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War Memories of Devonshire

7th-dev-malta1I served on Devonshire from February 1944 till the time in 1945 when it was being sent to Australia to bring troops back home.

The ships company at that time was about 850-900, if I remember correctly I would say that about 70% of the crew got the dreaded “draft chit” to Guzz Barracks.

However I would like to correct  the history pages that on numerous occasions we escorted many “Woolworth” Carrier raids on the Tirpitz as it lay in the Norwegian Fjord and particularly on one abortive attempt we had to keep sailing ahead for 24 hours as the weather was so fierce, the Woolworths” couldn’t turn for the fear of capsizing.

“Woolworth” carriers were large merchantmen that had their upper decks converted and made suitable for planes taking off and landing, hence as they were not real Aircraft carriers they were termed “Walworth’s”.

With regard to the historical page i.e. going to Norway, I regret I must correct Bernard Mouzer and his friend Bob Maxwell and even the Norwegian resistance Museum and state categorically that Crown Prince Oslav did not return to Oslo on Devonshire.

The facts are that Devonshire evacuated the Norwegian Royal Family in 1940 and at the end of the war King Haakon had expressed his wish that the Devonshire should return them.

Regrettably (for Devonshire) the cruiser flotilla at that time was commanded by Vice Admiral Roderick (Red) McGregor (a Scotsman, I regret to say!) and he decreed that the Royal Family he would have on his Flagship, HMS Kent and that the Devonshire could act as “Royal Escort”. This we did and the FIRST instilment was to escort the return of the Crown Prince.

Historical note:
Evacuation of the King..
The king and his party were taken aboard the British cruiser HMS Glasgow and conveyed by sea to Tromsø where a provisional capital was established on May 1. Haakon and Crown Prince Olav took up residence in a forest cabin in Målselvdalen valley in the interior of Troms County where they would stay until the evacuation to the United Kingdom.

The beleaguered and demoralized Norwegian government were evacuated from Tromsø on June 7 aboard the HMS Devonshire and upon arrival in London, Haakon and his cabinet set up a Norwegian government in exile in the British capital. Taking up residence at Rotherhithe in London, Haakon was an important national symbol in the Norwegian resistance.

One or two items of interest in respect of this visit to Oslo was that prior to going ashore we were instructed not to visit cafes or restaurants and eat food as the Norwegians had hardly enough food to feed themselves and secondly not to sample the local home brewed AQUAVIT as it was lethal! (Regrettably a few days later a couple of lads, who did not take this advice and had been happy to have a few drinks with hospitable locals, went BLIND and were quickly returned to the UK).

While in Oslo the ship threw a party for local school children. The following is from the local newspaper;

AFTENPOST
FREE TRANSLATION FROM OSLO NEWSPAPER, SATURDAY MORNING 19TH MAY. 1945,

NORWAY’S LARGEST CHILDREN’S PARTY ON BOARD
THE CRUISER DEVONSHIRE” YESTERDAY.

HUGE CROWDS OF BOYS AND GIRLS TOOK THE ‘DEVONSHIRE’ BY STORM. THEY ATE ICE CREAM, CHOCOLATE, WHITE BREAD AND CAKES. THE WARSHIP WAS LAID OUT AS A CHILDREN’S PARADISE.

Devonshire yesterday threw a children’s party, an event which was greatly enjoyed and will never be forgotten by the youngsters of Oslo. The ship (Captain G.M.B Langley, OBE, RN) had invited the Oslo school children to a party onboard.

Devonshire, anchored in the main harbour, was besieged by the children. They arrived on board, a unique experience for them during the war, with the greatest expectancy. They were living proofs of the friendship existing between Norway and Great Britain.

At 1400 the stream flowed up the ladder. Many of them had waited patiently at Honorbrygge for several hours. Their hopes were fully realised. It is not an exaggeration to say that the Devonshire was set out purely as a children’s amusement park. Everything that could possibly gladden their little hearts was to be found on the upper deck.

There were see-saws and slides. At a “Hoop-la” stall it was possible to win a bar of chocolate. Another popular feature was a real live Aunt Sally. Here a sailor, complete in clown’s dress, poked his head from a series of holes, as balls were thrown at him. Everything possible in the way of games and amusements was to be found.

The whole ship’s company made absolutely certain that this occasion would be as happy and enjoyable as possible. Officers and men took great care of the youngsters, particularly on the various slides. A small aircraft had been improvised. and it was possible to fly from the highest point of the bridge along a wire to the forecastle. The youngsters under six years of age were not allowed to fly but they stood longingly and cast many admiring glances at the older children who enjoyed to the full this excellent air service.

The eldest guests were 12 years old, and as youngsters of a seafaring nation like the Norwegians they will never forget this occasion. Very soon after the first contingent had arrived on board, they were observed clambering high in the superstructure, a pastime which was universally enjoyed.

The ship’s Royal Marine Band played on the quarter deck. Many of the visiting “young musicians’ were eager to try the instruments and on one occasion a little girl actually conducted the band, most professionally, whilst seated on the shoulders of the Bandmaster. Of the other attractions, swinging round on the Oerlikon guns was very popular. Naval apparatus added a pleasing variety, such as the diving gear, where it wits possible to talk to one another by telephone.

Everything was accessible because pleasing the children was the order and object of the day.
One of the members of the reception committee was the ship’s padre, Reverend  F.E.P.S Langton, RNV. He  had brought to Oslo a message from the Archbishop of Canterbury for Bishop Berggrav. This was handed personally to the Bishop of Oslo on the 17th and Bishop Berggrav had made a reply which was immediately sent back to England by radio.

It was long after tea before the children could tear themselves away from the cruiser. At tea time they had ice cream, tea and several large slices of bread and jam; and each was given a bar of chocolate before leaving. They were all overwhelmed. The scheme was a success from start to finish and it was a great joy for the older people to see the children happier than ever before in wartime.

Our sincerest thanks seem very small for this great festive occasion.

Two small points regarding the party:
1. In the last paragraph you read each child received a bar of chocolate before leaving. True, but:-When it was first broadcast that the time was up and all children were to leave, they were very reluctant to do so. We were setting off to Copenhagen in 2-3 hours time and of course all the amusements had to be dismantled and stowed away, but they wanted another shot at everything, until, I think it was the NAAFI Manager, sad “tell them they will all get a bar of chocolate when leaving the ship”. As soon as this was broadcast, I swear the ship took a list to port as everyone of them rushed to the port gangway to claim their coveted bar of chocolate!!
2. After we left Oslo and we were a bit down the Fjord, on “wee laddie” was discovered sound asleep in the corner of one very quiet mess deck!! This necessitated radio messages and we eventually “hove to” while a motor boat came out and picked the lad up to return him to Oslo (hope we gave him a bar of chocolate!)

Our visit to Copenhagen was a complete contrast to Oslo We were advised, Norway had resisted the German invasion, Denmark did not oppose it as they did not want their entire Dairy Farming industry destroyed, so they collaborated with the Germans.
On going ashore, one could go into a café or restaurant and order “Double fried Eggs, Sausages & Bacon” and get a plateful that hadn’t been seen in Britain since pre war days!

After Copenhagen and escorting the surrendered German ships we returned to Rosyth ready to escort King Haakon and other members of the Royal Family to Oslo 2-3 weeks later.

On this occasion, despite, I remember the local children wanting another party on board; we gave an invitation to teenagers to a dance onboard. Needless to say it was a great success (food had also been laid on for them), but of course there was very strict instructions “No young ladies to be taken below the Upper deck!!”
I must say that I do think this was very well observed as I do not remember any incidents arising from it!

Yes, indeed, as mentioned earlier, we escorted many ships on trips to bomb the Tirpitz, and while I cannot remember the trip in July 1944 especially with Indefatigable and Formidable I do remember one for a very different reason.
Yes! We did shoot down a German plane, everyone was over the moon, but unfortunately it was all to end in ignominy!
On our return to Scapa Flow, full of the joys of Spring, for some unknown reason when we were approaching the Boom Entrance to the harbour we obviously went off course and went straight into the Boom and ended up with hundreds of Boom Buoys wrapped around our sides!!
Obvious panic at H.Q in Scapa and a Destroyer and Frigate had to be dispatched to patrol the gaping hole in the Scapa Defences..
Whilst that was bad enough, when we later went ashore at Scapa for the next few weeks, when waiting for the lighter to come to take us back to the ship, as soon as it approached the piece with the “Devonshire” placard onboard and in full view, that was usually the time for the cry “Oh! here’s the Boom Boys boat” and very frequently those who had been drinking a few pints of NAAFI ale, getting into skirmishes, but how the hell a few pints of that p**s made anyone want to fight, I’ll never know!!

Alex  J McCleod-Bain
June 2006.

10 Responses to War Memories of Devonshire

  1. bernard Mouzer

    January 20, 2011 at 21:25

    Hi Alex, I apologise for my mistake about The Crown Prince’s voyage back to Norway in 1945 – and many thanks for the translation of the piece in Aftenpost which I had lost.

    Bernard

  2. joanne teagle

    November 19, 2011 at 16:24

    im looking for anyone who knew my great-grandad, Lewis Teagle, he served as a stoker onboard HMS Devonshire during the second world war

  3. Ann Gidman

    April 25, 2014 at 14:36

    Has anyone got pictures of George Whitehead my father who served on HMS Devonshire during world war 2.

  4. Margaret Boodhoo.

    June 3, 2014 at 08:35

    I beleive that my father was evacuated from Norway On H.M.S. Devonshire, and I just wanted to thank everyone who served on H.M.S Devonshire.

  5. James Carlson

    May 14, 2015 at 14:02

    My father Leonard Carlson (Len) was on board when Oslo was liberated. He would have been 16/17. He said the liberation was one of the most incredible experiences of his life. Thanks for putting it into words.

  6. Sandra Ashmore

    June 28, 2015 at 12:23

    My father, Emrys Chorley was on HMS Devonshire in WW2, told how they escorted the King of Norway. He celebrated his 21st Birthday in Australia, my dad was born 1925 so in 1946 he was 21. Have just found a old photo of the ship.

  7. jonny5

    August 3, 2015 at 23:20

    Not a single mention of the HMS glorious…not one…
    The orders were radio silence, the men in the water sacrificed by the capt of the devonshire to save the king of norway.
    the man got accolades for the mission and lied about the message his boat recieved

  8. Emma Eyre

    November 15, 2016 at 10:25

    My grandfather served on the Devonshire 1945-1946 as a stoker and would love to hear from anyone

  9. Julie Fakes

    January 9, 2017 at 23:08

    Hello
    My grandfather George Albert Wrigley was a stoker and escorted crown prince Olaf back to Norway. Does anyone out there know of him and whether he was on gma Kent or the Devonshire or were there any other ships involved ? Many thanks

  10. Rex Minter

    February 8, 2017 at 15:10

    Devonshire july 1944 to dec 1944

    Rex Minter

    I was an ord/tel.
    would love to have the photo of QM and Devonshire.

    Would be interested if anyone has applied for Arctic medal as Devonshire was north of Arctic Circle in June July 1944.
    I sent copy of Service papers plus bluenose certificate and photo showing Devonshire during operation Goodwood which was attack on Tirpitz and well within arctic circle.
    The department in charge refused to grant medal and wanted more proof such
    as log books etc.
    National Archives at Kew are going to send me copy of log book for relevent dates and i will reapply.

    If anybody wants infor on getting log book i would be happy to help.

    thanks

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