The title of this book are words Reginald Cogswell opens the book with to describe HMS EXETER.
In June 1926, a grammar school boy from Westbury Wiltshire, he joined the Royal Navy as an Electrical Artificer 4th Class. More than 40 years later, having retired as a Lieutenant Commander MBE, he wrote of his experiences.
The book covers just a small portion of Lt Cdr Cogswell’s naval career, from August ‘36 to February ‘40 when he served as the Warrant Officer (E) aboard HMS EXETER. Those 43 months encompassed peace and war, aid to civil power during riots in Trinidad, helping earthquake victims at Talcahuano Chile, family separation and re-unions, calm seas and storms. In setting down his memories of peace time ship focussing on 'showing the flag' visits to the ports of South America, the transition to war and the bloody truth of battle at sea in company with HMS AJAX and HMNZS ACHILLES against the Graf Spee off the River Plate, Reginald Cogswell opens a window into the Royal Navy of the period and the impact of WWII.
The chapters devoted the Battle of the RIver Plate are telling - trapped below deck, tasked with maintaining power to the ship, gun directors and turrets, Warrant Officer (E) Cogswell was 'in the thick of it', giving a blow by blow account of the battle, hearing Graf Spee's shells land and tackling the resultant shell damage. The story continues with EXETER's return, via the Falklands for temporary repairs, to Devonport and meeting Churchill, marching with the ship's company through London to an investiture by King George VI and the Lord Mayor's reception at the Guildhall. It ends with the author, and his wife, walking slowly through bomb damaged London to their hotel.
This is not a history of naval strategy and tactics or the manoeuvres of battle at sea, but a most beautifully expressed story of one man’s personal experience of peace and war.
A book to savour and enjoy for the period flavour and quality of the writing.
"Reginald’s ability to recall his time with HMS Exeter is as engaging as it is enlightening. Anyone keen on naval and social history will find both subjects harmoniously united here by the author” - Western Morning News
“Fascinating reading and good to see a style of writing like that -- made me feel as if I was there” David Verghese, Naval Historian & Author
“A book to savour and enjoy Exeter - so rich in detail and that special kind of ‘read between the lines’ ‘stiff upper lip’ pathos” Chris Meddings, Editor Ship Modeller Magazine
“An enthralling book, highly recommended” Commodore Peter C Wykeham-Martin, Chairman Friends of the National Museum of the Royal Navy
An enthralling book, highly recommended. review by PCW-M on 03/05/2017
Reg Cogswell was appointed as the Electrical Officer of the EXETER in 1936 when she deployed to the South Atlantic and stayed with the ship until early 1940. This book is his tale - very much in his own words and his own recollections of peacetime service and the Battle of the River Plate. Describing EXETER as a "chic" ship unlike her sister YORK, a bit "crotchety" after 2 commissions but "dainty" at sea. This is not just a naval story but a travel diary of peacetime South America in the late 1930s. Descriptions of Chilean earthquake relief, the Falkland Islands and South Georgia as an active whaling station are balanced by tales of simple, seaboard life. His observations of work up in the West Indies, showing the flag and events such as crossing the line and sod's operas are marvellously evocative. Returning to UK in August 1939 with the prescient words of the Station Flag Officer warning of impending war, within 4 days EXETER was back at sea, again to the South Atlantic.
The The story of the hunt for the German pocket battleship, originally thought to be the SCHEER, and the resulting battle with the GRAF SPEE is well known, but this book adds a whole new dimension. Reg Cogswell was at his Action Station ion the switchboard room when an 11-inch shell demolished the CPO's flat above, trapping the switchboard team, jamming the hatch and with a fierce fire raging above. His account is stunningly graphic. Eventually they were rescued - to the words of his Chief "you never saw a ship in such a bloody awful mess in all your life". Seriously damaged but still able to steam EXETER limped to the Falklands for basic repairs, in themselves an amazing tale, to then return to Plymouth for a hero's welcome.
This is a wonderful book. The uniquely personal nature of his writing makes it all the more extraordinary. You could argue that it would benefit from some editing, but this would reduce the straightforward nature of his writing. His son has brought this book to publication and is to be thanked for ensuring that his father's story has come to light. An enthralling book, highly recommended.
A book to savour and enjoy Exeter - so rich in detail and that special kind of ‘read between the lines’ ‘stiff upper lip’ pathos review by Ship Modeller Magazine (Chris Meddings) on 29/04/2017
Reginald Cogswell was an Engineer with a number of years service in the Royal Navy, but as you may guess from the title, this book focussed very much on his time aboard the Cruiser HMS Exeter as the Warrant Officer (e) [Electrical]. WO Cogwell joined the ship on her commission in 1936 through peacetime service until the outbreak of war and the Battle of the River Plate. This is not a technical reference book or a third person overview of the tactics and big picture of strategy and battle, but is instead a very personal memoir of one man’s view of the life onboard this fateful vessel.
Some memoirs can be rather dry. After WWII many men wrote down their recollections and as honest and enlightening as they can be, not all men are good writers. The reader is very lucky with this book in that Mr Cogwell is an excellent writer and the narrative moves along with great ease, charm and occasional wit making the book very engaging and easy to read. But don’t let that fool you; the book is packed with detail on the life of a medium cruiser the personalities of her crew and the very colourful backdrop to Royal Navy service before and during the war.
This book will not help you build a model, but it will give you a pin sharp and incredibly evocative impression of what it felt like to live the life (including the effect on family and home) and fight the battles that Mr Cogswell experienced, and in my opinion that can be very useful indeed in informing your modelling, and providing context for the hobby.
A thoroughly engaging read and very highly recommended. 9/10 CM
A fascinating read -Anyone keen on naval and social history will find both subjects harmoniously united here by the author. review by WMN - 1 on 01/03/2017
HMS Exeter was a Devonport Dockyard built and based warship – with strong links to both Devonport and the city of Exeter after which it was named. Essentially a memoir, the book covers 43 months in the life of Reginald Cogswell. A grammar school boy from Wiltshire, he joined the Royal Navy as an Electrical Artificer 4th Class in 1926. More than 40 years later, having retired as a Lieutenant Commander MBE, he wrote down his experiences.
The result is a fascinating read covering the period from August 1936 to February 1940 when he served as Warrant Officer aboard HMS Exeter. At the core of the story is his personal experience of the Battle of the River Plate on 13 December 1939. This first ‘set piece’ naval battle of WWII comes after the preceding years when HMS Exeter was part of the South America Division of the Americas and West Indies Squadron under the command of Commodore H H Harwood. The writing is imbued with an authentic and beguiling tone and flavour of the author’s time.
Reginald’s ability to recall his time with HMS Exeter is as engaging as it is enlightening. Anyone keen on naval and social history will find both subjects harmoniously united here by the author. The chapters convey a rich flavour of naval life both at sea and ashore.
We get to know something of Reginald’s wife and young children. The joy of togetherness and pain of long periods of separation that is navy life is conveyed with both warmth and poignancy. He also describes the ship’s traditions and pomp and ceremony so ingrained within the Senior Service.
And so, on an engaging and eye-opening level, this story of one man’s association with HMS Exeter takes you closer to this world. Regional’s descriptive powers are never more vivid than in recording the Battle of the River Plate – with the ship suffering huge damage and loss of life. With chaos and carnage all around Reginald became trapped below decks with a diminishing supply of oxygen and, for an agonising period, little hope of survival.
His conveys this, literally blow by blow, account as HMS Exeter valiantly battled against the Graf Spee.
Reginald’s writing style conjures the acrid smell, the heat, smoke and confusion – creating an adrenalin rush of compelling reading. The full horror of battle, and its price on a human scale, is eloquently depicted in this harrowing account. Reginald, luckier than many of the ship’s crew, survived to make it back to Britain. The real end of his service in HMS Exeter was the day of the King’s review which featured a march through London to attend the Lord Mayor’s lunch in the plush Guildhall. The ship needed extensive reconstruction before she was fit to go to sea again – so her crew would be dispersed throughout the Fleet. By way of a postscript Reginald writes how he received a command from the king to attend Buckingham Palace. It was to receive the Order of the British Empire in recognition of his distinguished service in HMS Exeter in time of war. Also with the command came a card from his Lord Chamberlain inviting his wife to be there. And so his book happily concludes: ‘Thus, my dear loved wife, whose chief part in this long story has been to wait weary years at home, and not to come into it much except towards the end, was at my side for the last act that was part of my service in the ship Exeter.’
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