Wednesday, 7 September 2016

John Palmer's wartime memoirs (continued)

John Palmer is called for an interview at Oxford
in regards to his application to join the Navy
John Palmer joined the Royal Navy with five other Oxford students on 9 September 1939. They were joined by another six recruits from Cambridge University a few weeks later, one of whom later became his brother-in-law.

According to John, his brother joined the army and spent the whole of the war at Bletchley. Sir John comments, “after the war he went to Cheltenham. It is    noteworthy that I still did not know what he was doing and still did not ask him. Sadly he died when only fifty-four”.  

John names his brother in his book as Peter and sure enough a Peter C Palmer (“Pip”) is listed in Bletchley Park records as having served there between 1942 and 1945 in Hut 3 and Block D(3) as an Army Adviser and in Block F, Newmanry. His rank was Army, Int Corps, Capt.

It seems that Peter was some 8 years older than John. His birth is indexed in the last quarter of 1912 at St Pancras, London. Mother’s maiden name Sapey. He married Marie Rose Theresa Egan at Westminster in the late summer of 1950 and for some time lived in Washington before being made a CBE. In his book John Palmer provides a brief but intriguing anecdote about an American associate of his brother Peter who was made an Honorary KBE:

"Again when I met him after my brother’s early death, he made no reference to his work, but he did show me his KBE in his study. I remember his wife coming into the room and remarking how unlike him it was to be talking to me about it, to which he replied that it was the first chance he had had. He would not have shown the award to anyone else because they would have asked him how he had got it, which he would not be prepared to tell them.

Ibid. Palmer, John. 2002

Peter C Palmer became a Vice Chairman of GCHQ in Cheltenham and a strong candidate for Chairman. He died on 28 November 1963 in Gloucester. The Details of the administration of Peter C Palmer’s Will are listed in the National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations). His address was Woodlands Cranham, Gloucester. The Administration took place at Exeter on 28 April 1964 to Marie Rose Therese Palmer, widow, and John Chance Palmer solicitor. £13865.
Details of the administration of Peter C Palmer’s will are listed in the
National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations). 28 April 1964.
At the start of his book, Sir John Palmer gave a brief synopsis of his diaries and his service in the Royal Navy during the war:

"For most of my time I served in three ships – a corvette, a frigate and a sloop – I kept a diary which I still have, recording life in the corvette (Clematis) and the frigate (Exe). In the sloop, Amethyst, I have the records of where we went, but, as the Navigating Officer, there were additional responsibilities and consequently rather less time to keep a diary. I do, however, still have the Navigating Officer’s Notebook in which I worked out all the sun and star sights in order to establish our position when we were out of sight of land.

Ibid. Palmer, John / 2002

The diaries make fascinating reading, a combination of long periods at sea searching for enemy convoys and submarines punctuated by short but fierce incidents of conflict which bring home the realities of war on the ocean waves. The sudden and dramatic loss of vessels on either side with the tragic and generally huge loss of human lives and it’s impact on those skilful or simply lucky enough to survive to fight another day. John Palmer tells his story with respect and dignity, sometimes a certain sense of vulnerability and fatality, but never triumphalism.

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