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Transport to Africa

by helengena

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Archive List > Royal Navy

Contributed by 
People in story: 
James William Spry
Location of story: 
En route from Scotland to West Africa
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
01 December 2005

This story is submitted by Bill Spry and added to the site with his permission.

My draft was given tropical kit and we were sent to Scotland to be shipped out. We had visions of going to the Pacific, somewhere nice like Hawaii, with beautiful maidens in grass skirts dancing the hula for us!

Alas it was not to be. We were going to West Africa, known as the "white man's grave", because so many white people died of disease there.

We arrived in Glasgow and boarded the "Esperance Bay". This was a cargo liner that had been taken over by the Navy, armed with a six inch gun and then called an AMC (armed merchant cruiser).

We had a very pleasant voyage. We sergeants slept on mattresses in the Petty Officers' Mess. We had the run of the ship and they couldn't have treated us better. I travelled on thirteen ships during the war and this was by far the most comfortable.

Each evening everybody on board was given a bottle of light ale (instead of the rum ration). As a teetotaler I used to give mine away, but as the weather got hotter and hotter, the beer coming up from the ship's fridge had a lovely sheen on the bottles. I had a sip from one, one evening, and after that I didn't give any more away.

We had been warned about the dangers of sunbathing, but two men fell asleep while sunbathing and got terribly burned. To add to their troubles, they were put on a charge for wilfully making themselves unfit for duty!

One day a ship was spotted which didn't reply to our signals. We chased after it, firing our six inch gun at it...but it got away.

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