James Clegg was born on 28th May 1921 in Oldham, Lancashire, the home town of his mother’s family. His father was a soldier in the regular army (having enlisted in 1914) in the King’s Shropshire and James was named after an uncle who had been killed during WW1 in 1918.
He attended school in Mossley and at the age of 14 won a scholarship to Openshaw Technical College. He completed his School Certificate and left full time education at 16 (in 1937) to take up an apprenticeship in an electrical engineering company (Switchgear Manufacturers, a subsidiary of Metropolitan-Vickers).
James volunteered for active service after Dunkirk in 1940, presenting himself at Hulme Town Hall, Manchester and selecting to join the R.A.F. However, when he returned to work he was persuaded to change allegiance by his employer (who had said: “Ney lad, you don’t want to do that!” and advised him to join the Navy because there would be better opportunities to develop his electrical engineering skills). Consequently, he received his Call Up papers in June 1941 for the Royal Navy.
Following the 6 weeks basic training at Hayling Island, James went to Roedean School (which had been taken over by the Admiralty whilst the girls school was evacuated to Keswick, Cumbria and became HMS Vernon) and attended Brighton Navy Workshops located at the Grand Hotel Brighton to undertake a trade test. Those who passed were trained as electrical artificers and those who failed were sent to Southampton to train as mechanics. James passed and undertook 9 months specialist training, which covered working on ships’ generators; high voltage circuits throughout the ship; gunnery circuits; searchlights; signalling projectors; wireless office power; gyrocompass.
James’s speciality was RDF (now referred to as Radar) & torpedoes and consequently, following this training he joined HMS Frobisher in 1942 because they needed someone qualified in Radar.
James’s naval service can be tracked through the details in LINKS to HMS Frobisher.
The Normandy Campaign
An immense armada of ships collected together for Operation ‘Neptune’, the naval part of ‘Overlord’ (the invasion and establishment of allied troops in Normandy).
James involvement in the Normandy Campaign began “very early on the morning of June 6th. It was still dark and we were at our stations waiting for instructions, when the Captain’s voice came over the speakers and said that our job was to flatten Ouistreheim. We had to bombard it, firing at tank parks, to make it easier for the troops who were going in (on SWORD BEACH).
The goal of Operation Neptune was the destruction of all the gun emplacements on the Normandy coast and for HMS Frobisher the specific target was the battery of six 155 mm guns at Ouistreheim, Caen.
Whilst we were firing, although we didn’t see it there was an Auster aircraft flying above us and the captain broadcast the pilot’s messages to the ship. He was giving us firing line to hit the tank parks before they could get down to the beach and we could hear the pilot saying ‘Jolly good shot, sir. Jolly good shot.’
At the end of that day, the Captain said over the tannoy: ‘There have been more shots fired per minute than have ever been fired before. (The reality of the battle had been more prolific that anything that had been produced in practice).
In battle the sequence of events is never chronologically clear, but James remembers that they were then sent over towards Le Harve, where a large German gun was firing at the fleet and the landing bases on the coastline. They were required to sail up and down to draw the fire of this gun “which we did with shrapnel hitting the side of the ship and quite a few men on deck were wounded. Meanwhile another ship watched to identify where the fire from the gun came from and when they had located it we were able to retreat. The gun was destroyed but the Germans brought up a replacement and our captain was told: ‘Don’t bother; the Commandos will get it’ – which they did!
It was nighttime in these early days when James witnessed a German plane flying over, with what looked like a fighter aircraft strapped under its belly. He later realised that he had witnessed what was known as a glider bomb which was released at the bulk of the fleet and is recorded to have sunk an allied ship.
On 8th June, HMS Frobisher returned to Portsmouth to replenish ammunition and prepared for deployment as depot ship at Mulberry B (an artificial military harbour located at Arromanches) and continued in this duty throughout the early part of the campaign. On 18th July it was hit by a bomb blast from a single aircraft, with 6 dead and 12 wounded. At the end of July HMS Frobisher transferred to a new location off Courseulles in the JUNO area and on August 8th it was hit by a long range circling torpedo fired by an E-Boat and as a result retreated to Chatham dockyard for temporary repair. James noted that when they got into dry dock at Chatham on the starboard side there was a huge hole that you could have driven two double-decker buses through.
He recalls: That was the end of my Normandy campaign. I went back to Roedean school. I was now Chief Petty Officer, and I was asked what command I wanted. I asked what they had got, and there was a ship being completed in the docks at Middlesborough, and I said ‘I’ll have that.’ So on the strength of standing-by the building of the Loch class frigate HMS Loch Achray on Teesside, I took the chance to get married and spent my honeymoon in Middlesborough!
James’s ship (no F426) became the flotilla leader of the 8th Escort Group, working in the Western Approaches and taking part in the sinking of U-1024 in the Irish Sea on April 13th 1945. After the signing of Peace in Europe, in May 1945, he sailed to the Far East until the finish of the war in August 1945.
James was discharged on 17th May 1946 and returned to the Manchester area, taking up a position as maintenance engineer at Ferrantes in Failsworth. However, during his wartime service ship’s maintenance had been carried out in South Africa and on shore leave there he had been taken with the country. Consequently, in 1947 he emigrated to South Africa and at the end of his working career at Cape Town City Council he was Chief Engineering Assistant in the Distribution department. When he retired in 1983 he returned to Bramhall, Stockport, where he continues to live.