Dad’s Memoirs

These pages will become an eBook, the wartime memoirs of my father Edward Durkin. He was drafted into the Royal Navy in July 1942 and was volunteered for service in submarines. He served four years. From time to time he would chat about the war if asked but by and large he kept it to himself. Like many who have seen firsthand the horrors of war, he kept quiet about it. However, after taking early retirement at 60 with severe arterial disease he began composing his memoirs of service for his country during the Second World War. He died at the age of 67. He was a member of the British Legion and his coffin was draped with the Union Jack. On the route to the Sacred Heart Church in Colne, Lancs, for the Requiem Mass, the funeral courtege passed Lord Street Junior School. On that particular day a policeman was standing in for the regular childcrossing attendant. As the hearse drew closer to the policeman he saluted. And he remained saluting my dad until the cortege had passed by. I felt so proud. Below are a couple of pics my dad sent home of his mates on HMS Rorqual as they were making their way to the Far East to attack Japanese ships.

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Here is a link to a youtube video about HMS Rorqual

Dad’s medals, l-r: Atlantic Star, 1939-1945 Star, Burma Star, War Medal 1939-1945

Dad, seated middle right, with rest of gang in 1942 just after he joined the Royal Navy



One of my earliest memories of Dad is listening to him singing me to sleep. Here is one of the songs he sang. It’s a copy of the actual 78rpm record taken from a Cowboy Album of six 78rpm records. This track is much more worn and crackly than the other records in the album because he used to play it and sing along with it most nights at my bedtime:

My Little Buckaroo


Dad’s first operational submarine, HMS Rorqual

Dad and Mum married on 9 August 1945 and went to Blackpool for their honeymoon. While there, the war with Japan ended and Dad knew he would not be required to return to the Far East on his new submarine, HMS Alliance. The news was greeted with wild whoopin’ and hollerin’ and goodtimin’ in Blackpool. Dad and Mum knew they could be together for a long time. Dad always told me he never expected to return (alive or dead) if he had been sent on another mission. After his experiences on HMS Rorqual he knew that his body would never be recovered

This is the photgraph of Mum he took with him on his HMS Rorqual minelaying mission in the Far East. They got engaged before he departed


Flirting with death on HMS Rorqual

July 7th 1944 HMS Rorqual, my first operational boat. As submarines go this one was massive. It was a purpose built minelayer. It carried 50 mines of the horned variety and 12 magnetic mines. The Rorqual was in dry dock at Portsmouth just across the water. I had got my Leading Stoker’s badge at last and proudly sewed it on my uniform. The boat was berthed next to a famous old ship, HMS Victory. I didn’t know whether that was a good omen or not but as it turned out it was. Everyone joining the boat was new to each other so we had to get to know one another which we did very quickly because we had to learn to live together in rather cramped quarters. The first thing we stokers had to do was to get our books out and go all through the boat drawing plans of the ballast tanks, ballast pumps, valves, vents, airlines, lubricating and fuel systems. We had had enough training to know the function of everything mentioned but we had to know where everything was situated. With the boat being so different from anything I had been on everything was in a different place so we had to relearn it all very quickly. In between all this activity we were loading up with spare parts of everything imaginable. By the time we had fastened it all down there wasn’t much room left for us. After three days the boat was declared ready for sea.

There were three hatches where you could enter the boat. Also there was a hatch to the gun platform. All three were only opened when the boat was in harbor or as in this case in dry dock. The dockyard workers started to flood the dock. When the boat was afloat we had to check everything before we left the dock. One hatch was in the “fore ends”, then the conning tower hatch and another hatch back aft in the stokers’ mess. Between the last two hatches the engine room and motor room were situated and a bulkhead door – three in number.(?)

The Chief Engineer decided to test the engines before we left the dock to make sure they worked properly. The engines were 7 cylinder diesel with 21 pistons. When they started up the noise was terrific in a confined space. There were five of us in the engine room all doing our various jobs checking valves and gauges while the engines were running. While all this was going on a seaman came down the afterhatch steps. When he came through the motor room he closed the bulkhead door behind him. None of us noticed this as we were engrossed in our work. The engines were clattering away merrily. The seaman walked through the engine room, then he closed that bulkhead door as well after he had entered the control room. The engines, being diesel, ran on a mixture of air and fuel and would continue to do so as long as there was any air. But as the engine room had been sealed off they were using up all the air in the compartment. We didn’t realize that there was anything amiss at first until the engines started to splutter and misfire. Then we knew when our ears started popping that we were actually being sealed up in a vacuum. The Chief Engineer shouted to us to go to one of the bulkhead doors while he stopped the engines. Four of us were clawing frantically at the door trying to break the seal that the suction had caused. We were fighting for our lives. It wasn’t until he had added his extra weight that we just managed to break the seal. We were just seconds away from death. We staggered into the control room gasping and choking. When we had recovered the Chief Engineer went after the seaman and gave him one hell of a roasting. He didn’t even know that he had done anything wrong. But he didn’t get charged with any offence. He was very lucky. And so were we! To cap all that we were still in the dock! I thought this is a glorious way to start my submarine career. Eventually we left the dock and sailed across the bay to tie up to the jetty at the Dolphin. 

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