Of the war itself I have little to add. It is over and, like one's schooldays,
neatly defined by its dates. I served in ten ships, the largest
a 20,000-ton armed merchant cruiser in the South Atlantic...
Operations at different times took me as far south as the Antarctic
and as far north as Russia.
--Michael Richey, from the preface of Sailing Alone
Michael Richey (1917-2009), first director of the Royal Institute of Navigation (UK) in 1947 and founding editor of its prestigious Journal of Navigation in 1948, served in the Royal Navy throughout the whole of the Second World War, most of it at sea in the North Atlantic. For one extensive interlude he was in the South Atlantic. From there, as we read in the epigraph, he went really South—nearly as far south as polar explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton and his team—for a secret expedition on HMS Carnarvon Castle, the ship on which he served as Assistant Navigator (RNVR) between 1942-43 under Captain Edward Wollaston Kitson. This was Richey’s fifth ship, following a stint in the Free French Navy on the corvette, F. S. Roselys. Based in Freetown, Sierra Leone, they were offshore for significant stretches, with average trips at sea lasting a month or more.
By the end of the war, Richey had completed his specialist course at the shore-based Navigation School, HMS Dryad, and was appointed Navigator of ships involved in the D-Day landings at Normandy and the U-boat surrenders at Loch Eriboll. But what of his passage? How did he get there? What do we actually know of his wartime travels and what records of this did he leave, given censorship during wartime, the secrecy of positions, and the erratic nature of postal deliveries at sea?
Thanks first to the conservationist efforts of his mother Adelaide, and subsequently Georgetown University Library’s manuscripts librarian Nicholas Scheetz, there is now a considerable Richey archive lodged in the Booth Family Center for Special Collections, as part of its collections on British Catholic authors. After attending the Catholic boarding school Downside in Somerset, Richey had seriously considered a monastic vocation before going to artist Eric Gill’s printing press and lettering workshop at Pigotts in Buckinghamshire, where he apprenticed as a stone carver and letter cutter from 1936 to 1939. This highly formative period led to lifelong friendships with a literary and artistic circle that included Tom Burns, Harman Grisewood, René Hague, and David Jones, all of whom are also represented in the manuscript collections at Georgetown.
During the war, Richey wrote some first-rate letters from various ships and naval bases (as did his brother Paul, author of the classic book Fighter Pilot, A Personal Record of the Campaign in France, 1939-1940, first published anonymously, due to regulations at the time, in September 1941 by B. T. Batsford, and subsequently by Scribners three months later, in an edition which featured the author's name and a cover photograph by Cecil Beaton). Michael Richey also wrote superb first-hand accounts of two events: the sinking of his first ship HMS Goodwill and the expedition of HMS Carnarvon Castle. The first, “Sunk by a Mine,” having been refused by the British naval censors “on the grounds that it might ‘lower morale,’” was published overseas in The New York Times Magazine on May 11, 1941; it won him the first John Llewellyn Rhys Memorial Prize for Literature in 1942. The second, “A Taste of the Antarctic,” was written as a broadcast and read by (Sir) Ludovic Kennedy for the BBC. Kennedy became a well-known broadcaster after the war, and this was his first broadcast.
Post-war, Michael Richey became a legend for his singlehanded transatlantic sailing adventures in his famous little boat, Jester, which he bought in 1964 from Herbert “Blondie” Hasler, wartime hero and inventor of the first practical self-steering gear for yachts. He had signature postcards printed for his solo voyages: on the front, a blackand- white photograph of himself sailing the boat; on the back, the incomplete address in black type, “Yacht Jester at ______.”.
This centenary exhibition is a snapshot of one of the most distinguished British navigators of the twentieth century, and one of its most reluctant autobiographers. The epigraph has been taken from an unfinished work, Sailing Alone. The title was suggested to him by his great friend, the novelist Graham Greene, whose centenary Richey celebrated at Georgetown in 2004.
More information here
Navigating the War pdf