August 15th 1942 - Belém near the mouth of the Amazon
some time before the voyage , I busied myself splitting up my belongings in to
those that I wished to take with me and those that I could leave behind. Being
war time, I had no mind to lose all my belongings especially those for which I
could have no use either on the voyage or in England.
in mind the possible shortage of porters or taxis in Liverpool, I deemed it advisable
to travel light using suitcases instead of trunks especially as one of my wooden
zinc lined boxes requires the combined strength of two able bodied men to lift
it when empty.
I had three suitcases and into those I hoped, rather foolishly I suppose, to place
everything that I needed for thre voyage to England. The choice of raiment was
the ticklish problem. Books, knick-knacks [Ed:small items] and souvenirs
were easy and were packed. Clothing, however, as already mentioned, was more difficult.
Socks, for example. Each pair I held up in front of me and I tried to be impartial
Would white socks with green and red stripes really be correct with, say, a brown
lounge suit? Finding the answer to be in the negative, the socks were carefully
and reverently laid away for the season. Shirts, too, were inspected and certain
brightly coloured silk ones were also laid aside. A wave of remorse passed over
me before `I was through, however, and one special pale green affair was removed
from its resting place and smuggled into a corner of the largest suitcase. It
was only when I was patting myself on the back for having pushed, squashed, crushed
and squeezed everything into the three suitcases that I remembered that shoes
are also an essential article of the well dressed man about town. Since one pair
of shoes will not allow one any chance of having a hole, I had to admit to myself
that two pairs were the absolute minimum. Feeling that it would be frightfully
'infra dig' to brave the streets of Liverpool wearing a pair of shoes strung around
my neck, to say nothing of the bizarre effect, it behove me to beg, borrow or
steal another case. I bought a small one at some fabulous price and placed therein
one pair of black shoes.
left 'my affairs in order'
by no means fearing the voyage, I nevertheless took the precaution of leaving
my affairs in order and tying certain valuable documents in a rubber bag to be
tied about my waist. I found that the weight of same, however, will be more likely
to drag me down.
good ship Benedict was anchored off Val de Caes and thus well out of sight
of the common populace. To reach her, it was necessary to take a tug and before
I could embark a Customs Officer asked to open my bags. Would have been delighted
to do so but after fishing in my pockets pretty thoroughly, I came to the sorry
conclusion that I had lost my keys. I raced back to the staff house and searched
my room, the stairs and passageways without success. The only remedy seemed to
me to force the locks or try to persuade the Customs Officer to overlook the matter.
However, fortunately someone nearby had a key which fitted the lock of my cases
which saved me from having them busted open. About two hours out to sea, I found
my keys after all in my hip pocket. Incidentally, that is where I always keep
passenger three times torpedoed ....
cargo finally stowed aboard, we got away at 1.15 pm and I settled down to take
stock of my surroundings. My cabin was down in the dim murky depths and I could
not help thinking that it would not be the best of places in which to be if the
ship went down.
were 5 passengers besides myself and it did not take long to become acquainted,
though one of them, a Greek engineer who had already been torpedoed three times,
kept much to himself his language being Greek!
first afternoon we were , of course, still in the river and it was dark before
the pilot was dropped. We passengers tried to show off our nautical habits by
speaking of 'our cabin', being on the'starboard side' 'of going' forw'd' [Ed:
foreward] and similar but later we dropped this as the wind got up and phrases
like 'up at the sharp end' and' 'going upstairs' became more general.
second day out, Sunday August 16th, brought a stiffening breeze with the ship
taking a distinct up and down sort of motion, exceedingly unpleasant to a sailor
like myself. However, I managed to get down all meals with the aid of a gin tonic
to start with. In the afternoon there was great excitement as we sighted first
some flying fish and later a whale. The whale was blowing water over its back
and was the first I have ever seen.
ship was well armed with a useful looking gun on the stern or rounded part of
the of the ship at the end. So far it had not been fired and the people who are
in charge of the thing did not seem to be the sort who would take kindly to the
suggestion that I be permitted to fire a few rounds,
blackout at night
night, full blackout is the rule and in my cabin at any rate it was a permanent
business as the first afternoon I was just about to indulge in a well earned snooze
when the sea poured in and swamped the place. If I had been sleeping there I would
probably have thought the worst had happened and begun to swim. From then on I
kept the porthole closed. Actually the blackout was not so bad as it is painted
and one's eyes soon accustomed themselves to see dim objects and, of course, the
moon if that is any help.
night I passed asleep as the motion of the ship grew worse and I was in no mood
to lose my dinner. Went to bed close to 8.30 pm and woke at 7.30 am. Had a bath
as decided might as well be clean if going to be shipwrecked.
out the ship's position with my pocket compass and made out we were heading up
the Amazon! Found out later that the steel sides of the ship affect a compass.
Later took another reading up on deck and, as I suspected, we are about 500 miles
off the coast heading for Freetown, zigzagging all the way..
The route was across the Atlantic to Freetown in what was then the British colony
of Sierra Leone. Today Freetown is the capital of the Republic of Sierra Leone.
The Benedict zig zagged in an attempt to confuse the aim of the
the afternoon we were advised to take our life belts around with us all the while
put all my wanted belongings in my pockets etc and was now ready to be
the afternoon about 4.30 pm lifeboat drill was held and I was allotted to Boat
No.2. Men all have cute blue life jackets which fit like a waistcoat. Each is
fitted with a little red light. Very good idea! Captain later told us that for
the next 10 days we would be traversing a very dangerous area and that only two
days ago a ship had been sunk nearby. Everyone was told to keep a good look-out.
crossed the Equator
the 18th and 21st August, life aboard the ship proceeded calmly and much like
in peace time. The weather blowing at first, got better as the days went on. We
crossed the Equator and were sailing a little above it and ever eastwards. Plenty
of sleeping and eating should make us pretty fat by the time that we arrive.
so far a noise similar to a monkey with its tail caught in a winch could be heard
which has called men up aft in the poop to man the gun. They have done no actual
firing doubtless to save shells which are by no means cheap. The ship is fitted
for anti-aircraft guns but we understand that none are available just yet but
we will receive them later.
course is obviously towards Freetown where we must bunker [Ed: load coal /
oil /water] for I know that the vessel took on no coal whilst in Brazil, and
also to get into a convoy. From there my betting is that we will proceed round
the west coat of Eire and round past Glasgow and Belfast.
am growing a beard on this trip. In a month I should be able to create something
worth while tho' this does not agree with sundry comments which go around amongst
the crew and passengers alike. Still it is always a good idea to appear nautical
whilst at sea. Wonder what the Customs and Authorities in Liverpool will say when
they compare me with my photograph in my passport which was taken about 10years
ago. And that will be nothing to what my family will say.
of sudden death
is rather curious to note the attitude of everyone on the ship. After all, we
are all travelling, as it were, under shadow of sudden death or at least the prospect
of a number of not very pleasant days in a lifeboat in the open sea! Yet in spite
of this everyone is cheerful and I am willing to bet that no one really feels
other than jolly and at peace, My own reaction, too, surprises me. I do not worry
about the trip at all. Admitted. I have packed a scram bag and left it in the
Mate's room for an emergency and wear my life belt round my shoulder wherever
I go but that is only a sensible precaution. Most times I never ever think of
submarines tho' sometimes like the other night I give the matter a passing thought.
For example as I was undressing for bed, I cleaned my teeth thinking 'well if
I've to be sunk I might as well have clean teeth'.
all in all, the trip is very ordinary. Flying fish leaping out of the water and
skimming over the surface help to relieve the monotony at times.
Friday, we received news that three Brazilian ships had been sunk off the Brazilian
coast. Wonder whether one of those was the ship which I was on once, the Raul
Soares, Hope to be able to check up on this in Liverpool. Anyway it serves
them right because they do not have a strict blackout. Ports are left open and
lights are burnt on deck.. On this ship the blackout is really efficient altho'
the moon makes things bearable.
22nd August. News came through today that seven Brazilian ships have been attacked
and four sunk and that a seventh ship, a tanker, had been stopped and its cargo
of oil and provisions taken off by a submarine. Later on today, news came that
Brazil had declared war on Germany and Italy. Bet there will be a lot of rioting
tonight in Brasil and the radio will be blaring out the national anthem, sure
as eggs is eggs.
To celebrate this I stayed up extra late swilling down the beer. Actually had
two bottles of beer and was not feeling too good in the morning so went up to
see the doctor, who is also the Mate and he prescribed a small pill and another
bottle of beer. As a matter of fact, each day before lunch we have a beer, that
is two passengers, myself and the Mate. Then in the evening, before dinner, we
have a pink gin. This is going to stop after leaving Freetown as one of the passengers
and myself are going TT. [Ed: Tea Total - no more alcohol]
next few days passed pleasantly with no incidents to otherwise disturb our peaceful
state of mind/ We are still steaming east, zigzagging of course for the Gold Coast.
This I get from my compass. On Wednesday, however, we changed course to NNE which,
from my map, I take to mean that we are now almost due south of Freetown.
weather is good but somewhat cold but the change of course means an immediate
slackening of the wind and a faster speed on account of the current being nil.
order not to be idle, I typed out some work for the Captain and also helped the
Chief Mate work out the amount of cargo aboard and space occupied, easy work for
me due to my practice in Brazil.
quite a lot about convoy work. This is most interesting and combined with what
I shall see leaving Freetown, will be very instructive. Ships are sent out to
pass a certain position at a certain time, there being short intervals between
each one. The Commodore picks out for himself a suitable ship and stays aboard
her. His position is usually in the centre of the fifth line and therefore is
called in ship's slang 'the fifth columnist'. All directions to the ships are
given by means of a prearranged system of coloured lights or flags. Sometimes,
it so happens that destinations of ships are changed during the voyage and then
they have to get into fresh positions.. This is a tricky performance and is only
carried out in fine weather. Getting to home port, the outside columns have to
drop behind the nearest column and so they are either in one single column or
two as required.
Monday we heard that the Brazilian navy had put to sea that evening, that enemy
nationals were being rounded up and that a raider and a submarine were loose in
the South Atlantic.., Guess they are far away from us.
Thursday, 27th, we sighted a small corvette, a kind of converted fishing vessel
or trawler which came close and flashed a recognition signal. Later told us in
plain morse to proceed at a maximum of 6 knots. At this speed we will not arrive
at Freetown by tonight and will have to hang around until daybreak on Friday when
the boom will have been lifted and the channel swept for mines. [Ed: Boom =
a device usually of wire cables to prevent submarines entering a harbour]
day we received warnings from both the Captain and Chief |Mate that no one should
sleep on deck whilst in port, take quinine each day against malaria and to avoid
being out on deck, even under the awning, without a hat. None of this concerns
me much except the last as I do not possess a hat or cap of any description my
one and only having disappeared 2 years ago eaten by insects. Rain has been falling
intermittently all day today and there has been no sun to speak of.
tea a 'plane was sighted
tea a plane was sighted. It appeared to be a Sunderland Flying Boat. It passed
over the corvette flashing a signal , then flew round and very close over us.
Seeing the RAF markings we did not throw ourselves flat on the deck to avoid machine
gun bullets but stood on the port side of the ship and waved. With all this excitement,
the day was voted a great success..
appears that one is allowed to bring in to England quite a lot of stores and food.
Not knowing this, my small pile seems like chicken feed. [Ed: Food in Great
Britain was severely rationed ]
do a fair amount of sleeping aboard the vessel. From 8 pm to 7 am to say nothing
of a couple of hours in the afternoon. Still. What else is there to do!
I think and dream a lot about my arrival in England and hope that all goes well
and that my family are all fit and well. .
haven't decided whether to shave my beard or not before landing. It is coming
along fine so far but is getting rather prickly.
am actually booked to leave England again by this ship or other within l5 days
of my arrival but as I need eye treatment, my departure may be delayed a month
or more which will give me much more time to visit my relations and friends. I
am certainly looking forward to getting home. Perhaps, now that Brazil is in the
War, Britishers there may be called home so I may, perhaps, not leave but be called
up [for military service] myself. Not being a good sailor, I would not
like to join the Navy except on the shore staff. I might, perhaps, be able to
do something useful in connection with my late work as shipping agent and Naval
Reporting Officer. Anyway can but wait and see.
will wait in Freetown for, I reckon, from 3 to 5 days taking on bunkers and awaiting
a convoy. Hope we sail at 10 knots to England to arrive about l5th September.
August at 6 am or there abouts. I was awakened by a voice saying that the coast
of glorious Ireland was on the right and being still full of sleep I believed
it and got up and gazed out.. Saw the dim outline of a mountainous coast which
I then remembered was Freetown so I had my first glimpse of Africa. Ahead of us
was a small steamer and in the distance some 7 or 8 merchant vessels of various
tonnages and a few naval craft. We crept along at reduced speed until a small
flag floating in the water was sighted. Then off came the pilot boat and the pilot
boarded our vessel. About 9.30 am we were close to the harbour and bar and found
ourselves the tenth ship in a line of merchant ships slowly going through the
gap in the boom. Owing to the water being mined, we had to follow a prescribed
channel necessitating an "S" bend ,manoeuvre. The boom stretched from
one side of the river to the other, an appreciable distance and was presumably
a steel net strung with high explosives and held suspended in the water by means
of drums and buoys. The boom was broken in one part to a width of not more than
100 yards through which our line of merchant ships entered. Immediately afterwards,
the boom was closed by a special vessel used for that purpose to prevent the entry
of any hostile craft, underwater or otherwise.
the entrance to the harbour a small steamer could be observed partially submerged.
At low water part of the forecastle and masts were showing. There was no bridge
house nor funnel to be seen.
town of Freetown lies at the foot of some high hills or small mountains with some
residential houses perched well up the slopes possibly because it will be fairly
cool on the high ground. Quite a large camp could be seen from the vessel and
close by some hangers which, I think, are of the RAF. The radio station could
be seen between two of the mountains. In the harbour were some 90 to 100 merchant
ships of various shape, sizes and nationalities. One large two funnel steamer,
the Edinburgh Castle, was in her original colours and is used for the convoy
conferences. There are also some 50 naval craft to be seen from corvettes to destroyers
to MTB's. [Motor Torpedo Boat].
modern Union Castle motor vessel is close by and looks very fine indeed. Also
near to us is the Silver Laurel one of the new utility vessels built for
cargo and aught else. Offshore was a Portuguese steamer with the national flag
painted on her sides. She sailed later in the afternoon. The only other sunken
ship to be seen was a little to one side of us. At low water much of the midships
is clear and even at high water, the bridge, funnel, masts and forecastle are
came down steadily all day. We received visits from the Authorities, agents etc
and were much amused at the voices and language of the black people. Their tugs
and lighters are in a shocking condition though and would cause a heartbreak to
an engineer worthy of his salt.
night, we were told that so long as no light shone out on to the sea or skywards,
that ports might be kept open. We could also smoke on deck but rain prevented
any of these concessions from being taken advantage of.. After 10.30 pm semi-blackout
i.e blue lights only are allowed but actually several lights were to be seen on
29th August. Still raining heavily and my bunk quite wet in spite of the port
being 3/4 closed. Did a spot of work for the Captain and mate and Captain promised
to send ashore a couple of letters which I wrote yesterday to my people giving
them my approximate date of arrival.
a cough which would not leave me so got the doctor to fix me up with a remedy.
passengers were allowed ashore and with the rain, who would want to.
this is Africa. Give me Brazil.....
night. If this is darkest Africa, give me Brazil. Saturday was a day of almost
continual rain and lying where we are far from land and with nothing doing, we
all became very bored. Sunday morning started well but it was too good to last
and then the rain commenced and continued all day.
8 pm the pilot came aboard and we shifted to nearer the shore. In the process
we were afforded a good view of the harbour and ships anchored there. One cruiser
and 4 destroyers were to be seen. One Dutch ship had the upper part of the masts
painted a sky blue. A good idea I think as they are almost invisible against the
sky. In the afternoon two lighters of coal came alongside and a bunch of blacks..
They chatter eternally and make grimaces, dance and appear to be enjoying themselves.
The racket was terrible and all sleep was out of the question. Fortunately the
heavy rain kept down the dust so that our cabins, so far, are clean. The work
was very slow in spite of the black Africans having a kind of cheer leader to
get them to work to rhythm. Their songs, by the way, are not too far removed from
some of the sambas of Brazil. They are dressed in all types of clothing and head
gear. They are good workers but hard to get started and will not do anything except
in their own way. Thus they only put in 150 tons of coal by 19.30.
31st August: The noise of the steel coal lighters [small ships sused for loading]
banging against the sides of the ship disturbed our sleep during the night More
rain. To speed up the coaling the Chief Engineer suggested using the main bunker
hatch. A simple job and one done throughout the work. The blacks, however, all
had their own ideas as to how the work should be performed and the noise of their
chatter was terrible. It took them fully two hours to get started, part of the
time being lost by the roving eyes and hands of the blacks. We were forewarned,
however, and our ports and doors are locked.
beer and gin had run out on the ship so had to go on the waggon. [on the waggon=
voluntarily not taking alcohol].
were a full ship from here of passengers . Three are joining us filling the cabins
and we are also to have the Commodore of the Convoy. This means we will be in
a safe position so we are not bothering about scram bags. It is estimated that
we will take from 18 to 20 days to reach home. I shall certainly be glad to get
lst September Darkest Africa at its best today. No rain and plenty of sun. The
coaling went on all day though very slowly. By the end of the day we have 2/3rds
of our total requirements aboard: What a collection of dark men! In the afternoon
we were treated to the sight of the stores coming aboard. Very little too! The
Chief Steward was only able to get some bananas, mamao,[paw-paw]
a little meat and aught else. Some English beer came aboard too which is most
welcome. The stores launch came alongside the companion ladder just ahead of the
naval launch carrying our Captain and refused to get out of the way. With this
obstruction and the high sea running, the poor Captain was nearly squashed between
the launch and the ladder. Even so the ladder was broken. Then the stores launch
went round to the other side and during the process of raising the stores to the
deck, some fine conversation took place between the black Africans in the boat
and the black Afro crew aboard our ship. Then the crew took a hand in ragging
[teasing] the Chief Steward.
luck we have
the late afternoon, our 3 passengers came aboard. They are the Second Mate and
two radio Operators of the Beachwood recently torpedoed. Their ship set
out from England at the New Year for New York. Then she sailed for `Pernambuco
and later for East Africa. On her return voyage she was making for Freetown to
pick up the convoy.. She was sunk on Thursday morning, at 8.30 am, a day out of
this port. If our ship had been on time, she would have been in the vicinity of
the Beachwood and thus torpedoed as well! What luck we have.
seems that the Beechwood crew were taken prisoner by the Germans . The
'Sparks;' [radio operator] went down to his cabin to get some clothes,
found it filling with water and scrambled out a toda pressa. The Captain
was taken prisoner by the submarine. Before he went he took off his trousers which
contained some money and gave it to 'Sparks'.
2nd September: Coaling started late today. Last night a terrific storm broke over
the town but it cleared up and at 10 am the sun came out. We had a most amazing
morning with Albert, one of the passengers in my cabin, asking whether the Hesperus
carried any cargo and what happened to the Master's daughter. Arthur, another
passenger said that he didn't know but if she carried cargo it was insured. Albert
also said about 8 pm he dreamt it. Someone asked him how he knew it was Spanish
so he replied that it had Barcelona written on the wall.
passengers were all on deck this morning. Rain continued throughout the day. The
Captain went off to a Masters' Conference so we will be sailing tomorrow. Forgot
to mention yesterday that when the stores launch was cut adrift, the black African
on deck picked up the rope hauling line and couldn't undo the knot or rather he
picked up the rope in his hand, peered at it for a bit, scratched his head, then
took out his knife and cut the rope.
tea, the Commodore's staff arrived. Speaking to one of them, the man said that
after passing the Azores, the faster ships would go on ahead but that we would
have to remain with the 7 1/2 knot convoy . We will take, he estimates, 22 days,
thus arriving on the 25th, the day I guessed. He said that a few days ago, a large
Dutch vessel was sunk in the same position as that mentioned yesterday. She sank
in 90 minutes and 34 of the crew were lost. After dinner the Commodore came aboard
so I guess that tomorrow around lunch time we will leave.
that the scheme for calling up all Britishers abroad is proceeding apace and that
those in the USA are on the list. Seems improbable now that I shall return to
Brazil. . Played cards till 8.30 pm
3rd September. Still coaling this morning which fortunately a fine one. Bought
a West African 3 pence coin from an African and bartered a packet of cigarettes
for some lemons and a coconut. At 2 pm coaling was finished and even before the
coal barge was away our anchor was being weighed. We got away just before 2.30
pm and were apparently the last ship of the convoy to get going. Ahead of us could
be seen the
dim shapes of the other vessels. Afterwards I went to bed and
slept till 6.30 am on Friday.
up on deck in time to see what they call an escort vessel very close to our port
beam. She was the Londonderry in grey camouflage. She was newly painted
and looked just like a model ship. By this time we were in the centre of the first
line of the convoy consisting of 29 vessels. Later in the morning there was much
noise form the steam whistle as the Commodore ordered trial turns and the signal
flags were in full use. This completed, firing practice was called for and all
ships started firing their anti-air craft guns and 303s. The noise was not as
bad as I had expected and I can quite see why they call the guns ack ack from
the noise. Our guns too were fired. Nearly the whole day messages were sent off.
In the afternoon there were alternate periods of sun and rain so I sunbathed a
5th September Awoke this morning to hear the news that a Swedish vessel had fallen
behind during the night and the Escort asked the Commodore what was to be done.
As she hadn't been in convoy more than 48 hours he said she should leave and go
to Bathurst or Freetown at her own option, the former place being 100 miles nearer.
This she did choosing, I gather, to go to Freetown. Our course is now NNW which
is in the right direction at any rate. It still rained a bit in the afternoon
but cleared up somewhat in the evening.
Londonderry was well armed
6th September. A lovely day all day with the sea like a mill pond only not so
smooth. Around 7.45 am the Londonderry came alongside and travelling at
the same speed as us, her commander, an ex-rugby footballer, amateur boxer and
with eight subs 'killed' to his credit, spoke over the radio or rather through
a mike. He said that another ship had dropped out owing to a cracked fire plate
and that he had escorted her part of the way to Freetown and met and brought back
another vessel which had put out from Freetown later to catch us up. A curious
ship with a lot of girders and bridges all over it. The Londonderry was
well armed with big guns and anti-aircraft guns and drums and drums of depth charges.
All ready to throw overboard. A nice compact looking vessel with a boom attached
just forward of the bridge. I presume this to be a reminder of the days when Van
Tromp swept the seas until he was swept off by the British. Another ship of our
convoy left us last night for Bathurst, its destination. During the morning and
afternoon a flying boat was seen constantly flying back and forth searching the
murky depths for untold dangers, viz submarines. Our escorts, six in number, are
spread out, two on either side and two ahead with their listening devices primed.
At night they fall behind the convoy to ward off and search out any submarines
which may be stalking us and to safeguard stragglers. Fish Hawks were seen in
the afternoon diving for porpoises and fish. The day was really excellent and
I did quite a spot of sunbathing. We have now done 430 miles and reputed to be
travelling at a speed of 8.7 knots.
sunbathed in the anti-aircraft-gun stand
7th September through Wednesday 9th September. On Monday the weather was very
fine so I sunbathed in the anti aircraft gun stand abaft of the funnel. Towards
eventide, the escort vessel came alongside to give us a message. Noticed a Mickey
Mouse emblem with boxing gloves on the after gun. Tuesday brought wet weather
but things brightened up a little after lunch. Heard that we have done over 700
miles so far. Slept after lunch and ended up with a pain. Have chosen as our motto
'The convoy must get through'. The Commodore has borrowed my book 'Amazonia'.
He always beams at me when he passes me. Wednesday started poorly with a watery
sun but turned out very sunny and much calmer in the afternoon.
late afternoon the sea was very rough. I sunbathed in a deck chair and got quite
burnt. Had a hair cut from the lamp trimmer. He is quite good at his job. In spite
of the sun the atmosphere seems rather cold but I hope to remain in tropical clothes
till past the Azores. Looked at the map and reckon that we are well past the Cape
Verde Islands and are nearing the Canarias. Went to bed at 8 pm which I find the
most suitable hour. The plane has stopped coming over us so presumably we are
now too far from its base., On Tuesday evening one ship began to lag a long way
behind due to heavy weather but managed to catch up today , It is wonderful to
know that every two hours we are in touch with the Admiralty in the UK and that
the position of the whole convoy is checked on a large wall map. Ships check their
position too in the convoy.
10th September A lovely morning and the sea like glass and the sun shining The
Londonderry went alongside a tanker just behind us, attached a rope, hauled
in a pipe line and commenced fuelling. A tricky job this requiring precise steering
and speed regulation. Both ships went along as though they were twins. Later other
escort vessels went alongside to fuel. Amongst those was the U48. The afternoon
was very fine and sunny so I did some more sunbathing. The water remained calm
and the temperature was still high. It appears that we originally had seven escort
vessels but two were local ones just giving us their support and goodwill for
the first part of our journey. The total number of ships in the convoy was 26.
11th September Heard this morning that there was quite a bit of fun and games
early this morning. Around 4 am the escort vessels set off snowflakes which are
'very' lights.[Flares] Our Commodore, thinking it was an attack, set of
two of ours and every ship in the convoy followed suit. Then several thuds were
heard and felt as depth charges were let off. The Londonderry thereupon
sent his search light beam flashing across and back over the convoy as a signal
to cease the lights. Two merchant ships continued, however, which gave the Commodore
of the Londonderry cause for complaint besides ticking off our own commander
for sending off his 'very' lights. Whether the exhibition was a mere practice
or in earnest, rumours went around that aircraft had been sighted - hardly possible
when one considers that lights went up which lighted up the entire convoy - that
a submarine had been sighted on the surface and also that a convoy would be passing
in a couple of days hence and it was expected that a sub was hanging on to its
tail .awaiting stragglers.
'very' lights were a great success being bright flares which come slowly down
like a parachute. This morning more fueling at sea was done and we saw the U27.
The last escort vessel to fuel was of a different type having a flush deck with
no cut away after part. She was probably a corvette and lettered "Y".
After this was completed there was a little shifting of the last vessels to bring
the convoy more together and lessen the chance of any ships trailing behind the
main body. I typed out some work for the Captain, then had a beer with him and
the Commodore. Had a long talk about Brazil etc. Sunbathed in the afternoon as
the day was so fine. Found a dried flying fish on the deck about 6 inches long
with large wings. They are said to make excellent eating. It is said we will pass
the Canaries sometime tomorrow morning, the half way mark of the voyage. Obtained
a chart on which to note our position as judged by me. The night being warm, I
dozed for a time in a deck chair on deck clad in pyjamas and dressing gown.
12th September "Londonderry" came alongside to say that a ship of the
convoy had engine trouble, a diesel vessel and was fast falling behind. As it
was the Vice-Commodore's vessel, it was decided to slow down the convoy to about
6 knots for 24 hours in the hope that the ship could get repaired and catch us
up, an escort vessel staying with her. Yesterday the tanker which supplied the
escorts dropped out of the convoy and headed wsw possibly for Venezuela to refuel.
An escort vessel is going a little of the way with her. Thus we have now only
four escorts. Slight rain this morning but calm sea. The day was perfect for sailing
and it seemed a great shame that we could not utilize full convoy speed. The other
damaged ship and her escort arrived on the scene about 18,00 and it is expected
that she will be in position by about 21.30. The other escort ship should be here
by morning too. Tomorrow we start on the last lap of the voyage to last about
12 days. Goodie!
13th September Have never seen the sea so calm before and such a beautiful blue.
The stars were out and it made me think so much of peace. Was reminded of Coleridges
'as idle as a painted ship. Upon a painted ocean.' Understand that we are well
over the half way mark now and actually level with Lisbon. Read 'The Dark Invader'
by Captain von Pintalen.. An excellent book belonging to the Captain of this ship.
A seaman or woman died today aboard an English tanker and the burial was made
at sea. All ships flew their ensigns at half mast during the burial.
submarine is about
14th September. We are now within bomber range so perhaps we shall see a 'plane.
Morning cold but sea still as good as ever. About 10.15 a steam whistle on one
of the vcssels went off and was answered by other leading ships. Then came the
command to alter course to the west and several thuds of depth charges were heard.
One of the escorts had heard a submarine and took to deal with it., no results
as yet known. A large four mast vessel passed at 12.00. The evening turned quite
cold so donned my English suit.
15th September It seems to be definitely established that barring incidents we
shall arrive on Tuesday next. The day was much cooler than yesterday though the
air is still warm out of the wind. Sunbathed as usual. About 4 pm a plane passed
us flying south and is presumed to have been a mail plane One or two ships had
AA practice and the puffs of smoke in the sky from the shells could be clearly
seen. In the evening it got colder than ever and one passenger put on his overcoat.
Did a spot of typing for the Captain
16th September Today distinctly cold but continued wearing my Brazilian clothes
to reserve my thicker things for colder days still ahead. Went into the empty
AA pit [anti aircaft gun-pit]and sunbathed and got distinctly hot. Then
the wind dropped and was able to leave off my vest and unbutton my shirt leaving
off my jacket. Reckon we are about ½ way across the Bay of Biscay. Saw
a number of seagulls and a whale disporting itself quite close to our vessel..
Up to midday today in the last 24 hours we had our longest run 213 miles which
is a fraction under 9 knots. The sun went in in the afternoon so I slept instead
of sunbathing. After tea it turned quite cold so packed away my tropical suit
17th September Still cold and with little sun. We are now 17 degrees W 47 N or
just below the level of Lands End. Am reading a most interesting book called "Ordeal
in England" by Philip Gibbs dealing with the years 1936 to 1937. Very interesting
reading in the light of after events. The sun came out later on and enabled me
to do some sunbathing. About 6 pm it turned much colder. The "Londonderry"
started signalling to us with a red light. The Commodore seemed very interested
and was very busy writing, when up went signal flags to other ships. Expect somebody
on the "Londonderry" just wanted to know a word of seven letters beginning
with 'W'; or something.
18th September A nasty fine rainy day and a cold wind. About 8 am we altered course
to ENE which is certainly in the right direction. Being too wet to go on deck,
it behoved me to sit in our cabin reading. Pray the Lord that soon this voyage
will end and I can see my fond parents and my beloved Nona. At 11.00 the Londonderry
came close and her Commander spoke over the mike [microphone] to inform
the Commodore that one ship of the convoy was lost.
ship of the convoy is lost
The Commodore said that as we had only two days to go and as he couldn't spare
an escort to look after her, she had better proceed alone. At 15.00 the convoy
is splitting up and 12 knots and over vessels bound for the Mersey are leaving
us with 2 escort vessels. He said that he hadn't yet decided which escort vessels
to send as "Hastings" could not do 12 knots. The signal denoting the
expected appearance of friendly fire was hoisted on the yard arm.of the Londonderry.
I presume that ' by two days more' it is meant that by that time (Sunday) we should
be travelling southwards between Ireland and Scotland. It was such a rotten day
that I went to bed after lunch. Then, at 14.50 got up and well wrapped up went
on deck to watch the convoy split up. Visibility very poor. The first ship away
was the Silver Lamont which leapt ahead at 16 knots. Then the other ships
gradually went ahead and vanished in the mist and rain. Eight ships were to have
gone but one backed out at the last moment with engine trouble. We are now left
with 18 ships and 3 escort vessels. Weather got a bit better towards evening but
still not good.
19th September. Cold and wet. Any minute our Captain may call for all hands to
go out and break up the ice. Went on deck after breakfast for a short while, then
returned to bed. Unless a gale should hold up the ship we should definitely be
in on Tuesday morning around midday. Should sight land tomorrow at midday. Hope
God that all will work out all right between Nona and I and that we will not be
separated again, not even for war work. Keep thinking of this and praying for
the best. This day I beat all records by sleeping for l5 hours out of 24! Rain
and cold weather put paid to going on deck. [Ed: Nona = a girl he had left
20th September Visibility slightly better but still light rain, About 09.15 course
was altered again to the East. Visibility still poor and no light in sight. At
11.15 several ships left the convoy steaming NNE which looks as thought they may
be bound for the North of Scotland and possibly London. At 18.00 hours we passed
a large convoy of over 30 vessels going in the opposite direction to us. Then
we turned once more to starboard to pass through the Giants Causeway. The Scottish
coast was just visible but nothing on the Irish side where visibility was even
worse. The escort vessel Y56, an ex USA Coastguard vessel, came alongside and
fired a line across our after deck to which was fixed a note or perhaps a receipt
from our Commodore and hauled back aboard Y56. Then the Y56 wished us a happy
stay in England, goodnight and mentioned that but for the past 3 days we would
have had a record trip for weather.. The escort then sailed away handing us over
to a local escort. Meanwhile, the convoy continued. The local escort is a small
trawler or tug boat. During the night the convoy is to split up still more, one
group going to Greenock and the other to Belfast.
21st September Convoy very reduced now. The ship is rolling quite a lot as the
weather is still poor with a fair amount of rain. At breakfast time the Isle of
Mann was to be seen on the port side, just a heap of mountains. Rather dull really
as we are too far away to distinguish any Manxmen or tailless cats or things.
It is reported that we shall reach Liverpool Bay early this afternoon but will
not dock until the morrow. Presume that my family will know by now and will be
down to meet me. I hope also that I can arrange sufficient coupons to buy myself
some thick clothes and an overcoat. Am suffering just at present from prickly
heat of all things. When I get warm my body tingles all over like as though a
thousand needles were pricking me. I have verified that our escort is a minute
trawler. About 12.00 Anglesea came into sight. At 15,00 we passed a couple of
buoys and the water had a distinct Hoylake hue. Wales was in view on our starboard
bow. So our journey draws to a close. Two seagulls are perched on the aft mast
and on the boom.. The pilot's ladder is all ready now. The pilot cane aboard at
16.30. Blackpool Tower was visible standing up from the land like an obelisk.
Shortly after the pilot boarded we dropped anchor off the Bar Lightship. In the
distance could be seen Llandudno, Hilbre Island, Grange Hill etc and some barrage
balloons, besides various sloops, merchant ships etc. Seems strange to be anchored
within sight of my home and all that is dear to me after four long weary years.
At the moment I never wish to sojourn abroad again but doubtless I shall get over
this in time and perhaps, who knows, I may leave her in a few week's time, once
more en route to Brazil.. I have all possible packed now and any dutiable articles
placed on top for the Customs.. Tomorrow I shall remove the last vestiges of my
beard, namely my fair moustache which looks so odd with my hair which has turned
I am an 'alien'.... What rubbish!
22nd September Reached Queens Dock. No problem with Customs but Immigration Authorities
say I have to register as an 'alien' because I have been out of the country for
4 years. What rubbish. Decided to enlist in the Navy after all. Graham met me
on the ship and after getting my suitcase together went with him to Hoylake and
first thing I had to do was to go to Rockferry to the Immigration Office where
they seemed very surprised that I had been sent to them and told me that holding
a British passport and being born in Westcliff-on-Sea I am a true Englishman.
Went to Kings Gap where I was given an Identity Card and coupons for food, sweets
and clothes. [Ed; Coupons = tokens allowing purchase of food]
mother looking rather old and father very tired from his Warden duties at night
after he gets back from the office. Barry is working at the Bank of England in
Liverpool. Graham is 14 and already can distinguish airplanes in the sky from
to the Enlistment Centre in Market Street where an elderly lady wanted to know
what work I had been doing in Brazil. Told her that I was directing the loading
and discharge of ships, attending to their despatch etc and that I wanted to join
the Navy., She put me down as a Marine Transportation Officer and told me to await
so I am once again in Good Old England.