Courage in Plain Words: Gunboat 658 by L. C. Reynolds.
Plain words: Gunboat 658 by L. C. Reynolds.
NEL 1974, 192 pages
His Majesty’s Motor Gunboat (MGB) was commissioned in March 1943, and a 19 year old midshipman who had been a schoolboy when the war started joined her, and stayed with her until the war’s end. This is his story, or just as accurately the boat’s story.
The telling is matter of fact. Reynolds is generous with his praise of others and self-effacing otherwise. He brings to life the work of the Coastal Forces, the boats that worked close to shore and at night, and fought their enemies over distances of hundreds of yards rather than miles. Their story is not as famous as the big battles between the big ships, but death is death.
A fiction needs characters, each with an arc, and dialogue, and tends to have an unrealistic density of action. The non-fiction shows how many of the patrols, nerve-tingling though they were, resulted n no contact with the enemy. By war’s end, mines were their biggest danger.
But there are firefights with F-lighters and E-boats, cloak and dagger (‘false nose’) jobs landing agents ashore, battles with the Luftwaffe — it’s all here, and told in a simple, direct way that cannot help but be affecting.
Especially when I am reminded that Reynolds was 19 when it all started. At one point we’re told he needed special dispensation to be given command of the boat because he was too young. He wonders if after the war — war is all he has ever known as an adult — he will have to ask his coxswain (who is a businessman) for a job. I look around at 18 and 19 year old ‘kids’ today. I recall my own callow self at that age, and I can only wonder at his self possession and calm. I wonder if I could rise to the occasion as so many men and women were forced to do in those times (and today in Syria and Iraq and so many other places). Maybe I could, but I doubt I could write about it with such grace and humility.
Only weakness: Lots of acronyms that are never explained or that I could not remember. A glossary would have been mighty handy… here is a short one I’ve knocked up myself:
MGB — Motor Gunboat.
MTB — Motor Torpedo Boat.
Vosper — (‘short boat’) .
LCI — Landing Craft Infantry.
LCH — Landing Craft Headquarters.
LCA — Landing Craft Assault
LCT — Landing Craft Tank.
ML — Motor Launch.
SNOL — Senior Naval Officer Landings.
RCNVR — Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve.
LST — Landing Ship Tank.
NOIC — Naval Officer In Charge.
F-lighter — Flak lighter (German).
E-boat — German coastal craft (torpedo boat).
A/B — Able bodied seaman.
killick — A leading hand in the RN; also a word for anchor.