Alick Sangster


This page contains Alick Sangster's description of his experiences as a DEMS gunner during WW2 in his own words.

In writing up his recollections, Alick said:

I was lucky that the three ships I was on were small and we were small numbers so we were left alone and were self-regulated. On bigger ships many more DEMS were deployed with C.P.Os or even Officers in charge and it depended on them how watches etc. were carried out.

Alick served as a DEMS Gunner on three ships. Click the links to read the histories of the ships on the Benjidog Ship Histories website:

DEMS Recruitment and Training

Call Up

When I was called up, I was drafted into DEMS. One could always request to change to a different branch - though whether it was granted or not was a different matter (submarines excepted).

I was sent to HMS Glendower, (ex Butlins Camp at Pwehelli, North Wales) for seven weeks seamanship training. After a weekend leave I took part in a six weeks gunnery course. After passing out I was allowed seven days leave and was then drafted to various bases at ports around country; and from bases onto ships.


Pay was normal Royal Navy (RN) rates. On joining merchant ships, we signed on with the crew at I believe 1/- (one shilling) per week (it may have been per month). We had to sign on in case of capture as if not we would have been in breech of war regulations and could have been in a sticky position.

At end of each trip we signed off and, after the RN Officer had been on board to inspect guns etc. and ensured no problems, allowed on leave and, unless taken off the ship, back on board awaiting signing on again for next trip.


Whilst on board, watches at sea were set by the Captain: Four hours on/four hours off in so-called danger areas - Otherwise four on/eight off. Watches were generally on machine guns on bridge wings, and aft on an anti-submarine gun; generally we were left to our own devices.

We did gun drill once a week with the gun crew augmented by Merchant Navy crew. When in port we went ashore more or less as we liked, although always leaving one of the team on board. When we were abroad, money was subbed from the ship in the same way as the normal crew and repaid at the end of the trip. Pay was also made up with 3d a day clothing allowance and 3d a day in lieu of rum issue. I also think we got 6d a day so called 'DEMS pay' which may have been in part to pay for civilian clothing needed if we went ashore in neutral country.

Although the 3rd mate was nominally in charge, we were left to our own devices and watches were set as stated. We were mostly ignored by the Officers and did not have a lot of contact with the crew generally.

Alick Sangster's Ships

Port Dunedin

On Port Dunedin our quarters were aft - part of the after hold and next to the steering flat. The accommodation was reasonable for the times, with bunks for eight in all, though there were only six of us. We also had 'heads' on the port side, and a wash room and mess on the starboard side. We had the same food as the rest of the crew, brought from the galley.

Our armaments were Hotchkiss machine guns on the bridge wings and a Marlin gun on the monkey island. We also had a 12 pounder AA gun. This was mounted aft, just forward of the 4.7" anti sub gun, both located on top of the accommodation of the bosun, chippy and donkeyman.

Initially she was armed with a 4.7" anti-sub gun aft. Later with Army stores loaded for Australia, two Bofors guns were fixed midships on the main deck. These were manned by members of Maritime Artillery for the outward trip and taken off the ship in Sydney. The Bofors gun crew then stood watches alongside us naval crew. Also, though not part of the cargo, were rocket launchers on the boat deck which the Captain would not allow to be loaded as too dangerous to ship. We knew these contraptions as "Pig Troughs".
Port Dunedin
Port Dunedin - date and location not known. [28]


I signed on SS Donaghadee, a coaster of Kellys' of Belfast; she had an Irish crew of ten, plus me. I had the chart room under the bridge as my cabin. There were no watches and I mucked in and helped cook or steered relieving the A/B. We all ate from the same pot and it was very friendly. Pay was collected from the nearest base.

Armaments consisted of one rifle, one stripped Lewis gun (fired from the shoulder), and an Oerlikon located over the accommodation aft.
Donaghadee as Ballygarvey
Donaghadee - date and location not known. [28]


This ship from the Norwegian America Line had a "League of Nations" crew, plus four English gunners and two Norwegians. We had quarters on the boat deck with a wash room, heads and Mess room. There was a DEMS cabin and another for two Norwegians. We had very good relations with all the Officers and crew. The same food was served to both Captain and crew.

Watches were the same as on Port Dunedin and we were left alone to do our own work etc. A RN Officer would come on board in an English port to look at the guns etc. and then we would be allowed leave – signing on again for the next trip.

I found the print-out of the voyages of the Drammensfjord interesting. I joined it either end of May or beginning of June 1944 and was finally relieved in Bergen (I think) after the war was over. We sailed home to Leith on a Polish destroyer then waited for demob.
Drammensfjord - date and location not known. [5]

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