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15 October 2014
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Diary of a Colonial Administrator

by GaynorL

Contributed by 
People in story: 
George David Lintott
Location of story: 
En route from Liverpool to the Gold Coast in 1944
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
09 November 2003

My father-in-law G. David Lintott had been a student at University College Southampton and had decided that he wished to enter the Colonial Administrative Service. Unfortunately war broke out and he had to obtain his degree and then enlist in the armed forces. This he duly did, and in 1940 entered the Army as a gunner with the Royal Artillery. In 1941 he eventually applied to the Colonial Office. In 1943 upon his acceptance, he embarked on an extra-ordinary adventure, not knowing initially to which country he might be posted. Eventually the news came through that he had been assigned to the Gold Coast (Ghana). After a long and perilous ocean voyage with a naval escort, he arrived in a strange country, not really knowing what to do or expect. He then embarked upon a completely new and unique set of duties and challenges. He had to oversee the administration of a significant region of the Gold Coast, acting as a court official to administer justice, to oversee many infrastructure projects such as the building of roads and schools and act as paymaster to the work gangs.

The following is an extract from his diaries describing his long and perilous voyage to Africa:

Friday 14th January - Embarked at Liverpool on the SS Ondura of the Pacific Steam Navigation Company. I travelled up overnight from Euston in company with fellow passengers. It only took about an hour to go through the various controls. The SS Ondura is travelling out to West Africa as a troop ship and accommodation has been pushed to the utmost limit. Both civilians and Service personnel are on board. There are Army, Navy and Air Force drafts going out to the West Coast.
My own cabin is really a dormitory as there are 28 First Class civilian passengers in it. The officers also sleep in dormitories. There are second class civilian passengers aboard who have to sleep in hammocks. The conditions are not at all good but I suppose we must put up with this sort of thing in wartime.
Spent the time (having got on board just after 10 a.m. and not being allowed ashore again) watching the loading of luggage and trying to recognise my own stuff. Only managed to see one of my own cases but the agents said that there would be no slip up so I did not worry. The Army fatigue parties handle passengers luggage in the most deplorable manner — in fact one would think they were trying to do as much damage as they could.
My appointment to the Colonial Administrative Service from the point of view of pension takes effect from today’s date. The date for the purpose of seniority will be the date of my arrival in the Gold Coast.
Saturday 15th January - We are still tied up along the Princes Landing Stage at Liverpool. Just before eleven, though, we heard the cry “All visitors ashore” and at a quarter to twelve we left.
Just after 12 we went down and had lunch having watched our departure from the landing stage. We only have 3 meals a day aboard this ship:
Breakfast 8 o’c
Lunch 12 o’c
Dinner 6 o’c
All the meals have to be done in two sittings. The food on the whole is not too bad although we could wish it a good deal better. There is a shortage of fresh water due to the fact that the ship has about 3,000 people on board, far greater than its normal complement. The water for washing is only put on twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening. All the baths are sea water baths, but of course this is quite normal.
The ship is quite large, about 15,000 tons or more. It is fitted out with Tannoy loudspeakers in every conceivable place over which instructions and news bulletins are broadcast.
The civilian passengers are warned that while on the ship they will be subject to military discipline. From the moment of leaving it was made compulsory to carry life jackets at all times and in all places. Boat drill is held daily at 11.00 hours.
Sunday 16th January - We join up with the rest of our convoy and our escort. We are now proceeding steadily to sea and I suppose we shall do a wide sweep into the Atlantic to avoid the Bay of Biscay.
Sunday 23rd January - Since the last entry the convoy has been proceeding steadily on its way. Contrary to the usual route we are going to call at Gibraltar. The trip up to the moment has been quite uneventful. Every other day or so, a few depth charges will be dropped. The other day there was an air raid alarm on for quite a few hours, but nothing happened.
This afternoon, however, there has been considerable activity on the part of the escort. Depth charges have been dropped the whole afternoon and the ships of the convoy have been weaving and changing positions. Once again, though nothing developed. All the passengers were so engrossed in watching these operations that the approach of land was quite unobserved until about teatime by which time the coast of Spain was clearly visible. As darkness fell, the Spanish towns were lit up and after the English blackout the sight was a great treat. The lights of Tangier could be clearly seen and on the Spanish side were the lights of Algeciras and Tarifa and further along the lights of Gibraltar. We dropped anchor in Gibraltar harbour at 11.35 p.m.
Monday 24th January - A really lovely day of warm sunshine and Mediterranean blue skies. The Rock of Gibraltar was really a lovely sight and I spent the whole day on deck in the sun watching the scene in the harbour. There was plenty going on. We were taking on fuel and fresh supplies of food including tomatoes, oranges and lemons - the loading of which was accompanied by cheers from the troops. Lots of little boats kept coming alongside all day and flying boats were continuously taking off and landing on the harbour water. There was not a dull moment all the whole day. We were not allowed to go ashore and it was very tantalising to see the Rock there and the neighbouring town of Algeciras and not be allowed to go and visit them.
In the harbour was another interesting sight. An oil tanker had been cut clean in two by a torpedo. Both halves were afloat and had been towed in.
We have been, and still are, lying close alongside the Rock. Tonight we can see the lights very plainly indeed. There are searchlights along the water surface illuminating the ships in the harbour, and the other searchlights at different points all over the Rock are following an aeroplane up and down, which is apparently flying for practice purposes. The lights of the town, the waterfront searchlights floodlighting the harbour, and the searchlights all over the Rock converging in a cone in the sky, form a truly magnificent sight, which it will be very hard to forget.
Tuesday 25th January - We were still at Gibraltar this morning. I think most of us were expecting that we should slip away in the night but this did not take place. Spent the day as before watching the harbour scenes and examining the surrounding Spanish countryside through glasses. Although terribly keen to see the Rock of Gibraltar, today we got rather fed up with the sight of it. Not being able to go ashore one soon gets tired of just looking at a place and not being able to go and visit it. For this reason we began to get anxious to get on our way again. Soon after 4 o’clock this afternoon we heard the anchor coming up, and we left the harbour and proceeded on our way back towards the Atlantic with an escort of two destroyers.
At the moment we are proceeding alone and so we are able to make a good speed. If we proceed all the way to West Africa without a convoy we should get there a good deal earlier than we expected, but the chance are that we shall join up with a convoy tomorrow which will reduce our speed.
The mountains of North Africa look exceedingly pretty this afternoon. We saw Tangier as we were proceeding out to sea. A school of porpoises had a race with the ship, every now and again leaping out of the water. The ship won in the end but they really swam at an amazing speed.
Wednesday 26th January - Waking up this morning we found no convoy and so we are proceeding at full speed on our own with an escort of two destroyers. An uneventful day.
Thursday 27th January - Today it became apparent that we were getting near the tropics as the day was bathed in warm sunshine. This morning there was an occasional cloud but as the day drew on the cloud got less and less and higher and higher. I suppose tomorrow there will be no cloud at all.
Passed through the Canary Islands this afternoon. Could not see very much but it appeared to be very similar country to that of Spain round Gibraltar.
This evening sorted out my kit, bringing the tropical stuff to the top and putting the temperate stuff on the bottom.
Friday 28th January - We are still proceeding at full speed and seem to be making very good progress. The weather is getting decidedly warm and we have now crossed the Tropic of Cancer. It is rumoured that our next port of call will be Dakar and that we should get there on Sunday. Well, we shall see.
This evening the troops held a concert on the after-well deck or the Third Class Lounge as they call it. The troops also christened this ship “Altmark II”. Although we grumble and complain quite a lot, I am really enjoying the trip very much. I suppose being in the Army has made me used to this sort of thing. People who did a lot of ocean travelling in peacetime must notice a big difference though. The first thing I do in the morning is to stand in a queue to get tea in my Thermos flask. Then again at 5 o’clock. Afternoon tea is not provided. Breakfast dinner and lunch we have in the first class Dining Saloon and we are well waited on. The only snag is that the food is severely rationed and I hardly get enough to eat. On the whole, though it hasn’t been too bad, I shall look forward to travelling in peacetime. It must be a real pleasure if I can enjoy this.
I think the biggest hardship was the question of baggage. All civilian passengers’ baggage was clearly marked “Not wanted on voyage” and “Wanted on voyage”. The baggage of the officers and others was also marked in the same way. In the latter case the instructions were adhered to, but in the case of the civilians, all the baggage was dumped in the hold, so that we had to go down into the hold and bring up our own trunks that we wanted on the voyage. It meant a lot of hard work and was quite unnecessary. If the civilians could cross-examine the people who run this ship, they would have a lot to answer for. But for all this I would not have missed this experience of travelling out on a troop ship. Began daily quinine dose.
Before going to bed I saw the phosphorescent glow around the ship.
Saturday 29th January - It is Saturday today but that makes no difference because every day is the same on board this shop.
Sunday 30th January - We arrived at Dakar about half-past ten this morning. It was very interesting to see this town from the sea. It appears to be a highly organised and well-developed place, and although not much used during the war, it was an exceedingly busy port in peacetime. Dakar has often been pointed to as an example of French colonial efficiency. As we went into the harbour we saw some Senegalese in small sailing craft going out fishing. The main reason for calling at Dakar was to refuel the two destroyers acting as our escort. The Ondura took advantage of the opportunity to take on fresh water.
Last night we lost a destroyer of our escort, which went to investigate a place, indicated by a Sunderland. Since leaving Gib. we have had air cover practically all the way. Last night a Sunderland swooped down low over the sea, dropped a stick of bombs and then dropped an indicator flare. One of our destroyers went off to investigate. We did not see what eventually happened as it got dark. Today there have been numerous rumours as to the full story — none of which is worth believing.
This morning I had a long chat with Morris Hewson who is DC of Kumasi. I was introduced to him by Mr I G Jones, the Gold Coast Labour Officer. Hewson is quite young and we had a general chat about my intended career. He does not think I shall have any regrets about my choice of career. He stressed how overworked the Political Department was at the moment and that there is always plenty to do and to interest you. He agreed that the climate has its disadvantages and that it usually gets you in the end. He also agreed with me that the job is not now well enough paid in view of the vast increase in the cost of living. One’s income is not enough to marry on until after about ten year’s service. While on the subject of weddings, Hewson was Best Man at Devoux’s wedding, who I met in London after getting my appointment. Devoux is DC of Accra.
Mr Jones the Labour Officer is a very good sport. He is a Welshman and was in the South Wales Miners’ Federation.
This afternoon a native who was being brought on board for some reason or other had quite a fight with the M.P.s who were escorting him. As he was being taken along to the Orderly Room he made a flying leap over the side of the ship into the water. A life belt was thrown out but did not reach him. No one appeared to be interested in his plight but just as he was about to give up a French launch came along and picked him up. He was brought back to the ship but refused to walk up the gangway so a French sailor started knocking him about. Eventually he gave up and decided to go quietly. Why he was wanted or where he came from I’ve no idea.
We left Dakar harbour about 5 o’clock this afternoon en route for Freetown.
Monday 31st January - Today we have been steaming towards Freetown and I’ve taken things quietly as it is rather warm.
There have been all sorts of nasty rumours going about the ship today. It is suggested that we shall all have to disembark at Freetown when we arrive tomorrow. This will mean waiting in Freetown for another ship to take me down to Takoradi. Goodness knows when that will be. While waiting for shipping you are accommodated in a transit camp, which, Government Officials who have experienced it before, call the “Concentration Camp”. Apparently the conditions are not too good and it’s quite an ordeal to live there.
Although the signs are not too hopeful, we are hoping that we shall after all proceed to our final destinations on this ship. If they do dump us all ashore, I shall certainly doubt the sanity of the Army and the Shipping Authorities — not that I haven’t already!
In view of all this I felt rather fed up when I went to bed.
Tuesday 1st February - This morning it was very hot and sticky when we woke up. Arrived at Freetown about 9.30 a.m. We could not go straight into the harbour, as we had to wait for a convoy, which was just on the point of leaving.
We eventually arrived inside the harbour and dropped anchor at 12.26. The time is rather significant because I won a sweepstake. At both Gibraltar and Freetown anchor sweeps were held. I only got one of the small consolation prizes but it did at any rate, reimburse my sweep expenditure and gave me a few pounds in hand as well. I hope this is a good omen for the future!
It was terribly hot this morning and I perspired and perspired until I almost decided to pack up and get the next boat home.
If I felt somewhat depressed this morning, I certainly cheered up this afternoon, because it became apparently that we would not have to disembark at Freetown after all but would continue our journey in the same ship to our final destination. This certainly is a very great relief indeed. It would have been just too bad to have had to spend a fortnight stagnating in the transit camp at Freetown. Your tour of duty does not actually start until you land in your own colony so all this would have been a waste of time.
It was a lot cooler this afternoon and I spent the time watching the Naval drafts go ashore in large launches. The Navy certainly looked very cheerful and clean in their white shirts and shorts. Natives also, in the launches and boats provided a good deal of amusement. There was one native in a canoe of his own who offered bananas in exchange for clothes and did a roaring trade. The authorities though, later on, broadcast that such fruit was not to be eaten, so they won’t do such a good trade tomorrow.
Wednesday 2nd February - The weather this morning was a lot better and it was quite cool. The night on the other hand was hot and sticky.
During the morning RAF personnel went ashore, but the RAF draft was not nearly so large as the RN draft. The morning passed pleasantly and quickly. Said goodbye to Tony who went ashore in Elder Dempster’s launch. He, like myself, is a cadet DC and this is his first term in Sierra Leone. Saw the Army going ashore this afternoon, but most of the Army have been left on board. The QAIMNS went ashore in a launch of their own. The nursing sisters waved frantically with their sun helmets at the ship but very few people waved back. It shows the exalted opinion they got of themselves on this voyage. Being the only women on board apart from three ENSA girls, you never saw a QA with less than about 10 officers following in tow.
The evening was cool and pleasant and it was beautiful on the board deck looking at all the lighted ships and the lights of Freetown.
Thursday 3rd February - During the morning the rumour was that we should be leaving Freetown in the afternoon, for once rumour was right and we did leave Freetown about three o’clock. And so the last stage of my journey has begun and we are now steaming flat out with our escort of one Sunderland and two destroyers for Takoradi. If all goes well we should get to Takoradi by Sunday. I shall be very glad to get to my destination and get settled down in my new surroundings.
This morning a few Army personnel came aboard and also another ENSA party. Surprisingly enough, these had been at the transit camp for a month and they declared that it was the most enjoyable month they had ever spent! It looks as though I’ve missed a good thing and not a bad thing. Apparently the camp is now under new management and people are properly looked after. There is a good bathing beach nearby, and altogether it sounds quite OK. But still I’m very glad we didn’t go there, as it would have been a waste of time instead of getting on with my tour.
Our stay in Freetown was one of the shortest on record — usually ships are kept waiting around for days. In our case though they seemed to have made a great fuss over the Ondura and everything was done very quickly. Before we arrived there we were told that there was a great shortage of launches in Freetown harbour. This certainly didn’t appear to be the case as all day long launches were buzzing to and fro from ship to shore. I saw some pretty good launches too. The RAF launches were the best for speed but for general purposes the Naval launches were better. It must be fun to have a launch like one of those to do what you liked and go where you liked. I suppose a DC or a DO in the Pacific Islands would have a launch like one of those to do his rounds and if this is the case, the Pacific seems to be the place to get to.
Friday 4th February - Spent a very quiet day and did quite a lot of reflecting about my future. It can’t be long now before I set foot in the country where I shall be working for the next 18 months or so.
The ship has become a lot quieter after leaving Freetown. The absence of the naval draft has made a big difference. This evening the troops were playing “House” on deck. To hear this game played in the Army style is extremely amusing as anyone who has been in the Army knows. After this a portable gramophone was brought up and Bing Crosby and others were played. It was ideal for this sort of thing being bright moonlight and one of Crosby’s records was “Moonlight becomes you”. Took a stroll on the boat deck and retired quite early.
Saturday 5th February - Looking forward to arriving.

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