Nationality: United Kingdom
Rank: Deck Boy
Disch Book No R206591
A Merchant Seaman throughout the War
From BBC WW2 People’s War
I was a few months short of my sixteenth birthday when war was declared and probably looked young for my age. Small wonder, then, that the recruiting officers for the Army, Navy and Airforce all refused to accept my services; the RAF simply told me to go away, the Navy said I had flat feet and the Army told me to go and join the Boy Scouts!
I had been thrown out of the orphanage on my 14th birthday and had no idea what to do. I persuaded a friend’s mother to sign the parental consent form and joined Vindicatrix as a trainee deck hand. I celebrated my 16th birthday in the Vindi and then shipped out as a deck boy in the Arundel Castle: I made three voyages in her and moved on to “Bosworth”, “Iroquois”, “RFA Dingledale”, “San Ambrosio”, “Empire Bittern” and then “British Fidelity”.
Whilst aboard the Dingledale we took part in 'Operation Pedestal' involving refueling the escort ships protecting the convoy to Malta. Amongst the ships in the convoy was the 'Ohio', a tanker which was severely bombed. Barely afloat, she arrived in Malta assisted by two Destroyers with her cargo of much needed aviation spirit intact.
Sometime during 1942 I found myself in hospital in Gibraltar suffering with duodenal ulcers. I was subsequently returned to the UK as a DBS (Distressed British Seaman) and told to report to my doctor with my medical report. I was enjoying my life at sea and had no desire to come ashore so I threw it away and reported to the shipping office as fit for duty.
Around September 1943 we made a passage to the U.S.A aboard British Fidelity and thence to Bizerta where a combination of circumstances (involving some alcohol), resulted in me missing the vessel when she sailed. I met up with a couple of black American GIs who were transporting stores and hitched a lift with them to Algiers. (It seemed a good idea at the time!)
In Algiers I reported to the British Consul, who was less than impressed with my adventures. He did, however, have me hospitalized because I had contracted Malaria during my travels.
I returned to the UK, (I’ve forgotten the name of the vessel), and reported to Dock Street Pool Office where the Clerk was unhappy with my explanation of the “Voyage Not Completed” from the British Fidelity. He told me that it was a serious offence to jump ship and that I could be jailed. He did, however, offer an alternative: if I chose to sign on for special operations all would be forgiven. I signed and my Discharge Book shows “ Special Ops. for the liberation of Europe”.
My involvement in the Normandy Landings began on D-Day + 1, when I crossed to Arromanches in the “Otterhound” which was, I think, a coastal tanker laden with fresh water (in case the Germans had poisoned the water supply ashore). Next was an ammunition ship, I’m afraid I’ve forgotten her name, then the Duke of Lancaster (Hospital ship), and various other vessels until November 1944. Throughout this whole period my Discharge Book shows me as being signed on the Otterhound.
Fed up with the weather in the Channel I then signed on the “Ruahine”, and sailed for New Zealand.
My final ship was the “Sam Donard” and I came ashore at war’s end.
Dear Lord, I miss those days.
From Getwestlondon October 2013
AN OLD sailor went back to France to celebrate the 65th anniversary of the Normandy landings - thanks to Hillingdon Council.
Reg Payn, 85, of Greenway, Yeading, who served as a seaman during the Second World War, had his expenses paid by the council when it stepped in, following the controversy over the Government's refusal to fund trips for British veterans.
Although the Government has since offered to pay for the veterans, Hillingdon Council continued to support Mr Payn's visit, and also paid for his son Rod and his daughter-in-law Margaret to accompany him.
Mr Payn recalled June 6, 1944: "There was horrific gunfire, there were thousands of soldiers and many of them died on the beaches, some of whom I knew. It is this invasion which led to the liberation of France and drove Hitler and his mob out.
"I was a merchant seaman at the time but I was only 15 years old, and to me it just seemed to be an adventure. I saw men on other ships near us getting blown up, but didn't realise just how dangerous it was.
"When we defeated them we were exhilarated. Back at home people were waving flags everywhere.
"It's an important celebration for us, because this might be the last chance I get to pay my respects to those who died during that battle and I'm grateful to the council for supporting my visit."
After the war, Mr Payn married his sweetheart, Lilian, and the couple had five children. Lilian died six years ago.
Councillor Ray Puddifoot, the leader of the council, said: "The veterans were there when the country needed them and now we must be there when they need us.
"I was disgusted when I saw the Government wasn't supporting them, when America, Canada and France were funding their veterans.
"I think our Government was so embarrassed since this all came out that they decided to pay, but it was an insult to the people who died.
"It was estimated it would cost the Government about £500,000-£700,000 to pay for all veterans who would be able to go to France to celebrate, which isn't that much money for them to pay for those who have risked their lives for us.
"We just felt we had to support them as part of our civic duty."
Speaking after returning home from the celebrations on Sunday, Mr Payn said: "The celebrations were great and there were tens of thousands of people there. They played music of the era through loud speak-ers and the weather was beautiful.
"My family found it very interesting and my son's wife was very emotional seeing all the war graves. It was very emotional and I will go back for the 75th anniversary if I'm still alive."