A History of H.M.S. KING ALFRED

Page 2

 

 

Training begins in earnest


 

In early 1940 additional sites were requisitioned to provide for a three tier training structure; Mowden School (the Droveway, Hove) had been evacuated to Oxendon Hall, Market Harborough, Northamptonshire, by 1940 and the site was requisitioned as ‘KING ALFRED II'. Lancing College, evacuated to Ludlow in Shropshire in the summer of 1940, was also requisitioned at the end of 1940. With the addition of Lancing College the various elements of ‘KING ALFRED’ became identified by a location letter instead of the usual suffix ‘II’ or ‘III’; the main headquarters site in Hove was referred to as both ‘KING ALFRED’ and ‘KING ALFRED (H)’, Lancing as ‘KING ALFRED (L’), and Mowden ‘KING ALFRED (M)’.

 

Cadet Ratings learning how to use a Sextant; a good level of navigation skill was a requirement for passing the course. Cadet Ratings coughing and rubbing their irritated eyes after heir encounter with C.S. gas during gas mask drills.

Left: Cadet Ratings learning how to use a Sextant; a good level of navigation skill was a requirement for passing the course.  Right: Cadet Ratings coughing and rubbing their irritated eyes after heir encounter with C.S. gas during gas mask drills. Source: ‘The Wave’


Under the training programme the officer cadets passed through each of the three ‘KING ALFRED’ training sites in turn; beginning with a two week initial training, evaluation period at Mowden School then on to six weeks at Lancing College where advanced subjects were taught, including communications, seamanship and navigation skills. The final stage of training was at KING ALFRED (H) where the course was to be completed.

 

Mowden


This site was initially an annex for the main site as the numbers of men arriving increased as demand for new officers grew. In the summer of 1941 it became the new home of the Admiralty Selection Board, previously held at the RN Barracks. Portsmouth until heavy bombing necessitated its relocation. From July 1941 it became the reception centre for all CW candidates; the first batch of cadet ratings arriving on the 8th. There was no accommodation at Mowden, cadet ratings were billeted in small hotels and private homes in the local area.

 

Telegraphist* Derric Breen remembers arriving at Mowden in May 1942;

The office gave me an address: Mrs. Treacher, 17 Silverdale Avenue, Hove. Vaguely, I wondered what kind of harridan she would be. I humped my kit down; it was in the green area of Hove, a terrace of large houses. I knocked on the door. A Lady opened it… She looked hard at me, asked no questions, but told me where to put my kit and sat me down to tea and cakes. …The whole family, Grandmother, Mother, daughter and son were kindness itself to me. At that moment, kindness was what I needed.” *

 

Upon arrival ratings underwent a medical before attending the Admiralty Selection Board which operated from the school library. Officer Candidates arrived at KING ALFRED wearing their seaman’s ‘square rig’ uniform, Ratings who passed the Board were issued with two white cap bands to be worn in place of the normal ‘HMS’ cap tally and were known by the title ‘cadet rating’.

 

“…I wore a white halo instead of (HMS) Egret's cap tally, a halo which marked us out to the world as Cadets under training. Not a Telegraphist and not an Officer, merely a Cadet. We went back to square bashing.” *

 

A playing field served as the parade ground with a mast erected from which the White Ensign and various signal flags were flown; morning divisions were held here in all weathers.

 

One major problem facing Cadet Ratings was that of achieving and maintaining a high level of ‘OLQs’ (officer like qualities), the qualities and behaviour expected of an officer and a gentleman which they must master in order to reach their final board at Hove. Any displays of LDA (lower deck attitude) could result in a candidate being failed and returned to his unit at any point in the course.

 

Naval personnel are organised into structures called Divisions, named for famous naval figures, such as Anson, Benbow, Cochrane, Drake, Effingham, Frobisher, Grenville, Hawke, Jellicoe, Nelson and Rodney. Cadet ratings were assigned to a Division at Mowden and remained with their division throughout his time at KING ALFRED. Each division was under the charge of a Divisional Officer who was directly responsible for the progress of cadets under his charge. Under him were a Field Training Officer (FTO), an Instructor Officer and a Seamanship Officer.  Cadet ratings stayed at Mowden for 2 weeks, before moving with their Division to the next stage of the course. From January 1941 this was at Lancing College.

 

The cover of the KING ALFRED Magazine 'The Wave' (Author's collection) A bound collection of all the issues his held at Hove Library.

 

 

 

Lancing


Training commenced at Lancing from mid January 1941, under the care of Commander Hugh MacLean, Officer in Charge of KING ALFRED (L).  The Cadet ratings were accommodated at the College during the 6 weeks of this phase of their course, living in large communal dormitories.

 

“I was sorry to leave my home comforts and the family which had done so much for me… Lancing College was different… It sat on the hill above the village, with the Chapel looming over all like the prow of some great ship. Inside all was stark: the long dormitories, rows of beds, each with a small cupboard, above all, the bare cheerless walls. I was glad that we went there in the summer. “ *

 

Morning Divisions at Lancing were held in the Tower Quad. This is not a very large space so as the numbers of trainees increased as the war progressed morning divisions became more cramped, and eventually had to be held in ‘shifts’. The first Division of Cadet ratings to pass out from ‘KING ALFRED (L)’ did so on February 27th at a parade witnessed by Rear-Admiral Harrison.

 

On May 29th 1941 His Majesty King George VI visited HMS KING ALFRED, and is known to have inspected the Lancing and Hove Marina sites. While at Lancing he inspected several Divisions of Cadet Ratings on the Tower Quad.

 

 

King George VI inspects Cadet Ratings on divisions at Lancing, May 29th 1941.

King George VI inspects Cadet Ratings on divisions at Lancing, May 29th 1941.  Source: ‘The Wave’

 

 Commander Hugh MacLean, Officer in Charge of KING ALFRED (L) (centre seated)  with an unidentified class of Cadet ratings.

 

In August 1942 HMS KING ALFRED (L) provide at staging point for Canadian troops participating in operation ‘Jubilee’ the ill fated allied raid on the port of Dieppe. Final planning for the operation was carried out at Lancing College, by the Canadian Army and Royal Navy commanders. Canadian troops of the Les Fusiliers Mont-Royal, 6th Infantry Brigade assembled at Lancing mustering on the Tower Quad for a final inspection in the early hours of August 19th before departing to embark in Landing craft from the beaches below Lancing.. [See HMS Lizard for more detail]  Navigation was a major part of the Cadet Ratings training at Lancing; it was so important that it became the ‘make-or-break’ element of the course in later years. Navigation training employed a technique and technology used by the Fleet Air Arm to train Air Direction Officers in the use of vectors – the Wall’s Ice-cream tricycle. The principles were the same in both cases; the trainee had to peddle around a set course following bearings using a compass mounted on the box at the front of the machine. Lancing trainees had to obey the ‘rules of the road’ of seamanship and be conversant in signalling using flags which they attached to a small mast on the front. The cricket pitch was used for this activity;

 

“We played at plotting a ship using a wheeled platform upon which a pelorus [a navigation instrument used to take relative bearings in determining a vessels position] was mounted. Around the oddly shaped field were set out symbols to signify, lighthouses, buoys and headlands. Using the compass and plotting table we steered our "Chariot" through the maze of nautical hazards.” *

 

At the completion of their six weeks at Lancing the entire division transferred to the main site at Hove for the final stage of their training.

 

Pages from the notebook of  Ord. Coder Edwin Bland P/JX508522, Officer under training at HMS KING ALFRED who was commissioned as Temporary Acting Sub Lieutenant RNVR (Sp.Br.) December 16th 1943. His detailed notes show just how complex the lessons being taught were and just how much detail had be taken on board on subjects from parade ground drills to navigation and general seamanship. Pages reproduced by permission of Colonel R.E. Bland R.M.P (Retd).

 

Cadet Ratings march past the Quarterdeck on the South Road behind Hove Marina, These men were in the final stage of their training before being granted a commission.
Cadet Ratings march past the Quarterdeck on the South Road behind Hove Marina, These men were in the final stage of their training before being granted a commission. Source: ‘The Wave’

 

 

 

Hove


The final four weeks of training were done in the main building, the RNVR Drill hall and Shoreham harbour. Accommodation for those who were unlucky enough to be billeted ‘on board’ (mostly Cadet Ratings) was the dormitories in the converted underground car park. Direct entry officers were billeted ‘ashore’ in hotels and private houses. The Mess, which was also in the car park, was used by Cadet Ratings as well as Officers under training from mid-1940; the area was divided in two, the direct entry officers' part being roped off.

 

“It was a ‘bed in line’ place, a ‘run don't walk’ place, a ‘pull your shoulders back’ place. It was also the place where we must sit our final examinations… we made a number of visits to the naval tailors who resided in the houses across the road from ‘KING ALFRED’. Here we were first measured then ultimately fitted for our uniforms…. These were made, checked and put aside for the great day, if indeed it was a great day”

 

 

Cadet Ratings receiving instruction on the Ship Handling Tank in the underground car park at Hove Marina
Cadet Ratings receiving instruction on the Ship Handling Tank in the underground car park at Hove Marina Source: ‘The Wave’

 

The area around the establishment had attracted a number of naval outfitters and at least five were opened a stone’s throw from the main entrance. Having achieved the required marks to complete the course the last major hurdle for the Cadet Rating was the Final Board; Cadets that failed their final board were not expected to pay for the new uniform which was already on order. Commissions were handed out at a final parade attended by a senior officer, usually and Admiral.

 

“[August] 21st and the announcement of our examination results. We were lined up and the results read out, starting at the back end. I stood and waited, the swine got to 18 before he called out my name. Phew! If name not called out, [failure] back to the sea. The Admiral inspected us before awarding commissions. He came along that ragbag of ill-fitting uniforms and stopped in front of me. I wore a well cut uniform, which was tailor-made. I was very proud of it. The Admiral looked me up and down, I was impeccable; he kept on looking, finally he smiled and spoke. "That man's ribbons are too long ", he announced, and honour satisfied, he went on his way. The inspection over, the failures departed. The rest of us, dressed as ratings, crossed the road and changed into our best doeskin uniforms. A uniform with a single gold stripe. I was now, an Acting Temporary Probationary Sub-Lieutenant in the R.N.V.R. Bill [Green] and I walked back across the road. At the door, the sentry clattered to attention and gave us a butt salute. It was the first of many salutes but quite terrifying. It was the first time in the war that I had wanted to turn and run. Next day, as Sub -Lieutenants, we set out for the Royal Naval College at Greenwich.”

 

 

Passing Out certificate showing the examination marks achieved by an Officer Under Training. This certificate must be obtained in order to be granted a commission. (Author's collection)

Certificate awarded at the end of a CW cadets initial period of training and acknowledges his award of a commission. Part of The KING ALFRED Papers; held at the Hove branch of Brighton & Hove City Libraries

 

At full capacity HMS KING ALFRED was passing out large numbers of new RNVR officers - in this photo form 1943 over 70 officers pose with Captain Pelly and the senior training staff outside Hove Marina. (Author's collection)

 

 

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