The Gay Class Boats
By Colin W. Hewitt

During the Second World War our country had a need for ball bearings. We ask Sweden to supply the bearings which it agreed to do, however it then became a problem of getting the bearings across the North Sea. Aircraft could not do the transport due to weight, therefore the R.N. was ask to solve this question. At the beginning of the war, Camper & Nicholson were building eight gun boats for the Turkish Navy, these where commandeered by the R.N. and when requested to transport the bearings these eight boats where converted into blockade runners. Two of these boats had names prefix Gay, being Gay Corsair and Gay Viking.

By the late 1940's the short boats carried over from the war needed replacing. The R.N. was designing a diesel powered boat, which was delayed. Therefore a decision was taken to fill the gap with more petrol engined boats. These new boats were given names prefixed Gay; this was fist time that small vessels had been given names.

The 1950's Gays
Gay Archer P-1041
20th Aug 1952
Gay Bombardier P-1042
20th Aug 1952
Gay Bowman P-1043
19th Dec 1952
Gay Bruiser P-1044
19th Dec 1952
Gay Caribineer P-1045
22nd Jan 1953
Gay Cavalier P-1049
23rd Jan 1953
Gay Centurion P-1046
3rd Sept 1952
Gay Charger P-1047
12th Jan 1953
Morgan Giles
Gay Charioteer P-1048
12th June 1953
Morgan Giles
Gay Dragoon P-1050
28th Jan 1953
Gay Fencer P-1051
18th Feb. 1953
McGruer & Co. Ltd.
Gay Forester P-1052
23rd Mar 1954
McGruer & Co. Ltd.

Gay Class Motor Torpedo Boats
These boats were Admiralty designed, in a basic Vosper hard chine hull.
Engines: 3 Packard Supercharged Marlins, 1340 hp each. 1 Ford V8 generator.
Overall Length 75 feet, Beam 20 Feet. Draught 6 Feet.

As a Torpedo Boat: 2 x 21 inch Torpedo Tubes, 1 x 40 mm Bofors, 2 x 2 inch rocket flare launchers.
As a Gun Boat: 1x 4.45inch, 1 x twin 20mm Oerlikon and 2 x 2inch rocket flare launchers
As a Mine Layer, 1x 40mm Bofors, 6 ground mines, 2 x 2 inch rocket flare launchers.

Compliment, 12 or 13:
Officers, 2. .C.O. Lieutenant, 1st Lieutenant.
Seamen, Coxswain, P.O. 6 A/Bs & O/Ds, (1gunner, 1 torpedo, 2 radar plot, 2 National/Service, O/D)
1 Telegraphist / Signalman,
Engineers, 1 Chief ERA, 1 Leading Stoker, 2 Stokers.
Electrician, temporary, 1 to a squadron when away from base for extended period.

Boats of the 2nd Squadron 1954/55
HMS Gay Forester P-1051: Senior Officer. Devonport Manning
HMS Gay Charioteer P-1049: Devonport Manning
HMS Gay Caribineer P-1045: Chatham Manning
HMS Gay Archer P-1041: Chatham Manning

In May, 1954 I joined P-1045 at Lowestoft to replace a seaman who had injuries to his face and head. These had been caused when the lid of the Bofors battery box blew off. The Squadron sailed for HMS Hornet. Following maintenance time, the Squadron sailed for France, staying five days at Honfleur. Sailed for Chatham, moored in the Medway to paint the boats in preparation for escorting the Swedish cruiser 'Tre Kroner' bringing the Swedish King and Queen to visit our Royal Family, our Queen having recently returned from the Coronation Commonwealth Tour.

The Tre Kroner moored at Greenwich, the Royal Barge collected the Swedish Royal Party and sailed to Westminster Pier, we continued to escort. The four boats remained on the south side of the river until the Royal Party was ashore, being welcomed by a Guards Brigade Band and Escort, also, our Royal Family. The Squadron remained in Shadwell basin for three days and then sailed to HMS Hornet.

We sailed for Den Helder, Holland, via Lowestoft for mine laying exercise off the Dutch coast. Two weeks of exercises with Norwegian 'Elco' boats and Danish 'E' boats, several nights of roughers, and boats driven at speed, caused straining in the boat bottom beneath the fuel tanks. When on passage from Lowestoft to Den Helder, we met HMS Vanguard. The boats went to their builders to be repaired and have steel flaps fitted on the stern, which were angled down at approximately 7 degrees. This modification had the effect of raising the stern at speed, normal cruising speeds at 1800 r.p.m. increased because the boats planed better. This work was carried out during the summer leave period.

Following the boats return to HMS Hornet, they were refitted as Torpedo Boats. We then sailed for summer visits, Dartmouth for four days, taking to sea Britannia Royal Naval Collage cadets. Then, round the corner to Torquay for a long weekend. Half of Caribineer's was in the rattle for an exploit at Dartmouth and under stoppage, the Skipper said we had to have exercise, therefore we had to go ashore for hair cuts, also to attend the Saturday night dance at the pier ballroom.

The squadron sailed for the Channel Islands, Forester and Charioteer going to Guernsey, Caribineer and Archer to Alderney. By this time we were out of the rattle so we could have a run ashore where we enjoyed an evening at Bell View Hotel, for free until 2am. The squadron returned to HMS Hornet the following morning. One of our stoker's so enjoyed Alderney he decided there and then to book his honeymoon and tell his wife to be, later.

The squadron continued with local exercises, including a visit to Devonport where we laid along side HMS Matapan, a Battle Class destroyer, it seemed along way up the ladder to her upper deck. We joined in with Gay Dragoon in making the film "The Ship That Died of Shame". We also dashed up and down the Solent making cigarette adverts.

Early November the Squadron sailed for the Baltic. First stop was Lowestoft to refuel and attend Remembrance Service at a Church in the High Street. We were under sailing orders for Cuxhaven in the afternoon, but allowed shore leave. Three of us went to the cinema at the end of the jetty, unfortunately the cinema did not have a clock and so we were adrift. Fortunately the weather saved us and sailing was postponed until Monday morning, however, another weeks stoppage of leave. During our passage across the North Sea we met HMS Vanguard and her attendant destroyers.

We had a very good passage to Cuxhaven where we refuelled in the base. I was able to have a walk into the town and enjoyed it. It was then a night passage through the Kiel Canal and on to Copenhagen where we saw Eisinore Castle. The famous Mermaid greeted us as we entered what seemed a long run into our berth. Two things caught me, it being November, the Tivily Gardens were quite dull and cold. I also went into a cellar cafe and ate some cooked cold fruit mixture, (never seen at home, I now eat this daily). There was also a women who called for a coffee and smoking a very long slim cigar, again, totally new to me.

Following a week at Copenhagen we moved on to Aarhus. We had to berth a long way out from the town with the local fire brigade in 24 hour attendance. Apparently, on the previous visit the Squadron had been close into the town when our crew's previous boat, P-1023, suffered a generator explosion at 7am. I was told the entire crews disappear down the jetty at a rate of knots in underpants only. Those wishing to had an enjoyable and fortifying visit to the Carling Brewery.

We then moved to another port of which my memory fails for the name. However, we were berthed on quite a long and narrow dock. The Norwegians were there with their 'Elco' boats for exercises, as were Danish 'E' boats. One small incident I remember, I was on the upper deck cleaning when suddenly a huge cloud of smoke appeared along side. I shouted fire, our engines all flashed up together and by the time the First Lieutenant arrived on the bridge we'd almost cast off: However, it was only a smoke canister on one of the 'Elco's stern which provide the fun.

The next stop was Freidrickshaven and then Oslo. We stayed a few days at Freidrickshaven the weather being poor. Eventually we went for an exercise with the intention of continuing on to Oslo. In the event, due to the roughers, we returned to Fredrickshaven. Our skipper brought a bottle of whiskey to the mess deck, so we slept well. Alfie Ritson was our caterer and he went ashore daily to buy food. Alfie was going to the local Chandlers one morning when he returned carrying a large parcel. He opened it up and inside was very large pink teddy bear, his wife very recently having given birth. At that time, 1954, such toys were unseen.

We then commenced the trip back to HMS Hornet, down to Kiel and through to Cuxhaven Base. We played the base football team and lost 2-0, I played fullback. We were invited to the base Christmas Party, all joined in except the fire watchers. Whilst at we were at Cuxhaven the weather turned very rough and the Squadron had to move into an inner basin. When we left Cuxhaven the sea state was still grim, therefore S/O lead us into the Dutch canals, staying over night at Gronnegen. The next morning the boat was covered in a thick frost. We lowered the mast and passed through a canal to Den Helder, purchasing a bucket of milk from a farmer's wife on the way. We stayed the night in our usual berth and then sailed for Harwich.

On arrival we berth on buoys, and a boat arrive with bottles of beer all round. Next morning we sailed for HMS Hornet and as we turned the corner of Dover, the Channel blew up to a force 10. As we passed Beachy Head, Gay Archer lost an engine and could not maintain speed. Gay Caribineer was detailed to escort her in and the S/O signalled to C-in-C Portsmouth, who ordered out the duty destroyer. Fortunately, we were into HMS Hornet before the destroyer was out.

Christmas leave, and I was first leave. Mother gave me a small fruit cake to return with and back on board some one said I should have a word with the ward room chef, he'll ice it for you. Sure enough, he did, and when I collected it he said he'd used 21 eggs? I paid him with 200 cigarettes (the usual trade). So, on the 12th of January the whole crew shared my birthday cake.

The boats were now converted to Gun Boat configuration, the torpedo tubes and 40mm Bofors were removed and we were fitted with a 4.45 inch, 18.9 cal. gun forward and a pair of Oerlikons on the stern. Gay Archer, P-1041 was fitted with a pair of Hispania 20mm cannon for sea trials in place of Oerlikons. We had this armament for 3 months, converting back to torpedo boats in early April. We carried out gunnery trials, I was given the 4.45 inch to keep clean, but not fire. When we did fire the gun the deck seams immediately complained, and needed the Chippy Chaps to put things right.

During this period the crews lived in brick huts in gunboat yard, the two Chatham crews, the Royal Marine crew and some Burmese boys being trained, lived together. Living ashore cost us our Hard Layers which was 1 shilling a day, to me a significant amount, as my normal pay was 4 shillings. During these three months we were out of HMS Hornet doing various trials. We met all the big liners which came in on their way to Southampton, Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth, the United States, and USS Iowa which moored on Railway Quay.

We were accustomed to seeing HMS Vanguard frequently. We did night attacks on the new carriers, HMS Ark Royal and HMS Eagle. When we did the Eagle attack, the torpedo rating, Blondie Goodwin, and I had the position for firing the 2 inch rocket flares, the launchers being mounted over the torpedo tubes. The ready use rocket flare lockers were on the starboard side of the bridge, we therefore decided that if we worked together we could get the flares away quicker. The order came to fire and in a very short time we had emptied both lockers and as the last one was just in the air a face appeared over the bridge shouting 'Check fire'. We must have had 20 flares over Eagle almost all together.

The last item on this period's agenda was Captain Coastal Forces inspection, including a trip to sea. The boats were changed back to M.T.Bs. The two Chatham boats, Gay Archer and Gay Caribineer, went to Chatham Dockyard for Easter Navy Days. Most of the crew being local, went on leave, so those that stayed aboard had a visit from Skippers wife, Mrs Povey, who brought for us a home made Easter cake. Following the show at Chatham, it was back to HMS Hornet. With the squadron reunited, it was round to Lowestoft for exercises off the Dutch coast with the 1st Squadron Dogs. These ended with the Dogs defending the Thames Estuary and the Gays attacking. We found the Dogs moored to buoys, or something similar, and we found a lone Dog and attacked her with potatoes. On our bridge it was battle bowlers in anticipation of reply, however by the time we had used a half sack of ammunition and none coming back, our caterer was soon calling 'Check'.

Then a call at Dover, overnight, and on to HMS Hornet to prepare for a visit to Trouville, which I found quite interesting. On our return to HMS Hornet, Gay Archer paid off and Gay Charger was commissioned by Gay Archer's crew. It was now time for summer leave, which took four weeks. Following leave we again went to the North Sea at Lowestoft. The first exercise was to find and attack the Hook of Holland to Harwich ferry at night. When we were well out in open water, all means of seeing and being seen was switched off, the fog closed in, visibility was so poor that the jack staff was just visible from the bridge. We continued in this state, in close formation, and at normal operational speed of 30 knots. I took my trick at the helm, unfortunately, I was caught in the pressure wake of Gay Charger and my starboard side abeam the 40mm Bofors collided with the comer of Gay Charger's stern. It was back to HMS Hornet and recommission Gay Archer, followed by a draft chit for the Skipper, Lieutenant Povey, and l.

HMS Hornet
Coastal Forces Boats, 1954/1955
1st Squadron: 4 Fairmile 'D' (or Dog boats) MGB's armed with 2 x 4,5 inch guns, 1 twin 20mm, Boats were numbered: 5008, 5020, 5032, the forth I can't remember.

2nd Squadron: 4 Gay Class (short boats) Armed for various roles as required.

Target Squadron: 3 short boats, B.P.B Type (B.P.B. = British Power Boat Company)

Special Boat: 1 Camper & Nicholson (long boat) manned by Royal Marines.

Trials Squadron : 2 short boats, Gay Dragoon P-1051.

P-1602 Experimental, having aluminium frames and a high flared bow, similar to Fairmile 'D' boats.

Bold Pathfinder and Bold Pioneer. Each with gas turbine engines and diesels for manoeuvring. These two had different hull shapes, one was hard chine, and the other had a round hull, as per C & N boats.

A former German 'E' Boat which was the trial boat for Deltic Diesel engines.

Grey Goose, (SGB). (Peter Scot's former command) steam engines replaced with gas turbines.

I can not remember all the names, the ones I can, I list.

Skippers: 1st no name, 2nd Lt. Povey.

1st Lieutenants: 1st Lt. Johnstone, 2nd Lt. Glenny.

Midshipman: Black (4 weeks)

Coxswain P/O: We had 2, but I cannot remember their names. One had war service in Flower Class Corvettes and the other had war service as boy in HMS Howe and HMS Belfast during the Korean war.

Seamen: Alfie Ritson (Radar Plot), George Marrlot (Radar plot), Jock Cameron (1st Gunner AA3), Jock Gourly (2nd Gunner AA3) Chas (Cook), N/s Oxley (Oxo) replaced Solomon (N/s = National Serviceman), N/s Colin Hewitt, Goodwin (Blondie) (Torpedo), Gray (Dolly) (Telegraphist).

Engineroom: Chief E.R.A. whose name I cannot recall.

Chief M/Mechanic. Again, I cannot recall a name but he saw war service in Flower class Corvettes.

Leading Stoker. Unwin, Stoker Woods (Slinger), N/s Heritage (Dinger) Griffith, who replaced Woods.

Gay Boats, how we lived: Recollections of a National Serviceman
There was a wee song, 'A Gay boat for me', sang to the tune, 'A Gordon for me'. The boat had 4 major compartments. These were:
1. Crew space.
2. Wardroom / Operations space, the Coxswain and Chief and the wireless room.
3. Fuel tank, 5 self sealing tanks, each holding 4 tons of 100 octane fuel.
4. Engine room, 3 Packard 1340 hp engines and a Ford v 8 powered generator.

The crew space contained 8 bunks for 11 men, the other 3 slept on a collapsible wire framed camp beds. The deck area was approx 30 inches wide at the forward end, 10 feet wide at the after end and the length being 2 bunks or 12 feet. This area contained 2 removable tables and had 4 steel stanchions supporting the gun on the upper deck. In the compartment was also a galley containing food storage space and washing up sink with a work area. The cooking facility was a Prlmus stove and an electric ring. At the starboard side was the head, with enough room for 2 large feet. Hot water was available from a 2 gallon earn. The fresh water tank held 45 gallons and was filled dally.

The wardroom had accommodation for the two officers, a chart table and plotting table with adjacent Radar, etc: The senior ratings space was 2 bunks with a gangway, at one end a door to the mess deck at the other, the entrance to the wireless room and wardroom. A rack and cabinet for small arms containing 2 rifles, 2 Lanchesters, and 2 pistols. Ammunition was stored with the pistols in the cabinet.

Visit to Honfleur. It was Alfie Ritsons birthday. I was the new boy and I had to stay aboard as fire watcher. The rest went ashore and I was turned in when they all came back on board. Alfie was in his bunk for two days. He had come back aboard, gone to the galley, and drank half a bottle of meth's. Shush!  

Each morning around 10 am, an elderly lady riding a 500cc motorcycle stopped across the quay and went into the three story building. It was a museum. I went for a look round, another came with me, the lady showed us around and told the following story:

"It was normal for a girl getting married to have a gross of bed linen, etc: In 1940 she had her own, her mothers, and half of her grandmothers dowry. When the invading Germans arrived they took every thing".

We had a safety zone along the quay with signs " Defence Defumer" (no smoking). Each boat took a turn at mounting a guard, one afternoon a local youth came along for a chat when it was my duty. I was invited to his home which was about 50 yards from the quay. Walking along a cobbled 8 foot with a drainage channel in the middle was not altogether new but different. We reached the home which opened directly from the alley into the living room. Apart from one item, it was as if I was in England. Father opened a bottle of home made fruit drink. On the wall as I entered, hung 3 copper skillets, all different sizes and shone, brilliantly. There was a large cellar beneath the living room which was father's workshop and store. Father was the local plumber and the cellar contained all of the latest equipment. At the time I wondered at the difference between the equipment and the style of living.

Den Helder. On one of the exercises, I decided to make a pot of tea to go all round, I went forward to the mess deck hatch, Solo was sat on the hatch beneath the dodger, he lifted the hatch and held it for me to get down, unfortunately, as I reach the bottom of the ladder with the tips of my finger on the combing, the boat bounced my fingers took the hatch, I carried on and made the tea. Next morning I went aboard the Norwegian depot ship to see their doctor who made a hole in my nail to release the blood. The doctor had a large desk and I had to stretch my arm for him to see the injury. I still have a slightly bent finger. This exercise was a night mine laying off the Dutch coast.

On passage to Lowestoft. We were in the channel, off Margate, when the 3 engines stopped. Chief had a problem so we rigged a sea anchor, using the anchor rope cable, until we could move again. We then went Into Dover and remained over night as we were close to the sand banks in that area.

Pistols. The 2 pistols needed lanyards and the Coxswain handed me the pistols and a length of cod line (it was fortunate, I'd worked in a rope factory helping to make scaffold ropes) I set to, making sure the lanyards had an adequate bight to ensure the pistols could be held at arms length. However, our skipper at that time was rather short in the leg, he put the large loop over his head, loaded the pistol and let it fall. It hit deck board between his feet. 

Clock, wireless and milk bottles. We had a clock on the mess deck, a wireless from the Comforts Fund, and empty milk bottles in a milk crate. The brown bakelite surround of the clock was found on the deck having shattered into many pieces, the wireless was with them and milk bottles were rolling around. That was a drop of roughers. Some time afterwards the bulkheads had gravity meters affixed. When the experts removed same, the meter on the fore bulk head had registered 9G, some roughers for boats that should only go out in less than a force 5. The clock was still going and keeping time.

A new heavy mooring rope, to cope with Lowestoft's easterly winds. We secured bows to the harbour entrance. When we were returning to HMS Hornet from Plymouth, George produced a length of 3 inch rope, which being new, was going to be awkward to handle. He therefore secured said rope to a stern cleat and paid out the rope over the stern to let the speed 30 knots take the turns out of the rope. It did the trick, although care was needed. I guess that rope came off HMS Matapan.

Jock's letter. Jock received a letter from his girl in Glasgow, telling about two U.S. destroyers visiting Glasgow and he came up with certain conclusions. Saturday, I was at the NAFFI club on Southsea common. Jock had worked himself up and he had taken a pistol from the locker and loaded it. Before anything went too far it was taken from him. It did fire and we had a neat little hole in the forward bulkhead, which was coved by a photograph of Ruby Murray of 'Top of the Pops' fame.

Painting the Mess deck. I had been aboard a week. White paint had been obtained from the base putty. Discussion took place regarding a white mess deck, it was Saturday, and I volunteered to go into Gosport to a decorating shop to see what could be had. The shop sold very small tubes of colouring for paint costing 1/6d. We had a pale lemon mess deck.

Cap Tally. Having been issued with a HMMTB tally, Alfie Ritson offered to make me a Tiddley Bow for my cap. He did a superb job, making a bow over my left eye and the second 'M' above my nose, remarkable I was never pulled up for the bow being forward of my left ear. In those days our No.1 suit had to fit neatly with style. When I've been at HMS Hornet in recent years I have a feeling that the modem uniform, although easier to zip on, lacks the style we had. Trousers with 32 inch bottoms and 7 folds created a swagger, especially when on the dance floor. My Hard Layers did afford a No.1 suit from the Naval Tailor in Portsmouth for £4. 10 shillings, ready in a week, and a pair of shiny shoes, which always polished up very well, for an extra 30 shillings.

Having changed from gun boat to torpedo boat, we had to find out about firing a torpedo. We duly crossed the harbour at Portsmouth to HMS Vernon, to load with torpedoes. They were lowered onto 3 crutches and slid into the tubes (I cannot remember how but it was up hill). We duly went down to Weymouth were a small tanker was hove too. Blondie Goodwln was at the port tube and I at the starboard tube. Eventually I heard "Fire" on the speaker above the tube. Nothing happened and I therefore concluded the charge had failed. I replaced it and pressed the tube firing button. On returning to HMS Hornet our C.O. ask me what had occurred. I respond with "I presumed that when you said 'Fire' the tubes were being fired from the bridge control" and then explained my actions. No more was said. Lack of instruction.

Ursula Waterproof Kit. I was issued with an Ursula Suit. I found it very good, never ever being wet on the inside. These suits where made by Barbour's who are still making weather proof clothing. I recall being told how these suits came to be URSULA's. At the beginning of WW11 the submarine Ursula was operating from the River Tyne. The C/O of Ursula was a friend of the Barbour family and he ask the Barbour's to make a suit for each member of his crew, and paid for them. I can well believe that having had oilskins and sou'westers on the bridge of a submarine the suits would have been out of this world.

Tobacco. The boats were classed as home sea service therefore duty free was restricted to 600 cigarettes or equivalent pipe tobacco, per month. 600 King sized Woodbines were 19/6d, Benson and Hedges in a decorated tin of 20 cost 25/-. Balkan Sobranie tobacco was 25/- .

Visit to Trueville and Duevllle. The squadron visited these places during early summer of 1955. I have one recollection of a walk ashore and seeing a butcher's shop window filled with a large selection of cooked meats and other meat items, a new experience.

Alfies 'Right Oh'. Alfie, the caterer, was also the wardroom steward. On one occasion he reappeared in the mess to say the Jimmy had said "Ritson, 'Right Oh' is not an OK naval word".

It would be October 1954, the "Friday while" ie. long weekend leave. Chas, me and 2 others stayed aboard as fire watchers. Alfie, in going home mode, forgot about food. We therefore opened the emergency stores from beneath the Coxswain berth and help ourselves from Friday to Monday.

January to Easter, 1955. The short boat crews lived in the base in what had been an ammunition hut and fitted out with two tier bunks. In our hut there were Gay Archer and Gay Caribineer crews, plus the Marines from the Camper and Nicholson boat and also some Burmese boys at HMS Hornet for training. The wash and bathing hut was a short distance away. One evening I went for a shower and Slinger Woods was preparing to have a bath, now, Slinger was covered in black hair and as he filled the bath he was almost dancing as he sprinkle DAZ wash powder into the Bath.

Again, it's Lowestoft. Alfle had obviously bought sausage at an advantageous price. It was time for stand easy and I dropped down the ladder to the mess deck. On the table were about 5 lbs of unlinked sausage and several of lads not knowing what to with them. Having been a butcher's boy it was easily put right.

These are the memories I have of National Service in my revered Royal Navy. There are to be more short stories of this time May 1954 to September 1955. 
-Colin W. Hewitt (C/J 936238)

Page published June 1, 2014