Once again we were bound for London and we had the east coast to negotiate but said we, “That’s the worst over”.  We were sadly deceived.  Soon after we left Oban for Methil it started to blow again.  The convoy had to anchor in “Bloody Bay” West of Scotland.  Later again we anchored in a bay off North Scotland. Finally we rounded the east coast and our rottenest period.  We had a minefield laid right down the east coast and we sailed between that and the coast.  There isn’t a lot of room to spare but the channel is buoyed all the way down, about every 5 miles.  It’s finding the first buoy.  It was still blowing a gale and misty as we turned round into the east coast of Scotland at night.  Neither the escort nor the Commodore could find the first buoy.  What a to do.  What a miserable night.  We couldn’t afford to go on.  Many of us would have finished up on our own minefield.  The Commodore tried to turn the convoy round and head north.  In the darkness and mist some got the orders thus, “Some were coming.  Some were going”.  It was still bad at daylight but an escort found the first buoy (bless him) and what remained of the convoy, about 6 ships, carried on. The rest I think were away to the Northward.  It blew and it blew all that day.  Just at dusk we were at the Firth of Moray.  With the tide sweeping out to the sea you had a heavy cross-sea running.  For about one hour we rolled and pitched and wallowed in heavy seas.  Seas coming aboard from all sides at once.  One ship lost a man, or boy rather (his first trip) overboard.  The escorts made a very gallant attempt at rescue.  We saw them pushing their noses into the sea proceeding to the spot.  It was hopeless from the start; even in daylight it would have been impossible in that sea.  I don’t think he was ever seen after he was swept over. As we cleared the Moray Firth the nasty seas passed away.

Next day it was a bit better but still misty.  We were the last ship and as we approached May Island at the Firth of Firth entrance, the escort signalled by Radio Telephone that an enemy plane was approaching from the northward.  We didn’t want anything to do with him, but we were the last ship and the first one he would contact.  He didn’t contact so we arrived in Mithil.  The only incident from Mithil to London was in the half mist off the Norfolk coast; an enemy plane passed over quite low, with one propeller stopped.  He was away before anyone could get a shot.  They had raided airfields in Norfolk that day.  We discharged in London and loaded there for Colombo and Calcutta – a mixed cargo – commercial and government stores.  We left somewhere about the end of March 1942.

Hong Kong and Singapore had fallen so the voyage to Calcutta looked like being a happy one.  This time we did not go so far out into the Atlantic and was escorted almost to the Equator.  That was about 16 days of escort and took us well on our way, much different to the four or five days escort which left us just as far from our destination.  The morning after we dispersed, an SOS was received from one of our convoy saying she was on fire.  She was 60 miles away and therefore we had to go to her assistance.  No one liked the idea, for should a sub hear her SOS she would make for the spot.  About noon we saw the smoke and also saw another vessel on the same errand as ourselves.  As we neared the burning vessel, we saw still another vessel circling the burning vessel.  We asked if any more assistance was required and was told “no”.  She apparently had taken all the crew off and was waiting until the burning vessel sank and would no longer constitute a danger to other vessels.  We carried on just to have a closer look at the burning vessel and had only just passed when she blew completely to pieces.  It’s impossible to convey by mere words what she looked like.  I can only describe it as awe-inspiring and at the same time beautiful.  There she was one minute and the next nothing.  Great columns of white smoke shot high into the air and it was like a concentrated fifth of November.  I saw a picture of HMS Barham blowing up in a Newsreel and it was similar but I think our ship was a bigger blow up.  We were just out of range of the falling debris.  The other vessel must have been in some danger but she was undamaged although some stuff did fall on her deck.  I didn’t tell you the SOS was carrying ammunition.  It shook us I can tell you. We watched the smoke and everything fade away and then went to our cabins.

I think I must have been in my room about five minutes when there were two heavy thuds and the whole ship shuddered.  “We’ve got it,” said I and grabbed my lifebelt and out I went on deck.  All hands with the same idea.  I looked over the side, I look forward, I look aft, to find were she had been hit – nothing.  Then I looked at the other ship, expecting to see her under water, but no.  After a minute’s bewilderment it dawned on us what had happened.  Another big explosion had occurred at the bottom of the ocean on the sunken ship, or what remained of her.  It must have been a fairly hefty one.  We heard later that another ship 8 to 10 miles from the scene felt the explosion.  By this time we were more than shaken.  Back we went to our rooms.  Then the alarm bells went and out we rushed again.  It was boat drill.  A series of V’’s is boat drill and a series of dots the alarm.  We heard the alarm go and that was enough.  We were somewhat peeved, for we considered in a case like this they should have warned us that they were having boat drill.

We heard later that sabotage was probably the cause of the fire and explosion.

 

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