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London Branch February 2015

Written by London Branch | Posted on 16th February 2015

Chairman's Message

Coastal Forces Veteran Ken Gadsdon
Ken Gadsdon, London Branch Chairman

I'm an idiot. Always have been, since I first learned to talk. But I thought I was improving this past few years ever since I decided to do nothing much. But recent events have changed my mind.

It started at our September Branch meeting, when a decision was made to form a new Committee and soldier on. There were no volunteers for office but every finger pointed to Peter Bickmore, pleading him to be Chairman, and eventually he reluctantly agreed.

Then it was my turn to be 'fingered' for Secretary and, with Peter now in the Chair, I accepted. Ten days later Peter found that, for medical and other reasons, he was compelled to retire from office, leaving me, by common decision, to find a Chairman. I'd been ambushed from the start: a well planned plot by my shipmates. So now the posts of Temporary Acting Chairman and Secretary of your Branch are held by an idiot.

But all is not lost: We have three competent Committee members propping me up; Ted, David and Steve. We are very fortunate to have this great team, with fresh ideas and dedicated to keeping London Branch afloat.

And now I must tell you that I have received a message from Buckingham Palace, no less, stating that HRH Prince Phillip, as Honorary Member of CFVA, wishes to invite CF Veterans to a garden party at The Palace. I have sent a reply explaining that CFVA decommissioned in 2007 (without a vote by all members, I could add) but that several mutinous Branches, including London Branch, had decided to carry on.

I have stated that members of London Branch might like the opportunity of an invitation, if offered. I have now been informed that Prince Phillip has invited six veterans. Despite my efforts of the Supporters help to us I was disappointed that they were excluded, I have asked that, as we are in our nineties, each veteran would need an escort. I am assuming that it will be agreed.

I have received a deadline of 28th Febuary. Unfortunately, our Newsletter also has a deadline and there will be an information gap I’m afraid. If further news is received after the issue of this Newsletter, I ask any seriously interested members to phone me immediately for the latest information.

Ken Gadsdon

Treasurer's Report

Up to now, we had been discussing how much longer the Branch could continue. Happily now we have a new Committee, we are now planning for the future, by looking to see how we can enlarge our membership. Firstly we now include those (like me) who have a direct family link to Coastal Forces, but now we also welcome those who have a genuine interest in the history of the Royal Navy and of Coastal Forces in particular.

I explain this, as it has an effect on our finances. With a view to closure, we had let our reserves in the bank diminish. However now we are definitely continuing, we need to see that our income is sufficient to cover our expected expenditure in the coming year. That is why we agreed at the last General Meeting in November to raise our annual subscriptions. I am very grateful to those who have paid their subscriptions so far, particularly those of you who included a donation.

Those who haven’t yet paid, are welcome to do so at our meeting on HMS Belfast in March. If you know that you will be unable to get to that meeting, could you please contact me via this address :- [email-obfuscate email=""]

Not forgetting your name and address.

David Carter, Treasurer

ML 1387 Medusa

Work being carried out in the engine room of the motor launch Medusa
Work being carried out in the engine room of Medusa (Alan Watson)

The ship is presently undergoing its routine winter maintenance, carried out by the hardier members of the crew in rather cold conditions.

The plans for this year have not yet been confirmed, but it is hoped to visit Poole (where she was built) and attend some exhibitions and shows.Also being planned, via our Branch, is a trip by the City of London Sea Cadets in the summer. If any of our Branch members would like to visit Medusa or even go out on her, please let me know and I will try to arrange.

David Carter

City of London Sea Cadets

As this is the first Sea Cadet article for the branch newsletter, I’ll start with a bit of background. I am a trustee of the Unit and Chair of the Parents and Supporters Association (PASA). The Unit has around 35 cadets, both girls and boys, aged from 10 to 18. Our aim is to develop the young people in our, part time, care using the traditions and ethos of the Royal Navy as a guide. It should be said that only a very small minority of our cadets enter the Navy, but those that do tend to do quite well. In recent years we have also had cadets who have gone on the join the Merchant Navy and the Army. We hope and believe that the cadets’ involvement with the Unit provides them with a positive start to their adult lives; whatever course they chose to ply

On the Saturday 13th December the cadets had a fun evening of ice skating and pizza, paid for by PASA as a Christmas treat. The cadets slept over aboard HMS Belfast ready for a hard day’s bag packing, at the Isle of Dogs ASDA; this was massively successful and the money raised will go towards boating activities over course the of 2015. The first major event of 2015 was the District 5-a-side football competition, both the U18 and U15 boys’ teams came second.

City of London Sea cadets packing shopping bags
Cadets Morgan (left) and Kai at the ASDA bag pack

The highlight of January was undoubtedly the visit to the Unit by Rear-Admiral John Kingwell. John is currently the Director of the Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre — the MoD’s in-house think tank. John was a City of London Sea Cadet in the early 1980s; he joined the Royal Navy in 1984.

Cadet Imogen with Rear-Admiral John Kingwell
Cadet Imogen being presented with her Bronze Duke of Edinburgh Award by Rear-Admiral John Kingwell

John’s major seagoing commands have been the Type 23 frigate HMS Argyll, the Assault Ship HMS Albion and, most recently, John commanded the Response Force Task Group off the coast of Libya in 2011 enforcing the 'no-fly' zone. John spent the first half of the evening joining the cadets in their classes — he has not lost his ability with knots! After stand-easy, John give an inspirational talk to the cadets about the career paths available in the Royal Navy. The evening ended with colours and John presenting awards to some of the cadets. The Unit ardently promotes the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme, the Scheme serves to package many of the activities that the cadets undertake in the course of their training into an award that is widely recognised by potential future employers and academic institutions as proving that a young person has much more to their character than is exhibited by exam results alone.

Steve Borne

The Ides of March

The month of March contains a particular anniversary of a wartime incident that affected many lives. The following article is based upon a letter written by former Petty Officer, the late Frank Coombes DSM, Coxwain of MTB 624 to our sadly missed London Branch member, the late Harry Leader DSM.

Unfortunately the letter is undated but a guess can be made as it having been written sometime during the early to mid 1990s. In the research for this preamble an amazing series of coincidences unfolded. It found that Frank Coombes had a twin brother — Fred.

Fred Coombes was also a PO Cox’n. He served on board MTB 621, in the same Flotilla (31st) as brother Frank and had also been awarded the DSM. A/B Torps Harry Leader was one of the crew of MTB 622 — again attached to the 31st MTB Flotilla1.

A sad fact uncovered was that a 16 year old fellow crewman, Ordinary Seaman Edwin Frederick Daniels from Redhill in Surrey, was one of the 15 crew that did not survive the attack; but the delight that Frank Coombes felt, when hearing of Harry’s survival, is quite plain to read in the following.

We include this image of a PO Cox’n (name unknown) telling its own graphic tale of the times; the stark reality of the stress being endured is etched upon the faces of those on the bridge of a ‘D’ boat as it heads out on patrol.

coxwain and officer on the bridge of an MTB
A still taken from the Rostand Productions DVD Spitfires of the Sea

The letter was given to the Editor several years ago by Harry Leader with permission to use it if an occasion arises.

In an attempt to encourage our members to record their own experiences, here is Frank Coombes’ letter in full and written in his own unique style — adding yet another glimpse of the Royal Navy's Coastal Forces in the Second World War.

Frank B. Coombes DSM


Dear Harry,

Please excuse typing and mistakes I shall make but its better than my writing even if it does seem to show that I can’t bludy spell either.

Have been looking for M.T.B. 622 to be mentioned in our New Members lists going back for up hill for ten years with no joy and when I did see could not believe my luck till after I rang you, it made my day. Have spun my yarn about how I saw 622 taking a hammering many times and had given up hope of ever finding out what happend to her, heard Buzzes that there were some survivors but not how many, did you say ten?. Think that it might help us both if I tell as I saw it from our Bridge and perhaps you can tell me what you can remember of it.

We set off with three Boats for a long run on the North Dutch coast, towards Heligoland, think that we were off Borkham about eight o’clock when after darkness had set in we dropped down to where we thought their Convoy Rout[e] was and turned to Port to run on it to the East. Think it was about that time that we found that our T.A.C2 was missing, think it was 617 but kept on going at slow speed for about four hours when some Twit in the R.A.F. or a star shell was fired over what Gemmel3 said was a Convoy, way over to Port and we turned towards it. We closed it and soon could see three bigger black blobs that looked like Merchant Ships and ten or so smaller black blobs that were the Escorts of an East to West Convoy and turned to Port to run along side it, you dropped astern and when we both turned towards it, you were over to our Starboard. Distinctly remember us having us having one of the outer Escorts closing us across our stern and guessed that you had gone in astern of it, that’s when we were challenged, the dung started flying, we held on to get our Fish away and when I had a chance to glance over your way, saw you inside the Outer Screen, still belting away and what I thought was your Port Tin Fish Tube spurting flame, and obviously taking a hammering. We were taking some stick too, with no way out back the way we had come with something big blocking that hole up, all I could do was to keep on going, steering away from anybody being a bit nasty and through any hole that I could see in the black Blobs and think that we went through the Convoy to get out. Gerry seemed to aim high a lot which suited us but vividly remember Shorty Hawes, a Londoner, our Starboard .5 Gunner not shooting high as we went past what looked like a Trawler who was being nasty to us and he shut them up by putting nearly two full pans of Ammo into them to shut them up so if anybody off a Trawler was nasty to you, you know why, but they did not have it all their own way. Can’t describe how we did it but got clear of the Convoy only to be chased for what seemed a long to by what seemed to be a Destroyer which was putting Star Shell over us and chucking house bricks; we could only steer for where the last one in front landed in the hope that we had guessed right. [I] was a bit busy on the Wheel so did not get much chance to look back but did see one big, yellowish fire near where the Convoy had been and did wonder if it was 622 though some of the lads said there had been a couple of smaller fires too so we never did find out if we had done any more than put the wind up them. Eventually the Navigator shouted up that I was getting near the putty and to steer more Northerly and it was then that we lost our tormentor but it was a long time before I for one felt a bit happier with my bowels.

We got back into Yarmouth in time for Tot time and needed it especially when we found out that you were not in and more so as time dragged on and it became doubtful if you were coming in at all. We had got away with three wounded, the two on the Oerlikon and the temporary Torpedo Man, he only did that one run with us and took one through the flesh part of his Forearm, as I told him when I dressed it for him, it just shows that its no use protecting your head with your arm but by the sound of it, you came off a lot worse than that. It’s all a long time back but it would be worth a bit of effort to get along side you for a good natter, Ted Barber who was the Pom Pom Gunner on 621 with us and Doug Gratton off the M.G.Bs with us in Yarmouth, who I rang to tell my news about you, want me to fix up a meeting. As Ted said, it all depends on how fit you are, think I am the Bug Bear as being up hill for seventy and not very fit a lot depends on luck but hope to sort something out between us, we shall have to wait and see.

Sorry to have rattled on so much, the enclosed snap is of Lofty Snowdon’s Remembrance Stone in Hathersage Church Yard, will explain that later but want to get a letter away to the newsletter to tell of my bit of good luck. Have also a large photo of 624 returning after the initial landings "D" Day, we were identical with 622, it might interest you but have yet to get a large stiff envelope. Have also the Yarn about 622 that I put to paper in the hopes that I could get others to put to paper their yarns instead of rattling about them at our Meetings and taking them down that hole with them and help to fill a corner in the Local Branch Newsletter that I was having a bash at. Did not get much joy with them, there are a lot who can bask in the honours and achievements earned by others, heard second hand and repeated but cannot put it in black and white. Personally, had not written any more than a letter home in my life thought that I could speak with confidence about some thing that had made such an impact on my life, am not saying that is much good but to the best of my knowledge it is near true, will let you have some old copies if I can find them, it might interest you even if you have your own yarn and experiences as a P.O.W. to think about, before I close, we have a Ralph Batterson, a P.O.W. from the M.L’s at St Nazaire but don’t know what Camp he was in but it might ring a Bell in your memory, must close, sorry to have rattled on,
All the best, Frank


1. The 31st Flotilla was renumbered the 55th in October 19431
2. Tail Ar*e Charlie2
3. Lt Cdr K Gemmel RNVR. Commanding Officer of MTB 624 and Unit Leader.3

I do not know whether Harry Leader managed to meet up with Frank Coombes or his colleagues but Harry did tell me his story — here is a very brief summary.

Almost two years after those events off Terschelling; having first spent several weeks in a Dutch, then German military hospitals, Harry had eventually been moved to a POW camp. In early 1945 with the approach of the advancing Allies, a decision was made by the German Authorities that all POW internees be marched deeper into Germany. Harry, still suffering from his wounds, realised that he would probably not survive such an ordeal and decided to try and escape with 3 other inmates: After a harrowing 3 days and nights of dodging enemy patrols, German police and civilians etc. they were eventually found by an American forward reccé unit.

There followed a memorable fortnight of being feted by the American troops, after which, he was finally repatriated back to the UK.