Upon Their Lawful Occasions
Reflections of a Merchant Navy Officer During Peace and War
Author: Vernon G. A. Upton
Publication Date: 2004
Publisher’s Title Information
This book looks at the early life of Vernon Upton, G.M. as a child in Japan, and the privations suffered by his family during the 1914-18 War. From Japan the family moved to Canada, just at the time of the Great Depression. As a young man, Vernon entered the Merchant Navy, and undertook 47 ocean passages, 20 in peacetime and 27 during the Second World War. This book details the horrors, dangers and privations of the Battle of the Atlantic from one of the few who was actually there.
The Second World War claimed the lives of 30,248 British merchant seamen, and a total of over 50,000 merchant seamen of all nationalities, a fatal casualty rate of over 31% throughout the war - higher than in any other Service body in either the First or Second World War.
The book also includes a statistical record of the sinking of 1,836 merchant ships with the loss of 32,764 of their complements, and 350 German U-boats and 13,444 of their crews.
This book serves as a tribute to all those who served in the Merchant Navy and their escorts, whether afloat or in the air, and in particular, to those who gave their lives in the cause of the freedom of our people and their allies.
Reviews to Date
"Vivid descriptions with meticulous attention to fascinating
detail and considerable humour"
"An excellent story of the times, and well worth its shelf space, at a very modest cost... clear, logical and straightforward, with a staggering amount of background research"
The Northern Mariner
"[An] excellent autobiography ... vivid descriptions with meticulous attention to detail and considerable humour ... thoroughly recommended".
Steamboat Bill: Journal of the Steamship Historical Society of America
When I first observed the title of this book, I admit it had me puzzled. As an ex - Boy Seaman RN, 'Upon Their Lawful Occasions' meant only one thing - the Naval Prayer and those endless cold winter mornings on Church Parade. One is reminded of Winter Sundays with the wind blowing across the quarterdeck and the Captain performing Divine Service, his duty in accordance with the Articles of War. I would imagine anyone who served a reasonable length of time in the Royal Navy, could quote from memory at least part of the Naval Prayer.
The explanation given by the author is, 'The title of this narrative is derived from the Naval Prayer, which is read or recited by the Captain, Chaplain, First Lieutenant, or other officer, on the quarter decks of ships of the Royal Navy when the ships' companies are mustered for Divisions'.
"0 Eternal Lord God, who alone spreadeth out the Heavens and ruleth the raging of the sea; who hast compassed the waters with bounds until day and night come to an end: be pleased to receive into Thy Almighty and most gracious protection the persons of us, Thy servants, and the fleet in which we serve. Preserve us from the dangers of the sea and from the violence of the enemy, that we may be a safeguard to our most gracious Sovereign Lord, King George (Sovereign Lady, Queen Elizabeth) and his (her) Dominions, and a security for such as pass on the seas upon their lawful occasions; that the inhabitants of our island may in peace and quietness serve Thee, our God, and that we may return in safety to enjoy the blessings of the land, ....".
This book was written for a very sound reason, a reason with which I wholeheartedly agree. In the year 2000 the author attended the Welsh Festival of Remembrance and was saddened to hear a small group of younger service personnel make derogatory remarks about the civilian status of the Merchant Navy when the audience gave a standing ovation when their banner party entered the arena. The author was so aggrieved that people should be so ignorant of what the Merchant Navy had done that he resolved to write this book. We are told that research took over four years, and there is no doubt that this will be a source of reference to historians. But more than that, it is a story of human endeavour in some of the worst possible scenarios.
As is pointed out in the Foreword, 'Young readers will have difficulty in understanding the primitive and dangerous conditions in which these men had to work, be it manual handling of heavy anchor cables in a dark chain locker, to fighting the onslaught of ice, turbulent seas and enemy submarines'.
My website is called 'Royal Navy & Maritime Book Reviews', therefore this book being about the Merchant Navy takes its rightful place with stories of the white, blue or red dusters. Just about within the City of London at Tower Hill (once a place of execution), a memorial records the names of those of the Merchant Service who died in both World Wars. Certainly 'Upon Their Lawful Occasions' doing 'Business in Great Waters'. 'They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters' as the psalm says, 'they reel to and fro, and stagger like drunken men, and are at their wit's end'.
The plain truth is, had these Merchant Seamen failed us, we should have been deprived of essential materials and starved into surrender. New generations should read this book and be encouraged by it.
This book is also a reminder that after the war the 'Grateful Country' was not so very grateful and the author, like so many of his generation 'got on with it'.
There are some good black and white photographs and the book is packed with facts including Appendix 1, 'Index of Ship Losses' & Appendix two , 'Index of U-Boat Losses'
I will conclude with the author's words, 'Even now, when I recite the Prayer to myself, I sustain sentiments of nostalgia, and of intense pride, to have served at sea when the fleets of our Royal Navy made our country pre-eminent throughout the world, and the ships of our Mercantile Marine probably outnumbered the combined fleets of all other nations'.
In the Company of Heroes
Author: Ron Walsh
Publication Date: 30th Oct 2004
Publisher’s Title Information
Ordinary Seaman Ron Walsh was on HMS Foylebank in Portland Harbour as
Portland’s defence ship. An attack of 26 Stukas sank the ship after 22 direct
hits. Ron survived, but his war was not over.
Reviews to Date
"A simple tale told of a seaman's life .. has an
easy-going connection with a matelot's daily life."
The career of Ronald Walsh in the Royal Navy commenced on the 14 February 1937 and finished on the 28 April 1969. During this period he saw service on all types of RN ships from a City class cruiser, HMS Glasgow to officer in charge of the 'Captain’s boat' HMS Terror, which was used primarily by resident ship’s company for 'Banyans' on the small islands between Johore Bahru and Singapore.
This book is required-reading for all who served in the Royal Navy during Ronald Walsh’s service. Those who do so will find at least some common ground with service or exploits during their own period. My own link was as a Mechanical Engineer (ME1) in HMS Mohawk in 1964 serving in the Persian Gulf at Bahrain when we were alongside HMS Anzio, where Ron was serving at the time as the Chief 'Buffer'. The Mohawk was a new Tribal class frigate with air conditioning and gas turbines, whereas the Anzio was a pre-war Tank landing craft, where nothing had changed since being first commissioned. The comparison between the living and working conditions between the two RN ships could not have been more different.
Ronald Walsh gives an insight into how life was for young men in the 1930’s when prior to joining the Royal Navy he took it on himself to leave home and join the traveling fairground community and even considered emigrating to Canada, all this before his 15th birthday. He gives an insight into the mindset of a young man of that era when he highlights how easy it was to wander the roads of England with little thought of danger, as he considered where his future would commence. Fortunately his father’s ex-Royal Navy service played a part in influencing his career and although he experienced a short period in the Merchant Navy prior to WWII, there is no doubt that his destiny was in the Royal Navy.
His service in WWII explains all the difficulties and dangers experienced by sailors during convoy duty, guard ships and even getting accommodated in HM Prisons at Liverpool and Manchester (although subsequently released with an unblemished record). What chance would he have had in today’s politically-correct world. For a matelot not to recount at least one run ashore over such a long period would be difficult, but how many could say that after experiencing the horrors of D-Day and the invasion of France, he was one of the lucky ones allowed shore leave in France in the days following 6 June 1944.
Although leaving the RN briefly in 1949 when he served as a Fire officer at an Airport in Scotland, he did not settle well and a job opportunity at Bournemouth’s Hurn Airport brought him back to his home area where the chance to rejoin the RN and complete his 22 years proved too strong. His return to the RN brought a spell of duty in Hong Kong, when as Coxswain of a Motor Launch; he patrolled the area between Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland and in his off duty hours was on the Tombola committee at the China Fleet Club. How many matelots remember their run ashore commencing there?
Ronald Walsh’s period of service at the end of his career took him to the Reserve Fleet at Portsmouth where again our paths may have crossed. At this time (1968) I was based at HMS Sultan and worked in HMS Blackwood, which was being used as a training ship for Mechanical Engineers. We were required to stay onboard at weekends and I can well remember receiving a visit from a very irate Chief GA, complaining about the standard of dress used by my party as we sunbathed on the upper deck.
All ex-RN on reading this book will think of the occasions when they have been urged to write a book as a permanent record of their personal experiences. Well, Ron did - maybe we should do so too.
Vic Cliffe POME 1962-71