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15 October 2014
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Everybody suddenly started singing

by BBC Southern Counties Radio

Contributed by 
BBC Southern Counties Radio
People in story: 
Eric Leat
Location of story: 
The Atlantic Ocean
Background to story: 
Royal Navy
Article ID: 
A6265622
Contributed on: 
21 October 2005

I was an 18-year-old in the summer of 1943, serving on my first ship in the Royal Navy. We were with a convoy of troopships and escorts out of Greenock headed southward and eastward to reinforce the Allied war effort against Japan. The battle against the Atlantic seas was an old one, a huge one, but a fair one. Then we faced the greater battle against the German submarines.

The U-boats were hunting in wolf packs, relentlessly, with merciless and murderous efficiency. We lost three ships, we never knew how many men. Eventually we sailed clear, the busy corvettes rounding up the stragglers and herding them back into station.

There was Welsh regiment on our ship and they started singing “Guide me, o thou great Jehovah” to that fine stirring tune, “Cwm Rhondda”. We all joined in because men of that generation, whatever their faith or lack thereof, were brought up on the old hymns. Then we heard across the waters the next ship singing, “Strong deliverer, be thou still my strength and shield.” The great words, the thrilling tune, were taken up from one ship to another throughout the convoy.

Long after the war, when my navy days were no more than a distant memory, I told this story and a man in the group said, “I was there. I was in the Merchant Navy on one of the troopships. Yes, an unforgettable experience, everybody suddenly burst out singing.”

This story was submitted to the People's War site by Steve Gothard on behalf of Eric Leat and has been added to the site with his permission. Eric fully understands the site's terms and conditions.

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