I often wondered why we went on holiday to Lowestoft. It was such a long way from Cumbria by car. Now it all made sense. Dad’s service number was JX272920 LT. J 272920 meant Communications Branch. The X, he was employed on a pay scale introduced in the 1930’s. The LT was for Lowestoft.
The pleasure gardens at Lowestoft show a convivial aspect in old photographs. The formal gardens were a popular venue for summer concerts. In 1913, the Borough of Lowestoft commissioned a 1300-seat theatre in the grounds of Sparrows Nest – the garden belonging to the summer residence of local landowner Robert Sparrow.
When the Royal Naval Reserves mobilised in August 1939, Lowestoft, the most easterly point of Great Britain, became their home. The Central Depot of the Royal Naval Patrol Service (RNPS) was then the closest British military establishment to the enemy. With five bases located in the town, The Royal Navy took over Lowestoft. The largest of these was HMS Europa or Sparrow’s Nest.
As well as Europa, Lowestoft became home to the shore-bases HMS Martello (Minesweepers) HMS Minos (Harbour Defence craft) HMS Myloden (Landing Craft Training for Royal Marines and Combined Operations) and HMS Mantis ( Motor Torpedo Boats).
The small ships of the RNPS fought all over the world and in all theatres of war. Crewed mostly by Hostilities Only ratings and Royal Naval officers, they were employed on mine-sweeping, anti-submarine, convoy escort & harbour patrol duties. Ships from the RNPS were on duty in the Atlantic, the Arctic, the Mediterranean and the Pacific.
Around the coast of Britain, they kept the War Channels clear of mines. It was never ending work. As soon as a channel had been swept it was a simple task for E-Boats, U-Boats or aircraft to mine it again. It was hazardous work too. The RNPS recognised this by awarding a unique silver badge after completing six months at sea. Those who experienced the horrors of the Arctic Convoy would receive the Arctic Star and the Ushakov Medal.
The core of the Royal Naval Reserve came from the fishing communities, RNR Reservists, ex-Merchant Seamen, and large numbers of Hostilities Only ratings. They became a Navy within a Navy. Theirs was a unique camaraderie forged in exceptional circumstances in which they gained the nickname ‘Churchill’s Pirates’ or Harry Tate’s Navy (Harry Tate was an old music hall entertainer who played the clumsy comic never getting to grips with modern contraptions. His act included a car that gradually fell apart around him.)
SPARROWS NEST TODAY
Sparrows Nest still provides a home to the Royal Naval Patrol Service museum . The RNPS Memorial stands in an imposing position on the cliff top in Belle Vue Park, overlooking the sea and Sparrows Nest Gardens. It was erected and is now maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
The Lowestoft docks were once filled with a variety of craft: trawlers, drifters, minesweepers, and boom defence Vessels. Ratings were drafted onto ships all over the world and, like my father, they would often return to Sparrows Nest. But there was one draft that every rating took at some point in their early training. They were now skilled in their respective branches but unsure how to work as an efficient fighting team that could stand the rigours of warfare at sea. On 20th March 1942, it was time to visit the legendary HMS Western Isles.