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Blue Bar

by Gordon Sollors

Blue Bar

Continued from My Last Wartime Voyage, Part Three


The journey to Cagliari was uneventful, and as we approached the coast, we had our first taste of the Italian Navy. An Italian Destroyer met us about ten miles from the port, and guided us into the harbour through the minefields which had been laid there and not yet cleared up. Click Here for map of Mediterranean.

Cagliari turned out to be another "eventful" port of call. It is a typical, very beautiful, "small port" of the Mediterranean. The water was beautifully clear; the dockside was (almost) part of the main street.
Map of Sardinia
On Sunday, it was very nice to walk down the main, tree lined boulevard and see all the families out for their "Sunday stroll". It was also the first time we had seen two (or more) men walking together and holding hands! To us at that time, this looked decidedly "iffy"! However, we soon became used to such different cultural practices. We also discovered that although the people were not starving, there was plenty of demand for cigarettes and whatever food we could obtain to sell. The latter was not too easy for us, as we did not fare too well in that department ourselves! However, we (Aussie, Ginger and myself) did make friends with a certain Dot. Paolo Tedeschi - at least, that was on the visiting card he gave us. He took us to his home, and was even able to offer us some refreshments of lemonade, and a sit in his dining room, which overlooked a balcony, which in turn, overlooked part of the town.

One dinnertime, we three Ordinary Seamen decided to go ashore together because, mainly, I wanted to buy a special pen I had seen that had a glass nib. The shop was only just down the road from the ship's berth, so off we went, and I purchased the pen. The glass nib was something of a novelty. It looked like
Cagliari Shore Leave Pass

Gordon's Shore Leave Pass for Cagliari, Sardinia.
a tiny lemon squeezer, with several flutes that came to a point. I tried it in the shop, and it worked fine. I bought it. We made our way back to the ship, and that's when the trouble started!

We were still a couple of hundred yards from the dock gates, when we heard a crowd behind us. It wasn't long before we realised that there was something wrong somewhere. Not realising that we in fact, were the objects of the crowd's discontent, we stopped and let the crowd catch up with us. We had no idea of what was to come until one of the people threw a piece of paper down in front of us. Without even a second glance, we realised that it was in fact, a fifty Lire note, but it had a very crude "naught" added to the "50's" to make it appear like a five hundred Lire note. In my purchase price, I had used some "Military" money - this was money printed and brought in by the invading forces. I had also used some "local" money which we had obtained from the sale of cigarettes (at great profit to ourselves I might add!) to the locals. I remembered having tendered at least one five hundred Lire note in the transaction, but the note in front of us with the crudely added naught would have been spotted a mile away! As young, brash, and probably stupid as we all were, we were not really silly enough to have offered such an obviously faked note! Fortunately, we were very close to a shop in which we had spent some time. It was, in fact, the place where we had bought one or two "naughty" postcards. Having spent some time in there, and bought some of his wares, the owner let us in his shop, and tried to quieten down the crowd which by now had grown even bigger.

The shop keeper acted as a sort of "go between", but the crowd was not to be placated, and we were getting a bit worried. Fortunately for us, an American Military Police Vehicle came by and stopped, having seen the disturbance. They spoke to the crowd, and then came in and to the back room of the shop where we had taken refuge to ask our side of the story. They seemed to be quite understanding, and even sympathetic. They ushered us out of the shop, and into their jeep. We were just glad to be out of there. However, our troubles were only just beginning.

They took us to Military Headquarters, which was just down the road.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882-1945)

From: World Book Encyclopedia, 1972.
(When we got up the stairs and into the office, we could see the ship on the other side of the street.) There had just been a Presidential Election in the USA in which Franklin Delano Roosevelt had been elected for an historic third time. There were posters all over the building proclaiming the merits of the candidates, but not being too political at that time in our lives, we knew very little of the event. The actual election had taken place some weeks previously.

We had thought that our problem would have been sorted out without delay, but we were sadly mistaken. The Americans questioned us as if we were part of a gang of dangerous international counterfeiters! First one officer, and then another who appeared to be a specialist in this (counterfeiting) field, questioned us. We could hardly believe what they were asking. From their questions, we could detect that there had obviously been some trouble with organised counterfeit money in the occupied areas, and they were quite aggressive in their efforts to establish whether we had been involved in other parts of the Mediterranean with similar scams. Eventually, we were able to convince them that far from being part of a counterfeit gang, we were just three young seamen who had ourselves been victims of a scam that some locals had tried to lay on us! The note in question (which, the Americans had confiscated) was so poor that even a fool would not have tried to pass it, and furthermore, even an idiot could have spotted it! We really couldn't understand why they should have taken the note so seriously. Even so, they questioned us until about three o'clock in the afternoon.

From the second floor office window we could see our bosun's chairs swinging forlornly from the funnel. (We had been painting the funnel.) We could even see the Mate walking up and down the deck wondering where his work force had got to. Once the Americans were convinced that we were not part of an international counterfeit ring, but that obviously, someone had been "trying it on" with us, thinking that they could have made us pay more money, they took us back to the ship. The crowd hadn't completely dispersed yet, so it was fortunate for us that the Military had intervened.

On our return, the Captain, was furious. He would listen to no argument or explanations, and logged us each ten shillings, and half a day's pay! Fortunately, we left Cagliari the next day, so going ashore again was out of the question for us.

Leaving Cagliari also had its share of problems. As I said, it is a typical, small, very picturesque Mediterranean port. I was at the wheel; the Captain was on the bridge as was the Pilot. The Mate was on the fo'c's'le head, and the second mate was aft. We had cleared the quayside, and the ship was heading for the boom defence nets, which guarded the harbour from unwanted submarines. The tug had swung the nets open, and we were headed straight for the opening at steady three or four knots or so. It was a beautifully sunny day, there was not a ripple on the water save for the bow wave made by the ship. We were going to anchor outside the boom defence nets. I heard the pilot describing the anchorage to the Captain, and about what length of anchor cable would be required. On these occasions, the length of anchor chain to be used for the ship to anchor safely is recommended by the Pilot with his local knowledge of the anchorage, and the approximate depth of water. This (length of chain) is quoted in "shackles". A shackle, from memory, is about 15 fathoms of cable, (90 feet,) the anchor chain having a large shackle at these distances. As the chain rattles out over the windlass, the shackles can quite easily be counted.

The Captain leaned over the bridge rail and called out to the Mate. "We are going to anchor. We shall use the port anchor, three shackles." (Of anchor chain.) He then walked to another part of the bridge. As he did so, I was amazed to see the Mate with a wave of his arm, telling Aussie to "Let go"! Aussie hit the windlass brake handle and wound it undone. The anchor dropped with an almighty splash. This caused the ship's stern to swing around to starboard, crashing the ship's side into the boom defence nets. The Captain had also sensed what was about to happen, and he quickly telegraphed "Stop" and then "Full Astern" to the engine room. For a few moments, there was considerable confusion. The ship began to shake and shudder as the engines did their best to stop it. Even Aussie knew that something was not quite right, and had clamped the brake back on the anchor. The Captain was livid, and literally jumping up and down, and shouting to the Mate "You stupid old bugger" and many other, much worse epithets.

Fortunately, no serious damage had been done to the ship. The ship came to rest, the anchor was hauled back up, and the ship was navigated out into the roads, where the anchor was dropped for the second time. Even before I had left the wheel, the Mate was up on the bridge, white, and trembling with rage. He was berating the Captain for having abused him "in front of the crew". Despite what had happened, I couldn't help but feel sorry for him as he was being called all these choice names by the Captain. He was an elderly man, and had commanded his own ships in the past. Having retired from the sea some years previously, he would not have been here at all had it not been for the severe shortage of qualified Deck Officers in the Merchant Navy. I could only think that he had suffered a mental blockage for a few seconds. He would never have knowingly done such an obviously un-seaman like thing. Having witnessed the entire incident, I realised that for whatever reasons, the Mate had been completely wrong, and his actions could have had much worse consequences. For instance, the tug, which had opened the boom defence net, might have been on our starboard side, which being the case, we would have collided with it. Fortunately the tug was on our port side, and there was no collision between the two ships, we only hit the net. The Mate was not a young man, and obviously not used to being spoken to as he had been. For his part, the Captain was after all, part owner of the ship, and had probably had (even momentary) visions of some dire consequences overtaking his ship.

The next morning, we up anchored, and left Cagliari for San Antioco which is an even smaller port than is Cagliari. San Antioco is virtually "around the corner" from Cagliari, and only took a few hours sailing. Again, we were guided out by the very smart looking Italian Destroyer. At this stage, I can no longer remember just what cargo we either brought, or took away from San Antioco!

San Antioco was the smallest port I think I had ever been in.
San Antioco Pass
Gordon's Shore Pass for San Antioco, Sardinia
There was a short quayside, which was barely long enough to accommodate even our small ship to which we tied up. The water was so clear; we could see the bottom of the harbour underneath the ship. There were a few houses and other buildings nearby, and the rest of the town seemed to be a little further away, but the striking feature of the place was that San Antioco itself was separated from the mainland by a sort of half submerged causeway. I'm not sure as to whether one could actually have walked across to the mainland, but at times, it certainly seemed so. As there are no tides to speak of in the Mediterranean, it almost seemed as if there was a permanently submerged walkway to the mainland.

It was here, also that we witnessed considerable poverty, much more so than had been the case in Cagliari. As we threw scraps of our meal overboard, we saw someone fish out the bread, and squeeze the water out of it. We then spoke to the person, and arranged for all the food we didn't eat to be given to him. They weren't exactly starving, but they suffered shortages due to the war situation. In fact, we ended up taking quite a bit of stuff to some local people, and made quite good friends with some of them.

There was a small fishing industry there also. The fishing boats were long, strongly built, and propelled by oars. From memory, each boat carried about four or six crew. In the bow of each boat was positioned a powerful carbide lamp which was used to attract the fish - they fished during the hours of darkness. The fish were actually caught by spearing them. The spears were mounted at the end of a longish pole. The actual spearhead consisted of several very sharp teeth, set in a row. It all looked rather primitive, but it was obviously effective, because the boats came in each morning having caught at least a few fish. We thought it very likely that, because of the bright light the fishermen used to attract the fish, they would not have been allowed to fish at night during the worse period of the war.

It was in San Antioco that Aussie decided to buy a pistol. I've no idea why or from whom he bought it. He just showed it to us one day, saying he'd bought it as a bargain. It was a small black automatic Italian made Beretta. Since he only had a few rounds of ammunition with it, (about half a dozen) and he wanted to test fire it, we hoped his enthusiasm for such things would fade away. We were right, and it did. He couldn't resist the chance to fire the gun. We walked quite a long way from the ship to a quiet place where he loaded the gun, and we all had a test fire at some target or other. This used up all his ammunition and then, much to our relief, he put the gun away, and we all forgot about it.

To this day, I have no recollection of what cargo we either took to, or took away from San Antioco. We stayed there for quite a few days, and then sailed for Palermo in Sicily.

My Last Wartime Voyage is continued in Part Five: Sicily and Italy