A View From the Minesweeper’s Bridge: A Royal Navy Officer’s World War II Memoir
By Commander RICHARD J G GOODWIN RNVR
(Austin Macauley – £12.99)
ISBN 978 1 647509033
This book was written as a family memoir and published posthumously by Cdr Goodwin’s children, with a smattering of their additions. It is very well written (as expected, given his education) and is an easy read. Having found a post-war career in South America and stayed on in retirement, unsurprisingly it is written in American and published in New York. With one exception (see below), there is nothing unusual, or unexpected, about his account of life in a small ship in WWII here.
Goodwin was born in Persia in 1913. His father was the Manager of the branch of the Imperial Bank of Persia in Qazvin, a couple of hours NW of Tehran and, inevitably, the British Consul for the area. From the age of six, Goodwin’s education took the classic ‘Empire’ route. He was put into a pre-preparatory school, established specifically for the children of ex-Pats, in Buckinghamshire. The school was run by ‘Aunt Lotty’, who looked after her charges during the holidays as well. At nine, he progressed to a Norfolk prep school and at 13, he joined Haileybury and ISC. The ‘ISC’ being Imperial Service College – directly descended from the college set up in 1806 by the East India Company to train its administrators.
Goodwin would have seen his parents every three years, or so, when they had leave from Persia. He didn’t much like Haileybury and at the age of 16 managed to get away and joined HMS Conway. Two years later, he took an interview with the Pacific Steam Navigation Company and was accepted for a two-year apprenticeship as a deck cadet. He was assisted in his moves from Haileybury and into the PNSC by another ‘uncle’ who had been senior in his father’s bank. Perhaps not co-incidentally, his interview with PNSC’s Marine Superintendent was very brief – “Stand up, turn round, sit down. Well, I see you have a head, two arms and two legs. That’s all I need”. As this was at the depth of the Great Depression, with 2.7 million unemployed in the UK, influence was very valuable in getting him started on his career.
After a couple of years on the South America run, he took his Second Officer’s exams and in 1933 he joined the RNR. He was straight back to the PNSC and was in Buenaventura, in Colombia, when war broke out. His ship was directed northwards to Halifax and then joined the first convoy across the Atlantic. Meanwhile, his wife to be was persuaded to leave the safety of Chile and to come to the UK to marry him.
On arrival in UK, Goodwin was called up, given a short gunnery course and on Jan 8th joined HMS Borde as Navigating Officer. HMS Borde was a ‘mine detector vessel’ – which was as alarming as it sounds. Magnetic mines were, at the time, a little-understood, but very high priority, threat and Goodwin recounts vividly the early days of finding out exactly how the German magnetic mines worked. HMS Borde was an old 2000-ton coaster fitted with a 400-ton electromagnet. Her task was to set off magnetic mines far enough ahead (50 yards was the best guesstimate) of the ship to detonate them, without causing too much damage to the ship. Goodwin’s account of this first attempts at clearing magnetic mines is excellent and well worth reading the book for. Needless to say, the damage to Borde was extensive and, fortunately, a towed magnetic sweep was swiftly developed. They were usually escorted by a small trawler, who task was to pick up survivors…..
In late 1941, Goodwin was appointed to HMS Whitehaven, a fleet minesweeper, under construction in Philips’ yard in Dartmouth. He took part in the North African landings and was then appointed to the staff of one of the minesweeping groups preparing for D-Day. In 1944, he was selected, as a Spanish speaker, to tour South America, giving talks on the war, finally returning to the UK aboard the RMS Queen Elizabeth from New York. He made several useful contacts during his S American tour and so, on being demobilised, moved to Peru and took up a job in shipping management. He remained in S America for the rest of his life.
This book is an interesting account of life as an ex-Pat Brit in the last century – your reviewer in only 35 years younger than the author and recognises much of the way of life. From the naval point of view, the section on early minesweeping is fascinating – the risks were truly horrifying. Otherwise, this book is one of many similar ones.
CAPTAIN ANDREW WELCH FNI ROYAL NAVY RETIRED