War Service with the Royal Mail 1940-46
I made my first voyage to sea in 1937 at the age of 17. I was a waiter with Cunard White Star Line and we sailed to New York.
My wartime service with Royal Mail began in 1940 when I joined HMT Almanzora. On my second trip we were at anchor, having disembarked our troops, when we were attacked during the night by German aircraft. I rushed up on deck to find that a bomb had hit us near the bow.
Many ships were on fire. HMT Georgic was nearby and she was able to use her engines to beach herself. Next day we were amused to hear Lord Haw Haw report on the radio that we had both been sunk. By that time we were on our way to Durban with concrete and new plates to reinforce the bow.
On return to England I transferred to Highland Monarch, working as a lounge steward. I have very happy memories of my time on her. We carried troops from New York to the UK, after which we were issued with tropical uniforms only to be sent to Iceland! When we left there the decks were awash with melting ice for two days!
I was fortunate that in the course of my war service, I visited so many places. We carried troops to North Africa and the West Africa Second division to India: we called at the Falklands, Malta, and Italy and looked in at Santos, Rio and Buenos Aires.
I recall arriving at Montevideo just after the Battle of the River Plate and seeing the Graf Spee stranded on the sandbank and when we got to B.A., we found that her crew had already arrived.
Returning from Montevideo to the UK, we were honoured to have as a passenger Rear Admiral Harwood, Commodore South Atlantic at the time of the battle, with the cruisers Exeter, Ajax and Achilles under his command. During the voyage, he gave a talk on the battle, describing how one of the shells passed straight through his bathroom and didn’t explode!
During my service with Royal Mail, I completed a gunner course with the Royal Navy at Ainsdale, although I fired only one shot in anger! I also earned my EDH certificate on a sailing ship moored on the Thames Embankment, though I never did use it.
In 1945, my war service and my sea time ended when I had a kidney removed on an Army war in Liverpool hospital. My discharge book was stamped ‘Unfit for Sea Service’. A happy outcome, though, was that I met my future wife, Doreen, who was attached to an organisation that visited the wards with ‘comforts’ for the boys. We married in Liverpool in 1946 and enjoyed 57 wonderful years together. She was a pianist who broadcast during the war, and on our travels she was frequently asked to entertain and to accompany other artists. Sadly, she died a few years’ ago while we were on a cruise.
With must talk recently of decorations for merchant service personnel, I am happy to say I received my UK Merchant Seafarers Veterans Badge in 2006.