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autumn 2016

Bert Perkins: Wartime Memories


Bert Perkins served in the Navy during the 2nd World War and believes he is the oldest member of the armed forces that served in the war to still live in Barrow. Ralph Pearson and Eric Newton are two of his contemporaries, both Barrow boys, but Ralph now lives in Loughborough and Eric in Syston.

In December 1941 Bert decided to enlist. He went with Don Briggs, a workmate from Driver Hosiery, to Ulverscroft Road in Leicester where they had their medicals. They both passed and were asked which service they preferred; Bert said the Navy and Don said the RAF and they both got their wish. Bert celebrated his 20thbirthday later that month.

HMS Ganges in Ipswich is where Bert did his initial training. He was then sent to Scotland for further training and finally embarked on the Queen Mary heading for Boston in America. The ship was in need of repairs to her bows as she had been involved in a tragic accident in the Atlantic north of Ireland. She was returning from America and was being escorted by the cruiser Curacoa. They were both zig-zagging to confuse U boats but unfortunately they got too close to one another resulting in a collision: the Queen Mary sliced the Curacoa in half resulting in the loss of 337 men.

In Boston the Navy picked up the landing crafts which would be Bert’s home for the rest of the war. The craft that Bert was on was LCI(L) 113; the LCI stood for Landing Craft Infantry. They sailed to Brooklyn, then onto Norfolk Virginia, Bermuda and onto Gibraltar. It took 19 days to complete the last leg of the journey; there were 13 in the flotilla.

Bert spent the duration in the Med, going to Algiers working with the 1st and 8th armies, Sicily, Naples, and Sardinia and also Malta. The ship was converted to a store ship so that they could supply, amongst other things, ammunition to submarines. The last landing they did was in the South of France after D Day, but prior to that they had transported vital equipment to Yugoslavia. This was very dangerous and had to be done in the hours of darkness. Eventually LCI(L) 113 sailed to Invergary where the crew were paid off and Bert was able to make his way home on the train. Two little anecdotes that Bert told me were interesting: the Captain got the crew together and said, “ Who can cook?” “ I can boil a kettle” replied Bert, to which the Captain pointed and said, “You are the cook.” Bert was very happy with this because he got an extra 6d a day making an increase of 3/6d (fifteen and a half pence) a week. The other one was that there were seven creases in their Bell bottoms to represent the seven seas. Bert also recalls that Millie Perkins, a Barrow girl who now lives in Canada but visits Barrow twice a year, served in the WAAF during the war and was stationed in Bermuda. Like many men who saw the terrors of war Bert doesn’t talk about it much: this is something we must respect.

Val Gillings.