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TURN UP THE VOLUME AND BE THERE AGAIN !
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The following was kindly provided by Wendy Roslyn Anderson who wishes to tell the story of her father and his war time memoirs.



THOMAS HENRY ANDERSON :


I will try to keep it brief and related stories related to the three ships he sailed on. They were the Strathmore, the Sterling Castle and Neptunia. ....TITLE- WARTIME ADVENTURES OF THOMAS HENRY ANDERSON. A.I.F. Pte. V.X. 34767. P.O.W. 125514. Rat of Tobruk. Born 1914. Died 2005. Page 1:- England declared war on Germany on 3rd September 1939. I remember being on a tram going into Geelong when I heard the news. It was a Sunday night. At the time, I was employed at the Geelong Ford plant, not far from our home in Geelong West. I recall there was no great rush to ;join up when war started, my brother Arthur, my step-brother Freddie and I went to enlist in the AIF. Following that, our family doctor gave us a preliminary checkup. I had just turned 16; among the Ford workers. Arthur was 28 and we looked very much alike. When we went in to the doc he mistook me for Arthur and said ;You'll never get in the army. I did, but Arthur didn't, because of a minor medical problem. Next step in the procedure was another medical check at Royal Park in Melbourne the following week. We were there all day. They had a doctor for everything. Eyes, ears,chest x-ray, feet, etc. Having passed their tests, we were sworn in, signed on the dotted line and we were in the army now. The big army camp at Royal Park was all under tents. A few days later we were on a train to Wangaratta. It was July 1940. The people of Wang had prepared their showgrounds for our arrival. Accommodation this time was in the sheep pens. Later we moved to the cattle pens. We slept on straw palliases on the floor. There were great gaps between the floorboards. Stalls were half open and draughty, and we had only two blankets each. We were at Wang maybe 8-10 weeks and did a lot of our basic training there. When we first arrived we were just a training battalion, getting fit, lots of exercise etc. After 6 weeks another group arrived from Dolby, near Bacchus Marsh. That brought us up to battalion strength and they called us the 2nd/24th of the 7th Division. The 6th Division had already gone overseas. There was PT every morning before breakfast. During the day we would go on route marches or go off for a couple of days, taking along our travelling cookhouse. We'd do 2 or 3 route marches a week. From Wang we marched two days up to Bonegilla, which was one of the biggest training camps. It was a few miles out of Albury, in the vicinity of the Hume weir. We were there until Nov doing further basic training. We did a two day bivouac around the weir and up the Kiewa Valley. Accommodation was in big tin huts, about 50 men to a hut, and once again sleeping on the floor. From time to time they'd give us leave and I would go home to Geelong. Sometimes I'd get a pass to go into Wang for the evening and we'd be back by midnight. If there was a bus we'd go to Albury. We had our final leave from Bonegilla, after which we were restricted to camp under embarkation orders. I went to Geelong, arriving back at camp on Nov 2nd. My brother Arthur was to be married on Saturday the 9th so I'd no sooner got back from leave than I put in an application to go to the wedding. Major Fell gave me leave on condition I be back by Sunday night. I traveled to Geelong by train, called at the house, then to the church, and back to the house for the reception. I departed midday Sunday and was back at camp that night. During parade on the following Friday it was announced that we sail on the morrow. They gave us all necessary instructions and told us this is a big secret. You must not tell anyone! At the camp post office there was a row of telephones and as soon as parade was over we all rushed to them. I rang my sister Anne. On Saturday 16th Nov 1940 we marched up to the trains, bound for Port Melbourne. The train traveled slowly past Port Melbourne station where thousands of people had gathered to see us off. Anne was there and I saw her for a brief moment, and as it turned out, the last time I ever saw her. She died in 1943 in a big accident involving a train and a busload of army personnel from Bonegilla, Anne being one of them. The train went right onto the wharf.

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We knew the Queen Mary had been in Sydney harbour and we wondered if this was to be our ship. But no, it was the STRATHMORE waiting for us, a 26,000 ton passenger liner of the STRATHEDEN LINE. It hadn’t been converted to a troopship, so it was quite luxurious, with 2 swimming pools and a well stocked canteen. The cabin I was in had two sets of double bunks, which I shared with three others. There may have been hammocks put up in other parts of the ship. The next day we sailed. Our destination had still not been revealed to us, however we correctly guessed it was Africa. A couple of blokes missed the boat and it slowed down while a tug brought them along soon after. Another ship, the STRATHAIRD, sister ship of STRATHMORE, joined us in Spencer’s Gulf and we proceeded to Perth. There was supposed to be a German ship or submarine out at sea, so we couldn’t proceed from there until it was all clear. A couple of destroyers that were accompanying us disappeared for a few days, in search of whatever it was. The authorities realized we could be stuck there for awhile and knew they would have to keep us occupied and out of mischief. This they did with all kinds of drill and at least one route march along the beach. Our working day ended at 5 PM unless we were on night guard duty. There are four companies in a battalion and each company took it in turn to provide the guard. Every fourth night would be your company’s turn. On board the ship, and especially on deck, we always wore our life-preservers, or at least kept them handy. Conditions on the ship were pretty crowded so the authorities were liberal in granting us leave. They were glad to get rid of us and we didn’t mind at all. We made the most of our opportunities to go off sight-seeing around Perth and Freemantle. Our ship was moored in the bay and we’d get off in barges. We caught the train to Perth, saw the Swan River and a place called The Narrows, which, as its name suggests, is a spot where the river is very narrow. One day, Rupe Sheridan, Ted Price, another chap and myself went to Kings Park. I still have a photo taken of us standing by the monument there, dated 24-11-1940. The all-clear was given around 26th November and the two ships set off across the Indian Ocean, accompanied by one or two destroyers. The destroyers left us at the half way mark, where we were met by another, which took us the rest of the way. We arrived at Colombo late one morning and anchored out in the harbour. They gave us shore leave until midnight. We visited a club that was there for the benefit of the many troops passing through, then Rupe and I took a rickshaw ride. We got into a not-so-nice part of town. It had a very seamy atmosphere and we were glad to get out of there in a hurry. It was the sort of place one could easily have got a knife in one’s back. Next morning we sailed on towards The Red Sea, towards our destination which was Elkantara, up the Suez beyond the Bitter Lakes. The whole voyage was fairly uneventful. We didn’t meet any enemy ships. Our days were filled with lectures, P.T. and rifle drill. Food was O.K. and meals were eaten in relays due to the great number of men. At Elkantara we disembarked, waited around for an hour or so then boarded a train bound for Dimra. Travelling inland, all we could see was sand, and looking back at the canal it appeared as though ships were sailing through the desert.
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Libya was an Italian colony. Consequently, the desert war started as an Italian campaign, separate from Germany. But as time went on the Itis lost Libya to our 6th Division. At that stage, Germany saw what was happening didn’t fit in with Germany’s ambition to control the whole area surrounding Suez. So Germany crossed the Mediterranean, landed at Tripoli and chased us back to Tobruk. In April 1941 I was involved in an all – night battle which ended with our surrender, about 200 men. We were kept in various camps in the desert for awhile. Germany was helping Italy to win Libya, but then the P.O.W.s became Italy’s problem. Eventually they shipped us to Italy. We boarded the NEPTUNIA at Tripoli and from then on we became the Italians’ responsibility. As we crossed the Mediterranean, our biggest worry was the British submarines in the area. We were below decks below waterline, and the whole time we could ‘see’ torpedoes coming through the side of our ship. The toilets were above decks so there was a constant stream of men going to and fro, just to be above the waterline. There was a guard at the exit, from whom every one of us had to ask permission to go. The thing we feared, did happen to another ship in September ‘42 and 250 P.O.W.s lost their lives. We arrived at the port of Taranto, in the heel of Italy, where much of the Italian navy was moored. A train took us to a camp at Capua near Naples and from then on we had many more adventures in Italy. By the end of the war we were in prison camps in Germany, until the Americans rescued us. After being flown to London I spent a month in England before we could sail home.

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HOMEWARD BOUND:- “After 4 weeks in England, I boarded a South African ship called the Sterling Castle. We sailed from London in mid-June 1945 and disembarked at Sydney on July 25th. The ship was about the same size as the STRATHMORE but not as comfortable, having been converted to a troopship, and being overcrowded with maybe two or three thousand men. I slept in a bunk in one of the big holds. Meals were in 3 relays in an enormous dining room. The food was O.K. but on one occasion we had some fish that wasn’t the freshest, although no-one seemed to suffer any ill effects. All our washing was done in salt water with a special salt-water soap that got up a bit of a lather. There was no military drill, there were no rifles – it was a fairly leisurely voyage. There was a lot of gambling and TWO-UP going on. ‘Cocky’ won a thousand pounds – that was English money. One thousand, two hundred and fifty when he converted it to Australian currency. Cocky was a compulsive gambler. If he had money, he’d gladly lend it to you, but if he had none, he’d expect a loan from you. The TWO – UP school is going day after day until Cocky wins the thousand, and it goes broke. He doesn’t want to spend it and he doesn’t want it stolen, so he asks an Officer, Ron, to mind it for him. He begs Ron not to give it to him, under any circumstances, until they reach Australia. When they reached Australia they went their separate ways, until eventually, Cocky wants his money. He goes in search of Ron, collects his money and they go their own ways again, until nine months later they bump into each other. Cocky is broke by now and he begs Ron to loan him ten pounds. Ron gave him the money, after which they don’t see each other for years and years. After the war I saw Ron a few times and it was sometime in the late 50s he told me this story. Although Ron never saw his money again he reckoned that was the best ten pounds he ever invested, because as long as Cocky owed him, he wouldn’t come begging for more. There were other gamblers like Cocky on the ship, one of whom was Max Judd, better known as ‘Ice - Cream.’ Back in prison camp in Italy, we’d played TWO – UP, and the German word for two is SWY. So TWO – UP became known as SWY. I would say it was Max Judd who first gave it that name. The voyage home was via the Panama Canal. The boat tied up in the bay outside Colon on the Caribbean side of the Panama Canal. We’d been expecting to get shore leave at Colon, but when we got there we learnt we weren’t going ashore. Troops on previous ships had misbehaved and wrecked the place, so we weren’t to be trusted. The trip through the canal was interesting, and we were given a lecture about it all. The ship was raised 100 feet, through a series of three locks. Then we came to an enormous lake, 50 miles long. We crossed it to the Pacific side, then came down through three more locks, to the Pacific Ocean, which is the same water level as the Caribbean. They told us that had the locks been blown – up, and the water drained out, it would take five years to fill it up again. No wonder the Americans guarded it so well. Our only stop on the way home was two days at Wellington, New Zealand, and that was only because the ship sustained some damage in a storm. It was a decent sort of a storm – they warned us not to go outdoors, but I did, and I enjoyed it. We went ashore and went sightseeing. We went up Mt. Wellington and hiked around the bay. There was a new housing - commission development just opened up, so we looked at that. This was before such housing existed in Australia. There was a big welcoming committee to meet us at Sydney. We were taken to a reception area, and it came over the P.A. that there was someone there to to meet me – and there were Uncle Jack and Aunty Ruby. Jack took me to his TATTERSALLS CLUB, and later that evening, all the Victorians boarded a train bound for Melbourne. After another reception, and family there to meet me, we were onto another train home to Geelong. NOTE:- What started off as the 2/24th Battalion of 7th Division was renamed somewhere along the way, probably in Tobruk, and became 2/24th of 9th Division. THE END!!!



















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