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15 October 2014
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Chapter 11: Journey's End

by CSV Media NI

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Archive List > Books > Alex Dickson - Memoirs

Contributed by 
CSV Media NI
People in story: 
Alex Dickson, Gisela Dickson
Location of story: 
troopship "Dunnottar Castle"
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
30 January 2006

Faces from Alex's post-war life

Eventually some date in September 1946 we boarded the troop ship Dunnottar Castle and sailed for England. A few unusual things happened on that journey. We had on board the ship a lot of British prisoners, Army, Air force all sorts going back under lockup to serve sentences in Britain, they had all been court marshalled and sentenced, most of them to life for murder, rape and all sorts of things and they continually caused a bit of trouble on the boat.

My first close touch with them was the day we docked at Naples and I happened to be ships duty officer that day and one of my duties was to inspect prisoners that day and make sure everything was alright and when I went down I couldn't get into where they where they were battering and hammering and kicking up hell. I had to send ashore for a squad of military police to come on board with batons and sort them out, that was that.

We continued on the way home and eventually passed Gibraltar heading for Southampton but unfortunately the next night in the Bay of Biscay we ran into a most severe gale it was so severe that people couldn't go out on deck they all stayed in their cabins you couldn't have walked about it was so dangerous it carried on most of the night and early the next morning we docked in Southampton.

We got off the boat to get the train up to London and as I was getting on the train I bought a couple of newspapers and the first newspaper I opened had banner headlines right across it TROOP SHIP ON FIRE IN THE ENGLISH CHANNEL and it was only then we were able to read in the newspaper that during that gale in the Bay of Biscay these prisoners had broken out of their cells and set the ship on fire probably hoping to escape when the rescue took place. Whoever was in charge of the ship acted very sensibly in that he did not notify any of the passengers that the ship was on fire and they all were in bed asleep and didn't know a thing about it like myself.

If everybody had been out the crew couldn't have rounded up the prisoners but with no one else running around the crew were able to capture them and lock them up and put the fires out, so it seemed absolutely amazing.

We continued up to London, couldn't find accommodation for the night at all there, every place was full up so eventually we had to continue by train up to York where I was due to be demobbed.

When we got to York again we couldn't find accommodation and a taxi driver eventually took us to the house of a friend of his who allowed us to sleep on his settee for the night and I was demobbed the next day and we came back to Ireland and my demobbed date was the 30 November 1946 although I had a long long leave after that.

I mentioned earlier in my story when I join up that my best friend Tom Boomer and I joined up together and both volunteered for the Royal Ulster Rifles we stayed together for a long time in the Royal Ulster Rifles until we were both taken for commissions.

Tom was commissioned into his own regiment the Royal Ulster Rifles he was a lovely lad but unfortunately as a young Second Lieutenant he was reported missing on his first day when he landed at Anzio on 8 February 1944. His body was never found, so he was killed, such a sad thing.

So I journeyed back to Northern Ireland, unfortunately it was nearly impossible to get accommodation. There was myself as a disabled ex-army officer and my wife as a German refugee who had served in the RAF but no matter where we went, Belfast Corporation everywhere, no housing was available. It became common practice at that time; talk was that unless you paid a back-hander you would never get a house.

So I lived in a dundering inn of a place three miles from Donaghadee a tumbled down cottage, no electric, no water, dry toilets I had to cycle a mile on a bicycle to get a bucket of water for drinking and very little money, I mean you don't get much of a chance to save in the British Army and you weren't all that well paid.

Although I had a long leave I went back to the firm I worked for before the war, the firm of Lyle and Kinahan, I had worked for them for five years before I joined up and each time I was on leave they were keen that I should come back after the war otherwise I might have stayed on in the Army because they did ask me to stay on when it was due for my release, and I often think afterwards that I was foolish not to have done it.

When I went back to Lyle and Kinahan they offered me a job providing that I would start immediately and work a lot of unpaid overtime because it was the end of their financial year and they were badly behind with their work but the salary they offered me was £200 per year, it seems unbelievable, however, I had to take the job and I continued working for them and worked hard and in many ways made myself indispensable.

When the first manager's job came available I was the only one fit to do it and when Sir Robin Kinahan became Lord Mayor I was the only person in the firm fit to run it and I was made a Director. I was good at studying, I finished up actually as Director of Lyle and Kinahan in charge of their wine and spirit department, at that time they were the biggest wine merchant in Ireland and I became a wine expert, I was understood to be one of the best trained people in the trade. I knew how to blend whiskey, I knew how to look after and bottle wine and I got on very well with our best customers and had some of the best customers in Northern Ireland tied to me, the like of Short Brothers and Harland's Club.

I got on remarkably well and the company bought a number of other companies, Larne Mineral Water Company, Hamilton Todds of Coleraine, William McClelland and Sons of Ballymena and Ballymoney and Belfast and I was a Director of all those companies as well.

It was very hard work but eventually the company was bought over by Charingtons and then later on Charingtons were bought over by Bass, so I finished my working life working for Bass. I had to retire early; I retired at 59 because my wartime injuries were getting worse and worse and at one stage I was in a wheel chair.

I hope my story is of interest to you and I can assure you that everything in it is absolutely true, nothing added and only a little left out. Thank you for reading and good-bye.

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