How I met my Wife
On the first night of a convoy south, HM Viceroy was passing Sunderland when it hit a mine and the No 1 Boiler Room was flooded! The ship remained afloat and proceeded using No 2 Boiler Room which was unaffected - the speed of the ship was very much reduced of course.
I awoke and dismantled my camp bed and stowed the bedding in my office and went on deck as normal to find that the ship was very low in the water. I asked a passing seaman the reason and he told me about hitting the mine and No 1 Boiler Unit was flooded! I was literally gobsmacked for I had slept though the explosion. Action Stations had been sounded but I never heard them and no one missed me I gather! If the ship had actually sunk I would have drowned as my office hatch was closed! There were some casualities due to the explosion but no one was killed fortunately.
The ship limped into the Tyne and was moored at a wharf at North Shields. The next day an oil barge came alongside and all the fuel was taken from the ship's fuel tanks. The following day another barge was placed alongside and all the ammunition was removed including the depth charges. The crew were given three weeks leave but I was not allowed to go - the First Lieutenant and a petty officer and five seamen plus one of the cooks and I had to remain aboard. I had to collect all the moveable items for safe keeping, i.e. binoculars, stop watches, signal lamps and other items. This was because the dockyard workers were prone to take these items. My stores were all locked and the seamen were on the mess decks and various parts of the ship to safeguard the property of those on leave.
The third day the ship was taken by a tug to Hawthorne Leslie's Hebburn yard for dry docking to repair the hole caused by the mine. We slept on board but had to go ashore for toilets and washing facilities also for our food. We, those left on board, could not go ashore for recreation whilst the dockyard staff were on board the ship. The only day we could relax was on Sunday as the 'dockies' did not work that day.
I took advantage of this the first Sunday and caught a train from Hebburn to Newcastle Central Station. I then went to the Salvation Army where I booked a bed for that night. I had a cup of tea and was told that nothing was open from 2pm on a Sunday. That was a shock so I went for a walk and found the YMCA - I went in and had another cup of tea and found that there were three variety shows at three cinemas on Sunday evenings. I duly found the Essoldo and booked two tickets in the hope that I might pick up a girl. I eventually returned to the YMCA, had beans on toast and read the Sunday newspapers. About 7 o'clock I made my way back to the Essoldo and looked around where I saw a girl looking up and down the road. I said to her 'Have you been stood up, one of my mates was supposed to be meeting me here and I guess that he has found other company'. The girl replied, 'I am waiting for my sister and her boyfriend'. We got chatting and eventually her sister and boyfriend arrived. By this time I knew the girl's name was Kathleen. She told her sister that I had been stood up and her sister suggested that she went to the show with me and they would return her ticket to the booking office and get a refund. So Kathleen and I went into the auditorium together. We were soon exchanging personal details - she had just broken off an engagement to a cousin who was in the RAF; I had been told by my Brighton girlfriend that she was dating a Royal Marine and he had proposed to her. Thus we were both free. I learned that she had two sisters and they all lived in Blaydon with the parents. I told her of my family and about joining the Navy. After the show I walked with Kathleen to her bus at Marlborough Crescent in Newcastle and managed to get her full name and address and said I would like to see her again. Kathleen worked as a 'guage' at Vickers Armstrong on Scotswood Road and the only day she was free would be a Sunday. I duly slept at the Salvation Army and the next morning returned to the ship.
Much to my surprise, my assistant - an elderly stoker - returned aboard and I was then told I could have ten days leave. I duly caught a train to Londona and then from Victoria to Brighton - that took me 18 hours because of air raids en-route. I went out with a different girl every night but what I was anxious to do was to get back to Tyneside and see Kathleen - I was sure that I had found the right girl and I was in love with her.
On return to the ship I found that she was out of dry dock and moored alongside a jetty. The crew were all aboard and so I was able to unload all the stores that I had collected prior to docking. I wrote to Kathleen and said that I would be able to have shore leave on the Sunday and would like to see her again. A letter told me that I could see her at Blaydon - there were instructions as to where I would get off the bus at Blaydon. When I arrived at Marlborough Crescent bus station, a Bus Inspector spoke to me and twas Kath's father. He accompanied me to Blaydon and then took me to his house where Kath was waiting. I had an enjoyable visit and met the family; I seemed to be welcomed and remember thinking to myself that 'I'm well in here'. I duly returned to Newcastle in the evening and went to the Salvation Army to sleep as we were able to stay ashore until the next morning.
We duly sailed for Rosyth and resumed our convoy duties. If we were in Rosyth on a Sunday I would be able to get shore leave from noon. I therefore got the train to Edinburgh and there boarded a train stopping at Newcastle and from there went to see Kathleen. Having spent the rest of the day with her I left her house about 2am and rode a bicycle to Newcastle Station, there I put the bike in the left luggage store and posted the ticket back to Kathleen so that someone could collect the cycle. I enjoyed these visits; the return fare from Edinburgh was £1.00 and somewhat surprisingly the trains were often on time and so the journeys were tolerable.
We were seeing each other and writing letters for a year. I was so sure that Kathleen was the girl for me, so suggested that we got engaged. She said yes and I was on cloud nine! We did in fact marry on 30th January 1943, but more about the circumstances that lead to this in my next instalment.