Coming up the Channel we avoided everything, sailing vessels included.  We entered Weymouth just under 48 hours after the torpedo attack and 3 days after the dispersal.  For 3 days we had been wandering about on our own amongst submarines and I think we could consider ourselves lucky.  From Weymouth we were routed via Lands End to Manchester.  We had hardly turned around Lands End when I got a “SSSS” from a ship only a few miles away.  She had sighted a periscope.  We saw nothing and went on to Manchester.  We were of course independent.  From Manchester we went to Antwerp, via Lands End (independent).  Off Lands End we ran into bad weather and could make little headway.  We hung about in that vicinity for a day, not too pleasant an experience, for Lands End was a most unhealthy spot in those days.

In the Downs off Dover we had our first experience of mines.  We could see a number floating about and mine sweepers blew them up.  Later of course we got accustomed to them and hoped for the best.  In fine weather the bow wave pushed them away before they touched the ship.  So if the ship keeps steady on her course and doesn’t swing there’s much less danger.  In rough seas of course the mine is bobbing up and down and won’t be pushed away.  Just off the Belgium coast we watched 3 planes cruising around quite close.  We never dreamed that they were German and watched till they eventually cleared off.  Much to our surprise the Belgium pilot when he came aboard said they were German and that the day before a submarine had been cruising around on the surface.

From Antwerp we went to London and picked up a convoy to Middlesboro, no excitement.  From Middlesboro we came to London in convoy.  This was most uncomfortable.  This was the period of the magnetic mine and ships were being mined round the Thames Estuary.  One went up a few miles from our convoy.  I don’t think one of us had a comfortable moment until we docked in London. We loaded in London for S. Africa and left in convoy somewhere about middle of December 1939.  I don’t think we were fitted degaussing antidote to magnetic mine, so didn’t feel too pleasant until we got into deep waters.  At the start of the voyage we heard the first of an air attacks on shipping.  A few miles astern in the vicinity of Folkston a ship was attacked by a plane.  By the way there were now 2 Wireless Operators keeping 16 hrs per day.  Later we did 24 hrs a day.  We were convoyed for 2 or 3 days out and then dispersed and went independently.  The subs were some time before they found out that we were only convoyed a short distance outward.  When they did they had a feast day and then the convoy distance was increased but the lack of escorts was the trouble.  Our first excitement on this voyage came about half way between the Canary and Cape Verde Islands.  Towards midnight I got an SOS from a Spanish passenger ship on fire in our vicinity. At first the Captain hesitated to turn to her assistance and any case subs might be attracted to the spot for any pick-ups.  Later he turned to her assistance.  We did not use our wireless.  Wireless silence was maintained unless you were in trouble.

We were approaching all that night but about noon I got a message from one of her lifeboats.  She had abandoned ship, but her position now was given as 40 miles further east.  We had lost valuable time making for the first position.  We turned east and about 3.00pm sighted the burning vessel about 20 miles away.  There was now some excitement aboard, we were making plans for the passengers and the Captain was going to take them into Dakar.  At 4.00pm a French warship sent out a message saying that she had picked up all the survivors.  We saw nothing of this, as we were still a few miles away.  I had been on continuous watch myself since the SOS the previous night.  Somewhat peeved and sad we turned south again to continue our voyage.

I don’t remember any particular incident down to Cape Town.  Every time a ship was sighted or even smoke I stood by and we anxiously watched until she disappeared.  Raiders were very much in evidence in open spaces and of course we had to get a wireless message out before we were attacked.  If we were at all suspicious we sent out a report just saying ‘suspicious’.  Towards dawn was generally the nasty time.  However we were unmolested and reached Cape Town safely.  We discharged our general cargo in Cape ports and went to Madagascar and loaded beans for the UK (independent).  From Madagascar we went independent to Sierra Leone where we picked up a convoy for the UK.  We arrived in London somewhere about April or May 1940 as far as I can remember without incident. 

I expect we would have some depth charging.  The escorts would pick up any bulk under water even a shoal of fish with their instruments and down went a depth charge.  In the early days of the War this kept us on our toes and during the day we would rush outside.  At night we lay and listened hoping for the best.  Towards the end of the War we grew accustomed to the depth charge attacks and hoped they were all false alarms.

 

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