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My Life My War - Chapter 11b

by actiondesksheffield

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Bernard Hallas, George Roundey, Captain Terry, Captain (Major) Terry
Location of story: 
Philadelphia, Greenock, Chatham, Manchester, Winnipeg and Toronto
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
31 May 2005

Chapter 11b - Heaven over the Horizon (Cont.)

On one such visit, he asked us what we would like to do in the evening, and jokingly we said that it would be nice to have a ride in a police car. To the governor of the local prison, this did not appear to be a problem, and picking up the telephone he asked the local precinct to send the nearest patrol car to his home. It duly arrived and we were introduced to the driver, a rather tough looking gentleman by the name of Patrolman Fisch.

We set off and as we went over the very large bridge in Philadelphia, he explained that we would have to request permission to go through the city, as we were not a part of the city police force. During the journey, the radio announced that the police were looking for two Columbian sailors who had robbed a gas station. Our host thought it would be a good idea if we called in the nearest police station and handed us over as suspects.

It went all wrong Patrolman Fisch marched us up to the charge desk, The desk sergeant instructed him to put us in a holding cell until he could deal with us, and that was that. Eventually, with smiles all round, George Roundey, who was apparently very well known, told the desk sergeant that it was all a bit of fun, for the British boy’s benefit and we were returning to his home for dinner. “I’m afraid it will have to be for breakfast,” said the sergeant, “the holding cell you have put them in is on a time lock, come back in the morning.”

We held our breath, fortunately, it had been for our benefit and the door was duly opened, and shaking hands all round, we very thankfully returned to our transport and went home for a very pleasant dinner. On our next visit, our host had a very pleasant surprise for us; he took us for a trip around the prison. It was well organised and we were joined by two very burly warders.

It happened to be mealtime and we watched as the inmates marched smartly into the dining area and took their places at the tables. At each corner, there was a warder, heavily armed and it was pointed out to us that the holes in the ceiling contained tear gas bombs, should they be required. Not a very nice place to be in. After our visit we made our way to the Sheriff’s office where we were sworn in as “Special Deputies” and presented with a badge and a certificate of enlistment, all most enjoyable and unexpected.

On our return to the ship, we showed our badge of office to our very young Royal Marine officer who asked if it would be possible to obtain one for him; we promised to try. After talking it over with the warden, he promised to do his best and in due course, we were successful and our young lieutenant became a fully-fledged deputy. Needless to say Jack and I were in very good books from then on. It was not all play however, we had to take our share of duties and one of them was the Shore Patrol. I was duly assigned to a United States Marine unit and we attended the entrance of a very popular bar, a haunt of American sailors called “The Boulder Bar”.

From the street level you walked down a polished wooden slope directly on to the dance floor. I was minding my own business, chatting to one of the American patrolmen when a very angry young woman stepped in front of me and said, “You, you Limey bastard, you arrested my boy friend last night,” and without further ado, swung a very heavy hand bag in the direction of my head. I would not have known how to handle the situation.

In a Royal Naval canteen with a drunken sailor, it would not have been a problem, but in a foreign country with a tipsy ‘Lady’, I was lost. Fortunately, the U.S. marines were not. Before the bag landed, a back handed blow from a six foot P.F.C. (Passed First Class) sent the attacker sliding down the approach and into the feet of the dancers.

Her sailor friends were not amused. Three or four of them surged forward to retaliate. The patrol stood shoulder to shoulder, brandished their batons and the sailors backed off and rejoined their party. The incident soon passed over.

The next day, we spent exploring the town of Camden. It was a town famous for it’s tomato industry and from early morning, the main streets and all the side streets were full of trucks delivering their loads of tomatoes to the canning factory. Entering the factory, you could help yourselves to natural juice from two taps. One was normal and the other was iced; it was quite pleasant and if we had had transport we could have had as many cases as we wanted.

Time was running short; we had to explain to George Roundey that every day could be the last, and that if we were unable to say goodbye on the day (dates of sailings were still top secret), we would at least write as soon as possible after reaching home. Come the day, there was no advance warning and boats were brought inboard very discreetly.

As usual there was a leak of information and friends were gathering at various vantage points to wave their last farewells. All the American workers had now left the ship. Booms on the seaward side had been recovered and all ladders brought inboard. We were now, to all intents and purposes, ready for leaving.

Steam had been raised and the executive officer was on the bridge. The orders to cast off were relayed to the dockside and the huge hawsers were removed from the bollards. Our last link from the good old U.S. of A. had been severed. Slowly the huge engines came to life and we reversed away from the dockside. Once we were clear, it was ‘Slow Ahead’ and we were once again on our way.

As we left the main harbour, we could see the huge convoy spread over the sea. Royal Navy destroyers were marshalling the various ships into position and shouting their instructions over their loud hailers. It would be a long and dangerous crossing. To keep some semblance of order, all ships would travel at the same speed and that speed was the speed of the slowest ship. Here we go again, poetry is the best way of committing to memory.

Our Convoy steamed slowly northwards
And soon would be turning east,
And hiding in the depths below
Slid a sleek and ferocious beast.

The “U” boats were silent and deadly
They prowled the seas in packs,
Looking for Tramps and Tankers
Betrayed by the smoke from their stacks.

The speed of the Convoy, is the slowest ship,
If one falters, when doing her best,
Then she is left to fend for herself
So as not to endanger the rest

As the Convoy steamed on its zig-zag course
A tramp was left far astern,
A long way from where she was going
But too far out to return.

In the periscope of the trailing ‘Sub’
The Tramp has come into view,
A perfect strike for the surface gun
And practice for the crew.

The eager ‘Sub’ now leaves the pack
And lines up for the kill,
Nothing to fear from the stricken Tramp
Just a routine drill

The range is perfect the target is hit
How can one miss almost touching the hull
Shell after shell, burst on her decks
The sea boats are swamped because they’re too full.

Somewhere a machine gun chatters,
Fingers gripping the ‘Sub’ let go,
Then suddenly the Tramp rears up
Only the barnacles show.

Boats and floats are pulling away
To get clear of the suction field,
One more lurch, and down she goes
Her fate now finally sealed.

The ‘Subs’ Commander clears the bridge
“Flood one and two fore”, he cried,
Down went the ‘Sub’ to periscope depth

Aboard the Tramp as she slid down to the deep
A Morse key kept tapping away,
A W/T had stayed at his post
And sent out his last ‘May Day’.

Just over the horizon, a sleek grey shape
From the North Atlantic fleet,
Steamed one of the ‘Working Greyhounds’
Out on a submarine beat.

The Commander had just read a signal
“Full speed ahead”, he cried,
“All hands to action stations”
And the ‘Greyhound’ broke into her stride.

Soon, reaching the scene of the slaughter
With boats lowered over the side,
She slowed and picked up survivors
As well as those that had died.

And then she went a’ hunting
Increasing the circle each round,
Until the ‘Asdic’ finally pinged
The quarry, a ‘Sub’ had been found.

The control then worked out a pattern
The depth charges hurled into the air,
Then dropped in a diamond formation
To trap the beast in his lair

It was during the fourth or fifth ‘Salvo’
That the white frothy spume turned black,
A submarine’s hull reared out of the sea
Rolled over and then slid back.

The Tramps survivors stood up and cheered
But most stood silent, head bowed,
For sending a ship with her crew to the depths
Was not something of which to be proud

You can only think of the deeds she has done
Performed in ‘The Fuhrer’s name,
And say, “ They have only been paid the wages of sin”
It’s all in the luck of the game.

Eventually, after many alarms, some false and some unfortunately only too true, we arrived in home waters. We had had our casualties and watched helplessly as merchantmen paid the price of their sacrifice, but most of the convoy arrived with their much-needed supplies and were diverted to their various destinations. Eventually we arrived at ours and made our way up the Clyde to Greenock.

Once again it was a stampede when the postman came down to the barracks, and once again there were the welcome letters from families and loved ones, as usual I had my fair share and this time there was no time to answer. The next day I received my marching orders.

The Royal Marine Barracks at Chatham. I was back where I started, but for how long? That was always the question at the back of everyone’s mind. After settling in, we were informed that we would be going on leave as from a.m. the next day and I would be issued with my free travel warrant to my home town. I have never mentioned before about my arrival in Manchester, which was always my destination, after which I would get a bus to wherever I wanted.

I had always thought of myself as an expert at finding my way around my home city, but in wartime I was finding myself in difficulty once I had left the station. Everywhere was blacked out, traffic moved slowly with dipped slits in their headlamps, signposts had either been obliterated or removed, not just to confuse me, but to confuse the enemy if they ever got this far.

As always, my first objective was the bus for Rawtenstall and the house in Burnley Road that I now considered my home, I had been away for a very long time and I was eager to see that lovely face once again. What can I say about being back home? It has already been said many, many times and it gets better each time you say it. It was a repetition of visits to friends and relations and just the joy of being together, was all that we asked for. We knew that nothing would ever come between us and to prove it, if ever we were walking hand in hand, as we always were, and we came to some obstacle, Ruth would never let that obstacle come between us and so it was for the remainder of our life.

All good things must come to an end, and after a very happy leave, I was now back in Chatham, and was expecting to be back on another leave before very long. It was not to be, the gunners curse had struck again. It was my unfortunate duty to be posted back to the Warspite.

Captain Terry, o/c of the ship’s detachment had specifically requested that I should be included in the replacements on draft to his ship. Apparently he did not feel up to training a new captain of the Royal Marines turret, so it was off to sea once more.

The only difference being that this time, I would be a passenger on board a liner. Life would be a little easier. I would be going c/o the RAF, on board their troopship, which transported thousands of ratings to Canada for training and their ultimate return to the UK. The ship was the French liner the Louis Pasteur and was manned entirely by the RAF Police.

On the first day, it was chaos of the first order, almost four thousand bodies were crowding the promenade deck to be served in the small canteen that only opened for a limited number of hours each day.

Fate must have been on our side. That night, it was reported that one of the many ‘Lascars’, (Merchant seamen, from the East Indies), all at the lower end of the Merchant Navy, had molested one of the female service women and escaped back to his berth down in the forward steerage compartment.

The RAF police were unaccustomed to travelling with ‘Lascars’ and had no idea how to cope with the situation. The ship’s captain, knowing that he was carrying Royal Marines on his manifesto, had the answer. Sending for the senior Royal Marine officer, he requested that it might be in the best interests of his ship if the Royals would be so kind as to form a patrol and bring the unhappy affair to a satisfactory conclusion.

No sooner said than done. Myself as one of the seniors and three other stalwarts, all Blanco-ed up, and wearing official Royal Naval arm bands, made our way down to the steerage where some two hundred coloured seamen were berthed, encouraged on our way by the RAF, “This way, Marines, down there Marines.” It was fairly obvious that they were only too eager to transfer the responsibility to some other body.

Entering the smelly hold, we asked to be taken to the headman. Lascars are well used to the ‘ship’s police’ as they call us and have the greatest respect for us, after all we are members of a sea going fraternity and understand them. The headman was friendly, he knew who the culprit was and ordered him to come forward. There was no great show of strength, we merely pointed to the main hatch and he followed the two leading marines. With two more of us following, we took him one deck down and placed him in one of the vacant cells. We then reported back to our C/O and he in return reported to the ship’s captain.

It was now his responsibility to feed his prisoner and make arrangements to hand him over to the authorities. Our ‘Reward’ for this small service, was to retain our official police arm bands, to be served at the back door of the canteen and to have reserved seats at the front for the twice daily cinema show, and the personal thanks of the ship’s captain.

It was going to be a most enjoyable trip. After it was discovered that I was returning to the Warspite, the young officers going to their first ship, wanted to know all about their new Commanding Officer, Captain (Major) Terry, all Royal Marines Captains are given the rank of Major when appointed to a ship, it affords them some seniority amongst their naval counterparts.

Obviously, when asked, I embellished a little of his work on board ship and I painted him in a favourable light. I did not want anything I had said to get back to the major. I could not in any case have said anything detrimental about him, he was a first class officer and I had always found him fair and a good listener.

Arriving in The good old U.S. of A. once more, I was looking forward to the forthcoming trip on board the Canadian Pacific with its Pullman service. It was just as I remembered it. The same clean beds every night, and the same wine with meals and the beer wagon at the rear. There was to be only one difference. On the previous journey we had been going home and everyone was only interested in getting there as soon as possible with no problems.

This was a completely different ‘kettle of fish’. We were going back to pick up a fully repaired ship and setting off for parts unknown in the war zone. Not a pleasant outlook. It was therefore essential that the Train Marshal arrived back with a full complement.

Consequently, before arriving at any station where we were due to stop, and before the train had slowed down, our ever-faithful Royal Marines marched through the train (to the usual friendly boo’s), and posted sentries at the entrance of each carriage.

Winnipeg and Toronto were beckoning, for some it was too inviting. When we arrived at our destination, we were four bodies short. They had squeezed out of the windows. After a short bout of freedom, local police in various parts of America apprehended them all.


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