My Dad’s War

A bit of a digression from sewing today.  I’m feeling a bit mawkish and missing my Dad so thought I’d share how he spent his war. 

My Dad couldn’t swim a stroke.  In some professions this wouldn’t really matter but Dad was a Merchant Seaman, a First Radio Officer.  He said it was the best job on the ship because of all the crew he was the one person without whom the ship simply could not sail and as he was not needed at all during the loading and unloading of the cargo, which took a good few days back in pre-container days, he had plenty of time to go onshore and prove his conviction.

He signed on and off 51 ships 151 times over a career spanning 43 years. He gained his certificate on the 23rd March 1938 and joined his first ship, the “Nova Scotia” on 5th May 1938, just before his 19th birthday.  On his first trip he sailed from Liverpool to Halifax, Nova Scotia; to St Johns Newfoundland; Boston USA and then back to Liverpool.  He left his last ship, the MV “Tipperary”, on 19th August 1981.

Dad left Antwerp on 5th January 1939, aboard the “CID” and went to Chatham to load 3000 tons of ammunition.  The ship left Chatham and went to Gibraltar, Malta and Alexandria.  She then went on manoeuvres with the fleet in the Mediterranean, off Alexandria. 

My Dad

From Alexandria, they were sent to Cyprus, (Famagusta) for a rest and then went out again on manoeuvres with the fleet.  The “CID” was sailing as an ammunition ship – others were sailing as store ships etc.  Ammo ships had an escort, and the “CID”’s escort was HMS “Sea Lion”, a submarine.  The submarine travelled in the wake of the ship so as to avoid creating a separate wake that could be detected from the air – all aircraft being treated as enemies. 

HMS “Sea Lion” veered off sideways and created a separate wake and this was seen by an aircraft, reported to HMS “Ghurka”, a destroyer on the enemy side who arrived to ‘sink’ both the ship and the submarine.  SS “CID” took off the navigator from the submarine and returned him to Alexandria. 

Later on in Alexandria, Dad met up with the crew of the seaplane who had sighted them, and from them learned about the extra wake.

The “CID” left Alexandria and entered the Suez Canal.  She anchored in the middle of the Great Bitter Lake while the decision was made whether to send her to Aden or to Alexandria.  Alexandria won and on the day war broke out the “CID” left Great Bitter Lake and dropped anchor at the harbour entrance at Alexandria. 

The ship stayed swinging around the anchor, never lifting her anchor until July 1941, when she went on to Bombay.  Dad finally left her on 23rd Aug 1941. 

My Dad

During the period in Alexandria Dad was enjoying himself, including a good –and indeed memorable – night out with an Australian RNR Lieutenant who was stationed on a Minesweeper, HMS “Bagshot”.  The “CID” was anchored all the way out at the harbour entrance so when, walking back to their respective vessels at 3 or 4am, “Bagshot” turned out to be closer, Dad accepted an invitation to bed down there for the night and return to “CID” at a slightly more conventional hour.  As it happened, he woke at 6am to find himself out minesweeping at the harbour entrance, finally arriving back in harbour at 2pm in the afternoon.  Dad got a boat back to the “CID” and never had any trouble from it, but when he later met up with his friend he discovered that he, the lieutenant, was transferred from HMS “Bagshot” to HMS “Maidstone”, (a submarine depot ship) and confined to ship for three weeks. 

The “CID” was due to be dry-docked so she was emptied of ammunition and filled up with empty shell cases from the evacuation of Crete.  She then set out for Bombay, without a convoy, to be laid up in dry dock to have her hull cleaned of barnacles. 

After Bombay she sailed on to Suez, where Dad was transferred to the “Foreland”, another ammunition ship.  He sailed down to Massawa in Eritrea, on the Red Sea and spent another 14 months swinging around the anchor, doing nothing.  Eventually the ship set sail to Mombassa.  The ship had insufficient coal for the journey to Mombassa, as the maximum speed was 8 knots so they had to go via Aden for bunkers (coal).  The ship then returned to Massawa from Mombassa, again via Aden.

On the way to Mombassa the ship ran aground, so dry-docked in Mombassa to check for leaks.  Luckily there were no leaks; only some bent plates.  This trip was repeated twice more, sometimes with a convoy, sometimes alone.  If a convoy was present, the escort (a whaler) left the ship after 500 miles so the rest of the trip was done without escort.

The “Foreland” next went to Cape Town for dry-docking.  She arrived there in mid November 1944 and Dad spent two months living ashore in Cape Town, including Christmas and New Year.

When she left Cape Town, “Foreland” sailed for Mombassa, via Durban for bunkers.  From Mombassa she proceeded to Aden with no convoys at all, took on more bunkers, headed through the Suez Canal and then up through the Mediterranean to Gibraltar.  She was still without convoy and was still carrying ammunition.

In short, Dad left home with a full cargo of ammunition and also arrived back with a full cargo of ammunition.  The ship left Gibraltar 3 days before the end of the war in Europe, still with no convoy.  Dad arrived in Preston on 15th May 1945, came home on leave and whilst there, the war in the Far East finished too. 

Dad joined his next ship, the “Samindoro”, on 15th November 1945, bound for the West Indies.  He left the ship on 14 Jan 1946.

During this period Dad saw neither a ship sunk, nor a shot fired in anger at sea, nor a depth charge dropped.  An air raid conducted every Friday night on the harbour in Alexandria represented the only enemy action encountered.  There were a couple of dramas which Dad recalled: firstly, a small coaster (to carry 500 tons) which was at anchor near the ship was emptied of ammunition and once emptied, had half her stern blown off by a small bomb.  Then, some time after Dad had left; a ship was sunk in Alexandria Harbour.  Dad said they felt safe in the harbour as the fleet had erected a box barrage above it.  The navy did not engage; it was left to the army on shore to shoot down the planes.

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Offspring
    Dec 29, 2013 @ 15:21:37

    Hi Bee, my Dad’s employer was Manchester Liners although coincidentally I did recently discover that a much earlier ancestor had been a purser for P&O back in the middle 1800s. 🙂 xxx

    Reply

  2. bee lewis (@beelewis1)
    Dec 29, 2013 @ 12:50:55

    What a very interesting story – my dad was a merchant seaman for P&O too and I am 100% positive that your dad will have sailed under Dave Gillan who is a close friend of our family and was a Captain with B&I until at least 1986. There’s a photo of me somewhere aged 17 in 1985 with Uncle Dave and Harvey Smith the showjumper on the bridge of one of the ferries in Liverpool. We used to go down to the ship for dinner if Dave was aboard.

    Reply

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