HMS Ramillies was a Royal Sovereign class battleship that joined the Grand Fleet in 1917, and that served throughout the Second World War, mainly on convoy escort duty, but also during the invasion of Madagascar (where she was badly damaged), the D-Day landings, where she fired a huge number of 15in shells, and Operation Dragoon, the invasion of the south of France, where she soon ran out of targets.
This book is based on a series of eyewitness accounts of life on the Ramillies, produced with the help of the HMS Ramillies Association. They all come from the lower ranks, which makes them doubly valuable, as this aspect of naval life isn't always well represented.
These stories make it clear just how varied life could be onboard a battleship. We see the life of an electrician, dealing with the wiring of what amounted to a small town. Another man served a as bricklayer, maintaining the brick lined interior of the oil fired boilers.
The book starts with one account of life on the Ramillies during the First World War. We then move on to two longer memoirs (including the electrician). This is followed by several chapters arranged by themes, with a series of shorter accounts - this includes the D-Day and Madagascar operations, the role of the Royal Marines, and the experiences of the youngest members of the crews.
There are several features that appear in most of the memoirs. These include the incredible noise of the guns - not just the main 15in guns, which were quite capable of doing significant damage to their own ship during prolonged bombardments, but also the more immediate impact of the smaller more rapid firing guns. The Maori grass skirt given to the captain during a visit to New Zealand also features heavily. It was said to protect the ship against harm if the captain wore it in battle, and it was duly donned during the D-Day landings.
For me the most interesting aspect of this book is the stories of everyday life on the Ramillies, an incredibly complex machine that required nearly 1,000 men to keep running. When she was in combat everyone was involved, but in the long gaps between major actions life revolved more around food and entertainment (and in some cases ways to make money). The Ramillies carried a tailor's shop, a duty-free shop selling cigarettes, pens, paper and other small items, a NAAFI and even a small cinema screen.
This is a wonderful account of life on a major warship at the end of the era of the battleship, a way of life and a type of warship that have both disappeared.
1 - HMS Ramillies: A Brief History
2 - Early Days
Photo Gallery: Launch to 1939
3 - Serving on Ramillies: A Bird's Eye View
4 - 'What's the Buzz, Bunts?': Signalmen on HMS Ramillies
5 - The New Zealand Connection
6 - Operation Ironclad: Madagascar, 1942
7 - Operation Nepture: D-Day, June 1944
8 - Boys at Sea
9 - Life Onboard Ship
10 - Royal Marines on Ramillies
Photo Gallery: World War II
11 - The Home Front
12 - Heroes Return: Normandy Revisited
The Ramillies Sculpture
Editors: Ian Johnston with Mick French