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 [FY 992] (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 as he ‘voluntarily’ joined-up at the age relatively late age of 31-years-old (and was not ‘conscripted) into the British Armed Forces – he was permitted to ‘choose’ which branch of the military he would serve in – and he chose the ‘Royal Navy’ in the ‘North Atlantic’. , and is recorded as training on HMS Collingwood (a Royal Navy land base). He was stationed in the North Atlantic as part of the Royal Navy Patrol Service (RNPS) between 1942-1946.
He served much of that time aboard a minesweeper named the – HMS Beaumaris Castle – (a converted trawler launched in 1917 and Commissioned by the Royal Navy during February, 1940). 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 HMS Beaumaris Castle and caused minor damage (which needed repair). A a trawler in peace-time, the HMS Beaumaris Castle was a tough little boat, but it was not constructed to participate in modern submarine and anti-submarine warfare, or deal with the long hours of patrolling in the often very bad weather that was typical of the North Atlantic theatre. This explains why the HMS Beaumaris Castle was often in dock receiving extensive repairs! The danger for these men was very real as German U-Boats operated in this area and took a terrible toll of life.
Omitted biographical data does not, in and of itself, necessarily denote or suggest that a ‘conspiracy’ is in action. After-all, as the Royal Navy Staff advise – we – the general public – are ‘free’ to carry-out our own research throughout all the many archives within which the British government chooses to store the country’s past military service information. Problems occur because these areas that serve (or have served) as ‘data-dumps’ have often been arbitrary, haphazard, disconnected and generally non-coordinated with one another. This is probably deliberate as such a non-centralised set-up is difficult to access by unauthorised personnel. This fact may appear to ‘hinder’ families seeking information on the military careers of their loved ones – but it is also a bureaucratic system designed to ‘protect’ the individual concerned and by extension – their families – should the wrong type of people come calling. Having acknowledged all of this, it is obvious that not all data will be a) found, and b) delivered to the fee-paying enquirer by the Royal Navy due to the set-up of this data-storage system.
However, it is also true that once a substantial amount of biographical data has been gathered – a specially trained Royal Navy Intelligence Officer tasked with ‘redacting’ sensitive or classified material – will sieve-through the details present and ‘remove’ anything he or she deems to be of a ‘non-communicative’ nature. George Smith – who served alongside Arthur Gibson on the HMS Beaumaris Castle – was able to inform me first-hand of the very large data-gaps that presented themselves in my grandfather’s War Record! Even so, all is not lost, as I have been able to cross-reference Arthur Gibson’s War Record with the files contained in the Imperial War Museum concerning the HMS Beaumaris Castle that have recently been placed ‘online’. This process of checking dates and geographical locations has filled-in a number of these biographical vacuums! What follows is 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 can give no further information about the hazardous duties my grandfather engaged in whilst serving on the HMS Beaumaris Castle and could not confirm or dent that such actions ‘took place’- but drew my attention to the date of ’26th of November, 1942′ when Arthur Gibson was engaged in carrying-out special ‘Duties’.
Arthur Gibson explained that on occasion Nazi German U-Boats would come to the surface and open their hatches for air near to the HMS Beaumaris Castle – but as the HMS 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 HMS 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 HMS Beaumaris Castle, and although younger than my grandfather, the two became very good friends.
I was first able to contact George Smith (who was around 15-years-yonger than Arthur Gibson) probably around 2009, and he explained to me that each Flotilla (of 5 ships) in the RNPG had one vessel designated for ‘hazardous duties’ – and the HMS 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. This is why this crew was ordered to climb the central mountain of St Kilda during late November, 1942, retrieve a number of dead bodies of allied personnel killed in an accident involving an aeroplane crash. For some reason, the British government has been determined to ‘censor’ this episode out of the ‘official’ War Records of the men who participated in this difficult extraction. George Smith once spent an hour recalling his memories of this operation during one of his many Sunday-morning (long-distance) telephone conversations with me. This information was then augmented by dozens of hand-written letters sent by George to myself – letters which I am still correlating and cataloguing, etc.
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 episode is the 26th of November 1942 – as the War Record simply states ‘Duty’ (an RNPS code-word for any special activity involving armed or ‘hazardous’ service on land). For this time period, however, the log of the HMS Beaumaris Castle provided as part of Arthur Gibson’s War Record states that the ship was in dock for repairs at ‘Oban’ from the 9.11.1942 to 6.12.1942 – with the ship arriving in Stornoway on the 7.12.1942! What is interesting is how different parts of the War Record appear not to ‘agree’ or ‘match-up’ with other parts!
HMS Beaumaris Castle is stated in the War Record as being in Stornoway on the 13.12.1942 – and then ‘disappearing’ for four-months until suddenly re-appearing at ‘Greenoch’ on the 24.4,1943! The problem with this narrative is that there are no ‘admitted’ or ‘matching’ military aeroplane crashes registered during this time period (November, 1942 – January, 1943). Furthermore, St Kilda lies 193 miles north of Greenoch – whilst Stornoway lies 296 miles north of Greenoch! Regardless of the gaps in the official narrative, crewmen serving aboard the HMS Beaumaris Castle all agree on the basic facts. They were landed by small boats on the barren and rocky island of St Kilda in terrible wind and rain, where they then had to hiked up the central mountain on a mission to locate the wreckage of a crashed military transport aeroplane – and recover whatever dead bodies were still in and around the wreckage. Each stretcher team from the HMS Beaumaris Castle had to gather 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. Boots 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. All this was successfully achieved by men trained in the Royal Navy to handle a trawler converted into a minesweeper! 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 November 12th, 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.