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Knock John

The Thames Estuary Naval Fort U4 (Uncle) under the spotlight

A tale from Sheerness resident Colin Penney aged 16 - 21 was a Sheerness Dockyard apprentice Engine Fitter & Turner on Indentures from 1944 - 1949

Colin Penney in 1950

1. Colin Penney pictured Engineering Officer P&O in 1950

Three months of his training was on refrigerators with instructor Fred Buddle here he recalls an unexpected trip out to the Knock John Naval Fort in the summer of 1946

"Having repaired the Captain of the Dockyard's fridge in his large Dockyard house which turned into a day long job! We lifted the fridge upside down to allow the gas to flow back to the bottom of the casing, which took about 2 minutes, after which we had several cups of tea and smokes, then took a strolled around the yard arriving back in time to clock off, you can imagine we were tired out!"

"The next day Fred informed me that we were going to a Naval Fort off Herne Bay to repair their rather larger fridge, and said we'd to take sandwiches. The boat would apparently wait until we'd finished and then bring us back home"

HMS Cornwallis as a jetty

2.HMS Cornwallis as a jetty at Sheerness

"At 8 o'clock that lovely August morning we made our way over the Sheerness Jetty, the hulk of HMS Cornwallis"

The original HMS Cornwallis was constructed in Bombay India between 1812 - 1814 of teak as a 74 gun frigate

Marking the end of the Opium War peace treaties were signed aboard & she saw action in the Crimean War after hostilities she served as a Humber Coastguard vessel in 1856

She was sunk on 15th July 1865 to become a jetty at Sheerness, renamed as a base ship'HMS Wildfire' in 1916 her remains were broken up 144 years after her launch in 1957

More data on HMS.Cornwallis can be read in the Sheerness Newspapers from micro film at the Sheerness Library in the High Street Sheerness

HMS Cornwallis fires a broadside in 1915

3. HMS Cornwallis in (1901)

The 2nd Duncan class battleship HMS Cornwallis was laid down in 1901 commissioned delayed until 1904 she spent most of her time in the Mediterranian

Hit by torpedoes she sank off Malta in 1917

More on HMS Cornwallis at Kent History Forum

"Boarding the Tug we steamed through the Minster & Shoeburyness Boom made of old hulks for defense & shipping control was a strange experience. Arriving at the Fort we were confronted with two massive cylindrical concrete uprights in the water and a huge platform across the top on which were Anti-Aircraft Guns. The Tug crew said they were off to Harwich and had no instructions to wait for us!"

Arrival at HMS Fort Knock John

4. Arrival at HMS Fort Knock John 1944

"The Tug crew did though agree to call Sheerness Dockyard from Harwich to arrange collecting us as Knock John's telephone had been put out of action by a fire"

Knock John Dolphin

5. The Dolphin at Knock John 1944

"After climbing up the long slippery ladder we were greeted by half a dozen sailors, one being Sheerness lad Ginger Murdock, his mother had a small ice cream shop opposite the 'Ship on Shore'. He explained the fridge was at the very bottom of one of the large legs and held enough food for the Forts Wartime compliment of 120 men for 6 weeks, but in peacetime the Forts were maintained purely for navigational safety reasons by a caretaker crew of six"

Sperry Predictor & Crew 40mm Bofors Gun Crew

6. Sperry Predictor Marine - Eagles, Fred Deakin & Cross 7. 40mm Bofors Gun crew George Hollyhead, Taffy Taylor, Marine - Cheetham & unknown

"There were stairs to the bottom but Ginger said we could use the lift. This was a three foot square side less ammunition hoist, as the 'lift' was hurtling down I looked up and saw Ginger with a broom trying to knock the 'off' switch on the opposite side of the lift well, which he managed to do amidst lots of laughter as we stopped a at the bottom with a shudder"

3.7" Heavy AA Gun & Crew

8. Heavy Anti Aircraft Gun crew Marines - Osbourne & Billy Bateson

"Fred & I repaired the fridge and then sunned ourselves on top of the platform, suddenly a coastal pleasure boat circled the Fort with the Skipper telling his 20 or so passengers about the Forts. Just for fun we decided to 'man the gun' training it on the vessel much to the consternation its skipper & occupants"

Singing around the Old Joanna

9. Entertainment below decks

The piano came courtesy of an appeal in The News Chronical readers responded to the request by the Knock John's crew

"Around 7 o'clock that evening our adventure came to an end as our Tug returned to collected us, we'd hoped we'd been forgotten. With a nap on the way home we congratulated ourselves on a job well done!"

"As we used to say in the Dockyard - Give us the jobs and we will finish the tools"

"I did pop in to see Ginger Murdock's Mother to pass on his wishes my reward was a rather nice Ice Cream"

3.7" Heavy Anti-Aircraft Gun in Gibralta

10. A 3.7" Heavy Anti-Aircraft Gun in Gibralta pictured on 28th February 2013

The 100 Ton Gun Gibralta

11. Star of the Gibralta Gun show the 100 Ton Gun on 28th February 2013

The 100 Ton Gun was designed & manufactured in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1870 by WC Armstrong, nicknamed the 'Rockbuster' it was the supergun of its day

Four were bought by the Italians for their Battleships, concerned about long range bombardment to their important Mediterainian Ports the British Government commissioned two for Malta & Gibralta installed in 1883

Loading the 17.72" shell took three hours although a Gun Director tried beating the time to his cost with the hot barrel exploding

With grateful thanks to Colin Penney & The Kent History Forums for additional material

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