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In Memory of Chief Yeoman of Signals George Smith, DSM, Royal Navy 1904-28 (Part 7 of 7)



1. Naval Service Record 1904-28

2. North Russian Expeditionary Force 1919

3. HMS Vanquisher, Baltic Cruise 1921

4. HMS Curlew, America & West Indies 1922-25

5. Point Honda Disaster 1923

6. HMS Durban, China Station 1926-28

7. Royal Naval Shore Signal Service 1929-48 (here)

his son, Ordnance Artificer George Smith

son-in-law, Lt Cdr (A) James Summerlee MID, RN

Chief Officer George Smith, Dover 1947 (click to enlarge)   return to inter-war, 1918-1939

through the eyes of his daughter Val, born 1926, later of the WRNS and married to Lt-Cdr Summerlee (above)

This is not a story about warships and actions, but a small and long-forgotten part of the Royal Navy. It does not even go into the role and operations of the Royal Naval Shore Signal Service. Instead, for the record, and through the eyes of a young girl, it hopefully gives some idea of the men who, with the support of their families, manned some of the shore stations on which the Navy once depended.


My thanks to my Aunt, Val Summerlee, for providing the photographs and the story - Gordon Smith, Naval-History.Net




1904-1928 - Royal Navy, retired as Chief Yeoman of Signals, D.S.M.


1 January 1929 - Discharged from Royal Fleet Reserve and enrolled in Royal Navy Shore Signal Service (RNSSS).



 Sea Area - Wight


NEEDLES, Totland Bay, Isle of Wight, southern England, c. 1929-32


(Note: dates for the earlier Stations are approximate)



Val with Teddie and the cat

Mishap No.1. I always had to ride in the side‑car, on Mum’s lap, so when the motor‑bike was unattended I climbed onto the pillion, where my sister Edna used to ride (Edna was the eldest sister, then Thelma, then me). Climbing back down again, the back of my left leg touched the red hot exhaust. I bet my screams were heard on the mainland. I hated school from my first day, so when no‑one was looking I walked out.


Unfortunately I bumped right into my mother who was out shopping, and was promptly marched right back to school ‑ to the Head girl ‑ big sister Edna. Not my lucky day. Big brother George (all of 16 yrs, later Ordnance Artificer, killed in action October 1943) was apprenticed to the local garage, and as he was my hero, I was forever taking my bicycle down to him for minor ‑ or made-up ‑ repairs, replace chain etc. I must have been a pain in the neck to him – and his boss. But he was never angry or irritable with me.


 RNSSS Quarters, Totland (x = our house)




Sea Area - Fair Isle


DUNNET HEAD, northern Scotland, c. 1932-34


(Note: regarding dates, this section includes photographs of SS Linkmoor wrecked at Dunnet Head in late 1930)

On our way up to Dunnet Head, we were due to go over the Forth Bridge later that evening. Dad kept me awake so I could see this marvellous engineering feat, and as we trundled slowly over, as if we were up in the sky as far as one small person was concerned, I was apparently not very impressed. I was more interested in a mucky tramp steamer, way down below. Enjoyed the winters up there, as we were always snowed in, so couldn’t get to school for some weeks. We all had to pile into a taxi and all the roads were blocked with snow. Dad used to make me a sledge, had lots of fun on that. In spite of the weather, we always seemed so snug. We had to use peat (dug by the men in the Summer, and stacked up to dry) and oil lamps. Perhaps the memories improve with age, not sure how my mother ‑ a city girl, coped with it and the isolation, plus making sure she had an adequate store cupboard to keep us all during the freeze‑up (couldn’t just pop down to the local store if we ran out, but to this day I can't stand evaporated milk.)


Mishap No.2 happened at Dunnet. There was a loch where we used to swim, as there was no beach nearby ‑ the cliffs were about 300ft. high. I was floating on a car inner tube, and slipped through the middle. I couldn’t swim, but Edna was a terrific swimmer even then and dived under and brought me up.


The nearest cinema was in Thurso, and very few local people had the means to get there, so Dad used to run a magic lantern show in the village hall, which was very popular. Having a motor‑bike and side‑car, we used to go to Thurso, about once a month, to get some shopping and go to the cinema. But in the winter (snow permitting) either Edna or Thelma would have to stay at home to have pans of hot water on the range with mustard for us to soak our freezing feet in, and generally warm us through. Edna couldn’t get employment at Dunnet ‑ they only employed local people.

Watch House, c 1932


Station snowbound

Pistol firing, Chief Officer Day, PO Walters,
George Smith


Quarters at Dunnet Head

Possibly the staff of Dunnet Head.
George Smith not present


Quarters, back view




Testing cliff rescue gear





SS Linkmoor aground
(built 1913, 3,175grt,
wrecked Dunnet Head 10 November 1930)


SS Linkmoor - Mum and Dad


Whale washed up on beach


Curing sheep skins - Steve, Walter & Self


Off to Wick - Dad, don't know, PO Walters


Off to John O'Groats - Mum standing in
motor-cycle gear


Wick - some of the Fishing Fleet


PO Walters, Edna, Doris & Thelma off for a ride


Mum and Dad at John O' Groats



Link to Dunnet Head Educational Trust




Sea Area - Dover


DUNGENESS, Kent, SE England, c1934-35



What an awful place. Just miles of shingle. We had to use wooden things under our shoes, and slide over the shingle. There was a small village school. Occasionally they held village dances, which Mum and Dad always used to go to, (don't know about my sisters Edna and Thelma) and we kids would use the intervals to slide across the floor on the French chalk.


Mishap No 3. The school was across the railway line (from Lydd to Dungeness Lighthouse) protected by heavy swing gates. I was swinging on one of the gates and it closed with me between gate and post. I should have been injured, but was very lucky, it must have closed slowly, and not with its usual spring clang.


In Lydd there was a very old church and burial ground, with some ancient grave stones like tombs. Some had the tops cracked and broken, The short cut back to Dungeness was via the church yard, and Thelma used to frighten the life out of me talking about ghosts and bodies coming out of the broken tombs.



Sea Area - Forth


ST ABBS HEAD, southeast Scotland, c1935-37

After Dungeness this was heaven, beautiful cliffs, a loch, valleys and the picturesque fishing village, 2½ miles away. I think this was my happiest Station, I had to walk the 2½ miles to school with the other children from the Lighthouse, as well as the RNSSS and during the two years we lived there missed only two days from school due to 'sunstroke'! In all weathers we still made it. So much happened there. My first school play ‑ I was a butterfly ‑ and tore one of my wings on the school gate. My first beloved dog, a collie – Mick. Edna brought him home one day, having caught a shepherd ill-treating this puppy. He was frightened of most men except two, my father and the butcher who called twice a week. He followed me everywhere, hopelessly trying to play 'hide & seek' as Micky would be standing staring at my hiding place. If he could slip away from Mum’s eagle eye, he would follow me to school, where he became a great favourite, allowed to lie under my desk. At lunch time I would go to the village shop & buy him a packet of sweet biscuits ‑ and put them on Mums bill. NOT a popular move. Not very successful at catching rabbits either, with grandad, he would just stand and watch them until they ran down their holes then go and sniff at the hole. Dad used to call him a 'sooner' dog - sooner sit and watch rather than 'run and catch'.


Once a month, Dad would drive us to Berwick to do some shopping and visit the cinema, then tea afterward. Quite a treat. By this time he had his first car a 'Morris Minor'. Unusual in 1935/6. Of all the films we saw, the earthquakes in 'San Francisco' was the one that really stood out. On the drive home we would always call at the pub in Coldingham where they had a 'family room'.


Dad, as CO of the RN Shore Signal Station was an Honorary member of the St. Abbs RNLI Committee (I still have his badge somewhere).


As kids we had a really marvellous time. So much freedom, I learned to swim off the jetty. We used to climb down the cliffs and play on the rocks below, two huge formations called the 'crocodiles back'. It was a miracle none of us was washed off into the sea. We made 'native' huts from the reeds around the loch. (I still have the scar on my left leg where I was cut by a reed ‑ sharp as razors). Sliding on the loch when it froze over in the winter, collecting golf balls from the bottom of one of the cliffs towards the village. Looking back, life seemed one long play time.


Some incidents while we lived there. The clothes poles were metal and had metal wires across halfway down. Playing cowboys & indians, I ran full pelt into one, and sliced across the top of my nose. There was no water or electricity, so cooking was on a coal range in the winter and a paraffin stove in the summer. Water was collected from a pump about 1/4 mile away. Rushing in from play hot & thirsty, I picked up what I thought was a cup of water, gulped half of it down, before I realised it was paraffin. Mum made me swallow soapy water to make me sick, and bring it up. It worked ‑ what a worry I must have been for her. Collecting water had to be a family affair. We ALL went to the pump with our buckets, to collect the water. In windy weather we would be lucky to get home with half a bucket left. We had rain water tanks for washing. This was before the walk to school (ages 8 ‑ 10). Dad as usual had made me a sledge, which he had to try it out first !! Just to make sure it was safe? So he would slide down the hill from the RNSSS lookout station, in full RN uniform (have a photo of this somewhere.)

Mishap No.3+ - out playing with the others in the hills, Micky my collie got his foreleg caught in a 'gin‑trap'. He was yelling, I was crying and I had no idea how to get him free, One of the boy’s Arthur, managed to get his leg out and we threw the trap into the loch with a great deal of fury and satisfaction. (Evil things). Later on during the war Arthur was in the RN serving on HMS Sirius, sister ship to the Charybdis (the cruiser brother George was lost on), both in the Mediterranean. I don't think they ever met out there, as one came into Gib, the other left.

George Smith


Val and Mum - journey from St Abbs back to
Dunnet Head for a holiday about 1936


SS Mauretania passing St Abbs to be broken up at Rosyth
1935 (presumably a postcard and not a personal photograph - see below)

The photograph of the Cunard Mauretania shown as passing St. Abbs to be broken up at Rosyth in 1935, actually shows her pulling her fastest speed in her preliminary speed trials, September 17th, 1907. This is a well known image by a photographer whose name escapes me at the moment. If this were 1935, she would be in white livery, stripped after the Hampton & Sons auction and her masts would be chopped to fit under the Firth of Forth railway bridge. (With thanks to Eric Vornhoff, 18/6/14)



Sea Area - Thames


SHOEBURYNESS, Essex, SE England, 1937-41


(Note: Shoeburyness and adjacent Thorpe Bay are part of Southend-on-Sea with its long pier)

Signal Station at the end of Southend Pier (no enlargement)


After the freedom of St. Abbs, this was a shock to the system - too many people and houses. For the first 18 months nothing out of the ordinary. School for me, daily trips to the end of Southend Pier for Dad to the RNSSS signal station. Mum was happy, I should think, with laid on water and electricity, and plenty of buses and shops. My dear dog Micky was bitten in a fight with a bull‑terrier, and shortly afterwards went down with distemper. There was no cure then and in spite of Dad sitting up and nursing him with brandy in milk, he wasted away and died. He was just 3 years old.


In 1938 war was imminent. Dad went to Chatham to do a gas and defence course. Mum and I went to stay with friends on the Isle of Wight, at St. Catherines Point RNSSS. They began to dig a huge underground air‑raid shelter at the back of the houses. Easter 1939, 1 went down with Scarlet Fever, caught a chill and developed nephritis. I was seriously ill for several months. Mum cared for me 24 hours a day. It was a blazing hot summer, and I was confined to bed wrapped in blankets and hot water bottles at my feet and kidneys.


During this spell Dad taught me how to play chess. Edna got engaged to a soldier Fred (of the Royal Artillery) and when war was declared on Sept 3rd, thinking that as a regular he would be sent to France, they decided to get married on Sept 9th. Quite a panic to get everything arranged but they succeeded and she had a full white wedding with two bridesmaids, me and Thelma. Apart from my music teacher leaving the district (to my delight at the time, and sorrow since), very little was happening. This was the so‑called phoney war. Fred did not go to France, and in 1940, I had to go away for a holiday to recuperate, St. Abbs was classed as too cold, so we went to Plymouth to stay with Aunty Mabel. My cousin was in the WRNS, I loved the uniform, and my ambition for the future was born.


While we were there, the Army was retreating back to Dunkirk. Dad (still in Shoeburyness) guessing that the railways would soon be busy wanted us back while trains could still run. From Shoebury, we could see the oily smoke from the blazing oil tanks in Dunkirk. Later we had some of the survivors from the Highland Light Infantry, who got off from St. Valery, in tents at the back of the married quarters. They later told us the stories of their retreat, and the French didn’t come out of it very well, booing and spitting at them.

I was later evacuated to Derbyshire, all my chums were staying behind. Having been off school for 12 months I didn’t know anyone. I hated it after a week, and Dad came up to bring me home. I think he was disappointed as his family came from near Matlock in Derbyshire.

Glad to be home for the summer, we had a grandstand view of the Battle of Britain. We kids were machine gunned ‑ with many others ‑ on the beach at Thorpe Bay by a stray Me.109. We were all hurtling underneath the beach huts, but some soldiers directed us to the safety of their requisitioned houses until it was safe to go home. When we got home to worried parents, we heard that the same thing had happened to them. He must have strafed everything in sight on his way home. The beach was closed shortly afterwards, and they began to prepare for the expected invasion.

An exciting time for we children, not really realising how serious it was all becoming.


After summer Dad had to find a school for me as all the council ones had been evacuated. He entered me into Clark's College, a private business school in nearby Chalkwell. First year general education, and afterwards shorthand typing, book‑keeping and French. (The latter seemed a waste of time to me with the Germans just over the Channel). During the autumn, the Germans changed their tactics and began to bomb London, mostly at night, but we used to get the odd bomb dropped by raiders who had been unable to get through to London. One even landed in the road outside the houses, and blew in all the windows.


My sister Thelma was now going out with a soldier (Cyril) and was soon to marry. Also that autumn of 1940, cycling home from school down Southend’s Pier Hill, on a lovely sunny day, I was watching a tanker sailing towards the oil storage tanks on Grain Island. There was a huge explosion, a ball of fire ‑ she had hit a mine. As the channel was swept every day, it must have been one of the new magnetic mines. One was later found on the sands of the Shoebury ranges (by Lieutenant Commander OuvryNote: that was the autumn of 1939), and they were able to take it apart and sort our how to deal with it.


After the Battle of Britain, the Germans concentrated on the docks in the East End. Night after night we could see the glow of the fires from Shoebury. It must have been hell for the people living there.

RNSSS Quarters, Shoeburyness



Intervening Comments by Val

"As regards your suggestion I write about my service in the WRNS, nothing very exciting happened there, only umpteen moves but I'll give it a go later. Reading my previous efforts it seems more like my life than Dads, but of course I know very little of what Dad was doing. He spent most of his time working - or sleeping - he was never a man to sit around doing nothing. He always had to be doing something, but was always there if we needed him. One thing he said to me when I joined up 'don't ever borrow money - or lend it - if you want anything come to me and I will give it to you.' He was true to his word when I wanted to borrow some money to buy a tailor-made uniform. He gave it to me - and - I paid him back, every penny."



Sea Area - Dover


DUNGENESS, Kent, SE England, 1941-44

In 1941 Dad was posted - to - would you believe it - Dungeness, but I had to stay behind to carry on at school, and stayed first with Edna and later with Thelma, going home for the school holidays and eventually left for Dungeness in late 1942. But apart from the occasional 'tip & run' raid by the odd German fighter nothing much was happening. Dad must have suspected that something might soon be happening as he began to teach me to drive, although I was only 16 at the time. The idea was that IF there was an invasion, I could drive Mum and the two other wives out of the area, to a friend in Bedford. Dad was the perfect instructor, so patient, he never fussed or lost his temper, but how I was ever to find Bedford in 1942/43 without sign posts I have no idea, but thankfully the need never arose.


Life settled back to normal, not much for a 16 year old to do, so as Dad knew I wanted to join the WRNS, he thought it would come in handy (and keep me out of mischief?) if he persuaded one of his sailors to teach me morse and semaphore, But I was still at a loose end, and so I answered an advert for a shop assistant with Sainsbury's in Folkestone, which had staff accommodation. After an interview in London (Dad had also visited the store and met the manager, and housekeeper), I started my first job in Feb 1943. Coming home most weekends via bus to Hythe and from there by the Miniature railway now run by the Army for their troops at Dungeness, I was met by Dad for the walk or drive home, One thing the war did for Dungeness was the roads built by the Army.


Dad had to go to Dover Castle once a month for conferences and was given extra petrol coupons to get there, otherwise it would have taken most of the day by train and buses. By driving very carefully he could conserve his petrol, leaving him some spare to supplement his meagre ration. It was while I was working in Sainsbury's that Dad came in alone, (Mum always went to Dover with him, anything to get away from Dungeness, and visit the shops). It was to tell me that the "Charybdis" had been lost and that my brother George was missing (late October 1943). Mum had gone down to Plymouth to be with his wife Irene.

Married Quarters, including CO's house (x)


Lighthouse and Signal Station





Sea Area - Humber


FLAMBOROUGH HEAD, Yorkshire, northeast England, 1944-46

In Jan. 1944 Dad was posted to Flamborough Head in Yorkshire. I was disappointed as it was obvious thing were hotting up, and invasion – ours this time - was on the cards and like everyone else we thought it would be from Dover area. The place was heaving with troops and equipment, and if it fooled us, no wonder it fooled the Germans too. Anyway I had to go too, I gave notice at Sainsbury's, and returned home to prepare to leave. I'm afraid I can remember very little of this period. It was only two months since George had been reported missing and so far there had been no other news. Xmas must have been grim, as George and Irene had spent Xmas 1942 with us. I presume the time was occupied with packing up.


I've tried to remember how we went about this. I suppose Mum and Dad were used to it, Each RNSSS house was fitted a double bed, wooden kitchen table and 4 chairs. Everything else we had to supply, and also do all the packing. No idea how long it would take to journey up to Yorkshire. I presume Dad, Mum and I put all the necessary clothes, foodstuff, blankets to tide us over a few days and piled into one small Morris 8 and headed north. Dad would never allow me to drive an overloaded car, so he had all the driving to do plus find our way without signposts, transport cafes and only the occasional petrol station. I suppose we must have stopped to eat our sandwiches and drink our flasks of tea. It was January. No idea what the weather was like, but it must have been dark most of the time. However we did eventually arrive in Flamborough. Dad must have been shattered, Mum too as I can't remember stopping anywhere overnight. B & B's were not readily available in wartime Britain.

Flamborough Head was very quiet even after Dungeness. I went dancing in Bridlington once a week which meant I had to cycle 7 miles home afterwards. I must have been fit to work all day then go dancing and end up cycling all that way back. Dad was always waiting up for me,


I finally applied to join the WRNS (below left - after the war) and had my medical in Leeds and was called up for 1st November 1944. There had still been no news about George, even though our forces were pretty well established in France (The “Charybdis” had been sunk off Ushant off the North coast of France.) Dad remained in Flamborough until 1946.

Flamborough Lighthouse

Mum and Dad


Even Chief Officer's cleaned the chimneys





Sea Area - Dover


DOVER, Kent, SE England, 1946-48

He had been made up to the Senior Chief Office of the Service and was posted to Dover. where he remained until his retirement in 1948. He then bought a house in Westcliff-on-Sea, Essex.

Garden, 1947


Inspection of Naval Old Comrades, 1947 (x)


Dad right, Mr Pennel centre, also Bob the dog,
RNSSS, Admiralty Pier, Dover 1948


Admiralty Quarters, Dover RNSSS


About 200 steps from house to beach


CO's House (x) above Shakespeare Cliff





Retirement - Thames


Westcliff-on-Sea, 1948-1977

Mum was happy but I think Dad missed Dover. Not that he ever said anything to me, but he had a lot of friends there. When I used to come home on leave from the WRNS, he would take me down to the Signal Station on the harbour, and afterwards we would call into the pub where the landlord would pour out a beer with the words "the usual George'. Obviously he was a regular.


Dad continued to keep himself occupied in his retirement. One of his jobs was on the end of Southend Pier, embarking and disembarking passengers from the steamers which called at the pier on their way from London to Margate and Ramsgate and other seaside towns.


He died, aged 88, watching a football match on the television.



Eagle & Queen Line Steamers, Southend Pier, August 1959 - Dad, standing right


One of the excursion steamers at Tower Bridge




For more information about the Service, visit

Royal Naval Shore Signal Service (late Coastguard New Force)


revised 4/9/11