We went independent to Italy from Port Said.  If any trouble developed we had to make for the nearest port.  We weren’t worrying a lot about subs or planes; mines were our trouble.  There were quite a lot floating around and this ammunition, it was like a sore tooth to us.  When we neared Italy we were pleased to hear Bundisi was our port of discharge.  Well away from the front line.  Air raids not impossible, but unlikely.  It was quiet at Bundisi during our stay.  From Bundisi we went independent lightship to Gibraltar.  Quite quiet.  The first night out it was pitch dark and no coastal lights for some distance.  We had the coast on one side and a minefield on the other and not a lot in between.  We had about a 4-hour run like this and mightily pleased we were to sight a light and get our exact position.  From Gibraltar we went up the east coast of Spain to Valencia (independent), loaded oranges and then back to Gibraltar.  All quiet like. From Gibraltar we proceeded in convoy to Glasgow.

Things had now livened up again at sea.  The enemy was sinking a fine number of ships, especially in waters round the home coast where previously it had been too dangerous for him to operate.  Now he’d got improved apparatus and was able to remain submerged for very long periods.  He could sit on the bottom and not move his engines and was therefore more difficult to detect.  He could lay in safety in waters of the Irish Free State.  It was a serious problem that had to be faced.  However I’m sure we did, or would have done, “Got the better of it”.  For the time being however it apparently was serious.

From Gibraltar to a day south of Land’s End we had only a very weak escort.  There we were joined by about a dozen more escort ships and mark you, a “Rescue Ship”.  We passed up the Bristol Channel and Irish Sea to Glasgow strongly escorted all the way.  (Sometime ago we passed up and down this coast independent.)  There was plenty of action going on all the time, day and night – depth charging.  If the escort got anything they never told us.  Sometimes before this period, in the area outside the Clyde, he got four merchant ships in convoy.  The rescue ship picked up the survivors and was then sunk herself with heavy loss of life.  That’s what some people thought was a quiet time at sea.  We arrived in Glasgow safely, discharged and loaded commercial for Haifa.  We left in April (1945).  Had the same heavy escort down the coast, but we had very little action that I can remember.

The convoy dispersed very early this time – while we were still north of Finisterre and still of course in the Bay of Biscay.  We had three days independent to go to Gibraltar and the Mediterranean, which we considered more or less safe.  Now this seemed to us to be taking a risk, but of course the Admiralty knew what they were doing, keeping as many escorts as possible for coastal work I suppose.  Still we knew there was always the possibility of a sub knocking around, but of course the war was still on and you couldn’t have 100% safety.  I always had great faith in the Admiralty in Naval affairs.  They’d made mistakes, but they did some wonderful work under very tiring conditions.  From our point of view, that is commercial operating, I don’t think they were too good.  Technically of course they were brilliant; but operating poor.  They were accustomed to dealing with Naval telegraphists, who have to work by numbers and we have to think for ourselves.  To give you an idea – for a time, in convoy we kept no wireless watch and used to assist on the bridge in visual signalling.  We went back into the wireless room in 1943, but believe me operators in 1944 were still being asked to attend visual courses ashore for bridge work.  We had many fights with them.  They were a long while before they would actually recognise us as Officers, although any pensions were those of an Officer.  In the early days the man in charge of the Wireless Convoy Conference ashore was a Chief Petty Officer Telegraphist.  Later they recruited men from the commercial side – that is practical men from amongst ourselves.  They were given official rank.  These men understood our difficulties and what we were talking about.  We are poles apart from the Navy.  For instance nobody aboard was permitted to have a broadcast set, which might howl and give our position away.  In the Navy there wouldn’t be any question of not obeying the order.  With us a Master might have such a set and use it.  The wireless operator was made responsible that the order was obeyed.  A very awkward position, especially for a young operator.  There was no question of that sort of thing in the Clanline.  The Master had more sense, but believe me, I’ve heard operators complain about the Skipper using his set.  If you stuck your nose out, the set had to go off, but you wouldn’t be at all popular.

Now where were we when you started me off on this line, oh I see, breaking convoy – well we arrived in the Mediterranean O.K. and saw nothing ourselves or heard any reports from other vessels of our own convoy.  But mark you – when Germany packed up, one or two subs came into Gibraltar, so it looks as if there were one or two subs knocking around when we came down independent to Gibraltar.  The war was now nearly at an end as far as Europe was concerned and VE came when we where in the Malta Channel, so we celebrated at sea.  Very little celebrations we had.  Well we were now more or less under peacetime sailings, no blackout, which was a great boon.  Blackout at sea was one of our worst trials.  Especially in the Tropics, when everything got so terribly hot and stuffy owing to lack of air.

We still had mines to consider and also the possibility of a sub commander running amok and refusing to give in.  The occasional ship was still being sank by mines.  Oh, there’s still plenty of mines to sweep up.  There’s so little more to tell you, but I’ll see it through.  We discharged at Alexandria and loaded general for Haifa.  At Haifa we loaded for Middlesboro.  At Leith we loaded for Mombasa.  That would take us the other side of Aden and into the combat zone.  The only thing we thought about was the blackout.  However VJ day came again in the Malta Channel and now we were between Aden and Mombasa and no blackout.  Officially the war is at an end, but we are still under Admiralty direction and will be, until areas are clear of mines.

Well my dear I’ve tried to give you an overall account of my troubles and trials in this war.  Of course there’s many incidents I have forgotten. It was really those incidents that didn’t develop that kept you up to scratch.  In convoy sometimes, you’d get two or three times a watch, “unknown plane approaching”, mostly they would be our own, or would go out of range of Radar without being identified.  Whilst the warning was on, you were on the Alert.  Then you’d get emergency alterations of course.  You’d know something was wrong, but what was it?  In the words of the poet, “Never a dull moment – what”.

Love Jimmy


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