More events plus RN, RAF & RM memories bring back life to HMS PEMBROKE RN Barracks in war and peace and takes the story into the 21st century.
2012 June (See Guestbook) 'George McCarthy I was Barrack Guard at Chatham Barracks at the time [29. Oct 1950] Princess Elizabeth (the future Queen) dedicated St George's Church. I would love to know if anybody has photos? '
Divisions in the early 1900's & the navy returns in 2006
John Gillham - Joined the RN in 1950 and retired in 1988
It's always difficult to know how or why someone might arrive at a particular website isn't it. Often it is quite random but this time an ex-Chatham Division matelot was looking, in May 2011, for a wedding venue for his granddaughter and thought where better than the ex-HMS Pembroke Wardroom. In the process he clicked on the 'HMS Pembroke' page of my website [hmsgangestoterror.org] and, I'm pleased to say, went on to email me.
John Gillham C/KX 894792, Stoker 2nd Class joined the navy at HMS RALEIGH in 1950 and arrived firstly at Chatham Barracks in 1951. He clearly liked both Chatham and the Royal Navy because he decided to remain in uniform until retiring in the rank of Warrant Officer Marine Engineering Mechanic in 1988.
Arriving in 1951 to live in the old St Mary's Barracks John remembers that 'Reserve Fleet ships were tied up on buoys from Gillingham to Sheerness where HMS Owen, a survey ship was refitting in a floating dock!' He also recalls working from the Reserve Fleet Base on various ships and in Chatham Barracks between commissions and lists some of his Drafts:
'HMS Mariner, minesweeper Fishery Protection Duties
HMS Jamaica, cruiser.
HMS Egeria, inshore survey craft.
Command Fire School in the dockyard.
NBCD School - at one time as OIC.
President of Petty Officers Mess 1963/64.
John was OIC 'Green Goddess' Chatham fire-crews during the 1977 nationwide fireman's strike. Enclosing these pictures he said 'The Duke of Edinburgh was visiting the Ropery in Chatham Dockyard and evidently asked to see the Green Goddess crews stationed at the fire ground. This was during the fireman's strike, 1977 - 78.'
'What memories throughout all those years.
'Playing football, hockey and cricket on St Mary's sports grounds. Whilst on HMS Gambia we played Gillingham FC on St Mary's and the touchlines were a mass of brown overalls - till the MOD plod turned up! They then vanished into thin air!
Two married quarters at Darget's Wood. Getting paid fortnightly in the drill shed and running the gauntlet for getting your haircut. Getting picked up by the patrol who wanted to know what we were doing? Telling them we were EPUP! Rather than show their ignorance over it's meaning, telling us to carry on. Unknown to them, EPUP was an abbreviation of "Early pack up party!!!" I now live on the Isle of Sheppey. There's no trot boat up the Medway anymore so have to go by car on the A2 M2!!!'
Returning to 1953 John says ' I was in Reserve Fleet Chatham, as a Stoker. The living-onboard-ships were HMS Duncansby Head and the light cruiser HMS Diadem. I had been granted two weeks leave commencing 23 July and I was getting married on the 24th. I received a "crash" draft to join the Jamaica on the 23rd July - the day before my wedding!!!
The colony class cruiser HMS Jamaica had commissioned from Reserve Fleet but was having problems with her diesel generators and was brought into Chatham Dockyard to have them overhauled and refitted. I joined, explained my predicament, and was granted my two weeks leave! We were married at Bermondsey church and the following day went on our honeymoon -a week on the Isle of Wight!! On returning onboard, the ship sailed for various exercises in the North Sea and then to the Med for eighteen months. I played in goal for the ships football team, our strip was Blackpool FC's old shirts of tangerine and white. I never did find out the association between Blackpool FC and the Jamaica. We played in the big ships league and because of National Service - the majority of first team players were professional players doing their NS - the games were played in front of large crowds of spectators.'
'I spent several months onboard doing my auxiliary machinery course in order to become a Leading hand. The best job was on the ships main refrigerators which were situated directly beneath the stokers messdeck so you were never short of a cuppa - or company. The ship had two boiler rooms, two engine rooms propelling four shafts. The good thing about a cruiser's ships company was - there were always plenty of hands to do whatever jobs were required to be done.'
'At the end of the commission the ship was deployed to the West Indies to visit Turks Island and Jamaica itself for ten days. I think we almost drunk the island dry. Errol Flynn was on his yacht in Montego Bay at the same time, but we never got an invite onboard!'
[WM Note: More specification details of HMS Jamaica can be found on the HMS Bermuda page]
On our return to England our first port of call was Sheerness where we stayed overnight before proceeding to Chatham. It was 1955 and I had just been promoted to LMEM! Now we had a nice long refit in Chatham to look forward to. Living in London you could buy a workmans return train ticket to Chatham, daily, for 3 shillings and 7 pence (17 pence in new money!!!) providing you reached your destination before 0800. The return half could be used at any time. I wish I had a pound for every time I caught the 2 minutes to 6 steam train! Happy days!'
Whilst there were the three depots, Chatham, Portsmouth and Devonport based ships, there was always great rivalry. (Up and at 'em Chatham!!!). I wonder if there are any Chatham ratings reading this that can remember our Master at Arms - Bill Boyden? A name that could strike fear into any defaulter. Unfortunately, Bill is no longer with us.'
'We have booked the old wardroom for our granddaughter's wedding next June. Naturally, she is very excited. Our daughter's were christened in the old St George's [Barracks] church. No doubt the memories will come flooding back on the day.'
John (Bungy) Williams sent these pictures at the beginning of 2010 and so gives the RN Supply School a mention.
John who hails from Merseyside joined at Chatham in 1961. He has good memories of his six months training there not to mention the Brompton NAAFI and would like to hear from any of his class mates so if you recognise anyone please get in touch.
John revisited Chatham in 2009 and took these pictures. Clockwise: (RN use) Parade Ground (W) & (E), Canteen/Cinema, RNSS Building now a canteen.
IF YOU ARE PICTURED OR HAVE MEMORIES OF THE RNSS AT ANY TIME PLEASE GET IN TOUCH
In addition John sent this picture of a model (an understatement) of HMS ARK ROYAL being built by a cousin of his.
Michael (Mickey) Warr has emailed me (9 March 2009) with his late 1940's - early 1950's
memories of RNB Chatham
"Good Morning from a hot and sunny Barrydale in South Africa.
Have been browsing through the websites associated with Chatham barracks. Interesting to see so many photographs and to read reminiscences of a happy Chatham. Thankyou for jogging the memory. Such a lot to tell.
My wife and myself visited the Dockyard in 2006 and drove into the old Barracks at the main gate. I was delighted to see all the old buildings in prime condition..
After basic training at Royal Arthur in Corsham Wilts I went to Cookham Camp Rochester to train as a telegraphist. I joined my first ship HMS "Truelove" an Algerine minesweeper then in drydock at Sheerness. Trot boat up the Medway to join her and up and down the river on many weekends. Truelove was half leader of the 5th M/S and was part of the fishery protection squadron. After eighteen months aboard her I was back in barracks to attend Signal School which had moved from Cookham to a temporary situation on the Gillingham Road. (Later on it moved again next to the Barracks/Dockyard Gate within the barracks). We were accommodated in St. Mary's barracks within the main barrack site and 'dined' in one of the blocks there. There were tales of ghosts up at St. Mary's, never saw one, although those buildings were old enough to have more than one! Think the buildings had previously been stables. Whilst on course a good duty watch was Church sweeper or better still the Utensil Party (UTP) washing up in the main kitchen. For that we got a "Friday While". Up the line hitch hiking to Leicester (My home town). Always home before the pubs closed!! Then the 0200 train Sunday night back to London and down to Chatham in time by 0800 Monday morning.
Just to the left as you entered an accommodation block was the bathroom sweeper who kept the hot water going and laid a bet on the horses if you wanted one. The sweeper was usually a retired Chief or a Three badge Seaman seemingly from Nelson's day. There were no bunks and we all used our "Micks" (Hammocks) slung between hooks placed there for the purpose. I remember the large mirrors placed at strategic points outside to check your dress. Next to one was a large blackboard on which were written any forthcoming Drafts. Remember seeing my name there and a visit to the drill shed on the left - bottom right- were a number of small windows behind which sat the 'drafties'. Telegraphist Warr is to do a two and half year stint at Simonstown. Two weeks leave and then join a Union Castle Liner "Stirling Castle" for the trip out. Thats another story except that my wireless instructor at Cookham Camp said that anyone getting a draft to South Africa was sure to get married there. He was absolutely right.
Then back to barracks again and drafted to HMS Mercury (Leydene Nr. Petersfield) for a PO's course. This time married accompanied. Barracks still the same. After the course back inside and through the same routine - draftie in the drill shed - got a draft to HMS "Grenville" then TS2 Training Sqdn) at Portland.
This was the routine for a number of years. During that time the barracks never changed. "K" basement and the whole joining drafting routines remained the same. I can remember one occasion when all hands had to muster and line the main thoroughfare past the blocks down to the main gate to bear silent witness to some unfortunate soul being drummed out of the navy, his Uniform devoid of any embellishments and no cap. Truly a journey into Nelson's day in fact the messdecks on the Warrior and indeed the Trincomalee were the same as that on the Algerine Sweeper Truelove. Canteen messing (W/M. Each Mess prepared its own food and took it to the Galley where Chef's cooked it) and the routine just the same. Make and mend clothes on a Wednesday was a hang-over from the same old navy.
There is such alot to be said and written about Chatham - The dances at Gillingham Co-op. The walks up on the "Lines", Goffers in the canteen not forgetting the "Lister" trailers loaded up with bags and hammocks and three ton Bedfords too with a party of lads off to play sport for their depot.
Yes we were proud to belong to the Chatham depot. A depot having it's own traditions built up over the centuries. It's satisfying to see all that historical place put to good use.
A little more to add whilst the memory ticks over.
Chatham Barracks was more than the buildings we see. As I mentioned it was our depot from where we went to and from the ships in the Chatham Command . It was a place where we came across old shipmates and those back from foreign lands talking about places we had never been. "Old timers" had tattoos and wore light colour collars. In time it would be our turn to emulate them. We all went ashore in uniform. The best that Bernards could provide complete with white silk scarf and a tiddly bow. A pussers holdall was a must in place of the small issue attache case. Whatever, we wore had to look 'pusser' when running the gauntlet of the main gate. Gentlemen in white belts and gaiters were there to ensure that the leave party were turned out correct - Then of course we all had rabbitts. Perfume or Nylons for the girlfriend and maybe some ticklers for mother. Nothing more than the allotted allowance. The Naafi shop had lots of brass and copper trinkets made in the barracks. Tea caddy spoons with HMS Pembroke on the handle and framed pictures of Nelson. The run 'up the line' to the 'smoke' was easy Many long distance lorry drivers would always give "Jack" a lift. One of our 'communicators' had an ancient Rolls Royce into which we all piled for the run ashore. There were also some motor bikes and with luck you could be in the 'smoke' before the train got to Charing Cross. .
The drill shed was as stated a place where drilling could still be carried out in inclement weather. Divisions were often held in there too. It was a place where one laid out kit for inspection and where one commenced joining and drafting routines. There was also the "Anti-Gas Training Unit" A mobile unit stationed up at one end of the drill shed. On Navy Days, many static displays were put on show in the drill shed. I have a photograph of a communication group together - all in "Blues", Cap tallies with the single "HMS" and no ship's name.
On Divisions days a command was given for Roman Catholics to fall out. They doubled away behind the Drill Shed and had their own church service, or so I believe. On the order Roman Catholics fall in, they in turn had also finished and doubled back How did they find their rightful places amongst the other 1500 still on parade? Other than the R.C's the remainder stood fast and enjoyed the Chaplains service. The highlight of divisions was of course the Royal Marine band. If it was incidental music we knew that someone, somewhere was doing the inspection. With luck they were down 'the other end'.
Back to the blocks again. Between some of the blocks davits had been fitted complete with ship's whaler or cutter. There the fundamentals of lowering and raising a ships boat were taught.
Ships damage control and the firing range were all at Sheerness an enjoyable day out down the Medway. There were many ships on the trot and destroyers and minesweepers were triple banked on both sides of the river. At one time I had a job carrying out radio modifications to these so called dead ships.
Visiting the barracks in 2006 brought back many memories. On the lawns in front of the wardroom there were two Greenwich University students eating sandwiches and drinking coke, both seated at a wooden trestle table. I can distinctly remember the duty Commander complete with telescope having his pre lunch walk there - Times have changed.
What happened to the brass dolphins at the top of the steps? That was a job for the duty cleaning party. Chatham - Both the RNB and the dockyard were more than bricks and mortar. The dockyard is of course another story.
Again, I can ramble on and remember the time when we went for a run ashore in Lowestoft; Tromso; Brest; Gib and Snoekie. Can you remember playing Cardinal Puff in the canteen at Scapa? A sailors life was for me and it all began in CHATHAM.
Enough from me for now before I become "Pearly Gates Sweeping Party"!!
Kind Regards, Michael Warr (Mickey) (Age 79yrs this year)"
Mark Huby was in PEMBROKE at its close in 1984 and writes "I had the privilege to serve in Chatham on two occasions, firstly from Basic Training at HMS RALEIGH I was drafted to HMS PEMBROKE to do my Part 3 Training in No4 Building (The Writer's School) living in East Camp then in 82(ish) I returned to Chatham to serve on the Staff of Flag Officer Medway (Admiral Higgins)."
"It was during this second period that I hauled down the Admiral's Flag (FO Medway in the Dockyard) I also took part in the Closing Down Ceremony at HMS PEMBROKE, being part of the colour party on that occasion." (See Mark's pictures of that and more about The Chatham Chest in the Dockyard pages).
Ron Lawrence was in RNB in 1952 but he was 'different' on two counts. Firstly he DID take some pictures and secondly he .... well let him explain..."I have recently had a reunion after 50-odd years with a National Service pal, who was posted as I was, wait for it, an RAF erk (horrors) to Chatham Naval Barracks in 1952. Philip, one of these mates, seems to have a remarkable memory and swears that the morning tannoy call was "Heave-ho, heave-ho, lash up and stow! Hands to breakfast and clean! Offenders at large and second-class men and men under number eleven punishment, muster at the main gate". This was to us - cheerfully greeted on arrival with "Cor! Bleedin' Boidmen"! - all fairly incomprehensible and we never found out what second-class men were! (He does know now)
We were part of the a Marine Headquarters unit working at Nore Command Headquarters down the "tunnel" (entrance at the Gillingham side). This must have been a fairly unique event in the long history of Chatham, but there we were, 20 or so RAF types messing with the matelots in Anson block and, perhaps surprisingly, getting on well with them. Does anyone know anything about this strange RAF unit in the sacred portals of the Naval Barracks? Why was it there? What happened to it? If anyone has any information about it at least two ex-RAF types (probably 3 or 4) would be keen to know.
We also found a shop up the road to Gillingham that sold magnificent meat pies and foraging parties used to set out midday to purchase some as a contrast to the barrack's canteen 'Pembroke pies' which were probably still around a few years later when you were there"
That's Ron shaving and the others are his pals Brian, Keith (who took pix) & Cpl. John Leamon
(Is the Guard on the Parade Ground in training for the Queen's Coronation?)
Ian Archer, at Chatham MHQ in 1955-6, sent these pictures in 2007 and as a result has been in touch with some of his RAF Detachment. Between them they have now put names to some of the faces and would like to hear from any others. Email please if you are or recognise anyone in the pictures.
Ian has been honest and humble in saying 'The photo of the 4 lads in athletics gear is when the RAF element at Chatham went down gloriously running etc against all the Division at Chatham, we didnt win a thing !!'. I think he was just trying to make sure I used his picture but I do realise the RN v RAF numbers were balanced in our favour!
George A Dangerfield took the scenic route into RNB in1943. His story starts "I am still proud of my CMX673177 number although I am fast approaching my 81st year" George was a Sick Berth Attendant.
"In 1943 I volunteered for the Royal Marines aged 17 years of age. Having spent three days at the Marine Barracks, up the hill from HMS Pembroke, I was told by the Medical Officer that, since I possessed a 'dropped arch' in my right foot, I was of little use to them. I was given the choice of going back home to Lowestoft, Suffolk or I could take an escorted walk down the road to join HM Royal Navy. Since I had no intention of returning home to await my eventual call-up as a 'squadie' I accepted the invitation of the escort where, after the usual interviews and inoculations etc ended up in 'Blake House' for the duration of my training at Gillingham Hospital to become an SBA. I well remember doubling across the parade ground on my way to duty in the sick bay where I was giving treatment, to 'three badgers' who were old enough to be my father, as they regaled me with lurid stories of how they had obtained their diseases.
To cut a long story short, after returning from the Normandy landings, where I served on LST 65 (there's another story) I served at HMS Pembroke." George was then drafted "to a hospital in Sydney, Australia being seconded to the Royal Navy Medical Air Evacuation Unit (RNMAEU). It was an elite group consisting of only about 20 personnel all told including officers. We crewed DC3 Dakota aircraft flying from Manus in the Admiralty Islands (c. 2000 miles) to Sydney, New South Wales, Australia (caring for) the repatriation of POW's and injured personnel from the Pacific War Zone. I returned to HMS Pembroke, Chatham in 1946 for my eventual 'demob'.
I took my grandchildren to an historical 'do' at Chatham Dockyard a few years ago and out of curiosity walked along to the main gateway of the barracks to discover that that great complex had been taken over by Greenwich University. I could have cried to see the state of the old barracks as I remember them as a boy. (2006)
Parade/Drill Shed in 2000 as refurbishment work began.
The Royal Navy returned to Chatham Barracks in September 2006 but only momentarily to remember sailors killed when the Drill Shed was bombed in 1917.
(Thanks to Bill Murray, RNA Chatham for the dedication pictures)
(Top)The Guard provided by HMS PRESIDENT lead Royal Naval Association and other Naval Association's Flag Bearers in the March Past before Rear Admiral Philip Wilcocks DSC Flag Officer Scotland, Northern England and Northern Ireland together with Councillor Angela Prodger the Mayor of the Medway Towns to the music of HM Royal Marines Plymouth Band on 10 September 2006
(Centre) Some of the revisiting ex RN and others line the road to witness the Dedication Service with, perhaps, some relatives of those that lost their lives in the bombing.
(Bottom) One hundred and three years separate these two pictures but the scene is little changed. By turning Bill's 2006 parade picture to B&W the ship in No.3 Basin gives the game away in the 1903 picture.
HM KING GEORGE VI visiting RNB Chatham during World War II
On the 29th of October 1950 HRH PRINCESS ELIZABETH was at RNB to dedicate windows in St George's Church. Within three years Chatham would provide the Royal Guard for her Coronation. Other Royal visitors included, King George V in 1918, Queen Elizabeth* in 1941, Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent* in 1943 and Princess Anne* in 1980. (*Commandant in Chief WRNS)
The Royal Navy's retreat from SHEERNESS and CHATHAM as well as other worldwide closures is set in train with the First Lord of the Admiralty, the EARL OF SELKIRK's statement in the Lords in March 1958.
NB. Coincidently the subject of closures is current again half a century on. January 2007, has seen the Government say the closure of the Navy's Marine and Air Engineering School, HMS SULTAN, in Gosport has been given a 10 year reprieve. However, a 'Naval Base Review' continues to threaten PORTSMOUTH/PLYMOUTH/FASLANE with reductions or perhaps even the closure of one of them. The Government's decision is/was due in March 2007.
N.W.Lester, Master Mariner (Ret'd) remembered RNB in 1951 when as a child "My late Father W.G.Lester C.P.O, CMX 804906, was at "PEMBROKE", Chatham (at times) in 1934,.5, 6.,9 & 40. (He was not to return there then until) 1947, 1951, 1953...& May 1954. He was Chief of the Cinema School in 1951,& I spent a couple of days there with him as a wide-eyed 10 year old,I think it was the period of "Navy Day". I spent two nights in a hammock in the Chief's Mess, & remember those days with great fondness".
'Tug' Wilson C/SMX 841230 recalled RNB Chatham in the late 40's thus "I sat and watched Fred Perry and Dan Maskell coaching Kent school children on the tennis courts in the Barracks. They then played each other in an exhibition match. I think this would be 1948 but am not absolutely sure - if it was it would have been between 1st and 25th April. On the 26th (the King and Queen's Silver Wedding Anniversary) I went to Harwich to join HMS Tyne (which was Senior Officer Reserve Fleet). On the train from London were Land Army girls going to their first job on the land!
I was also in the Barracks when the Guardsmen who carried the coffin for King George VI practised on the parade ground. In fact had I had a pair of boots I would have been in the 'crew' that towed the gun carriage in London. There were quite a lot of Writers in that crew (all dressed as Writers are NOW dressed) but they were all given gold badges for their uniforms and most (if not all) were 'promoted' for the occasion (but not paid extra). They all went to Buckingham Palace to be presented with the Royal Victorian Medal by Her Majesty for personal services to the Sovereign. The Field Gun Crew practised in St. Mary's Barracks (subsequently turned into married quarters). St. Mary's had been condemned by the Army so the Navy took it over (!). Chinese laundry teams waiting for a 'new' ship had a laundry service in St. Mary's in between ships"
Brian Wardrop, whose grandfather joined the Marines in 1901, sent me this 'extract' from his grandfather's service record which indicates he spent time in the hulks and new RNB but there was also a much older Royal Marine Barracks (see below).
1901 Sep 09 John Abbott ENLISTED in London
OCCUPATION Butcher's Assistant
RANK Private (First Class)
TRANSFERRED To Rec Dep DEAL
1901 Nov 04 PASSED School Certificate (3rd Class)
1901 Dec 10 PASSED Swimming Test at DEAL
1902 PASSED Musketry Class 1 at DEAL
1902 PASSED Musketry Class 3 at MILTON
1902 Jun 12 TRANSFERRED To CHATHAM Division
1902 Jly 26 PASSED Field Training
1903 Feb 13 PASSED Gunnery (Sea Service) - Very Good
1903 The name of HMS PEMBROKE was transferred to the new barracks.
1903 Apr 18 EMBARKED HMS PEMBROKE (No. on Ship's Books - 11/165)
1903 May 01 Official occupation of RNB Chatham began with 5000 RN personnel.
1904 Apr 23 DISEMBARKED Head Quarters, CHATHAM Division (probably on leave)
1904 May 17 EMBARKED HMS PEMBROKE (No. on Ship's Books -14/749)
1904 Sep 17 AWARDED GOOD CONDUCT BADGE (1st)
1905 Jan 12 DISEMBARKED Head Quarters, CHATHAM Division
1905 Feb 19 PASSED Musketry Class 3 at DEAL
1905 Mar 10 PASSED Semaphore Test
1905 Oct 04 PASSED Butcher Test
1905 Oct 05 EMBARKED HMS GANGES (No. on Ship's Books -11/52)
Training Ship at RNTE Shotley Point, Suffolk (probably as Butcher/Cook)
1906 Sep 26 DISEMBARKED Head Quarters, CHATHAM Division
There was a much older Royal Marine Barracks fronting the river - adjacent to the Ropery - with its entrance off Dock Road between Dockyard Main Gate and St Mary's Church. I can remember having to go down there in the 50's though they were no longer in use. Put up for sale in 1958 Lloyds occupied a new building on the site though they have since moved. (Pictures c. 1905)
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