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From Gert and Daisy to preparing for war

PUBLISHED: 11:01 26 September 2008 | UPDATED: 21:22 05 July 2010

The RNPS parading at Sparrow's Nest during the early 1940s

The RNPS parading at Sparrow's Nest during the early 1940s

THE Royal Naval Patrol Service hold their annual reunion in Lowestoft next week and to mark the forthcoming event we take a look back at a defining moment for Sparrow's Nest.

THE Royal Naval Patrol Service hold their annual reunion in Lowestoft next week and to mark the forthcoming event we take a look back at a defining moment for Sparrow's Nest.

At the end of August 1939, chief petty officers and petty officers from Chatham descended on Sparrow's Nest Theatre, where Elsie and Doris Waters, of Gert and Daisy fame, were enjoying a run of shows. However, the officers were not there to watch a performance, as they had been instructed to take over the Nest on behalf of the Admiralty, and with the second world war still 10 days away, nobody knew the reason for this takeover.

The first Lowestoft man to arrive was ex-skipper William Thorpe, of Wollaston Road, who, while waiting for a mate's berth, was told by the Labour Exchange to report to the Nest.

“I hadn't a clue as to why I was to go there,” he said. “But looking back, I can picture a lovely sunny day with Gert and Daisy basking on the lawn. We didn't know what was going on until the chaps from Chatham told me we were going to start stripping out the seats of the theatre.

“We did that and stowed blankets under the stage nearly all that night and next day as more men turned up, I was put on sentry duty on the gate. On Saturday, I was given £5 to post to my wife and packed off by bus to Hull, not having a chance to see my wife although she was only living in Essex Road. What happened to Elsie and Doris Waters, I never knew.”

Overnight, Sparrow's Nest had become a stone frigate. It was firstly known as Pembroke X, but later Britain's nearest military establishment to the German forces was renamed HMS Europa, Central Depot of the Royal Naval Patrol Service.

Local historian John Holmes, who is a lifetime honorary member of the RNPS, said: “I have often visited the RNPS museum in Sparrow's Nest. As a consequence of this I have come to admire the small but very committed band of volunteers who continue to keep alive the memory of those who gave their life for their country and our freedom.

“I would like to encourage both local people and holidaymakers to visit this superb museum which is one of three in Sparrow's Nest. It could be a way of showing our appreciation for the enormous commitment made by the RNPS who ensured that our sea channels were kept clear and allowed us to import food, materials and other goods to ensure we could survive and eventually win the war.”

The museum will be staffed all next week to mark the annual reunion and members are expected to attend from across the country, with a couple due from Florida.

Among the activities taking place are two evenings at the Beaconsfield Club, in Lowestoft, on Wednesday and Thursday, and an annual general meeting on Friday before an evening at the Ocean Rooms, in Gorleston.

Next Saturday there will be a Service of Remembrance at the Belle Vue Park memorial, at 10.45am for an 11am start, and a march with a salute taken at Sparrow's Nest bandstand. In the evening, members will again return to the Ocean Rooms for a formal meal together with their guests of honour, George Hawes, the chairman of Waveney District Council, and Lowestoft mayor Frank Mortimer.

For more details on next week's events, call 01502 586250 or 564344.

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