My years in the Navy

I have written down my memories from my time in the Navy. They are published in Swedish both here on Kjell's Nostalgic Homepage and as a book called I FLOTTANS UNIFORM. Below you will find a summary in English. The entire report about the visit to Bristol in 1948 with a destroyer named Norrköping is quoted word by word.

The story begins, when I as a 16-year old boy in the fall of 1943 enlist in the Navy at the port of Karlskrona. I come from the countryside in Skåne in the south of Sweden. I was born out of wedlock and brought up by my elderly maternal grandparents. After going to school for the then required seven years I have been working as a farmhand. A job I dislike.

In the new environments I feel right at home. The discipline is rigorous but I am lucky to get a good teacher. I get on well with my fellow recruits even if there are some cocky ones in the living quarters.

After about two and a half months, I come down with scarlet fever and am admitted to the hospital of infectious diseases in the city of Karlskrona. I spend a couple of weeks around Christmas and New Years in the hospital, where the atmosphere is rather poor and gloomy. But, here I seriously fall in love for the very first time.

Back at the Naval station, I continue the shoreside basic training. On the 2nd of May, 1944 I get an assignment at sea on board the full rigged ship Jarramas together with about seventy of my fellow Seaman recruits. That year the month of May is very cold. The temperature varies between six and eight degrees Celsius. The cold, the lack of sleep, the relentless discipline and the seasickness are the strongest memories of the four weeks I spend on Jarramas.

The period on Jarramas is followed by another assignment at sea on board the armoured ship Oscar II. The circumstances here are quite different. It is like "coming to heaven". The discipline is of course strict, but the men are treated correctly. It is warm on board, the food is good and there is plenty of free time. For two months on Oscar II, I am trained by the same teacher I had during the shoreside training.The most extraordinary episode is when the crew is forced to carry out a realistic training in abandoning ship near the Island of Blå Jungfrun in Kalmarsund.

After the assignment on Oscar II the shoreside training in Karlskrona continues for a couple of months. In my free time I take the opportunity to attend dancing-school. These dancing-lessons are somewhat troublesome for the shy student when he is told to follow the handsome dancing-teacher with his leg against hers to learn the steps.

On the 1st of October, 1944 I have been in the Navy for one year and get promoted to Seaman Second Class. From now on, my assignments at sea are on board warships. The first ship in question is the armoured ship Gustav V, part of the Home Fleet, located on Horsfjärden a few miles south of Stockholm. This big armoured ship is like a community in miniature. On board there is a postoffice, telephone, a library and a well-supplied canteen. The restaurant has three kitchens ;one for Commissioned Officers (COs), one for Senior Non Commissioned Officers (Senior NCOs) and one for Seamen and Lower Ranked Non Commissioned Officers (Lower Ranked NCOs). The activities on board consist mainly of combat training, exercises of different kinds, patrol duty and maintenance. I get on well with my fellow shipmates and my superiors. In my spare time I frequent a well-known dance-palace in Stockholm.

It is with mixed feelings that I, after only six months, have to leave Gustav V to sign on for duty on the armoured ship Sverige. Here the atmosphere is different. I do not feel at home at all. I also have some bad luck and am unfairly treated by my commanding officer. On the day peace is declared in Europe, Sverige is out at sea and this big event is ignored in silence on board.

After a while, I develop a skin condition and have to leave the ship to be admitted to a hospital in Karlskrona. An elderly kind doctor diagnosis my condition as being a mild variety of the chronic disease Psoriasis. After staying in the sun and taking special baths for a couple of weeks, the skin lesions go away. I am released from the hospital and report back for duty at the military office.

After serving a few days in the Fleet Reserve, I receive a new assignment at sea. It turns out to be on a small boat located in Hälsingborg. Everything about this boat is different from what I have encountered before. The boat in question, HJVB 274, and a boat similar to that, is watching merchant vessels in Öresund in order to prevent them from entering the nets laid out in the channel by the Germans to stop submarines. One week the boat lies at anchor in the channel outside the small village of Viken and the next week it lies in port in Hälsingborg. When it is stationed in the channel, the men work day and night.
   The routines on board are confusing. It is no exaggeration to say that military order and discipline are banned. But the crew gets the job done. Every second week the men protect ships from sailing into the nets.

At a dance I meet a girl. I go out with her during the stay in Hälsingborg and for some months after that.

In mid-September, 1945 the mission in Hälsingborg is completed and the boat returns to Karlskrona to be decommissioned. After that, I commence my education at the school for Non Commissioned Officers in Karlskrona. I get a new friend, a charming lad who is musical and has lots of ideas. Together we rent a flat in town, get civilian clothes and attend driving school in the evenings.

This years Christmas I spend at a cousin's in Malmö. I also take the opportunity to visit my grandma and to meet with some childhood friends and some old schoolmates. I am surprised to see how little we now have in common although it is only two yers ago I left them.

After the holidays I gladly return to Karlskrona. At the end of March, the education is completed and I am promoted to Petty Officer Third Class (Corporal).

On the 29th of March, 1946 I sign on for duty at the armoured ship Sverige for the second time. But after only twelve days I leave the ship to attend a fire-fighting practice on the mine cruiser Älvsnabben, a beautiful and modern vessel with good quality living-standard also for the men. Here, there are no big open living-quarters on lower deck, otherwise a standard feature on the ships, and no cockroaches either, also a standard feature on board the old ships. After this training, which lasts a couple of months, I transfer back to the armoured ship Sverige.

Midsummer I spend at my cousin's in Skåne. It turns out to be a very special holiday since my cousin has moved from Malmö and has rented and now lives in a small amusement park a few miles outside Lund.

After the holidays the armoured ship Sverige makes a journey to the west coast and Copenhagen. Life on board Sverige is rather monotonous. The hierarchy on board is strict. COs and NCOs have separate mess rooms and kitchens, cooks and waiters. Most of the COs and Senior NCOs live in cabins of their own. The two personal groups seem to live in different worlds. The COs consider themselves an upper class and their life is privileged. The Lower Ranked NCOs live together with the Seamen in the big living- quarters on lower deck and in the wardroom. They eat together and live and sleep in the same quarters.

With joy I one day read on the men's notice board that I shall leave the ship for a new assignment in Karlskrona. After serving at various posts ashore I am promoted to Petty Officer Second Class. New assignments at sea follow, for example on the mine cruiser Älvsnabben. On a summer day she runs aground in the Stockholm archipelago. She is brought to the Naval dock yard in Stockholm, where I and my friends live the good life for a whole month.

My contract with the Navy expires in the Autumn of 1947. I then resign from the Navy, return to Skåne and register at the Sailors Agency in Malmö. While waiting to sign on to a ship, I am first working at the sugar plant in Arlöv and after that I am helping a relative to lay roofs. But there is a shortage of vacant jobs in Skåne both ashore and at sea . After a few months I therefore leave the civilian life and return to the Navy in Karlskrona.

Now follows nearly three years of service at sea as a Lower Ranked Non Commissioned Officer on board different ships. The first one is the destroyer Norrköping. On Norrköping I make my first real long trip, to Bristol, Great Britain.

From Bristol the journey continues to Amsterdam and after that to Trondheim in Norway. During that trip, Norrköping runs into bad weather and gets minor damages on deck.

The longest assignment during these three years is on the submarine tender Patricia. She lies alternately in Märsgarnsviken at Horsfjärden and Östra Brobänken in the city of Stockholm. I get on very well. I am Petty Officer with responsibility for two mess rooms in the bow. I live together with the Seamen in the mess room on the starboard side. Some non-disciplined drafted men are also living there. Therefore I would rather live together with other Lower Ranked NCOs, who have their own living-quarters.

When two new Petty Officers arrive I get the chance to change, if I in return take on the responsibility for the canteen on board. I accept, although this means some extra work in my free time.

It is during this time I meet my wife to be. Therefore I start reflecting on my future service in the Navy. As long as I still am assigned to Patricia it works out rather well, even if she leaves Stockholm for Karlskrona during several holidays. But when I get a new assignment at sea on board the destroyer Uppland, I seriously start to consider leaving the Navy and settle down in Stockholm. I intend to study to Senior Chief Petty Officer at the Naval.

In July, 1950 I give notice. During the period of notice, three months, I continue to serve on Uppland. During that time the ship visits the Faeroe Islands and Copenhagen. I am 23 years old when I hand in my sailorīs bag and return to civilian life. I feel deep gratitude to the Navy for giving me the opportunity to receive a good education and for teaching me how to stand on my own two feet and take on responsibility, as well as how to function as a supervisor.

Designad by Kjell Närkhammar in September 2004.