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The Strathallan Story: Robert Smith - East Kilbride (Scotland)

by ateamwar

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People in story: 
Robert Smith - East Kilbride (Scotland)
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08 August 2005

The following story appears courtesy of and with thanks to Les Jones and Robert Kennedy

The 23,722 tons liner: the SS Strathallan was built at Barrow-in-Furness and owned by the Peninsular & Orient Steam Navigation Company Ltd and requisitioned by the War Office as a troopship during the war. Its last Captain was J.H.Biggs CBE.

R M Smith born 1923. Only 16 when hostilities broke out he had to wait almost 3 years to make his personal contribution to the war effort. He was called up to arms on 9th June 1942.
We have pleasure in publishing an article from Mr. Robert M Smith from East Kilbride Glasgow who was a D.E.M.S. Gunner onboard SS Strathmore who shared the same Theatre of War with the ill-fated Strathallan and has unique empathy with Jim Gormley of the RAF Regiment who survived the torpedoing. Superb photographs and documents are also included.
Robert M Smith was born in 1923 . Only 16 when hostilities broke out he had to wait nearly 3 years to make his personal contribution to the war effort. He was called up to arms on 9th June 1942. He found himself at HMS Glendower ......D.E.M.S. Gunnery Training Ship at Pwhelli North Wales where he learned the art of shooting naval guns. He was posted to SS Strathmore under the command of Lt Levi and Sgt Stratfield the gunnery officers. "We had a 6" Gun on the stern ......Two twelve pounders on the bows with another two 12 Pounders on the port and starboard sides." observed Robert.
"Giving a "wee" bit background on Strathmore " said Robert" she was launched on 4th April 1935 at Barrow -in -Furness by the Duchess of York better known as the present day Queen Mother. She made her maiden voyage on a cruise to the Canary Islands on 26th Octoberl935. Intended for the Australian Route she made her next trip to Bombay taking out the new Viceroy Lord Linlithgow and bringing back the retiring Lord Willingdon. The British Raj was still in full swing then.
At the outbreak of war along with the 5 "Straths" SS Strathmore was requisitioned for use as a Troopship. She sailed on a vast convoy on March 1941 with 23 troopship in all, including the 5 Straths.......Strathmore.....Strathallan......Stratheden..... Strathaird ......and Strathnaver. Other ships were Viceroy of India.....4 Orient liners....ships of the Royal Mail....Cunard.... Union Castle...CPR...together with Dutch and French liners".
Continued Robert " I joined Strathmore just in time for Operation Torch the Allied landings in North Africa. We made a trip from UK to Algiers with 5000 troops around Oct/Nov 1942 and as we were about to take another load we developed engine trouble and put in to Barrow in Furness repaired....and headed for Algiers. I believe we would have joined the KMF5 convoy from the Clyde if it was not for our breakdown." Robert goes on to give personal opinions ;" When I read Jim Gormley's account of his struggles after the torpedo hit Strathallan I found it very interesting and yet very sad. Jim was right when he said the condition the troops had to put up with were soul destroying. I can remember the smells from that huge number of men who were more or less confined below decks for most of the time. You could not physically get 5000 people on deck at the same time." " My sleeping quarters were on "C" Deck......Jim would have been 4 decks below me on "G" Deck on or below the water line. For Jim to have found his way up from below was really quite amazing. It must have been terrible."

'This story was submitted to the People’s War site by BBC Radio Merseyside’s People’s War team on behalf of the author and has been added to the site with his / her permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions.'

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