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The wartime reminiscences of Cliff Dennison Ex Telegraphist (S)


Memories of  Training to be a Telg (S) and Intercepting Japanese Morse at HMS ANDERSON

Cliff Dennison, Eastbourne 19'44

The passing out photo of Course 72 at Brighton Click image to enlarge

A group of us at Jessore Road base,  40 miles from Calcutta in 1945
? - Jack ostlethwaite - Clifford Dennison - Wacker Payne - ?- Bunny Austin
Pete - ? - ? Click image to enlarge


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The Admiralty Wireless Telegraphy Training School, Brighton



Cliff joined the RN in July 1943and after basic training at HMS ROYAL ARTHUR completed his specialist training at RN Wireless Telegraphy School Brighton. He was drafted to HMS ANDERSON in Ceylon sited at Narahenpita golf course, Colombo, the main British radio listening and cryptanalysis centre outside Britain.

Basic training

I enlisted in the Royal Navy on July 20th 1943 and reported at H.M.S. ROYAL ARTHUR, a former Butlin's holiday camp in Skegness, Lincolnshire. Our days began at 06.30 with run/walk around the countryside, 2 or3 miles or so but getting longer daily, return to base to shower and breakfast then on to the Parade ground to learn to march in an orderly fashion; this took us up to lunch time. Then it was up to a stretch of water, which looked a little like a piece of a canal, on which there were large rowing boats tethered fore and aft with lots of holes drilled through the blades of the oars. As I recall there were about 10 to a boat with orders to row which we did but we were going nowhere fast, this, in hindsight was the hardest task I ever undertook while in the RN it was certainly the most exhausting! I had almost forgotten this bit of water was salt and full of very hungry fish which would eat anything from bread to the silver paper we often fed them; I just wonder if they survived ROYAL ARTHUR as well as we did. We were allowed shore leave which we spent in Skegness town, many of us having photographs taken to send Home and also trying out the fish and chips which were in limited supply. When our time in ROYAL ARTHUR was coming to a close, having been there for quite a few weeks, we were fit - really fit, the P.T.I.s and the drill chiefs had made sure of that and we were ready for placement, some were drafted to be radio operators while the rest to other units.

I was selected for radio training and soon found myself in Chatham Naval Barracks while waiting for my drafting orders. Gone were the cosy mattresses and bunk beds - we were now sleeping in a tunnel with a hammock; not a pretty place. I well remember the tough discipline and G.I.s with their highly polished black gaiters and short cane; to be seen 'walking' across the parade ground was inviting the wrath of a G.I. one had to run or suffer the consequences, luckily for me while in ROYAL ARTHUR I had learned to run well. Shore leave in Chatham was most welcome and not being a drinker I enjoyed skating in Rochester and the museum with its collection of old time ships made from bone saved from food served to the French P.O.W.s aboard prison ships moored in the Medway.

Training to be a Telegraphist

Very soon I found myself on the move again, to Brighton this time, to join Telegraphist course number 72. On arrival I was billeted with a very dear lady, Mrs. Morris at 18 Broad Street. I seem to remember there were 8 of us living there and we were looked after so well, I for one have never forgotten her over the past 67 years. Across the road from number 18 was the smallest pub I had ever seen with a very steep stairway, none of us were heavy drinkers (yet) but even so we were made welcome with the odd drink on a tab if we were short of readies, which was often; 7 shillings per week did not go very far.

Very soon we were aware of why we were in Brighton; it was as if we were back in school with only one subject 'The Morse code'. Our training was done in classrooms at West House in the Kemp Town area of the town; we marched to lessons from our billet and our meals were served in a mess hall over a garage in Edward Street. After a few months we were presumed competent, having been taught by ex G.P.O. radio personnel whom we could never hope to be their equal, we passed out as Telegraphist (S) ratings.

Specialist training - Japanese Morse

Having passed the Brighton course we were transferred to Eastbourne to be taught the Japanese version of Morse code. Here our billet was the former School of Domestic Science at St Bede's girls finishing school, situated off the sea front to the west side of Eastbourne. A short walk further on towards Beachy Head, the last large house on the left was to be our seat of learning. Japanese style our tutors were very patient, we took everything on board as taught, and needless to say there would be no fails on this course. A sample of Japanese Morse was hanigori and sounded as --..-..--. Those of you who took the course will recall it soon became second nature to read without problems.

We did have Sundays off and I remember once a few of us going up to Beachy Head to look over at the lighthouse, the army had been there to practice throwing mills grenades and one had been thrown with the pin still in place, so I picked it up and took it back to our quarters where I removed the end plug, took out the detonator, the inner body and the cordite sticks it was at this point that I realized I was very much alone... I was lucky nothing went wrong and I'm here to tell this story; it was a stupid thing to do, I still have the same mills grenade to remind me of this.

The time arrived and our course was over, we were sent back to Brighton, civilian billets again, this time at 21 Lower Rock Gardens. We had a few more weeks at the radio school, and with more tuition I was aware of being able to read both types of Morse separately with no difficulty. After taking the final exams successfully as Telegraphist (S) I was drafted back to Chatham. Our courses lasted approximately eight months in all but now gone was the comfort of a civvy billet and low level discipline - I was now in the ROYAL NAVY for real!

Drafted overseas: Ceylon, intercepting Japanese communications

Luckily for me, it was not too long before our group was to be posted, some received drafts to ships, others to Russia and the rest of us, including me, to Lanka, Ceylon. But for some reason we found ourselves in a camp at Cookham Wood, Rochester where all I learned was how to peel potatoes, wash up and keep sentry watches. It was on one these watches during the night of June 12th 1944, on the top of the armoury with a tripod mounted machine gun for company, that the sound of a motor was heard going over head, this proved to be the first of many V1 doodlebugs that night. With us not knowing what they were but hearing in the distance the motors stopping with explosions to follow, come daybreak we were able to see these intruders, but could do nothing about them. I was then given a few days embarkation leave before being sent by rail to Greenock to join H.M.S. TYNE for passage to Ceylon and on to H.M.S. ANDERSON as a Telegraphist (S ).

In H.M.S. ANDERSON we were kept busy intercepting Japanese coded Morse traffic in company with a complement of W.R.N.S. which was part of our watch, possibly these were decoders. On completion of a message they would collect it, do what they had to do and that was it, normal naval watches were order of the day. It was not all work, we had time ashore swimming at Galle Face beach and Mount Lavinia with the odd run to Colombo.

The Fleet Club was out of bounds to us so we had our own venue, a kind of Junior club run by a group of Ladies who made us most welcome and served us with tea, cakes, cool drinks and loads of fried bananas; a large house not too far from our base so this became our home from home, and it was used by us most days. Have just remembered one of the Wrens on our watch was Gwen, she had tight curly hair and she went out with one of our lads, her home was in Derby, I just wish I could remember all their names as well as I can remember their faces. There is something that is unforgettable and that was the 45 record of Frank Sinatra singing with the Harry James orchestra 'Little street in Singapore' how many of us left will remember that? It was played over and over again on the base system. The Skipper in Anderson was a Captain Keith, Jimmy was Lt Cdr Dugmore and a Lt Gibbons was in charge of sport; I do have a picture of him kicking off a fancy dress football match at our celebration of the end of hostilities in Europe.

On the move again: Calcutta, India

Within a short time I was on the move again to finally arrive in R.N. Barracks Calcutta after the worst train journey I ever undertook; the bugs in the seats fed well off us and I remember most of us needing treatment of one sort or another. A few days later we were loaded on to transports with all our kit and taken to the district of Tollygunge, the home of the 'Royal Calcutta Golf Course' and we took up residence in a small blockhouse with sleeping and washing facilities situated between number one green and number two tee in a copse of tall bamboo. Food was taken in an American army base on the edge of the course, we were not welcome at first but they did get used to us, as we did them, and best of all the food was real good.

Out on the golf course was a radio shack with an array of aerials, this was our first intro to 4 channel H/F D/F equipment, I don't recall being taught how to use this gear but use it I did and became quite adept in its operation. There was a direct phone link to a control centre staffed by girls of the Women's Royal Indian Naval Service doing work similar to the W.R.N.S. in H.M.S. ANDERSON; our job was to read and record the Japanese traffic whilst taking a bearing of the transmitting station using a goniometer. We would record the most accurate bearing then pass the info to the girls; we fAound later they were just across the road, which ran alongside the golf course.

After awhile we learned that the bearings were not of good quality, this led to another move about 40 miles from Calcutta on the Jessore Road in the middle of nowhere surrounded by paddy rice fields. Here a purpose built radio station had been especially commissioned for us, who ever decided this made a good call, the reception was first class as were the bearings; this would be our home until hostilities with Japan ended. The day arrived when we were kept very busy, the traffic being particularly heavy, little did we know that an atom bomb had been used and our job was over.

When we moved out with all our kit a squad of Army sappers arrived to destroy our base with explosives and we were returned to R.N.B. Calcutta. After a few days we were issued with travel warrants back to H.M.S. ANDERSON in Ceylon to await passage back to the U.K. which we finally got in H.M.S. FORMIDABLE.

Cliff Dennison Ex Telegraphist (S)




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Topic: Cliff Dennison Ex Telegraphist (S)
0/5 (0)
Oct 2022
TP (UK) says...

The Gwen that Mr Dennison refers to sounds very much like my late mother. She worked in Derby before she joined the WRNS. Had dark brown hair like mine used to be. And curly hair like my sister. She was also in Sri Lanka/Ceylon at a similar time period and also based at HMS Anderson and was also a Wireless Telegraphist. Her billet was Kent House I believe.

Attached photo is where she was housed in Scarborough where she was trained before going abroad in. It is now called Cecil Court overlooking Peaseholm Park.


Oct 2022
TP (UK) says...

The Gwen that Mr Dennison mentions sounds very much like my late mother. She was in the WRNS and was posted to Ceylon at a similar time period and also served at HMS Anderson. Her hair was dark brown, like mine used to be, and curly like my sister's.

James Archer
Jan 2021
First Poster
James Archer (Glasgow, North Lanarkshire, UK) says...

This man must have known my father John Archer, he was in class 72 and also HMS Anderson Ceylon.

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At the end of June 1945, the Admiralty implemented a new system of classification for carrier air wings, adopting the American practice one carrier would embark a single Carrier Air Group (CAG) which would encompass all the ships squadrons.


Sturtivant, R & Balance, T. (1994) 'Squadrons of the Fleet Air Arm’ list 899 squadron as conducting DLT on the Escort Carrier ARBITER on August 15th. It is possible that the usual three-day evolution was cancelled due to the announcement of the Japanese surrender on this date and was postponed for a month.


The reminiscences of

Gordon served with the radio section of Mobile Repair UNit No.1 (MR 1) at Nowra, he was a member of the local RN dance band, and possibly the last member of MONAB I to leave Nowra after it paid off. .

Drafted to

Coming home

In March 1946 I joined 812 squadron, aboard HMS Vengeance, spending some time ditching American aircraft north of Australia. Eventually we sailed for Ceylon ( Sri Lanka ) landing at Trincomalee and setting up a radio section at Katakarunda. In the belief that we were exhausted we were sent to a rest camp at Kandy for a few weeks. We moved down to Colombo to pick up Vengeance and returned to Portsmouth via the Suez Canal . I was discharged in November 1946.

Gordon Theaker