Dennis (Alan) Taylor
Entered Hostel on the 17.2.1941 aged 15 years
Discharged 3.10.1941. to S.S. Reggestrom of the Holland West Africa Line
Commanding Officer: Commander Gilbert Heathcote R.N.
To the best of my memory the seamanship Instructors were: Mr Painter (The Chief), Mr Belsey and Mr Elgar.
I was awarded a badge for signalling and good conduct and promoted to Petty Officer.
This very happy period of my life was marred by the fire that caused serious damage to the hall. We were roused from our bunks by shouts of Fire! and most of us quickly dressed before assembling in the courtyard. The commander was the only officer present and the others were probably on Home Guard duty. After a roll call the commander sent half the boys to fight the fire and the other half to salvage clothing and bedding. I was with the fire party and the fire was in Mr Painter’s cabin in the attic. The boys formed a bucket chain from the well outside the back door, through the library and up the narrow back stairs to the attic. I was on the attic landing and the interior of the cabin was well alight. We were throwing buckets of water through the door onto the flames but not making any progress. Mr Painter was in charge of the local Home Guard and some of his .303 ammunition kept popping off. The previous week the home guard had been practicing with grenades but fortunately for us he didn’t have a case of these stashed under his bed.
After a few minutes the landing ceiling collapsed in a shower of sparks, plaster
and laths and one boy was slightly burned when his pyjama jacket caught fire. I
and another boy escaped the falling debris and we backed off into a room
directly opposite Mr Painter's. We were only there for five seconds when the
voice of authority ordered us to abandon ship.
The officers were back in charge and the fire brigade was on its way.
Next day we learned of the tragedy. The room, which in panic, we had briefly entered the previous night was Mr Belsey's and his carbonised remains were found in the ruins. He must have been unconscious in his bed but we never saw him.
On the 10th October 1942 I was in the South Atlantic serving as an Ordinary Seaman aboard the SS Narwik of the Gdynia America Line. Our ship went to the assistance of RMS Orcades which had been hit by several torpedoes. The passenger liner/ troopship had already gone to the bottom but we spent several hours searching for boats and picking up nearly 1,200 survivors. Two of my class mates from the sea school were among the survivors and eventually they were all safely landed in Capetown.
The ‘Narwik’ was alone in an empty sea except for the invisible U-boat. (Identified after the war as U-172 Kapitanleutnant Carl Emmerman. Knights Cross with Oak.) Our Chief Officer was acting Captain at the time and I believe he was awarded the Lloyds Medal.
I finally swallowed the anchor in 1949 and left the Merchant Navy to become a coal miner and a part time student. After seven years study, part time and full time, I qualified as a Mining Engineer. I was a Member of the Institution of Mining Engineers and a Member of the Institution of Mining and Metallurgy and a Chartered Engineer.
I left the coal mining industry in 1960 and took a job as Mining Engineer with a diamond mining company in Ghana, West Africa. For more than 25 years I worked on similar diamond mines in Ghana, Sierra Leone and Angola.
In retirement I wrote my autobiography (not published) and studied and was awarded a Batchelor of Arts Degree from the Open University.
As a matter of interest I have also attempted to write a novel but so far no luck with a publisher. The plot deals with murder, mayhem and a lost shipment of diamonds in 1941 and their final recovery in 1995. I draw on my experience as a sailor and as a Mining Engineer on on diamond mines. The action in 1941 involves a fictitious sea school in a fictitious village in Norfolk. The action in 1995 involves some of the original characters from the sea school and the same Norfolk village and manor house.