Following Operation Pedestal, our poor ship was long overdue for a refit,
and we were long overdue for home leave. Much of the equipment aboard was
obsolete or unserviceable, she was very rusty and had much splinter damage.
In places you could see from the inside of the mess clear through to the
outside. She could not have carried on for much longer.
And so, at 0220 on Monday 24 August 1942 we put to sea with Indomitable and three Hunt class destroyers and proceeded westwards out into the Atlantic. The next day commander Walters announced to the ship's company that we would be arriving in Liverpool on Friday morning and will then proceed to Chatham for a refit and leave.
The lads could hardly dare believe that it would actually happen. We had been promised home leave so many times, only to have our hopes dashed at the very last minute. We had a vote and decided for a Three Watches Leave so that each one would we get longer leave. Everyone was now more at ease, laughing and joking again - something that we have not done for many months.
On 27th two of the destroyers left us, and so we were Indomitable and Itherial. At 2230 we sighted Ireland and went around the north coast. No one can describe that electric feeling that a matelot has when he knows he is nearing home after a long cruise.
As promised, on Friday 28 August 1942, we secured alongside Princess Pier at Liverpool. Several passengers and four sick ratings were disembarked. No shore leave was allowed. At 1545 we slipped and went alongside the oiler, proceeding to sea at 1830. At the last minute our passage to Chatham was cancelled and we made for Scapa.
We arrived there at 1630 the next day, the 29th. As this was so close to home for him the skipper allowed AB 'Jock' Mundie to leave the ship for 21 days leave. Having oiled we put to sea again at 1945, this time bound for Sheerness.
At 1220 on the 30 August we passed abeam Sunderland near my home town of Newcastle. We were so close I felt like swimming for it. We hugged the coast inside the mine belt and were at action stations all day for fear of E boat attacks - none happened.
At 0830 on the last day of August 1942 we berthed at Sheerness at the mouth of the river Medway and began to de-ammunition the ship. This time we were granted shore leave as we were due to depart the next day. The process of removing all of the ammunition was completed by 1245 on 1 September 1942 and we preceded up the winding river Medway to the historic Naval Town of Chatham - where every other building is a pub. Our dream had come true!
As we passed through the Bullnose into number 3 basin I remember seeing the famous cruiser Ajax - which, as usual, was having extensive battle damage repaired. After sixteen months with only 48 hours leave we had at last returned home for an extended leave.
These are some of AB Tom Taylor's memories of the time:
"2 September 1942 At Chatham for a refit. 1130 Red and White watches go on leave so leaving Blue watch on board. Red watch has 18 days leave but White watch is split so returning on 12th to relieve Blue watch. 1630 ashore and turn in at Salvation Army Hotel.
3 September 1942. Returned aboard. Only 3 in mess. 1100 to 1110 silence for ending of third year of war. 1400 saw padre in barracks regarding my forthcoming marriage.
5 September 1942. Request for weekend leave not granted.
8 September 1942. 1315 Cleaves is my sub. so I go ashore with Curly Emmerson. We have run up to Gravesend.
9 September 1942. Returned aboard at 0800. 0930 B turret lifted onto jetty and we go into number two dry dock.
12 September 1942. 1130 proceed on 19 days leave with Blue watch. I travel home and arrive at 2320.
13 September 1942. My girl and I go to see vicar to arrange our wedding.
14 September 1942. 0800 We marry, with all the frills and festivities and then head to Blackpool for the honeymoon.
1 October 1942. My leave is finished. I land aboard at 1735, only 6 hours and 5 minutes adrift. Later I am in the Captain's report and forfeit 3 days pay and 3 days leave.
14 October 1942. 1130 I go on leave arriving home at 2250 and find that dad is very ill and taken to hospital.
28 October 1942. 1100 arrive aboard and find that a bomb had dropped near Ajax killing about 4 ratings.
30 October 1942. Head home for a weekend leave.
2 November 1942. 0845 arrive aboard. Remainder of week is spent on finishing touches of the refit".
During the refit I lived aboard and was granted eighteen days home leave. We were alongside in number two basin, just by the dock office, I quickly made friends with one of the girls working there. However, we didn't get on too well with the mateys as they were always coming into the mess and helping themselves to our food and drink.
A typical saying of the time was
"How many mateys work in Chatham Dockyard? - About fifty percent!"
The refit took nearly two months and was complete on 7 November. She had been updated with modern electronics, upgraded anti aircraft guns and my 4 inch gun was replaced with a set of torpedo tubes and the old war horse had a new coat of paint - a very distinctive, fancy, black and white camouflage. She looked very tiddly. No one then realised that she and many of the crew had less than six months to live.
George Scott's widow still fondly remembers that last evening.
".. my mother said to me why don't you go down and have a drink with George as its his last night here and no telling when you will see him again. So I went to the Carpenter's Arm in Cossack street (Rochester). We met some neighbours and had a such laugh so well do I remember that night, and I never saw him again... (After the sinking) I had all my letters returned and I think that was a shock among others ... I stood still for ten years".
After two days dockyard trials we left Chatham, and proceeded down river, ammunitioned at Sheerness and finally set sail for Scapa Flow on 11 November 1942, arriving there on 19 November. We spent the rest of the month working up with Laforey, who had just completed her refit in Southampton. A week before we arrived in Scapa our new sister - HMS Loyal had arrived, brand new from the makers, and was herself working up. All four 'big Ls' were now complete - Laforey (Captain D19), Lightning, Loyal and Lookout. Only Lookout would ever leave the Mediterranean again.
This was the first and only visit that Lightning made to her home port. At the time of the refit many of the crew left and were replaced by new lads - some were only eighteen years old and had never been to sea in their life - they would very soon to be exposed to all of the horrors of war. Magnus Shearer was one of the new lads - he recalls:
"I would mention that I joined HMS 'Lightning' in Scapa Flow, Orkney in Oct/Nov 1942 (18 years old) along with about 12 others, and we were all 'CW' candidates. (i.e. - recommended from training at HMS Ganges to go forward for an officer selection course after 6 months training at sea) We were supposed to have classes onboard under the Capt., and I think that happened only once, instead of the 2 or 3 times a week which we were originally advised we would have. This was of course because we were in continuous action, and there was no time for classes. Of the group who joined I can remember the following men.
From the Missing List:
From the Survivors List:
There were probably others, but these are the names I recall.
I remember two of the group were (or at least seemed) much older, and had come across from Argentine to volunteer. They were British citizens who had settled out there. In my case I came back to Lerwick after the sinking, and went before the selection board, but did not succeed, so spent the rest of war at sea on the Lower Deck. "