- Contributed by
- Darlington Libraries
- People in story:
- Rovert Neville Rippon (on behalf of Sig C Rippon Deceased)
- Location of story:
- South Africa
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 20 October 2005
Well, for once I've actually got something to write about, and I think the best way it to describe how things happened in the sequence of time.
Have you ever landed on shore in a pair of tropical shorts, a pair of shoes and two empty pockets? Here'e how it happened.
I think I told you in my last letter I had got a draft chit. Anyway, I had and I had to trael down South on a merchant vessel. We left one morning and, all alone, set track.
On our first day we had a crowd of Greek refugee's on board, women and children and one or two men - but not many. Consequently, as we had nothing to do all day long, we started to take lessons in Greek from the youngsters. There were only half a dozen matelots and three Petty Officers, the rest of the troops were mainly army with a sprinkling of RAF. The lessons didn't last very long as we dropped the Greeks the second day out and continued the voyage by ourselves. There were very few on board and we had oceans of room. We onlu had two musters a day, 8 and 11 in the forenoon and spent the rest of the time eating, sleeping, reading or playing cards.
Anyway, on Monday night I'd just finished some dhobying and had a bath and as I was drying myself down when it happened.
There was a bang, sound of breaking glass and the rush of water caused by a torpedo on the starboard side forward. The ship started to heel over at once and the usual rush started. After the first momentary panic though, everybody quietened down a bit and took things quietly.
Needless to say, my boat had been blown up by the explosion, as well as two more on the starboard side. I went round to the port side ang got in one, but there were far too many in, so I went round to the starboard side again.
When I got there, there were two boats down on the water so down I went to find that one of the boats ows taking in water so we had to get into the other one. We held the boat in until there were just about ten times worse than sardines and pushed off and rowed around about to see if there was anyone in the water. We couldn't see anyone, but took two men and a little girl they had picked out of the rigging on board. They were all covered in oil - we all were for that matter but it made it a bit difficult to get them on board. Still we managed and wrapped the little girl up in blankets and any army coat.
Meanwhile, Jerry had put a second torpedo into the old ship and she levelled herself off as this was in the port side. By now though nearly everybody was off and all the boats had left and there were just one or two seeing that everyone was away.
Then about half an hour after the first torpedo struck her, the third and last broke her back adn she went down in two pieces stern first.
By now it was getting dark and the boats were circling round haphazardly not knowing what to do till Jerry surfaced and we all started to get away guickly as possible. Luckily though all he wanted to know was the name of the ship and the tonnage, when he found out he submerged again. We thought that he was going to hav a go at us, but he was decent enough not to. We were lucky in that repect as he gave us plenty of time to get the boats away before he had a secong go.
Now though it started to rain and as the sea was getting a bit rougher we heaved out the sea anchor, put up the git and spent the night keeping her bows to the sea. Needless to say there was no sleep spae and the whether saw to that.
Everybody was sick, oil doesn't agree with the stomach.
Anyway, next morning came ad with it the sun. We were all alone, the other boats had tied themselves to the motor boat, but we didn't find that out until later.
We didn't worry though, we knew that land was not far away, it was only about fifty miles, although one thought that it was further. So we set the sail and rowing top keep it out, set out for land.
We had our ration, about eight pints of water, biscuit, bully beef and one Horlicks tablet. We kept going all day, and about four in the afternoon we sighted land. Of course that bucked us up tremendously and we went at it. Then about seven in the evening we were spotted by a flying boat and knew the outlook was brighter.
We couldn't make the shore that night so spent it in cruising around then the next morning had another shot at it beaching the boat through the surf.
We immediately stripped the boat and went up the beach and had a look around. We built some shelters for the night, then while some went exploring the rest had a few biscuits and generally mucked about trying to find out where we were.
Luckily there were a couple of native huts just inland and one of the natives went inland with a message for us. The others brought down sugar cane, monkey nuts, cane beer maize, sweet potatoes etc, and we had a bit of everything though there wasn't much.
Anyway that afternoon the sun was blazing hot on the sand and we had to keep covered and wearing something on our feet.
We decided that we would set off first thing the next morning and make for civilisation, so everybody settled down for a good night's sleep - but no go.
About 8pm it started to rain and did it rain? There was a real tropical storm for about four hours, the lightening ripped across the sky and the thunder rolled and the rain - well it's a miracle that we weren't drowned. There were forty ment and the little girl huddled together under a sail that leaked everywhere. Everybody was sitting hunched up and the rain ran down everyone. The wind was bitter and everybody was 'chokker' cold and wet. It rained all during the night.
On Thursday - the next day - we were in for a bigger shock. It was still bitterly cold when we rolled out from the sail and we started walking straight away. We thought that it was only six miles out, but it was sixteen and the country - well.
We evidently landed as we found out later at a place called SWARDI BAY, about 50 miles south of the border or Portuguese East Africa in Zululand.
It was all reserved and nothing but swap and bush, cut by native tracks and odd wagon tracks, which they call roads.
The old Zulu we had guiding us kept telling us it was just over this hill. When we got there it was just over the next hill and so it went on all morning. We had to carry the little girl all this time, first in our arms, then in a litter, about half a dozen of us taking turns about. Anyway, we finally reached the native store about 2pm having walked without a break since 6am.
It was the worst part of the whole affair. Some marched in their bare feet and were they in a state when they finished. Others were lucky enough to have shoes - mine were tied together with string by the time we got there.
Once we reached the store though things took a turn for the better and people couldn't do enough for us.
Two buses - or rather lorries - came to the store with tea and grub and after we had eaten took us through more Zululand to a place called UMBOMBO. Here we saw the only white people in that district. There were about four families there, about eight men and women in all. They were the judicial centre fro that district. The doctor had already taken the little girl there, and when we got there we had baths, food, bed and blankets. Boy but that was a good sleep.
Next morning we got up about 8am and had breakfast, then they told us that there was a train for us to Durban at 11.30am. Those people really did well for us - remember there were 40 of us.
They took us by bus down to Mbuzi where the train was waiting, and when we got there they were waiting for us with tea, biscuits and cigarettes. It was like that all the way down to Durban from 11am on Friday to 11am Saturday morning.
At the little stations we came to the white people turned out with tean etc and fed us up all right.
We had a break for a few hours at a place called EMPANGALIA from 8pm until 11pm. Here the people took us home, gave is baths, food and drink (if wanted) clothes etc. I lost my tropical shorts and found a new outfit from the skin out - underclothes, shirt, shoes, socks, sport coat and flannels. Boy, did it feel good to be in civvies.
Well, when we got to Durban we were sorted out and claimed by the various services, and after being pushed about a bit I finally landed here at Pietermaritz burg, where I originally set out for. Today I've been chasing around a bit, drawing kit, and what a bit., but I'm no longer worried about kit now.
I really am fed up about my kit though. I lost every blinking thing, camera, photos, silk stockings, powder, face cream, Nivea, a new suit, new pair of shoes. I'd built up a good kit but now its all at the bottom of the sea. Still, I guess I'll get over it though my kit will never get that size again, after the little bit I got in return. The only private gear we are allowed to claim is a watch and then you only get £1.
Still it was an experience while it was happening, but here's hoping I never have to go through it again. The main thing that sticks in all the fellows from the boats, minds, is the treck.
The Great Trek Had nothing on ours!
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