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There I was in Chatham Barracks, minding my own business and trying to be as inconspicuous as possible, thus avoiding the beady eye of the Petty Officer I/C Work Parties, when suddenly over the barrack tannoy came this disembodied voice, "Stoker Mitchell report to Drafting Master at Arms Office". So off I galloped at a Leisurely stroll, heading for this Worthy's Office wondering what this product of Naval Genius had drempt up for me. Looking at me from behind his desk and nearly smiling.... "Mitchell?" "Yes Master" "Right lad, you've been drafted to H.M.S. Sainfoin, muster in the drill shed at 10.00 Tomorrow forenoon with your kit bag, Hammock and gear."

Sainfoin’s War
By W.J. Mitchell and Colin Buckenham


Draft Chit

As there was no mention of foreign draft leave I thought, "Here we go, home waters corvettes again, just my flaming luck." By 0945 the following morning my draft party now numbered one Leading Stoker plus five stokers, one of whom had the same surname as yours truly. He was convinced that they only needed one Mitchell, but having found two they sent him on for good measure as a spare, so to speak. After an exiting forty mile trip up from Chatham we had been dumped at the gate to the East India Docks and were now staggering around the docks looking for our new home which someone had hidden there. After a while we came alongside what looked like half a block of flats and as it had a gangway running to it we realised it was a ship. At the head of the gangway was standing a chap in white overalls when up shouted our Killick, "Hey mate, do you know where Sainfoin is?" White overalls called down "It's here, come aboard". To cut a long story short, white overalls turned out to be Sub Lieut. Engineer `Yorkie Pie' R.N.V.R., who with another Engineer Officer and a Chief Engineer Officer were the only people onboard. That was of course until we arrived and threw everything into utter confusion. The `Old Man' hadn't been advised of our coming, we couldn't be billeted on Sainfoin as she was completely shut down and to make matters worse we were all flat broke due to having been sent out of barracks before pay day. This situation called for a meeting so we all piled into the Chief Engineer's cabin, and after several suggestions fell flat it was Steve Mitchell who came up with the idea that if we all had enough bus fare he would take us to his mothers for the night. As his family all lived in the Docklands it would only half an hour or so to get us there. Old Chiefy dug into his pocket and came up with the necessary, (I think he was glad to see the back of us) and away we went. Wondering what kind of reception we would receive from Mrs. Mitchell and expecting to be told exactly where to go, we were amazed at the welcome we got. Tea and sandwiches appeared as if by magic. "Don't stand on ceremony here mate, get stuck in" she said, and upon hearing we were all skint toddled off to return a few minutes later with 20 Players Cigarettes and a Pound each. (That was a lot of money in those days). After a wash and brush up the lot of us were then taken round to the local Pub to be treated with a hospitality that could only be found in the London Docklands. I remember staggering up the road after closing time carrying one of several crates of Tru-Brown and trying hard not to trip over in the black-out. God knows who paid for it all because no one would let us spend our money. I'm sure Ma Mitchell could have found her niche as a Billeting Officer because she had us all fixed up with beds in no time. I found myself in a type of attic room with two single beds. In one bed was a wee lad of four or five years fast asleep and in the early hours of the morning two almighty bangs sounded close by. I dived out of bed to grab the child but he just slept on oblivious to the bombs, so I strolled over to the attic window and looked out over the silhouettes of the rows of terraced houses, their roofs standing out against the half light. Poor Old London was still taking a battering , now with flying bombs and rockets and that little lad slept on as if it was quite normal (He'll be a middle aged man by now). Rather reluctantly we were back aboard Sainfoin sitting around in the Chief's cabin and drinking tea from a jug brought over to us by Sub Lieut. Pye from a little dockies cafe just outside the gates when news came through that we had been found temporary messing on a vessel further across the docks, placed specially to accommodate `Homeless' ratings like us. It was named `Plinlimmon' and on inspection turned out to be the scruffiest flea ridden tub we'd ever clapped eyes on. Even her rats wiped their feet before going ashore, so we carted our kit back to Sainfoin. At least it would be free from infection there. We were determined to spend as little time as possible on board this so called `Depot ship'. By the Wednesday we had just found out that our Chief Engineer's name was Lt. Cmdr. E. Hyland R.N.R. He was rather short in stature but by all accounts he had been in the Merchant Navy and was a very capable Marine Engineer of the old school. His quandary was what to do with us for the next few days until we could get below and do what we'd been sent to do i.e. learn to trace the very complex oil and water bunkering and distribution system on this very large ship. It was then that Den Fiddy, our Killick (Bless him!) came up with the idea "Why not let us go on leave?" "Good suggestion" said Mr. Hyland. "But" said Fiddy, "We've no money for rail tickets". Deep Gloom! And then with an innocent expression on his face he explained that there was such a thing called a Travel Warrant (Free Rail Tickets). It seemed that old Chiefty hadn't heard of these things or where they came from and so a couple of phone calls later he and Fiddy went up to some Office or another in the City. They returned a couple of hours later bearing several books of Travel Warrants, and seeing that Fiddy seemed clued up on these things he was put in charge of issuing them. On the Thursday morning we were all off home until the following Monday night. Over the next three or four weeks we managed to make excellent use of this `Mana from Heaven'. Somehow Fiddy could never find the issuing stamp for our pay-books (We were only allowed 3 free warrants per year). We all thought we were pulling the wool over our C/Engineer's eyes, but somehow I think he was on to us because each time he checked us for going ashore there was always that little twinkle in his eye. Sadly our little scam was stopped when Sainfoin was commissioned some 4 or 5 weeks later.

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