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H.M.S.Kelantan and Convoy S.L.125

by Albert Edward Mellor

Contributed by 
Albert Edward Mellor
People in story: 
Albert Mellor, Paddy Divers,Captain Shannon
Location of story: 
Indian Ocean,Atlantic Ocean
Background to story: 
Royal Navy
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
10 May 2004

Ceylonese Troops on board H.M.S.Kelantan. For the relief garrison at the Cocos Islands.

In September 1996 my Father, Albert Mellor, was suffering from a terminal illness and at my instigation he recorded an interview with me about his exploits as a seaman during the War years for the benefit of his grandchildren.
He was a Merchant seaman, aged 21, who served in the Royal Navy during the war years as a T124X.
It was after this interview that I realised that the envelopes and boxes of photographs had a direct bearing on these years.
He sadly died in 1997 after along illness and this is offered in his memory.
This is an extract from his story.

“After a while we were transferred to the ‘KELANTAN’, less than a thousand ton, flat bottomed with a five foot draught. It was one of ‘The Straits Steamship Company’ ships that had been commandeered for war duties.

We left there for the CHRISTMAS ISLANDS with Ceylonese troops to relieve the garrison at the COCOS ISLANDS and while we were on the way there we were torpedoed.
There must have been a Japanese sub or something because we could see two torpedoes fired at us one after the other. They both went under us. They must have thought that we had a deeper draught.
We were lucky there and we came back to COLOMBO after disembarking the troops.

We had another narrow escape when we were tied up at a buoy in Colombo harbour.
Japanese planes bombed the harbour and the ship next to us, The Hector, was hit quite a few times and sank. We got some minor damage.

The ship had a small crew of eight officers and a Chinese and Malayan crew plus Paddy Divers and me. The skipper was Captain Shannon.
We were ordered to go to England and the Chinese and Malayan crewmen were replaced with an English crew. When they put on the English crew we started on the way home.

On the way to the SEYCHELLES the engine caught fire.
We couldn’t get the 'foam on wheels' in because the sides were rusted in. We chopped away the paint and rust in the end. We were trying to put the fire out with buckets of water which was hopeless on an oil fire. They sent a distress signal out but no one heard it. We asked the Skipper if we were going to abandon ship and he said that we stood a better chance by staying with the ship because we were in the middle of the Indian Ocean miles from land. The lifeboats were rusted and painted in the davits and we would have had trouble get them launched. Anyway we finally got the fire put out but there was quite a lot of damage.
We had no lighting at all and not even emergency lighting. When we got into the SEYCHELLES ISLANDS they made some temporary repairs and managed to get us going again.

We went onto DURBAN and had some more repairs done there and then carried on to CAPE TOWN for major repairs.

In CAPE TOWN they did a major repair in the engine room the governor needed replacing after the fire.
We were there eleven weeks while the engines were repaired.
We sailed from CAPE TOWN and were a few miles out at sea when the engine broke down again.
This cost us another eleven weeks to get a new part made for the governor.
Eventually that was fixed and we left for FREETOWN to join a convoy. We were on our own at this particular time.
On the way there we heard about the ‘DUCHESS OF ATHOL’ going down.
I though our Willie was still on her and I though ‘Oh God, he’s gone down’. He was a quartermaster; anyway as it happened he’d left the ship. He was lucky like that, each ship he left, it went down later.

We eventually got into FREETOWN and joined the convoy S.L.125 that was being formed there. There were over forty ships in this convoy with four Royal Navy escorts.

We were picked out as the survivor/rescue ship because we were so low in the water, flat bottomed and all the rest of it. It was easier to get survivors in. We had cargo nets over the side all around so that they could grab hold to come on board.
We got so far and all of a sudden we came across a nest of submarines.
Ships started going down and we had to leave the convoy to pick up survivors.

We eventually lost the convoy.
We were picking up survivors dragging them up the cargo nets. We had to go down over the side because they were in the water so long they lost the power in their hands to grip,and some of them were covered in oil. So we used to have to go over the side with ropes around us and put another rope around them because that was the only way we could do it. We saved quite a few like that.

One time we were picking up survivors and as the lifeboat came alongside, our steering gear broke down. Well, we were all over the ocean, couldn’t do anything.
All hands had to go down below. It was one of those old fashioned steering gears with big chains. So all hands had to go down below and pull on these chains while they sawed through some links and put a clamp on it. It took about four or five hours to do the repair.
When we eventually started on our way again and got back up top it was dark and we thought ‘Oh Christ what’s gone on’, because all around us as far as the eye could see there were all kinds of lights from boats, rafts and lifeboats.
We started to pick up survivors again and realised that they must have been from ships in our convoy.
A lot of ships went down with that particular convoy.

At one time we were picking up survivors there were bales of cotton floating and we saw this fellow on one, he was naked I think he’d been in the shower or something when his ship was torpedoed. Anyway when we got him on board he was already dead. We found out later that he was a chief steward. Well we put him on the promenade deck, because we didn’t have time to do anything else. We had a small promenade deck on this boat. It was like a small tug boat. A few hours later I was going around the deck and I saw this fellow just lying on the deck, I’d forgotten about the chief steward and I said, ‘Hey mate you can’t stay here’ and I suddenly realised who it was, It made me feel terrible.

Another time a lifeboat came alongside us and as we were picking them up one of the big engineers started to come on board and the boat capsized. This kid went right under our boat and came out the other side. All you could see was the red light on his lifejacket and as he was going he was blowing his whistle until we lost sight of him. We found out that he was only seventeen and we asked the skipper if we could go and search for him, but the skipper told us that we couldn't risk losing all the people we had saved because we were on our own.
So we had to carry on, things like that happened it was terrible.

We carried on picking up survivors and we never caught up with the convoy. We must have had two to three hundred survivors on board. We soon ran out of food. We didn’t have a fridge, just an ice box with blocks of ice, well that soon went. We didn’t have a doctor on board either, just the chief steward, who did any first aid.
It was only a small crew and we didn’t have much on board. The crew was about twenty four and there were eight officers.
We didn’t know at the time but we heard after that there was a nest of submarines waiting around the AZORES for the convoy. Well headquarters in London had got to know about this and they directed the convoy another way.
We didn’t get the message and went straight through. I suppose that they thought it hardly worthwhile wasting a torpedo on us, our ship was just like a tugboat.

The skipper tried to get permission to land the survivors at GIBRALTER but he was refused and we had to carry on to Scotland.

We went right through to GREENOCK and we arrived there on the 8th November, before our convoy, we were dead lucky!
We met an outgoing convoy in the river and had to anchor. One of the ferry boats came out and took all the survivors off.
The Ferry was bigger than us and towered over us.
We were left waiting in the river overnight.
When the Chief engineer stopped the engines we couldn’t get them going again the next morning and the skipper asked for help and they sent two seagoing tugs to tow us into port.
We were all very hungry and needed to get some food and eventually they tied us up after a bit of trouble.
They let us off the ship and outside of GREENOCK DOCKS there was a café where they had fish and chips and bread and butter already laid on for us.
They treated us really well.

We were then ordered to London and on the way there we broke down again.
The chief engineer managed to get us going again and we finally arrived in London docks on the 15th December 1942.
I left the ship on the 28th December and returned to Liverpool”.

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