HMS Europa

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 1930s. 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 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 HMS 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.

HMS Europa

The core of the Royal Naval Reserve came from fishing communities, RN Reservists, ex-Merchant Seamen, and Hostilities Only ratings. They became a Navy within a Navy. Theirs was a unique camaraderie forged in exceptional circumstances. They gained the nickname Harry Tate’s Navy (Harry Tate was an music hall entertainer who never got to grips with modern contraptions, including a car that gradually fell apart around him.)

(above) Three armed-trawlers tied up in Waveney Docks, Lowestoft. Sketch by H.H. McWilliams © IWM (Art.IWM ART LD 2146)

HMS Europa 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 HMS Western Isles.

An extract from the rare film ‘Close Up for Actions Stations!’ shows ratings ‘called up’ to the RNPS and includes footage shot at Sparrow's Nest.


'HMS Europa' has 1 comment

  1. 7th June 2021 @ 2:59 pm Football at War - HMS Leicester City | Hostilities Only

    […] HMS Leicester City had been involved in the last ever U-Boat action of the war. The wartime service of HMS Leicester City hasn’t been forgotten. In the grounds of the National Memorial Arboretum at Alrewas, Staffordshire, there is a plaque dedicated to the vessel on one side of a memorial stone dedicated to the Royal Naval Patrol Service. […]


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