Memoirs of George Richard Parker



Leading Signalman George R. Parker

Norfolk 19th May 1986



HMS Martin was my first ship; I joined her at Scapa Flow after completing my training as a Signalman at HMS Royal Arthur, Skegness. Before leaving Chatham Barracks I was told by an old Chief Buffer (Well he looked old to me) that the Martin was a dredger and that “You’ve got a cushy draft there lad, never out of sight of land”. On arrival at Scapa Flow I was taken aboard HMS Tyne, a Destroyer Depot Ship, to await transfer to the Martin, who was inbound from a Russian Convoy. After a few days the Martin steamed into Gutter Sound (Destroyer Anchorage) when I saw her I thought “Some Dredger”.

I had never even seen a warship before joining up, and with the shipboard routine, unfamiliar smells of fuel and oil, messdeck smog etc, I began to wonder if I had made the correct choice in volunteering for H.M. Royal Navy. We had only a few days in harbour when we sailed for Iceland to await another convoy to Russia. My doubts about joining the Navy were then confirmed on that run up to Iceland. Steaming at 30 knots in a Force 9 gale, I was as sick as a dog and wished I was back in that holiday chalet in ‘Skeggy’.

Enough has been written before about P.Q. Convoys to Russia, but apart from the terrible loss of lives, both Merchant and Royal Navy ships; one tends to remember odd incidents that occurred. I recall P.Q.18 when all hell was let loose. High level, Low level, Stukas and Torpedo Bombers, plus U-Boats. This particular day they were really hammering the Convoy. I was on watch with Norman Newton (Geordie) – (He was also a survivor from the Martin).

The noise was tremendous from the A.A. Guns and the Bombers. We had a near miss down the Starboard side. The Martin heeled over then righted herself, the bomb having fallen no more than 20 feet from us. A fortunate day for all on board HMS Martin.


HMS Martin was anchored in her usual birth in Gutter Sound.

One morning we were told to proceed alongside HMS Tyne with 5 other Destroyers (Three each side), it appeared that the great man himself, Sir Winston Churchill, accompanied by Sir Stafford Cripps was in Scapa to address the Fleet. When we were all mustered, Sir Winston spoke to us, (As only he could); about the good work the escorts had done on the Russian Convoys etc. He then spoke about the next exercise in which we were to take part but not giving any details, which would have a dramatic effect on the outcome of the war.

Some days later, towards the end of October we were under way, and to our surprise proceeded South. This had the messdecks buzzing, as we had previously always steamed North. Being in Communications, we normally got wind of what was afoot long before the other branches, on night watch the O.O.W. told me we were heading for Gibraltar. This was confirmed by the Captain when he spoke to the Ships Company, an exercise that he did regularly, he informed us that we were going to Gibraltar, and then await further orders from the Admiralty.


HMS Martin arrived at Gibraltar and we anchored in the Bay. Not since before the war had such a Fleet been assembled at the Rock, Battleships, Carriers, Cruisers, Destroyers and Supply Ships. Strict security was in force, and no shore leave granted.

We left Gibraltar and steamed into the Mediterranean, when we had formed up it was a sight to see. As far as the eye could see, a vast collection of Steel and Firepower. The odd air attacks were driven off, but compared to the Russian runs this was a picnic, and warm weather as a bonus.
We steamed West to East, East to West, and it all became rather boring, except that the Admiral was obsessed with Flag exercises at sea, the Flag Ship making sure we were awake. The Admirals favourite exercise was to quote passages from the bible by lamp, and the ships had to give the answer by Flags; woe betide any ship that didn’t know their bible.

Geordie Newton and I had the middle watch, midnight to 4 am on the 9/10th November and Martin’s position was approx 200 miles off Algiers.
At about 2:55 am the O.O.W. called down the voice pipe to inform the Captain that we were to execute an alteration of course at 0300 hours. The Captain acknowledged and said he was coming up to the bridge. Normally the O.O.W. would make any small alterations of course, but major alterations were the Captains responsibility. About a minute later there was an enormous explosion astern on the Starboard side, by this time the Captain had appeared on the bridge with us. Seconds later another explosion amidships, and Martin listed violently to starboard. I was thrown against the Oerlikon (A.A.Gun) platform, and before I could catch my breath a third explosion in the bow nearly turned her over.

This third and last explosion lifted me bodily and blew me into the sea, down and under. Having my life jacket inflated I popped up like a cork. There were flames everywhere from burning oil, cries for help, and men screaming in the dark. I must have swallowed quite an amount of oil, we had only topped up with fuel oil the day before.

A Carley Float was near by, it must have been torn free, and I grabbed it and hauled myself inboard. In between coughing and choking on the oil, I and shipmates were trying to locate men in the water. Bodies floated by, and the red lights attached to the life jackets were bobbing about in the distance. The Carley Float was soon full, and to my recollection we did not appear to have any maimed, or torn limbs amongst the survivors.
HMS martin was gone in a flash, and all that remained of her was oil and debris. A sad end to a fine ship and an excellent crew.

Sometime later, after trying to identify voices in the float, one could not recognise faces as we were all covered in oil; one wit remarked that “Well I got out of the morning watch”.

Dawn came, and thank God the water was warm, I shudder to think what would have happened had we been in Artic waters. We had an Officer in the float with us, I don’t recall him, but it was probably Lt. Kavanagh. After being adrift for some 6 hours or more I spotted a mast on the horizon, the sea was very calm. I suppose that being trained in visual signals, and being blessed with good eyesight it was not unusual for me to spot the mast first.

“A ship, a ship” I shouted, upon which everyone started jumping and shouting, nearly capsizing the float. In all this excitement very few of us shared the Officer’s concern that the mast might indeed be the enemy, but this was no enemy, it was the Destroyer HMS Quentin detached from the Fleet to search for survivors.

The ‘Quentin’ steamed alongside and soon we were slipping and scrambling on to her deck. I recall the S.B.A. (Sick Birth Attendant) giving me a large mug of heavily salted water to make me sick up the fuel oil, it certainly did that. When most of the oil was washed off us, and the ‘Quentin’s’ crew had a whip round for dry clothes, we began to put names to faces, with the oil cleaned off we could recognise each other. Men coursed the messdecks looking for mates, and trying to establish who was saved and who didn’t make it. None of us wanted to sleep below decks that night, and I remember I dozed on the flag deck. In between air attacks, we finally made Gibraltar. We were unceremoniously dumped ashore amid the usual organised chaos with survivors, nobody wants the responsibility.


I was given a uniform that would have fitted a man twice my size, on reflection; we must have looked a right dog’s breakfast. The Yeoman from the Martin, Geordie Newton and myself were to be sent to the D.T.S.S. (Dockyard Tower Signal Station); all the lads were split up, so we didn’t know who ended up where. After a day or two we were told, Geordie and I that we were not being sent home for survivors leave. The then C-in-C Mediterranean, Admiral Cunningham had issued orders that all Communications ratings must remain in the Gibraltar Signal Pool.

I afterwards found out that our Yeoman had managed to get round this one and was home before the month was out. About a week later I went to the Naval Cinema in Gib. To see the film ‘In Which We Serve’ – Noel Coward. When it came to the scene where the Destroyer was hit and sinking, I am afraid I fainted and went out like a light. I awoke in the 10th Military Hospital. My whole body was covered in a rash, Urticaria I think it was called. The Surgeon told me that the film had caused a delayed reaction of my experience on the Martin.

After seventeen days I was discharged to the Signal Station in the Dockyard Signals Pool. This entailed keeping watches there and also replacement for any ship that came in short of Signals Staff. We were seconded to various ships on the understanding that we were returned to the Gib. Signals Pool.

I finally got back home in the late January 1943 and after a spell of leave was drafted to another Destroyer HMS Zambesi and to my delight …… yes another Russian Convoy, but that is another story.

HMS Martin was a good ship, a short life but a busy one. A happy ship and very efficient. Our Captain, Commander C.R.P. Thomson DSO R.N. Was an Officer and a Gentleman in every sense of the word. When I look back, after 44 years I often ask myself “Why Me” and I think of all my mates who didn’t make it.