My Darling.

We passed down the Red Sea in convoy and spent Christmas 1940 at the southern end of the Red Sea.  We had a great crowd on board and had a jolly time.  Some of the lads ran a sort of pantomime and the saloon was fitted with footlights and Curtains.  A real good do.

We dispersed off Aden and went independent to Bombay.  The only thing I remember about that voyage was a raider warning just ahead of us, which later was cancelled as a false alarm.  Made you jumpy until the cancellation came through.  You never took risks, if some ship was suspicious or was closing in, you sent out a warning and then cancelled it if all was well.  From Bombay we proceeded independent to Durban, Cape Town and Freetown.  Cannot remember anything outstanding.  I know I was feeling very tired by the time we arrived in Freetown.  At sea we were doing 6 hours on and 6 hours off in the wireless room with only two of us.  Then we had to relieve one another for meals.  Also when a ship was sighted, or any trouble in the vicinity, I had to stand by. In convoy of course we didn’t do this and had an easier time.

We were always very wary approaching Freetown.  He knew that was the port where we rendezvouzed to make up a convoy and he generally had a sub or subs knocking around somewhere.

We had a few days in Freetown and then off to the UK.  We were bound for Loch Ewe in the north of Scotland.  That meant the east coast of the UK.  We would have preferred the west coast.  No bombing or mines, or very little.  Before a convoy left, the Masters and Radio Officers went to a conference.  Here we got a general outline of convoy work past and present and made suggestions.  Then some ships were assigned special jobs.  Some ships watched on special waves for subs working and then took a wireless Direction Finder Bearing.  We knew roughly the waves they worked and the procedure they followed and what sort of note their Transmission sounded like.  Generally before they attacked they made a wireless report to their home base.  It would be somewhere about the end of February 1941 when we left Freetown.

There were I think about 54 merchant ships, with the Battleship Malaya and three smaller craft, the later being our submarine escort.  The German ships Sharnhoist and Greisanan where out raiding the Atlantic.  Hence the Malaya.  Our submarine escort was terribly weak.  If he had known, he could have wiped most of the convoy out by submarines. The voyage home would take about 12 to 14 days in peacetime.  We took about 22 days.  Our position was no. 4 in the second row.  We were the last ship.  The last ship in any column acted as a rescue ship.  Later you had a special rescue ship attached to convoys.  He was specially fitted up and had doctors aboard.

Off we started, the Malaya was in the centre of the convoy.  Her job was to protect us from surface craft and we couldn’t afford to have her torpedoed.  The centre would be the safest position.  Funnily enough the next convoy she escorted she was torpedoed, but got to the USA OK and was repaired.  The first few days out were quiet.  Then we got a rude awakening.  Just after midnight the fun started.  We could hear explosions going on right alongside us, but we couldn’t tell what was happening owing to extreme darkness.  The convoy was twisting and turning to throw off the subs.  We could see lights blinking away in the distance.  We thought it was the escort signalling to one another.  It wasn’t – it was the torpedoed vessels using electric torches to launch their boats.  Then a ship right in the centre of the convoy, which had been hit, caught fire.  She had a consignment of matches aboard.  She lit up the whole convoy and didn’t improve our feelings of security.  Gradually we left her behind and all her crew were picked up.  No more sleep that night for we expected another attack.  As dawn came, we noted that the outer column, next to us had gone.  The escort later rejoined us with most of the survivors from five ships.  He had got 3 out of the 5 ships on the outside column next to us.  The leader of our column and the ship in the centre.  Had we known one of our column had got it, we should have endeavoured to pick her crew up.  But we didn’t know what was happening.  Later in the War, organisation improved and things like this were unlikely to happen.  Torpedoed ships used their wireless and sent up special lights.



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