INTERVIEW WITH BEN TITHERIDGE
(JULY 2003 )
Please, tell a little bit about yourself, how did you become a naval seaman?
I was born in 1920 in
I was an artificer in the engine room department for the whole war and was lucky enough not to have been pushed into the water (Ben laughs).
What kind of
feeling did you have towards
What did you
I didn’t even think about
What about anti-Nazi feelings?
Not as such. Everybody knew that they wanted to expand. But apart from the political part it was of no importance. The war broke out – I was already in the Navy.
Which ships did you serve on and what was your duty?
The first ship I served on was a destroyer. My duty was the engine room department – maintenance, repairs. It was a relatively small ship and a happy ship – HMS Hotspur. I was only a young artificer at that time and still under training. As the war dragged on I qualified as a full time engine artificer.
Did you visit
I did visit the
It’s a question asked pretty often – did you have a chance to mix with the Russian girls?
No, no. They were not social enough, were not interested in, really.
Did you meet Russian people?
Yes, we had a Russian concert party onboard, in one of our aircraft hangars – we carried aircraft…. “Walrus” aircraft. It was really a good concert.
Did you have a chance to talk to the Russian seamen?
No, not really. We got along well with them, there was no animosity. They were allies and we were helping them. I don’t think Russians were really inclined to mix with us. They seemed to be distant, you know. We didn’t talk Russian, their English was not that good. Officers, perhaps, were more interacting.
Which day of the war do you remember most?
I think when the war started
Yes, it was.
What was your
impression of the books “The
Yes, I’ve read “The Cruel Sea” and “HMS Ulysses” and I found them realistic.
Was there any exaggeration about the harshness of life on a cruiser during Arctic convoys?
Well, no, but the destroyers were better.
Oh, yes. It’s a smaller ship, everybody knows each other, everybody got along all right. I did two stints on “Hotspur”.
me more about the conditions of life in “
We were in a mess of about thirty – thirty artificers. There was a lot to do – keeping watch, doing repairs. But conditions were more relaxed on a small ship. You’ve got only 4-5 artificers in a mess and you know everybody – say 150 as opposed to 800 on a cruiser.
I’m asking about it because Ted Slinger and Geoff Taylor told me a lot about the harshness of life on destroyers, how cold, wet and they were all the time, how miserable was food…
But on small ships everybody knew everybody else, it’s more happy.
Did you have to chip ice off the upper deck?
No it was washed of by steam from a hose.
I’ve heard that British ships were overcrowded during the war because there was a lot more equipment that they were initially designed for. Is that right?
Oh, yes. A lot more people than you would have in peace time, but it was comfortable enough. In terms of food on destroyers you would have more choice, different conditions. If you had a good messman the food on a destroyer was better than on a cruiser.
How was your
food compared to the rations of the civil population of
I think we were. We were rationed of course, but not so strictly.
What about alcohol?
We had a small shot per day – about 70 grams. Junior ranks would have it as grog – rum watered down. And in chief and petty officers mess we would drink it neat – it was much better. It was not allowed but you could keep it in a bottle…
Another question about “The
It could have happened. If there was a definite contact with a U-boat they had to attack it. It was more important to get the U-boat…
Did you have any German POWs onboard of your ship during the war?
I remember we picked up a German airman from the water. We just took him onboard, made sure he was OK, and when we hit the port we handed him over to the military.
Please tell me what you feel like you want to tell.
I remember on one occasion
Did they hit you?
No, no. When we got back
I did two stints on Hotspur.
First was when I was only 19 – we went to
Did she get any damage?
Oh, yes. About 17 killed after seven direct hits.
Did you lose any of your mates?
No, no. They were mostly seamen. Engine compartment is usually lucky enough to be protected…
How high was the spirit? The war had just broken out…
Oh, yes. I was destined to join the Navy and the spirit of British Navy was always high.
The Germans suffered heavy losses then. Did you take any survivors onboard?
Yes, I can remember once we did only to transport them to a British port.
Did you have a chance to talk to them?
No, no. They were kept
under guard. After that I served as a senior artificer and the ship was mostly
on the convoy duties – over to
Yes, of course. We shadowed “Bismark” and when the fog lifted they fired on us.
Was it scary?
M-m-m, I guess so. We were in the action station and could hear the fall of shot sounding like depth charges. I was off the watch in the engine room in the fore part of the ship on damage control… One of the near misses shattered the picture of the King and Queen on the wall of the wardroom. Their gunnery was pretty good.
Did you know
Yes, we did. We were one
of two ships, I think the “Rodney” would have
it. We had it on the mast, we could see it. We knew that’s why we were so
vital for the force of
Do you remember any Stuka attacks?
No, I don’t remember any,
but we were under attack from the Italian high level aircraft in the
I was fortunate – I didn’t have to swim for life...