Lieut. Com. A.Woolven.

House Number: 

Russell Cotes Nautical School - Parkstone Sea Training School

Watts Naval Training School (1922-1925)

Lieutenant Commander: A Woolven RN  (PSTS: 1955-1964)



Alfred Woolven was born in May1909 Westhampnett, Sussex. His father James Woolven, had returned from the Boer War (1899-1902) and was finding work and the means to support his family very difficult. His mother had died of fever, and Alfred the youngest had been placed with a foster family. 

Alfred was noticed by the representative of Dr Barnardo’s Homes who assessed the boy as ‘well-behaved, willing and of clean habits’ asked him if he would like to attend Watts Nautical School in Norfolk.


School years


In  February of 1922 Alfred Woolven joined the Watts Naval Training School at North Elmham, Norfolk. The school was home for some 300 boys. Compared to schools of today, discipline was strictly applied in preparing boys for the Royal Naval and Merchant Marine.  The day began with the bugle call; reveille, at 6.15am with the ‘Daily Routine’  of; Cleaning, Inspections, Meals, Drills, Instructions, Prayers and Bed. It was a new world of  strange Terms; Pulling, Quarter-Deck and Signals. New heavy Boots were to be mastered as well as the ‘Rig’ to be worn and lost clothing to be retrieved from the; ’ScranBag’.


In April 1925 Alfred Woolven joined the ‘Draft of Watts boys to join HMS GANGES at Shotley.






Watts Naval Training School.

Royal Navy


Alfred Woolven joined the Royal Navy at HMS GANGES, on 20th April 1925, as a Boy Seaman, Service No. J113625, Life at Watts had been strict, however it would prove to be sound training for life as a boy Seaman joining HMS GANGES. 



The first weeks were spent ‘kitting out’ and mastering the art of stitching your names in red cotton on every piece of clothing. Kit came from the ‘Slop Room’, foot-ware usually fitted, the rest was usually too big. Kit Musters became a frequent feature for the new entries.

On entry Seaman Ratings were known as ‘Boy Seaman’, this ‘title’ was to remain with the Royal Navy until 1956 when the change was made to ‘Ordinary Seaman’. The advancement to Boy Seaman 1st Class took place after basic training, usually some 6 to 10 months. Those that did not achieve 1st Class by the time they were 18 were discharged. 

Pay for Boy Seaman, had been unchanged since the last Review in 1919. And on entry Alfred Woolven was paid as Boy 2nd Class, the princely sum of 1 shilling  per day, achieving Boy 1st Class would add a further 9d per day.

These Pay Rates had been in place since February 1919, however in 1925  the Admiralty changed the pay scales, most pay being reduced.

Officers also suffered a Pay decrease in 1925, on 14th December 1925 the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty gave directions that resulted in a 51/2% pay cut. This was published in the London Gazette 8th January 1926. (See: Source at end note).


There were four (4) letters used as prefixes to a Ratings number to identify the Branch, for Seaman it was ‘J’, Stokers; ‘K’, Cooks & Stewards; ’L’ all remaining ‘M’.

Ratings who entered after October 1925, did so on a lower Pay Scale, to identify them, the letter ‘X’ was added after the Branch letter.





In November 1926 Seaman Woolven, completed his Training at HMS GANGES and joined HMS TIGER a Battlecruiser   In May 1927 few days before his 18th birthday he was promoted Ordinary Seaman (OS).



Battlecruiser: HMS TIGER

Built; John Brown & Co. Clydebank.

Commissioned:  October 1922

Displacement: 28,500 tons

Armament: 8 x 13.5 inch, 12 x 6 inch, 2 x3 inch, 4 x 3pdr.

Speed: 28 knots

Complement:  1.112

Scrapped: 1932 as a result of the London Naval Conference of 1930.


In 1924 HMS TIGER re-commissioned as a Gunnery Training Ship and in 1929 she joined the Battlecruiser squadron whilst HMS HOOD was refitting.





After HMS TIGER OS Woolven was posted to the RN Barracks HMS VICTORY, prior to joining HMS NELSON in August 1927, while she was still building. He was promoted to Able Seaman November 1928


Battleship – HMS NELSON

Built; 1922/25  Armstrong Whitworth at a cost of £7,600,000.

Commissioned:  October 1930

Displacement: 33,950 tons

Armament: 9 x 16 inch, 12 x 6 inch, 6 x4.7 inch, 8 x 4inch

Speed: 23 knots

Complement:  1.360



In April 1929 he returned to the RN Barracks HMS VICTORY, then to HMS VERNON for some long training courses, until August 1930. 

Whilst at HMS VERNON he married a local lass, Bertha Norris, just before his next posting to the China Station, joining HMS SUFFOLK on 30th Aug 1930. 


HMS SUFFOLK was of the early County Class (known as the Kent Class), sister ships; HMS BERWICK, CUMBERLAND and KENT, all were 3 funnel, 8inch gun Cruisers. On HMS SUFFOLK  AB Woolven was to spend 3 years on the China Station. HMS SUFFOLK served on the China Station from 1928 to 1939, She returned to Chatham for a refit in 1935/36, being fitted with a Walrus Aircraft. During WW2 it was HMS SUFFOLK that sighted the German Battleship BISMARCK, firing several salvos at the BISMARK



County Class Heavy Cruiser – HMS LONDON   (C 69)

Built; 1926/27  Portsmouth Dockyard.

Commissioned:  January 1929

Displacement: 10,000 tons

Armament: 8 x 8 inch, 8 x 4 inch,  8 x 21inch Torpedoes

Speed: 32.25 knots  - Complement:  780

NOTE: HMS LONDON although a County Class was from the later batch.


1933 -1934

He returned to the RN Barracks, HMS VICTORY, for leave in July 1933, then he was off to HMS VERNON for further long course training and specialization in torpedoes until April 1934. HMS VERNON had established itself as the home of Torpedo Branch a Torpedo School as early as1876



1934 – Leading Seaman and Petty Officer

In April he joined HMS LONDON, a Heavy Cruiser of the County Class her sister ships; HMS SUSSEX, SHROPSHIRE and DEVONSHIRE all were 3 funnel Cruisers. Later HMS LONDON was reconstructed and had only two funnels.


Kent Class Heavy Cruiser – HMS  SUFFOLK   (C 55)

Built; 1924/26  Chatham Dockyard.

Commissioned:  1928

Displacement: 10,000 tons

Armament: 8 x 8 inch, 8 x 4 inch,  8 x 21inch Torpedoes

Speed: 31.5 knots   - Complement:  700



In October 1934 AB Woolven was promoted to Acting  Leading Seaman (A/LS) and he joined HMS RENOWN. The Renown Class differed from previous battle cruisers, having 3 twin turrets but fitted with the more powerful 15 inch guns.



Battlecruiser – HMS RENOWN

Built; 1915/16  Fairfielkd Govan, at a cost of:  £3,100,000

Commissioned:  September 1916

Displacement: 30,2750 tons (after reconstruction)

Armament: 6 x 15 inch, 20 x 4.5 inch, 6 x4.7 inch, 8 x 4inch

Speed: 29 knots  -  Complement: 900+


In April 1935 Alfred Woolven was confirmed Leading Seaman and HMS RENOWN participated in King George V’s Silver Jubilee Fleet Review at Spithead on 16 July 1935. She served as part of the Mediterranean Fleet 1935 and in 1936 formed the 1st Battle Squadron. Later in that year in September 1936 she entered the dockyard for a major refit and reconstruction with new engines and boilers. 

L/Seaman Woolven reached a major milestone in his Naval Career being promoted to Acting Petty Officer in June 1936.



Now an A/Petty Officer it was off to more training courses at HMS VERNON, from December 1936 to January 1938, a rarity for many in those days having 2 Christmases at home, but much welcomed by his wife, Bertha, who was looking after their home in Portsmouth.

Before leaving HMS VERNON he was confirmed Petty Officer and then it was back to sea on his next ship.

In January 1938 Petty Officer Woolven was posted to HMS EFFINGHAM as she was completing a long refit and modernization. HMS EFFINGHAM spent 1939 in the 12th Cruiser Squadron, later in September she was to transport over £2 million in gold bullion to Canada.



HMS EFFINGHAM (D98) (twin funnels before her conversion to single funnel)

Hawkins Class Cruiser – HMS EFFINGHAM

Built; 1917/21  Portsmouth Dockyard

Commissioned: July 1925

Displacement: 12,950 tons (full load)

Armament: 7 x 7.5 inch, 3 x 4inch, 4 x 3 inch, 2 x 4qd 21inch  Torpedos

Speed: 31 knots - Complement:  690


In May 1938 P.O Woolven was back at the RN Barracks at HMS VICTORY, he was 

sent on a short posting to HMS DRAKE the RN Barracks at Devonport.



General Note: The RN Barracks at Devonport had been HMS VIVID since being named after the C-in-C’s Yacht; VIVID. This name remained with at least 5 Sub Units; from HMS VIVID I through to HMS VIVID V. In 1934 the RN Barracks were renamed HMS DRAKE, the first cap tallies being issued on the 19th January 1934.


After HMS DRAKE he was back at HMS VICTORY for Christmas leave, this was to be his last posting as a Petty Officer before being made Commissioned Boatswain.

World War 2


1939 - 1941

In April 1939 Alfred Woolven received his Commission as a Boatswain, with a Seniority of 22 February 1939 and on the 11th April 1939 Acting Commissioned Boatswain, A Woolven was posted as Gunnery Officer to HMS SCIMITAR a WW1 destroyer. He would remain with HMS SCIMITAR until October 1941.





Admiralty S Class Destroyer

Built: John Brown Shipbuilding,  Clydebank

Commissioned: 29 Apr 1918

Displacement: 905tons

Armament 2 x 4inch, 1 x 3inch, 2 x 21 inch torpedoes

Speed: 31 knots   -  Complement: 98


At the outbreak of WW2 HMS SCIMITAR was on convoy duties English Channel.

In May 1940 she was transferred to Dover Command for the Evacuation Allied troops from Dunkirk, it was off Dunkirk, that he was in the forward turret when it was hit by a German aircraft. Some of the turret crew were killed and Alfred lost his hearing in one ear, a fact that he successfully hid  from the doctors for the next 14 years.

Later in July along with HMS SALADIN she embarked No. 3 Commando for the  planned raid on Guernsey. 


She then moved to the 5th Escort Group Western Approaches, with Convoy HX72 Escort, with an attack on U32, which drove off the attack.

In 1941 together with HMS VANOC & HMS WALKER, she sank U100.. Again as part of the 8th Escort Group, she took part of the attack on U651 which was sunk.

Through 1942 and 1943 she was part of the 1st Escort Group in the Battle of the Atlantic. Later in 1943 as 21st Escort Group on the grim UK to Iceland Convoys. 


HMS SCIMITAR received a citation: Rendered notable service in the Atlantic despite Age and unsuitability for Escort Duties. Between September 1939 and April 1944 HMS SCIMITAR had been involved in Escort Duties with 94 Convoys.




On the 27th October 1941 Commissioned Boatswain, A Woolven was posted to HMS ST VINCENT as an Instructor. Training in wartime had introduced many new training, the DEMS Course, (Defensively Equipped Merchant Ships), where Merchant Seaman required training in aircraft recognition and anti-aircraft gunnery, as well as small arms drill. RN ratings were also being trained for service in Merchant Ships. 

The Torpedo Training Section had also opened at HMS ST VINCENT in July 1940. The Air Training School had also opened at ST. VINCENT, FAA Aircrew; Pilots, Observers, Air Gunners all commenced their Seamanship Training under Boatswain Instructor Woolven.




Training Establishment at Gosport.



In December 1943 Boatswain A. Woolven was promoted to Acting Lieutenant, with Seniority 19th December 43.



At the start of the New Year A/Lt. A Woolven was posted on 17th January 1944 to HMS DIOMEDE, as Boatswain and Training Instructor.



HMS DIOMEDE  (D92) - Dauntless Class Light Cruiser

Built;  Vickers Armstrong, Barrow-in-Furness

Commissioned:  October 1922

Displacement: 4850 tons

Armament: 6 x 6 inch, 3 x 4 inch, 12 x 21 inch torpedoes

Speed: 29 knots - Complement:  450   - Scrapped: March 1946


At the outbreak of War HMS DIOMEDE was with the 7th Cruiser Squadron, Home Fleet, based at Scapa Flow. She was involved in the engagement where the AMC RAWALPINDI was sunk by German Battlecruisers SCHARNHORST and GNEISENAU.

In 1940 she was moved to the 8th Cruiser Squadron, West Indies and then to the Mediterranean. During 1944/45 she was based at Rosyth as Training Ship

May 1944 – to Toronto, Canada.

In 1944 Lt. A Woolven arrived in St John’s, New Brunswick where HMS SKIPJACK was fitting out. HMS SKIPJACK (J300), an Algerine Class Minesweeper had been laid down and launched at the Toronto Shipbuilding Ltd. Toronto, Canada, (Toronto Shipyard later became; Redfern Construction Co. Shipyard). He was confirmed Lieutenant in Oct 1944 (Seniority: 13th March 1941) and posted as 1st Lieutenant, and would remain with HMS SKIPJACK until late 1945.



Algerine Class Minesweeper  (HMS SKIPJACK - J300 was of this Class)

Built; 1942/44 Toronto, Canada

Commissioned: 29 Apr 1944

Displacement: 1160 tons

Armament: 1 x 4 inch (Quick Fire)   4 x Oerlikons   95 AS Depth Charges

Speed: 16.5 knots

Complement: 85

Scrapped: HMS SKIPJACK went to the breakers in March 1959 at Blyth




In October 1944  to May 1945 HMS SKIPJACK was Operating in the  Adriatic.

The following month, Nov 1944, she was with the 5th MS Flotilla, and cleared a passage into Salonika from Skiathos. Further mine clearance work in January and February of  1945 she cleared he approaches to the Dardanelles, for the  Naval Force taking Prime Minster Winston Churchill to the Yalata Conference meeting with Stalin & President Roosevelt.

HMS SKIPJACK, was runner up as the Minesweeper accounting for clearing the most Mines in WW2, 136 mines cleared for HMS SKIPJACK, the winner HMS OCTAVIA (accounted for 216).

Lt. Woolven  was also Skipper of HMS ROSARIO (J219) and probably HMS ARCTURUS (J283) both Algerines, clearing mines in the Mediterranean.




Promoted  Lieutenant Commander 19th April 1949 (Seniority: 13th Mar 49), Alfred Woolven was posted to HMS REWARD, a sturdy Tug, and found himself commanding tows of RN ships from afar. From the Far East, the Seychelles, the Mediterranean back to their Home Port Dockyards. Covering the Indian Ocean from Trincomalee, Ceylon had its benefits.





HMS REWARD (W164 Wartime) –(A264 post war)

Bustler Class Tug

Built;  by Henry Robb Ltd. at Leith  April/October 1944

Commissioned:  12 March 1945

Displacement: 1,800 tons

Armament: 1 x 3 inch, 1 x 2pdr. 

Speed: 15 knots 

Complement:  42  



HMS REWARD sailed from Liverpool in convoy OS130KM on 22nd May 1945.

She was off Iceland in December 1952 for Exercise  Autumn Bear escorting RFA Wave Premier.

In 1954 she was acquired by the United Towing Co. of Hull and renamed; Englishman, until taken over by the Port Auxiliary, she was then placed to be broken up. In 1975 the decision was reversed and she was refitted and converted to a Naval Patrol Ship and regained the name HMS REWARD and was used  on anti-terrorist patrols on the Gas Rigs off Great Yarmouth.

Tragedy struck on 10th August 1975 when in thick fog, on the Firth of Forth she was in collision with the Container Ship SS Plainsman. As a result she sank. She was later raised, taken to Inverkeithing but assessed as a total loss.



This great battleship was scrapped as part of the post war cuts in expenditure. Lt Cdr. Woolven was very much the ‘behind the scenes’ organizer for the decommissioning ceremony that took place at Portsmouth 19 March 1948.


In the 1950’s  Lt. Commander Woolven was posted to one of the much loved Boom Defence vessels; HMS BARNDALE where his expertise as a long standing Boatswain was in continual demand.




Built;  1939 Lobnitz & Co. Ltd. Renfrew, Scotland.

Commissioned:  23 March 1940

Displacement: 730 tons

Armament: 1 x 3 inch

Speed: 11.75 knots   - Complement:  32  


HMS BARNDALE was one of some 70 Boom Defence vessels. She saw service during WW2, in January 1944 at the Anzio Landings under R. Admiral Troubridge. She helped with the rescue of survivors from HMS SPARTAN, a Dido Class Cruiser which had been sunk by a ‘Glider Bomb’ whilst patrolling off Anzio  a few days later.

In June 1953 HMS BARNDALE, took part in the Coronation Review of the Fleet at Spithead.

Lieutenant Commander A Woolven, Commanding Officer onboard HMS BARNDALE gave the salute as Her Majesty the Queen onboard the Royal Yacht Surprise (HMS SURPRISE K346) reviewed her Fleet.

As a schoolboy guest, a young Robin Woolven watched with pride as his father and the Ships Company saluted Her Majesty the Queen.




Plan of the Royal Fleet Review Spithead 1953


With no less than 29 years of service Lieutenant Commander WOOLVEN RN retired from the Royal Navy and was placed on the Emergency List.



Summer in the south of England is always a busy time no more so than for Southern Rail and its busy Holiday Traffic to the Isle of Wight. Newly retired Alfred Woolven took a temporary job with the Rail Ferries that summer.

Applying for the position of ‘Mate’ on one of the Ferries, the Interviewing Officer asked did he know the buoys in the Solent and Spithead.  He truthfully answered… ‘yes, I laid them over the last few years ‘…..  he got the job !




Later in 1954 he joined Dr. Barnado’s with the post of House Parent for the 

Barnardo’s ‘Pevensey’ home in Portswood, Southampton, which provided a home for a dozen teenage boys having left care and needing accommodation until they found their feet in the outside world.



1955  Parkstone Sea Training School.

 In 1955 his life turned the full circle being appointed Commander at Parkstone Sea Training School, the successor of his old Watts Naval Training School.



World War 2 Decorations;

Whilst it is unclear from the pictures of LT. Cdr. Woolven of medals worn, he would have qualified for;


1939-1945 Star

Atlantic Star

Italy Star

Defence Medal

War Medal 1939-1945

Naval General Service Medal (1916-1964)  - Bomb & Mine Clearance,1945-53








1. The Navy List, various; 1914 to 1945, Admiralty, HMSO.

2. Royal Navy Ships Dispositions (various), Home Waters. 1940-1945 

3. Ships of the Royal Navy; The Complete Record of All Fighting Ships, JJ Colledge 

    and Ben Warlow, Casemate, 17 Cheaop St., Newbury, RG14 5DD, 2010. 

4. The London Gazette – various editions; 1912-1945

5. Jane’s Fighting Ships, various editions, 1922 to 1945, Sampson, Low, Marston & 

     Co. Ltd. London. 

6. Ancestry, FMP, Origins & LDS Indexes

7. The Life of a young Cadet at the Royal Naval College, Osborne, Daily Mail 

    Newspaper, 28th Jan 1908.

8. National Archives, London, ADM 171/91, Naval Officer Medal Rolls.


End Note: 

Pay Scales, a Table of early Pay Scales is to be found on page 2, of the Tribute to Broughton House Master Frank Seviour who joined HMS GANGES a few years earlier.


Special Thanks.

Parkstone ‘Old Boys’ are most grateful for the kind assistance of; Robin Woolven, son of Lt. Cdr. Woolven RN Rtd. for making family records available for this Memorial.