An account of HMS VERNON (R)




The Admiralty Torpedo, Mining & Electrical Training Establishment

at Roedean School For Girls, Brighton

May 1941 - June 1945







From August 1940 enemy bombing of Portsmouth Harbour forced H.M.S. VERNON, a busy shore based training establishment, to be dispersed to other sites around the country - Scotland, the West Country, and areas along the South Coast. Roedean School, Brighton, East Sussex was chosen to become the new home of the Headquarters and Central Administration sections of HMS VERNON, together with the torpedo and mine warfare schools and associated training departments.

In the early spring of 1941 Roedean School for Girls, Brighton was selected by the Admiralty to become home to H.M.S. VERNON, the Royal Navy's torpedo, mining and electrical training establishment. The advance party, under command of Lieutenant J. R. Carr, arrived at Roedean on April 7th 1941.



Roedean School For Girls, Brighton. Photo: Lt Cdr Rob Hoole RN

Roedean School For Girls, Brighton. Photo: Lt Cdr Rob Hoole RN



It has  passed into naval lore that before the navy moved into the school the Captain insisted that all of the female pupils should leave; it was rumoured that some of the sixth formers were still in residence. The mistress in charge, reportedly replied "my girls will be all right; they've got it up here" tapping her head" to which the Captain answered "Madam, it matters not where your girls have it, rest assured my sailors will find it!" This makes for a good yarn, but is of course all fiction as the dates prove.


At this time part of the school, number three house, was in use by the Army which had moved in shortly after the girls' school had evacuated to Keswick in the Lake District, where teaching resumed from September 5th 1940. Initially a contingent of Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders arrived for training, followed by the Queen's Royal Regiment, then four Canadian regiments and the London Scottish, who were in residence when the Navy arrived. Number three House was the only part of the school properly 'Blacked out' against air raids at the time, so work began immediately to prepare the remaining buildings for occupation, contract labour being brought in to complete the work. As accommodation became ready for occupation Lieutenant Carr telephoned Portsmouth to send another batch of ratings to Roedean, often on a daily basis; all of this work and moving in being undertaken before a firm decision about who would actually occupy the site had officially been taken.

The Army was reluctant to vacate the site but a compromise was reached - the Navy would occupy the parts of the school not already in use by the Army - a situation which was not to last for long though, the Admiralty putting forward the best case for ownership in Whitehall. The Army was shortly to receive a message which read; "unless alternative accommodation has been arranged, number of tents required is to be indented for" - this was the first they knew of their immanent eviction! They eventually relocated to 'The Olde Place' in Rottingdean, a short distance along the coast.

Roedean was officially commissioned as HMS VERNON (R) on May 3rd 1941 as the Headquarters of the Admiralty torpedo, mining & electrical training establishment under the command of Captain Brian Egerton, RN. The establishment provided intensive training courses in torpedoes, mines, depth charges and shipboard electrics. Note: (R) denoted VERNON at 'Roedean', with VERNON (P) being the residual elements of the establishment at Gun Wharf, Portsmouth.


Settling In

The main building at Roedean School has its main entrance facing the south, with four north/south oriented 'Houses' these being numbered 1 - 4; viewed from the cliff top house numbers run left to right. In front of the main entrance is an open area referred to as the quadrangle, at its south edge is a stone balustrade offering an uninterrupted view across the grounds and along the coast road to Brighton and Rottingdean. The area of the balustrade was referred to by the navy as the 'Quarterdeck', a revered area within a shore establishment, the site of the flagstaff flying the Naval Ensign - the Quarterdeck must be saluted by naval personnel when passing as a mark of respect. The School's quadrangle doubled as a parade ground, the site of Sunday divisions (parade of ship's company before church) at which the men and women of HMS VERNON would be addressed by the Captain and inspected.

Before the end of the first year, more space was needed, both for accommodation and instruction; few rooms at Roedean were large enough to hold lectures for 200 men with the exception of the main hall, the gym, and at first the art school which later became part of the Wardroom.  Suitable premises were found by requisitioning St Dunstan's Home for the Blind at Ovingdean. This new building had opened in October 1938, but like the Girl's School a quarter mile down the road, the organisation had been evacuated to Church Stratton, Shropshire in 1940. This site was used for several purposes, including an electrical instruction 'school', HMS VERNON's central pay office, sub-lieutenants' sleeping quarters and the ratings canteen and bar.


St Dunstan's Home for the Blind at Ovingdean. Photo: Lt Cdr Rob Hoole RN

St Dunstan's Home for the Blind at Ovingdean. Photo: Lt Cdr Rob Hoole RN



From 10th September, 1942 members of the Women's Royal Naval Service (WRNS) began arriving to take the six week long Seaman Torpedoman's course, up to sixteen WRNS ratings a week,. This was a new specialisation for women serving in the RN as WRNS personnel were increasingly filling shore based roles in order to free up men for sea duty. New premises were requisitioned at 90 Marine Parade as instructional classrooms for these courses. In the first year of this new course 684 WRNS (T) had completed the course, only nine failed.


WRNS (T)s at HMS Caroline, Belfast.

Torpedo Wrens at HMS Caroline, Belfast June 1945 - Photo: Leading WRNS (T) Margaret 'Peggy' Ellis, the first Torpedo Wren to join HMS Caroline after passing her course at VERNON (R) in November 1942.

CLICK HERE to read Peggy Ellis's memories of training at Brighton



The number of personnel at Roedean was to rise steadily over the course of the war; rising from approximately 150 officers, 1,000 ratings and 100 Wrens during first year, increasing to about 250 officers - including 19 WRNS Officers, 1,500 ratings and up to 600 Wrens per year. Numbers would have been even higher had the Mining Instruction School not moved back to VERNON (P) in August 1943. Over the course of its four years in Brighton VERNON (R) requisitioned further sites in the Brighton area, both for accommodation and instructional purposes, and these were:

Instructional sites
The garage area of the 'Grand' Hotel, Brighton; used for High Power Practical instruction
The 'Dreadnought' garage (22 Victoria Terrace, Hove); Torpedo Instruction
14 Royal Crescent, Brighton; WRNS only Torpedo instruction


Accommodation sites
St. Dunstan's Ovingdean, Junior officers accommodation.
John Howard House, Old People's Home, Kemptown, Brighton; for WRNS quarters (now Brighton Steiner School)
No. 22 Lewes Crescent, 7 Arundel Terrace, and 90 Marine Parade, Brighton; additional WRNS quarters
The Children's Summer Home, Northgate House, Rottingdean, another St Dunstan's property used at one time to provide holidays for the young children of St Dunstaners requisitioned for chief and petty officers' accommodation
Marine Gate, private flat complex, Brighton; unoccupied flats requisitioned for overflow officers' accommodation and married officer's quarters.


John Howard House, Kemptown, Brighton – used as WRNS Quarters.

John Howard House, Kemptown, Brighton - used as WRNS Quarters.

Photo: Lt Cdr Rob Hoole RN



Before the end of 1942 Admiral Sir Charles Little visited Roedean; as Second Sea Lord he had been instrumental securing Roedean for VERNON. The establishment had no bugler or band, so the relevant musical salutation was played over the tannoy system from a radio-gramophone. The Electrical Artificer working the apparatus was so excited that he forgot to lift the needle from the record after it had played the 'Alert', and to everyone's horror the loudspeaker system began blaring "God Save the King" In his speech the Admiral said he had received many welcomes in his time, but this was the first occasion he had received a Royal welcome!


Three class photographs from torpedo courses held at Roedean. Images curtsey of  Chris  McBrien.  Click to see larger image.


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Comments (9)

Mark A. Reid (Canada) says...
Hello Richard;

My apologies for taking so long to reply. It seems that your Father was attached to the Royal Canadian Navy for a few years during the 1920's, primarily as an Instructor at H.M.C.S. STADACONA, the shore establishment in Halifax but also aboard H.M.C.S. CHAMPLAIN. I would be delighted to send you copies of a couple of photos so if you want, let's connect via email. Mine is tapiratrogersdotcom

Again, sorry for the delay!
25th March 2020 1:20pm
Sally Holman (HADLEIGH, UK) says...
I came across this page while researching my Grandfather's brother, JOHN ALBERT POPE, who was the ELECTICAL ARTIFICER in April 1942, (according to his marriage cert), I wonder if he was the same one mentioned above!!
4th August 2019 2:04pm
Mark A. Reid (Ottawa, Canada) says...
Dear Mr. Pearce;
I have a photograph that includes your father at H.M.C.S. STADACONA in Halifax, Canada c.1930, would you like a scan of it?

Best Regards,
30th May 2019 10:16pm
Richard Pearce (Storrington, UK) says...
Hi Mark.
Many thanks for your reply regarding pictures of my father,S.C.Pearce at Stadacona in the 30s.
Yes I would love to receive anything that you have.
Did you also have a relative based there?

Kind regards Richard.
10th November 2019 5:41pm
Richard Pearce (Storrington, UK) says...
HI Mark.
Thanks for your response and apologies for not replying sooner. Yes please I would very much like to receive a copy of your photo of Sydney Pearce .
My only known connection with Canada is my brother who immigrated there in the mid 60s, so I am intrigued to know your connection to the photo.
I have been researching Sydneys naval history from when he joined the Royal Navy in 1912 to him leaving at the end of WW2.
If you wanted any info, let me know.

Kind regards Richard.
18th December 2019 11:33am
Richard Pearce (Storrington West Sussex, UK) says...
Hi Mark.
Apologies for the delay in replying.

Yes, that would be great to receive any pictures that you may have of Sydney Charles Pearce or any other info.

Regards Richard.
20th March 2020 3:25pm
Richard Pearce (Storrington West Sussex, UK) says...
Hi Mark.

Yes that would be great to receive any photos that you have of Dad, Sydney Charles Pearce, or any other info. Thanks.

Regards Richard.
20th March 2020 3:29pm
Richard Pearce (Storrington, UK) says...
My father,Sydney Charles Pearce (DOB 30/11/96)served at HMS Vernon, Roedean between 1941/45. He was a petty officer, service no.P/ J21391 RN where he met mum, Madeline Grace Vine, Wren 13946 WRNS.
I believe his work included instructing in electrical engineering and torpedoes.Any info on this period would be great.
20th July 2017 12:20pm
Brian Reynolds (auckland, New Zealand) says...
I have the above 3 photos. My father is in the first one: bottom row r.h. side. He is Lawrence Herbert Reynolds. service number is: CMX 97783.
What are the chances of clicking on an Internet research site and finding a picture of your late father there?
I got such a shock.
Any information about him would be welcome
Thank you for reading this.
Brian Reynolds.
12th April 2014 9:17am
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