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Scrambling madly to get hammocks and “water wings” Part 2

by gloinf

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Archive List > Royal Navy

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Rfn. Francis Frederick Victor Carder, Tug Wilson
Location of story: 
Royal Mail Lines ship “SCYTHIA”
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
19 October 2005

With some of the lads and pyramids in background 1942

This story was submitted to the Peoples War site by Jas from Global Information Centre Eastbourne and has been added to the website on behalf of Mr R Carder with his permission and he fully understands the site’s terms and conditions

The next morning was fine and warmer, and I noticed that our course varied from due West to South-West.

Coming on deck in the morning was a relief from the stuffiness and gloom of a night on the mess deck to which I always looked forward. In fact I was generally about early for that reason.

I noticed on this particular morning that the convoy had opened out a bit. Our ship was rolling very badly and I began to wonder whether I should be seasick. So far I had had no queasy feelings at all.

Later on that morning a feverish activity broke out: the Authorities suddenly woke up to the fact that too many chaps appeared to have nothing to do and might conceivably get too fat if this state of affairs were allowed to continue.

Hence P/T. No consideration was allowed to interfere with this fetish thereafter. Even were the space available too small to swing the proverbial cat, small groups of men would begin doing legs astride and arms fling to the great discomfort of all about them.

So far as I can remember no one was actually flung overboard by these flailing arms and legs, but it all seemed very futile to me. I was unfortunate enough to get caught up in one squad for P/T directly after boat drill.

This was a dangerous time because you had to be at a certain spot then and authority in the shape of a sergeant or corporal knew just where to look for you.

At other times one could quite easily “scrim” out of P/T by being somewhere else all the time.

Generally speaking boat drill over and apart from the crowding and the impossibility of finding a seat any softer than the deck itself or a raft it was like a pleasure cruise: I have never had the good fortune or otherwise to go on a pleasure cruise so that I am going on pure imagination.

The convoy was still proceeding at an average speed of 12 to 14 knots and had opened out even more. During the late afternoon a Catalina Flying Boat sailed overhead majestically.

Our naval escort appeared to have left us with the exception of a lone cruiser. The weather was quite warm, but it was very breezy.

A cold which I developed on the Tuesday night worried me quite a bit on Wednesday and continued bad until Friday, and a bad bout of toothache didn’t help much.

Indeed I felt very rough on the Thursday morning and the rolling of the ship affected me more although not to the point of sickness.

The ship rolled very badly that day and by evening it was blowing a gale, which continued to rage all day Friday: the rollers were breaking over the fore part of the ship.

But for the continual rolling it would have been exhilarating and grand.

Each evening I was now taking a spell of signaling duty on the Bridge, with my old friend Tug Wilson and it was a fairly trying time being always on the look—out for messages.

There were usually lots of signal lights flickering over the water and it was easily possible to pick out a message not intended for our ship at all.

The obvious way was to keep the Commodore’s ship always in sight since that would be the source of any messages for us. During the day it had been much more difficult to take messages since the weather gave very poor visibility.

One advantage of the bad weather was that the canteen queues had dwindled to almost nothing, especially the beer queue.

This was just as well since the ships dinners had rapidly deteriorated and one needed a good appetiser before daring to approach dinner.

Tea and breakfast were still up to a reasonable standard.

At a rough guess I estimated that we were about 750 miles South West of the Spanish coast. I slept very well that night.

On Friday the gale was still blowing very hard and I think that everyone was affected by the rolling. I know my stomach was feeling it more and more.

Nobody seemed very enthusiastic about P/T that morning except of course the N.C.O.s who had no option but to appear keen. Apart from any other considerations it was cold wearing only P/T kit.

I managed to do some book swapping but could not settle down to reading: I was feeling a bit homesick I guess.

Later that day I heard why our escort ships had disappeared on the Wednesday and why the Catalina was flying about. There had been a submarine scare, but nothing had materialized so far as I knew.

Saturday morning was fine for a change — it was fine and warm with a light breeze, and I felt much more lively. The sea was a deep indigo blue.

My spell of duty on the Bridge was between 4 a.m. and 8 a.m., a comparatively quiet time as regards signaling. On coming off duty I enjoyed a cold shower.

I had learned by then to distrust the hot showers, and believe or not there were hot showers if you struck lucky at certain times of the day. The showers were of sea water, and a hot sea water shower seemed to leave one “sticky” compared with a cold one which left you with no feelings at all anyway.

These showers were a hazardous undertaking actually because with the rolling of the ship and an occasional stoppage of the soak—away there might be as much as six inches of water slopping about the floor from side to side.

Added to which there were no pegs on which to hang clothes and towel, and these frequently fell off their perch into the mess below. Even slippers were a liability in the shower room.

Sunday dawned wet and misty but it cleared up later on and became fine and sunny. We were soon aware that we were coming into more southerly latitudes from the occasional glimpses we had of schools of flying fish.

If that were not enough we were instructed to try on our kaki Drill clothing. In the afternoon there was a ship’s concert but I’m afraid I cannot remember much about it.

That evening it was wonderfully warm on deck: one had a clear view over the sea for miles and miles. Under such conditions we could appreciate the playing of the band for the concert, and also the singsong that followed.

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