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15 October 2014
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My First Wartime Voyage

by Norman Date

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Contributed by 
Norman Date
People in story: 
Gordon McLean
Location of story: 
Atlantic
Article ID: 
A8058495
Contributed on: 
27 December 2005

I signed on the `Orion` as a deckboy in August 1941. This ship was owned by the Orient Line and was operating as a troopship on government service. The pay was a princely £2.10.0 per month, plus £5 `danger` money. We sailed from Avonmouth and eventually joined up with a convoy of six ships bound for Suez, sailing around the Cape of Good Hope. On board there were 3,000 troops and 200 nurses, our first port of call was Freetown, West Africa, where we replenished our fuel and water etc.

Leaving Freetown we were joined by the battleship `HMS Revenge` this was due to there being the threat of a German raider at loose in the South Atlantic. The first night out we were woken by a tremendous crash and the alarm bells summoning us to stand by the lifeboat stations. Imagine the chaos, as we thought a torpedo had struck us. Arriving on deck to our amazement we could see that the `Revenge` was right under our bow. Her steering gear was out of order and she had swung across our bow causing a collision. Fortunately because the ship was low in the water and covered in armour plating nobody was seriously injured, though our lower bow had been bent back like an open door. The collision bulkheads had thankfully held and we were able to continue to Capetown, at a reduced speed.

Once safely in dock, tons of concrete were poured into the bow to effect a temporary repair. Arriving at Suez we were greeted by the sight of the liner `Georgic` blazing furiously. Our next port of call was Port Sudan where we took on board about 1,500 Italian POWs, destined for Bombay. Having disembarked the POWs in Bombay we then set a course for Singapore where our damaged bow was to be repaired. On board we had a large complement of British regular troops who had served in India and I have often wondered about their fate when the Japanese invaded Malaya.

In November 1941, whilst in dry-dock in Singapore we were woken by the crash of bombs falling, Japan had entered the war and were advancing through Malaya towards Singapore. Our repairs were speedily completed and we eventually did leave, luckily taking with us women and children plus a number of wounded Australian troops. Arriving safely in Freemantle, we continued to Melbourne and Sydney, then to Auckland, New Zealand. This had been the Orient Lines regular route before the war and we were loaded with butter and meat etc. From Auckland across the Pacific to Panama and through the canal, carrying onboard with us U.S Army personnel who were there to ensure the security of the canal.

After calling at Bermuda, we sailed to Halifax, Nova Scotia where both Canadian troops plus airman who had been training in Canada under the Empire Training Scheme joined the ship for the voyage to the UK. At last we arrived in Glasgow in March 1942, a full seven months after leaving Avonmouth. For me then a well deserved leave followed by a return to sea.

Note:
Compiled by Norman Date and with thanks and appreciation to Gordon for making the effort to share his experiences with us. It is worth remembering that Gordon was only 16 years old at the time of this voyage.

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