Very briefly, when the Royal Naval Reserves were mobilised in August 1939, Sparrow's Nest, Lowestoft became the Central Depot of the Royal Naval Patrol Service, at the most easterly point of Great Britain, then the closest British military establishment to the enemy.
The advantages of using small ships for minesweeping and other duties had been recognised during WW1 and many of the crews of the peacetime fishing fleets had been encouraged to join the Royal Naval Reserve.
At first known as 'Pembroke X' the depot later became HMS Europa and was the administrative headquarters for more than 70,000 men and 6,000 ships which included trawlers, whalers, drifters, MFV's (Motor Fishing Vessels), ML's (Motor Launches), and later MMS (Motor Minesweepers or 'Mickey Mouses'), American produced BYMS (British Yard MineSweepers) and numerous requisitioned vessels.
Within a short while the Royal Navy had almost taken over Lowestoft with the eventual establishment of no fewer than five Naval Bases, HMS Europa (RNPS Headquarters), HMS Martello (the local Auxiliary Patrol and Minesweeping Base), HMS Minos (the Port of Lowestoft, harbour defence and other craft) and later HMS Mantis (Coastal Forces MGB's and MTB's) and HMS Myloden (Landing Craft Training for RM Commandos and Combined Operations).
Here, however, we are only concerned with HMS Europa. The men of the RNPS fought all over the world in all theatres of the war and were involved mainly with minesweeping and anti-submarine work. The only RNPS VC was won at Namsos by Lt. Stannard of Arab during the Narvik campaign but over 850 other gallantry awards were made to RNPS personnel as well as over 200 Mention in Despatches.
Vessels from RNPS were on convoy duty in the Atlantic and the Arctic, in the Mediterranean and the Far East but many will first think of the keeping clear of the War Channel. Throughout the early years of the war mines were laid by the Germans by sea and air around the British Isles in an attempt to strangle the coastal convoys which were used to keep Britain supplied. It was the work of the RNPS to keep the shipping lanes clear so that the convoys could continue and this meant constant minesweeping because as soon as an area had been cleared it was a simple task for E-Boats or aircraft to mine it again.
This hazardous work was recognised by the award of a unique silver badge to RNPS minesweeping and anti-submarine crews. It was not an automatic award and only given to those officers and ratings who had completed six months sea-time. The first issue was with a vertical pin at the back but the design was later changed to having four small eyes so that it could be sewn onto the sleeve.
Because in the early days the majority were Royal Naval Reservists the RNPS became 'a Navy within a Navy' and was given a number of unofficial titles, 'Harry Tate's Navy' and 'Churchill's Pirates' being two of the more polite. The peacetime crews becoming Naval seamen together made for a special cameraderie which continued in the Service throughout WW2 even though by the end most RNPS members were 'hostilities only' who had probably had no connection with the sea before the war.
This brotherhood of those who faced extreme danger together is reflected in the continuing camaraderie of those who were involved in WW2 and in the present-day RNPS Association Registered Charity no 273148. The special bond that exists between the veterans is something that cannot be replaced but the spirit of the Association and the interest of subsequent generations is somethng that we are all hoping to preserve.