Captain Who?

Patrick was stationed in Yarmouth for the whole of the war under the command of Coastal Forces. These naval bases that were strung along the east coast were named after insects. Thus Great Yarmouth became H.M.S Midge, Lowestoft H.M.S. Mantis, and Felixstowe H.M.S. Beehive. Soon after the outbreak of war Patrick followed in his father's footsteps and began training at Lancing naval college for officers at Lancing in Sussex.

 

In 1941 he was posted to H.M.S. Midge (Yarmouth) as a Sub Lieutenant aboard M.G.B. 603 under the command of Captain Lightoller. He and his crew were involved In many fierce close range attacks by the Germans in the so called "E boat ally" off Great Yarmouth. Their main job was patrolling the shipping lanes and offering protection to the convoys of coal carrying merchant ships. M.G.B. 603 was a very vulnerable craft. Built of thin wood and fuelled with highly inflammable high octane spirit, it's big plus was the powerful engines and manoeuvrability. Patrick's nickname for the engine room was the "hell hole". He always remembered it as the worst place on the boat because of the ear splitting noise and the unbearable heat from the powerful twin motors.

Going into the attack, Pat remembered, "was an experience he could never forqet. Terrifying streams of bullets and shells would buzz past you so Lines of tracer and incendiaries too", all directed at your fragile "little ship".

In October 1943 he was mentioned in dispatches for bravery under fire. M.G.B. 603 and M.G.B. 607, commanded by Lt.R.Marshall, had engaged two E-boats N.E. of Smith Knoll.

Patrick recalled "Marshall shooting up S.88 and setting ablaze and then ramming a second E-boat amidships at almost full speed. As we went in to pick up survivors S.88 exploded into a huge 200' column of burning debris which rained down on us." Pat's boat rescued 19 survivors that night but five crew were dead, six were injured and a close friend of his was blinded.

A large number of people in Great Yarmouth had left their homes due to the threat of bombing. The coastal belt had become a no-go area for visitors and only official vehicles were permitted on the streets. A large proportion of shops, hotels, and B+B's had been boarded up.

When Patrick was ashore he lived at lodgings in Dagmar House, Albert Square, on the sea front close to Wellington Pier. He had recently married his first wife Margaret.

She remembers the flat well. "It was a semi-detached three storey Edwardian house and we had a small sitting room, bedroom, and shared kitchen. I recall that we slept downstairs in the coal cellar on many occasions when the raids were on.”

Margaret used to wave Pat off from the harbour entrance as M.G.B. 603 went off on a night patrol. She recalls "the eerie fluorescent, white foaming wake and uplifted prows of the departing boats" and also remembers "the dreadful private thoughts that maybe he would never come back.

Their social life was centred around the Regent cinema in Regent road, but Sunday lunch was the focus of week. "The ship's cook would prepare a fantastic lunch aboard the M.G.B and serve it in the tiny ward room to the officers and their wives. There was no rationing at the base and everything was duty free. We would all eat, drink, and smoke far too much. It was a real knees up !"

Patrick was promoted to Lieutenant in 1944 and was given command of his own vessel, R.M.L. 514 (Rescue Motor Launch). The job this time was to patrol the coast and rescue airmen who had been shot over the North sea. His wife can remember how relieved she felt at the news of Pat's promotion to Captain. "Although the R.M.L. was still very dangerous work, at least he was away from those dreaded E-boats."

He remained Captain of R.M.L. 514 until the end of the war in Europe. V.E. day had mixed emotions for them both. "In the evening as the sun set, Pat and I sat together on the front watching the lights of Yarmouth switch on for the time since 1939. It was a beautifully reassuring sight, but deep down we both knew the war in the east would soon part us.”

As events were to prove their worries were unnecessary with the early surrender of the Japanese. Pat was demobbed at Gorleston in 1946 and returned with Margaret to London to resume his career as an actor.

Pat continued his links with Yarmouth and especially the Broads. Margaret agreed that their wartime memories had forged an unbreakable link with this precious area.