HMS Amethyst 1943 to 1946: As Bernard Hinchey remembers it
By Bernard Hinchey, RN
She didn't look much of a jewel that October day in 1943 when a couple of hundred matelots had their first look at HMS Amethyst in John Brown's Govan Dockyard.
The decks appeared to be covered by miles of electrical cables, welding rods, gas bottles, paint pots, empty cartons, discarded rivets and all the other bits and pieces associated with the building of this, the Navy's latest escort. But, miraculously, or so it seemed, within a few days we had a stored and ammunitioned [sic] ship, safety drills were in full swing, stretcher parties were rescuing casualties and there was a sense of urgency about everything as each piece of construction gear was taken ashore and a general clean-up made her look much nicer. The next thing we were at stations for leaving the harbour and we were off down the Clyde to the cheers of the dockyard workers who were so proud of their latest creation.
Sea trials followed, stability checks, gun drills, target firing, all in the presence of the builder's representatives and some top brass and then, after a few more weeks we were off to join our first convoy - this flat bottomed tub was about to earn her keep.
I think it must have been about December 1943 we were heading south, the troop ships in the convoy appeared so big and stable in the water compared to the escorts who were waltzing around like sheepdogs watching the flock. It was evening when we approached Gibraltar and the spectacle of Tangiers, fully illuminated, came into view, such a contrast to the coast of Britain during the blackout hours.
Life in the Mediterranean for the next nine months or so was pretty good. The normal run being Alexandria or Port Said, Malta and Gibraltar. There was an odd visit to Bizerta and Halifax and one call for just a few hours to Famagusta in Cyprus - the reason for that I never knew. Generally speaking, life was very pleasant. We were closed-up at dusk and at dawn when passing Crete a smoke screen was thrown around the convoy - the same thing happened the other end of the Med. when nearing Southern France, this of course ended after the Normandy landings.
During our time in the Med. One of the lads went down with smallpox and we had to leave the convoy and entered Bone, Algeria where arrangements had been made for all the ship's company to be inoculated. The next 24-36 hours was a pretty miserable time for most with swollen needle-scarred arms and blinding headaches for many. Twenty-one days quarantine followed when no one was allowed on or off the ship. When we arrived at Gibraltar we could only look towards the shore knowing that this visit was a write-off anyway as far as shore leave was concerned.
September 1944 we were entering Alexandria and the watch-ashore couldn't see her tied up quickly enough when the call came that all shore leave was cancelled and after taking on stores and ammunition we were to sail immediately. The groans turned to cheers on the way out of harbour when the skipper cleared lower deck and announced that she was returning to U. K. It appeared the U-boat war had flared up again, they were hunting in packs and he, of course would like to bag one on the way home.
Well, we didn't bag one on the way home and we were given various jobs for a while, some convoy work, escorting the minelayers and also escorting the mail boat between Scotland and Northern Ireland. It was after one of these runs that we were alongside in a frozen snow covered Londonderry on January 15/16, 1945 when we had emergency sailing orders back to Scotland when Amethyst, Hart, Loch Craiggie, Peacock and Starling sank U-482 about six miles off Macrihoust [sic].
Life was usually routine convoy and during one run escorting convoy MX-337 on 20th February 1945 (just after the grog issue) that there was an almighty bang which was too near for comfort followed immediately by the action bells. In the few seconds it took to reach the upper deck the corvette Vervain was already sinking and some of her crew were already in the water. Amethyst steamed on and on picking up an echo fired her hedgehogs, (in those days they exploded on contact only) and as they disappeared beneath the surface there was one hell of a bang and the sea boiled and that was the end of U-1208. In later years I wasn't proud of the fact that we lined the rails and cheered as we swung away knowing that minuets earlier so many British and German lives had ended so violently.
Convoy work continued and it was a case of convoy for a couple of weeks Liverpool for a couple of days, then convoy, Liverpool and so on. By this time the bombings and advances on Germany were increasing and come May 1945 we had all thought it couldn't go on much longer. Great excitement when the cease-fire was announced and we were dispatched to receive the surrender of U-249 off the Lizard. The first U-boat to officially surrender at the end of the hostilities.
When U-249 came into view on that ninth day of May a few hearts fluttered when our skipper ordered, I think the term was "Break out the Battle Ensign". Some of us thought in a moment of madness he was about to start WW III! The boarding party led by Lt. John Palmer set her torpedoes to safe and supervised the ditching of other ammunition. We took her into Weymouth Bay next morning where a surrender ceremony was held on a barge in the presence of a Polish Guard of Honour and soldiers from the Devonshire Regiment. After that we had to pick up another U-boat before three or four days leave and then late May or early June we left Plymouth for the Far East .
On the way out we were on our own so it was quite pleasant with cleaning ship, gun drills, aircraft recognition, etc. The Med., Suez , Red Sea, all quite relaxing but I suppose a bit of tension crept in as we left Aden and headed for Colombo. After a few days we were about to pick up our first convoy when it was announced that the atom bombs had been dropped on Japan and surrender of all Jap forces was being demanded.
The next significant job was on 6th September 1945 when Amethyst and Hart escorted aircraft carrier HMS Glory to Rabaul to receive the surrender of 139,000 Japanese on Besniack Islands, New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. The document was signed on board Glory by Lt. General Sturdie for the Allies and General Imamira [sic] for the Japs.
Ships companies were later given a photocopy of the surrender document. (sadly mine was lost over the years with all other photos etc.) We all had eight bottles of lager per man, a gift from the General and the Australian Government, the beer was issued at the rate of two bottles per day over the following Christmas period.
September 1945 to January 1496 was spent around New Guinea, the Philippines, various islands boarding junks off Hong Kong. Then we left Hong Kong and spent a month tied up in mid-stream in Shanghai. She was secured fore and aft due to the force of the 8 knot current. Our visit to Shanghai was uneventful unlike the lads who suffered so badly there during 1949. After Shanghai it was back to Hong Kong and then Australia, first to Darwin and then Townsville, then Sydney and for me my farewell to Amethyst on 10th January 1946.
I suppose when I sat down to scribble these notes some 50 years on I would have to conclude that these good times far outweighed the bad. To my mess-mates and others I came into contact with I consider myself lucky and privileged to have served with them, although I would no longer recognize them or them me. I often think of them as they were at 19 and 20 years of age.
© Bernard Hinchey, RN all rights reserved
Page published Oct. 5, 2007