One ship, HMS Northern Princess, was torpedoed by U-94(Otto Ites) AT0440 on the 7th March, 1942, off the Newfoundland bank on the way across and five others lost while with the USN-the St Cathan, Senateur Duhamel and the Pentland Firth due to collisions, the Kingston Ceylonite by mine, and the Bedfordshire torpedoed by U-558(Gunther Krech) at 0540 on the morning of the 12th May, 1942, near Cape Lookout, North Carolina-but after some six months the surviving ships were withdrawn to South Africa to combat an upsurge of U-boat activity in the South Atlantic
After we'd been shown our bunks and found our Action Stations-mine was in the magazine!-Arthhur and I were in the same watch and our lot were actually watch-ashore that very day. Not only that, but shore leave was granted 1300 to 0730 next day and you could walk ashore whenever you liked without any of that nonsense about "liberty boats" so beloved by the Royal Navy proper. All you had to do was tell the quartermaster when you were going ashore and report to him when you came back aboard. Arthur and I lost no time in getting cleaned and off ashore as soon as possible and, needless to say, our first call was at the Victoria League for another Full House of eggs and bacon and all the trimmings
Comparing notes we agreed we didn't care much for the cox`n, a Geordie of bad-tempered disposition so far as we could tell on such short acquaintance, but the others in the crew seemed a decent lot. Lads like big Freddie Funnel who sported a full set of whiskers like that sailor they used to show on the front of the Player`s Cigarette packet. They had been together a long time and come through a lot. Arthur Griffiths and I were still very green but with very few exceptions the crew of the Northern Isles made us welcome and did what they could to make us at home on the mess deck.
Captain was Lieutenant John M Baldry, RNVR, a peacetime solicitor form Hastings. He carried his head slightly to one side and, of course, with the cruelty of youth the lads had nicknamed him Swiivel-Neck, later shortened to just Swiv. But the title was bestowed wth affection for he was a very brave man much liked by his crew. Some tome after we joined I was on the bridge when he asked:
Where was Griffiths?"
"Below, sir," I replied.
"Well, tell him I want him," said Swiv
"Aye, aye sir," I said making for the deck.
"You there, Arthur?" I called down the
mess deck hatch, "Swiv wants you."
"Where is he?" called up Arthur.
"On the bridge," I replied, only to hear a voice at my ear.
"Oh no he`s not-he`s standing at your back!"
Old Swiv had folllowed me down without my noticinng!
After a few days the Northern Isles complete her repairs and we went to sea for the first time. I was on the boat deck abaft the wireless cabin when we cleared the breakwater and I remember yet my astonishment-not to say my terror!-when the Indian Ocean swell caught us and slewed her over so that seawaterpoured over the gunwales onto the deck. This I was to discover was commonplace on all trawlers so that you were never really comfortable at sea. You could never relax or she would up and hit you one when you least expected it. The old hands claimed to get used to it but I never did and there wasn't once I didn't breathe a sigh of relief when we reached the shelter of a breakwater. That first day we returned to port after a few hours but soon we were put on the roster as protection for Durban Harbour. This involved steaming up and down the outside listening on our Asdic and responding to any alarm we might get from ashore if anything metallic crossed the loops laid on the sea bed. Pens better than mine have tried to describe the feeling you get when the Action Station bells ring. It seems like bedlam is let loose what with the clamour of the bells and the fast action as men swing out of their bunks and up the ladder. It didn't happen that often on Durban loop patrols but often enough for my liking, especially since I had to climb down into the magazine below the waterline.If anything touched us there wouldn't be much hope for any of us, given that we were loaded with depth charges and other ammunition and protected by a mere quarter-inch steel plate but I felt that, of all the places to choose, I had drawn the short straw with the magazine.
My bunk was on the seamans` mess-deck and I stood my watch in the wireless cabin with the other two telegraphists, Charlie Reid and Ronnie Harvey, both veterans of the long haul out to the States and over to South Africa. Ron had been on the HMS Senateur Duhamenl, a giant French trawler of 913 tons that had been taken over at the time of Dunkirk-a lovely berth according to him-and he never really forgave the Yanks for sinking her by a collision, especially since he he'd been in his bunk at the time and escaped clad only in his underpants. Charlie Reid slept in the bunk in the cabin which it was my daily duty too scrub out in harbour, while he maintained the sets and batteries, and Ronnie was ship's postman and canteen manager. I reckoned I was lucky to secure such a berth with a decent crowd of lads and the constant buzz about an impending refit at Port Elizabeth with-I was assured-at least a month's leave was something to look forward to with some anticipation.
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