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15 October 2014
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SS Llangollen

by Angie Irvine

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Archive List > Merchant Navy

Contributed by 
Angie Irvine
People in story: 
Tom Pimm
Location of story: 
On board the S.S. LLangollen
Background to story: 
Civilian
Article ID: 
A3317212
Contributed on: 
23 November 2004

I was born in Worcester 10/01/27 and spent much of my life growing up in Barnardo's homes. When the war broke out in 1939 I was living in Cardiff in a Barnardo's home. I was desperate to be involved in the war but was too young. In 1941 when I was 14, after spending many hours on the Cardiff docks looking for a job on a ship, I was offered a position on board the S.S Llangollen as a deck hand. The ship left soon after this bound for South Africa with supplies for Cape Town. No sooner had we arrived in the Atlantic than we ran into a terrible storm which caused severe damage to the ship. We were restricted to travelling at 6 knot’s, a rate which was far too slow with the danger of German U boats in the area. As well as this the deck had been stripped clean of life boats, and our radio had been damaged so we couldn't contact anyone. Despite all of this, the decision was made by the captain to carry on even though it was going to take a lot longer than the five weeks originally expected. Because we had no fridges on board all of our food supplies were kept together in one hole, much of which was dried. We had to survive on dried lentils, beans and rice, but at the same time the food supplies was riddled with cockroaches and rats.

As we travelled south through the Atlantic we were still able to listen to other ships through our radio but not make contact. We heard numerous ships in our area being hit by German U boats and being sunk but luckily never came across them ourselves. It was a frightening sound to hear.

The captain made the decision to dock north of Cape Town in the end because of the risk of the Germans and because we had all but run out of supplies. As we came into the harbour we were greeted by an Allied destroyer. The captain had tried to announce our arrival but we were to find that during our journey south it was assumed that we were sunk as well and our deaths had been announced to all our families. The destroyer assumed that we were a German ship in disguise.

After proving who we really were, we were tugged into Cape Town harbour and afterwards fed like Kings, at least it felt like it after months of so little food. It was such a relief to be there, we knew we were all lucky to be alive. During our stay new life boats were fitted and repairs to any damage were completed. We restocked and headed for Aden, stopping in at Durban briefly. In Aden we needed to load coal for fuel. This was not done by ourselves though, but by local children, 400 tonnes of it. It was this that made me realise that my life growing up had never been as bad as I thought.

After this we headed for Alexander but at a very slow pace again because of the weight. At Alexander we were ordered to Tybruck in Italy to help collect wounded solders and help them to the hospital ship or back to Alexander. The deck was littered with wounded bodies causing blood to pour through to the lower decks. I had never seen anything like it and much to my embarrassment I fainted.
There were all sorts of people from different regiments, including the Guards, the Suffolks and many South Africans as well. While we were heading towards Alexander an Italian or German plane, I’m not sure which, bombed a merchant ship right in front of us. But it didn’t touch us nor did it touch the hospital ship.

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