Arthur’s Tale – Part III

Our course was to last seven weeks, six weeks intensive training, learning all the relevant stores procedures covering the supply and storage of equipment within all types of units, and one week of learning the procedures of sending men and materials overseas, and the interchange of materials between foreign governments, and emergency procedures for active service units overseas.

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One of my roommates was a trainee manager in civilian life and he and I palled up together to study in our spare time, we sat together in class, and would question each other and revise together.  On Sunday our day off we would go to the top of Beachy Head and sit and study.  

On one occasion the peace and quiet was disturbed by the heavy drone of aircraft, and when we looked up the sky was full and we were witnessing one of the first 1000 bomber daylight raids on its way to Germany.  I wondered if any of my old friends from Swinderby were among them, and how many would return.

My friend and I would pull the system to pieces, question every procedure and work out questions to putto our instructor, and take it in turns to ask follow up questions, and it became a daily challenge between us and the instructor, but fortunately for us and him, he had a wide practical as well as theoretical knowledge of the system, and the organisation of the R.A.F.

At the end of the course I passed with an overall pass mark of 94.8% and was promoted to L.A.C and was recommended for embarkation duties.  My friend passed with 96.4% but did not do so well on embarkation studies.

We were inoculated and sent home on seventeen days embarkation leave and told that we would receive our overseas call papers whilst on leave.

I eventually received my papers ordering me to report to Blackpool, where once again I was put into digs with three other lads in the same billet.  In Blackpool we were asked to assemble at a different place every day.  We would be asked to report to a building to be kitted out in overseas kit one day and we would have to hand it all in the next day.  We would be issues with arms one day, and asked to hand them in the next.  We would be asked to assemble at 4 o’clock in the morning, at 8, or 9, or at 2 o’clock or 4 in the afternoon.

The idea was that we would not know exactly where we were eventually going.  Our landlady’s however always seemed to know, how we don’t know.  They would say “see you for dinner” and we would know that we were not going.

One day however we were given a medical and our pay books were marked ‘Fit for a/s’ and we knew that our time was close.

Then when we were asked to assemble at 4 in the morning our landlady’s said “this is the real thing lads” and wished us goodbye.  We were marched into a shed given a packed lunch, issued with a sten gun and 200 rounds of ammunition and as we came out of the shed we were given a birthing card with a number on it, and we had to walk between two lines of MP’s and call out our number as we went, and into R.A.F lorries, 22 men to a lorry and driven off to the railway sidings and put onto a train again between two lines of MPs, six to a compartment because of all our kit, and the doors were locked behind us so that no one could run off.  The idea of calling out our number at each stage was to stop anyone missing.

The train took us to Liverpool and I well remember marching down the cobblestone streets to the docks fully loaded with all my kit and two kit bags, I recall living alongside the enormous ships towering 30 feet above us the MS Dominion Monarch all 28,500 tons of her.

We had to wait some time before we could go aboard, some of the lads were getting a bit fed up waiting but having just passed my course on embarkation duties I knew the documentation that had to be done before we could be allocated a birth.

Eventually, some 4000 troops and airmen were loaded aboard.  3,500 men in messes in the ship cargo holds and 500 or so officers in the cabins.

I was put in B2 deck forward.  We were put 12 to a mess taking 11 men and one corporal and a sergeant in charge of each mess deck of a dozen tables or so.  An officer was also allocated to each mess deck, although the officer and sergeant did not sleep on the mess deck.

None of us knew where we were going, and during that day we were allowed to walk around the ship getting ourselves acquainted as to where everything was.  We needed to know where the toilets and showers were, ship’s galley, ship’s shops, medical centre, hospital, hold and armoury.

Our first duty to carry out when we were all aboard was to hand our arms into the ship’s armoury, but not our ammunition.  I suppose they did not like the idea with so many men out on the high seas fully armed and without our arms the ammunition was not much use to us.

Late that afternoon we set sail out of Liverpool but only as far as the Firth of Clyde and we anchored off land between Gourock and Dunoon. We waited there for three days, each day more and more ships and warships arrived, and we realised that we were being formed into a large convoy.  There were other troop ships, fully laden with troops and airmen.  We noticed the ‘Empress of Britain’, ‘the Strathnairn’ and a number of other troop ships that we could not see the names of.

In all about forty troop ships and cargo ships were assembled, a Royal Navy cruiser, a converted aircraft carrier and six destroyers completed the convoy.

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