George Manners.

[Tom Muir] I received a message from Mary Manners about her father’s war record, and a piece of World War II history that is not well known these days. I suggested that she send me any information and images that she had with which I could create a blog. The following is her tribute to her father, which I am sure you will find interesting.

The mast at HMS Ganges naval training base in Suffolk.

I write this as a tribute to my father George Edward Manners who served in the Royal Navy from 25th November 1926 to 9th February 1953. I have researched archives and records and found much information which either was not previously known or only minimal details of events. He served for 27 years, 2 months and 12 day

George’s naval career started in November 1925 when he was just 14 years old. This came about when George attended a club in Goldington, Bedford, where he lived, which was run by a Commander Lionel Skipwith (retired) to teach boys boxing and life skills. For George boxing was to be a life- long passion.

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Commander Skipwith realised George had a very keen interest in the Navy and after discussing this with Georges parents arranged for George to join the training ship Arethusa. George was with Arethusa for one year and was transferred to HMS Ganges in November 1926 as a Boy 2. HMS Ganges was another training institution for the Royal Navy. Life at Ganges was hard, very hard by today’s standards. Up at 5.00am to scrub floors and latrines and showers were across the parade ground and boys were made to run across the parade ground from the shower block in rain and snow to their dormitories unclothed. If caught smoking the punishment was harsh ….the culprit was made to chew and swallow the remainder of the cigarette! This did not stop George smoking and he did so until he died at the age of 87!!

Accommodation hut at HMS Ganges.
Boy sailors at HMS Ganges (shore establishment) in 1926, showing George front left.

I have been to the HMS Ganges museum at Shotley, Ipswich and although the camp has long since been closed it stands as a memorial to the young boys who trained there, many of whom, like George, stayed in the navy for many years.

The museum has the ‘button’ from the top of the mast which stood at the far end of the parade ground and was climbed by the boys as part of their training. The boys who climbed to the very top were known as’ button boys’ as they had stood on the button at the summit. George was proud to say he was one of the button boys.
Over the years it has become a respected title to have been a Ganges Boy.

Boys on the mast at HMS Ganges. Note the ‘button boy’ at the very top.
HMS St Vincent training base.

George was at HMS Ganges until May 1927 when he was in the first group to be transferred from HMS Ganges to HMS Vincent which had just opened as yet another training institution. This meant George was one of the first to be trained at St Vincent. On 31st July 1927 George graduated once more within St Vincent to a Boy 1.

The St Vincent museum is now just one room on the site of the training shore establishment which has now become a college. George left St Vincent on 17th October 1927 to join HMS Effingham on the 18th October 1927. On the 10th August 1927 he was made Ordinary Seaman whilst serving on HMS Effingham.

HMS Effingham, between the Wars.

George left HMS Effingham on 31st March 1930 and went to HMS Victory – a shore establishment at which further training and naval exams were taken and further qualifications gained. George was there for 6 weeks after which he joined HMS Champion on 17th May 1930 to September 22nd 1930. On September 23rd 1930 George joined HMS Royal Sovereign and was promoted to Able Seaman on 15th April 1931.

HMS Royal Sovereign in Scapa Flow during World War II.

17th October 1932 George left the Royal Sovereign to return to HMS Victory (shore establishment) where he stayed until he left on 16th January 1933. January 17th 1933 George left Victory to go to HMS Excellent (another shore establishment) for further training and exams. George left Excellent on 30th August 1933. The next day, 31st August 1933, George joined HMS Hood.

HMS Hood was the pride of the Royal Navy.

He served on HMS Hood as an able seaman for three years until he left on 10th August 1936 which was his 25th birthday. George loved HMS Hood and a brass replica which was made by able seaman Tilley from brass shells from the Hood’s ammunition and mounted on wood from HMS Hood was pride of place on the wall (along with his medals and silver oars won in rowing competitions on board ship) where ever we lived. My elder brother Ray now has the care of this and dads medals which are proudly displayed at his home.

George Manners in 1938.

11th August 1936 saw George back at HMS Excellent for more training and exams until he left on January 4th 1937.
Then he was back to sea to join HMS Suffolk on 5th January 1937. He was made leading seaman on 6th December 1938.

Whilst serving on HMS Suffolk he was based at the China Station in Hong Kong and Wei-Hai-Wei. On 21st November 1939 George was made Acting Petty Officer (this was the initial stage before becoming a Petty Officer).

George Manners (back row left) with the Rowing Team from HMS Suffolk while stationed in China.


HMS Suffolk was deployed from the China Station and after a brief stay at Portsmouth was sent to Scapa Flow…a remote Naval Base at Lyness. This is situated on the Orkney island of Hoy. Dad remembered it as remote, cold, windy and very wet!!! it must have been a shock after the bright lights of Shanghai!!

During the Norwegian campaign HMS Suffolk was deployed to Stavanger (a Norwegian port) to shell it from the sea. This was to be done as the Germans had invaded Norway and Stavanger Airport would have been very useful to them in their mission.

HMS Suffolk was dive bombed by German aircraft all the way home to Scapa Flow, She was so badly damaged the Captain had to order her to be beached before reaching Lyness to save her. Her stern was under water and she was in real danger of sinking completely.

Senior personnel from Lyness were alerted and sent across Hoy Island to Long Hope beach where Suffolk lay to get the injured back to the base hospital and to remove the dead.

The bodies of the dead are interred at the Royal Naval Cemetery at Lyness. All 32 men from HMS Suffolk who either died on September 17th 1940 or survived the night and died on 18th September 1940. George was awarded a DSM for his bravery that day.

Royal Naval Cemetery, Lyness. Rhonda Muir/ .
George Manners DSM.

The London Gazette of Friday 4th October 1940 reports:

The King has been graciously pleased to give orders for the following appointments to the Distinguished Service Medal and to approve the following awards:

For gallantry and devotion to duty when engaged with enemy aircraft off the coast of Norway:

Acting Petty Officer George Edward Manners P/JX 128640

The crew of HMS Suffolk, including George Manners, 1938.

In July 2011 I was able to visit Lyness. After searching various archives I found an eyewitness testimonial of the events of 16th/17th April 1940 written by a stoker on HMS Suffolk. He wrote a brilliant account of that day which brought the event to life.

HMS Suffolk on the River Tyne.

I have copied his transcript as it shows a very personal view of that day. [Courtesy of Orkney Library & Archive, ref. no. D1/930]

At 16.37 hours on the 16th April 1940 HMS Suffolk, an 8” gun cruiser of the County Class, slipped her moorings at Scapa Flow and headed out into the North Sea. She was escorted by four destroyers – HMS Juno – HMS Jason -HMS Kipling and HMS Hereward indicating a mission of some importance.

We, on the lower deck ( I was a stoker at the time) knew nothing of our destination. All we knew was that over the last few days all our armour piercing shells had been off loaded and replaced with some alternative, that latrine buckets had been distributed throughout the ship and that no hammocks were to be slung. Our objective was a matter of much speculation.

And so began OPERATION DUCK.

We had sailed from Portsmouth in the late evening of September 6th 1939 and as we sped westward down the channel with the ships sides freshly camouflaged and completely blacked out (no striking matches or lighters on the upper deck) we were actually aware that our lives had changed. Gone were the carefree peacetime days, the make believe war games….this was for real and I remember my thoughts were a blend of excitement and apprehension.
We had previously been engaged in patrolling the Denmark Straight north of Iceland – a monotonous activity –carried out in semi darkness- the sheer boredom of which tended to allay any anxieties.

But this was something quite different. We were off on an unknown and possibly aggressive adventure and again I experienced a feeling of excitement tinged with trepidation. Supper came and went with an unusually subdued atmosphere and then came the announcement that the Commander would shortly be addressing the ships company.
The eagerly awaited address by the Commander duly came.

“ We are proceeding to Stavanger in Norway to bombard the airfield there. The enemy is in occupation and using it to advance their push northward. Our objective is to render the airfield unusable. We expect to reach the target area at 04.00hrs. Ships Company will go into action stations at midnight and you are advised to be wearing clean underwear!”

This ominous announcement conjured up rather unpleasant possibilities and then when the padre followed with a few prayers the reality of the situation really struck home and we wondered what the next few hours might bring.
At midnight the mess decks emptied as we went to our action stations. For me this was standby on the turbo-generators in the forward engine room. I descended down the two ladders into the engine room. The two generators were situated at the rear accessible only by a cat walk from the main deck plates and down another short ladder to the bilge plates, a position virtually at the bottom of the ship, well below the outside water line.

At my control position I stood in front of the generators looking aft about 10ft from the bulkhead which rose some 40ft up to the deck-head behind which lay the after engine room. On either side of me and approximately eight feet above me were the thrust blocks from which the main shafts revolved and which passed through the bulkhead then on through the after engine room on its way to the propeller. It was quite a pleasant place to keep watch, clean, well lit, pleasantly warm and despite the drone of the generators and the rumble of the propeller shafts, not excessively noisy. For company I had my watch keeping colleague and a leading stoker looking after the lubricating pumps.

The middle watch passed uneventfully and at 04.00hrs we changed watches. My colleague was taken over by the new stand-by watch-keeper and I took over the watch. At the same time I could hear the engine room telegraphs clanging and the revolution telegraph pinging then the main shafts began slowing down. Obviously we were nearing our rendezvous point but we down below could only assess what was going on from the sounds we could hear from up top.

Stavanger after the war.

At 04.14 hours, although we knew nothing about it at the time, Suffolk had located HMS Seal the submarine designated to mark the position for us and our two Walrus aircraft were catapulted off to spot for the gunners in the bombardment soon to commence. A RAF Hudson was to drop flares to pinpoint the target but apparently these could not be identified due to the anti-aircraft fire and rockets of the airfields defences.

A Walrus seaplane being launched by a catapult from HMS Bermuda.

Our speed had now been reduced to about 15 knots. At 05.13 the bombardment began.

As the 8” guns let drive the ship shuddered violently [NB: it is very likely that George Manners would have been manning the guns at this time as he was a trained gunner]. The vibration of the guns dislodged debris from the masses of steam pipes passing across the deck-head to the after engine room which rained down like confetti. Blue smoke belched in with the air supply fans accompanied with a strong smell of cordite.

We seemed to be swinging back and forth firing in violent bursts. This continued for almost two hours in which 217 rounds were fired and at 06.04 hours the bombardment ceased.

Apparently the observing Walruses were unable to maintain radio contact due to local interference but some damage was done and fires had been started. During the engagement a torpedo was seen to just miss our stern. After withdrawing we proceeded northward to intercept five destroyers reported to be in the area but failed to make contact. Again we knew nothing of this but we were well aware of the revolution telegraphs persistently pinging and I could see from the main shafts that we were increasing to high speed.

The mission obviously complete and now bowling along at around 30 knots tension relaxed and we all felt a great feeling of relief. At around 06.30 hours we were allowed to send someone to the messes for bread and butter and the galley also produced a boiled egg each.

Just before 08.00hrs it was announced there would be no change in watches and that we were to remain where we were. All in all we were pretty pleased everything had gone so well and that we were speeding back home. Normal chatter and banter resumed heightened by a sense of achievement.
But our euphoria was short lived.

The stoker on the telephone bellowed from above “enemy aircraft approaching”.

Very soon we could hear the sharp crack of the anti-aircraft guns and at 08.26 hours the first bombs came down…….not all that close at first and sounding like depth charges. There followed a period of quiet and then the ship made a violent turn causing it to heel at almost 45 degrees. Buckets, toolboxes, and anything loose rattled across the deck plates whilst we had to cling to the handrail to maintain our balance. Simultaneously more bombs fell – closer this time – with shrapnel clanging against the ships side. There followed another period of peace and then came a sharp heel and more bombs. We were being attacked by waves of three aircraft at high level and apparently the Captain was sighting the bombs as they fell and taking evasive action accordingly.

Below decks we soon realised that the ship heeling and having to cling desperately to the handrail was the signal that more bombs were imminent. Each time we wondered if one would come crashing into the engine room. Some near misses were barely 5 yards away, the shrapnel making a fearful clattering. The situation, the sharp heeling, the clinging on and the clattering now became a pattern.

On either side of me the propeller shafts were rumbling noisily at around 280 rpm and I could imagine the conditions in the two boiler rooms – each with four boilers – at this speed of something over 30 knots. Each boiler front would be pulsating alarmingly as twelve sprayers roared into each furnace like giant blow lamps and the air supply fans screaming to maintain pressure.

Occasionally we could hear the rhythmic thump- thump of the pom-poms and we learned, later, that at times we were being dive bombed. At 10.57 hours, after enduring these attacks for over two hours, we felt a violent shudder and the ship seemed to dip momentarily.

A large flash came from the generators and I could see from the ammeters that something drastic had happened. Nevertheless we kept going but a while later I saw water gushing in from the propeller shaft’s glands in the bulkhead.
I hurriedly informed the chief Engine Room Artificer and each of us taking a spanner tightened the glands to reduce the water flow. Quite clearly the after engine room was flooding – the engines obviously out of use and with just the two engines now running our speed would be no more than 18 knots. Our avoiding actions became sluggish and we now presented a far more vulnerable target. My thoughts were that as we had sustained a hit at 30 knots how much easier it would be for the German Aircraft to hit us only travelling at 18 knots.

Still the attacks came.

Suddenly water started spurting over the deck plates from about 10ft up – drenching the telephones on the bulk head.
A seam on the plates had lifted. Even more alarming was the creaking of strained rivets some 20ft up where a large bulge had appeared with numerous further gushes of water. If the bulkhead gave way, releasing tons of water into the engine room there would be no hope for the ship or her crew.

But the danger had been seen and pandemonium broke out. Much shouting and clattering of feet came from the cat walk. Planks and tools were hastily brought down and the shipwrights amid frantic sawing and banging began shoring up the bulkhead. Anxiously we stood looking up…the bulkhead cracking…shrapnel battering outside…fully aware that another direct hit would be fatal. After a tense half hour the shoring was complete and seemed to be holding. Water streamed down from the innumerable splits…the flooding kept at bay by a furiously thumping bilge pump.

We then heard that a fire was raging in one of the cabin flats and the whole after part of the ship was flooded. Only the battened down tiller flat remained dry. Part of the quarter deck was under water and we had a list to port. The generators were running but serving no purpose. We were now relying on the other two generators buried deep below the bridge to maintain power.

The attacks continued with monotonous regularity. 12.00 hours came. Then 13.00hours….At 13.05 power to the steering motors failed….Temporary repairs restored power for a time but at 13.25 hours all power to the motor was finally lost. Sometimes the period between attacks lengthened but just as we began to hope they had given up another attack would come with its explosions and clattering shrapnel.

It was not until 15.12 hours that the Germans finally withdrew. We had been under continuous attack for 6 hours and 47 mins. 33 attacks on us. Nearly 100 bombs aimed at us. A dive bomber had achieved just one hit with a 1000lb bomb which had exploded in the spirit room. It burst into the adjacent after engine room and disabled both X and Y turrets, lifting the top of X turret and killing all the crew inside.

At 16.20 hours HMS Repulse and HMS Renown came to our assistance and when I was relieved at 19.00 hours I had been down below for 19 hours, we were surrounded by at least a dozen warships.

We limped into Scapa Flow early the next morning listing heavily to port……..our quarter deck awash having steered the last 164 miles by main engines only. The Commander gave the order for HMS Suffolk to be beached at Long Hope, Hoy to prevent her from sinking completely.

One officer was killed Thirty one ratings were killed. 35 ratings had been wounded.

A few had scrambled out of the engine room but were badly burned and died that night.
Only one do I recall who survived and he was receiving plastic surgery still many years later.

Two enemy aircraft were shot down. Three enemy aircraft were damaged.

Our two Walrus planes made their way back to land in lochs in Scotland.

Little if anything has ever been publicised of this – what I suppose was considered a minor incident in the history of the war. It was not a great success as the aircraft attacks against us cruelly testified. But we did what we were asked to do and 32 good men lost their lives.

For them, now resting in the bleakness of Scapa Flow some recognition of their sacrifice seems long overdue.

George Reed, Stoker, HMS Suffolk.

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