I acquired my maternal grandfather’s War Record from the Royal Navy on the 29th of October 2010 (forwarded from the Director Naval Personnel, Derbyshire). When I showed it to a surviving crewmember of the HMS Beaumaris Castle (who knew my grandfather) – Mr George Smith (now deceased) – he told me that much of their adventures had been ‘removed’ from the record, or at least not given to me by the Royal Navy. Arthur Gibson was from Bermondsey, London, and is recorded as training on HMS Collingwood (a Royal Navy land base). He served in the North Atlantic in the Royal Navy Patrol Group. He served much of that time on a minesweeper named the HMS Beaumaris Castle (a converted trawler). Part of his duties concerned the spotting of Nazi German sea-mines, and using a rifle from the deck, taking a careful aim and trying to hit the detonator on the mine (thus safely exploding the device). This was not easy as the ship was continuously rising and falling in the water, and many seamen became expert shots under less than ideal conditions. This process kept the shipping lanes as clear as possible for the North Atlantic Convoys taking much needed aid to our allies in the Soviet Union. If there were large clusters of mines, and time was of the essence, occasionally the captain (or commander) would order that a machine-gun be used to clear the area. (If needed, the trawler was often equipped with either a 3-inch (76 mm) or 4-inch (102 mm) gun at the bow to counter any submarine attack). This practise was discouraged after a while as it was said to waste valuable ammunition that might be needed to protect the ship from aerial or sea attack. Grandad told us that he once exploded a mine too near his own ship, and that the explosion rocked the Beaumaris Castle and caused minor damage (which needed repair). German U-Boats operated in this area and took a terrible toll of life. A brief synopsis of Arthur Gibson’s Naval career can be seen here, together with the names of the other ships he served upon prior to joining (and after leaving) the Beaumaris Castle:
A subsequent enquiry to the Ministry of Defence by myself revealed that HMS Europa was the Royal Navy Patrol Group Central Depot land base at Sparrow’s Nest (Lowestoft), opened in August 1939, and decommissioned on the 1st of June 1946, whilst HMS Lochinvar was a Minesweeper (Land) Base at Port Edgar, opened on the 22st of November 1939 and decommissioned on the 1st of June 1948. The MOD also confirmed that it could give no further information about the special duties my grandfather engaged in whilst serving on the HMS Beaumaris Castle.
Grandad explained that on occasion Nazi German U-Boats would come to the surface and open their hatches for air near to the Beaumaris Castle – but as the Beaumaris Castle was under orders to continue minesweeping without unnecessarily contacting the enemy, the two sides would look at each other, and send over the occasional insult. Apparently, the Beaumaris Castle was too small a target for the U-Boat to a) waste ammunition upon, and b) bring-down a full-scale British counter-attack upon itself. Mr George Smith was the Communications Officer on the Beaumaris Castle, and although younger than my grandfather, the two became very good friends. I was able to contact George Smith probably around 2009, and he explained to me that each Flotilla (I think of 5 ships) in the RNPG had one vessel designated for ‘hazardous duties’ – and the Beaumaris Castle was that ship. This meant the crew were responsible for transporting highly sensitive military communications, acting as armed guardsmen at military installations on land, and deploying in unusual or dangerous situations.
My grandfather said that at some point in the war, probably around Xmas time, a military aeroplane carrying either US or Canadian personnel home on leave, ‘hit an air-pocket’ and exploded over a remote Scottish island, killing all on board. The crew of the HMS Beaumaris Castle was diverted to this island (which Mr George Smith thinks was St Kilda), and volunteers (including my grandfather), were separated into teams of two and given a stretcher. Arthur Gibson was teamed with his best friend John Youngman (from Norfolk), and the two would recall the events of this night with a tragic humour after the war (a possible date for this is the 26th of November 1942 – as the War Record simply states ‘Duty’. The problem with this is that there are no ‘admitted’ or matching aeroplane crashes at this time). They were landed on the barren and rocky island in terrible wind and rain, where they hiked up the central mountain on a mission to recover the bodies. Each stretcher team had to collect one head, one torso, two arms and two legs, but not in any particular order. This was because the victims had literally been blown to pieces. Boats were lying around with feet still in them. Among the body parts were Xmas presents and photographs of relatives, as well as other personal items. The recovered bodies were carefully taken back to the HMS Beaumaris Castle where they were laid-out in the biggest space possible – the cleared Mess Hall. I cannot find any mention of this episode in Arthur Gibson’s War Record, but it is a story he told us over and over again when we were children. Mr George Smith was the only other person who a) believed us, and b) knew about this incident from first-hand experience. He also confirmed that the HMS Beaumaris Castle escorted a surrendered Nazi German U-Boat back to shore at the end of WWII – another story Arthur Gibson used to tell us.
The description of HMS Beaumaris Castle is as follows: M/S Auxiliary Group 47 (Trawler) – Clyde Area, Western Approaches Command. This ship patrolled extensively in the seas around Stornoway – North of Scotland. Other places mentioned are Aberdeen, Lochalsh, Aultbea, Ardrossan Oban. Grandad also mentioned the island of Rum, Eigg and Muck! The final voyage of the HMS Beaumaris Castle as a functioning Royal Navy ship is listed as being to Cardiff, where it docked on the 11th of December 1945. Further research suggests that the ship was then broken-up. Interestingly, my grandfather was then transferred back to HMS Europa (a ship he had been on during two separate occasions in his early years in the Royal Navy), upon which he finally served from the 28th of November 1945 to the 15th of March 1946 – the latter date being his official Discharge date from the Royal Navy. He received the War Medal and the Service for 1939-1945 Star.