HMS ‘St Mathew’, Combined Operations Training Base, Creeksea Place

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HMS ‘St Mathew’ was a Combined Operations training base at Creeksea Place, west of Burnham-on-Crouch

HMS ‘St Mathew’ was a Combined Operations training base at Creeksea Place, west of Burnham-on-Crouch. A report on Naval Control at Southend and the Thames includes a chapter, written in July 1945, on the camp. The report is finely detailed and the following are selected passages:

‘Commissioning
H.M.S. ‘St Matthew’ commissioned on November 8th 1943, under the command of Captain C.R. Dane, R.N. Captain-in-Charge, Burnham-on-Crouch, with the officers and ship’s company and R.M. trainees of H.M.S. ‘Effingham’ from Dartmouth, which port was transferred to the U.S. Forces.

The unusual spelling of the ship’s name was to carry on the old tradition, as the last King’s Ship so named, spelt the name of the Saint with one ‘t’, being in commission as far back as 1596.

Between the date of commissioning and the end of the year, preparations were pushed forward at full speed, with a great deal of conversion of empty houses to Naval requirements and the construction of a camp for Royal Marine personnel at Creeksea Place, to accommodate 700 R.M. personnel. Private billets in Burnham for 250 ratings and Wrens were also requisitioned.

1944 Commencement of Training
Everything was finally brought into an organised whole and training commenced at Noon on Monday, January 10th, 1944.

The Craft
At this time the number of Landing Craft totalled 68, being composed of the Training Flotillas Nos. 425, 426, 427, 428 and 429, and the L.C.S. (M) Flotilla No. 435 ex Northney, with a few craft in non-operational pooled reserve.

Personnel
The numbers borne on January 17th (1944) being:
R.N. Officers 63
R.N. Ratings 463
R.M. Officers 78
R.M. Other Ranks 544
W.R.N.S. Officers 1
Wren Ratings 130
Total: 142 Officers 1137 Ratings

Training Programme
The training programme allowed for a twelve weeks’ course, mostly in elementary subjects appertaining to pure boat work and seamanship, combined with lectures on many aspects of Combined Operational training’

It is stated that between 1 April 1944 and 7 April 1945 488 Officers, 288 N.C.O.’s and 1,891 Other Ranks were trained to use landing craft.

H.M.S. ‘St. Mathew’ was scheduled to close mid-October 1945. 

An aerial photograph, undated but clearly taken either during the war or shortly thereafter, shows what appears to be rows of Nissen huts, around 20 of them, NW of Creeksea Place, between the house and Ferry Road. A 1960 aerial photograph shows this same area as a caravan park.

In 2009, the area of the huts is Creeksea Caravan Park. Immediately north of the caravan park, at the side of the track which leads from Ferry Road to Creeksea Place Farm, what is reported to be the camp cinema still stands. This is at TQ 9339 9634. It is a large, mainly Nissen-type building measuring c 75 feet long (23 m)  x 24 feet (7.3 m) wide with a height of around 20 feet (6 m) . The structure is orientated E/W with tall double doors halfway along the south side measuring c 11 feet (3.4 m) wide x 12 feet (3.6 m) high. The construction is of curved corrugated iron sheeting sitting on low brick walls. There are a number of wide windows along the north and south sides at a high level. The floor is of a compound material over concrete. The west end of the building is of brick; high up on the inner wall there are two steel struts which are said to be where the screen was hung. At the east end there is a two-storey brick-built tower, approximately the same height and width as the main Nissen section. There are two rooms on the ground floor of this tower which lead into the Nissen hut. The upper level is accessed via an exterior steel ladder. Here there are two more rooms, the main one of which has four holes in the wall clearly for projecting film through. These look out over and along the inside length of the body of the Nissen hut towards the far end, the size of which would have allowed hundreds to be seated at any one time.

It is probable that the building was originally an MT (Motor Transport) Shed. The large double doors would allow a lorry to easily enter. Tyre marks in the compound floor support this. However, it was apparently converted at a later date into the camp cinema, the brick tower with its projection rooms being added at this time. The exterior ladder would have been the easiest way to give access to the upper level. Local memory, passed on to the current generation, recalls the use of this cinema.

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