OBs in the Military R Stacey (Dick) (1933-38, M)

Dick StaceyMy father moved the family from Plumpton Green to Tiverton (Post Hill) so that I could go to a Notable Public School which took Day Boys. A choice I never regretted. My brother went to ‘St Aubyns’. I was a country bumpkin at heart, academic studies were not for me, - shooting and fishing were much more fun! Being given a BSA .22 Air Gun for my 10th birthday no doubt helped propel me into the Country Life team the year I joined the OTC. The fact that the School got me through School Cert at 16 and a direct entry commission in the Royal Marines at 18 was indeed a miracle, guess a few beatings helped, - no hard feelings.

I was useless at cricket and rugger, however being in the ‘Rabbits# teams greatly enhanced my social skills, as did being taught golf by Joyce Wethered (Lady Heathcoat Amory). Athletics I took quite seriously, enough to compete often in RN & RM teams over the next decade. Extra mural activities, particularly drams, debating and gymnastics kept me busy most evenings, the latter in an effort to curb my clumsiness. Some Hope! To launch me in my new career, Pa gave me a Triumph Super Seven and £1 a week to cover running costs.

The next two decades (1938/58) were spent in the Royal marines. Following 18 months of intensive training I spent 8 months in HMS Hood which, whilst based on Gibraltar, led Force H in Operation Catapult on 3/7/40 (aimed at neutralizing the Vichy French Naval vessels bottled up in Oran Harbor). I was then a member of the Gunnery Control team 170 feet aloft. That autumn the ship was based on Scapa lest Britain be invaded and to inhibit German shipping movements. I left at the end of November.

1941 was mostly spent qualifying as signals specialist and m/c training officer. The first four months were spent in RNB Portsmouth at the height of the Blitz. I could not help but be impressed by the stoicism and lack of rancor of the civilian population. In September I was promoted A/Captain and given a Cable Laying Platoon to run, we were billeted in a tented camp near Alresford. In October I married laura (Lindy) Millward, who later became a Naval VAD and served in Haslar and Stonehouse Hospitals.

1942 was pent entirely at Alresford developing cable laying skills and operating telephone exchanges whilst the other elements of the Mobile Naval Base Organisation formed up in the neighborhood. Just before Smas we moved up to the Glasgow area for shipment to Egypt. 1943, We re-formed in Egypt at the end of February when my company commander died of leukemia and I was promoted A/Major in his place, an awesome task for one but 23 years of age. The second platoon of my new command served the RM AA Brigade for harbor defense. In early July the unit set up shop In Syracuse, the harbor there became a forward HQ for the 8th Army and a major supply route unimpeded by serious enemy opposition. By the end of August Mussolini was dead, Italy had surrendered and the Germans had left the Island. By Xmas Syracuse ceased to be a major supply route and in the following months the company was disbanded and returned to the UK.

By the end of July 44 I had returned to Eastney to take over the Signal School there. Once settled in I was sent to the Army Bureau of Current affairs to that I could lecture marines awaiting de-mob about ‘conditions Outside’. The two week course I found worryingly left wing (Influenced perhaps by Francis Noel-Baker, soon to become a Labour MP). My appetite whetted I joined Chatham House (RII Affair’s) to get a better balance, their  seminars and news sheets added enormously to my education ( a great help when it came to my intelligence duties afloat and a member of the Naval Staff). No sooner had a brother officer and I got courses going than it became obvious more troops were needed to speed the end of the war on Germany. Thus it was that after Christmas that 117 (RM) Independent Infantry was formed with me as its Signal Officer.

In March 45 it took over a front line section on the R.MAAS and the end of April rushed up to Hamburg where it’s three Battalions de-commissioned German Naval units on the R.E>BE and KEEL Canal. On 8th May peace was declared and by the end of July we were back in England and I became OCRM of HMS Mauritius (strength c.155 including band) then refitting at Chatham.

It was not till March 46 that sea trials were completed and it became Malta based. Apart from spending the occasional months alongside at Trieste and Venice (lest they be seized by Tito’s Yugoslavia) the ship was involved in slowing the flood of Jews to Palestine (by diverting them to holding camps in Cyprus), not a pleasant task. It also took part in NATO exercises to give Greece overt support in her fight communism. Whilst visiting the Cote d’Azur with the Med fleet Cannes Yacht Club arranged a ‘Fleet Dinghy Regatta’ with 16 of their Ace class boats which I had the good fortune to win. That summer I was transferred to HMS Leander. On 22/10/46 it was with a squadron proceeding northwards out of Corfu harbor when the Sumarez and Volage struck mines off the Albanian coast and 44 crew members were killed. It was while I was in this ship that I was called fortunately it was well-nigh over when my platoon arrived and injuries were not serious, had we arrived when the Admirals offices were being trashed and 3 ton lorries heaved into the sea it would have been hard to resist opening fire. That summer the fleet visited Istanbul in force and had a wonderful reception. I even found myself captaining the Fleet’s Athletic team against their National team, needless to say we were somewhat overwhelmed. The ship returned to Chatham by Xmas and was decommissioned in Feb 48.

1948 and 49 I spent at Eastney as a company commander and was for six months was Parade Adjutant. I also acquired a house on Hayling beach. There followed over two years as OCRM HMS Cleopatra which was home based.

1953 and 54 were spent in the Commandos, not a happy time. I was then 33, somewhat overweight and suffered intense acute agoraphobia – I really was not Commando Fit’. That didn’t however stop me from being drafted to 42 Commando as a company commander it was then guarding the Suez Canal Zone.

The second year was spent at the Commando School commanding HQ Coy. 1956/8 I spent on the Far Eastern Desk of DNI at the Admiralty, my main duty acting as liaison officer to the Burmese, Philippine and Indonesian Navies (By sheer coincidence I had spent five years in the Dutch East Indies in my childhood. Additionally I kept extensive records of these and Commonwealth countries to produce monthly Naval Intelligence papers to brief ministers, naval commanders and businessmen doing business East of Suez of items of mutual interest. It was an inspiring job and one in which my wife played an important part by hosting attaches and their families in our home, I took early retirement at the end of this job in May 1958 and returned to our Hayling home.

By Feb 59 I’d decided to make my hobby (Photography) my job and set up shop in Selsey, its 1400 caravans and large holiday camp kept me, my wife and over 20 part-time staff very busy from April to September once I’d got the loose ends tidied up. Off season I did a fair amount of studio and wedding photography but had time to dabble in property development and parish and church council affairs with gusto! By the mid ‘60’s, with both my children at boarding school I sold out and relocated in Emsworth which was better suited to family life and found myself a job at Butterick/Vogue’s factory as Assistant Accountant and Office Manager. By 1968 I’d been promoted to manage the printing works with its 170 employees. About the same time the firm was taken over by American Can and the following year I was unceremoniously fired one Monday morning and given ten minutes to clear my desk! I had few regrets; I’d had enough and was already looking for a business to run with my wife.

Within a couple of months we’d brought a ‘madam’ shop in Havant, and I became her packing room boy and bookkeeper. We renamed it ‘Barclays of Havant’, expanded its wedding and evening wear side and ran it in a gentle and relaxed style for the next 14 years. I was able to take up fly fishing again, join Rotary, support the Chamber of Trade and serve the Royal Photographic Society as a lecturer and competition judge (from Winchester to Worthing and from Pompey to Pulborough). In 1982 our shop lease expired and we retired, never to earn again!

Sadly within a couple of years Lindy had had a laryngectomy and lost her voice box (through cancer), it took her nigh on two years to master her ‘Squawk Box’ which she did remarkably well. We then moved to Otterbourne to be near my daughter and apart from being a time to time housekeeper and nurse I was able to take on the running of Portsmouth Services Fly Fishing Association (with its 160 members and 13 beats) and spend the first 90 minutes of every day at the local primary school as a teaching assistant and PTA Secretary for nearly a decade. Lindy died at home in 1996 having handled the past 14 tough years with enormous style and aplomb.

I remarried in 1998 but sadly with 2.3 years Alzheimer’s disease became a serious problem and shortened her life, by 2006 I was widowed again and sought sheltered accommodation  now aged 90 and happily ensconced in Abbeyfield Rest Home in Twyford (Tel 01962 711243 or dickstacey@btinternet.com). It’s a great place to be, blighted only by the fact that I cannot have my life terminated before I need nursing care. Legislators please note. I look back to my days at Blundell’s with nostalgia and greatly admire its development of ‘Extra-curricular‘ facilities over the last ten years.

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