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MY LAST WARTIME VOYAGE, Part Six

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Continued from My Last Wartime Voyage, Part Five


THE LAST LAUGH


We left Civitavecchia bound for Malta, the Captain's (and soon to be the ship's) home port. (Click for Map) Once again,
SS Ohio Enters Grand Harbour, Malta

The gallant Ohio arrives triumphantly at Grand Harbour.

Photo Source: World War II: A Visual Encyclopedia, edited by John Keegan. (London: PRC Publishing, c1999, 2000)
we sailed past the flaming Stromboli, down through the Straits of Messina, and further south to the Island of Malta. Malta must have been one of the most bombed places on earth at that time. During the siege, they were bombed almost constantly by the Germans and Italians who had bases only a matter of thirty or so (air) minutes away in Sicily. The British efforts to maintain vital supplies to the island continued throughout the worst of the attacks. The Malta Convoys became legendary, the largest of which, Operation Pedestal in August 1942 consisted of 14 very fast merchant ships, protected by no less than 72 Royal Navy ships of different types from aircraft carriers to submarines. Of the 14 ships that had set out from Gibraltar, only five had reached Malta. One of those, the tanker Ohio, became a story in its own right. She was bombed, torpedoed, abandoned, and reboarded by the crew. She was then assisted into the Grand Harbour with a Royal Navy ship strapped to each side. Despite the bombs and torpedoes, her precious cargo of aviation fuel was all saved, discharged, and made use of. As we sailed into the Grand Harbour, the now empty and rusting hull of Ohio was still tied up alongside the mole at the entrance to the Harbour. Although the Ohio had been an American ship, the crew who took her to Malta were a British crew. After the war, the American owners refused to allow her to be cut up for scrap iron. She was taken out to sea and sunk.

As soon as we knew we would be going to Malta, we all had aspirations of leaving the ship there.
Malta
Despite the fact that it was wartime, we were all so fed up with the way in which Captain Mizzi had treated us, and we still had these thoughts. They were reinforced when we discovered that the ship would be laid up in Malta for repairs. The "fo'c's'le lawyers" came into their own at this point. We were not the only members of the crew that were unhappy with life aboard the Marvia. The Firemen, the Donkeyman, the Engineers, the Bosun, even the First and Second Mates were not too keen on staying. I think that Joe, the Captain's brother was the only one who wanted to stay. Soon the word filtered back to us that someone had asked the Captain about us signing off in Valletta. Again, the "word" got around that if we wanted to sign off, we would all have to sign a petition to the Shipping Superintendent in Valletta saying that we would like to sign off. We didn't know where "the word" had come from; we were at the stage where we would have tried anything.

We did this, and to our surprise, things were arranged for us to sign off on a certain day. Not only would we be signing off, accommodation had been arranged for us on a troopship which had just arrived in the Harbour. She was the Dutch ship Indrapoera, and was lying, tied up in the Grand Harbour. We could hardly believe our luck! By this time, we had been in Malta for something like a week or so.
Maltese Shilling
A Maltese Shilling with King George VI
Came the day for us to sign off, and we all went in to the Saloon to do so. It was only after we had signed off that we were informed that, because we had requested to sign off, each of us would be responsible for our own transport back to Liverpool! This meant that although our accommodation had been arranged on the Indrapoera, we would each have to pay our own fare! The good news was that it would only cost us the standard subsistence allowance of three shillings per day. In the morning, much to our surprise, the Captain came forward and told us that the transport was here to take us to the Indrapoera. When we went up on deck, the anchor that had been dropped the night before was very much in evidence. The chain, just having come up from the chain locker, was almost a brilliant red with rust, whereas the other chain was quite dirty. Whether he had noticed the difference or not, we never knew. He didn't say anything about it; in fact, he was more concerned that we all handed in our mattresses and blankets before we left, a job that we were only too happy to do for him!

All the English crew were there. We assembled on the quay, where a barge was waiting to take us to the Indrapoera. Everyone was there, the Engineers, the Chief Officer Mr. Urquhart, and the Second Officer Mr. Hogarth, the Bosun, and all the rest of the crew (except for Joe, of course.) Actually, we didn't see Joe again. He probably had leave when we arrived in Malta, and went to Gozo, where he lived.

The Indrapoera was waiting for us. It didn't take long to get aboard. We were consigned to a place some decks down, and given bunks there. We soon found out that the ship was carrying many Servicemen from the Army, Navy, and Air Force for repatriation to the UK. Most had injuries of one sort or another, and were mainly, unfit for further service. We also met some Distressed British Seamen. This is the official name given to seamen who have lost their ships usually through enemy action, and are awaiting repatriation to the UK. Even though we had not lost our ship due to enemy action, I imagine we would have travelled under the DBS aegis.

MV Indrapoera

MV Indrapoera

The 10,772-ton Indrapoera was built in 1925 for the Dutch firm of Rotterdam Lloyd. She serviced the company's route between Rotterdam and Batavia, Java (now Jakarta, Jawa).

After the German invasion of the Netherlands in May 1940, Indrapoera was placed under the control of the British Admiralty and she served as an Allied troopship for the rest of the war.

Photo Source: Great Passenger Ships of the World, Volume 2: 1913-1923 by Arnold Kludas (Cambridge, Patrick Stephens, c1976).

We left Malta in convoy with several other large troopships. It was late March. And the weather was fine. Having sailed as crew on British troopships, I was now experiencing something of what it was like to be a "passenger". Life on the ship was not too bad, and the food was edible. In my earlier experiences of troopships, the "atmosphere" had been quite different. Then, the war was still going badly for Britain, and the thousands of soldiers on the overcrowded ships had no idea when (or indeed, if) they would see home again. Now the news, and therefore the "atmosphere" was completely different. The Allied troops were advancing into the heart of Germany, and we were all expecting the end of the war would be announced shortly. Despite the better news on the war front, the war at sea was far from over, and the Royal Navy still found it necessary to escort as many ships as possible back to the shores of England. The particular ship we were on was not unduly overcrowded, and whilst we all realised that U-Boat attack was possible, the fact that we were going home made things much easier to live with. I now began to feel something of what I now believe the troops would have felt on my earlier trips as a crewmember in troop ships. Even though I had sailed many times in convoy, this time I was a passenger, a "bystander" if you will, and it represented all the difference between feeling that, as a crewman there was something one could do about any possible emergency, and as a "bystander", I would be totally reliant on others for my safety in any such emergency.

I even met an old flame of my sister on there. He was a sailor in the Royal Navy. He spoke to me one day and asked if I was Gordon Sollors, brother of Muriel? When I said yes, he said he was Joe Rigby, and used to go out with my sister in St. Annes (Click for Map) before the war. I remembered his name, and remembered that he had been an "order boy" at the local branch of the "Co-op", but didn't really know him. Even so, it was nice to talk to someone from St.Annes for a while, and swap experiences.

We put in briefly at Gibraltar, and then the whole convoy headed for home. The weather lost any of that "Mediterranean" warmth we may have been enjoying, and generally became much cooler.
Roosevelt Obit
April 12th, 1945 front page of the Vancouver Daily Province.
During the voyage it was announced that President Roosevelt, who had only recently been re-elected for an historic third term, had died. I think all on board were genuinely sorry to hear this news, since Roosevelt had been more than friendly to Britain in the darker days, before America "officially" came into the war. Merchant Seamen in particular were aware, and appreciative of the extra sea and air cover that had been afforded to convoys during those earlier days, also the hundreds of "Liberty Ships" that had been made available to the British Ministry of War Transport had dramatically replaced the great losses that we had experienced in those days. Without these, and the Canadian-built "Fort Boat" replacements being made available to continue bringing in the food and raw materials needed for the war effort, Britain would have been in an even worse position than she had been, and may possibly not have survived. All ships in the convoy flew their flags at half-mast.

Despite having been away for only four months, we were all quite excited at the prospect of arriving in Liverpool. We arrived there, and sailed slowly up the River Mersey to the Princes Landing Stage. What a different experience it was, to be an onlooker, and not to be part of the crew who were berthing the ship. It gave us time to lean over the rail to see what was going on. As we approached the Landing Stage, a Military Band started to play! We even felt a little embarrassed, because the band, which was all part of a Civic welcome, and speeches were obviously for the Returning Servicemen rather than for us! However we savoured the moment!

We still had to submit to a Customs inspection, we also had to see the local Shipping Federation Superintendent for our ration cards and Merchant Navy Reserve Pool paperwork. Once this was all done, we (Aussie, Ginger and myself,) said our good bye's to each other, and to as many of the crew as we could find. Old Bob was as calm as ever, he told us that he would have a few days at the Sailor's Home in Canning Place, then report to the Pool in the same building. We would all be going our separate ways on leave. The last time I saw Aussie was as he was leaving the landing Stage, he told me that he had a Beretta Automatic strapped to his inner leg! Aussie was never the one for a quiet life!

Although the war in Europe was almost over, the war in the Far East was far from finished. My next ship turned out to be a brand new ship, hot off the stocks of Messrs Harland and Wolff of Belfast. We went to Canada and back, by that time, the war in the Far East was almost over. My trip home from Malta in the Indrapoera turned out to be my last wartime voyage.

THE END


Gordon Sollors
Wednesday, 28 March 2001


Ship Line

RETURN TO the Earlier Chapters of "My Last Wartime Voyage":

Part One: Birkenhead Again.
Part Two: Four On and Four Off
Part Three: North Africa
Part Four: Sardinia and
Part Five: Sicily and Italy.

RETURN to Gordon's Story About SS Orion: My First Trip to Sea

RETURN to Gordon's "Stories of a Merchant Sailor":

Part One: Peggy Boy
Part Two: Christmas in America and
Part Three: Steering Lessons.


To read a first-hand account of "Operation Pedestal" by one of the courageous crew members of SS Ohio, be sure to visit Ray Morton's Homepage


To go to "Allied Merchant Navy's" TABLE of CONTENTS Please Click Here.


To go to "Allied Merchant Navy's" INDEX PAGE PLEASE CLICK HERE.





Gordon's pages are maintained by Maureen Venzi and are part of The Allied Merchant Navy of World War Two website.