From St John’s we went down the American coast to Trinidad (West Indies), were we bunked.  At that time the American coast was quite safe.  As we voyaged in ease and comfort.  I suppose we must have been 28 days out from home now and still as far as ever from Cape Town.  We had a night in Trinidad and then on to Cape Town.  On this run attacks from subs would be unlikely, but not impossible, our main trouble might come from raiders.  We saw and heard nothing, but we did find out in Cape Town that we must have passed within 50 miles of a German raider.  We passed now into the Indian Ocean where so far subs had not operated and the raider was our only trouble.  

We bunkered at Durban and proceeded to Dar es Salaam, Tanga, Zanzibar and Mombasa to discharge.  All the four latter ports are close together.  We loaded at Mombasa for Aden and Port Sudan .  Abyssinia (now called Ethiopia) had been cleared so we expected no trouble, although we had to prepare for possible plane attacks coming down north in the immediate vicinity of Port Sudan.  From Port Sudan we went light ship to Calcutta and loaded a small amount of ore and the rest in tea, mats and matting and jute.  Jute is a sort of course cotton.  From India we proceeded to UK via Cape. We bunkered at Dunbar.  Japan was not in the War and so up to Cape Town.  The area was quite  … for occasional raids.  We left Cape Town for Freetown about the beginning of December 1941.  By the way Freetown is the port or town.  Sierra Leone the district.  Somewhere about this time Japan came in.

About three days out from Cape Town we had our first spot of bother.  Just about noon the alarm went up.  A torpedo had been fired at us and passed astern.  No one sighted the sub, many saw the torpedo.  We turned away putting on all steam.  We expected the sub to surface and chase us but nothing happened.  I had of course sent out the sub attack warning.  That evening we got a message from the admiralty altering our course completely and ordering us away from the area and more or less over the spot where we were attacked.    We had turned almost due south and now our route was due north.  Of course we had to avoid the sub area, so the skipper took a chance and turned east and later north.  If the sub was to the west of us then we might get away, if to the east, well there you are, where are you.  Most uncomfortable night that.  I suppose we passed somewhere about 30 miles to the east of the attack spot on our northward course.  That evening a message from the admiralty to all the ships gave us the reason for our orders.  About two days previously one of our cruisers had sunk a German raider in this area.  As German submarines were know to be in the vicinity, our cruiser gave her all she had got, left her sinking and beat it away from the subs.  A cruiser is too big to tackle submarines.  The admiralty informed all and sundry that 12-armed motorboats from this German raider had got away from the sunken raider and were missing around in our vicinity.  Had we sighted them we might have thought them our survivors and gone to pick them up and been captured ship and all.  We saw nothing and very much to our surprise were not attacked again.  It’s possible the raider was fuelling subs and our friend was short of fuel and couldn’t chase us.

About 4 or days after this a message from the admiralty ask us to break wireless silence and give our position. They wanted to make sure we had not been captured.  I need hardly tell you that all these messages are in code.  We don’t like using our wireless; any sub in the vicinity on the surface would get our position from Wireless Direction Finder.  However we sent the message and all was well and we arrived in Freetown safe and sound. 

We had a good few days in Freetown.  Whilst there a large number of troopships came in en route for Singapore.  I’m sure Arthur ( James Arthur Brady (Grandad’s cousin) 5th Bn Royal Norfolk Regiment who later died on the Burma Railway age 24, Thursday, 10th June 1943.  Buried at Kanchanaburi War Cemetery) must have been amongst them.  All the ships gave them a cheer as they went out – many never to come back, the rest prisoners for years.

We spent Xmas 1941 in Freetown and left next day.  The only thing that I remember of that trip home to Oban was the weather and what weather. 1942 was a bad year for us at sea.  He was sinking ships by the dozen.  The Yanks were in and not fully organised.  Escorts still insufficient.  He was attacking convoys in packs.  He left us alone this trip.  Weather was good until we reached about 50N. 20W.  It started to blow one night and reached gale force.  You can’t “heave to” a convoy at night.  “Heave to”, you put your head into the wind and sea, ease engines down and endeavour to sort of ride it out.  The main danger in bad weather is hatches.  If they get smashed, well it’s good-bye. A sea sweeping aboard a ship just washes everything standing away, providing of course it’s a real heavy one.

To get back.  By morning we could only see about 6 ships out of 40 odd.  We were ordered to heave to.  It blew all that day and all that night.  By next morning we were on our own, the ships had been scattered to the four corners.  A Sub couldn’t operate in that weather, but when it cleared up we had about 4 days run to do unescorted.  It would be impractical to reform a widely scattered convoy, as we must be by this time.  It eased off towards noon, but towards night it piped up again and by midnight had reached hurricane force.  We all thought she would be overwhelmed by one of those huge seas, which swept by us.  You could feel the bridge bending back to the force of the wind.  It blew like this for about 4 hours.  There was no sleep for any of us.  By daylight it had slackened, but there was still a nasty sea swimming and it was noon before we were able to resume our proper course.  The Macbean is a good sea boat, she behaved splendidly and we had only minor damage.  We arrived safely in Oban, being among the early arrivals of our convoy.  A number had sustained damage – sails swept away, lifeboats washed overboard.  As the area we had to proceed alone was the approaches to the North of Ireland and highly dangerous, it was with great relief that we got no wireless reports of sub attacks.

 

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