Serving on Ramillies 1917 to 1919.
By Frederick Rollinson.
By Frederick Rollinson.
Preparing to join the Fleet.
My name is Frederick Rollison. I am 93 years old. In 1916 I was working for the Great Northern Railway Company in my home town of Ilkeston in Derbyshire. I was in a reserved occupation and wore a khaki armband indicating that I had been "attested" for the Army but shortly after my nineteenth birthday I decided to volunteer for the Royal Navy. Three days after signing up, in the first week of November 1916, I reported for preliminary training at Crystal Palace which had been taken over for the duration.
After three months training I was sent to Devonport, initially to an old Battleship lying in harbor, H.M.S. Vengeance, being used as a dormitory ship since the barracks were full. After a week or two, we were transferred to the R.N. camp at Tor-Point in Cornwall where a crew was being mustered for a new battleship which we learned was to be H.M.S. Ramillies.
On 5th May, 1917 we arrived at Clydebank in Glasgow to join Ramillies, lying at the side of Beardmore's yard from where she had been launced on 12th September 1916. She was still being fitted out but a major problem was the damage caused to her rudder during the launch. This could only be repaired in dry dock and so, after a short time, we set off for Liverpool. On the way, at Greenock, arrangements were made for her to steam the measured mile. As she could only be steered by the propellers she went aground twice and had to wait for the tide to float her off.
The journey to Liverpool was accomplished by having four tugs ahead and two at the stern as well as a destroyer escort. At the end of May we arrived at Gladstone Dock where the ship was to remain for three months, swarming with dockyard mateys while her rudder was repaired and fitting-out completed. She was also painted in jazzy camouflage colours. During that time we had lots of field training and drill ashore and also plenty of leave - I went home on leave three times.
At the end of August 1917 we left Liverpool for Scapa Flow to join the Grand Fleet. We were rather a motley crew under Captain Grant, an Australian and his second-in-command, Commander Round-Turner. Half of the crew of about a thousand men were (like me) Hostilities Only (HO) men and the remainder of the Navy personnel were regulars or RFR, RNR, RNVR. There were also about a hundred marines - Royal Marine Light Infantry and big fellows from the Royal Marine Artillery. The marines manned the two after turrets. We also carried a number of gunnery experts from H.M.S. Excellent at Portsmouth whose purpose was to test the main armaments - the eight 15-inch and the fourteen 6-inch guns. Ramillies also had two 3-pdrs, two ack-ack guns and four torpedo tubes.
The Grand Fleet
We arrived in Scapa Flow in the dark and, lit up by the searchlights, our colourful appearance caused some surprise. However, we were not to go on patrol with the Fleet for some time. Several times the signal flages indicated "Fleet get ready for sea. Speed 20 knots. Negative Ramillies" and we would stay behind to carry out gunnery practice in the Pentland Firth. After several weeks, around the end of Octover, we were allowed to join the Grand Fleet. Ramillies, together with her sister ships Royal Sovereigh, Royal Oak, Revenge and Resolution, formed the first division of the first battle squadron. The seccond division of the first squadron was formed by the older Benbow class - Iron Duke, Empress of India, Marlborough and Benbow with H.M.S. Canada. There were two other squadrons in the main body of the Grand Fleed formed by the battleships Agincourt, Collingwood, Centurion, Conqueror, Thunderer, Bellerophon, Colossus, Monarch, Indomitable, Inflexible, Australia and New Zealand, the latter two being manned by nations of those countires. In the center of the Fleet was Admiral of the Fleet Lord Beatty in a light cruiser. Ahead of the Fleet was the battle cruiser squadron including Queen Elizabeth, Warspite, Barham, Malaya, Baliant, Furious, Corageous, Glorious, Repulse and Renown. Bringing up the rear was a squadron of U.S. Navy ships including New York, Arkansas and Delaware. There were, of course the usual escorting destroyers and other ships. The whole Fleet formed quite a spectacle and must have been intimidating to the Germans for we were to spend the rest of the war patrolling the North Sea and calling in at Rosyth or Scapa Flow but without seeing any action.
Life on Board.
I considered living conditions to be quite good. We sat on forms at tables, one end of which was hinged to the bulkhead and the other end supported by iron rods hung from the deck above. I had no problem sleeping in a hammock, in spite of the limited space allowed. The air conditioning was effective. We bathed in tin baths. The food was plentiful and we could supplement it by using the canteen on board which was manned by Navy and Army Canteen personnel who, nevertheless were allocated action stations. The chaplain doubled as the ship's censor. When we were in Scapa Flow we could go on shore parties to the island of Flotta where there were such facilities as a YMCA and a football pitch. They also organised religious services which I sometimes attended, having been a Salvation Army bandsman. We always had to row ourselves back to the ship.
Onboard I med a fellow musician, a storekeeper who played the drums - to such effect that he, a sailor, was sometimes included in the Marines band, even marching with the band on shore. One day the band was short of a cornet player and I was asked to help out. However, the sight of two sailors marching with the Marines was considered too unconventional and neither of us was asked again.
After a time I as upgraded from Ordinary Seaman to Torpedoman with an increase in pay from one shilling (5p) a day to one shilling and threepence plus a small allowance in lieu of my rum ration. My duties not only involved dealing with torpedoes, including recovering practice torpedoes by boat, but also general help with electrical jobs. I committed one small misdemeanour. I was told to man a telephone exchange and, being new to the job, I put the plug in the wrong socket and consequently buzzed the wrong officer. As a punishment, he ordered me to "touch the trunk" of the mainmast. Being nimble (then!), I soon shinned up the ladders and, in an act of bravado, with one hand on the top of the mast and one foot on a rung, I held the other arm and leg out in space to the amusement of the hands on deck as well as the officer concerned, Lt. Cdr(later Admiral) Wake-Walker who fortunately has a sence of humor. However, as a result of this incident, I was thereafter often chosen for tasks aloft.
The Ramillies Aeroplan.
Both Ramillies and Queen Elizabeth carried observation ballons, winched up and down from the quarterdeck. They were not completely successful; our observer managed to fall in the sea on one occasion. During 1918, Ramillies was supplied with an eroplane - a small biplane (Sopwith Pup?). A runway formed of detachable plates was fitted in harbour across the top of B turret and extended above the guns on supports attached to the barrels. The total length of the runway was probably no more than 60 feet. The plane could only take off with the ship steaming full ahead into the wind. There was, of course, no question of the aircraft returing to the ship to land. In fact it took off twice. The first time it landed somewhere in Scotland and it was returned to us on a supply ship. After its second flight we did not see it again. We were told that it had crashed on landing but we never learned of the fate of the pilot.
Another innovation fitted to Ramillies was that of anti-torpedo bulges or "blisters" forming a second skin on each side of the ship. These must have appreciably reduced her maximum speed. One of the blisters came adrift and we had to put into Invergordon where there was a dry dock in which repairs could be carried out.
End of the War
In November 1918, immediately following the Armistice, we put into Rosyth where the country-wide flu epidemic hit the Fleet. More than half of the Ramillies' crew were laid up in their hammocks. All of the Marines' boy buglers were affected and so for a week, I acted as ship's bugler, a full time job giving the various calls in all parts of the ship (and ducking flying shoes I shoulded reveille!).
Restrictions were lifted and we were able to go ashore quite often and visit Edinburgh, Dunfermline and other towns in the area. In April 1919, we were lying at Invergordon and from there I was demobbed. Because of my railway knowledge, I helped in arranging the routing of a special train heading South taking those of us who were being demobbed. After a journey of 19 hours I reached Ilkeston and did not see Ramillies again although I have always retained my affection for her.