It was a very uncomfortable passage along our south coast.  It was a moonlight night and all night enemy planes were passing overhead on their bombing missions.  Each time we expected to get spotted and get bombed.  However nothing happened and we arrived at Newport safely.  We had about a week at Newport and then loaded about 300 French troops for Casablanca (Map 7).  As far as I can remember there were about 17 ships, all similarly loaded in the convoy to Casablanca.  We had the French General and his staff aboard.  These were Alpine troops, strong, sturdy little fellows who had been fighting in Norway.  They were De Gaulle’s men and had no idea why they were being sent to Casablanca.  All I can think is that Churchill had the North Africa Campaign in his mind as far back as 1940 or he might have hoped these troops would sway others in our direction.  When the Americans eventually (joined the War), at Casablanca a General with a very similar name to our General came over to our side with his troops.  The journey down to Casablanca was as far as I can remember without incident.  We went too close to Brest for comfort.  The Germans were well established in Brest by this time and we expected planes, but they did not appear. As we drew near Casablanca our own escorts left us.  Didn’t want to get mixed up in the mêlée with French warships.  We had just shelled and sunk a number of French Warships off Oran.  The Frenchmen aboard our ship, although they felt sad, took it very nicely.  They saw we had no alternative but to stop the French fleet falling into German hands. 

I don’t think the French authorities knew anything about us, for as we approached the port I heard Casablanca reporting it by wireless and a French warship approached with their guns trained on us.  We didn’t know quite how they were going to take our presence.  However into port we went and one by one discharged our troops and as far as I could make out these troops were rushed away to camps outside and weren’t allowed any conversations with local troops.  When the War first started all the old people, women and children etc. from Gibraltar were evacuated to Casablanca, now the French authorities in Casablanca without any warning decided to utilise our ships to get rid of them.  In fact, we should I expect have been interned otherwise.  Each ship was loaded to its capacity with these helpless people: we had 1,000 on board.  They were herded down like cattle and when they couldn’t embark that night, were left on the quay in the open all night.  We weren’t in a position to protest, but I never did think much of France and less so now, as with all of us.  The Commodore of our convoy, a Rear Admiral, went ashore to try and interview the French Admiral.  This gentleman refused to see him.  The Commodore lacking any instructions from the Admiralty told each ship to make for Gibraltar independently.  Among our crowd were 5 or 6 women nearing their time.  We loaded these people in the evening and left next morning for Gibraltar.  The French had more or less thrown loaves of bread abroad for them. 

As they came aboard we did what we could to make them comfortable but it seemed so hopeless with so many and all so helpless – 1,000 cluttered on the Macbean’s decks.  They could have gone down the holds but we couldn’t get them to budge.  The only people doing anything were 3 old women over 60.  They were pottering about here and there.  Cheering people up and helping the children.  Well off we started at daylight for the 24-hour run to Gibraltar and no escort.  I knew that there would be no lifeboat or jacket for me.  If we got pipped it was the finish for many of the crew.  Only the absolute necessary to handle the lifeboats would go with what passengers could get in (more likely to be a complete farce).  Some ships had already left and I listened for any sign of attack.  There was a Spanish ship in our area and every time he had reason to use his wireless, he sent a few dots as a preliminary before starting sending his message.  ‘I’ is three dots and ‘SSSS’ means sub, so you can tell I cursed him.  As soon as we put our nose out, we started to roll and most of our passengers were sick.  They couldn’t move and were could they move to. In any case, so they were sick where they were.  When off watch we worked continuously looking after them, made tons of coffee. They couldn’t eat but were so grateful.  The men didn’t do much, so we just concentrated on the women and children making coffee and taking it round to them.

Our first bit of excitement came when one woman went off with an epileptic fit.  The Chief Steward and myself knew nothing about treatment so we got the medical book and with an interested audience got to work as per book, which as far as I can remember consisted of slapping her face and wiping her lips with brandy.  However much to our surprise she responded to treatment as per book.  Night came and the rottenest time, not much imagination is needed to imagine what would have happened with all these people had we been pipped.  It was a cold night and we gave out blankets as far as they would go, but it was so little among so many.  We packed as many old women as we could into the Saloon including one young woman who was bad with seasickness.  Just as we shut the door on them there was a nasty crash and thump.  The Chief Steward and I looked at one another and held our breath, then with a sigh of relief realised that being a light ship she had got caught on the crest of two waves and dropped into a trough, as we turned back to reassure the people in the Saloon the first women at the door was the sick woman.

Later in the night another old lady close on 70 was taken ill owing to cold and exposure.  She was taken into a cabin and treated and recovered in daylight.  I took a couple into the wireless room to keep them warm and then to my cabin when my watch finished for the day.

When I went down at 2.00am I could see the Chief Steward was having a whale of a time.  One of the expectant woman’s time had come.  There were two midwives on board; one was completely out for the count with seasickness.  The other one was bad also, but she carried on between the bouts of sickness.  The Chief Steward was called in to assist at the birth, not a nice job for a layman at the best of times but he did it quite as a matter of course.  It wasn’t till after the birth had been successfully achieved that they though of asking the Chief Steward if he was married.  They thought it a huge joke when he said he was single.  However everything went off OK and child and mother were both well. The child was called Alex after the Chief Steward.  Daylight came with a break of relief and we arrived at Gibraltar about 10.00am.  Just as we got in, a woman’s time came and she gave birth to twins on board but she had the attention of a shore doctor.  We gradually discharged all our passengers.  The women with the newly born children going ashore in the afternoon smiling and happy.

 

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