Catalogue description PP/MCR/109

This record is held by Imperial War Museum Department of Documents

Details of JWR/1
Reference: JWR/1
Title: PP/MCR/109

In June 1939 Jack Ralph joined the Reserve Fleet destroyer Watchman at Devonport for his annual three months' training as a Signalman Trained Operator RNVR. During the following weeks Watchman carried out an intensive programme of gunnery exercises and anti-aircraft shoots, but Ralph, always a man to see the cheerful side of things, also recalls the games they played and the companionship of the lower deck. On 23 August the Flotilla was ordered to proceed to Gibraltar, where they commenced a regular routine of patrolling in the Straits of Gibraltar on a rota of 5 days out of end 2 in harbour. By 1 December 1939 Watchman had clocked up some 22000 miles on patrol, and had assisted in the destruction of a U-boat on 24 October. The cold, wet conditions that winter brought on Ralph's first attack of epidermophytosis (the loss of skin from the feet), an ailment that was to lead him to hospital on twelve separate occasions during the war and finally to cause him to be invalided out of the Navy. Watchman was ordered back to the United Kingdom in spring 1940, and during her passage Home, on 19 March helped to sink another U-boat (pp.1-9). In May Ralph was drafted to a captured German merchant ship renamed HMS Empire Seaman which was being fitted out as a blockship and then dailed independently to Scapa Flow, where she was sunk in her alloted position (pp.9-10).


Ralph's next posting was to the 22000 ton armed merchant cruiser California, a converted liner with facilities for the men markedly superior to those of a purpose-built warship. California was in every sense a happy ship: she was only once molested by the enemy, her Commanding Officer, Captain C J Pope RAN, was highly regarded by the ship's company (p.22) and her officers were, in Ralph's opinion, "a fine crowd" (p.12). She was at this time employed on patrol duties in the Denmark Straits, stopping and inspecting any neutral ships which they intercepted in order to look for contraband. On 2 December 1940 Ralph was a member of the boarding party which went over to the Clause Schoke, a German blockade runner disguised as a Yugoslav, but unfortunately her crew had already opened her sea-socks and the California was unable to prevent her valuable prize from sinking (pp.15-16). In February 1941 the California proceeded to Halifax, Nova Scotia, to join the Halifax Escort Force, and throughout that year, apart from a refit in Boston, she was engaged on North Atlantic convoy escort, which meant a busy and full life for a Signalman. Ralph nonetheless found time to take a prominent part in the ship's social life: he was a member of the entertainment committee and ran the concert party, as well as finding the odd spare moment to make rugs. As an entertainer he was much in demand: during his leaves in Canada and the United States he often repaid generous hospitality by giving Cockney monologues. In January 1942 the California carried drafts to Sierra Leone and then, while proceeding home to pay off, was attacked, without success, by a Heinkel 115, her first time in action.


After a short spell at the R.N. Barracks, Devonport, Ralph procured for himself a posting to the Faroes, where he was sent for duty at the Naval Signal Station at Solmunde. From November 1942 to June 1943 he was the signalman in charge at the main Signal Station in Thorshaven, and he then went to Solmunde in the came capacity. Because of further trouble with his feet, he had to leave the Faroes in November 1944, but he was nevertheless promoted to Yeoman of Signals and performed routine duties at Plymouth until he was invalided out in August 1945. He ends his memoir by observing that "I was one of the lucky ones who came through safely" (p.73) and one of the most pleasing features about his reminiscences is his appreciation of the fact that, through the operation of chance, he experienced, by and large, a very comfortable war, in distinct contrast to some of his acquaintances. He did not even have to worry unduly about his wife and two young children, as from 1940-42 they were away from their London home, living in rented accommodation in Caerphilly, Wales.

Date: 1952
Held by: Imperial War Museum Department of Documents, not available at The National Archives
Language: English

Have you found an error with this catalogue description?

Help with your research