John Francis Aylard - (Ord. Signalman/Coder - RNVR) - HMS Jervis Bay
And an insight into HMS Jervis Bay and her crew itself

John Francis Aylard

In 1939, thirty RNVR young men were sent to Portsmouth Naval Barracks (HMS Nelson) to learn the 'Naval Administrative Code Book'. As war broke out, all signals (radio) to and from naval ships/shore bases had to be coded signals. Hence, the need for 'Coders' on naval ships. The men were to be paid 2 shillings a day (approx. 10 pence in todays terms.) Out of six classmates, three were chosen to join HMS Jervis Bay, an armed merchant cruiser. The three names nearest the beginning of the alphabet were chosen, so HMS Jervis Bay ended up with coders called Abbott, Aylard and Bennett. The next three names (two B's and a C) joined AMC Rawalpindi, and so on. Rawalpindi was to be the first AMC sunk in 1939 (Denmark Strait), ironically taking over a duty originally intended for HMS Jervis Bay. All of the coders on the Rawalpindi were killed.

Aylard Route Order Aylard Route Order

John Aylard was born in Highgate, London in 1920. Brought up in Highgate & Southwark. He joined the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve (RNVR) in May, 1939, aged a mere 19 years of age. After training to be a coder at Portsmouth, Hampshire, he would be assigned to the A/M/C HMS Jervis Bay. HMS Jervis Bay (under Captain Harris), had many of the older/experienced Royal Fleet Reserve (RFR) men on board, who taught the younger RNVR lots as regards naval and sea duties. The men were to sleep in hammocks in various groups (known as a mess).

HMS Jervis Bay left London Docks (painted battleship grey) in September, 1939, bound for Scapa Flow in Scotland. The ship had been assigned to protect the Denmark Straits (between Iceland & Greenland), known as the 'Northern Patrol'. At Scapa Flow, the Jervis Bay 'lost its anchor' and drifted towards another naval ship (HMS Scimitar), which it duly sunk.

Hebburn HMS Jervis Bay had to go to Hebburn, near Newcastle Upon Tyne for repairs. HMS Rawalpindi took over her allocated patrol duties, and was subsequently sunk. She had been targeted as a British naval destroyer. She had the misfortune to encounter two of the German's top warships (Scharhorst & Gneisenau), and 283 men (including the 3 x assigned coders) lost their lives. Hopelessly outgunned, only 48 men would survive the tragedy. She sank within 40 minutes.

Aberdeen Commonwealth Line Colours

It was after this tragic event, that Jervis Bay was repainted in her 'house' (Aberdeen & Commonwealth Line) colours of green hull, white superstructure and buff coloured funnel. She had (like Rawalpindi) been painted battleship grey at Royal Albert Dock, London originally. This was done, so that Jervis Bay would not be as visible to the enemy as had the Rawalpindi, and so hopefully not targeted. The paint work, undertaken at Hebburn, Tyneside, England, took place at the same time as Jervis Bay was having repairs for the accident at Scapa Flow, Scotland, which saved her from the fate that Rawalpindi undertook. Good fortune bestowed HMS Jervis Bay, for the moment at least.

Jervis Bay at Dakar 1940

HMS Jervis Bay spent Christmas, 1939, anchored in the fog off Portsmouth Harbour in Hampshire, England. She would proceed to Freetown, Sierra Leonne, Africa to commence the 'Africa convoys', in January, 1940. She would protect convoys between South Africa & England, though never actually reach England herself again.

On the way to Freetown, Jervis Bay picked up supplies at Dakar ( a French colony in what is now Senegal, North West Africa ), where the men went ashore for a short while. Jervis Bay escorted a few convoys (SL 017F; SL023F; SL 023; - without incident), before Captain Harris took ill, and had to leave the ship.

Hartismere under tow Commander Blackburn took temporary command of the ship in February, 1940. It was under his command, that Jervis Bay undertook the longest tow in WW2. Sent to rescue a stricken freighter (Hartismere) in the South Atlantic, under the navigating skills of navigating officer George L. Roe, it located the Hartismere (under temporary tow by the liner 'Queen Of Bermuda'), and took over the tow on approximately 19 February, 1940. It took ten days to tow the stricken freighter at sitting-duck speed back to Freetown (mentioned in 'Conclusions of a Meeting of the War Cabinet held at 10 Downing Street, S.W. 1, on Tuesday, February 20, 1940, at 11-30 A.M. , Page 71'), earning the congratulations of the C-in-C for retrieving the disabled freighter. The Hartismere would later be attacked by U-100 in August 1940, and sunk in July 1942, by the Japanese submarine I-10.

View the certificate

On 17 February, 1940, whilst on route to the rescue of the SS Hartismere, the crew took part in the naval 'Crossing The Equator' ceremony. 'Crossing The Line' involves crewmen who have already crossed the Equator (known as Trusty/Shellbacks or Sons Of Neptune) and those men who have never crossed the Equator (known as Slimy/Pollywogs or Griffins). It takes two days to complete (night and day.) One crewman (dressed up as King Neptune) holds court, assisted by other crewmen (Trusty Shellbacks) as his assistants. The Slimy Pollywogs are hence initiated into the Court Of Neptune, to become a Shellback themselves.

The eve of the Equatorial crossing is called 'Wog Day'. 'Wogs' (all of the uninitiated) are allowed to capture and interrogate any 'Shellbacks' that they can find. They can tie-up Shellbacks, crack eggs/pour aftershave on their heads etc, but are warned that if they do, they can themselves expect 'harder' treatment (when the time comes) in return. After actually crossing the Equatorial Line, Pollywogs receive a subpoena to appear before King Neptune and his Court. The Court includes the 1st Assistant (Davy Jones) and her Highness Amphitrite, all represented by high ranking ratings/seamen. The Court is usually preceded by a 'beauty contest' of crewmen dressed in drag. Each ship department has to introduce one 'woman' dressed in swimsuit drag. Afterwards, some Wogs may be interrogated by King Neptune and his entourage, and the use of 'Truth Serum' (hot sauce and aftershave) and whole uncooked eggs are placed in the mouth.

During the ceremony, Pollywogs encounter a number of embarrassing ordeals. These can include wearing clothing inside out, or the wrong way around, crawling on hands and knees, being locked in stocks and pilloried or swatted with firehose, being locked in a coffin of salt water & bright green dye, crawling through shoots of rotting rubbish, kissing the belly of the 'Royal Baby' coated in axle grease, hair chopping, etc etc - mostly for tha amusement and entertainment of the 'Shellbacks'. Once the ceremony is complete, each Pollywog receives a certificate, declaring his new status. So, along with other comrades, John Aylard too progressed from being a Pollywog to that of a Shellback, and he duly received his certificate.

Cross the line Cross the line

"Crossing the Line" ceremony February 17 1940 Photos by JF Aylard, survivor.

Jervis Bay remained on escort duties under the command of Blackburn until April, 1940. On the 1st April, Captain Fogarty Fegen took command of the Jervis Bay, and the ship sailed via Dakar (to pick up supplies once again), and across the Atlantic to commence convoy escort duties based in Hamilton, Bermuda (a British colony.). Jervis Bay was the first 'warship' to tie up in the historic Hamilton Harbour.

HMS Jervis Bay escorted convoys from Bermuda to Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. She escorted the convoys (BHX 041; BHX 044; BHX 048; HX 051 - from Halifax itself; BHX 058;) from Bermuda, up until the middle of July 1940.

In July 1940 she sailed to Saint John, Bay Of Fundy, New Brunswick, Canada, where she was put in to dry dock for 'degaussing', so that the ship was not as easy to detect by 'U' boats.

This took about six weeks to complete, and the crew were based in Saint John. They befriended locals, and some men returned to Britain to see loved ones on 'leave'. Their time in Saint John, like those in Bermuda, were the happiest times, the crew were to comment.

HMS Jervis Bay left Saint John in early September, 1940 to commence convoy escort duties based in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The ship escorted ships towards England (HX 072; HX078), before encountering the German Pocket -Battleship 'Admiral Scheer' whilst escorting Convoy HX 084 in November 1940. 190 men (including my own grandfather James F. Reeve) were to perish, with only 65 crewmen to survive, out of the brave crew of 255 men.

Drydock, Summer 1940 HMS Jervis Bay in the dry dock at Saint John, NB, Canada. This is a unique photograph, taken in either July or August, 1940. Photo by JF Aylard, survivor.

John Francis Aylard

And what of John Aylard - coder on HMS Jervis Bay?

John Aylard & ' Wiggy' Bennett came off HMS Jervis Bay in September, 1940, to return to the UK, for the selection process to become a Commissioned Officer. They returned on an old USA destroyer, to Plymouth, England, had leave and returned to Portsmouth.

Commissioned Officer Letter

The coder that was left (John Milton Abbott), died in the battle with the Admiral Scheer, as did the two RCNVR men, who replaced them on Jervis Bay ( two men out of Morley Carson, William Danby or Patrick Ross.) Abbott is remembered on the Memorial in Portsmouth (the only J.B. man to be on that particular memorial.)

It was the second (the first was Jervis Bay being replaced by Rawalpindi) of many 'lucky' escapes for John Aylard. In 1941, John qualified as an Officer. He went on to take part (amongst other things) on Arctic Convoys to Russia (PQ Convoys), and ended the war with an excellent and distinguished war record.

John Aylard had witnessed the rescue of SS Hartismere, crossed over the Equator (and he had a certificate to prove it too), seen the Earl Of Athlone (Governor General Of Canada) and his wife (Princess Alice), visit HMS Jervis Bay in June 1940, at Halifax, Nova Scotia. He attended crew survivors reunions from 1947, held at Marylebone Station Restaurant, London (along with some of the 65 crew survivors picked up by the Stureholm). He toasted old comrades, remembered both in life and in death.

John was a keen amateur photographer, and a 'hoarder' (luckily for us). Many things of importance went down with HMS Jervis Bay in November, 1940, but because of John's 'lucky' escape, we have some wonderful and historical items, now viewed for the very first time.

Fegen meets Earl Of Athlone June 1940 Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone

Captain Fegen meeting the Earl Of Athlone and Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone during a visit to the Jervis Bay June 1940. Photos by JF Aylard, survivor.

John took photographs of the Earl Of Athlone & Princess Alice visiting Jervis Bay in June, 1940. There is a photograph of HMS Jervis Bay at Dakar, Senegal, which has to have been taken in either January or April, 1940. This is the first full side view of the ship that I have seen (taken during WW2), and you can clearly see that the ship was not painted battleship grey, as all of the painted pictures of the battle indicate. You can also clearly see the starboard guns. S2 (on the well deck) was blown off the ship during the battle (complete with gun crew, who all perished - apart from Fred Billinge, who was on deck elsewhere at the moment the salvo hit.)

A photograph showing HMS Jervis Bay in the dry dock at Saint John, NB, Canada has survived. Again, this is a rare photograph, taken in either July or August, 1940. Added to the photographs, we have a copy of John's 'Crossing The Line' certificate. This is the first time that I have ever seen one. It could have even been typed by my grandfather James Reeve (one of the 3 x Ship's Writers), though of course, I will never know. Most of these certificates will have gone down with the ship.

There is a newspaper article showing the towing of the SS Hartismere in the South Atlantic by Jervis Bay. Another rare item. Neither ship is named, due to censorship, but the write-up is indeed of those two ships (February, 1940.) There are many more newspaper and interesting items etc, to go with a photograph of Coder Aylard himself.

We are indebted to John Aylard, and his wife Joy and family. I shall always be eternally grateful to them for allowing me access to items, to share with others.

Trevor Reeve (HMS Jervis Bay Association) - February, 2012.

Some notes on John’s activities and thoughts during his times in the Royal Navy as shown in his letters to his parents from 5th September 1939 to 25th March 1946


5th Sept Reported at HMS President as an ordinary signaller. Very busy being taught his job as a coder and doing new things such as doing his own washing – he asked his mother for advice on this. Said Rinso got his clothes very clean! Enjoyed learning about coding and signalling. Very little space to put things.

19th Sept Joined Jervis Bay in Chatham. When the ship put to sea he was very seasick, found life very depressing and missed home. Life busier than in harbour. Getting used to watchkeeping and a hammock. Finds the mess a cheerful place. Gibbs (the mess ‘postman’) took the mickey out of him because he had so many letters. (My note – he was a regular navy man and was good to John on the messdeck and I think he eventually became a CPO and we went to visit him at his home in Dagenham after the war) Has made some friends including one interested in railways. Frequently asks in letters for news of railways at home. Photo of Deanna Durban is a pin-up on top of his case – the pride of the mess! Tyneside for repairs. Enjoyed a day out seeing railways in Newcastle and Sunderland. Went round a good shed at Blaydon – could not have got in as a civilian but in naval uniform was welcome. Good to buy sine fruit and biscuits. Grub a little dull and envied the officers their toast and coffee.

10th Nov Saw Elsie and Doris Waters and Flotsam and Jetsam at Sunderland Empire.

22nd Nov Spent a day in Durham - saw lots of engines. Lovely view of the river. Saw John Gielgud and Edith Evans in “The Importance of being Ernest (My note –he would have heard the original “IN A HANDBAG”) He used Persil for washing and got his vest and pants very white!

27th Nov Upset by the sinking of the Rawalpindi where other coders who joined with him were posted and went down with the ship.

13th Dec Saw Band Wagon at the Empire Newcastle. Has now got a locker with 6 shelves – all his gear goes in. Had to mop up the wireless room after burst radiator pipe. Had to go before the Captain to take down a message and had interviews with Commander, Navigator etc. – suddenly overwhelmed with gold braid Ltd.Cdr saw him and stopped to enquire who he was, what he was and what he had been- he seemed very pleased. John said he was pretty strict and hounded the life out of them on the messdeck.

17th Dec Dinner today lousy and home grub greatly missed but “I have a private hoard”

22nd Dec Penned in sick bay with anti-typhoid ‘injectionitis’ - arm swelled up and Caused him to collapse on climbing a rope ladder up the ship’s side. Wireless is good company. Liked Spectator cuttings – please carry on sending them Wanted some darning wool –dark blue please- also some fruit, cakes etc. Got their tropical kit today. John longing to put it on - shorts as well.

Christmas Day not a great success as he was on duty added to which he had a dose of Diarrhoea but the grub was good

29th and 30th Dec Managed to get 2 nights at home. A lot more things in canteen now – custard creams etc so money so money will go a little quicker. Jervis Bay has been adopted by a school – they write letters and sent a parcel of scarves. A library opened on board – a decent collection of books. Painting ship is the new occupation of nearly everyone. Lime juice started today - cupful per man per day


27th Feb “Crossed the Line “ today. Over 100 on the list – even the ‘nobs’ go through the same procedure (my note – I think he was on the way to Freetown) Reading lots of novels Doing semaphore training jointly with midshipmen – rather stuck up and not very good at the job anyway. Now drawing an extra 3p/day instead of grog. 6 hours leave in 2 months.

24th July Rated coder. Big pay increase 3/3 a day instead of 2/- Frequently picked up on shore and given hospitality, even staying overnight once. Being in the navy opens all doors. (my note – this is probably in Canada)

30th July Thought about long distance train journey but decided it better to spend money on sort of holiday camp up river with some chums.

1st August Back from 48 hours leave at this holiday camp place. Had a lovely time – felt very free and unfettered and open space so welcome. Good food including raspberries.

14th August New suit (uniform) -spent previous day pressing and ironing it. Comments by others about ‘tiddly sailors’

18th August Evening supper ashore with the Angevines. Saturday supper always baked beans – much more tasty than ones at home and without the tomato flavour. Bought a bathing costume and had an invigorating swim – felt like a new man.

End August went in train for first time since Dec 1939

6th Sept Went ashore and got a small yacht out and was taught the rudiments of boat sailing. Hadn’t enjoyed anything so much for ages.

15th Sept Explains lack of leave is because ships in home waters are having such a hammering that leave is essential. Ships like JB having a fairly easy time so they have to make up for it by less home leave. AMC’s more of a liability in home waters and Navy does not want to risk losing them after spending so much on conversion.

28th Sept Now has a shove-halfpenny board on board. Dad should make one.

1st Oct Sad to be leaving the ship but 9 chums going with him.

5th Oct Now in dockyard in Halifax Nova Scotia.

5th Nov Jervis Bay was sunk – as with Rawlpindi all the coders were drowned

22nd Nov Now in HMS King Alfred. Thrill of sitting down to well cooked and nicely served meal was quite noticeable. Start of 10 week intensive course. Heard that Gibbs had survived when Jervis Bay was sunk

Not so many letters after returning to UK for Officer training probably because of weekend leave and availability of telephone.


12th Feb Now on HMS Ayrshire. Life on board very busy so less time to write. Shorter letters. Very different from Jervis Bay and much more responsibility. Ship rolls a lot and was sick once. Otherwise same general sea journeys. Little news of home while at sea. A fortnight away on a ship of this size and watch and watch is hard. Ran out of water, spuds and bread. Has had a successful action at sea and another action meant John had to fire a .303 rifle for the first time. Food ran out again.

14th May Received an income tax form with his mail! The occasional typewritten letter. Getting fed up with the number of letters he has to write. At least 11 people he is expected to write to regularly. He really doesn’t like the Icelanders. BBC made a programme on board the Ayrshire . John obviously enjoyed being involved and it was later broadcast.


Jan Weather was so bad that the ship was lost for 4 days and presumed sunk. Reference to a foreign language (not French) and lava makes me think he went to Lanzarote. More letters showing how much he enjoys dinghy sailing. Letter about regatta in Iceland dated 21st June 1942 and one dated 21st August 1942 about his time in Archangel have been removed to PQ17 file

1st Dec Dick is now CO John is No1. Second stripe is in the offing. Sizeable amount in letters just describe films he has seen. Finds it difficult to find interesting things to write about


8th May Started smoking a pipe with tobacco given him by a visiting RAF type. Clearly enjoying classical music esp. Beethoven and Mozart. Has a gramophone on board. Joke in letter - Warden at entrance to Air Raid shelter “any pregnant women here?” Reply shouted – “we’ve only been here a few minutes!”

19th July Second ring due in 3 days – pay started 22/7

25th Sept CO (presumably Dick Elsden) has put his name forward for a command. John said this would probably not do anything but it was nice to know. At various times he went to Sydney Nova Scotia, Halifax and St. John, New Brunswick


29th March 18 days’ leave with the Angevines – had a wonderful time – became a second home. Made it clear what a drunkard Leo Gradwell (now a passenger) was but he couldn’t now cause problems for them with his mess bills.

23rd May Had to change as No.1 with St. Kenan. Pretty fed up about it. CO came back from leave to try to stop this but no choice Now on St. Kenan. New CO seems very reasonable and asks for more help and advice than Dick did.

29th Sept Refers to change of attitude of locals (? In Iceland). Much friendlier but no idea why the change.

1st Oct Latest girl friend (Mary) had now decided to marry sailor Jack now home from the sea. This is the third girl friend to do this.

Dec At a party he changed uniforms with a Leading Wren.


9th Jan Has had a very restful 14 days , in fact all December had been very quiet from the sea point of view although they had some good parties.

26th Feb Got a chill in his stomach which kept him in his bunk for 2 days – all caught it but then got ‘a good bit of sunning’.Went ashore with large sack and bought many items including for presents and lots of fruit. Needed a taxi to get it all back to ship.

6th May Said his flair for letter writing seemed to have gone for the moment, very little news and he keeps up to date with the phone. Obviously in UK and went to a fair and had a ago at everything with new girl friend not in the services.

7th August Now on HMS Golden Hind – Yvonne helped with the move

28th August Has come down to doing his own washing again. Only slight duties on board otherwise time is his own. Has read quite a bit of economics and went to good lecture by a naval schoolie who knew his stuff. Won again, £2, on sweepstake on length of day’s run .

2nd Sept Letter TO John – food scarcer than ever and a soap famine. Not a bar in Boots but they have a good supply sent by John. Yvonne in contact with this parents.

5th Sept Wellington N.Z . In Navy 6 years today! Good time ashore – just like Canada in 1940

9th Sept Sydney. Big welcome as many Aussie pow’s on board. Driven around by Red Cross lady then taken out to tea.

13th Sept Now in glorified nissen hut at Warwick Farm. Appt to HMS Guardian. Didn’t send food from Sydney as would take too long and go through the tropics. Climate’s the best you ever saw. Everyone has gone out of their way to be kind. Even an engine driver insisted on giving me a glass of his tea and sodme cakes. Now taking passage in Arbiter, an escort carrier to join his ship – will be 6 to 7 weeks before reaching HMS Guardian. Expects his next job will be rehabilitation of ex pow’s of Japs.

5th Oct Now in Hong Kong but his ship is in Shanghai. Found HK quite an experience 99% Chinese.

7th Oct Describes his time in HK where he bought 8 china horses (now in my display cabinet) All letters from now on have reference to his probable demob date – a constant worry

11th Oct He likes it out East in the Guardian so not wanting immediate return to UK. Was surprised in Kowloon to receive an ‘eyes right’ from 50 wretched looking Jap pow’s led by a Royal Marine commando. Goes swimming every day. Shops are full of 1941 magazines and Penguins – all kept hidden from the Japs.

19th Oct Went whaler sailing. Last time was in Reyhavik in May. Excellent concert party – lots of talent on board – worthy of the West End .

21st Oct Taken aback that he was thanked by CO for doing double duties. Dick Elsden and (?) JBN were not lavish in handing out praise.

26th Oct Getting brown all over.

5th Nov Another whaler race which they won. CO had them all up in his cabin for beers afterwards and gave all the ratings 10/- a head. Went on Kowloon-Canton railway

20th Nov No mail for over a fortnight as Chinese are refusing to allow planes to land so mail is piling up in Calcutta or Colombo.

23rd Nov Mail at last.

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