Personal Account E Clark HMS Locust

E Clark - HMS Locust.



I was a part (a very small part) of the first crew which commissioned HMS "Locust" at Yarrow's shipyard, Glasgow in May 1940. "Locust" and her sister ship "Mosquito" were very well armed and modern versions of gun boats, based at Sheerness as part of the Thames Estuary Defence Flotilla.

The day "Mosquito" led "Locust" in company with the Thames paddle steamers "Golden Eagle" and "Crested Eagle" to sea, late in May 1940, we thought we were going to Le Havre to evacuate women and kids (for such was the rumour on the lower deck). When we altered course to starboard to round the North Foreland, for the first time we saw the enormous pall of black smoke which was the oil tanks at Dunkirk. As we approached each ship hoisted her battle ensign, then we knew for sure it was going to be deadly serious.

I think it was early evening when "Locust" anchored off La Panne. The original intention, as "Locust" was of shallow draught and flat-bottomed, was to run her aground on a falling tide, and kedge her off on the rising tide, so letting the troops virtually walk aboard. Events proved otherwise, as we lost the kedge anchor. This proved just as well as we would have been a sitting duck. I do not remember how many there was, but during one air raid that evening, there was an awful lot, especially Junkers 87s. Troops were being brought off by motor boats, whalers, anything that would float. All smaller craft were hard at it all night. We asked a sergeant in the RASC if he could tell us what the huge fire just inland was, and we were told that several hundred army lorries had been set on fire to prevent them falling into German hands. And so began the 8 or 9 days which were virtually "action stations" with occasional interludes.



The next morning, the crew of locust were informed that we were going to tow what was left of HMS "Bideford" back to Dover. She had been bombed aft, and her depth charges had blown up too. It was a very difficult towing operation, but eventually she was brought home. When we were getting clear, guns from Gravelines started to get a bit nasty, but a couple of our destroyers, whose names I can't remember, covered us with a smoke screen.

This is the trip, I, and I'm certain most seamen after all these years, will remember most clearly – namely their first. You will realise that by somewhere around 3am-3.30am on June 4th when "Locust" finally left Dunkirk after five or six trips, from Captain downwards, we were exhausted.

The next trip, Locust went up somewhere around Nieuwpoort, very close in during the night. Further out to sea was a "C" class cruiser and so we had her personal bombardment. I think we fired 24 rounds from each 4 inch mounting, as the ranges etc., were passed down to the guns. Then we steamed back to the Dunkirk area to pick up troops. It was during this night that HMS "Wakeful" and HMS "Grafton" were sunk. This also may have been the night, or should I say the next morning at daybreak in Dunkirk itself, when the air raids were murderous. I believe that through severe loss in vessels, orders were given for night evacuation only.

During those nine days ships were coming into Dover packed to the gunwales with troops. After unloading, going to an oiler, or taking on more ammunition, then falling asleep for an hour or two before going back.

All manner of vessels went to Dunkirk, the Clacton lifeboat, the "Massey Shaw" a London fire-float to mention two of the very many. One night, off the Bray Dunes, a whaler I was in, bringing off troops to "Locust", was hailed by troops on an old Thames sailing barge. As we were taking them off the barge, one of the boat's crew looked into the barge's hold. It contained ammunition and it was burning. Never has a whaler moved through the water so fast. We got clear, but there was a hell of a bang.


 

When troops were being brought off the beaches, it was imperative to make them wade out to nearly chest high in the water, otherwise they swamped the boat. Even so, we often had twenty to twenty-five troops aboard. As for the troops themselves, some of them had boots that were worn right through, some were even lousy. There was a lot of walking wounded, some were shell shocked. God knows how far some of the poor souls had walked, or when they had last eaten or slept.

So came June 2nd, and we thought the evacuation had finished, but the powers that be ordained one more last effort. June 2nd / 3rd was the night "Locust" got her mascot. One of the ship's company picked it up on the Dunkirk mole. A tiny puppy, maybe a day or two old. "Dunkirk" became a member of the ship's company. A year or so later, he was taken ashore to a Petty Officer's home in Gillingham, where no doubt his ghost is as deaf as a door post, and he's still barking as the gun-layer presses the firing handle.

June 3rd / 4th turned out to be really the last trip. "Locust" blew up her sister ship "Mosquito" which had earlier been sunk close inshore with her decks awash. More troops were certainly got aboard, and as we turned for home, we could hear the German machine gun fire quite easily. HMS Locust was among the last four vessels to leave.


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