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|Continued from My Last Wartime Voyage, Part Five|
We left Civitavecchia bound for Malta, the Captain's (and soon to be the ship's) home port. (Click for Map) Once again,
As soon as we knew we would be going to Malta, we all had aspirations of leaving the ship there.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
Wednesday, 28 March 2001
Gordon's pages are maintained by Maureen Venzi and are part of The Allied Merchant Navy of World War Two website.