We left Penarth about the 2nd December and proceeded to Greenock (in Scotland, next to Glasgow) for outward convoy .  We had a few days there with nothing but gales to cheer us up.  It was still blowing hard when we left.  Three days later, off the West of Ireland, it was still blowing a gale and we were just about fed up with the weather.  With bad weather you can get ahead and hang about too long in the danger area.  About 9pm that night, blowing as hard as ever, seas breaking over, ship pitching and rolling, I sat in the wireless room, when in came second and third operators with lifebelts on.  Funnily enough I didn’t get the wind up right away but said, “Hello, what’s up with you two.”  “Steering gear carried away,” said they.  That shook me.  If we get out of this we’re lucky.  Here we were in the middle of a convoy, pitch black and a gale running.  We had “Out of Control” lights up but would ships see them in time.  However that was our least danger.  Rolling and pitching as we were it would take some time to get into hand steering gear.  In the meantime we would most probably fall into the trough of the sea – that’s the sea beam on – and with heavy seas breaking over us we would be overwhelmed and founder.  The skipper was saying to me recently , that he thought we were a gonner that night.  The old ship behaved well and although an occasional heavy sea swept our decks we sustained no particular damage and was able to get the hand gear working.  When morning came turned round for the Clyde and repairs.  We reached Clyde without incident - still blowing.  About a dozen other vessels returned damaged by the gale.  I saw one ship, she had lorries lashed on deck.  All the upper structure of these lorries had been washed away and all that was left was the wheels, axel and engines still lashed.

I’ll digress here and tell you something of wartime life saving equipment.  It had reached a high standard by this time.  The boats were well fitted up.  There was apparatus for making fresh water from seawater.  We had wireless transmitters and apparatus and receivers.  Each man had a special suit to take into the boat for protection against the weather and now we had another suit to put on in case of fire.  With octane the adjacent sea would probably be a mass of flames.  This suit completely covered one, so you could jump into the water and swim clear.  Our life belts could be worn for long periods without undue discomfort.  We rarely wore them in daylight and at night – well it just depended how you felt.  You had a little electrical red light, which burnt in the water.  Very handy at night for rescue work.  Then you had a whistle to blow and a knife for anything.  Each ship carried special equipped rafts.  These rafts had quick releases and just floated off when the ship sank.  Very handy in bad weather and when a ship sank quickly.

Now back to Greenock.  The weather continued badly.  One night as we lay at anchor, another ship dragged her anchor and bore down on us.  “Dragged her anchor” – her anchors wouldn’t hold her and with the heavy weather she started to move towards us.  With a loaded ship there would be a mass of something between 10,000 and 15,000 tons.  Now a little thing like that can cause some damage and a spot of bother.  We had octane in No 1 and it wouldn’t take much of a bash to cause a spark and up we’d go.  Still there she was bearing down on us.  It wasn’t much good trying to stop 10,000 tons with a boat hook.  She got right across her anchors, smashed up against our bows.  Then somehow she got clear, slithered and scrapped right along our portside, smashed our port lifeboats and then having made herself most unpopular for about 15 minutes, passed away into darkness without saying goodnight.  It’s remarkable how our anchors held with all that extra weight.  It’s a wonder that the octane didn’t go up.  Altogether we seem to have the luck of ”Mohammed and his seven blind pigs” – Don’t ask me – I don’t know – just a saying.  Perhaps he had no pigs and if he did they may not have been blind.

They repaired or replaced the lifeboats.  Made the bows watertight.  The twist is still there and we were all finished ready to sail with the convoy leaving December 24th.  Lovely day to sail.  Well, now the Indians refused to sail.  That was two accidents and we would be bound to have a third.  Then they weren’t satisfied with the bow repairs.  I think what was behind it all – they wanted extra money.  Arguments went on all day and at last they agreed to go, but it was then too late to catch the convoy.  We had Christmas in Greenock, at anchor of course.  We didn’t enjoy it, we all felt so fed up with the long messing around and the continued bad weather.  Boxing Day we left on our own for Milford Haven to connect up with another convoy.

Off Holyhead we passed a large number of mines.  They would be ours that had broken a drift in bad weather.  Moored mines are supposed to become inoperative when they break away but that doesn’t always happen, not by along way.  It’s not bad seeing them in daytime, you can avoid these mines, but at night it’s not so comfortable.  You can’t sleep peacefully with the idea of those things bobbing up and down in the water.  They didn’t bob us so we arrived OK at Milford Haven.  Here we lay several days waiting for the weather to improve.  We eventually sailed about January 3rd 1943, one month after we had originally started off.  Can you wonder we were all worn out by this time?  We left Milford Haven and went south of Ireland.  That was the first time we had been south about since the early days of the war.  It cut a great deal off our run. We had quite a good escort and the weather held good.  He had been doing some damage on the route to Gibraltar but we were not attacked either by sub or plane.  As I have said before, the escorts would often be attacking subs and dropping depth charges, but they never told us the results.  The convoy turned away from any suspected area.  We got down to Gibraltar and had to anchor there for several days.  The North African ports were full up.  Algiers was our destination.

 

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