NOSTALGIA: The ship that graced the silver screen in many guises

Commander Denys Arthur Rayner DSC; RNVR 1943
Commander Denys Arthur Rayner DSC; RNVR 1943
Consultant David Deacon, Tommy Ware Jr, NPS chairman Tim Wardley, pier owner Tommy Ware Snr, pier owner Bob Pettett Snr, deputy mayor David Fuller, surveyor Malcolm Belcher, NPS membership secretary Joy Surtees, John Surtees

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On seeing my article last week about the son et lumiere and the mention of the 1953 naval war film The Cruel Sea, Mike Nolan of Paulsgrove tells me that the ship that played the part of HMS Saltash Castle was in fact a wartime corvette named HMS Portchester Castle. 

On carrying out a bit more research I found she had but a short life being launched on June 21, 1943, being paid off in 1947, and broken up in 1958.

HMS Portchester Castle The Castle class corvette HMS Portchester Castle.

HMS Portchester Castle The Castle class corvette HMS Portchester Castle.

In fact the corvette appears to have been quite a film star. Apart from The Cruel Sea she was seen in the 1955 film The Man Who Never Was and finally in The Navy Lark filmed in 1959, which contradicts being broken up in 1958.

I suppose the filming took place in early 1958 and by the time the film was edited and released it was 1959.

She was involved in two ‘kills’ in her career.  

On September 9, 1944, along with HMS Helmsdale they sank the U boat U-484.

On November 11, 1944 as part of 30th Escort Group  along with three other ships of her class they sank the U boat U-1200.

On the same theme, the commander of the four-ship escort group serving in HMS Pevensey Castle was Commander Denys Rayner RNVR.

After the war he founded Westerly Marine Construction Ltd, in Hambledon Road, Waterlooville.

As a final note to the story of the six Wilkinson sisters killed during the Second World War, I received the following from Ian Ralph.

'Bob, the Wilkinson sisters article reminded me of an adopted uncle of mine who was their brother.

'Harry Wilkinson was a tank driver in North Africa. Wounded when his tank was blown up, he was shipped back to UK and spent several weeks in hospital in Essex.

'When released, he arrived home to recuperate with his family in Portsmouth. 

'Arriving home, he found the house had been completely destroyed and that his whole family had been killed. 

'Homeless and with no funds, he came across my uncle Eric who was on his way home from work in the dockyard.

'Hearing of his plight, Eric took him home. 

'He lived out the rest of the war with my father's family, who were bombed out of three houses – Toronto Road, Beresford Road and Balfour Road. 

'The family ended up in Abbeydore Road in Paulsgrove.

'Harry declined the offer to be formerly adopted and got his own house in Portsmouth, but he continued to visit my grandmother every Saturday night until she died in the early 1960s.

'I was born in 1947, rationing was still on, but Harry always found some money to buy me some very expensive sweets as I got older.’ 

The Ralph family were bombed out out three houses. Imagine Harry arriving in Cowper Road thinking his sisters would all be waiting for him only to find the house had disappeared and they were all dead, but one.

Isn’t it amazing how one incident during the war lead to so much other heartbreak?

With the spring approaching fast you will have to be on the lookout for pests in the garden.

I wonder if there will be a plague like that which occurred on Hayling Island back in 1898.

A plague of caterpillars which originated in a turnip field at the back of the coastguard station climbed over the boundary wall in their many thousands.

At one point, one of the coastguards was continually sweeping the insects up and shovelling them back over the wall.

Lime spread on the field was to no help in stopping them.

Eventually wet tar placed on the wall had the desired affect.

What makes me wonder is, where were they going?

The caterpillars were heading in a southerly direction but for what reason, I cannot fathom.