Neutrality WW2.

8th December 2008, 21:52
At the very end of WW2 I was 3rd Mate on a Brocklebank ship sailing alone down th Portuguese coast. We were doing all of 10 knots and overtaking a small Portuguese steamer. How did I know it was Portuguse? Easy - as was common amonmg neutrals they had a big flag painted on each side and a great big ensign on the after mast jackstaff.

As we passed close-to, I suddenly saw the chap on the bridge hurtle down the bridge ladder - run aft and climb the rigging until he was level with the ensign. He then hung off with one hand and pointed excitedly with the other at the ensign.

Iwondered what on earth he was up to and then glanced aft. On our poop we had a 4.7"gun and there was a gunner on duty there. On the gun there was the gunlayer's powerful telecsope welded to the gun. The bored gunner had decided to have a closer look at this little ship and swivelled the gun around to point at it. The chap on the Portugiese ship had seen this and thought we were going to blast him to smithereens !!

Another memory:
We had called at Gib to drop off stores for our sister ship the MASHUD which had been limpet mined by Italian frogmen. A Commodore Brodie had chosen our ship to take over from an US Commodore of a convoy entering the straits from the US. Imagine the scene - 50 ships steaming past and half a dozen ships joining from Gib. Lots of signalling and manauvering. Into the middle of this chaos came a small Spanish ship of about 1000 tons or so with big flags painted on its side etc, It was deliberatley getting in the way. Copmmodore Brodie got his signaller to contact the RN escrts which were dashing about.
Two destroyers creamed across and went alongside the Spaniard - one on each side. We could see sailors leaping aboard. I quick time they were made fast and went full ahead taking this little ship faster than it had ever gone. They took it miles away from the convoy and came creaming back with "bones in their teeth".
So much for neutrality.

Another memory
Nine months later - in a convoy going westwards through Gib Straits. We had joined it from Taranto in Italy and destined for the States. Over a couple of days the convoy had been formed into just 2 columns with the outer columns dropping back and forming behind the inner one. A grand sight to see two colmns strctching from horizon to horizon.e The convoy speed was adjusted so that we went through the Straits at night. On the 12 to 4 where I was on watch with the 2nd Mate and with the master on the bridge and all a bit tense there was suddenly a big searchight shining up and down the ships from Tarifa. This went on for a little while and then an RN cruiser sailed into the beam of light. All its heavy guns suddenly elevated and swung around to aim right into the beam.
The light suddenly went off. It never came on again.
I imagine the RN would have blasted it to hell if it hadn't gone out .

8th December 2008, 22:11
Keep them coming Sidsal the recalls and stories from the likes of you who served in the MM during WW2 are in the real realms of gold.
I suggest that you and others of this generation be encouraged to record all you can on SN as it is irreplaceable history.
I would even go as far as to suggest to the moderators that they set up a forum specifically for WW2 to capture these stories in one place.



8th December 2008, 22:21
I started my sea career after WW2, some of the men I sailed with had been POWs others had experienced the war, I could never get any of them to open up and talk about the war.
It is really great to read your posts and get first hand knowledge of some of the things that happened during that sad time in our history.
Please keep posting your experiences.

Regards Robert

8th December 2008, 23:23
"bones in their teeth".

it has been years and years since i last heard this................:)

stan mayes
8th December 2008, 23:47
Bob and Robert you have joined the queue in asking WW2 seamen to tell of their experiences..
I cannot understand why there is only an occasional posting from those men..
We have been trying for many years to gain recognition for the merchant navy so why take your stories to the grave with you?
We all want to hear of them and so will your grandchildren!!
Most of my war experiences are recorded in this wonderful site in 'WW2 Convoys' - not to portray myself in heroics -all wartime seamen had experiences and all were heroes..
Our losses were horrific - one in three merchant seamen lost their lives doing their duty and a job that they loved.
So again I ask you lads who sailed the ships during hostilities to let us know of it.. you deserve recognition!!

8th December 2008, 23:57
It was only recently that I came across the post "The Clouds begin to Gather" which is a wonderful insight into the daily routines of a WW2 Merchant Mariner..
Lets hope that we can encourage more and, as I previously said, group them in their own forum


9th December 2008, 17:10
Great to have the response from you chaps about WW2 memories. I can recall those times with accuracy but I can't remember what I did last week !!
(Ask 'er indoors !)
Of course at 17 years of age it was a great big adventure with no real appreciation of danger.

9th December 2008, 17:38
I think perhaps some of the memories these men had are so painful that they are trying to forget. I always when the subject regarding the war arises remind people that the soldier would have been able to fight without the men of the MN, similarly this country would have been starved in to submission if it was not for the men sailing under the Red Duster.
Regards Robert

Hugh Ferguson
9th December 2008, 20:04
I started my sea career after WW2, some of the men I sailed with had been POWs others had experienced the war, I could never get any of them to open up and talk about the war.
It is really great to read your posts and get first hand knowledge of some of the things that happened during that sad time in our history.
Please keep posting your experiences.

Regards Robert

"I could never get any of them to open up and talk about the war". This experience is so common; it's almost as if it had become taboo.
On the day I arrived in Aden to take up my piloting career in 1955, I was met off the Strathmore by Graham Allen who was ex Blue Funnel and was now an Aden pilot. As I was single at that time, and would consequently not be entitled to a pilot's flat or bungalow, Graham, who had been on U.K. leave and was awaiting the arrival of his wife and small son, they having been delayed from returning with him to Aden, offered to put me up.
So, I was only too glad to accept that offer which extended for three months. During that time neither of us exchanged anything whatsoever about our war-time experiences, and it wasn't until I had left Aden a couple of years later that I learned anything of his! And that occurred when I purchased a copy of Roskill's, A Merchant Fleet in War. In that book there are three pages recounting Graham's experiences after the sinking in mid- Atlantic of the Blue Funnel, Rhexenor by U217 when Graham found himself being taken aboard the U.Boat in which, during the three weeks he was aboard, he spent his 21st birthday!
For myself, I always refer to my couple of years at sea in the war as my miss-spent youth; an expression that conveys a completely different meaning these days! I feel quite envious about it occasionally but I do have an Atlantic Star, an Italy Star and a Burma Star to show for it, and no scars! You do need a bit of luck in this life which is something that Graham missed out on. Graham is still with us and is at present recovering from a heart attack.

9th December 2008, 20:49
Dear Hugh Ferguson
Did you know Owen John Edwards who was a pilot in Aden?. He was there when the Brits were turfed out. He was ex Blue Star. He was a next door neighbour and a year or 2 younger than me ( I am 82). The only reason he went to sea was when he saw me in my brass buttons and went on the Conway at the very end of WW2. Poor chap died a young man. He was a maths teacher in Bangor N Wales and separated from his wife. Quite tragic really.
I too had a charmed war but still got the Atlantic, Italy and Burma Stars like you.
Gave up the sea in 1950 with a Mate's ticket - cloud on lung. I've had a varied career ashore but I have been very fortunate insofar as my nephew was a skipper of posh yachts and I have circumnavigated under sail with him in the 70's - 80's and included 5 months on a refit in NZ.
God has been good to me, my word !

stan mayes
9th December 2008, 21:01
An explanation may be that in the years following the end of the war there were few individual incidents to talk of by seamen - as all had experiences and they were seldom mentioned in general conversation.
In later years there were less of us and then came the questions..
'Oh,you were in the Merchant Navy - how was it?'
That is if they knew of the Merchant Navy!!

Hugh Ferguson
9th December 2008, 21:18
Dear Sid, No, I didn't know O.J.Edwards because I left for other pastures in Nov.1956. But Graham would still have been there: I'll ask him next time we have a chat. All the best, Hugh.

9th December 2008, 21:50
A late American philosopher - Thoreau said once - "Most men lead lives of quiet desparation" - and that pretty well sums me up. The only way I cope is by looking at the funny side of life. One would go mad with all the bad news which surrounds us if one couldn't see the funny side of life.
Here's another little snippet.
In 1944 when I was apprentice on Brocklebank's old MAIHAR ( 1917 vintage) we loaded acargo of coal at Lourenco Marques in Portuguese East Africa ( now called Maputo). We sailed in a small convoy of similar old ships. I remember there was a Court Line tramp and a Ropner's and Larrinaga. We called in Mombasa for fuel - then Aden for orders - then Suez. On going through the canal we were told we were headed for Sicily and that we were to be the Commodore ship ( the master Bill Jeans being the Commodore). As we passed slowly through Port Said, naval launches came alongside from which a barrage balloon flew. They transferred one to each ship as she passed and these were made fast to the mainmast. In all there were about nine ships so , as dusk fell this little convoy, escorted by two or three small corvettes or destroyers ( I forget which) sailed out into the Meddy towards Sicily. I think it took about four days and in that time the balloons lost air and started to collapse. In the fresh breeze they started to give an aerobatic display, diving and weaving about, rising upwards and shooting down. Eventually they would drop down, bounce on the sea and shoot up again. It was most entertaining to see this until one broke loose and rose up and up and up, expanding in the rareified air. Then it would burst and the bundle of fabric would come tumbling down into the sea. all the balloons went this way.
On the last night before getting to Sicily ,Captain Bill Jeans hoisted a flag signal which urged all ships to observe a strict blackout. It was a cloudy moonless night. The gunners kept watch at various points and one station was on the boat deck where there was a Lewis gun. Also on the boat deck was a device for shooting up a rocket flare. That is, the rocket would shoot skywards, a parachute would open and a flare would descend slowly illuninating the sea all around. This device could be operated by means of a lever from the bridge ,which by wire and pulleys would set off the rocket.
Unfortunately , at the change of watch at midnight, the gunner going on duty in the dark, tripped across the wire and set off the rocket.
The litte convoy was well and truly lit. Captain Jeans was beside himself. He clasped his hands over his head and did a little dance of frustration about the bridge wing.
Fortunately there were no subs about and the flare dropped into the sea and it was dark again.
After Catania we went to Taranto in the heel of Italy where much of the Italian fleet was sunk at its moorings after the Fleet Air Arm attack - a grand site.

stan mayes
9th December 2008, 23:05
Hello Sid -
An interesting memory from you and for me.
I was in Dallington Court at Lourenco Marques in 1946 and we loaded coal for Trieste and Venice.
Do you remember how the coal was loaded into the ship?
With us - it was a large cylinder on the quay and it was filled by many men,women and children bearing baskets of coal on their heads.
They ascended ladders and emptied the baskets into the cylinder and when full the cylinder was lifted by crane - suspended over a hold and emptied.It was a ten days job.
An account of the voyage is in SN Directory - Court Line Dallington Court..
More of your anecdotes please Sid..

10th December 2008, 11:05
Hello Sid -
An interesting memory from you and for me.
I was in Dallington Court at Lourenco Marques in 1946 and we loaded coal for Trieste and Venice.
Do you remember how the coal was loaded into the ship?
With us - it was a large cylinder on the quay and it was filled by many men,women and children bearing baskets of coal on their heads.
They ascended ladders and emptied the baskets into the cylinder and when full the cylinder was lifted by crane - suspended over a hold and emptied.It was a ten days job.
An account of the voyage is in SN Directory - Court Line Dallington Court..
More of your anecdotes please Sid..

Dear Stan
When we were there the coal was loaded by hoist. Big S African railway waggons were lifted in the hoist and tipped into the holds - big dust job !!
We anchored there for several days awaiting a berth and anchored next to us was the Italian liner Gerusalem. She was stranded there as she would be torpedoed if she left. It was quite stange to watch our enemies close to.
The British Consul came on board and gathered the crew together and warned us not to go certain bars which he named because German spies were known to operate. Of course the lads made a note of these and made a bee-line for them.
We went to a cinema where the Gaumont British News was shown and there was footage of us blasting the Germans to bits. Looking around there were all sorts of glum faces glowering at us. The Alfred Holt ship Sarpedon was there and a chap EHP Williams was an apprentice on her. As she was likely to go home before us I asked him to take a letter to my parents and post it when he got home. I wrote a full account of all my voyage and when I got home months later I asked my mother if she had had the letter. She produced an envelope with lots of strips of paper in it which were meaningless. Obviously the censor had got hold of it and cut out nearly everything.
The Portuguese police were very cruel and I saw them beat up some American seamen who were tiddly. One night we went to a casino and found a young DEMS gunner missing. We found him in a dark alley alongside being assaulted by 2 Germans who were trying to extract info from him. We intervened and the police arrived and chased us back to the ship. I remember us hurtling across a great big flower bed on a roundabout near the docks and hurling clods at them. We barged past the dock guards and got aboard. We were not able to go ashore after that and a couple of police would patrol alongside, with their truncheons dangling. As we went along the deck we would hurl lumps of coal at them !!
Happy days !

10th December 2008, 13:23
Hi Sidsal,
It was interesting reading your article on WW2 neutrality.You say the Mashud was damaged by Italian frogmen with a limpet mine, this was a common occurence during the war.These italian frogmen came on human torpedoes (human Charriots) all the way from the nearby Spanish port of Algeciras. There in Algeciras (neutral) a half sunken Italian oil tanker was where these very brave frog men used to leave from.This vessel was equipped with workshops etc. Allied vessels anchored in thr Bay of Gibraltar were prey from the Italians ,the Royal Navy increased its patrols in the bay and anti submarine steel nets were placed in both Gibraltar harbour entrances to protect shipping inside the Gibraltar harbour.The RN Comander in charge of dealing with the Italians was called Comander Crab, My late father used to work close to the boom defence in GIbraltar and he witnessed the capture of one of the charriots which I believe is held at the Imperial war museum in London.I cannot remember in my information that the vessel was blown up or the damage that was caused to these frogmen was so great that no more operations were carried out.

This Cmdr Crab after the war, was based in Portsmouth where the then Soviet navy payed a courtesy visit to UK, it appears he was carrying out an underwater dive of the soviet warship and never came up alive.

There was a film made of the Italian frogmen and the tremendous work carried out in Gib to protect shipping which gathered here for convoys to the Med or Atlantic bearing in mind that the invasion of North Africa took place from this famous Rock.
Regards San francisco

10th December 2008, 13:52
I remember the barrage balloons at Harwich during the war years, some on ships others shore based. Whenever there was a thunderstorm some would get struck by lightening and pieces of fabric all over the streets. Many pf the women (my mother included ) used to pick them up and make shopping bags out of them, recycling before Blair or Brown were born.
This perhaps, was the more humorous side of war.
I also remember men from the RN and MN that were regulars at my parents public house, they would suddenly stop coming and then we hear of another ship lost.
School assembly was often a tearful time as we asked to say prayers for one of the pupils (not a mistake) as his or her mother had had the dreaded telegram.
I can only presume for Stan and Sid there were lighter moments in order to keep their sanity and keep going to do the job without which we would all have starved, their bravery knows no bounds.
From accounts written in books by men that were actually there, from Stan and Sid and Hugh sharing their experiences with us on SN, we know this country owes them one helluva debt of gratitude.

Regards Robert

10th December 2008, 16:45
San Fransisco
Yes - it was the Italian tanker OLTERRA that was the mother ship for the frogmen at Algeciras. I saw her burnt out hulk in Suez after the war, SShe was only small - about 4K tons I should think. When we were at Gib there was an MTB patrolling the harbour 24/7 dropping miature depth charges. Gib was a havinbg place then. I have a memory which will last forever of going ashore and having a mixed grill with 2 EGGS - the first decent meal for years.
In one of the bars there was a small mezzanine floor where a small orchestra played - it included a couple of women. There was barbed wire across it to keep the drunken matelots off. There was a small ferry type vessel which delivered crews back on board ships and we had a derrick rigged and a cargo net> When it came alongside the passed-out lads were placed in the net and hoisted aboard.
Happy days
PS I don't know whether it's true but I heard that when they realised what was afoot the RN sped over to Algeciras and stormed the Olterra and towed her over to Gib. The Spaniards were very pro-German then.
PPS Commander Crab was an old Conway chap like me !

10th December 2008, 16:57
Interesting your experiences with barrage balloons !
I'm afraid it is embarassing to be thought of as a hero as nothing is further from the truth. I had a wonderfully interesting time with hardly a shot fired in anger. The convoys were a great thing - so many interesting moments on watch - so much to see. And when we got to places there were usually lots of wrecks and twisted metal. After the war it became so boring sailing alone. I have been on a few cruises and it seems even more boring now what with separation lanes keeping passing ships miles apart.
I am, also of the view that this instant contact with mobile phones is a mixed blessing.
When I was in Brocks just after the war I was 3rd Mate in Colombo and we sailed at about 5pm. I was on watch 8 to 12 as we headed south round Dondra head for Calcutta. No gyro then , so took a star bearing to work out the error on the magnetic compass. When I consulted the Nautical Almanac I realised it was my 21st birthday. I had forgotten all about it and had no mail at Colombo which was not unusual. I cringe a bit at the big fuss made nowadays on 21st's.
Miserable old sod , aren't I ?

10th December 2008, 17:34
You certainly have a very good memory, yes it was the Olterra, Algeciras then was full of German spies.The bar you mentioned could have been either the old Trocadero or Universal. The film that covered the operations of the Olterra was titled "The silent enemy".
Kind regards San Francisco

Hugh Ferguson
10th December 2008, 18:36
Sid, Reference your enquiry about Owen John Edwards:- Dugie McNab (an SN member) e.mailed me this, "Yes, I knew John Edwards. He had come (to Aden) about two years ahead of me and I rode with him many times during my training. One of my early impressions was berthing a Portuguese frigate at No.1 head in, and John's charm trying to con a bottle of Portuguese wine from the skipper. He left about a year or two before independence in Oct.1967. He had a nice wife, Margaret, and two children and I had heard that they were divorced a few years later, which came as a surprise to us".

10th December 2008, 18:45
Thanksfor info !
I met his wife to and she was a nice woman - from Eccles near Manchester. Shame they split up.

stan mayes
10th December 2008, 18:51
At Gib the RFA tanker Denbydale was heavily damaged by a limpet mine placed by Italian submarine Scire on 19.9.1941...she was on the Detached Mole and broke her back..
Mid 1944 my pal Danny Griffin and other seamen were sent to Gib to sign on her...Only on arrival did they find that she was a fuelling hulk..
They returned home from Gib 14 months later.

Hugh Ferguson
10th December 2008, 22:19
I've succeeded in resurrecting the only photograph I possess of my time at sea during the war. We had just arrived in Calcutta in March 1945 and had been away 8 months already. I had the photo taken to send home in order to reassure my folks that I was still alive and recovered, more or less, from a couple of weeks in hospital suffering from Bacillary dysentry.
I had alarmed my folks in my previous letter having told them that we were having a new funnel fitted. They immediately imagined that the ship had been damaged by attack. That was not the case. What was needed was a casing around the existing funnel to get better ventilation in the stokehold.
We, in the Empire Capulet had not made a good start to what was to be our next ten months in the Bay of Bengal; our fridge had broken down and food in Bengal was difficult after the famine of 1945. We were a Glen Line managed Ministry of War Transport ship and as such were not entitled to any service victuals. This got so bad that in one of our three times to Rangoon we anchored near a supply ship (just up from Australia) and the old man sent the Chief Steward, Jack Hearst, and us middies away in a boat to bum some of the basics, flour and sugar!
The bad food and the climate combined to keep us all in a poor state of health, and on one of our returns from Rangoon the old man had a doctor on board to see what could be done about it. No blood tests were done but he advised a course of injections of vitamin B. At this stage of the voyage tempers and morale were beginning to fray and I remember the chief Steward (in whose room this medication took place) saying to me, "why don't you die"). He had had enough as indeed we all had. I don't hold it against him: he had been in the ship throughout the Normandy landings (when I joined her in Newport just after that, she had damage which we had repaired in St.John N.B.) and he was going to remain in her until they arrived back in Liverpool in October 1946!!
I then got myself into hot water swearing at the captain. The occasion was in the late evening of stinking hot day in Calcutta and we were loading fresh water in No.3 deep tanks. There had been a problem and I had to call out the Chinese carpenter who had been smoking dope which didn't help the situation. The old man getting a breath of air leaned over his rail and offered his advice-I exploded and very ill-advisedly shouted back at him, "what the bloody hell do you think we're trying to do!" Next morning I was courts-martialled and condemned to various punishments to which the chief officer, Geoffrey Drake, took a compassionate view as he didn't like the captain either.
And so our wretched existance continued but to nothing like the degree the soldiers of the 14th Army, (whom we often came into contact with) suffered, infinitely more dangerous and uncomfortable than ours was.
At the time I can remember accepting our lot more or less as it was and it is only in later years that I recall remembering it now as much worse than we thought of it then. My old school and shipmate pal, Peter Edwards, wrote to me some 14 years ago-a couple of years before he died in Canada in 1996-saying, it was a good job we had been young and resilient. It sure was!

11th December 2008, 18:53
What a miserable time you had ! Seafaring, I believe, consists of extremes - extremes of pleasure and extremes of misery. I believe Calcutta and Rangoon were pretty shitty places to be in anyway.
Something like flying. There is a saying about flying - " Far better to be down here wishing you were up there - than being up there wishing you were down here" !!
Happy days nevertheless !

Hugh Ferguson
11th December 2008, 22:33
Sid, Your piece about flyers wishing they were "up", and when they were up, wishing they were down! In this village where I live in Cornwall there have resided many who had testing times during the war. Two of them, one still living, were aboard the carriers, Indomitable and Illustrious in Pedestal Convoy. The one in the Illustrious was a flyer and had previously been in the PQ 17 Convoy in the previous month, July 1942. He was a Scot and had been the village schoolmaster. He died some few years ago but not before he had received his medal from the Russians. I so well remember his recounting his feelings as they witnessed the Eagle torpedoed and sinking, and then the Indomitable being bombed: he and his fellow pilots couldn't wait to get airborne as it appeared to be "safer up there"!
The Indomitable man was an aircraftman and we have a chat from time to time. Others who have lived here but have since died were soldiers; one had been a prisoner on the "Death Railway" in Burma and the other had an extraordinary escape from capture in Singapore, ending up in Ceylon in a commandeered local sailing craft from the west coast of Sumatra. Now, he was a guy who loved to recount his story to anyone who would listen. Maybe soldiers differ from sailors, who knows! Most of us only heard the P.O.W's story at his funeral when an officer from his regiment gave his eulogy.
'Twas an extraordinary era in which to have been living (or dieing) in.

11th December 2008, 23:50
I never heard my uncle talk of his times during the war and knew nothing of it until after he died I was given a copy of his memoires - posted on SN as "1939, The clouds begin to gather". They were an eye opener for me, but I normally only met him as family, and the rest of the family had all gone through their own version of the conflict. On the other side of the family 2 of my father's sisters became nurses during the war and were in the first wave to arrive at Belsen. That only came to light when one died a couple of years ago and a local (to Liverpool) paper published an account.
The war was over it seems and it was a closed book.

12th December 2008, 11:50
Old soldiers and seamen.

The reluctance of people to talk of their wartime experiences brings to mind the only two old soldiers that I was ever close to.
One my Uncle Bill, born in South Wales in 1900, went down the Mountain Ash Deep Duffryn pit at 12 years of age and in 1917 volunteered for the British Army at a time when maturity overlooked age and so to the battle of the Somme.
My mother told me his story as she knew it many times although Bill never mentioned those years and it was not until he was an old man that I ventured to ask him what those times were like. His really put me in my place when he said;

“Son, I would sooner go back to the trenches than go back down that pit”.

End of conversation.

My partner Pam’s father Vic also served in the NZ Otago Regiment during WW1 and was at both the battle of the Somme and at Passchendaele as a sniper until he was wounded and invalided out to an English military hospital.
Again a man of few or no words about those days but there was a time when we called round to his home during Auckland’s winter and after we had had three or four days of cold clammy weather with continuous heavy rain. He was over 90 then and after I greeted him and remarked about the weather he sat in his chair gazed out the window and said “It reminds me of Passchendaele”
I said “does it?” trying to coax more comment but he was silent and I am sure that there was a small tear in his eye.

After he died at age 94 there was a book published in 2000 called “Massacre at Passchendaele- The New Zealand Story” by Glyn Harper in which was entered a portion of an interview with Pam’s father and after a lot of enquiry and proving who we were we gained access to the records of the Alexander Turnbull Library, the official NZ archives, and were able to obtain a copy of a tape recording of an interview with Vic by a military historian which was carried out only a couple of years before he died.

This astounded the family as not a soul knew about it but he was apparently approached at one of his Probus Club meetings and being a military request he no doubt felt obliged to cooperate.
The tape consists of tactful questions and rather short worded matter of fact responses from Vic about the battle fields and the occasional quavering voice demonstrates the emotional stress of the occasion.

The tape is at present in the care of Pam’s son in NZ but I must get a copy and put it on paper

The only other privileged occasion that I have had with a true war veteran is contained in my thread
Posted on Ships Nostalgia on 16/12/07 and titled “WW2 Ship- History of MV Hauraki Capture.”
All about Bill the Marine Engineer.


12th December 2008, 13:18
My late father served 24 years in the British army, joining up at 17 years of age in the First World War, we used to hear of his adventures in India and other stories of his army life. Ask him about the First World War, he used to lose his temper and clam up.
In the small city where I live now we have a survivour of the First World War, Harry Patch, he is now 110 years old, it is only in the last five years or so that he has spoken about the war. I suppose that their memories of comrades being killed is to painful to discuss. When Harry has been interviewed his advice has always been do not join the forces to be used by politicians only to be dumped when you are no longer needed.

Regards Robert

12th December 2008, 14:18
Gentlemen this thread is possibly one of the most interesting that we have had on site. Thank you.

12th December 2008, 16:00
A good few years ago I asked one of my Uncles about his time in the War (WW2). He was in the Irish Guards. He never said a word, until one night in our local pub, and after a few beers he spoke about an incident that really affected him.

It was how his best mate had been badly wounded and how he begged my Uncle to put him out of his misery. This he couldn't do. A few minutes later one of his Officers came and ordered my Uncle to continue on his way. After a few minutes he heard a solitary shot come from behind him.

As he was telling me this, his eyes just glazed over and he was speaking as though he wasn't with me.

After telling me this, my Uncle turned round to me and with his face creased in pain and anger told me NEVER to ask him about the bl**dy War again.

I never did.

Perhaps some things are best left unsaid.

stan mayes
12th December 2008, 17:20
Sadly too many untold stories of bravery have already gone to the grave.
On 25 August 1942 my ship Viking Star was sunk by three torpedoes from
U 155 - we were 180 miles SW of Feetown.
Captain Mills and six crew were killed.
Three of her four lifeboats were damaged by explosions and myself and 35 others managed to launch the remaining boat.
Other survivors had launched and boarded rafts.
We stayed with the rafts for two days and then decided to try and make land and have help sent to them.
The capacity of the boat was 28 and we were overloaded with only 14 inches freeboard.
Before setting sail I witnessed a very heroic act by AB J.Daintith of Liverpool.
He exchanged his relatively safe place in the boat with injured DEMS gunner Hancock on a semi submerged raft knowing he had less chance of survival in the shark infested seas - or none at all...
We made the coast of Sierra Leone -capsized in heavy surf and then some days walking through jungle until civilization at Sherbro.
We were escorted by a native missionary and natives - sleeping overnight in mud huts...
The survivors on the rafts suffered terrible agonies of salt water boils and sunburn for 12 days until they were capsized in surf on the coast of Liberia.
Sadly DEMS gunner Boardman was killed..
If I had not told of this story a few years ago - Roy,the son of Jim Daintith would never have known of the heroism and bravery of his father.

12th December 2008, 17:22
Great thread - please keep it going.

My old man was on the Artic Convoys in WWII (I can get the details if anyone is interested) but really never said anything about his experiences - as is the way of those that have been there!

Both my grandfathers however served in WWI and as a family we knew very little of what they had done. So, we persuaded the OM to write his memoires for the his grandchildren.

The most poingant thing I remember is that he describes how his relief came onto the bridge of the destroyer he was on and wished him a Happy Christmas. My OM's birthday was 24/12. All he said in his book to the family was "I realised I was 21"!

And what about his son? Well at the age of 21 I was pissing it up thanks to him! My younger brother and sister by the way feel the same. It was the most humbling thing I have ever read and made me think very hard about my "service" career with the RN/RNR.

After the Falklands episode I was out for a beer or three with one of my CPOs at the Southampton Boat Show (yes I did try to work with my Senior Rates) and we had seen a BBC film of the QE2 arriving home. CPO basically broke down in tears. He said that what he had seen in the Falklands would stay with him - but he could not tell his family as it would worry them, he could not tell non RN guys in the pub because nobody would understand and he could not tell his mess mates as everyone just got on with their lot and it was not spoken about so everyting was "bottled up" (this was in the 1980s).

Did my Old Man feel like the CPO? How many guys really suffered? What was the real effect on people after WWII? I have met the guys from the Russian Convoy Club and they seem perfectly happy to talk to their mates in the club but how many of these guys simply could not begin to describe what they had been through to their families?

Thankfully we seem to be a bit more switched on these days, but I have total respect for people like my OM and Sid who were there, did the job, had a laugh while doing it and were able to lead normal lives afterwords.


12th December 2008, 19:17
Stan Mayes exerienced real hardship in WW2. I experienced onlypleasure and excitment with no hardships whatsoever. Guess it's the "luck of the draw".
You are lucky to have survived such a horrible sinking, Stan.
God bless !

Roger Griffiths
12th December 2008, 20:23
Gentlemen this thread is possibly one of the most interesting that we have had on site. Thank you.

I most heartedly agree. Hopefully our moderation team will consider giving the subject of WW 2 seaman's memories, both Navy and Mercantile marine, a category of its own. I know that the BBC's "Peoples War" was over subscribed so there are lots of untold stories out there. I believe its important that these personal experiences are recorded for the sake of history.Time is fast running out.

To those who served. I salute you all.


12th December 2008, 20:32
How's this for a name - Admiral The Rt Hon Sir Reginald Aylmer Ranfurly Plunkett Ernle Earl Drax KcB, Dso etc etc etc.
Believe it or not he was Commodore of a convoy which crossed from the USA to the UK , arriving at Liverpool on D Day 1944.. The convoy was then , I believe, the largest to have crossed the Atlantic and consisted of 105 ships ranging from tugs to liners. There were 3 Woolworth carriers - converted tankers which carries 3 or 4 Swordfish aircraft.
I was apprentice on Brocklebank's MAIHAR on this trip and it was a most interesting experience. Leaving Philadelphia we joined up with the convoy which emerged from various US ports - NY, Boston, Portland etc and it made its way eastwards. At dawn and dusk, planes would take off and patrol around looking for U. boats. When we got to the Grand Banks we ran into thick fog; ships trailed a device behind them which threw up a column of water which the ship astern could follow. When I was on watch on the port wing of the bridge I suddenly espied a small rowing boat with one man sitting in it. It was only yards from us and we soon passed on and left him behind in the murk. He was in a "dorry" belonging to a mother schooner which came from Portugal apparently and fished the Grand Banks. They had nests of these little boats and they line fished. Planes had taken off before we entered the fog and as dusk fell their carriers fired tracers verticaly upwards, presumably to indicate to the planes where the convoy was. Next day when the fog cleared the planes were missing. I have wondered whether they made Newfoundland or whether they just flew on until their fuel ran out.
During the voyage we saw several accidents as planes landed. One skidded over the side whilst another ran into the small control tower. Each carrier, when operating aircraft had a small recuse ship close behind them. One was from the Dundee, Perth and London Shipping Company which operated on teh east coast pre war. It had a derick rigged and the plane which went over the side was quickly hoisted aboard it.
The weather was calm all the way. However the Admiral made a right "pigs ear" of things when we were hundreds of miles from home. The normal procedure was for the commodore ship to hoist flag signals which said , for instance - "Ships for the east coast, fall back and proceed separately" - or such thing. The ships concerned would drop back and form a sub section and depart. This would take several hours and when completed , another signal would go up -" Ships for the Bristo; Channel - etc etc".
The Admiral however hoisted these signals with barely an hour between them , resulting in the sea, as far as the eye could see full of ships milling about and getting in each other's way, hooting and turning to avoid collison.
After a while the Commodore hoisted a signal to re-form the convoy but by that time the faster ships had legged it for home and turned a blind eye to the signal.
If U-boats had been about they would have had a field day.
Of course I think war, like so many other activities can be a series of cock-ups and this has stayed in my memory as prime example.

Steve Woodward
12th December 2008, 20:43
Interesting recollection Sidsal, there is an excellent book called the 'Fighting Commodores' by Alan Burn, about the convoy commanders of WW2.
There is a brief mention of Admiral Plunkett Ernle Earl Drax

stan mayes
12th December 2008, 20:48
Thankyou Sid -
I was only 21 then - my old body could not stand up to it nowadays...
Your posting of barrage balloons reminded me of Winha.
Winha was an old tramp built 1904 and flying the flag of Finland at time she was seized...Finland was an ally of Germany.
MOWT -she was managed by Raeburn & Verel Monarch Line -Captain Baird.
I joined her on 3 Nov 1942 and in West India Docks London we loaded Army stores for the 8th Army in would have been via the Cape...
In dock I saw the Fort Pelly - the first ship of Fort Class I had seen..
Off Southend we anchored and loaded munitions and later sailed up East Coast in a convoy..forming up we were attacked by Stuka aircraft - two ships damaged two aircraft destroyed..
Passing off Harwich one of the ships boilers collapsed so we diverted into Harwich for repairs.
A few days later we sailed but only managing 4 knots and too slow for convoy we were given an Armed Trawler William Cale as escort.
Entering a NE gale off Norfolk coast we made no headway so anchored in Yarmouth Roads..
We had a barrage balloon and during the night we heard a loud noise and found that the weight of the balloon wire had carried away the wooden had crashed down and demolished 4 Army trucks stowed on deck.
When the gale abated we were under way again and later off the Humber we were attacked by a lone Stuka - four bombs exploded in the water close by and the superstructure was damaged..
During the hours of darkness we were off the Yorkshire coast and just before midnight we were in collision with our escort...I have always believed that she sank with a loss of life but research has only shown a collision so I am still hoping to get more details..
With so much damage to boilers, bomb damage and a large gash in ships side at No 2 we were paid off on 14 Dec 1942 in South Shields..
So due to the mishaps of Winha I had Christmas 1942 at home with my parents in Grays instead of being in a slow convoy somewhere in the Western Ocean...
I saw Winha again off Normandy beach heads when she arrived early June 1944 and was scuttled with many other old ships to form a breakwater during the construction of Mulberry Harbour....
Regards Stan

12th December 2008, 21:52
Wot a ship the Winha was !! You had a very exciting war, my word. Your descriptionof thew barrage balloon carrying awway the tipmast is quite hilarious but I bet it was anything but at the time. Brocks had soem old hulk too that was sunk as a breakwater in Nomrandy - Empire something or other.
The east coast route was quite torupous wasn't it - buoys all the way. In Brosks we used to carry a north Sea pilot for several years after the war when we sailed up to Dundee where they had a regular run with jute and gunny !

12th December 2008, 22:02
Apologies for the atrocious spelling. I suffer from keyboard dislexia !
I sailed once with a second mate who murdered the English language.. When we were in Eastham docks he would ask - "Are you coming up to the metrollops tonight , Sid "? - meaning the West End ! He would say - " Don't be so obstropolous" instead of obstreporous !
Once it was my night aboard in the London docks and he went ashore on his own. Late on he came back onboard clutching his testicles and moaning away.. I helped him bathe them in cold water - they were very swollen.
Eventually he told me what happened. He had met a lady in the pub and after imbibing a lot of ale they departed to the local park where she stood with her back to a tree. He dropped his pants and was about to enter the pearly gates when his feet slipped on wet roots ( it had been raining) and his legs spreadagled and he landed on his testicles - hence the swelling. I could not but laugh when he said he was bent double, writhing in agony whilst the lady just stood there looking at him !

Hugh MacLean
13th December 2008, 12:43
I agree this thread is very interesting and I would be happy to see it held in a category of its own.

I am one of those who had to research my own father's story after his death. I am sure he would have been happy to speak to me about it if only I asked and I very much regret not doing so despite us having so much in common.

So to the Veterans on this site, please, if you wish to do so, continue to post your memories and be aware that we all appreciate your input.

Regards and thanks

Hugh Ferguson
13th December 2008, 16:19
Prior to the ten months keeping the 14th Army in Burma supplied with the necessities of warfare, we, in the Empire Capulet, had loaded a more than full cargo of similar, for Ancona in North East of Italy. That was about as far as the advance had got by December 1944.
Ancona had previously fallen to the British and Canadian forces, but had been retaken by German forces and consequently was in an advanced state of destruction. Discharge of the entire cargo was done by British soldiers (probably of the Pioneer Corp) and it not only consisted of war materials but there was good stock of Christmas goodies for the Tommies many of whom had previously been confronting Rommel's Africa corp in the Western Desert (the D.Day Dodgers).
Shortly after we arrived the Navy escorted in a German Hospital ship for examination. It was strange finding ourselves berthed next to a ship flying the Swastika. Another unexpected happening occurred as I ventured ashore for the first time in a while and had not gone far when I heard the sound of marching boots and, would you believe, around the corner of a ruined building marched a company of armed Italian soldiers!!
Later that same day we went to a Garrison Theatre performance which I remember as being extremely bawdy-I wondered if Harry Secombe had been one of the performers.
We were over-flown a few times by the Luftwaffe but our guns stayed silent. When we left we went lone ship with dimmed sidelights, back again to St John N.B. for another load of god only knows what.

13th December 2008, 18:23
Hugh; What a good memory you have.
When we were in Taranto discharging coal the Royal Engineers were operating the railway engine etc and we apprentices used to have a trip with them on the footplate for a jolly.
The other thing I remember is going to a small opera house where there were Italian actors and ENSA people putting on a show. Down each side of the theatre there were boxes and the ones nearest the stage were twice the price of the others and we wondered why. It was because from them you could see into the wings of the stage where the dancing girls were changing.
One act needed no language skills. It consisted of a settee where a couple were snogging. The man had his overcoat on and there was a suitcase alongside him. He got up , waved and blew kisses and departed - stage left.
When he had gone a greasy haired Lothario emerged from the opposite side and started snogging with the wife. Then the original chap came back and chased to other off the stage. There were screams and shouts for a while and then silence and the rustling of paper.
Eventually the husband walked across the stage with a large parcel under his arm and with the shape of an upper torso. He went off to the left, reappeared and walked back across. He then appeared with another parcel, this time in the shape of a lower torso. The third time he walked across the stage carrying a small cigar shaped parcel dangling from a string from his hand- obviously the penis ! Tumultuous applause from the troops.
I recall also some elderly British ham actor reciting a parody of the poem
Exelsior. A couple of lines went :-
"The shades of night were falling fast
A great big Buik drove right past
Ex Chelsea *****
Ex Chelsa ***** "
We were berthed in the Mar Picolo - the inner harbour - accessed through a swing bridge. When we were finished discharhge after a week or more a large oil fuel barge came alongside. They must have put half the Italian navy on it - their fleet lay in the outer harbour - sunk by the Fleet Air Arm. There was a lot of gold braided officers shouting and gesticulating at the seamen. The oil pipe was hoisted aboard - we were flying light by then. The pipe bent sharply over the bulwark and when they started pumping the pipe fractured on this sharp bend, flew back spilling oil over the assembled Italians on the barge. The scene was like smething out of a comedy film. The poor chaps slid and fell on the slippery deck, their uniforms ruined.
I felt very sorry for them.
When we sailed we were to jon a convoy and leave it to load sand ballast at Casablanca before crossing to the USA. In the event we went light ship across to Philadelphia - but that is another story !

Hugh Ferguson
13th December 2008, 19:11
A book which I am sure would be of much interest to the followers of this thread is:- SURVIVED, by Anthony Smith. ISBN 0 9533225 0 5. I note two available in ABE books at 10 plus postage. The story is an immensely detailed account of Robert Tapscott & Roy Widdecombe who were the sole survivors from the Anglo Saxon. It was the initiatives of the author and Ted Milburn, son of Edward Milburn, Chief Engineer, that resulted in the recovery of the jolly boat in which the survivors drifted half-way across the Atlantic and landed them utterly exhausted on Eleuthera Is. in the Bahamas.
Widdicombe recovered first and when returning D.B.S. (Distressed British Seaman) in the Siamese Prince she was torpedoed with the loss of all hands. Tapscott never really recovered from his ordeal and would appear to have been a typical example of a man suffering from post traumatic stress disorder-he died aged 42.
The author, Anthony Smith, succeeded in tracing many relatives of the men lost in the Anglo Saxon, Norma Tapscott and Cynthia, widow of Roy Widdicombe.
The book is a truly remarkable story of what must be seen as a splendid example of journalistic investigation and research. Again, when the author interviewed Norma Tapscott, she said, "He never spoke about his time in the boat until less than a year before he died".

13th December 2008, 19:40
Hugh & Friends.
What a small world. Anthony Smith, the author wanted to replicate the lifeboat's drift and 2 years ago (aprox) he put an advert in the personal column of the Telegraph inviting applications from geriatrics to raft across the Atlantic with him from the Canaries to the Bahamas.
He had had a prototype raft made in Ozzy on a small scale, made from polythene gas pipes. I applied and met him in London and was accepted together with a Scottish retired surgeoan aged 86 and an Irishman in his 70's. So there would be an Englishman, Scotsman, Irishman and a Welshman.
He had about 180 applicants.
Unfortunately Anthony wasn't very organised and failed to get sponsorship. My nephew, a yachtmaster tried to help him - for instance there was the problem of getting the raft to the Canaries and disposing of it the other end if we made it. Then he became ill and the matter was shelved. He got in touch abiut 6 months ago saying he was going to have another go and would I still be on for it. I said Yes but then he said we should apear on the Richard and Judy Show on TV and I baulked at this because we had already had our pictures in the papers and I felt it would be naff to get publicity BEFORE the event.
I did write originally to Capt Warwick of the Queen Mary as he was an old Conway boy asking if the Queen Elizabeth could take a raft as she was sceduled to cruise to the Canaries and I knew she had a crane on her foredeck. He kindly replied and said he was sending my letter to the master of the QE2 but I heard nothing.
I have the book you mention, signed by him.
Shame the rafting didn't happen because I think it was eminently feasible as the Gulf Stream returns to the Carribean that way and the NE Trades would help us along. Also big gas pipes would enable good supplies of water etc. My idea was to build a deckhouse out of large oil storage tanks. The large size of raft could be a comfortable crossing.

14th December 2008, 12:04
There are a number of remarkable books available including:

Attack & Sink (Bernard Edwards)
The Convoy That Nearly Died (Henry Revely)
Sole Survivor (Ruthanne Lum McCunn)
Survivors (G.H. & R. Bennet)
No Longer Required (Bill Linskey)

.... to name a few.

To be honest I can't understand how these men repeatedly volunteered to do it trip after trip. What started as hobby researching these men has turned into a passion and at times anger at the lack of knowledge and respect shown by the general public as to the Merchant Navy. I have met and talked to many a veteran and some are more than willing to talk of their experiences and I have had the pleasure to meet Stan Mayes on several occasions at Tower Hill and he is a true inspiration and his memory is as clear today as what it was over 60 years ago when he discusses his war time experiences. I even had the pleasure to meet a WWII MN veteran at Tower Hill who also served during the Falklands War in 1982. Hows that for service.

As a young boy sailor myself crossing the North Atlantic in a force 10 was a daunting experience and was terrifying enough, without the thought of being torpedoed.

To me the saddest part of all this is, that 68 years after the end of WWII, we are still fighting to gain acknowledgement and acceptance for a great number of our war dead who have been omitted from official records.

Hugh Ferguson
14th December 2008, 13:29
Captain Peter Jackson had served, and been in a Blue Funnel ship sunk during W.W.2. He was master of the QE2 during the Falklands operation. He's still with us and living near Southampton.

stan mayes
14th December 2008, 13:35
Thankyou Billy - and it was my pleasure to meet you and my privelege to be able to continue our friendship..
The old seaman of WW2 and the Falklands was my pal Jim Thomas of Newton Abbot..
Jim served 42 years in the Merchant Navy and was Bosun of the large tanker Scottish Eagle at the Falklands.

14th December 2008, 14:07
To me the saddest part of all this is, that 68 years after the end of WWII, we are still fighting to gain acknowledgement and acceptance for a great number of our war dead who have been omitted from official records.

In the film "Dunkirk" there is a scene in a pub where the owner of an engineering company was talking about the 'Phoney War'. In the bar was a Merchant Seaman who quickly put this character in his place regarding the 'Phoney War'.

It seems that the MN has nearly always seen to be 'Out of sight, out of mind."

Probably as true today as it has always been.

A very sad state of affairs.

14th December 2008, 16:10
A friend of mine who is an oral historian was engaged in interviewing WW1 veterns for the IWM. he let me listen to a tape he had made with I think, the last survivor of the battle of Jutland. He was a middie on a destroyer that took a hit to the bridge. His description of the aftermath was surreal but believable. I can only recall certain bits but his description of the death of the commander has stayed with me. Pure Nelsonian. i must find out if anything was published from those tapes. My dad who was in the RAF during the war would never talk about his experience except little anecdotes. Even before he died when he was rambling a bit, he would clam up when I asked about his wartime experiences. I have a load of photographs of him then but no history. Brave men.

14th December 2008, 21:17
I had lunch today with a retired Brocklebank master - Jerry Kay who lives in Southport. We were talking about old times and masters with whom we sailed and it brought to mind a WW2 ship - the Fort Camosun, built in Vancouver and torpedoed 12 hours into her maiden voyage. She did not sink and in fact they had to return on board having abandoned ship and found some of the gunners still asleep on board. She was torpedoed a second time in the Gulf of Aden but made it to Aden and was beached. She was brought back to the UK and was repaired at Greythorpe on the north bank of the Tees where I joined her.
The senior apprentice was Pat Palin - a Pangbourne trained lad and a great character. His father was killed in the R101 airship disaster and his mother remarried a NZ airforce office. Pat emigrated after the war and joined the Union Steanmship Co and became their fleet manager years later. Sadly he died a couple of years ago.
The master of the Fort Camosun tended to give us apprentices a hard time. We were at Durban in 1944 being fumigated and the battleship Queen Elizabeth tied up behind us disgorging lots of matelots going ashore and returning. One evening we three apprentices were skipping our evening meal in order to rush off ashore after daywork to sample the fleshpots and were going down the gangway when the master who was pacing his deck under the bridge spotted us and called us back. "What about the NO SMOKING notices " he said.. Pat Palin replied that as we were not working cargo they were not needed. The master said they were and told us to get them hung up prominently. We were quite dischuffed but returned and changed into our dungarees and dug out the notices and hung them about. The master went below for his meal in the saloon and we were left with the biggest sign - about 8feet by 3feet. Pat told us to get it to the funnel and we hoisted it up high up the stack. Being a coal burner she was smoking away as was usual.
We the promptly changed back into our shore gear and scarpered ashore.
Apparently, after dinner the master resumed pacing his deck and then noticed that the matelots walking past towards the dock gate were pointing at the funnel and laughing. The master couldn't see the sign as it was side on to him but he walked aft to see what was amusing them and spotted the sign - NO SMOKING - under a funnel pouring out black smoke.
In the morning we were up befor him and he was livid.. Pat however, keeping a straight face told him he had been told by the Mate always to put the signs in a prominent position and that he thought high up on the funnel to be ideal !!