January 12 – February 10 1941
There are no letters from this period, although Dad mentions writing them many times in his diary. Diary entries for this period are as follows:
Sailed with the tide at dawn. Land in sight all day. At Ac Ac post. Twenty two ships in convoy. Number destroyers and cruisers – plenty of planes – ours – about. Interesting day – smooth sea. Played cards in evening.
Sick Parade. Capt Cobb treated [me] for bronchitis – still on duty preferring to be on deck than in cabin – played cards.
Cloudy, cool & windy. The sea a bit wild – a great sight – Turn south.
Warmer weather, play cards at Isolation deck where our Ac Ac guns mounted. Bright starlit night.
Still under MO – pay day – Two up schools everywhere – poker, banker, crown and anchor. Troops buy out canteen stock of tobacco. Capstan 8/- lb (England 2/- oz) write some letters – Take over night duty on Ac Ac – glorious night – striking sunset.
Letter writing – cards – lazy day.
Same as 17th
Weather warming up. RO shorts and shirts – a week earlier were wearing the whole wardrobe.
Cards & Reading
Get sunburnt – Glorious weather on deck but hot as hell in cabin – sleep on deck. Troops find hold where officers beer stored – get 14 barrels out with rope at midnight – everyone happy next morning – Thick heads the order of the day but it was lovely beer. Acting CO & acting 2 IC wild as hell but other officers seemed a bit pleased.
Back on day shift – Crib, 500 all day – Community singing on deck in the evening.
similar to 22nd
Sea like a mill pond – intensely hot – played cards between shifts
Hot as hell – reach Freetown. Enemy plane flies over. Ac Ac fire from shore batteries – Junkers prevented from coming low – evidently on reconnaissance work – yarns on deck – no blackout – niggers come round boat selling and bartering fruit for shirts and other articles of clothing. Beer party in cabin.
Niggers about all day. Hamburger Bill comes over from Franconia to give talk – returns to his ship. Sleep on deck as usual.
Excellent sunrise but hot as hell again – not a breath of air especially below decks. Tommies and Scotties in English AMC unit have argument.
1500 cigarettes stolen – muster parade – kit inspection. News – German radio claims sinking Empress of Australia – E of A lying serenely at anchor about a mile from us.
Left F’town at 8am this morning. Hot lazy uneventful day – cards at night. Sleep on deck – rain – scramble for cover.
Payday – hot as hell – beer party to drink beer lost and won in 500 tournament – 10 gallons between six of us
Wattsie and J Hocking wrestle on deck – impromptu PT – hot day – cards and reading as usual. Crossed the line at 230 [1430?] Father Neptune celebrations – several officers and nurses initiated. Interesting for a while but later just a show.
Two of escorting destroyers leave us & pass tramp going the other way – see Southern Cross at 2.30am – Evening yarning and drinking beer – strain the hops out of beer through teeth.
Cruisers doing manoeuvres and target practice cause some excitement and rumours.
PT parade at 9.30 – TAB innocuolation at 2.30 – Cards – discussion on deck with RR JR (Jock & Tommy) JN and self – Tucker rotten – pigs better fed at home.
Just routine day
Wrote letters. read & played cards between shifts
As on the fifth
Wakened by planes from Cape Town flying overhead – some ships leave convoy and go Cape Town – rest of convoy take up formation and move on – choppy sea – cold wind a change after the hear and monotonous calm of the tropics.
8th Feb (Sat)
On deck most of day as usual. Sun comes out again – convoy only eleven ships now. Wrote a couple of letters.
Pass two tramps – muster parade – lecture by CO – Pictures in evening – Dr Syn
Getting nearer Durban. Everyone keyed up for new sights etc.
The Convoy’s designation was WS 5B. There’s a useful map, a photo of one of the ships, an outline of the comings and goings of the various ships and for those who understand such things, a table representing the formation of the convoy at this website : http://www.naval-history.net/xAH-WSConvoys04-1941A.htm
Photo shown here – taken by Dick Lewis
Alcohol and Tobacco
Jan 16 – cost of tobacco. In England 2/- per oz : this would equate to 32/- per pound, so getting it for 8/- was certainly a bargain by comparison. Jan 21 – re the officers’ beer. I assume there was a CO designated for each ship, since the Battalion CO (‘Hamburger Bill’) is mentioned later (Jan 26) as coming over from the Franconia to give a lecture. Further thieving on Jan 28 (1500 cigarettes) – interesting there is no comment re culprits. Jan 30 – How could 6 men drink 10 gallons of beer? that’s 80 pints!!
Jan 28 re Empress of Australia: Just as earlier in the war (refer early letters from England), German broadcasts were conveying information that was clearly false!
He does comment further on the food situation in later diary entries and letters. Dick Lewis confirms that there was a very definite class system on board – the officers and nurses were the first class passengers, everyone else second or even third class.