Both Simon and Tony continued their respective training, but neither of them could be sure where they would end up. Simon was now at the end of his Captain’s course but nothing had been said about him joining another ship as its First Lieutenant and then, possibly onto his own command. Obviously one thought he had was that he had not come up to the standard they were looking for and to confuse him even more the last month was spent on the Brecon Beacons in Wales training in survival technics with 10 other officers. As part of the training they spent some time on the firing ranges and until then Simon had no idea he was in fact a very good marksman. He and the others on his course had a couple of days being lectured about how to deal with a situation if they were captured and how to survive it. They all had a great laugh and should have paid more attention as it turned out for several of them.
“Relax and sit down Simon.” Simon could not work this out, was he there to be told he was not good enough and would go back to sea as a navigating officer or something else?
“Simon you have undoubtedly heard of the Fairmile torpedo and gun boats?”
“Yes sir, my father and I know them very well, we build Fairmile hulls at our yard in Hamble and have introduced quite a few modifications. The boats have done a great job against E Boats and convoy escorts around the coast.”
“And a lot more besides. Would you like to skipper one?” Now that DID take him by surprise.
“I have to do what I’m told sir and my guess is if I am told I am to skipper one I will be part of a squadron of them?”
“We are going to the mess and have lunch and I can tell you everything there and it’s going to take time.”
They left the office and made their way to the officers’ mess and choose their meals. Both settled for the only option on the menu, Corned beef and potatoes with as much gravy as you wanted.
“Corporal Tennant Williams.”
“Report to the CO, now.” Tony, like anyone being told to report to the main man, wondered what he had done wrong.
“Sit down Corporal, I have got something for you to think about.” Tony sat and at least thought he had not buggered something up.
“Right let me start by saying that I don’t think you know just how good you are. I don’t want to bullshit you with a lot of back slapping and will just say you are one of the best medical students any of us has ever come across and I and all my colleagues think you should be offered all the required training to become a Doctor and specialise in emergency surgery. How does that sound?” Tony was beside himself.
“Thank you sir, I had already hoped I could train to become a doctor after the war.”
“Right, as from this moment you will be promoted to Acting 2nd Lieutenant and your training will start straight away and most of it at this hospital. You will be sent on specialist courses and you should be qualified within two years so long as you put the effort in and there will be a lot of it. Tony we all know that to win this war there will have to be an invasion of Europe somewhere sometime and we are guessing it cannot happen for at least another two years, maybe longer. We don’t have enough doctors and surgeons with the required skills to coup with what we are sure will come. You are being fast tracked and qualify in emergency procedures. You will become a fully-fledged doctor because of the training we have lined up for you, but after the war you may have to go back to medical school to gain other qualifications, but that’s quite normal, all qualified Doctors take more training, or they should do. Tony, you have the chance of becoming an excellent surgeon and your skills are going to become evident in the future, many of our lads will suffer massive wounds and it will be up to us to give them a fighting chance to survive. Still keen?”
“More than keen sir and thank you for the opportunity. Do I assume that if there is an invasion I will go with it?”
“There is no doubt about it, that’s one of the many reasons you will train to become a surgeon. You know Lieutenant Forsyth of course and work with him quite a lot so he tells me.”
“Yes I have been in theatre with him several times and when he comes onto the wards and the emergency unit.” Tony also knew him to be a really nice bloke as well. He guessed he was about 24/25, very confident without any arrogance and knew his work inside out.
“Well you will know he is a good man and it was he who first approached me about you. He will pass onto you much of his considerable skills and you could not have a better teacher. You will be with him from now on and it will be he who will take you through and also pass you onto other specialists and send you onto relevant courses. You are going to be a very busy man what with your normal work and training with Lt. Forsyth. You will spend hours studying and with written work. Good luck Tony, I’m just glad it’s not me!”
“Sir, I have a very close friend in the navy, am I allowed to write to him about all this?”
“I don’t see why not, it’s not exactly something the enemy will be interested in.” Tony could not wait to get to his room and get his writing pad out. “Right Lieutenant Simon Walsh RNVR, suck THIS!”
They had worked out a code so that they could tell one another of their love for each other without actually writing it. They would always end their letters more or less the same way.
“When I get back home I will go and check the Hut is ok and don’t you forget to do the same when you get leave. I have lots of seeds to plant when we can dig again.”
“Simon I am offering you a command of four adapted Fairmile gun boats. They are being refitted and nearly complete and most secret. They are in a workshop just south of Liverpool and will be ready for service in three months’ time. You will join a squadron of Fairmile’s at Lowestoft to gain experience and from there to your command. We are thinking four months from now after all the bugs have been sorted out. You will have some choice of crews, but we will have the last say in that as we already have personnel in mind to crew your boats. Right, now let me tell you about them and what you will be doing with them. Drink?”
“Yes please, rum will be good thank you sir.” The Captain called a steward over and gave his order. The two sat there in silence, but Simon’s mind was doing overtime wondering what he would be told next. Simon was about to be told he would lead special operations on German held territory along the north coasts of Europe.
“The new Fairmiles will be extended by 10ft to give extra space for ammunition and fuel. Rolls Royce have developed a new engine and they have already been tested with good results. They are being installed now and will undergo sea trials this month and modifications made if required. One engine will have an advanced silencer system that will allow the boats to shut down two of the three engines and approach enemy coasts without noise detection to enable you to get close and drop off operatives who will transfer to their craft and go ashore to carry out their operations. What their business is, is none of ours, but you will know it will be very secret and your role is to get them there without detection and for you to get out without being sunk. You will also have to get them back when they have finished their work.”
“Simon there is another role for your boats and that is to get as close as you can to the coasts and attack targets that will be given to you which will come from the resistance movements that are operating in France, Belgium, Holland and anywhere else the Nazi’s occupy. That is where your skills in navigation comes in so you can blame yourself in being offered this job. You will fire on defined targets, but you will also know there are civilians near those targets and if you get it wrong, a lot of innocent people could die.
“There will be an invasion by the Allies at some stage and we want to try to spread the Germans as thinly as we can by not letting them know where we will land, but by attacking along the north coast we hope that will confuse them a bit and reinforce areas right across the coast line. I am aware that much more is being done to confuse them anyway and this is just one way of doing it.
“Your boats hulls will be strengthened because they will have additional weapons on board. You will have two twin 40mm Bofors fore and aft. Three twin 20mm Oerlikon’s, two on each side of the cockpit and one at the stern. Two single .50 Browning’s either side at midships. You will still have 8 shallow depth, depth charges that will have four on each side and they will have a new release system and all that needs to be done is kick the buggers off the side for them to do their work.
“One down side to this is your speed will be a lot less and will only get 20 knots because of the extra weight, but we think that with the fire power you will have, no E boat will get anywhere near you, we hope. Right you have a lot of work to do. We want those boats operational as soon as the boffins finish their work. I can’t stress too strongly just how important this work will be Simon. An invasion will not happen for some time to come, but in reality it’s already begun.”
Simon went to his quarters with a lot on his mind. He sat on his bed and had a massive smile on his handsome face. He was reading Tony’s letter. He read it twice and went to his writing desk and got his pad out.
“ACTING 2nd Lieutenant? That all!? The Army is scraping the barrel a bit…! I am SO proud of you Tony and good luck, not that you need me to say that. When I get home I will also look after the seeds and also hope we can plant them out together some time.”
Over the next two months it was all class work and joining the flotilla in Lowestoft for sea training and learning all that was possible in the time to get some experience in that type of boat and all its equipment. He went on four patrols and saw some action, he also saw his first E boat briefly when it was engaged and destroyed by the five MGB’s of the flotilla.
One great role for them was as floating anti-aircraft boats and had engaged a number of Luftwaffe fighter bombers when the convoy they were escorting came under attack. It was a draw really as one ship was badly damaged and after the attack they flew off with one belching out smoke. No one saw it ditch though and it could only be claimed as a “possible.”
“Congratulations Tony and welcome to the Officers mess. As the CO has told you we will be working a lot together and you and I need to go through your whole program for the next few months and adapt it as we go along, but first you are off to St Bart’s for a couple of months to study anatomy. You go next week and when you get back we will be glued together.”
Alan Forsyth was in fact 26 and quite good looking, very trim and strong. He had played Rugby at school and if it had not been for the war he was heading towards the England team, but like so many sportsmen and women he would never play at a higher level now.
“I can’t wait Alan. I never thought I would even get this far, in fact I have only thought about becoming qualified after the war. I mentioned it to my best friend a couple of times and he will be so pleased it’s all happening now.”
“Is your friend a medic as well?”
“No navy, he is taking his Captains course and will be back on Atlantic escorts very soon as a First Lieutenant and then he hopes to get his own command.”
“Good luck to him, its bloody dangerous work.”
“I know, he has been torpedoed once and lost many friends. I just hope he comes through it all.”
“I know what loss is, my best friend was killed in France. Great loss, so many good people have died because of this madness and many more will. Come on it’s your first lecture and we will have it in the bar. My round.”
That then would be Tony’s lot for some time to come. It would be nothing more than study and practical work in theatre, in the wards, but especially in emergency admissions and trauma wards and going on specialist courses. His own time was really restricted to writing to Simon which because of censoring neither of them could really say what they wanted to and not only that it could take over a week before a letter arrived. He rang Andrew often hoping to find out a bit more, but even he was in the dark. They just had to hope that they would get leave at the same time. Andrew was delighted to hear about Tony’s promotion and change in career.
“Both of you officers! Christ I can hear the arguments now. When do you think you can come home?”
“No idea Andrew, what about the “navy?”
“No idea, just take care son and come home when you can. Tony?”
“You know how proud I am of Simon and I just want to say I am equally proud of you and I know both your mums and dad are as well.”
“Thank you so much Andrew, you have no idea what that means to me.”
The “navy” was about to see his new command. One of the Fairmiles had been completed and he was taken out for a couple of hours and by the time he got back he was hooked. It was a great boat and with all that fire power he knew they could do a lot of damage. The other three were near completion and the next thing was the base they would be sailing to and operate from and the crews to man the boats. Each had a compliment of 2 officers and 16 crew. Seventy two men under the command of a 21 year old? Oh shit!
It seemed the smaller the ship/boat the more relaxed discipline became, in respect of using first names only, except the CO of the flotilla and each boats captain. This would suit Simon and he could not wait to meet all those who would be arriving soon, they had already been appointed and that’s what the Commodore commanding the western coastal command wanted to talk to Simon about.
“You happy about the crew?”
“All seem fine sir. I am going to get experienced crews and that’s good, they will teach me my job I’m sure.”
“Simon there is one officer I need to talk to you about and he is Lieutenant Steven Williamson. He is an excellent officer and has served on boats for two years and should have his own command by now, but the powers that be will not promote him.” The Commodore paused and seemed uncomfortable, the silence was long and it was obvious he was having a problem.
“Simon, he has been involved in a big scandal…Oh shit this is difficult… Oh sod it, he is homosexual!”
Commodore Fellows sat back waiting for Simon to be incensed and angry. He was, but only because it was felt he should know about the Lieutenant’s sexual preference for some reason. He wondered what the Commodore would think about HIM if he knew he was as well and was pissed off about the hypocrisy of it all.
“Is that the problem sir?”
“Well of course it is Simon. You have a homo on one of your boats and I thought at the very least you may be concerned. I was expecting you to refuse him!”
“Sir, apparently he is an excellent officer and it seems very experienced, forgive me, but that’s all I am interested in. As for his personal life, well all I know it will make no difference as far as I’m concerned, in fact I will take him as my number one just to show I have no issue with him or his private life.” Fellows looked at Simon in some surprise.
“Bloody hell I was certainly expecting a different reaction than that. So, you don’t have a problem with it?”
“Only if he was useless. If I had to make a choice between him and someone who was not up to his standard, I would still have him.”
“Oh, right, that’s it then end of problem and for what it’s worth, I could not give a shit either.” Simon was sure he did not mean that.
They went on and talked about important issues and put prejudices to one side. He smiled to himself and wondered what the Commodore would think if he knew he was wondering what this bloke looked like! Tony would as well and then tell Simon to keep his hands to himself.
They at last finished and Simon was about to leave when Fellow’s suddenly remembered something.
“Oh Simon wait, I nearly forgot, congratulations Lieutenant Commander! I want you in your new rank by tomorrow to meet the crews if you don’t mind.” They shook hands and Simon went off to ring his father and write to a certain ACTING 2nd Lieutenant in the Medical Corps!
As Simon was writing Tony was in a room all by himself except for another officer who was monitoring him. You could hear a pin drop as Tony concentrated on the examination papers. He had been sitting there for half an hour now taking an exam that should last about two hours. He completed it with 20 minutes to spare and put his pens down.
“You have plenty of time to go through it again Tony.”
“Already have sir.” The Captain went over to him and looked through the ten sheets.
“Don’t get too cleaver Tony, you will put us all to shame. All looks good, well done old chap.” Tony went back to work a very happy man.
Later that evening Alan found him in the mess eating his dinner and joined him.
“Tony I have got a long weekend off, would you like to come home with me and meet the old folks and my sisters?”
“That would be great thanks, could do with a change of scenery.”
“DONT take any work with you, it’s a study free weekend whilst we are at home.”
It was a really pleasant time, Alan’s family welcomed him and it was good to relax around the huge house and going for country walks, all six of them. Mum Dad and sisters Sandra and Paulina. This was the first time Tony had been like this without Simon and it felt a little strange. He thought of him a lot particularly when he got to bed and found himself stroking a rather stiff cock. After a short time he was pleased he had his flannel with him. Afterwards he laid there wondering what Simon was up to and when they would next meet, it had been nine months since they had been home together. “Christ Simon, take care.” Tony was pleased he was so involved with work and his training. Being so absorbed it helped him forget the worries he had about him.
Simon had met the crews and was happy that it seemed to go well. They had a party that night which helped to get them to know one another a little. He was interested in meeting them all of course, but even more so when he spoke to Steven Williams and wished he had not been told about him. He was a very good looking young man and seemed very enthusiastic, but then they all did. If Simon had worried about his age and being the rank he was, it seemed not to matter to the crews. At least he did not pick up any feeling that anyone had a problem.
He gave it a week before announcing who would crew what boat. He knew he would have to get it right, crew moral was so important and he spent a lot of time thinking about it.
“Well you handsome devil, my sister Sandra has taken a liking to you. She made it obvious when you two came back from your walk this morning and cornered me in the kitchen. I know it’s none of my business, but do you have a girlfriend?”
“No, no girlfriend and not looking either. This war has a habit of ending relationships either by getting killed or being away too long and someone else taking over.”
“Has that already happened to you then?”
“No and anyway I’m too young to think about settling down. I am just happy with friends, but even then two great friends went down with the Hood. I will wait for the end of the war and see what happens and now I have a real career to train for, I am fine. Anyway what about you, girl friend?” There was a very long pause and Tony assumed he had not heard and forgot about it.
“No, like you not looking. You are right, this is not the time for relationships unless you are already in one of course.” The sadness in Alan’s voice made Tony think and was sure Alan had been in one and wondered what had happened.
MGB 995, Simon went through the list of crew.
MGB 996, Simon called out the names of the crew.
MGB 997, Simon called out their names.
MGB 998, “Guess who is with me? Sorry chaps!”
“Now that we are operational let me tell you where we will operate from. We are going to Broadstairs in Kent where there is a base still under construction and will not be able to take us for another month, so we will stay here and spend just about the whole time training as well as carry out escorts and U-boat patrols.
“Welcome home Lieutenant Commander, Christ I am so proud my boy. Let’s get home I want to hear everything.”
“I have only got over night dad, it takes hours to get home and back and I had not better be late.” They sat down and Simon did not stop talking for hours. Andrew had no idea until now that Simon was commanding a small flotilla of Fairmiles’ and needed to know how different they were to the ones they were constructing.
“Your knowledge about these boats will be more than valuable after the war, I am convinced we will get orders from abroad and our boats seem to be doing well. We have had a lot of feedback about the new design and it all seems positive. Just get through all this shit first Simon.”
“Dad have you heard from Tony? I got a letter from him last week. Do you know he is training to become a Doctor and made an officer?”
“Oh yes, he rang Thursday I think it was. He is very excited about the whole thing and has taken his first big exam, don’t know the results yet though, but I am sure he will do well. I just wish you two could get off together, it’s been so long now.” Neither of them knew Tony was staying with Alan and his family at the same time as Simon was at home.
When Simon and his boats arrived at Broadstairs they were given two days to get settled in and then went out on their first patrol, all four of them which lasted 10 hours with no contacts and then back home. A nice gentle start, but they all knew it would not stay like that.
This was the pattern for the first two weeks with no contact with anything German and the first one was totally unexpected as they were not even at sea.
When moored up one boat, on a rota basis would be on anti-aircraft watch. If there was an alert the local radar station would inform them and the whole lot would turn out.
It was very early on this particular morning when the air raid warning sounded and every gun was manned long before the attack began.
With a total of 16 x Bofors guns, 24 x Oerlikon’s and 8 x .50 Browning’s as well as the guns already in place manned by the army, the 20 attacking German bombers had the shock of their lives as they flew into a hail of shells and bullets and by the time the formation broke up and ran away, three of them had been shot down and four more badly damaged. Simon’s flotilla had drawn their first blood. Everyone was on a high, no German bombs had been dropped on a target but jettisoned in the panic to get out of the area.
Simon called for the ropes to be taken in and the cox’n took MGB 998 out into the Channel. It was midnight and they were going to a point 10 miles east of Dieppe to land 5 agents who were to link up with the French Resistance. They were down below to keep out of the way and they would only be called on deck when they were within two miles of the coast. MGB’s 995 and 996 were two miles behind them and would cover against E Boat attack.
Steven Williams stood next to Simon.
“Wish the moon would go to sleep Simon, I can see for fucking miles!”
“I have arranged cloud cover when we get there, meanwhile go down and see if the passengers are ok would you?”
“Yes skip but if the cloud cover does not turn up and the Germans do, can I hand in my resignation?”
Simon had thought nothing about Steven other than what he had already been told about him being a good officer, he also liked him as a person and whatever he had been through, it did not seem to effect his performance.
The boat was at action stations and would stay like that until they got back.
Two hours later Simon called for the exhaust muffler to be engaged and the outboard motors closed down. They would now creep in at just 5 knots.
The agents were called up and stood by the starboard side waiting for Simon to stop. Nothing was said and every one was on high alert just waiting to be fired on. Nothing happened and as the boat stopped they all shook hands and the 5 men got into their canvas canoes and paddled away.
“Good luck to them Steven, brave men I’m buggered if I could do that, whatever it is they are doing.” They backed away and headed for home having joined up with the other boats. Everyone was pleased with a successful operation and slept well.
“Congratulations Tony. Your results were excellent and you can forget the “acting” 2nd Lieutenant and I don’t mind if you write to tell your navy friend either.”
Tony was as pleased as punch, but he had a problem. He already knew Simon would not get home for Christmas and he had been invited to go to Alan’s home. It would only be from the 24th until the 26th which would allow others to go home for the New Year, but he also thought about Andrew, he of course would be on his own. He thought about it and declined Alan’s invitation even though he wished he could. He liked Alan a great deal and knew this was not exactly the same as Gary had hoped for and it would have been a nice time. Still, family came first and smiled at the prospect of seeing Andrew again and being able to talk in an open way to someone who understood his and Simon’s situation. He hadn’t exactly been living a lie, but having to bottle up about your private life was a bit of a struggle, people in relationships spoke a lot about it, so long as you were not homosexual of course. He rang Andrew who was delighted Tony was coming home and the letter he got from Simon was full of coded love and insults as to the dropping of his “acting” rank. “Bloody junior officers, cheap as shit!”
All four of Simon’s boats were escorting 10 cargo ships that they had met up with just east of the Isle of Wight and would take them all the way to London docks. Simon and 996 were a mile ahead of the convoy when they were attacked by four fighter bombers. They came in low and were not picked up by radar. The first they knew they had company was when the first aircraft opened fire on them and missed. The second aircraft was shot down by 996 and the other two flew off to regroup. Simon had his boat at full speed and was heading back towards the convoy followed by 996 who were to say the least, chuffed.
The three aircraft were diving to attack and although no more were shot down, the attack was broken off under the heavy fire coming at them. They watched as the aircraft flew off and as soon as they had gone the Asdic operator reported a contact.
“Bearing one nine five 800 yards.” This meant the U-boat was in a position to fire on the convoy and as Simon was nearest he would be the first to attack. He had the signaller contact the other boats and at full speed went to the target, but not in time to stop them from releasing six torpedos.
Simon would never be sure which was hit first, the cargo ship or the U-boat. The ship sank within minutes taking most of the crew with it and only 24 survivors and Simon’s eight depth charges finished the lives of all on board the U-boat. The celebration was somewhat muted, but they still managed a few beers when they stood down when they got back.
Steven Williamson had grown to like his CO and as they were close in age he felt he could talk to him, he had to find out what Simon knew about him. Simon was also really good looking and that helped as well! He was in his office when Steven knocked on the door.
“I need to ask you something Skip, have you got time?”
“Of course, take a seat.” Steven had never suffered with nerves and if he needed to say anything, he would just get on with it, any reaction would be dealt with as it occurred.
“What do you know about me? You must have read reports.”
“Yes I do, but have not read anything about what you are getting at. I was told and the Commodore thought I would ask for you not to join the flotilla. I didn’t and here you are. What’s the problem?”
“No problem, I just wanted to know if you knew that’s all.”
“So, are you happy with that? Look I don’t give a toss about anyone’s private affairs so long as it does not get in the way with work. You are who you are and that’s it as far as I am concerned.”
“Thanks, may I can talk to you about it all some time?”
“If you want, but don’t feel you have to, it’s none of my business.”
“Can I take us out for a drink tonight as 998 is stood down for 24 hours?”
“No and the reason is we are not standing down, but going out tonight and attack two targets off the Normandy coast. I have just had the CO in and have got all the info about the attack. Do me a favour and get all the lads in the crew room.”
They did not know it then, but they would be attacking targets on what would be known as Sword and Gold beaches on the 6th June 1944. The Commanders wanted to know what state the defences were at and maybe cause a bit of panic. Simultaneous attacks would be made by other boats on other targets far to the east of them as well.
“It should be a good night, the Jerry’s will think they are being invaded with any luck. We are coordinated to open fire at 05 00 and we will fire 12 clips from each Bofor. We should do a lot of damage with that lot, just make sure our aim is spot on. Oerlikon’s will not fire, just give cover. After we finish firing, we leg it back here. This apparently will be the first of quite a few of these interdictor raids. Right, here are your targets.”
Right on time and in good weather and a calm sea each pair of MGB’s opened fired and Steven yelled out corrections of aim. They would have no idea just how much damage was done, but were sure of a panic amongst the Germans. They fired their last bursts and got out as fast as they could.
After the fifth of this type of raid Simon was told to go on rest for a week, but not until he had got agreement that Steven would take command of the flotilla.
“Thanks Simon, you must know what this means to me.”
“After what you told me about yourself you deserve better and now you know I am the same, at least we don’t have a secret between us and in some ways I love knowing two of the navy’s best officers are comfortable in who they are and one day people like us will be excepted and not judged by what we are. It will take time though and no doubt we will be old men before it happens.”
“Simon, I know this sounds daft, but although I already like you as a person and as my CO, I like you even more because of what we are. I can’t explain really, but I am so much more comfortable about you knowing about me. Thanks again.” Simon looked as Steven smiled at him and smiled back thinking of Tony.
Tony was half way through his training and he had done wonderfully well. He and Alan worked perfectly together and had built a strong friendship. He felt a bit guilty at not going on his last leave to Hamble the last time, but instead went with Alan to his home. It had only been 5 days, but he was relaxed and happy, he loved the family and after a talk with Sandra everything was put in its place. However, it was becoming increasingly more difficult having to be so quiet about himself. He wanted Alan to know about him and Simon, all couples spoke about their love, but not in his case. Homosexuals were never thought of as anything other than abnormal and he did not want to risk losing Alan as a friend or indeed the main person helping him to become a doctor. Difficult to say the least.
It was a lovely day and Tony and Alan were taking a break sitting out in the hospital gardens. They sat quietly both with their own thoughts. Tony was thinking about Simon and worrying about not seeing him for over a year now and was it effecting Simon as much as it was him and were they drawing apart? Alan was thinking about Tony and wanted to tell him about himself and how he felt. He was sure Tony was homosexual and was daring himself to tell Tony he was as well.
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