THE LIFE OF JOHN NORTHCOTE-BREWER
03-06-1931 TO 07-01-2004
“From Cradle to Demobilization”
The first twenty five years of the life of John Northcote-Brewer
June 3rd Born. Bridgwater,Somerset. (Derby Day). The youngest of five children.
Attended St. Johns Street and West Street Schools in Bridgewater.
September. Joined the British Seamen’s Orphan Boys Home,Brixham, S.Devon. My two brothers having preceded me. Within a couple of years another lad from Bridgwater, Jesmond Grieve, arrived at the orphanage. We were to be together for the next ten years. Both Jesmond and I had lost our fathers whilst they were serving in the Royal Navy. I attended Drew Street, national and Furzeham Schools whilst at Brixham. They were hard times for sure. I do remember visiting the fish quay, after having posted the orphanage mail, to ask for any spare fish that could be used for the orphanage. Another important memory that I have is of the sinking of the Submarine Thetis on 1st June 1939 in Liverpool Bay causing 99 casualties. There were only four survivors. The orphanage had a drum and bugle band. The drums were draped in black and with an armed platoon (with Boer War rifles at the “Reverse Arms”) we slow marched to St. Mary’s Church in Higher Brixham. The occasion being a Memorial Service for the loss of HMS Thetis. As the orphanage was next door to the local shipyard, we were constantly under attack from enemy aircraft on their frequent visits over Brixham.
September Joined The Royal Hospital School, Holbrook, Nr Ipswich, Suffolk, again having been preceded by my two brothers. I was allocated to Howe House. There were 700 plus boys as full boarders at this school. The fees for my brothers and I were paid by Greenwich Hospital Trust. I managed to progress through the school system to ‘A’ Stream classes (the opening for entry into the Royal Navy as an Artificer). But both Jesmond and I elected to drop to ‘C’ Stream so that we could enter the Royal Navy as Seamen (what fools we were)). Whilst at this school I learnt to swim, and managed to swim for the school from 1943 onwards. Boxing and Rugby were my other two sports. I attained the rank of Petty Officer Boy before leaving.
February 4th The great day arrived when I joined the Royal Navy as a Boy 2nd Class at HMS St Vincent, Gosport, Hampshire. After the initial New Entry training I was allocated to ‘B’ stream Class and was rated Leading Boy. I qualified for ‘A’ stream but elected to stay with my ‘B’ stream class. As it happens this made no difference to my advancement. I still played Rugby, swam and boxed, having played Rugby and swam against Britannia Royal Naval College on two occasions. 20th September rated Boy 1st Class.
January 16th Joined with the Advance Class Boys and joind HMS Wakeful (Boys Training Flotilla at Rosyth). In March was drafted to HMS St James at Devonport to remain only a very short time as on 10th April was placed on the Books of HMS Consort based in the Far East. Part of an HMS Consort draft that travelled to Hong Kong on the Troopship Dilwara. On our arrival in Hong Kong we were billeted in the China Fleet Club to await the arrival of our ship HMS Consort. We were soon on a trip to Japan where amongst other places we visited both Hiroshima and Nagasaki (both of which left a lifelong impression on me). We very soon found ourselves in Singapore and Malay. Carrying out patrols on the West Coast of Malaya during the Communist Confrontation. At one stage we carried out an anchored bombardment in support of Troops carrying out jungle patrols.
April 20th ‘Yangtze Incident’ received slight wounds during this action, which necessitated being sent to Royal Naval Hospital, Hong Kong when our ship returned there. We suffered the ten shipmates killed and some twenty nine wounded.
June Rated Ordinary Seaman.
July Commissioned Chinese Navy Ship Lang Fu which was taken back from the Chinese. She was renamed HMS Mendip. Our Captain negotiated a visit to Borneo. We were sent to Kuala Belait an oil domain. (great visit).
Late 1949 Transferred to the Communications Branch, lost a lot of seniority as I had not been trained as a Communications Boy. After three months in HMS Tamar on a conversion course I rejoined HMS Consort as an Ordinary Signalman. Then came a short spell onboard HMS Jamaica for sea experience. During this time I swam against the American Fleet at Subic Bay in the Phillipines. During the commission I took part in the All Malayan Swimming Championships at Singapore and played Water Polo for the RN in the Far East.
May 1950 Rejoined HMS Consort.
June 1950 Commencement of Korean War. HMS Consort allocated to patrol the Western Coast of the Korean peninsula, also acting as ‘plane guard’ to various Aircraft Carriers in that theatre. On return to Hong Kong applied for Signalman’s Examination, board held onboard our Captain ‘D’ result ‘Failed’-all my answers having been given using the USN Signal Books, (still after all they were the only books that I had used operationally).
Sept 1950 Returned to the UK travelling on board HMS Empire Trooper. Arrived Southampton to be sent on 56 days leave.
Jan 16th Joined HMS Sluys, 5th Destroyer Flotilla.
Mar 7th Qualified Signalman onboard HMS Kitts. Ship took part in the Festival of Britain Cruise. We were to visit amongst other ports, Liverpool where I met th lady whom I eventually married. HMS Sluys sailed with the Home Fleet for manoeuvres and exercises with the Mediterranean Fleet. Visiting the South of France, Gibraltar Malta and other ports. Whilst onboard HMS Sluys became Home Fleet Light Heavyweight Novice Champion and swam for Plymouth Command.
January Joined HMS Drake Signal School to take Leading Signalman’s qualifying course Q32.
May 12th Qualified Leading Signalman.
June 6th Joined HMS Cumberland. On sailing, proceede out of easter entrance to Plymouth Sound and ran aground on Tinker Shoal, this naturally entailed a return to drydock. As the drydock period was going to be some considerable time, I applied for a draft for sea experience.
Oct 17th Joined HMS Loch Veyatie of the Londonderry Squadron. Exercising out of Londonderry for the whole stay on board.
January Commenced White Papers onboard HMS Lock Veyatie. I needed to be drafted to a ship with a schoolmaster onboard.
Feb 17th Joined HMS Bermuda, due to sail on a Mediterranean Commission. Various visits made whilst the remainder of the fleet were returned to UK for Coronation Review. These visits included, Cyprus, Suez Canal Guard Ship, Fayid, Ismalia and Beruit. I Volunteered for Royal Yacht Service in July. At this time my White Papers were Cancelled.
Aug15th Arrived HMS Drake for Royal Yacht Service interview. Finally going on leave whilst awaiting interview results.
Oct 2nd Rated Leading Signalman.
Dec 16th Joined HMS Victory in preparation for joining the Royal Yacht.
Jan 7th HMY Britannia commissioned and sailed for trials around the Scottish coast. After which to Portsmouth to store and prepare to complete the Royal Tour started by ‘Gothic’. Called at Tobruk to embark HM the Queen to convey her to Malta, Gozo Gibraltar and finally the UK where we finally berthed in Tower Pool. Royal tour with HRH Duke of Edinburgh to Canada for the Empire Games. On return to UK I requested my return to General Service to progress my career. This was granted.
Aug 28th Married Joan Harris of Birkenhead, Cheshire.
Oct 15th Joined HMS Drake.
Nov 26th Joined HMS Eagle. Visiting Norway and the Mediterranean, flying training and exercises continually.
June 19th Daughter Elaine born, Bridgwater, Somerset.
Jul 13th Passed Provisional examination for Yeoman of Signals at HMS Riscasoli Malta.
Jul 26th Rated Acting Yeoman of Signals. Ship continuing with exercises and flying training.
Mar 6th Joined HMS Drake to await discharge.
May Discharged Royal Navy with final date of 2nd June 1956
There it is, in a nutshell some twenty five years of life, naturally not without its ‘ups and downs’ but if I am honest with myself there were more ups than downs.
John Northcote-Brewer. After Demobilization June 1956
Feb 1956. whilst still serving on board HMS Eagle I was permitted to journey to GCHQ Gloucestershire for an interview for a Code and Cypher Operator.
May 1956. Received notification that I had passed my interview at GCHQ and was appointed as a Grade 6, Foreign Officer Cypher Clerk. This appointment I declined as it was not a viable proposition as regards to salary.
May 1956 Applied for employment with Plymouth City Police Force. After interview, was appointed as Probationary Constable No 77 and attended District Police Training College, Evershot, Dorset. I was to remain at the college for some three months undergoing basic police training. I qualified lifesaving to Bronze Cross level. On return to Plymouth I was allocated to the Octagon Police station, where I was to serve under Sergeant Watson for the duration of my career. I resigned from the Plymouth City Police Force due to the fact that the wages were not compatible with bringing up a young family. I applied to the Admiralty for employment as a Signalman. On being accepted I was appointed to RFA Olna at Hebburn on Tyne and joined her in March 1957, and as follows:
RFA Olna 25.03.57– 17.07.57 Deckhand uncertificated/Signalman
June 28th 1957 son Steven born
18.07.57– 20.08.57 DHU/Signalman
21.08.57- 19.12.57 DHU/Signalman
20.12.57 – 18.04.58 Qualified A.B 02.01.58
20.06.58 – 01.01.59 Bomb test Christmas Island
RFA Tidesurge 02.01.59 – 08.01.59 Passage Hong Kong to Singapore
RAF Wave Sovereign 09.01.59 – 17.01.59 Awaiting Flight to UK.
18th January 1959 Flight to UK. Four days. Visited amongst other places during this period; Caribbean, Baton Rouge, Mediterranean, Lisbon. Terminated contract of employment with RFA to remain ashore to bring up young family.
Feb 10th 1959 Daughter Karen born Bridgwater, Somerset (My Delivery)
Feb – Oct 1959 Employed as a process inspector with British Cellophane Ltd. Bridgwater. Joined Somerset Police Force as Special Constable.
1960 – 1968
Oct 59 – Mar Employed as Security Officer Willmot Breeden Ltd. Resigned as Special Constable on taking up next appointment.
Apr 4th – 24th June Somerset Fire Brigade. Training at Birmingham. On Completion stationed at Bridgwater Fire Station
Aug 6th 61 Son Reginald Born Bridgwater, Somerset.
Appointed as Area Secretary of Fire Brigade Union
18.12.62 Qualified Leading Fireman
1963 Resigned from Somerset County Fire Service. Seeking higher salary elsewhere
1963 Commenced working for Central Electricity Generating Board at Hinkley Point Nuclear Power Station. Employed as an Nuclear Health and Safety Monitor. Joined the Auxiliary Fire Service.
1964 Founder member of Bridgwater Sea Cadet Corps, appointed Sub/Lt RNR (SCC)
1965 Promoted to Supervisor Nuclear Health and Safety, based at CEGB Combwich Laboratories, employed on District Survey duties, 25 mile radius of Hinkley Point Power Station. Works Committee representative. Formed Hinkley Point Carnival Club. Swimming for South West Electricty Board. Formed Industrial Fire Fighting Drill Team, winning our way to the National Finals once. Playing rugby now and again for Bridgwater Albion reserves. Promoted to Lt RNR (SCC) assumed duties of 1st Lt Bridgwater SCC.
1968 Resigned from position with CEGB also Lt RNR (SCC) and Auxiliary Fireman on disbandment of AFS.
Rejoined RFA Service August 1968.
RFA Lyness 05.08.68 – 19.02.71 AB. Signalman
Divorced from Joan 1970
RFA Olna 03.04.71 – 27.01.72 Temp/Act Yeoman of Signals
27.01.72 – 02.03.72 Yeoman of Signals.
RFA Reliant 21.03.72 – 09.12.72 Yeoman of Signals
RFA Tarbatness 09.01.73 – 20.04.76 Yeoman of Signals
28.04.73 Married Betty
RFA Retainer 08.07.76 – 29.11.76 Yeoman of Signals
RFA Lyness 12.01.77 – 06.01.78 Yeoman of Signals
RFA Resource 31.03.78 – 09.01.79 Yeoman of Signals
RFA Fort Austin 18.06.79 – 03.10.79 Yeoman of Signals
13.12.79 – 28.07.80 Yeoman of Signals Formed part of standby crew whilst ship was being built at Greenock.
RFA Tidepool 16.10.80 – 14.12.80 Yeoman of Signals
RFA Resource 17.04.81 – 15.09.81 Yeoman of Signals
RFA Olna 09.11.81 – 23.04.82 CPO Yeoman
RFA Olwen 14.05.82 – 09.11.82 CPO Yeoman
RFA Regent 24.01.83 – 31.08.83 CPO Yeoman
RFA 07.12.83 – 15.06.84 CPO Yeoman
RFA Reliant Ex MV Astronomer. 29.08.84 – 23.10.84 CPO Yeoman
Staff of flag Officer Sea Training Portland. November 1984 – September 1987. Staff RFA Chief Yeoman of Signals.
RFA Olmeda. 27.10.87 – 26.04.88 CPO Yeoman
RFA Olna 30.06.88 – 08.01.89 CPO Yeoman
RFA Fort Grange. 03.07.89 – 24.08.89 CPO Yeoman
Highlights of RFA Service
1.Taking part in four Defence Sales Tours of South America, Scandinavia, Near and Middle East twice and Far East twice.
- 2.Beira Patrol.
- 3.1958 H bomb Test at Christmas Island
- 4.1970 Cod War.
- 5.1982 Falklands War (arriving ten days after cease fire)
- 6.1984 – 1987 Staff to FROST and Instructional duties at HMS Mercury. Very much enjoyed Sea riding on RN,RFA and foreign warships during the Operational Sea Training.
- 7.1988 – 1989 Gulf War (Iran v Iraq)
- 8.Travels : between Jan Mayen Island in the north and South Georgia in the south and right around the globe.
Since my enforced retirement I have been involved with following organisations:
- 1.Association of Royal Yachtsmen.
- 2.Lions International. (since left) Now member of Friends of Lions.
- 3.Merchant Navy Association (Secretary for a number of years, since left.
- 4.Royal Naval Association.
- 5.Royal Naval Communication Chief Association (RNCCA)
- 6.Life member Royal Hospital School Old Boys Association
- 7.HMS Consort Association (Secretary for their first 8 years)
- 8.Royal Fleet Auxiliary Association (Secretary)
- 9.British Korean Veterans Association (Chairman)
- 10.Member of Flag Institute
- 11.Member of the Naval Historical Collectors and Research Association
- 12.Voluntary member of Ford Park Cemetery maintenance group
- 13.Community work involving the elderly at a sheltered housing complex in Plymouth
- 14.Devon Emergency Volunteers. Training Officer for Plymouth Area (Since disbanded)
A varied life to be sure, as of today 07.01.2004 life stills goes on, but at a much slower pace.
2010 Of the above still member of 126.96.36.199.8.9 also member of the 8th Destroyer Flotilla Association
Life still getting slower that’s for sure. Still enjoying my Ex service Associations
His daughter Elaine writes:-
Friday 14th June 2013 Dad died having lived a full life. Will be greatly missed by his wife Betty. 4 children and their spouses, 15 grandchildren and 15 Great-Grandchildren.
Some last words from Dad
I thank you for your friendship in the past, and look forward to our next meeting.
I do believe that we will indeed meet again Until then I wish you clear skies and calm seas
as you continue on your voyage of life. Regards Aye Jan