Sunday, June 6, 2010

A Tale of Two Castlemaines: Part II

Way back in January I posted about some of the research I was doing for my WIP.
I talked about a trip I was planning to a WWII era RAN (Royal Australian Navy) minesweeper.

As I said then I was researching the ship on which one of my characters serves for part of WWII.

Being in the RN (Royal Navy) operating out of Russian ports Ronnie is likely to have served on a Halcyon Class minesweeper. So it seemed too good to pass up an opportunity to visit a similar ship that is preserved as a floating museum at Williamstown in Melbourne.

What is the link to Castlemaine? Well during the war Australian shipyards built 60 Bathurst Class minesweepers.

The only surviving example is HMAS Castlemaine, named for the very town I last posted about.

Castlemaine served as an escort vessel for convoys in Australian waters for much of the war. In 1942 it participated in an operation running commandos to Timor in which its sister ship HMAS Armidale was sunk by Japanese aircraft.

After the war, Castlemaine served around Hong Kong clearing thousands of sea-mines sown in the area by both sides during the war. Then for some decades the Castlemaine was used as a training ship by the RAN.

Finally in 1973 HMAS Castlemaine was gifted to the Maritime Trust of Australia to serve as a museum ship. Today it is lovingly maintained and opened to the public by a dedicated group of volunteers.

So one sunny day I tootled off to Williamstown to do a tour of the Castlemaine.

My first impression of the Castlemaine as I approached it was “Isn’t it small.”Closer up it looks larger, but still small to be home to a crew of over 70 for months at a time.

I guess I was not specifically interested in the Castlemaine rather I wanted to get a feel for the similar ship my character Ronnie would have served on.

Boarding the Castlemaine the first thing you see is the floats that were used to tow cables behind the ship to literally sweep for mines. I want Ronnie to see Russia from British eyes during the war. One of the best ways I can do that is putting him on a minesweeper, because many RN sweepers operated out of Murmansk and Archangel for long stretches during the war.

Down in the bowels of the stern is the “steering gear compartment” a sort of auxiliary wheel used if the bridge was damaged in combat.Forward of that, but still below the waterline is the “engine room” which is filled with a maze of pipes.The upper deck, looking astern to the rear anti-aircraft gun. Castlemaine’s guns look out over a busy marina these days.On the foredeck is the main armament, a 4 inch naval gun.The lifeboats hang in their davits, loyally waiting service that will never come.Inside the superstructure on this upper deck is the captain’s cabin. On Ronnie’s ship this would have been his quarters and office where he conducted the business of running the ship.

From beside the captain’s cabin is a steep ladder up to the bridge.I guess the warning sign is a later addition. This is exactly the sort of ladder I have already imagined Ronnie bashing his head on in an emergency.

The Castlemaine’s Bridge is enclosed. Most RN minesweepers had a bridge open to the elements.I can only imagine what a watch on a bridge like that might be like in the winter’s dark north of the Arctic Circle.

You’ll have to excuse me I have some imagining to do.


Jemi Fraser said...

I can't even imagine working on that bridge with it open to the sea! Such tight quarters for so many men. Impressive.

Old Kitty said...

Wow!! That's some ship and great research too btw!!

It's brilliant that you have the original Castlemaine all docked and open to the public and kept as a floating museum.

I remember a fabulous trip on the HMS Belfast and even though it was a BIG SHIP with BIG GUNS, the ladders, the rooms, the spaces were tiny, tiny and minute and cramped and not for tall big people! And to think that this hulk was home for a few years to hundreds of navy men!

I love that you see Ronnie living and breathing in such a ship!

May your imagination now run free and wild!

Take care

Theresa Milstein said...

Looks like some thorough research. Good luck with the writing!

Walk Talk Tours said...

Interesting post; I've been on board a few military ships, which have come to the end of their working lives. And like Old Kitty, I like imagining what life would have been like on the high seas. Phil

Al said...

Hi Jemi,
I can’t really imagine it either. I am just going to have to cheat :-)
I guess being so tightly packed would drive me mad. I love my elbow room.

Hi Jennifer,
It is an impressive ship, thank you!
It is brilliant that sometimes we manage the right thing in terms of preservation.
It is amazing how much ducking and squeezing people had to do every day for months at a time!
I find seeing the real thing a fantastic spur for imagination!

Hi Theresa,
I love the research component of writing , so it is kind of easy! Thank you!

Hi Phil,
I’ve been on a few others as well (although we don’t have too many museum ships in Oz). It is amazing how stimulating they can be to the old imagination

Amanda said...

I loved this tour. I can't believe sometimes what people did during WWII and how they lived. I got to tour a bomber a few years back and couldn't believe how small the area they had work in. I could barely fit through some areas and I didn't tons of gear on and I was on the ground. Amazing.

Al said...

Hi Amanda,
You are exactly right, the things people put up with were amazing.

It must have been interesting to check out that bomber. I have seen WWII aircraft, but only from outside.