At the end of the last item we were entrained at Beaconsfield in the late evening of 15th January 1943. On our journey north various of our comrades recognised some of the dimly lit stations on the way, notably Harrogate, York, Durham, Newcastle and Berwick upon Tweed and fianally we stopped for a short time in Edinburgh Waverly. Where as if by magic numerous Wives Parents Girlfriends etc of our Edinburgh contingent appeared. So much for security EH !!!
Then off again to arrive at Greenock and board HMT Arundal Castle, a former Union Castle Liner on the cape route.
We sailed on the morning of January 20th and the motion of the ship very quickly sorted the men from the boys, as the Navy has it. By lunch time to the amusement of the main body a few soldiers were sea sick. By tea time the number had greatly increased and by supper-time most had succumbed. Little did we know that we were heading directly for Iceland in a very heavy North Atlantic gale.
After dark we took to our bunks (which were in tiers of four) but sleep did not come easily as the ship pitched and tossed and rolled and to make it worse the bunks creaked loudly at every movement. Only a very few brave souls appeared on the mess decks for breakfast.
Next day well out to sea it was possible to assess the situation, our convoy consisted of some thirty ships, troop ships but mainly cargo vessels. The speed of the convoy is governed by the speed of the slowest ship and this enabled the navel escort vessels to dash around us like sheepdogs with a flock. As we left the Clyde we had passed the "Queen Elizabeth" then being used as a troopship to ferry vast numbers of troops but because of her speed totally unescorted. Eventually the storm blew itself out and as we went further south the weather improved rapidly.
By and large we found the voyage to be boring, we also found it very odd to be wearing plimsoles allmour waking hours, except for one hour per day when all the troops were rostered to wear their boots and march round a designated area of one of the decks to keep our feet from going soft. There were of course regular courses of instruction in various subjects, there were also regular recreation sessions with such delights as Housey-Housey and crown and anchor, both strictly controlled to avoid too heavy a gambling. On the upper decks where the officers dwelt much bridge was played while the rest of us, being Scots and adopted Scots, spent a lot of our free time playing solo whist in highly proficient schools.
One night , lights were seen out at sea and we learned that we were passing the Canary Islands and we were looking at the lights of Tenerife (the first place we had seen lit up since the beginning of the war) and we could see clearly the outline of "Mount Teide" which many of us were to know very well as tourists after the War. Next a green coast began to come up on the port (left hand) side of the ship and we drew into the huge harbour of Freetown, Sierra Leone, the first of our re-fuelling stops. Our Padre, Jamie McMillan, was much respected and a friend to all of us and was the senior Regimental Padre in the convoy, decided to have a service of Eveningsong which could be broadcast to and joined by the other ships, one of our number (still with us) had been a member of the 228 Battery Concert party and he says"" the Padre sent for me on the Sunday and asked if I would sing the Metrical version of the 23rd Psalm as a solo over the radio. I agreed and said Crimond Sir? Well NO he replied I would rather like ------- and named a tune of which I had not heard off. I suppose my face fell and he said "its alright I do have the music - You do read music I suppose ???
of course I said and I took it to the recreation room piano and learned it. It was very worth while and I shall never forget the sound of my own voice floating over that vast harbour, reverberating and coming back to me.
We sailed from Freetown and the next excitement was "Crossing the Line". In Wartime of course there was no ceremony but the ship was full of rumours put out by the Old Soldiers, for instance they said that when you cross the Equator the water runs out of the wash basin anti-clockwise - just another old Soldiers tale. For our next re-fuelling stop half of the convoy went into Cape Town (including our ship) and the rest went to Durban. The people of Cape Town were noted for ntheir hospitality to Soldiers from the convoys. We were met at the harbour gates and taken away to their homes, some of them very plush, we were entertained by them until it was time for the ship to sail again. We really could not have thanked them enough.
After four days of pleasure we left Cape Town on our way to pick up the other half of the convoy from Durban. Before very long we saw the "Queen Elizebeth" already on her return journey from Suez to the U.K. Heading North after Durban we had an uneventful voyage across the Indian Ocean to the Red sea and on our way we stood off Aden and we were not impressed by the look of this palce, it looked very hot and dusty. Eventually having now travelled the lenght of the Red sea we docked at Port Tewfik, ready to disembark on the 20th March.
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