- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Reginald O. Stone, Pearla Gibson, Peter John Henry Hughes
- Location of story:
- Cape of Good Hope
- Background to story:
- Royal Air Force
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 26 April 2005
Peter John Henry Hughes and Reg Stone serving at RAF Station Commila Bengal 1944. The Photograph was taken when Reg met his old pal on a trip to Imphal on the Burma Border.
Around the Cape and back through the Med., after three and a half years' service in the Far East with the Royal Air Force. There are still a few of us left who experienced those journeys by troopship, round the Cape between 1940 and 1943, during World War Two. First of all, we were kitted out with tropical kit in Blackpool. I, Reginald Stone, remember some of the nicknames for pieces of the kit, like `Bombay Bowler' for the Topee (Pith Helmet) and KD for our shorts.
Soon after kitting out, we were herded on to a train bound for Liverpool, with the police being in attendance down the line, so no one could desert or leave information about our trip. The train went right into the docks, right beside our troopship named `Maloja', a 23,000 ton ship built in Belfast in 1923. On boarding, we were issued with our personal life jacket (better known as a `Mae West'), a hammock or mattress for sleeping, and our berthing card with the deck number. I was on Deck D below the water line.
We set sail for Gourock in Scotland to rendezvous with the rest of the convoy. After a short stay, the convoy, consisting of six troopships and a destroyer escort, set sail just as the sun was setting. It took a zigzag path out into the Atlantic Ocean to midway between Britain and the USA.
We then swung round to sail towards Freetown on the west coast of Africa, where we anchored well out in the harbour. In the daylight, we saw young boys in their little canoes nicknamed `bum boats'. The practice was to throw coins into the sea and see them diving in to catch the coins as they floated down. For a bit of fun, some wrapped penny coins in silver paper, which would cause mayhem, and end up with a few well chosen words being shouted at us above, on the ship.
Leaving Freetown, we passed the Isle of St. Helena, and after some time we arrived in Cape Town, seeing the famous Table Mountain. We stayed two days in harbour, and during that time, had to go on a route march, as we had been almost four weeks on board. The exercise was needed, and was also a spectacle for the town's locals who lined the streets, offering us fruit - oranges in particular.
Continuing our journey round the Cape of Good Hope, the sea was very rough, tossing the ship about, the waves being that big. All the portholes were closed, up to well above the water line. Some of the servicemen slept on deck, not wishing to be in the decks below the water line, in case of enemy action. Early in the morning, the ship's crew came around to hose the decks. Those who slept a little too long got a soaking!
After three days we arrived at Durban on the east coast of South Africa. As we sailed into the harbour, the famous lady in white, Pearla Gibson, who stood on the extreme end of the jetty, sang Land of Hope and Glory and other songs, to us. We stayed at Durban for six days, sleeping on board, but were allowed off the ship from 12 midday to one minute before midnight. Each day the local people waited in their cars and took servicemen to their homes. Having a bath and some decent food to eat was very welcome.
For those who did not get a lift, there were rickshaws pulled by Zulus, who would take you down into the town, at a hair-raising speed. There were plenty of eating places and shows to see. One cinema in town was showing Casablanca just after it had been released. The racial situation was quite acute, and side streets were out of bounds to servicemen, a special sign being displayed. Over forty years later, on a tour of South Africa with my son, I revisited Durban and Cape Town.
Reg Stone's Wartime Recollections -'Around the Cape and back through the Med, after three and a half years service in the Far East with the Royal Air Force.' Our original route was to have been to go forward to Singapore, but it had fallen to the Japanese. We proceeded through the Straits of Madagascar and across the Indian Ocean, to Bombay, a three-week trip. We docked at Bombay, leaving the ship for Worlie transit camp just outside the city. We stayed a week there, being wakened by charwallahs with tea heated in charcoal burning urns. It was well stewed and is well remembered. On the seventh day, we boarded a 10,000 ton converted cargo boat named `Ascainious' a dreadful ship. The day before, the army had refused to sail in her, after being shown below decks - rats and cockroaches were numerous. We were not allowed below when we boarded. The boat left the jetty while we were being addressed by a high ranking officer.
Taking nearly three weeks sailing, we called in at Colombo harbour, Ceylon (now called Sri Lanka) for two days, then proceeded to Calcutta and East Bengal (now called Bangladesh). After serving three and a half years in East Bengal and Burma, I finished my tour at Rangoon in June 1946. I stayed in a transit camp under canvas, within sight of the famous Swe-Da-Gon pagoda that dominates Rangoon.
I returned home on the HM troopship `Carthage' via Ceylon, the Red Sea, Suez Canal, Straits of Gibraltar and Bay of Biscay, then saw the White Cliffs of Dover, arriving at Tilbury Docks, London after a five week journey. I was demobbed at RAF Weeton Camp just outside of Blackpool in August 1946.
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