Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Memoirs re Combined Operations

"DAD, WELL DONE" Navy Memoirs (7)
by L/S Coxswain Doug Harrison

[D. Harrison (right), Norwich Gazette, February 3, 1943]


Back to England I went for more training in May, 1943 with barges aboard the Silver Walnut, a real dud.

We formed up and headed to sea again, this time from Liverpool. We didn’t know but Sicily was next. The Silver Walnut left convoy at Cape Town, South Africa to coal up and for repairs. She was constantly breaking down and was a sitting duck for subs. Fortunately, there were not many subs in S. Africa vicinity.

While aboard the Silver Walnut I struck up an acquaintance with a Scottish engine room engineer named Hastings, age about 55 - 60, with lots of money. Every morning for awhile he would wake me up early and say, “Are you for a halfer, Douger?” I’d say yes and go up to his cabin for a big hooker of whiskey. Our captain caught on and stopped it. How thankful I am now.

“The Silver Walnut left convoy at Cape Town,” later at Durban 

One night Hastings and I went ashore in Cape Town and he had been there many times before. He always carried a straight razor in his pocket or in his hand as if he were about to shave. We walked down a railroad track to a small overhead walk bridge crossing a channel. He put the razor away and used both hands to climb up the seven or eight rungs, but remarked, “When we come back after dark there will be a negro there below the ladder pretending to be fishing.” I noticed he drank with his left hand and his right hand was always at the ready on the razor.

We got our fill and headed back to the ship and, sure enough, there was a negro at the bottom of the ladder. Hastings left-handed it down the ladder and I came next, but the negro never made a move. He could see Hasting’s right hand was ready although it was dark.

Also, Hastings had just bought a new cap (cab driver type), with a beautiful emblem on it and he stumbled somehow on the railroad on the ties and his hat fell into the channel. I slipped off my jersey, hat and boots and dove in - the tide was running fast. He cried, “Sharks, Douger. Let it go!” But I retrieved the hat, dressed and we continued to the ship. The following Sunday we were both free and Hastings invited me to Cape Town to go for a trip in a taxi. He hired a cab (driven by a man named Owen who talked fluent Zulu) and took me to the Valley of a Thousand Hills just outside of Cape Town where we saw a Negro chief and his many wives and garden. We got negro boys to do a war dance for us for pennies.

[Photo - As seen in Norwich Gazette, Feb. 3 1993] 

We saw another Negro chief with a leather shield and spear, and we drove miles and miles and the cab driver acted as an interpreter for us. We came out of the valley to a huge restaurant all painted white and run by an American or Canadian woman. Never, never have I had such a meal and never will I again. Eight courses beginning with pheasant and with each course a different drink. When we headed home I was full of drink and food. It was a wonderful day. He sure had a high regard for the hat I saved for him from the channel.

Before I continue our trip to Sicily I want to recall one incident in Freetown, W. Africa. I thought negroes would not be understandable, but when we dropped anchor one immediately came up in a canoe singing ‘The Lambeth Walk’ - in perfect English. We would throw three pennies at a time into the water and he would retrieve them every time, never missed. 

[Lloyd Evans (above) and other Canadians bought monkeys in Freetown:
Photo - by permission of Mr. Evans, RCNVR, Comb. Ops, of Markham]

We spent eight or nine days in Cape Town, maybe longer, then started out with the old Silver Walnut again. Stop, stop, stop - and damn it was hot! Our middies turned yellow from white because of the sun. We couldn’t step on the deck, it was so hot. We should have had the half-inch calloused soles on our feet like the Gari pullers or cart pullers in Cape Town and Durban. (Gari - a two-wheeled cart with a seat and a pair of shafts; we went sight-seeing in them and a negro pulled from between the shafts.)

Anyhow, we had to pull into Durban, S. Africa for quite a spell and I saw there the most beautiful girls in all the world, a cross of Dutch and German and in some cases a little negro thrown in. No makeup was needed but they were very aloof. Can’t say I blame them... I had thoughts, i.e., nice thoughts and some covetous thoughts and some...

[D. Harrison liked to visit with the ladies. Photo - Canadian canteen?]

We finally passed through the Indian Ocean, past Madagascar to Aden and Port Said, properly pronounced Port Sigh-eed. The other boys who arrived in the desert long before us, because of our slow ship, were the unfortunate ones, and were found sleeping in tents - hot in the day and cold at night - and most had severe dysentery, some were just shells. The boys with dysentery so bad just sat in latrines all night and let it run from their poor behinds. I spent one night only in the desert so I was lucky. Thanks, old slow ship.

Unlike my other trip to N. Africa, I ate well. Porridge and flap jacks every morning. I still have only eaten about six flap jacks since I came home in 1944. I weighed 192 pounds at the end of the trip on the Silver Walnut. I had time to see Port Said and Ismailia and headed by truck up beside the Suez Canal to Alexandria. Many of our boys were there already and went to see the Sphinx, but I never did.

[Canadians in Combined Operations on H.M.S. Keren, Atlantic 1943]

[Please note Don Westbrook of Hamilton, back row, left]

[Canadians in front of their tents in Egypt, 1943. Fourth from left is Don
Westbrook, perhaps in his last pair of borrowed shorts due to dysentery]

The convoy formed for Sicily at Alexandria and ran into heavy submarine attacks and mines. I actually saw one torpedo miss us. I was now on the American Liberty ship Pio Pico because the Silver Walnut was abandoned with all the barges we worked so hard to clean and paint, included painted Maple Leaves. (Just a little side light which was very funny. A/B Seaman Bouchard was painting the deck of LCM 108 and told us the paint (battleship grey) was too thin. We said, “add varnish,” which of course made it thicker. But he kept complaining, “It’s too thin, too thin.” We said, “Add more varnish.” Finally he ended up putting it on with a putty knife it was so thick. “You smart buggers,” he said. Barges were left behind anyway.)

One ship was hit and had to be beached and I believe Theo McCready of Burgessville was aboard and was killed.

[Canadians 'painted Maple Leaves'*. Photo from
The Canadians At War 1939 - 45, by Readers' Digest]

*A swastika, symbol of a German submarine destroyed, is painted on the funnel of a Royal Canadian Navy ship - but top billing goes to a maple leaf. Canadian warships flew the White Ensign used in the Royal Navy and could be mistaken for British ships until the maple leaf was adopted. From The Canadians At War 1939 - 45.

Please link to Memoirs re Combined Operations "DAD, WELL DONE" Navy Memoirs (6)

Unattributed Photos by GH

No comments:

Post a Comment