Life Story of Philip Henry Stewart Reid
by his son, Alex Reid

7. Between the Wars

Minesweeping

In January 1919 Acting Sub-Lieutenant Reid joined a torpedo boat, P.41, at Portsmouth. She was 200 feet long and 700 tons, with maximum speed of 20 knots. She carried one 4 inch gun, stern torpedo tubes and depth charges. Aged just 18, Philip was the green and ignorant First Lieutenant. P.41 was Senior Officer's ship of a mine-sweeping flotilla working from Ymuiden, at the mouth of the Amsterdam Canal. The Senior Officer was a temporary Lieutenant Commander, ex Royal Indian Marine. He sometimes gave Philip a strange look; it turned out he had a glass eye. There was difficulty in inducing men due for demobilisation to do minesweeping work, so a highly paid Mine Clearance Service was formed, and Philip drew forty pounds a month for the three months that the job lasted. This began his extravagant bachelor phase, which lasted eighteen years.

HMS Bramble in the Persian Gulf

In August 1919 Philip was appointed to the Bramble, a Persian Gulf gunboat. It was an interesting relic - built of wood, copper sheathed, rigged to sail as well as steam, and fitted with a hand capstan. There were no refrigerators or fans. The ship carried a Royal Marine detachment of a sergeant and six men, including a butcher who dealt with the live sheep penned on the upper deck.

They set off on a cruise, stopping first at the stifling little harbour at Muscat. During the hot still night one could hear the Sultan's sentries hailing each other across the mouth of the harbour. At the next port, Jask, they got orders to go to Bombay, pay off and sell themselves.

HMS Wivern

Philip's next ship, and a happy one, was the Wivern, building at Samuel White's yard in East Cowes. They joined a new flotilla at Port Edgar, for training in the Firth of Forth. In March they went to Scapa Flow, and each ship attempted to tow a surrendered German destroyer to Rosyth for breaking up. Whilst alongside her tow in narrow Gutta Sound the Wivern broke adrift from her bouy in a squall, and they had an exciting night.

Cambridge

The Admiralty decided that young officers hurriedly trained during the war needed further educaiton, so Philip and his contemporaries were sent to Cambridge for a few months.

Philip found himself at Downing college for the May Term and Long Vacation of 1920. His father, a trinity Hall man of the 1860s, looked upon Downing as a poor, unfashionable place, and admittedly the undergraduates there could not spare much time or money for clothes or amusements; they were scholarship men competing for degrees that would be their livelihood. Many of the older ones had fought in the war. The Sailors, and obstreperous lot, were treated with great kindness. Philip had friends in many of the Colleges and got glimpses of a different world - the Classics and all the liberal studies in a light hearted summer setting.


 

The Reid family were living at this time at Canford Magna, near Wimborne in Dorset, in a house that later became part of Canford School.

There was a Real Tennis court there, with grille and penthouse and dedans, so Philip took lessons from the Cambridge Real Tennis professional. He bought a little two-stroke motor bicycle secondhand for sixty pounds - motors are dear after wars. This was later succeeded by a heavy machine, the Rudge Multi; one went along like a human bullet, but the Portsmouth tramlines were treacherous and Philip's shoulder long reminded him of one heavy fall there.

In the autumn Philip returned to the Wivern, leaving the ship before Christmas to undertake Sub-Lieutenant's courses at Portsmouth. They learned navigation, signals, torpedo, and gunnery. The torpedo instruction was done afloat in the Vernon hulk; the gunnery instruction was at Whale Island.

Whale Island

 



Whale Island, known as HMS Excellent or 'Whaley' was the home of naval gunnery. For nearly forty years the capital ship had been the unit of naval power, and the big gun its principal weapon. Gunnery officers have shaped naval policy and predominated in the high commands. Whether or not the bomb and the airborne torpedo have ousted the big gun, Philip remained very proud to have been a Gunnery Officer in the great days.

At the Sub-Lieutenants' course at Whale Island there was plenty of hard exercise, work, and fun in the evening. Philip liked it all, and applied to to a long gunnery course.

The drill rig was white flannel trousers, flannel shirt, scarf and khaki leggings. Classes always moved at the double. Morning Divisions was a parade under arms, usually followed by field training - squad, small arms or company drill. The Mess provided good food and cheerful guest nights. Philip played rugby, and lots of squash. Lord Louis Mountbatten was the outstanding member of the class - a hard worker of great ability.

In the summer of 1921 there was a serious coal strike. Most of the Regular Army were stationed in Ireland, and there was fear of Red revolution, so all naval reservists were recalled, and formed into units for maintaining order. Philip joined the Fourth Devonport Battalion at Tidworth, near Salisbury, and there they remained, since there was no trouble in the industrial areas.

HMS Ramillies
 

Philip joined the Ramillies at Rosyth in January 1922, a day or two after his twenty first birthday.

To be continued.


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This website is published by Alex Reid, 27 Millington Road, Cambridge CB3 9HW. Telephone: +44 1223 319733. Email: aalreid(at)gmail.com. It is an electronic scrap book, containing family life stories, casual articles, and family memorabilia.

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