David Mills

HMS Alfred, the stone frigate

Probably many people today have only notions as to the origin of the King Alfred.

It started life as Hove Marina which was planned to be open in 1940 but owing to the outbreak of war it was taken over by the Admiralty and commissioned as a ‘stone frigate’ in September 1939. In their wisdom they called it H.M.S. Alfred thereby perpetuating the name of an armoured cruiser broken up at the end of World War Two.

Its purpose was to train officers for the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve and its original intake consisted of yachtsmen and others who had nautical experience. This supply soon dried up so that finally the intake was wholly from serving naval ratings. At the end of the war 88% of all naval officers were R.N.V.R., mostly  trained at the King Alfred.

To present-day eyes it was all unbelievably relaxed and casual. I turned up after one interview and a letter of appointment with no further checks ; our loyalty was presumed. We used the old RNVR site, now the car park, with its wooden buildings and heavy gun battery of obsolete 6-inch guns, where we did drill gun training making as much noise as we could. Routinely the Petty Officer instructor would yell ‘gas’ and we scrambled to don our gas masks and woe betide any unfortunate who had forgotten to replace his weekend pyjamas with the mask which was supposed to be in the case!

We also used rooms in the Marina itself where half its underground car park was the mess and the other the parade ground. Here we assembled each morning for Divisions and from whence our classes doubled up the ramps to the various sites under the class Captain of the Day.

At the end of my training (six weeks, I think) I was sent home and when recalled, due to rail disruption by bombs, I missed my draft. I was most disappointed for it went to America to pick up destroyers donated by the USA to our war effort. In hindsight this was a lucky escape for they were always breaking down, were awful sea boats and virtually useless.

I then had to await another draft so found myself on the staff as a junior dogsbody, my most memorable duty being fire watching on the roof. It was at the time that a German invasion was most likely in the event of which I was to take a party of seamen to form a defensive post in some farm on the Downs. I think I was deemed responsible having had one lesson on how to use a service rifle. How fortunate that the Germans never invaded !

(Acknowledgement to Judy Middleton’s Encyclopaedia of Hove)