Friday, 8 April 2016

to sea in a sieve

On Friday 1 April I finished To Sea In A Sieve, a wartime memoir by Peter Bull, who was a minor actor. I like unassuming but well-written accounts of lowly wartime service, and this fitted the bill quite well. It didn't all live up to its rather good opening page, and the bits where nothing much was happening in his war were less interesting than they might have been (it needn't be a direct correlation).

He served largely in landing craft of various kinds, primarily in the Mediterranean, which was a bit of an eye-opener to start with, as I hadn't really thought of them as ships in their own right, but of course they were. (He said 'one of the reasons why I have attempted this book is to try to give an accurate picture of life aboard such craft and how it affected officers and men.') The living conditions for those aboard sounded grim, and the sailing too quite often (not just the short hop one thinks of over to Normandy, say). (There is, of course, quite a detailed Wikipedia entry on the landing craft family.)

The book was divided into four, and I liked the sub-headings:
Part One: Extraordinary Seaman (1941) - Early Struggles
Part Two: In And Out Of Flat Bottoms (1942) - Struggles
Part Three: Mediterranean Cruise Section (1943-1944) - Still Struggling
Part Four: The Lieutenant-Commander Hates The Sea (1944-1946) - Last Struggles

p163 (of my 1958 Beacon Books edition) reveals that one of the crew of LCF16 was 'MacPhail, a quiet native of Stornaway [sic, as so often] who was a superb seaman'. (Stornoway, of course, could mean anywhere on the Outer Hebrides.)

Opening line: I had better make it quite clear at the outset that the sea was not in my blood and I took jolly good care that my blood was not in the sea. But at Fulham Labour Exchange, on an autumn day in 1940, it was apparent that I had a major decision to make. (The full first page is here.)

Closing paras: On the last day of my release leave, the B.B.C. rang me up to offer me a radio part. ....
'What sort of part?' I asked.
'A sailor. That's why we thought of you,' came the reply.
I accepted with alacrity, and in such fashion Acting Temporary Lieut.-Commander Peter Cecil Bull, D.S.C. (my last parenthesis mark to note an award first news of which reached me via my School Magazine), Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, returned to civilian life.

Dedication: Dedicated in affectionate pride to the Ship's Company of His Majesty's Landing Craft Flak 16.

The cover of my 1958 edition looks like a Commando comic rather than a serious biography (Bethan assumed it was a novel when she saw it). This is the first of my Instagram book photos which shows the spine, because of the state of the book, but I think I'll try to get the spine in in future too, as that's an important part of the design, with bookshop shelves in mind.