Arthur’s Tale – Part VII

Every day each of the troopships lowered paravanes over the side.  These were attached by wire to a steel bar welded to the bow of the ship below the waterline.  The paravane was set below wave level and the object was to trap mines which would slide along the wire away from the ship to the paravane where sharp V-shaped edges would cut the wire holding the mine so that marksmen fire at the mine and explode it away from the ship.  All the ships had anti magnetic cables around the whole of the ship to repel any magnetic mines that the Germans were dropping by air into the main shipping lanes.

Toilets for passing water were positioned forward and aft of the ship.  These were covered areas under which a trough affair was rigged for us to wee into when necessary.  Experience taught us always to stand in the middle.  Anyone standing at either end got a good soaking as the ship pitched and rolled with the water rushing to the end and splashing over.  Anyone responsible for disposing of water over the side always took the precaution of check the direction of the wind because at sea, anything disposed of over the side against the wind would come straight back.

I was always fascinated by the number of porpoises and dolphins that often followed ships or swam alongside.  Sometimes we would see flying fish jumping out of the way of the ship’s bows, and at night the wash of the ship always looked fluorescent.

Smoking was not allowed on deck at night as a lit cigarette could be seen a long way off.

Our next port of call was Durban in South Africa.  As the ship went through a narrow causeway to dock a woman all dressed in red, white and blue stood on the quayside with a megaphone, singing patriotic songs, ‘Land of Hope and Glory’, ‘There’ll be bluebirds over the white cliffs of Dover’ and other tunes of this kind.  So many troops flocked to one side of the boat to see her that the ship listed badly to one side and the shipmaster had to order troops to disperse over the ship so that it could be safely docked.

We were given three days shore leave for a few hours each, allowed to draw a few shillings in South African coinage and issued with a free condom each day as we went ashore.  Those of us that did not use them gave them to the people that had enough spare cash to pay for sexual favours.

Five days after shore leave all personnel were given a medical and FFI inspection.  FFI was to make sure all personnel were free from infection.  These were also given at regular intervals afterwards.

Some of the RAF personnel who were training to be air crew were sent on to Southern Rhodesia to do their training.  The rest of us were bound for other destinations.  Once we left Durban, a part of the convoy left to go up the coast to Egypt and the Suez end of North Africa.  The rest of the convoy steamed across the Indian Ocean.  The ship OC Troops announced over the ship tannoy that as we were on the last leg of our journey he could now inform us that our final destination was Bombay in India, a fact that most of us had already guessed.  We were still quite a large part of the convoy and comprised a great many troop and cargo ships.  We arrived on 18 March 1943 exactly two months after we left England, and had spent a large part of that time below decks in cramped quarters and now we were going to be able to stretch our legs and walk on firm ground again.

During the journey I had become friendly with a Scottish airman.  He was a crofter in civilian life and had spent most of his life up in the Highlands of Scotland.  All his movements were slow and deliberate, even his speech.  He was a giant of a lad over six feet in height, but gentle and caring.  He did not make many friends, the other lads thought he was a bit dim because he was so slow.  Being small myself, I knew what it was like for the lads to take the mickey and I felt sorry for him, and went out of my way to speak to him, and even I was surprised to find that he was very well read, was self taught, mostly from books, and was very intelligent under his slow manner.  We spent most of our spare time playing draughts and he taught me how to play chess.  I had my own draught and chess set that I had taken on board with me.

No one took the mickey while he was around, and no one picked an argument with me.  He would wake me each morning by looking over my hammock, shaking me and saying “ye’ll say after me, Auch te Machte, Ecclefechan and Milngavie”, after one or two attempts he would say “Thars nay gieud, ma wee sachanach. We’ll try again tomorrow morn.”

Every day started the same.  We would then go about our duties and  meet again during our free time to play draughts or chess.  Now after two months cramped up on board ship we were going ashore, and looking forward to being on dry land again.  We were taken off in group by ferry boat as we were anchored in the harbour, as all the other berths were full.

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