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In Memory of


from his book "COXSWAIN IN THE NORTHERN CONVOYS", published by William Kimber, 1984

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Why this Book?

Preparing for a "Return to Murmansk" lecture cruise in June 2003, I researched many books on the Russian convoys. One of the most interesting and certainly well-written was "Coxswain in the Northern Convoys". Not about admirals and captains, strategy and battles, but an exciting account by an ex-fisherman of his experiences off Norway in 1940, with three of the best-known Russian Convoys - PQ17, PQ18 and JW51B/Battle of the Barents Sea, and finally in coastal forces.

Most of the personal accounts of even World War 2 have disappeared for ever. Even the few "lower-deck" books have soon vanished from the bookshops - "out-of-print!". They deserve better. This is why I sought permission to publish most of this book on the Internet.

For that permission I am of course grateful to the publishers, but even more so to Mrs Gladys Kerslake and her family - sadly, Sid Kerslake died some years ago.

My hope is that readers continue to enjoy this tale for many years to come.

Gordon Smith, Naval-History.Net

  Foreword by Vice Admiral B.B. Schofield CB, CBE
1 The Beginning young fisherman pre-war
2 The Northern Gem Sails early days at war & 1940 Norwegian campaign, incl. taken prisoner
3 Making Ready for War war at sea 1940-41
4 Convoy PQ 17 the Russian convoy "massacre", June 1942
5 Maimska -North Russia waiting a return convoy
6 The Road Back with QP 14 return convoy QP14 & Russian PQ18, September 1942
7 Convoy JW 51B the crucial Battle of the Barents Sea, December 1942
8 Leaving the Gem for the Last Time to April 1943
9 The African Coastal Flotilla (not included)
10 MGB 177 (not included)
11 War in Europe Ends and Home We Go (not included)
  Epilogue: The Sparrow's Nest  
  Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers Ltd, (c) S A Kerslake, 1984


by Vice Admiral B.B. Schofield, CB, CBE

I am pleased to write this Foreword as I know what valuable work these trawlers performed during World War II. Painfully short of Escort ships as this country was at the outbreak of war, fishing vessels were requisitioned by the Admiralty, converted to Anti Submarine ships and employed as Convoy Escorts.

Mr Kerslake, an ex-fisherman, was no stranger to the fog, snow, ice, storms and mountainous seas between Norway, Iceland and onto the White Sea, but in wartime there were the added dangers of enemy torpedoes and mines. He has written a fascinating account of his four years' service in AST Northem Gem, of around 600 tons and we must be grateful to him for persevering over a period of seven years to do so. War histories cannot concentrate on the individual so we must rely on memoirs of the men who took part. They all added a chapter to our Naval History of which this country may be justly proud.



First and foremost, I must dedicate this book to my wife Gladys, and to my two sons, Brian and Michael, not forgetting of course my daughter Carol. They have all for years badgered me into writing my experiences down on paper, with the view to getting them published. Now peace reigns once more.

Secondly, I dedicate this book to the members of the Fleetwood Branch of the Royal Naval Patrol Service Association, of which I am a member. Also to all officers and men of that service wherever they may be, for they came from all parts of the world, to serve in the 'small ships', the mine-sweeping and anti-submarine trawlers, and the corvettes, to fight not only the common enemy, but the sea in all its moods.

Many of these small ships were not as lucky as the Northern Gem: many were sunk with a great loss of life. The Royal Naval Patrol Service, for its size, lost more ships than the Royal Navy, and had more casualties than any other service, so great was their loyalty to their King and country. They shirked nothing, no matter what the odds against them were. They were, like me, ex-fishermen, or men of the Merchant Navy, or in the latter years of the war, Hostilities-Only men, some of whom had never seen the sea before, let alone a ship of any kind. This book is my story, and my story is theirs, for they all went through similar situations at some time or other, during the long hard slog of those wartime years.

We Remember Them.


Fleetwood, Lancashire

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revised 28/9/11