Uncles Diary Oct/Nov/DEC 1943
Posted by Mac Cummings on June 9, 2018, 9:46 am
October 1st I am still in base but hear news that the regiment is very shortly going home, and I am stuck here in base some 1500 miles away. I feel very groggy, but manage to stagger down to Cairo to keep a date with Norman. I stagger back to Almaza feeling bloody. |
October 2nd I report sick to “dock” once again and am taken off to the 5th South African Hospital at Helwan just a few miles from Almaza. Here my diary almost ceased to exist. The first few days I was very low indeed, being bed bathed every day, and sweating frightfully with suspected Typhoid and Enteric. The nurses were very sweet. I was the only Englishman in a ward full of South Africans and I fell in love several times with the pretty nurses who kept flitting around. After 21 days on my back I was allowed to sit up and take notice. (I found out later that I was so ill that One of the Afrikaans had written home to my Mother.) Ray used to visit me regularly, and to my delight a visit from Charles Reed (who also went to Jarrow Grammar School with me.) He was in HQ Cairo and had seen my name on the “Casualty list.”
November 1st I am in hospital until this day and then go back to Almaza in an effort to join the regiment who are going home.
November 10th I am now in “home details” and waiting passage home to blighty. This is the best news yet, but I am still very weak, as I skipped Con. Camp. (Four weeks of it thanks to the Captain and Colonel.) I have dental and medical checks. I hand in my KD and am issued with Battle Dress.
November 11th This is Friday and I say goodbye to Ray Rooke as we are ready to leave, and there are now Six of us from the 4th.
November 12th We leave Cairo station at 06-30 hrs and set off for Suez. This is my third trip along this line, and we reach Suez at 11-00 hrs and embark on the Duchess of Richmond, a CPR Liner of some 23,000 Tons. It is lying in the roads of Tewfick and I am assigned to Deck C3.
November 13th All day long more troops pour aboard including some 60 Polish ATS (buxom wenches)
November 15th We sail at dawn through the Suez Canal, and where we ground some time later. Some time later we are towed off by two fussy tug boats, who tow us for the rest of the trip through the canal. It is a tricky passage for large ships such as ours.
November 16th We pass Ismalia at dawn and reach Kantara at 11-00 hrs, and Port Said at Noon, and here the ship is inspected by a diver to check up on any possible damage, as we don’t want this ship foundering in deep Atlantic. Aboard are several civilians being repatriated to England.
November 17th We sail from Port Said at 15-00 hrs, and soon are heading past the great breakwaters that guard the entrance to the canal. The Borfor gunners on the Ack Ack which are situated on the breakwaters shout lustily at us “you lucky people” and we in return shout Good Bye, and “get some service in” together with other rude Army remarks. Soon Port Said and the low sandy shores of Egypt are only dim smudges on the far horizon, and we are homeward bound. It’s a grand feeling. The sea is smooth and it is growing dark. There are Three ships in the convoy so far. We head west through the Med, once again “Mare Nostrum”
November 18th At dawn we are joined by more ships which have sailed out of Alex. There are some Fourteen in all plus a Naval escort. We also have air support, a vast change from the Tobruck run of two years ago. We pass Alex at first light heading West, increasing speed at Noon, and are hugging the coast line. The enemy still has airfields in Crete and Greece. The sea is smooth and the duchess is a good sea boat. Accommodation is not too bad nor is the food, and there is a canteen on board and a cinema showing the latest films. Our air support continues.
November 19th At dawn Three Spitfires come over, and one dropped recognition flares. The sea is smooth and the coast line, probably the Jebel area of Libya is in view all day. Hudson aircraft are on patrol all day and speed is again increased. In the convoy are several cargo ships and further inshore small craft are seen heading for Alex. Astern of us and above trails our barrage balloon. We have “abandon ship” practice and as long as they keep it a practice all will be well. I see the “Great Waltz” at the cinema and clocks are retarded one hour. We are moving West.
November 20th The sea has a slight swell and visibility is poor. The speed is increased again, some 15 knots and the coast is out of sight. We must be heading for Malta or Sicily. It is very cloudy during the afternoon.
November 21st Soon after 07-00 hrs we approach land, but where? It could be Tripoli, but the mountains looming out of the morning mist prove otherwise. It is Augusta bay Sicily, and the mountain with the snowy cap is Etna. Here we water. The locals come out to trade boxes of almonds and fruit for cigarettes. It is misty and raining. Augusta is an artificial harbour with a narrow coastal plain flanking it. This in turn gives way to a high scarp which runs North-South. Away to the North Etna keeps poking its snow capped peak through the clouds.
November 22nd Still here as there is a Submarine scare on at the moment, and a feeling of boredom is creeping over the ship. We are still here on the 25th as a large convoy enters together with a Destroyer with its bows blown off. I visit the cinema and see “It started with Eve.” I make friends with one of the engine room staff who keeps me well supplied with tea and eats. One sick man is taken ashore and some ships leave on the 26th, but not us.
November 27th Weigh anchor at 11-00 hrs and leave Port Augusta and are we glad to leave, after all we are going home and not into action. The sea is smooth, but a high wind is blowing up. We hug the Sicilian coast.
November 28th Having crossed the Med during the night, morning finds us steaming just off Cap Bon Tunisia and we hug the coast all day. There is some rain, and I attend divine service. We pass Ferryville in the distance where my brother is stationed on a submarine repairing depot ship. We are now off the Algerian coast and it is fine and warm.
November 29th The sea is like a mill pond and we are still hugging around the north African coast. All ports below B Deck are closed as we approach Algiers at 15-30 hrs. The sky is filled with AA bursts, but this is practice so we learn to our immense relief. Here we are joined by several more liners who are wheeling around in a great circle as they take up positions in our convoy. (Among them are the Franconia and the Monarch of Bermuda.) There is increased naval escort, and more coastal command Hudsons, together with fighters. We steam on past Algiers. Our speed now is only some 13 knots and Black out is 17-30 hrs until 07-51 hrs. The coastline is very rugged and the Atlas Mountains can be seen. Soon the city of Algiers is lost in the haze.
November 30th We are again joined by more ships, including Cruisers. The ships are now laying down a smoke screen and are also performing most erratic courses, and changing course every Three minutes; a practice I hope. The coast line is still visible and we should pass Gibraltar by dawn tomorrow. The atmosphere below deck is killing as the ports are still closed. I do some reading “A Sicilian Diary.” We are now near Spanish Morocco and the food has fallen off in quality.
December 1st Last night was rather a hectic one. About 20-00 hrs flares were dropped from some aircraft which passed over the convoy. We thought at once that they were German planes probably from Spanish soil, but they proved to be ours. The ships replied by switching on Red, Green and White lights on the main masts also hooting on the sirens. All night long and early this morning the ships have been shaken by depth charges, as our escort engages enemy Submarines in the straits of Gibraltar. We pass Tangiers and the Rock at 02-30 hrs, both places being lit up, as there is no blackout. I went to bed as the Duchess headed out West into the long Atlantic swells. We have Two practice alarms today; (1) take cover, air and sub attack; (2) abandon ship. During the afternoon the Duchess of Bedford (sister ship of ours) rammed the Monarch of Bermuda whilst changing course, and there are some casualties on the Monarch. She has to turn to Gibraltar for repairs. It appears that either the orders were not understood (i.e. changing of course) or that the steering gear of the Bedford failed. The Bedford carried on with the convoy. We spot a Catalena plane on patrol from the Rock, and it is a welcome sight, as it is known that Submarines are very busy in these waters.
December 2nd We are now well out into the Atlantic ploughing through long and heavy swells, the old Duchess is heaving somewhat. We have our usual boat drills and AA practice; and we watch a poor Polish ATS being rather upset by a nasty attack of “Mal de Mer.” Our escort is well out on the horizon, and the course is approx North, North West. It is cloudy and cold and the sea is moderate. I visit the cinema in the evening and see “Dangerously Yours.”
December 3rd We are now heading due North. The sea is slight with a fresh wind. I sound almost nautical. Later in the day it rains; we are getting into the Northern hemisphere.
December 4th My 24th Birthday, and like my 21st I spend it at sea, only this time I am coming home. We are somewhere in the Atlantic heading North West by North. It is cloudy with heavy rain. At 12-00 hrs there is an issue of chocolate and a medical inspection at 14-00 Hrs. I report sick with a sweat rash, but otherwise am O.K. An order issued today reads “On and from December 5th all Service personnel will sleep in their clothes.” We are approaching the danger area for Submarines.
December 5th Today is very cold and we change into battle dress. We catch our first sight of birds since Gibraltar. Is there land in the offing?
December 6th Incident at dawn. Enemy Submarines are located and engaged by our Escort. No action is visible because of darkness. There are only “flashes” and “recognition signals,” and of course the noise of depth charges (5 in all.) We change course every 3 miles (90º swing) and our speed is increased. As day breaks the destroyer’s can be seen in a huddle. One Submarine has been sunk. The sea is smooth.
December 7th It is warmer than of late and the visibility is good. The sea is like a millpond, which is most unusual for the North Atlantic in December. The ships take up new positions in the convoy which indicates a separation. There is another Submarine incident at 16-00 hrs and depth charges are dropped. We are sailing East South East, and the clocks are to be advanced 1 hour at 24-00 Hrs.
December 8th The course remains East South East. There is an incident at dawn but no repercussions. At Noon we sight Tory Island. This is the first landfall. Tory lies some few miles off Bloody Foreland and where the Spanish Armarda was wrecked. Tory is a desolate spot; a column of Black Basalt amid the Atlantic waves. The only inhabitants are the lighthouse keeper. It is very cold and a slight swell is running. In the distance can been seen “navigation lights” of Northern Ireland.
December 9th We are nearly home. A quick passage down the North Channel and the Irish Sea; and we arrive at the Mersey Bar at 09-30 hrs and pick up the pilot. Last night parts of the convoy took their separate ways to the Clyde or Belfast. We proceed at full speed up the wide Mersey Estuary and exactly 3 years and 2 days later drop anchor in the same spot opposite the Liver Birds; and where we sailed from in November 1940. We have a good and safe journey thanks to the Navy and the Mercantile Navy and the master and crew of the Richmond. We lie off the Princess Landing stage and its good to be back in England. There is no disembarkation; it will be Saturday at the earliest. We sit in the cold and the fog.
December 10th At long last we disembark at 14-30 hrs, and then by truck to a transit camp at Hick near Preston. As we speed through the streets of War torn Liverpool we throw out “Oranges” and “Lemons” (like the famous bells) and there is a scramble among the shoppers. We are issued with leave papers, Pay (lots) and ration cards. I have a drink with a friendly ATS. We can’t stand the cold after 3 years in Africa, and we can’t sleep.
December 12th I board the express to Newcastle from Liverpool at 09-00 hrs arriving at Newcastle at 15-30 hrs, and Jarrow at 16-00 hrs, and 29 Grange Road West at 16-15 hrs; “And is there Honey still for tea”? I walk in the ever open door (having passed and greeted Mrs. Rennie and her daughter in Grange Road) and “Surprise Mother” who is busy sweeping the tiled hearth. She is alone and almost passes out with shock. (There were no phones in those days.) However she quickly recovered and amid the hugs and kisses in walks “Little George Rose” my cousin who is only 8 years old. At my Mothers bidding he hastened back to 202 Albert Road to share the good news with Grandma, Uncle George and Aunt Annie and of course Chrissie.
So I am back home after 3 years abroad, and I have 3 weeks leave ahead; but also the Second Front. I enjoyed my first meal back home with Mother fussing over me (very nice.) I later went to Albert Road to meet the folks. Uncle George and I visited the Clock for a couple of Pints and how crowded it was. Grandma was mildly shocked (“our Willy drinking.”)
My leave passed quickly as they all do. I did so much. Xmas shopping, shows, parties and Xmas day and New Years day soon passed over. On January 2nd I reported back for duty.