World War 2 Stories for Sheffield

Brian Armstrong's Story 

HMS Queen Of Bermuda, Part One

By Actiondesk Sheffield

Location of story: South Atlantic Station 1939-41
Background to story: Royal Navy

 

 This story was submitted to People's War site by Bill Ross of the 'Action        Desk - Sheffield' team on behalf of Brian Armstrong.


 





“HMS "Queen of Bermuda”

Her First Commission

Commissioned at Belfast
on
4th November 1939
by
Captain M. Brock Birkett RN

and superseded by
Captain G.A.B. Hawkins RN
12th December 1939
who was relieved by
Captain Allan Peachey RN
At Freetown 24th April 1941


J.D. Armstrong (Lt. Cdr. R.N.R. 1942)


Officers.
Captain Brock Birkett RN
Lieut. Cdr. G.T. McInnes RN
Lieut. Cdr. N.A.F. Kingscote RNR
Lieut. H.J. Aldiss RNR
Surn. Lieut J.C.Boyd RNVR
Lieut. J.D. Armstrong RNR
Mr. Kingswell Commissioned Gunner RN

------------**-----------
Captain G.A.B. Hawkins superseded
Captain Brock Birkett at Portsmouth December 1939


Left at Freetown:

Midshipman Smith RNR
Midshipman Toynbee RNR
Midshipman Stretton RNR
Midshipman Scott RNR


Joined ship at Portsmouth

Midshipman Barton RNR
Midshipman Battrick RNR
Midshipman Murray RNR

Lieut. R. Richards Brown RNR joined ship Buenos Aires
Commander G. Healey relieved McInnes at Durban in August
Sub Lieut Caldwell RNVR joined ship at Freetown vice Stretton (Sept 41)


T.124 Officers

S. Burns Temporary Commander RNR
H. Dupont Temporary Lieut. Cdr. RNR
A. Molts Temp. Lieut. RNT
L. Sylvester Temp. Lieut . RNR
L. Pert Temp. Midshipman RNR
F.Marks Temp. Cadet RNR
W. Milroy Temp. Commander(E) RNR
W. Saul Temp. Commander(E) RNR
J. Walker Temp. Lieut.(E) RNR
H. Hill Temp. Lieut. (E) RNR
W. Nevison Temp. Lieut.(E) RNR
H. Bates. Temp. Lieut. (E) RNR
W. Dalziel Temp. Pay Lt. Cdr. RNR
S. Wheeler Temp. Pay Lieut. RNR
S. Clements Temp. S/Lt. RNR
J. Holt Temp. S/Lt. RNR
A. Norrie Temp. S/Lt. RNR
S. Milliken (left) Temp. S/Lt. RNR
J. Heatlie Temp. S/Lt. RNR
J. Phillips (left) Temp. S/Lt. RNR
S. Whicker Temp. S/Lt. RNR
W. Arnold (left) Temp. S/Lt. RNR
A. Thomas Temp. S/Lt. RNR
W. Anderson Temp. S/Lt. RNR
D. Martin (left) Temp. S/Lt. RNR
F. Sinclair Temp. S/Lt. RNR
F. Gilmour Temp. S/Lt. RNR
M. Duffield Temp. S/Lt. RNR
H. Campbell (Elect) Temp. S/Lt. RNR
J. Cameron. (Elect) Temp. S/Lt. RNR
D. Pitman (Elect) Temp. S/Lt. RNR
J. Lancaster (Elect) Temp. S/Lt. RNR
J. Hill (Elect) Temp. S/Lt. RNR
L.Patterson (Plumber) Temp S/Lt. RNR
J. White Temp S/Lt. RNR
W. Smith (left) R.O.I.
G. Shrebridge R.O.2A
R. Price Lloyd R.O.3
A. Gail W.V.O.
D. Sproat R.O.2.
J. Macdonald R.O.1
Keyes Sub.E
Buxton Sub.E
McCullough Sub.E(left Freetown)
Coleman Sub.E
Griffin Pay Sub (left Freetown)
Lawrence Pay Sub RNVR
(joined Freetown)


When the Aquitania sailed from New York on 30th August 1939 at 7.30pm. I did not think that the Furniss Liner "Queen of Bermuda" had any interest for me. I saw her arrive in port on her normal run from Bermuda.
However she sailed the following day Thursday 31st for Belfast on a different route to that taken by Aquitania.
We arrived in Southampton on Wednesday 6th September having taken an extra day to do the passage. War was declared on Sept. 3rd and the remainder of the voyage was spent zig zagging.
The day after the ship arrived, three officers were mobilized. McLean, Tone and myself and I was duly appointed to the A.M.C. "Queen of Bermuda" fitting out at Belfast.
When I arrived at that port I found that a Captain R.N. retired had been appointed in command of the ship; he had been out of the service some years and an executive officer was also there, Lieut. Commander McInnes retired.
McInnes had spent about 6 years in the R.N. and left the service in 1922, apart from a brief 3 weeks refresher gunnery course in the summer of 1939 he'd had nothing to do with the navy since returning as a young Lieut.
Two other active service R.N.R. officers, Kingscote & Aldiss were also appointed, also a Commissioned gunner, Mr. Kingswell, he had been working at Woolwich Arsenal since his retirement, so was right up to date so far ammunition was concerned.
With the arrival of Surgeon Lieut. Boyd R.N.V.R. the naval personnel was complete so far as fitting out was concerned and work proceeded in the yard of Messrs. Harland & Wolff under the inexpert supervision of an Admiralty overseer, Mr. Tuck who succeeded in making a complete mess of the conversion so much so that the ship had to proceed to Portsmouth for a semi refit.
Owing to a lack of interest shown by the Commanding Officer Brock Birkett, his daily attendance on the ship was from 1100 to 1130 Monday to Friday and on the weekly meeting at the works it was even less and because of the inexperience of the Executive Officer, the admiralty overseer was able to do pretty well as he liked.
In addition to this there was a definite undercurrent of resentment amongst the ship's staff at the so called intrusion of the navy into the select circle of the Furness New York Bermuda organization. So all in all, conditions for a decent fitting out were not ideal.
As time went on the ship's people were undecided whether to engage in naval service under what is known as T.124 agreement. However the promise of their American rates of pay , turned into sterling at a rate somewhere in the neighbourhood of $4.00 to the £1. was sufficient inducement to make them sign the agreement. A typical example of this unfairness was the comparison of wages paid to a wardroom petty officer £24 monthly, while an R.N.R. Lieutenant on the active list was only entitled to £20. on naval rates. I may add that the wardroom P.O. was one of the lowest paid in the ship..
By the time sundry commissions had been handed out to the temporary officers the ship resembled a Greek man-o-war more that anything else and there it was.
During the fitting out period a great part of the interior of the ship was gutted. This was entirely right and proper as a reduction of fire hazard, but the gutting out party ran wild and began to remove part of the accommodation which was necessary for the war time requirements of the ship's company. But nothing could stop this. The stuff must come out and out it came, - only to be replaced in Portsmouth a month or so later. Wooden screens were fitted where windows had once been. This was pointed out as a glaring error as the first gun blast blew them all down.
And so it went on. Ignorance had its way while the people who could have stopped it didn't know any better or were not sufficiently interested to make a stand.
And by the time the ship was ready for the acceptance inspection she was just about as complete a mess as it was possible to imagine.
Still the Admiral walked round and looked at the things which were pointed out and carefully ignored those things which he was not supposed to see. And the ship was accepted!!
About a week prior to this there was a great commotion; the ship was to be fitted with some patent nets which would catch torpedoes, and an already upset schedule was further complicated.
A special vessel was used to bring some hundreds of tons of gear, wire, shackles, booms and what not all the way round from Portsmouth to Belfast - gear incidentally which had been designed for another ship altogether. This stuff was duly installed, holes were cut in the ship's side and the jigsaw commenced. If ever there was a Heath Robinson contraption the nets were it. Still on it went and by superhuman efforts on the part of the dockyard the job was finished in time.
Then we got our crew, about 200 odd ratings. Some dozen were active service - about 30 were pensioners and the remainder were R.N.V.R seamen with a leavening of R.N.Rs. Few if any of the R.N.V.Rs had ever seen a ship before. We found this out by bitter experience after the ship left.
One of my braves who had been told off severely confessed to three weeks in the Navy!! Chaos reigned everywhere but after commissioning on Nov 4th. And ammunitioning ship on the 5th and 6th we had to go to sea on the 7th and we did.
With a ship load of experts and net party and various other odds and ends we did gun trials. The result,- all Mr. Tuck's fancy woodwork fell down and was rendered useless. However our orders were to proceed to Portsmouth, so next day after tying all the broken bits together we set off.
The ship behaved like a sick cow. The result as we had forecast of putting nearly 1,000 tons of rock ballast in the fore part. When ballast was suggested we offered our suggestions as to its disposal, but some junior grade clerk in the admiralty department at Bath knew better, in all probability had never seen a ship, so down No's 1 & 2 holds it went and we finished up with the ship drawing seven feet more forward than aft. Just a dangerous loaded condition - but by trimming water ballast we managed to reduce this trim to almost even keel - a very temporary measure indeed. However we sailed round to Portsmouth and by some miracle we got there unmolested. We were anybody's meat.
The net booms effectively prevented the lowering of any boats and none of the guns worked properly. In any case none of the guns crews had any idea of their duties, so I for one was very thankful when we screwed alongside the dockyard near Portsmouth.

During the stay in Portsmouth where the errors and omissions of Belfast were being made good we lost our first Commanding Officer. His alcoholic consumption was so heavy that it was found necessary to ship him off to hospital for a cure and he was relieved by Captain G.A.B. Hawkins D.S.C. M.V.O. Captain Hawkins had the good fortune to be "in the know"; he was a nephew by marriage of the Duke of Connaught and one of those singled out for promotion. After a week or so of harbour routine the ship began to show signs of becoming something more than a burlesque. Divisions were knitting into shape and many hours were spent playing with the nets under the eyes of the A.N.D. otherwise "Action net Defence". A lot of time and money was expended in this hobby, which was quite useless in a ship of this class. Half an hour in heavy weather would have carried the whole lot away and wrapped it round wing propellers. Still it kept the ship at home and enabled everyone to have Christmas or New Year leave which was the one bright spot in an otherwise complete "black out"

1940
.
It was just after the leave period that the "buzzes" began to spread throughout the ship. Having prepared ourselves for the rigours of the Northern Patrol we were told to get tropical kit and speculation was rife as to our ultimate destination. The trend of popular speculation was "South" So on the 24th. January (1940) in better weather we departed from Portsmouth via Weymouth where we were to do gunnery trials for "furrin Parts". (Foreign?)
The trials should have been completed in one day but we took a week. The weather was very much against us.
Portland harbour was the scene of an adventure, amusing afterwards but unpleasant at the time.
Owing to transport difficulties we sailed from Portsmouth without some wardroom stores - a case of tobacco and it followed us by rail. So as tobacco caterer I had to go ashore and try to collect it.
A motor boat was provided and we set off in a complete "blackout" taking a draft for R.N. Barracks and the surgeon who wanted to try and trace a missing parcel. I had never been ashore in Portland Harbour before and assumed that the Midshipman in charge of the boat and the coxwain, who had both been running trips for 24 hours, knew their course inshore. After we had been under weigh for some 20 minutes, we should have reached our destination in just that time. I thought it was about time to have a look round. In addition to the blackout there was a persistent drizzle - nothing was visible, not even the loom of the beach. So I decided to carry on a bit longer at slow speed. About five minutes later I caught sight of something blacker than the surrounding water and gave orders to go full speed astern. There was just sufficient time to take the weigh off the boat and we touched something very lightly. Investigation with a torch showed it to be some kind of cement groyne or pipe line with a beacon marking the outer end. We were about ten feet from the beacon. Once we had touched I gave the order to "Stop" and the midshipman obeyed literally. He switched off the engine in the excitement of the moment. After he had been cursed roundly we managed to get the engine running again: the engineer had a lot of trouble doing so as with the cussedness of all motor boat engines it wouldn't start when we needed it in a hurry.
No one knew where we were and the Doctor mournfully remarked that he wished he'd brought a lifejacket instead of a gas mask.
With the boat under weigh once more we started all over again and I thought it best to take charge of things and steering a compass course we got away from the obstruction.. The trouble was that the pier we wanted to find was rather small and there was some wreckage a little way clear of it which was very dangerous had it been necessary to make an exact landfall.
I spotted what looked like a faint mooring light and decided if one boat could float there we could do likewise and making a wide sweep we finally landed at the proper pier, everyone very cold and wet, so I took half the crew up to look for something warming to drink. I found a Hostel which provided hot cocoa and left instructions for them to relieve their mates in the boat while I took a couple of hands and went off prospecting to find the place and the tobacco.
Our first inquiries were met with a flat denial of any such place in the harbour. This was at first sight, rather strange as I was seeking information at a Salvation Army Sailors Rest and they are usually helpful. Our next call was more fruitful - a pub. They told us where to find our people and off we went. Landed at a dead garage. The place was open but in darkness and no one answered our knocks or hails. Eventually a passer by volunteered the information that we might find the proprietor in the adjoining pub.
There we found the reason for the apparent lack of knowledge inn the Hostel. We had arrived at our destination and the firm we were seeking were not only the owners of the garage but the pub as well and the good people in the hostel were only trying, as they thought, to prevent us going on a blind.
We got our tobacco and scrambled back to the pier in pitch darkness, collected up the crew and prepared to return.
At the first kick of the engine it backfired and the engine room burst into flames, fortunately we managed to get the engineer out unsinged and put out the blaze without any damage being done and we crept back to the ship in pouring rain.
===============================================

When I returned on board and studied the chart to see where we had been I had a shock. We had escaped all kinds of horrible obstacles and obstructions and landed on a sewer outfall some distance away from our objective. However it all ended up without effects and after a hot meal no one was any the worse.
The episode passed into the records as the Battle of Portland Harbour.
It was a full week after the boat trip before we got away. Day after day, either too rough for the targets to go outside or no visibility and my lords had decreed that the ship must hot rail without the gunnery trials.
Finally on Feb 3rd.(1940) we did sail. Firing our full calibre stuff and doing a good deal of minor interior damage to the ship in the way of doors and lights but nothing structurally, in fact everyone was agreeably surprised how the ship held up to her first broadside.
The week spent in Portland was very useful. We were very much shut up and no leave was given so the ship's company got a chance to shake down and learn something about a ship.
They were a collection. 80% had never been to sea before apart from our passage round from Belfast and messing about off the Isle of Wight with the net gear and their knowledge of ship routine was more than vague so at the end of a week they knew a little.
February 11th. (1940) saw us arrive in Freetown, Sierra Leone and there we got a taste of the flap and fuss which was to be our bug bear all the time we were on the South Atlantic station.
As our only claim to fame then was that we were the biggest and alleged fastest armed merchant cruiser; people were keen to see us, the local Admiral most of all. Someone told him we'd got a swimming pool.
We got to Freetown around eleven pm. And the old man immediately started to do things as if we were to be there for a month. He wanted this done, that done and half a hundred other things and what have you. A programme which would have tried the resources of a fully trained battleship and complement not to speak of a newly commissioned A.M.C. with a scratch crew - and to crown all an admirals inspection the next day and in spite of oiling and storing ship.
The first thing the oiler did was to pump oil all over the deck and on the day of the Admiral's inspection the blasted motor boats went on strike. In fact the whole thing was a nightmare, but even nightmares come to an end and we sailed.
I think everyone was pleased to see the last of Freetown. It would have been a very pleasant break to have spent 72 hours in port but to try to cram it into 24 hours wasn't so hot as some people say and not the least of the big ideas was that we must land our watch of liberty men---!!!
From Freetown we were ordered to proceed to patrol an area off the South American coast in the vicinity of Rio de Janeiro but a couple days on passage and orders came through by W/T instructing us to proceed to the assistance of the British ship "Hartsmere" a considerable distance away in the South Atlantic and laying disabled owing to engine failure. This was our first taste of the utter unsuitability of a Service officer to adapt himself to Merchant Navy methods.
Service routine and service methods for naval ships, but they, having been constructed on the approved lines, lend themselves to the service way of doing things, still, we all learn and after many discussions, the "Hartsmere" was taken in tow by Merchant Navy methods.
Dupont the late Chief Officer of the ship and myself were given the job and we organized it jointly and did it according to our own ideas - everything went like a sewing machine. Casting off the tow was done by the same combination and we didn't even strain a rope yarn. In fact his nibs praised the operation - which was something.
We turned the tow over to the "Jervis Bay" having successfully towed at 8 knots and proceeded to Rio for fuel and water prior to taking on our patrol.
The weather from Freetown onwards was very tropical but quite pleasant.
We towed the "Hartsmere" from Saturday 17th Feb. (1940) till Monday 19th. and arrived in Rio on 23rd. Feb staying there 24 hours. The stay in Rio was not particularly pleasant: everyone wanted to get ashore and the all highest had decreed that two lieutenants must be on board at all times in addition to the duty C.O. so we were rather hampered. Liberty men were landed in large numbers and my share of the party was taking in stores all fore noon and looking after the ship from then till 10 pm. When I retired for a night in bed.
During the time on passage we'd started out in three straight watches, but after a little agitation we'd managed to work it in split dog watches which was better all round for everyone. That meant only one night in three with a broken sleep.
After leaving Rio we steamed round in circles for about 24 days then we were ordered south for our next supply of oil and stores.
A change of latitude meant a change in temperature so from the baking thirties we steamed south through the roaring forties into the howling fifties; colder all the time - and on March 22nd. We arrived at Port Stanley, Falkland Islands. A small place with exceedingly hospitable people and very powerful liquor of which more anon.
Port Stanley looked just what it was, a small town at the back-o-beyond, but the local folks were kindness itself - too kind in some cases.
We stayed there two days oiling and taking stores and I think it's safe to say that T of the ship's company got drunk, - blind paralytic drunk, to use a seafaring term. I had the first night on duty and never have I seen anything like a battlefield as they came off. The local liquor is strong - very strong and the troops had made a meal of it after their spell at sea. It was really astounding - and when some of our young engineer "officers" came off in the last boat and it was reported that they had been fighting with the stokers, it was pretty awful. I believe we were not the worst example of the Royal Navy which the Falkland Islanders had seen. Previous ships had misbehaved even more than the "Queen of Bermuda".
It was interesting to get the stories from the local folk of the Battle of the River Plate. H.M.S Exeter had been down there for six weeks refitting for the journey home and she had left her wounded behind in hospital.
As Port Stanley was the first real break we'd had since leaving Portsmouth we were very sorry when we had to sail after only 48 hours in port and the weather, which is usually foul, had been kind to us, to the extent of allowing a football game to take place. We beat the local army 4 - 3 but they saw us off in shooting so honours were even.
Sailing on the 24th. March for our patrol area we had a week at sea on passage and then we had our first thrill since leaving home.
A message was received saying that there was a German stowaway on board the Spanish Ship Ciduad da Sevilla and we were to intercept her and take him prisoner. This was rather a tall order as we had a very approximate idea of the Spanish ship's position but I suggested that we call him with a phoney call sign and when he replied all we'd have to do was take a D/F bearing. After some talk this was done and we eventually picked the Spaniard up. A little shadowing during the early morning hours and at daylight we boarded her and brought the prisoner back. He was very surprised.
That was on 2nd. April, 6 days later we transferred him to the Dunotter Castle and set off to Montevideo for fuel and stores. We arrived at Montevideo on 11th. April and sailed again the next day. Monte was much quieter than Port Stanley and the British residents gave the troops a royal time. We had a decent view of the Graf Spee wreckage outside the port. She looked a nasty mess. A few hours after leaving Montevideo we got orders to return to our area at increased speed as it was thought the " Windbuk " might be trying to make a break. We steamed at 17½ knots and arrived off Santos on April 15th. Cruising around close to the port we found that there was no chance of the German coming out for a bit. Then the Norwegian crisis came along and on 17th April we boarded our first Norwegian ship, only to find she was on charter to the British Government.
A couple of days later we took another German prisoner, a major in the German army this time. He had booked a passage to Las Palmas in a Belgian Steamer and he was very surprised at being captured. Still it was the fortunes of war. We were chased off to the Plate area for a few days about this time and returned to the Santos Patrol on April 27th when the same old routine was carried out, - round and round; very monotonous. The following day we got news that we would contact H.M.S Cumberland and get a mail envoy with her on the 29th. We did this and had a very good look at the cruiser. She was very clean around the decks but it was obvious that the same irritating uniform regulations were not in force there. The troops were rigged out in what ever dress they seemed to fancy while the quarterdeck was conspicuous for complete absence of white stockings or sox. A vast difference from the modified Royal Jack restrictions which were in force in our vessel. Men must go around bare footed or else wear stockings or sox with boots or shoes and white shoes were not allowed. While the officers were encouraged to set a good example. Quite the most tripish order in a series of tripe emanating from the permanent office and inspired by the old man.
The routine patrol was carried out for the remainder of the week and on Friday 3rd May we rendezvoused with Alcantara and transferred our German prisoner for passage to the Cape while we carried on with the work for another week before getting our long looked for break.
When we arrived at Buenos Aires on the afternoon of May 10th we had been away from Portland just 104 days and in Portland with no leave for 10 days and of that time we'd had 24 hours in Freetown, 24 hours in Rio, 48 hours in the Falklands and 24 hours in Montevideo. So it was with great satisfaction that we learned we were to have 48 hours in B.A.
The 24 hour breaks are really no let up in the routine as watch keeping has to be carried out and stores have to be embarked.
.
Monday May 13th. Was not our lucky day as we had to turn back and land one o.s to hospital with an acute appendix. It is to be hoped that he was interned when he was removed from hospital.
For a few days we messed about in the Plate area and carried out a half hearted patrol, only investigated those ships which passed close to us. Anything which was more than four miles distant was classed by the Master as "obviously a local coastal trader" and left severely alone.
However on the 17th May we got orders to return to the Santos patrol as the Cumberland had been detailed to search an area on the other side of the S. Atlantic and was proceeding forthwith at 21 knots.
It was pleasant to get away from the Plate area and back to the warm weather and back into tropical rig once more. It made the nagging and pin pricks of the master somewhat less irritating.
Someone in authority had a brain storm around this time; we got a signal on 20th May saying that all A.M.Cs had to paint the white upper works buff and funnels all one colour instead of the more or less peace time colour scheme which had been adopted.
This news was received in different ways by those on board after three months of intensive washing and painting the upper deck was looking very fresh and peaceful at the expense and expenditure of gallons of paint. White paint was being used at a rate never attained in peacetime. White enamel too. The all highest had decreed and it was so. Day after day the troops had slapped on paint and while the result was very creditable it was totally unnecessary in war time. So the buff news was well received by the lower deck and with gnashing of teeth by the captain and first lieutenant.
The divisional officers thought it very humorous and did not hesitate to say so and on 22nd May the great painting offensive started but not, let be clearly understood at the sacrifice of Divisions or Action stations. Let the heavens fall or any other thing occur we had to have Divisions six times a week. Action stations three times and Captain's Rounds three times which included the Saturday Mess Deck Rounds . All these routines were carried out at great cost to the working organization of ship. The painting process lasted several days and eventually dragged on and on until everyone lost interest in it and most of the visible stuff had to have a second coat.
The month of May finished up on a Friday which was remarkable:
(a) that no one was hurt or killed and
(b) that anyone could be so absolutely idiotic as to try out such a stunt in the open sea with ordinary board of trade boat gear.
No one but a very inexperienced naval officer (retired) would have attempted it..
The great idea was to change all the boats round as the inboard sides, when in proper stowage, had been scraped and varnished and it was desired to do the other sides. A reasonable way to do it in a battleship where the outsides were inconvenienced owing to the stowage of the boats but quite unnecessary with welin? (P36) gravity davits. However it was decided to change them all around and the fun started. There was a moderate swell and the ship was rolling easily, but easy roll in a ship of this type means a lift of six or seven feet. And the lowering was completed without too much incident, one or two jammed fingers but that was not serious. It was the rehoisting which saw the fun commence.
 

 

The same old trouble; too many bosses all giving different orders with the result that only two boats on each side were actually changed and two came back on their original falls. We all "laughed hearty" except the organizer.
When the process started there was some screaming from the promenade deck and the picnic would have provided endless material for a marine comic artist . It had all the comedy of an artist like Boathooks in peoples stern, black eyes and surprisingly enough not a wet sheet.
Total casualties; both motor boats screens smashed, two boats with gunwales stove in and various abrasions. So ended the month of May.
June was ushered in by an outbreak of 'flue or some similar complaint. People going down like flies. Gargle parades and what not. Thanks to Glycerin of Thymol I was lucky and escaped with a sniffle which only lasted a day or so.
All that week we were wondering where we would go for stores and fuel and no word coming through. Finally we were sent to Rio on 10th June and remained 24 hours. We left three of the crew behind, two seamen and a cook. This brings the desertions to date up to six and landing by sickness two. Three seamen deserted, two firemen and one cook and one fireman and one seaman landed to hospital.
Shortly after leaving Rio the ship's future programme was announced. - She was to proceed to the Falkland Islands to load stores for the Cape and whilst at the Cape she would refit. News which cheered everyone up as the patrol was becoming monotonous in view of the fact that unless a ship came close to us we did not investigate, for reasons known only to the commanding officer, a situation which requires some explanation.
On our arrival at Rio it was announced that the ship had steamed 35,000 miles on patrol.
Sailing from Rio on 11th June we all felt better at the idea of a refit in civilized parts.
The three missing hands turned up. We picked them off one of the mail boats. The Highland Brigade I think. This was about two days after leaving. We hung around the patrol area until we were relieved by the Pretoria Castle on the 24th June and then off at 16 knots for Port Stanley to embark stores for the Cape.
After a uneventful run down to the howling 50's we arrived off the Falklands in a dense fog on the 29th. The master distinguished himself by getting the wind up and wanting to anchor the ship in 80 fathoms of water, but even he was eventually persuaded of the utter futility of anything like this.
After a hectic rush in Port Stanley, everyone working like galley slaves we got away on the Sunday and set a course for the Cape in a real westerly gale. The old cow just wallowed in it for a week. On the way over we made an attempt to look for Gough Island but the weather was too bad and nothing was seen.
On the 10th July we anchored in Simonstown (S. Africa) & discharged our stores, sailing again the same evening for Durban where we arrived on 13th and anchored awaiting orders.
The following day, (a Sunday) we dry docked and for the rest of our time in the port the people of the City did their most to make us welcome. They succeeded very well as I have the pleasantest recollections of the port and that goes for the rest of the ship's company as well. Nothing was too much trouble for the Durbanites. They even accommodated up to six men each during the leave period.
After an extensive refit during which time the first Lieut. was relieved by a Commander, the ship sailed on 13th August for Simonstown to embark stores and oil. We arrived at Simonstown on 16th then carried out gunnery trials and after embarking stores proceeded to Cape Town on the morning of 19th.
There we remained only a few hours. The new Commodore of the South American division joined the ship and off we went. Full of hope and everything else.
We were barely clear of the harbour when a raider report was received and we immediately increased speed and steamed towards the position given. However to everyone's dissatisfaction the report was cancelled about 6 hours later and we shaped a course for the Island of Tristan da Cunha.
Arriving there in the early hours of 24th August we landed a large quantity of stores for the islanders and removed the Padre for reasons known only to the powers that be. The visit to the island was all the more interesting because we made contact with the islanders, who all have a certain resemblance to each other and we were able to find out quite a bit about them from Padre Wilde who had spent about seven years there. It was disappointing not to be able to land but there was rather a heavy sea running and at times the islanders had difficulty keeping their boats running. We could have lowered our heavy lifeboats but it would have been almost impossible to hoist them again as there was at least an 8 foot sea running. The ship's company rallied round very well and sent a lot of gifts ashore with the stuff which had been brought from S. Africa. In fact the padre said afterwards that the ship's gear (cast off clothing mostly) was infinitely more acceptable than some of the quite useless stuff sent out by well meaning people at home. The only person to land was the surgeon and he told us that the health standard was very high but the intelligence a bit backward. One interesting fact emerged from our visit . Shortly before our arrival the islanders found what they take to be the figurehead of the Danish Training ship "Köbn Havn" which was presumed lost many years ago and was not heard of after she sailed from the River Plate for Australia about 1923 or so.
Our passage from Tristan to position XX , where we had to R.V. with H.M.S. Hawkins to transfer the Commodore, was marked by rather bad weather which got worse as we neared the River Plate area and the night before arrival we just hove to .
The Commodore made a very nice speech to the ship's company before he left and everyone voted him a good Commodore for the Station.
August finished up rather well after all. The day following the big breeze was fine and calm in the Plate estuary. We met Hawkins, transferred the Commodore and what was more important, got our mail. Then we pushed off on the same old game, round and round in large circles until it was time to head for Montevideo for our usual oiling. The day before arriving at Monte we developed turbineitis and crawled into port on 12th Sept. feeling very uncertain. The breakdown was rather serious and the net result was three very pleasant days in harbour, which pleased everyone not least myself as I had been promoted to Duty Commanding Officer and was clear of all gangway watching which was a very welcome change.
The English community were very kind indeed and everyone enjoyed the stay. Sunday 15th saw us on our way again and rather sorry to leave the hospitality of Uruguay. Still we'll probably see it again in three of four months.
The first half of the patrol was marred by poor weather and generally unsettled conditions, we were a long way from anywhere and very much on our own. The rest of September was marked by sweeping changes on the part of our new Commander who was rapidly assuming dictatorial powers and generally running things to suit himself. Remarks from the lower deck seemed to indicate that they thought it a great pity he hadn't had some toys to play with when he was young as he worried them considerably.
There was no excitement until Oct 3rd when we went looking for a Finn who was supposed to have had some Graf Spee escapees on board. It was really remarkable how we found her as the weather turned very wet just about that time and we actually spotted her lights in the middle watch on Oct 4th. Another half mile away and we'd have missed her. As it was we identified her then followed her till daylight when she was boarded but no traces were found.
Rumours were flying all round the ship about this time as it was drawing near the end of the T124 agreement and there was a lot of hoping to get reliefs.
One priceless yarn went round that the Hawkins was bringing the reliefs back from South Africa and on her arrival the Enterprise would take the T124s to Halifax, thus allowing the Newfoundland crowd to go home and the American gang to reach New York. The remainder were to proceed to Liverpool by A.M.C. This rumour was rather upset by orders to proceed to Rio de Janeiro for fuel and stores and the receipt of a signal from Home asking if the reliefs were to be sent to Freetown.
Some of the gang had already packed and they were very fed up a couple of nights before the ship arrived at Rio.
It was just about this time that the first unrest appeared in the wardroom. After a rather stormy meeting of the Mess Committee the Mess Sec. resigned. The dictatorial atmosphere creeping in again. A certain amount of speculation arose too regarding the future movements of the T124 officers, more so when the navigating commander announced that he was going to resign the new agreement which called for transfer to any ship which the Admiralty might decide. The others were scared of losing their American rates of pay, although there was a certain amount of tension in the mess and as there were 53 officers it was amusing to sit on the outskirts and watch what was happening. A lively month or so was in store by all the forecasts. But like weather prophets who are nearly always wrong one could never really tell. All that could be said was that it was an interesting situation with endless possibilities; who knows? Speculation and rumour continued rife until the ship arrived at Rio on the 11th October and then the balloon was gently deflated when the Paymaster went ashore to the British Consulate and had the articles extended for a period of six months or until suitable reliefs arrived on board. All very amusing to the regular R.N.Rs but very aggravating to the T124 personnel who were still left in mid air, as no reply had been received whether they would be reengaged at the exorbitant rates. However no reliefs appeared and next day Oct 12 we departed from Rio in very damp weather. Rio never did much for the ship so no one worried much at the bare 24 hours in port and as we were heading somewhere definably the party was interesting. We were bound for Isle de Trinidada off the coast just to make a "look see"
The island was sighted early on the morning of Oct 16th. I saw it at 3am, a good hour before anyone expected it. It was a busy day. We went to action stations at 5am and trained all our guns on the island as we approached, but it was like Mother Hubbard's cupboard, very bare. There were several disused huts on the beach and it was decided to send a landing party; however that was next day. We steamed round the island then shoved off to have a look at Martin Vaz, some 30 miles to the eastward. Then pushed off for the night, returning next day for a spot of gunnery. Heaving a few bricks at Martin Vaz in the morning we arrived back at Ila Trinidada in the middle of the day Oct. 17th.
With true pigheadedness the all highest decided to land the party on a dead lee shore; no where else would do. Plumb crazy!!
Anyhow the motor boat went ashore taking the dingy and party. They were transferred outside the line of breakers and after pulling around a bit were pitched headlong onto the beach, getting very wet shirts in the process. The island was uninhabited except by pigs and goats and the huts contained crates of the Brazilian garrison of the 1918 period, including some of their old rifles and a few pots. It wasn't practicable to bring any of the stuff off as the landing party couldn't even fetch themselves off in the dingy, a whaler had to be sent in to tow them off and instead of the whole party taking about an hour, it wasn't until about 5pm that the ship was able to sail. Just because the big cheese was pig headed. However as we weren't on a timetable it didn't matter.
Sad to relate we left the good weather behind at Trinidada; the next day brought rain and afterwards wind. Very depressing after the start of sunbathing. Still there will always be other days Up to arrival at Rio the ship had steamed over 59,000 miles on patrol since commissioning and she had been nearly eleven months in commission. On Tuesday 22nd October we had a signal to say that 8 officers and 26 ratings had been sent from England in the Arundel Castle for passage to Queen of Bermuda via H.M.S. Hawkins from South Africa. They will probably arrive in our area early in December. What a nice time they will have had. There are some other reliefs as well around somewhere. On the same day we went off looking for a ship which was supposed to be taking some escaped Graf Spee'rs to Bahia. It will be largely a matter of luck if we find her as the visibility is poor and there is a devil of a lot of rain around. Most depressing weather for this part of the world; we should be having sunshine and blue skies not scotch mists. After nearly a week of patrolling and seeing nothing we brought up off the port of Bahia on 29th October. It was a very welcome break in the monotony, even to see land. We saw the German ships at the port and had a good look at them from the entrance then turned away and steamed off to sea.
Nov 1st found us off Trinidada again with no object in mind but a cruise round. However shortly after sighting the island we got W/T information that one of the Huns in Rio Grande do Sul was going to make a break and off we went to the southward at a good lick to get into position to cover our allotted area of search. Unfortunately as we went south the weather wasn't so good as it might have been and when we arrived at our area the conditions were very much in favour of the bloke on the run. We searched for four days then gave it up as it was time for us to replenish with oil and water, our stores were getting low and off we went for B.A.
 

Arriving there on the 8th November in the afternoon we found to our delight that we were in for 48 hours owing to some necessary repairs to condensers and what not. So a welcome let up was experienced and we didn't sail till Sunday 10th in the afternoon.
The first week after leaving B.A. was perfectly lousy wet nearly all the time and bad weather for the first three days. Most unpleasant. The first bright spell began on Sunday 17th. It was a poor start to a long patrol as we'd been told we were out for 35 days which was not so hot.; in fact it didn't go down at all well.
Round about this time the T.124 deck officers had their first shock. The Admiralty had decided they were holding commissions much senior to their lawful expectation and there was much heartburning as to what would happen; also the news came through that the first batch of reliefs instead of coming by the Hawkins were due about the 19th November in Carnarvon Castle from Cape Town.
So the week commencing 17th November looks like being somewhat exciting from a gossip point of view if nothing else.
As I remarked - the week commencing Nov 17th looked like being exciting. I didn't know how true that was going to be.
We got our R.V. with the Carnarvon Castle for Thursday 21st and the spot was well out to sea. So after messing around our old stamping ground until the time came to leave we proceeded on the Tuesday I think 19th. All went well for 24 hours then we got messages about enemy surface craft not too far away, so everyone was on top line.
In the early hours of Thursday at 0130 the alarm rattles went off and the watch below was wakened to the sound of "Action stations" on the bugle. Then there was a scamper. I seized my night clothing and dashed aft and on the way I spotted a nasty black shape which looked exactly like a cruiser. My first thoughts were - now we are for it. Fortunately for all concerned the cruiser as well I expect it turned out to be the Enterprise on her way to investigate the enemy reports, but she'd have had us very much on the hop if it had been otherwise. It gave the old man a nasty scare and eliminated a lot of his noise. Some experience and valuable too.
It was a good start to a busy day as late on we arrived at the R.V. and effected the change.
The replacements look all right. How they will work out I do not know but it looks as though they are an improvement on those who have gone. They are under the fond delusion that they will be home for Christmas but I'm very much afraid it will be nearer Easter.
Our patrol continued without incident until Sunday 24th November when we had news that some Germans were trying to take passage in a coastal steamer from Rio Grande to Santos. So we altered round in an effort to intercept said ship. It's a far fetched chance but some of our previous ones have come off and this one might do so as well.
There seems to be a gradual filtration of Jerrys up the coast to Santos. It wouldn't surprise me at all if the Windbuk was slowly filling up with the intention of making a break some dark night when there is no moon. Unless the movement is being continued up the coast to Para where there are more German ships. Doubtless the news will leak out before very long what has been happening.
Having successfully missed the ship with the Huns on board owing to the shilly shallying of the big noise we wended our way back on patrol and all was quiet.
Thus on Tuesday 26th November we were ordered to beat it back to Santos and escort Lord Willingdon in the Avila Star down to the Southward and off we went at 17 knots. If we'd carried on the original haul we'd have been almost on the spot. Such is life.
Met the Avila Star on 28th November and escorted her for about 20 hours until the Admiral came along in the Enterprise and took over. One good thing was our mail. We managed to get one from the passenger ship that was very acceptable, also the news that we'd probably bunker at Monte next time. There are some funny things in connection with this patrol. We heard today Dec 2nd that our pal the Carnarvon Castle had nabbed Huns and tentatively suggested that she take them to Freetown. This was frowned on heavily by the C in C and she was ordered to transfer them to us so that she could proceed into Rio to fuel and store. She was nicely ticked off for even hoping that she could go north.
I wonder what our gallant T124 brigade will think when they see their late home heaving in sight again. I wouldn't mind betting that some of them wish they were back again, while some of the others would never be satisfied no matter what ship they served in. I don't suppose we'd care to have that section back on board here anyhow. They were no loss when they went down the ladder.
Things can change very rapidly in this part of the world (Dec. 9th)
We met Carnarvon Castle on Wednesday last 4th and transferred her prisoners, some 22 in all. We saw one or two of our gang on deck too.
When we separated. 1300 she was bound south for Monte, to fuel as it was considered not god policy to send her to Rio after the incident when the prisoners were passengers. We were instructed to take over her patrol. Sixteen hours after we separated she was in action and we were going hell bent for election on the raiders trail. The Carnarvon Castle managed to get a couple home on the enemy before she got one in her engine room and the raider got away. We weren’t so very far away but far enough for the enemy to get clear. Anyhow the net result was that we cruised around for 48 hours in a sweep but found nothing except that relaxing on a teak wood deck was neither restful nor comfortable and after the second night was conducive to minor aches under tropical conditions. Thank goodness it wasn't cold weather. Now we are legging it for a R.V. with an oiler to get some more fuel. We have pretty well expended our lot and have another eight days before we can go into port unless for emergencies. We did some quite hard steaming during the past three days most of the time at 19 knots. The old works did well considering their amount of running and the fact that the water is very warm hereabouts. As a shake up it was a good thing and we managed to get fairly close.
After the unsuccessful attempt to find the raider we were very short of oil, in fact were broken into our special reserve and it was necessary to beat it back to the coast to replenish. So off we went at 17 knots to San Baromber Bay where we arrived after an uneventful trip on 10th December and our oiler did the necessary.
For various reasons, the Carnarvon Castle's repairs, Enterprise wanting the same and our projected storing , there was going to be a bit of a concentration of H.M. ships around Monte, so our visit was postponed from 16th to 18th. There are changes to us in the S.A. Division. Hawkins isn't returning and Commodore is transferring his flag from Enterprise to Cumberland so when the changes take place this section will comprise Cumberland, Newcastle, Asturias and Queen of Bermuda. We met the Carnarvon Castle the day after oiling, Dec. 11th and gave her back her prisoners. I think they were quite sorry to leave the Queen of Bermuda. The Castle boat had many traces of her brush with the raider.
I'm told there were 22 hits altogether, she had six casualties in all with some 28 slightly wounded.
Her starboard side bore the brunt of the fight and when she was with us the starboard guns were out of action. Her electrical system was shot to bits according to reports so we are practicing up a form of group control in case we are which I expect we will be if there is any action worth talking about. It seems that all A.M.C. actions have been impaired by electrical failures. The T124 crowd we transferred certainly fell into it. Rumour has it that they may not get home for months now. They'd have been better off to stay here, but as most of them were useless it wasn't worth while keeping them in the ships.
We are still putting up with the fancies of the old man. He has been bitten afresh with the paint mania and is raving about the barrels being painted down on "E" deck. Why no one knows. The Commander too had been roaming around. His territorial claims are being slowly satisfied but he still grabs what he can. His latest effort is to try and build a squash court in the mess deck but I think that will be defeated on the grounds of expense, he couldn't get a badminton court in the cinema and that wouldn't be anything like the cost of a squash court.
Life carried on in the usual quiet way. Rounds and what not until arrival at Monte on Dec 18th. We only managed 24 hours there and sailed on Thursday 19th heading up for our old stamping ground K.33. A nice warm patrol.
There were scares and rumours floating around. Pocket Battleships and raiders, concentrations of cruisers and what not, but we pursued our quiet way with Hawkins as monarch of all he surveyed and Healey the stooge trying to grab a little more of the daily limelight. A good team of crosstalk comedians, Hawkins & Healey; they'd do well on the stage provided they didn't mind having things thrown at them.
Christmas day passed off gently, there was no excitement and even things in the mess were fairly quiet. The troops managed to chuck the commander into the pool and I don't think they'd have needed much more persuasion to demand the old man come along for a ducking too.
The year ended without incident. I tallied up our time at sea. From Feb 3rd when the ship[ left Portland and not counting her months refit at Durban, she had done 280 days at sea on patrol and 16 in port, fueling and storing. Not a bad record for the old box. She has done very well and it's high time she was sent somewhere for another refit, perhaps there will be some orders coming along soon.

1941

The New Year started gently but on Jan 4th we got unexpected orders to go via Rio for water and stores but no oil. This caused lots of speculation as to what was in the wind and the rumour factory started on overtime.
One duly helpful effort was Trinidad, Bermuda, Halifax and Belfast. That seemed to please a lot of people. Another was round to the west coast of South America for a spell to relieve a ship thus, then off to Sydney for our refit. Some people have never visited Australia it seems.
Then after a speech by the President of U.S.A. it was decided on Brooklyn or Newport Mews as a refitting ground. But most of the ship's Coy. Were content to go back to South Africa.
Anyhow we went into Rio on Thursday 7th Jan for 24 hours and on sailing found ourselves bound for the Falklands. We needed stores and they were there. And they were going to give us all of four days in port. Someone was feeling generous or else the engines needed a big overhaul.
It was very pleasant to be heading South again after a long absence and our first day out of whites was a real change. Even the weather seemed nice and fresh and not too rough by way of a contrast.
Once again the rumour factory was busy and our movements after the Falklands were the cause of much speculation and comment.
As the old man has said definitely (12.1.41) that he has no orders re our refit, well anything might happen now.

We arrived at Port Stanley on Thursday 16th January and settled down to some ease. We might have known better as there was no peace for anyone. What with two lieuts on board all the time and an officer ashore in charge of the patrol each night it gave us each one clear night ashore. Still it was a break. On Sunday night the fun started. All night leave was suddenly cancelled. The patrol rounded everyone up, ships orders had been changed and we were off, very much so. Early on Monday 20th we sailed for South Georgia. A raider had worked in amongst the whaling fleet and we were to go down south and find out what was what.
Arriving at Grytviken in the Island of S. Georgia 48 hours after leaving Stanley we collected what information there was to be had. Embarked a Norwegian skipper from the whale catcher who had sighted the raider and pushed off for the whaling grounds in the South Orkneys for a start.
S. Georgia was quite a sight. Glaciers and snow covered peaks and all the trimmings which go with that climate. It was quite an experience to even sight island and to make the port of Grytviken too was a thrill.
We found the whale factory there and didn't she stink. They were very pleased to see us though and I collected a couple of very fine whale's teeth as a souvenir.
Our stay was short as we had to get down to the whaling grounds with speed, at the same time escorting an Argentine supply ship to South Orkneys.
The Queen of Bermuda will certainly break records this trip. I'm sure she's the biggest ship to enter South Georgia and she'll certainly be the biggest ship to enter the Antarctic Circle. Lots of fun and games. Everyone seems much more cheerful since the spell at Stanley. People are not so irritable, even the old man is shedding a little charm; still that doesn't cost him anything.
At the moment (23.1.41) we are heading south, convoying the supply ship and all being well we should reach the So. Orkneys on Saturday morning, a 48 hour run if there is no fog or snow. What a difference from the tropical skies of a few days back.
Friday 24th Jan bound ssw towards the So. Orkneys and going along steadily at about eleven knots with the weather getting cooler and plenty of ice about.
At 15.30 a message was received from Grytviken that a strange ship was entering the harbour and it was suspected that this might be the raider. So we left our charge and turned back at full speed. The first time that the ship has been on full speed since we left England. The question is now; Is it the raider? We will know something about it by breakfast time in the morning at the latest.
The old box is rolling along merrily now, creaking in all her joints and making a good effort to make the land at daylight. The weather is right for that too.
Our party did not materialize after all. We crashed back at about 19 knots and closed up at action stations at 4 pm in very doubtful visibility; very trying. Luckily however the weather cleared as we approached the coast and nothing was sighted. Coming up towards Grytvicken the weather again shut in and we finally crawled into the harbour ready for anything but it was a complete flop.
11am saw us in the harbour in the clear and it was just as we'd left it. No sign of the raider or anything else so why the alarm was given no one knows Still there it was and at 1pm we pushed off again back to the southward and out to catch our pal who is some 500 miles ahead by this time. I hope we lose the fog when we get a bit further to the southward. It's most unpleasant now.
Thursday Jan.30th After an uneventful voyage back to the southward, apart from the usual run of icebergs and other Antarctic exhibitions, the first thrill was picking up the South Orkneys on the afternoon of Monday 27th. A very bleak, desolate and barren group of islands consisting of black rocks and glaciers. We expected to meet some of the whaling fleet there but were disappointed. Sailing in to some of the large bays there we saw no trace of whale factories or supply ships, but had a marvelous view and scratched around amongst a lot of heavy ice. We spent the night dodging along the coast and resumed our voyage to the southward the next day and eventually sighted what proved to be the "Southern Empress" on Wednesday morning, she was in company with her supply ship which we had previously escorted. They were delighted to see us and we made our first close acquaintance with the "Blue Whale" There was quite a gathering what with whale catchers and what not. The factory had a wire round her propeller so we remained with her until it was cleared, then in the afternoon carried on to the westward in hopes of picking up another factory. This we failed to do as she had shifted her position, but by carrying out a search we eventually located both factories in a much more southerly position. And at the time of writing we are all dodging around so what will happen in the next hour or two remains to be seen. The expert view is that we will shift billet to another whaling ground where conditions are reputed to be better, however that will come in time. Today has been wonderfully fine. According to our Norwegian whaler the temperature remains low however and that’s the chief snag.
This evening (still Jan 30th) I made a trip over to the whale factory "Svend Foyn" It had its funny side. I met the Captain, Chief Officer and Chief Engineer. When we just came in sight they were very doubtful of our good intentions and when the first whaler, in which I made the trip was coming alongside they thought that the number of officers coming over looked rather ominous. Thus when one of our lifeboats left with 50 or 60 hands they were quite resigned to capture or anything as even if they overpowered the supposed or presumed enemies, the ship could still blow them out of the water.
However on our arrival they were greatly relieved to find it was the British Navy which had arrived and not someone else.
After yarning for a while up in the Captain's quarters I asked the Chief Officer if he'd mind us having a quick look round the ship just to see what was doing. He replied that there was nothing doing at the moment as his ship's company were so relieved to find we were real friends that the crew had all ceased work and were showing our fellows all round the factory. It certainly was a funny reaction as most of the factory crew were Norwegian and definitely uneasy at the situation that had brought us to the to the Southward for whale factory protection and our arrival had made them much more confident, so back to work they went with a will and the next three days were spent dodging between the "Southern Empress" and "Svend Foyn" with a trip to the southward to investigate the pack ice on the Barrier.
Monday Feb. 3rd A fortnight away from Port Stanley this morning and a week in the ice. The routine seems to vary like the weather. I've never seen so many changes in a day as we get here. The wind will go all round the compass in 24 hours. At the moment we are playing with the "Southern Empress" and "Ernesto Tornquist" but I hear that we go off and have a look at the "Svend Foyn" tomorrow if the weather is fine. What with snow and fog and wind all in rotation it's not a dull job keeping tabs on the whalers but it must be a lousy job working in them in all weathers. Somehow I don't think I'd care for the job; much too messy and smelly. We got a few whiffs of the Empress today and she's pretty ripe. Perhaps they get used to it on board but it must take a long time.
Friday Feb. 7th Spent some hours alongside the Southern Empress yesterday for oil fuel and stores. She was a stinking object with her decks streaming blood. Still apart from the awful stench the experience was interesting watching the whales being hauled on board and scientifically cut up; yesterday was her biggest day. She dealt with 31 whales in the 24 hours. Not bad going .It was quite a sight to see the two ships alongside and to watch the performance.
Today we came along and played with Svend Foyn and had a look at the big berg which forms her breakwater. It is a monster, some 7½ miles long and a typical S. Atlantic flat topped berg. A party went off in the afternoon to make a look see and take some pictures. I hope they are good. The light was all right for photos.
Sunday Feb. 23rd. Got the news today that we are down here till the middle of April. It was originally the 7th March but orders have come through that the season has to be extended and some stores are being sent down. We are getting pretty low all round just now and unless we get something soon we'll be very much in the hole.
The last fortnight has been spent between the two ships. Southern Empress and Svend Foyn
At present we are down at the edge of the ice with Svend Foyn and we are to take water from her in a day or so. It's very cold and I suppose it will get colder as time goes on. By the middle of April we'll be having more darkness than daylight. It's remarkable how the nights are lengthening even now. When we came down first there was no real darkness, just twilight which lasted about 4 hours. Now it's dark about 9pm and doesn't get light till 4 am; quite a difference.
We did a shoot the other day which wasn't so bad considering it wasn't exactly the same as a tropical one, we used an iceberg as a target and succeeded in knocking a few chips off it.
I believe the weather gets a bit better in March. I hope so as the last fortnight has been more bad weather that good. We've had one good blow and lots of fog. Still as most of the time is spent off a factory ship it's not too bad, but it's a very different job further north. We'll probably hold the record for a spell at sea after this little lot - eleven weeks.
Saturday March 1st Today has been the coldest we have had in the ice; Temp 10ºF We met Thorshammer today and took oil and water from her. The latest reports are that we return to Falkland Islands via Deception Island where we have some demolition to do. That ought to be interesting and very much our of the ordinary.
Tuesday March 4th. We arrived off the island yesterday afternoon but it was blowing too hard to make an entrance to the harbour. After beating up and down outside all last night we made a burst and got through into the anchorage. The entrance is tricky as it is very narrow and there is a reef which extends half way across and there is always half a gale blowing in it so the passage has to be taken at speed. The entrance is called Neptune's Bellows!! Once inside there is plenty of room and very deep water. Deception is volcanic and the whole island is covered with lava dust. There isn't a scrap of vegetation to be seen anywhere and comparatively little snow in view of that or the surrounding islands.
The island is roughly horseshoe shape and the whaling station which we had to put out of action was just inside the entrance.
So far as we could gather, the place was abandoned some eight years ago and was last visited by Discovery ll in 1938 and apart from the natural rot due to machinery being left unused and exposed, the plant seemed to be in very good condition. The living quarters were very fine indeed and no sign of dust in the huts which had been exposed to the weather due to broken windows etc.
There was a vast quantity of valuable stuff laying around. Hundreds of tons of metal which had never been used. There is a small fortune waiting to be picked up by anyone willing to send a ship down there. Much of the machinery had never been used and there were large numbers of spares. However we blew up the main parts and put the whole plant out of action.
When it was in operation it must have been a very well equipped station indeed but in a most depressing locality. There seems to be half a gale most of the time We commenced our operations after breakfast and the job was completed by 4 pm. A few souvenirs were brought off and everyone was more or less satisfied. Had the weather been better and the ship not in such a hurry to get to the Falklands, we could have collected a lot of loot, but taking everything into consideration we did quite well.
We arrived at Stanley on Saturday March 8th. and proceeded to oil and store right away. Our future movements are uncertain. No one knows yet where we go from here but it is generally expected that we will return to the Antarctic for the rest of the whaling season. That will be pretty chilly I should think.

March 14th. Still at anchor in Stanley. No news at all. There was a great disappointment when we found no mail waiting, it turned out that the islanders had received nothing since we left for the South so that took the worst out of the blow. Popular rumour has it that we will now remain here until some mail does arrive, which should be between Tuesday and Thursday of next week. Anyhow up to date there is nothing doing and we are just swinging round an anchor and waiting. There is still no news of our refit or our future programme unless the big cheese is sitting on the details. That would not surprise me in the least. But if the news has come through someone in Stanley will know and it is bound to leak out.
March 26th. We remained at Port Stanley until 21st ( last Friday) when we sailed and squared away for the ice again with the idea of rounding up the whaling fleet and taking them to South Georgia.
The passage to the Southward was uninteresting; the temperature fell as we approached the South Sandwich group and yesterday (25th) we found the "Thorshammer" pretty well where we'd left her. She had the "Lancing" alongside.
Much to our astonishment she declared her intention of carrying on for another week or so and not joining the convoy. It took us some 24 hours to pick up the "Southern Empress" and her catchers, but at 6pm this evening we were heading back in the right direction. Today has been the coldest so far, the temp at noon was 10ºF. and it's getting steadily colder; still it won't be long now before we get a raise. So far there is no news of "Svend Foyn" but we ought to be back at Grytviken by the end of the week, then after a few days there we will know what is what and where we we'll head for. I think it's high time we had some news of the refit.
By the look of the catchers it has been pretty cold around here; they are covered in ice and look very much as though they've had quite enough.
South Georgia wont be any picnic but at least it will be a little warmer than now and that's always a small comfort. At the moment we are a convoy of 10,ourselves,Southern Empress and eight catchers.
April 1st We arrived at Grytviken last Saturday Mar.29th after an uneventful passage from the ice. Southern Empress and her catchers carried on to Leith Harbour and we anchored at the seat of Government!!! So far we have been lucky in our weather, It has been cold but very quiet and the ship has been lazing peacefully at anchor. I hope it will stay like this till the end of the week or even longer.
So far there is no news of our future movements, but all should hear something any time now. The betting is all in favour of South Africa, but whether we will go there or not that is another question.
We will convoy the two factories somewhere there is no doubt about that and it will be a slow job as the Empress will only do a bare 10 knots.
April 5th Sailed from Grytviken this afternoon and waited outside Leith Harbour for the two factories to come out. Our stay at Grytviken was on the whole pleasant. The weather was very kind as apart from a couple of breezes there was nothing to worry about. The relief from watchkeeping was nil but that was only to be expected, but the time passed pleasantly enough although shore going was difficult. The fishing was excellent. Several days, (afternoons) netted some 4,000 fish and that's not a fishy story.
The butcher reckoned on two tons of fish at least and that's when it is filleted. So that is one pleasant addition to the diet - not forgetting the many items which are running short due to difficulties in replacement.
The secret is out: The factories are bound for Freetown. I do hope we don't go all the way with them, one dose of Freetown in a war is sufficient, if it's anything like our last visit there. Anyhow the news seems to indicate that we are going in that direction. There is a certain amount of doubt as to whether we will arrive there or hand over the convoy to some other ship.
The Old Man said something the other day - If we go to Freetown - That would seem to indicate a slight doubt in his mind. As no one knows the real dope except his secretary (who is sworn to secrecy and only tells the Furness Bermuda crowd down in Billy's room!!) It's still an open question as to what is what.
April 9th Going along on our way somewhere in the region of 10knots. It's a treat to have some warmer weather. This afternoon the watch was kept minus coats for the first time in months. The sun is warming up nicely. I hope it keeps up and gives us a chance to absorb some rays in due course.
This afternoon I spent about a hour polishing the whales' teeth. The finished article will be good once I get the surface smoothed off. It may be a lengthy job but I think the results will be well worth while and the finished article will be -? Book ends? I wonder. Anyhow the polishing is the heaviest job of all and takes more time than any carpentry. That will have to depend on one of the "Chippy Chaps"
April 22nd The night before arrival at Freetown. The passage has been fine, plenty of sunshine and nice warm weather. The last few days have been spent zig zagging and this morning we picked up an escort of two destroyers and a flying boat. Our choicest bit of news tonight is the fact that the All Highest is leaving. I expect the ship's Coy .will give three hearty cheers when they know. In fact I don't suppose anyone will be sorry, unless the next man is a proper swine; he couldn't be any worse than the great G.A.B.H. It must be wonderful to be so perfect. Suppose he will go home and be made a rear admiral or something like that. It will be interesting to see where he does end up.
May 4th Shortly after I wrote that last lot we had a submarine alarm and went to action stations, but nothing happened and it all turned out peacefully in the end.
We arrived at Freetown in the early hours of Wednesday 23rd April and anchored in our berth at 0800. The arrival was a triumph of effort on the part of late skipper who seemed determined to make his presence felt to the last. He certainly messed everything about in great style.
Eventually he left in a rush as his ship was sailing before anyone here expected it. I must say I've never heard any ship's company give three such hearty cheers as when Geoff departed. I'm quite sure there wasn't a man in the ship who didn't breathe a deep sigh of relief when he sailed away. His successor seems to be all right. He is an improvement on Geoff in as much as he is quiet and doesn't go around the ship like a raving lunatic. What he will turn out to be remains to be seen., but I should say at a guess that unless he changes very much from his present state of mind he'll be better than G.A.B.H.
We stayed in Freetown until yesterday evening. Apart from a day on the D.G. range it was a quiet time at anchor, but rather humid most of the time and very sticky at night.
There were several changes in that port. Young Scott left without a relief and Stretton changed ships with an R.N.V.R. Sub from Vindictive who is here to get his watchkeeping certificate. Seems a nice lad; he is keeping watch with me.
The highlight of the visit to Freetown was the arrival of the Samaria (Cunard liner). Paid her a visit and was very successful in buying wardroom stores. The joke of the stay was the arrival of the Monarch of Bermuda, where we did not get any stores, although the Furness bunch went across en masse and forgot to come back till late and friend Burns (Temporary Commander RNR - T124 Officer) answered the sentry's hail with "Queen of Bermuda !!!!!!!" Some people will never learn. There were many familiar ships in Freetown including the Duchess of Richmond & Atholl.
Another bright spot is the fact that we get climate pay which is not liable to income tax. The new income tax is bit of a staggerer. When we saw the new rates we nearly passed out. It will hit the single and Dollar men when they need it. One would almost think it was designed to get at this ship and the joy of the climate pay is that it isn't payable to the T124 brigade or the X division either. It's our first little bit of jam.
The baby engineers managed to get themselves into a bit of a mix up which resulted in a court of inquiry in the Edinburgh Castle. We don’t know the result of that but for once in their lives I don’t think they are to blame.
May 10th A week of quiet weather and patrol with constant zig zag. We are in an area which is supposed to be used by raiders and supply ships, but up to the present we've only sighted one ship, the Orbita , since leaving Freetown. We are patrolling the area to the westward of St. Helena now and the weather is fine. Everything seems to be set for a bit more peace although what we may meet next week would be difficult to forecast. So long as the weather remains like this it will be all right, not too hot and not too cold and the nights are fine after the heat of Freetown. The new skipper seems to be quite nice. He's an improvement on G.A.B.H. and even if that's all it's a lot.
May 22nd Still on the prowl; we are back to warmer weather after a spell down near the southern edge of the tropics!!
On Sunday last 18th May we arrived at St. Helena and started to oil, but just then the Nelson and Eagle arrived and commandeered the oiler, so we had all night there. It's a quaint spot and I was lucky enough to have a run ashore on the Monday morning for a couple of hours and drive around the island for a bit. Visiting Longwood and its surroundings and seeing lots of relics of the well known exile "Boney". It did seem a peaceful spot after all our rushing around and if it wasn't so inaccessible at would be a fine spot to have a holiday.
Met the garrison there who seem to have dug themselves in pretty comfortably. I rather wish we'd had longer there as it looked to be an island worth exploring and the climate is delightful. The island is high and landing is somewhat difficult, but we were lucky; there was only a suspicion of a swell. The natives, who seem to vary from jet black to very light brown are all very polite and any we passed while driving were very particular to acknowledge us. A peculiar thing is the pleasant accent everyone seems to speak with; a very educated accent. It's a nice little island taking it all round and I'd like to see it again.
June 30th Quite a few changes since the last entry. After our trip around St. Helena we made our way by slow degrees to St. Paul's Rocks which we circled on the afternoon of May 27th. There was nothing there except sea birds. No sign of it being used as a base or anything like that, just an abandoned aerial light, either uncompleted or left to rust.
This week was enlivened by our rapid change of nationalities: one day we flew the Stars & Stripes, next the Macaroni Ensign and finally we became Vichy French, but nothing happened and we slowly approached the Freetown area and once again and on Tuesday 3rd June we arrived back in the harbour after another 10,000 miles of patrol to our credit.
The ship was reported to be in an awful state below and we sent a signal asking that the Fleet Engineer be sent on board to examine things before she was shut down. He stated that without extensive repairs we were not fit to do another patrol and the days started to pass while they tinkered and played down below.
On June 4th the Georgic arrived with an E.N.S.A. party on board and I was detailed to go over and organize a visit to the Q. of B. The party was headed by the famous Alice Deleysia and the concert was a big success. We had a huge crowd on board and they just about cleared us out of booze; thirsty lot of lads they were.
The next day I went sick with a temperature and a boil in my ear. Most painful and unpleasant and I didn't bother anyone for a week. The skipper offered to send me up in the hills but I didn't want to leave the ship in case she left me so I stayed put.
During my time off I lost all my best hands; they were drafted home for higher rates and found myself with another bunch of thugs to train.
Around this time the Fleet Air Arm came into the picture. We now find ourselves complete with a flight of pilots, two observers and the ground staff. Also the catapult crew, but no machines. Great fun!
The days dragged on, warm and steamy and no news. Plenty of mail, that was a great help and nothing happened until Wednesday 18th June when we got a hurry up message to raise steam immediately and proceed to sea. The engines worked but we blew out a couple of boiler tubes soon after sailing, which cut us down to six boilers and 17 knots. The old Queen is feeling her age. Still no news of the refit in spite of it being very much overdue. We are now wandering off in a southerly direction and will soon be in the southern hemisphere again. Probably tomorrow we'll feel more at home south of the line. (joke!) having spent so much time there recently.

July 12th Quite a while since the last entry but there has been nothing of interest to record. Leaving Freetown we were in three watches due to losing three watchkeepers a few hours before sailing and we had a couple of days working shorthanded, until some of the dayworkers were pulled out of their snug billets and made to a job.
On Saturday 21st June I went down with malaria and the next few days were a complete blank. I was hot and just dripped with a temperature around 105º; most unpleasant.
However a week later 28th. I had my first sniff of fresh air, but felt very wobbly and on 29th we dropped in at St. Helena again for some oil and stores and I was allowed a run ashore and resumed duty the following day. I was the first of a large contingent who made the sick bay party work overtime and for a time the ship was very short handed. In fact today the last of the wardroom brigade has just returned to duty.
After leaving St .Helena we were told to patrol off Lobito in Portuguese West Africa, where a Vichy French ship was lurking and after a week of skulking out of sight of the coast. she is still there having been unable to obtain any bunkers as the local coaling firm in British.
This patrol business is getting our skipper down; he can't take it. Added to which there is the constant anxiety about what will go next in the engine room. Boiler tubes or pumps seem to fail daily due to our delayed refit and there is still no news of when or where we will go. We can hang out here for another six days when we will have to return to harbour, being out of many stores already and very short of water. It's getting people down, no doubt about that.
Since we left the refit port eleven months ago we have had on an average 23 hours 45 minutes leave per month. That's not much spread over nearly a year. I myself have had six hours ashore since March 20th in Falklands. so at times I wonder what it would be like to have a real run ashore.
August 27th Another large gap in the history book, but many things have happened since July 12th. It was four days later when we got orders to proceed to Cape Town and it was with mixed feelings that the ship set off in that direction. We did not know what was coming as the refit had been put off so often. Still it was S. Africa and civilization and with the skipper getting more and more liverish, well it was high time we arrived somewhere.
We arrived on Monday 21st July and found - no mail, no orders in fact no anything. I was greeted on the dock by one of the berthing masters who told me we were going to refit in the States. Cheerful news I don't think. Still we were in port and alongside.
A couple of days later the skipper lined the ship's Company up and told them the sad sad story. We were going to refit in the States, but before that we were going to make a quick trip up to Durban so that wasn't too bad.
We sailed from Cape Town July 30th with a convoy of four ships; three decent sized cargo vessels and one Polish passenger ship with troops and after an uneventful passage, apart from the Peachey tantrums, which were marked at times, we arrived off the port on Sunday morning 3rd August and berthed at the oil site for fuel.
Due to the fact that the Peach turned sour and made himself so disliked ashore our stay was cut short by 48 hours and he took us out to an anchorage on the 19th August. No one would play with little Allan so he went out to the bay to sulk; unfortunately he took all the ship's company with him and after two days of teeth gnashing we turned south with a fast convoy: - Durban Castle, Duchess of Bedford, Sobieske and Niew Zealand. We arrived Cape Town on 24th early in the morning, having sailed at dusk on 21st from Durban. A much quicker passage south. We stayed put in Cape Town till Tuesday afternoon 26th when the same convoy formed up except that we now had an exalted passenger in the Durban Castle. None other that a real live King. The Greek one and all his staff. It will be interesting to see how closely rumour has been to the real thing. In spite of it being kept very secret, I first heard about the show in Durban and it seemed very common knowledge around the waterfront there. So far we are supposed to be taking him to Trinidad. I suppose the skipper will get the order of Chastity Fourth class. Probably if he managed to get on board withal the Greeks they might make him a Knight of the Golden ***** ! in view of his sweet smell. It's worth considering. I don't know how the Greeks like their meat; scented I should think.
While in Cape Town on the way home we picked up some 20 officers and 150 ratings from H.M.S. Bothia and King Gruffyd to take passage with us to Bermuda, their ships having paid off. Although straining the wardroom capacity somewhat they make a welcome addition to he watch list as we went into 5 watches by way of a change. We have now got a complement somewhere in the region of a small cruiser but still there seems to be a shortage of hands to do any work. It's amazing where they all disappear during the day as I don't see any more to work part of ship, in fact today I was down on the balance. I hope they are working somewhere.
Sept 15th. An uneventful run with our charges from the Cape through the fine weather and no alarms or excursions, not even a solitary ship.
The weather gradually warmed up and we went into whites on 31st August. We ambled along in fine style until 2nd Sept when we met Newcastle. That upset the Peachey applecart as Newcastle was senior to us and for once he had to take orders from a senior officer. He didn't take kindly to that and proceeded to vent his spleen on all and sundry here. Nice man!
It was about the same time, perhaps the day before that "Cilicia" joined us and after a short spell took the rest of the convoy off to Lagos. We had one day on our own with Durban Castle before Newcastle joined. On 4th Sept we opened up and proceeded at our best speed for Trinidad. The old girl rattled and shook and managed all of 17½ knots; nice work.
Arrived at Trinidad on the morning of 9th and spent the day oiling at Pointe à Pierre - miles from anywhere and returned to Port of Spain the same evening. No leave though and a Sub on the gangway with O.O.W. on the bridge in the best flagship style. We remained in the port till the morning of Sept 10th when we departed for the high seas, where the same three vessels took to the open water. Everything proceeded according to plan until the night of Sept 14th when sometime during the dark hours the Chief Pippin of the convoy got adrift and when daylight came, there was the escort but the king and all his cuties had gone. They turned up later on none the worse and no one knew how they'd got away.
On Monday forenoon (next day) H.M.C.S. Prince David came on the scene and Newcastle turned off for Boston.(lucky devils!). Meanwhile little Allan took command of the party and proceeded to shoot his neck out as the other ship is commanded by a Commander (acting). So now we proceed in a northerly direction into the cold north Atlantic.
Sept 20th The North Atlantic became very much its old self and on Thursday 18th when daylight came in after a very dirty night we found we'd lost the Prince David. Couldn't stand the weather and had to heave to. So we carried on and next day 19th we met the destroyers, only 600 miles from the Irish coast too. Turned over the Durban Castle and set our course for St. Johns N.F.
Had the usual sort of weather in which the old Queen rolled and wallowed like a cow in labour; altogether most unpleasant. We are due in harbour tomorrow morning about 10 am provided we don't have any fog and at the moment it looks quite fine with a N.W. breeze and reasonable weather.

Ships Convoyed.

Avila Star 14443 tons Lord Willingdon
Ernesto Tornquist 6547 tons Antarctic
Lancing 7866 tons do
Southern Empress 12398 tons do
Svend Foyn 14795 tons do
Thorshammer 12215 tons do
Pulaski 6300 tons
Clan Forbes 7529
Pampas
Elizabeth Bakki 5450
Duchess of Bedford 20123
Niew Zealand 11100
Sobieski 11030
Durban Castle 17388 King of Greece.
Extracts from Who's Who 1976
"HAWKINS, Admiral Sir Geoffrey Alan Brooke, KBE cr 1952; CB 1949; MVO 1952; DSC 1917; b13 July 1895; e s of late Capt. Hawkins, St Fentons, Baldoyle, Co. Dublin: m 1926, Lady Margaret Scott, d of 7th Duke of Buccleuch; one s two d. Educ: Royal Naval Colls. Osborne and Dartmouth. Served European War. 1914-18(DSC); War of 1939-45 (despatches). ADC to Govenor-Gen of South Africa, 1924-27; attached to Staff of Prince of Wales. S. African tour, 1925. Flag Officer, Malta 1950-52; retired list , 1952. Attached to staff of Princess Royal , W.I. tour 1960 and 1962. Address Grafton Underwood, Kettering. T: Cranford 245. Club: White's"

"WALL, (Alice) Anne, CVO 1972(MVO 1964) ; Mrs. Michael Wall; Assistant Press Secretary to HM The Queen, since 1958; b 1928; d od Admiral Sir Geoffrey Hawkins, qv; m 1975 Commander Michael St. Q. Wall. Educ; Miss Jaunce's PNEU School Address: 2 Chester House, 231 Kennington Road SE.11"

Email from:
Jane Cameron
Government Archivist
Falkland Islands Archives
Tel: (500) 27249
Fax: (500) 27259

Dear Mr Armstrong,
Many thanks for your letter and for this extract from your father's diaries, which seem to be a most interesting record of the war in the South Atlantic. During World War II our shipping records normally only registered the arrival of merchant vessels (presumably for security reasons), but we do know about the visit of the Queen of Bermuda in March 1940, because the Captain wrote a letter to the local Red Cross which was printed in the local newspaper as follows:
The Officers and Men of HMS "Queen of Bermuda" greatly appreciated the woollen comforts which the Society had knitted, as is exemplified by the following letter from Captain Hawkins, MVO, DSO, RN:
March 23rd. (1940)
Dear Miss Henniker-Heaton,
Will you please convey to your Committee and to all the 'knitters' the most grateful thanks of myself and all my Ship's Company for the magnificent "woollies" you have so kindly sent to the ship.
I shall personally interest myself in the distribution of them and I can assure you they will be of great use and, I need hardly say, very greatly appreciated by those who are fortunate enough to wear them.
Very many thanks indeed to all of you.
Yours sincerely,
G.A.B.Hawkins.

We would be delighted to add a transcription of your father's diaries to our records of World War Two. Thank you for the offer.
kind regards,
Jane Cameron
Government Archivist
Falkland Islands Archive

Reply Email sent 24th March 2005

Dear Brian,

Very many thanks for sending us this copy of your father's journal of his experiences in the South Atlantic in World War II. It is extremely interesting and entertainingly written. It is particularly fascinating for us to have an account which includes patrolling Antarctic waters and encounters with the whaling fleet.

Just a couple of minor corrections to names of factory ships where presumably your father's handwriting was not quite clear. The vessel which appears on pages 29-33 as the SVEND FOEZN should be the SVEND FOYN and the vessel which appears on page 30 as the ERNESTO TORNOGUST should be ERNESTO TORNQUIST. On page 32 THORSHAMER should read THORSHAMMER.

The journal will make a valuable addition to our Naval files and we are most grateful to you for sending it to us.

With all good wishes and thanks again,

Jane Cameron

Government Archivist
Falkland Islands Archives
Tel: (500) 27249
Fax: (500) 27259
e-mail: archives.fig@horizon.co.fk


Post Script which should be sent to Jane Cameron sometime together with photographs if possible:

Dear Jane,

Thank you very much for your reply to my recent Email regarding my father's Wartime diary of his time on the South Atlantic patrol during the first years of the war. After this tour of duty he was promoted to
Lieutenant Commander and was in command of H.M.S. Royal Scotsman in the Mediterranean and involved in the North African landings. He was badly injured at this time by an explosion on board which was not due to enemy
action. He was invalided and lost his sight for some time but fortunately his sight recovered in time. He was awarded the D.S.C. at his time and I was at his investiture by the King with my Mother at
Buckingham Palace; I was eleven years old then. After this he spent time as harbourmaster at Gourock on the Clyde. On demobilization he returned to Cunard and eventually was in command of amongst others, the Mauretania. Also he was Staff Captain of the Queen Elizabeth and the Queen Mary prior to this.

I will now copy the diary into this message and hope that it transmits successfully. If there are any spelling mistakes relating to the names of the Norwegian whaling ships or others you spot, please would you let me know as his writing is somewhat difficult?

I should point out that there is no love lost between Captain Hawkins and my father nor most of the crew. There is no point in my changing his name as of course he is already known to your records. This is his record and I don't feel it should be sanitised in any way even though there will no doubt still be relatives alive today.

Yours sincerely,

Brian Armstrong.

©Brian J. Armstrong

This article was published in the ‘Nautical Magazine’ in Dec.1972 and can be read as a lead in to J.D.Armstrong's ‘H.M.S. Queen of Bermuda’ wartime diary even though it was written over 30 years later.


During the summer of 1939, the express passenger service between Southampton and New York was running flat out. There were six ships employed. The British Queen Mary and Aquitania: the French Ile de France and Normandie, and the German Bremen and Europa.

The weekly service consisted of Queen Mary, Ile de France and Europa one week, with the Aquitania, Normandie and Bremen the following week.
This meant a turnround of all the ships every 14 days, which allowed 24 hours in New York, and a little longer for the faster ships in their home ports of Southampton, Havre and Bremerhaven.

The Queen Mary, Normandie, Bremen and Europa had several knots advantage over the Aquitania and Ile de France and the Aquitania was the oldest, but by no means the bottom of the list of what was advertised as "gracious living". Her pre-war first-class public-rooms and dining-room were amongst the finest afloat.

We all knew that the International picture was cloudy; there had been the Munich affair in 1938, which solved nothing, and did not ease anyone's mind. In addition, we in the Aquitania had received a consignment of civilian gas respirators, which were ready for assembly, and in addition, the necessary equipment for dealing with incendiary bombs. And there was a Home Office Instructor on board for three round voyages to train the crew and put them through anti-gas drill, and procedure for dealing with incendiaries.
All the ships were sailing near to capacity on the westbound voyages, but eastbound was comparatively light. Outward, the Americans were rushing home, and such refugees from Europe who could raise the fare, sailing from French and British ports, but not in German ships. British and French civilians were making for home in case war did come.

Voyage No. 327 westward, sailing from Southampton, Wednesday , August 23, 1939, was hectic. Aquitania had embarked 1412 passengers in three classes; just 1000 more than on the previous westbound voyage. There was not a spare bed in the ship; even the servants' cabins, on the boat deck, were all sold.

The outward passage, apart from listening to radio broadcasts, was uneventful, although some of the more enthusiastic passengers asked for, and got, some pots of grey paint, with which they managed to cover up some of the more accessible parts of the upper deck.

But on arrival at New York on Tuesday, August 29, the war scare had reached full proportions. Queen Mary and Ile de France had sailed eastbound with capacity passenger lists, but the Bremen had pulled out without a single passenger, a fact which did not go unnoticed, either in the Press, or on the New York waterfront.

Meanwhile there were more than the usual crop of rumours. The Bremen was being held by the Coastguards on the pretext that she did not comply with the United States Passenger Steamboat Certificate requirements. More than the usual number of boat and fire-drills were being carried out, and her clearance was not forthcoming.

The local radio stations had got hold of a story, which they broadcast frequently, that the Bremen was being delayed pending the arrival of the British cruiser Ber--wick (their pronunciation), steaming towards New York at high speed in order to shadow the German ship when she sailed.

Then the Normandie sailing was cancelled, and her passengers were transferred to the Aquitania. As a point of interest, the French ship never sailed again. In February, 1942, she was burned out in New York, after being taken over by the United States authorities and renamed Lafayette; she was subsequently refloated, towed to Newark, New Jersey, in 1946 and scrapped.
A story current after the burning was to the effect the Americans gave 20 liberty-class vessels to the French as compensation.

On the evening of Wednesday, August 30, our sailing had been put back from noon till 7 p.m., the Bremen backed out into the North River, no passengers on board and the ship's company mustered on the fore-deck, while the band played "Deutschland Über Alles" and the crew gave the Nazi salute and shouted "Heil Hitler!" Then she headed down harbour for the open sea.

We followed as soon as she was clear. As soon as the Bremen passed Quarantine all her deck lights were switched off and she darkened ship. Dropping her pilot at Sandy Hook, she disappeared into the night. The Berwick never did find her, and some two weeks later she arrived at Murmansk, subsequently returning to Germany, only to be destroyed in an air-raid in 1941.

On Sunday, September 3, we got the news by radio that war had been declared, and the job of assembling the respirators started. The ship's company did a good job, assisted by a number of British passengers who had A.R.P. training. By evening everyone had been fitted; even a temporary mask had been adapted to a box for a small baby.

Our eastbound numbers, including the Normandie passengers, were 1109, and again there were many willing volunteers for painting.

As we were routed, and there were no positions posted for daily runs, the amateur navigators amongst the crew, who depended on previous log-cards of past voyages, were completely lost.

The eastbound Cherbourg call was missed out, and when normal docking-day showed the ship still at sea and out of sight of land there was consternation amongst the crew. We approached the Nab Tower from a mid-channel course at daylight on the morning of the 6th, to be greeted by an elderly destroyer, obviously recently commissioned and pouring out dense clouds of black smoke, with an offer of escort; but her speed was totally inadequate.

The destroyer's opening signal, by lamp caused Captain Gibbons to blow his top "Four-funnel ship please indicate". He remarked, "We are the only *****four-funnel ship in the world and the so and so wants to know our name"

On arrival at Southampton, three of the Naval Reserve officers were called up, and my last sight of the "old lady" was an army of painters covering up the peace-time colours.


**********AFTER THE WAR IN EARLY 1947***************

When the new Caronia was arriving at Southampton for dry-docking after her sea-trials the Aquitania was berthed at the New Dock Extension, close to the Dry Dock entrance.

As the new ship passed on her way to the dry dock we thought it appropriate to hoist the following signal, "Welcome Child". It was the shortest two-flag signal we could think up at short notice. Apparently the Duke of Edinburgh was on Caronia's bridge at the time, and suggested the reply, "Thank you Mother". The youngest and oldest ships in the Company's fleet at their first meeting.

Aquitania, built 1914 scrapped 1950
(The No.1 Cunard liner until replaced by the Queen Mary 1936)
Mauretania, built 1907, scrapped 1935
Mauretania, (New) built 1939, scrapped 1963
Berengaria, 1920, scrapped 1938, ex Imperator (World War reparations)
Imperator, built 1913 became Berengaria,1920 see above.

PR - BR