did "at the double". We then had to fix drag ropes to the lorries and haul them to railway sidings in Devonport Barracks where we found a train ready to take us and our kit on the first stage of our journey which proved to be Portsmouth. The train was a long one with two large engines to pull us out. There were some coaches in the train which had no corridors and we youngsters were packed in compartments one Leading Seaman and ten boys to each. At first we seemed to be comfortable enough and as we were eager to get to sea, we did not mind. After what seemed a long time, we arrived at Portsmouth, where we were given tea and a packed meal, but we were ordered not to move from our compartment. Before long, another train appeared in the station and was shunted about to join our train. This train was also full of sailors. The two trains were shackled together to make one long train then we were off (destination unknown!), It soon became evident that we were travelling northward, passing through Exeter and Bristol. At each big station we were given tea and a packed meal, but not being allowed out of the compartment for any purpose, we had to make our own uncomfortable toilet as best we could whilst the train was moving, sleeping as well as possible as we pushed north. The weather seemed to be getting colder and as there was very little heat in the train, we wrapped ourselves up as well as we could, and with so many sailors crowded together we managed to keep warm. After three days and nights we eventually arrived at Thurso on the Pentland coast, where we disembarked and marched to a canteen where we had our first hot meal and how delicious it was. We were able to stretch our legs properly and eat heartily after what had seemed an age. After a brief rest, we were then told to prepare to embark on H.M.S "King Orry" which was to transport us across the Pentland Firth to our depot ship H.M.S. "Impereuse" in Scapa Flow. After about four rough hours we were alongside, and again sorted out into the required number of men and boys who had been detailed to join various ships of the assembled fleet, large and small. What a wonderful sight met our gaze as we saw the number of capital ships. We went in trawlers and launches to the ships we were to live and serve in. Great battleships, battle cruisers, cruisers and small ships. At a guess there were more than a hundred and fifty in the harbour and there were still many miles of water in which ships could manoeuvre for exercises on squadrons or flotillas. I could not get over the thrill of excitement and the wonder of it all.
Finally, we arrived alongside my own ship H.M.S."Temeraire". She was a battleship of 19,000 tons, with two funnels one abaft each mast carrying ten twelve inch guns in pairs, with five turrets, then there were four inch guns as a secondary armament, plus one or two high angle anti aircraft guns, which incidentally were not considered much use in those days as there did not seem to be any call for them to be used. However, as the War progressed, we had to use them against zeppelins and slow types of aircraft. Our ship was coal burning and in an eight days' steaming we usually burnt more that 2,600 tons of Welsh coal. Stocks had to be replenished each time we returned to harbour which was, as you may gather, very frequent. Along with other boys, I was allocated to the mess deck situated above the after steering compartment. Mess tables were hung from the deck head by means of steel frames hooked on the angle irons on one end and by hooks on the table itself on to the ship's side. The long collapsing stools on either side were our only seats. Many hooks were fixed to the deck head where we had to sling our hammocks, used for sleeping when it was possible during the night, and early each morning were lashed up and stowed to make room for movement and also as a guard against possible splinters. Kit bags were stowed nearly on one side of the mess deck. Woe betide anyone not keeping them shipshape. There was not much room to move about and in those conditions wre were to live for nearly three years. Now came the task of fitting ourselves into the routine of ship's life.

Action stations and drills were carried out as often as possible in harbour, both day and night and we had to be alert for an alarm at any time, sometimes missing a night's sleep, on the go again at 5.30 a.m. to have hot cocoa and a ship's biscuit sometimes full of weevils but we did not mind so much as we were growing boys. Washing and scrubbing decks followed, with general cleaning up; at about 7.30 a.m. breakfast which usually consisted of "Burgoo" (porridge) with salt and water (no sugar). Bread was allocated to each boy one quarter of a 21b loaf to last for the day. Sometimes we had a piece of bacon and beans and tea to drink made in a huge urn for the whole mess, cups to drink out of were not invented in those days for us. We used earthenware glazed basins when there were any others used empty milk tins, glass lamp holders or anything which would contain beverage. For a change we could have sausages, liver, kidneys and canned herrings. Dinner would consist of potatoes (when available), butter or haricot beans and fresh meat. When fresh meat was not to be had, we had salt pork or salted fish with green vegetables and some kind of pudding for a sweet. All this we had to prepare for the mess in turn, two boys, for two days in turn until the rota came around again. For tea at about 4.00 p.m. we would have some of our bread, magarine and what jam could be found. Supper at about 7.00 p.m. was always thick cocoa and ship's biscuits, which we had to soak in our cocoa so that we could eat them.

All things considered, we appeared to do fairly well and none of us suffered from malnutrition. Most of the time, if we had money, we could buy little extras such as chocolate and sweets from the canteen. Our day's pay, without deductions, was 1/6d. Part of this was saved by the ship's bank to provide a lump sum for us when we reached the age of 18 years, or at 17 years if you passed an accelerated advancement test for education, which I succeeded in doing during my early yeas at sea.

This gives you some idea of our way of life, in the months and years in the First World War and the way we were housed and fed.

It took a little time to fall into routine, going in and out of Scapa on convoy duties, meeting other ships on their lawful business.
My first indication of what war really meant was when we met H.M.S. "Drake" and "Minotaur" returning from a brush with enemy surface vessels, and who had been damaged during action. Our turn soon came when we, too, became involved with surface craft and submarines, but we plodded on, suffering no damage or casualties and remaining on duty for four hours and then having four hours off, unless we were actually in action. Then, of course, we were on duty all the time. Sometimes the weather was bitterly cold and at other times we were kept hot with so much action going on.

It was then that I had my first taste of seasickness. We were on convoy duty in the North Sea. The sea was rough and a howling gale blowing. The feeling was terrible first a violent headache and then retching which continued for four days and nights. Really, I felt that I never wanted to see another sunrise. Still we had to carry on with our duties as well as we could and try to forget it. However, in all my service I was never again seasick.

Arriving Scapa safely at last, we anchored and then had to prepare for coaling ship. The lighter arrived alongside and we set to, and after about fourteen hours our bunkers were full. Then came the process of washing down the ship with hoses inside and out scrubbing and cleaning until our officers were satisfied, and finally washing ourselves down with more often than not tepid water, scrubbing our clothes and drying them as well as we could. Then it was time to "turn in" and sleep, until we were called at 5.30 a.m. All hard work, but worth it for a good cause.

I had not been in Scapa Flow long, when one night about eleven o'clock we heard a loud explosion. Suddenly came the call "All hands on deck". We scrambled from our hammocks and rushed on deck without troubling to dress, which, of course, was the order in any circumstances, but we were always compelled to sleep with our lifebelts on but not inflated.

We assembled at our stations, not knowing for a time what had happened. Rumours were flying about that we were being attacked by zeppelins and we could see the huge glow of something burning about half a mile from where we were anchored. Then, another huge explosion took place and there were lumps of metal, wood and debris flying all over the place. One huge piece of metal dropped about twenty feet from our bow. Then we realised that one of our ships had blown up and the metal we had seen falling into the water was actually a twelve inch turret.

Our ship's company prepared to lower boats, and we were told that the H.M.S. "Vanguard" had blown up and we were to render assistance in any way we could. Boats were lowered and I helped to man a gig (16 foot, eight oared boat). We were in the water picking up bodies, hammocks and anything floating, to try to find survivors.

As this was going on, a steamboat approached and a voice hailed: "Are you all right?" It was the voice of Admiral Sir David Beatty. Our commanding officer, Captain Underhill, R.N., replied: "Yes, Sir, we seem to be under control". With that, the steamboat passed on to other ships to find out what the position was. For ourselves, we were searching until daybreak but did not find life of any description. Not until we rowed back to my ship did I realise I was clad only in a flannel vest with a blown up lifebelt on, and how ridiculous we must have looked. Things are always happening at sea.

There were also pleasant things to look forward to, such as the day when our turn came to have the supply ship "Borodino" alongside, with shops where we could buy sweetmeats and fancy goods for personal use and to take home to our friends and relatives.

Then there were times when concert parties were arranged by the many ships and held on board "Borodino" with proper stages and props, to which visiting Variety and Stage Stars would come along and put on a show for us.

All these things helped to make our life more pleasant and we had a lot to thank them for.

Many ways of increasing our daily war effort were being thought out. One was the way everyone went about the task of wasting nothing that might prove useful. Bones, fat, rags and wood, which would normally be thrown overboard or destroyed, would be collected and taken ashore and turned into useful war material, which eventually formed the basis of the money which is now known as King George V Fund for Sailors.

This was typical of life in Scapa Flow until in September 1918 my ship, together with H.M.S. "Superb" were detailed for Special Service and so came to an end my experience with Fourth Battle Squadron or, as we were know affectionately the "Wobbly Eight".

The next time I visited Scapa was when I was serving as a Leading Seaman in H.M.S. "Ramillies" in 1921. There was a more peaceful atmosphere in the "flow" then, as the German Fleet had been scuttled and were resting on the bottom, some overturned, others sank upright. It gave me quite a sad feeling to see these lovely ships lying as though in a graveyard, but it gave me the opportunity to reflect, as we helped to salvage work on board the "Derflinger", "Bayern" and "Seylidge" "These could have been our ships".

I was in Scapa again at the end of 1921. This time I was in H.M.S. "Valhalla" (a destroyer) and the same treeless, forbidding, dirty grey and brown outlook of sea and land was familiar, as we worked up on exercise and drills, prior to being sent for duty in the Home Fleet. Yet there was no war to worry about for a change.

I have been in Scapa on many occasions since, both with "Hood", "Glorious", "Vidette" and "Foresight" again using the "Flow" for "working up" periods. But in the early summer of 1939 I commissioned in H.M.S. "Repulse" as Chief Boatswain's Mate, after refit and alterations to go back to Scapa for a "working up" period and painting, before going to Canada with His Majesty King George VI and the Queen. But we were disappointed at not being able to take the Royal Family in our ship because of the war clouds hovering over the land. Instead, we prepared for war and again made Scapa Flow our base.

Late in August 1939 we put to sea with the Home Fleet for exercises and manoeuvres in the Denmark Straits whilst awaiting further orders which we had some idea might be serious. War was declared with Germany on Sunday 3rd September and we were soon dispersed to battle positions, each unit of the fleet going in turn to provision and fuel. We waited for something to come our way which might bring us into contact with the enemy and we were kept busy all the time.

In October we were ordered to return to Scapa where we were to fuel. Then we went to Rosyth for bottom scraping which was to take three days. On our way out towards the Boom Defence we saw H.M.S. "Royal Oak" at anchor almost under the cliffs. We gave them a wave and some of our officers saluted, although it was nearly dark, and we quickly made our way down to Rosyth. Shortly afterwards we received a signal to say that "Royal Oak" had been sunk.

We returned to our base in Scapa two months after it had been pronounced safe and clear of submarines. New sea defences had been placed, and it was considered that we could use the "Flow" again. By this time some new ships had arrived and were lying at anchor some distance from the main fleet. They had been made to look like an assortment of warships, made mainly of wood and camouflaged. From a distance they looked like the real thing. Unfortunately,. I had to go the Hospital Ship "Amarapoora" for an operation in Scapa where I was on my back for ten days. It was there that I met Tommy Trinder who was putting on a show in the wards. Whilst I was incapacitated, the remainder of the fleet had put to sea. Not long after they left, Scapa Flow was bombed by enemy aircraft. Several near misses were recorded, and being so helpless as I was I was scared because we could not hit back. Bombs were dropped on the dummy fleet and I was told afterwards that it was strange how some of the turrets and guns floated away. I was very soon fit to join the "Repulse" again after their sortie at sea, and I was glad to be in the fight again. Soon afterwards we had news from Admiralty that the German warships "Bismarck" and "Prinz Eugen" had left harbour and were in the North Sea. The Home Fleet secured for sea and left harbour with speed, in rotation. It was a wonderful sight to see these fine ships leaving for action, led by destroyers and cruisers, the mighty "Hood" and "Prince of Wales" and a host of other vessels. But I am sorry to say that was the last time I saw the "Hood".

My time in "Repulse" was drawing to a close. We were very short of Chief Petty Officer Director Layers and as new ships were being built and commissioned, men with sea experience were encouraged to transfer, when possible, to the new ships. Thus I found myself drafted from "Repulse" to H.M.S. "Duke of York" and Scapa again, getting ourselves in fighting trim, going on convoy duties and searching for the enemy. We went into the Artic regions, west in the Atlantic and south to the equator and beyond usually ending up in Scapa.

I was a member of the Committee set up by the Royal Naval Benevolent Trust to organise Canteen and Welfare affairs on the island in Scapa when we were not at sea. Some good work was done by these volunteers in their own time, and it was most gratifying to know that men who had been at sea for weeks could relax for a while in the Canteens and Cinema Halls, and if they wished, could play football and other games when the weather was decent. No effort was spared on the part of the Naval Authorities to make life worth while. We could sail or row, in a cutter or whaler, go fishing and seining when we were not on duty. Regattas were held when it was possible. In fact, we made the best possible use of the time spent in harbour.
In time, I was promoted, and had to leave "Duke of York". After a course in Portsmouth, I came again to familiar surroundings. This time as Boatswain in H.M.S. "Valiant". I was getting used to the routine of "working up" in the "Flow" but not for long! I was soon in the open sea, but I had no idea that I was seeing Scapa Flow for the last time in nearly thirty years' service in the Royal Navy. I wouldn't mind seeing the old place again sometime, for I have had many happy hours there. The unpleasant hours one can try to forget.
14th September 1966

Returning now to his early days, he spoke of the distress of seasickness in other young seamen; one young man, he recalled, was constantly saying, "let me die", and he was unfortunately granted his wish later when an iron beam fell on him and killed him during the coaling of the ship. He also spoke of coaling ship at a rate of 360 tons an hour.

HMS Temeraire
HMS Temeraire was a Bellerophon Class battleship built at Devonport Dockyard and launched in August 1907. She served in the Battle of Jutland in 1916, survived undamaged and was paid off into the reserve fleet in 1919. She then became a sea-going training ship. In 1921 she was paid ioff and sold to the Stanlee Shipbreaking Company in Dover, arriving there in 1922 to be broken up.

From the 10th March 1917 to 30th May 1919 he served as a 1st Class Boy on "HMS Temeraire", an old battleship. He used to talk of having to run up the mast side ratlines in bare feet and the last boy down got the Bosun's rope's end on his backside! It was during this time that he was involved with the Russian Revolution of 1917. He told this story about one incident: "We were fighting the Russians ashore in the Dardenelles, on the side of the whites. The order came to get back to the ship we'd left the boats on the beach and things were going wrong. We were rushing and stumbling on rough ground away from the gunfire. I was with Ordinary Seaman Young and he said in panic, "John, I've been hit in the arm". I told him to hang on to me and I'd get him back to the boat. He did and we pressed on, panting and hurrying. Eventually, we got to the beach and fell into the bottom of the boat. It was then I said, "let's have a look at your arm". We both realised, only then, that he had no arm. It had been shot off. He fainted. Not surprising, was it! Young was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for bravery during that action" (I have been unable to trace this action in the Portsmouth libraries).

The ships "HMS Drake" and "HMS Minotaur" mentioned in my father's reminiscences were sent away on a "Special Mission" to Archangel. What that was I don't know and have been unable to find out. "HMS Superb" was also on mysterious "Special Service". However the purpose of the Royal Navy's involvement in this region at this time was to prevent English war material which had been supplied to White Russia falling into German hands via Scandinavia (Naval Operations, Corbett, Vol. 1 p.246). There were huge quantities of arms, ammunition and stores involved. The fleet was also there to receive the surrender of the Turkish Fleet, who before that was unsure which side to join! The presence of the Navy again made the difference. My father's ship "Temeraire" was also detailed for special service and went to the Med., the Sea of Marmora, and the Dardenelles to Constantinople. It was here that the Turkish Navy and the city surrendered to the British Navy, known to them as the "Blue Devils". "Temeraire" then took General Allenby to Haifa to receive the surrender of Palestine from what was left of Turkish and Bulgarian forces. The Turkish warship "Goeben" was also surrendered to the Royal Navy, and in so doing, the Turks left poison and rats behind to try to harm naval personnel when they were trying to move the ship from one place to another. Temeraire then went through the Bosphorus to the Black Sea and Sebastopol with the French battleship "Mirabeaux" and another French vessel "Jean Barte". "Mirabeaux" was, shortly after this, blown ashore and set on fire. Temeraire went to Russia again for almost nine months and she visited Sebastopol, Yalta, Batumm and Theodosia, finding a vast change in the people and the country. The Russian currency, "Roubles", which were formerly 10 for one English pound had devalued to 240,000 for one pound! My father also saw something of Ismidt in Turkey, and the revolution and massacre of Armenians in the Turkish Civil War. Britain was responsible for Turkey (and its refugees) until, a proper peace treaty was signed.

A feature of Navy life all down the centuries was (and still is to some extent) prize money. If an enemy ship was captured, its value was in part shared by the capturing crew. Prize money was the greatest source of wealth for many Naval officers in days long gone. My father received 3 lots, £4.15s., £7.2s.6d and 10 shillings well worth having in those days, but my father then served on "Vivid", which is actually a nominal base ship viz Devonport Barracks; as ordinary seaman from 31st May 1919 to the 27th June 1919. (Simply a transit situation). "Vivid" was renamed "Drake" in January 1934.

John Hornby, 1918
John Hornby September 22nd, 1918
About this time, he married Edith Elizabeth Barker at St. Michael's Church, Hoole, near Preston, on November 6th 1920. The house "Markby Field" became their home, but was owned at the time (I think) by Edith's mother Matilda (Nee Atkinson) who lived at the house. My father bought the house from her in 1933 for £400. (My sister Gloria, now 69, lives there today, 2001).

My father also had a brief spell of three weeks on the submarine depot ship "Pactolus" (a converted 3rd class cruiser) about this time, and then was briefly at "Vivid" again, until he was sent to "HMS Ramillies" of the 1st Battle Squadron on 25 July 1921, staying until 1st September 1921.

On board that battleship, he was promoted to Able Seaman and later to Leading Seaman. Ramillies, at that time, was taking part in operations against Turkish nationals at Constantinople (now Istanbul) and in the Black Sea between March and July 1920. The Turks had attempted to close the Dardenelles Straits and Russia asked for British help to keep them open (interestingly HMS Ramillies was the first RN ship to use anti torpedo side bulges in the hull). Her later 2nd World War service was worldwide, escorting troop convoys, covering landings, including Sword beach on D Day 6th June 1944. After the war she was used as an accommodation ship and was broken up at Caernryan Scotland in 1948.

HMS Ramillies, 1943
HMS Ramillies, 1943

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