By the time I reached home I had completed my Cadetship and soon was awarded my first gold stripe. Not wanting to repeat the India trips I applied to a company which I knew ran ships to the Mediterranean. They were looking for a Third Officer, and I accepted the position, looking forward to a six week “quickie” to the Med and return. If I had known how long I was going to be away I probably wouldn't have signed up ...
I joined the ship in Liverpool and on boarding was astounded to discover that she was loading a full cargo of explosives. The Second Officer was on deck supervising the loading so after introducing myself I inquired about the cargo. “Didn’t you see the flag?” he replied, and on looking I saw the blue ensign with a yellow anchor on it, the ensign of the Royal Fleet Auxiliaries; ships taken over by the Admiralty to supply the Fleet.
An ammunition ship wasn’t on my desired list, especially in war time, but I consoled myself by saying “its only six weeks or so.” Later I discovered that I was the only officer aboard who held a gunnery certificate. This qualified me to take charge of the gun crew who manned the 4 inch gun and made me responsible for all the small arms aboard. For this extra responsibility I was paid an extra 6d a day; 2½ pence!
In the summer of 1943, with a full cargo, we departed for the Mediterranean and it was then that I experienced the handling of a ship in convoy. The first night out, the Captain stayed with me on the bridge during my 8-12 watch. At 10 o’clock he calmly said “OK, Third Mate, you’re on your own”, and went below leaving me in charge on a dark night in the Atlantic trying to keep station with the surrounding ships. Initially I found we either caught up with the ship ahead or dropped back on to the vessel astern, but I soon got the hang of it, signalling to the engine room for an increase or a drop in the engine revs. I was surprised to discover that even four or five revs of the propeller made a remarkable difference, but nevertheless, I wasn’t unhappy when the Second Officer took over the watch at midnight.
Once we had cleared the danger area, the convoy dispersed and we sailed independently to Gibraltar, then onwards to Propriano Bay, Corsica, where we supported navy vessels.