We were anchored off Perth, but before going alongside regulations dictated we had to get rid of the last of the sheep that had been put aboard in Malta for the consumption of the Indian crew. Instead of slaughtering it, one of the stewards had cruelly thrown it over the side and the unfortunate animal was drifting away on the tide. I was roused from my cabin by Second Mate who instructed me to bring my rifle, which was stored under my bunk, and to make my way aft. The Captain, who had consumed a few drinks, and the gun crew had assembled there to see the action. The Captain grabbed the rifle to show us all how it should be done. As the muzzle passed my face he accidentally pulled the trigger. Realising how close he had come to killing someone, he turned a whiter shade of pale and handed the gun back to me. I climbed up onto the gun deck to get a better view of the sheep which, by now, had drifted a considerable distance from the ship. As gunnery officer, I had to put up a good show in front of the audience and I am not too modest to say I did rather well. The first shot fell short, the second went over, but the third must have killed the miserable animal immediately, as was evident from the fountain of blood which shot some three feet into the air.
Taking a bearing
After a few days alongside we headed South to Sydney, which was to be our main base, but when we arrived, we were not allowed to berth in the main harbour because of the nature of our cargo. Instead we were directed to an anchorage at the mouth of the Paramatta River, a district called Hunters Hill.
Sydney during WW2
It was an area of exclusive housing and we made lots of friends amongst the local population, being entertained royally by them. One of the drawbacks was that we had to run a liberty service so that the shore going members of the crew could catch a tramcar into Sydney, a service which the Second mate and I operated between us. We lay there for almost seven weeks before receiving orders to proceed to the Philippine Islands, and other islands whose names escape me, supplying the Royal Navy, and sometimes American war ships with their needs.
The action, at times, was terrifying. During the day, waves of Japanese planes flew high over the fleet dropping vast amounts of bombs. Although badly aimed some bombs inevitably reached their target and half a dozen ships were left crippled. The fear, of course, that one of the bombs could land on our ship at any time. Ironically, the nature of our cargo was our salvation. As soon as enemy attacks were imminent
we had to clear the area because nobody wanted 4,000 tons of explosives going off anywhere near them. That put us in a solitary position and no target for the bombers
and thankfully, we were ignored by the most terrifying of all weapons – suicide bombers- who were after the capital ships of the Fleet. In the latter years, the Japanese introduced a new type of Kamikazi bomber, a fast jet propelled aircraft with comparatively short range of some forty miles, so it had to be transported strapped to the underside of a “mother” aeroplane. They were not, I am thankful to say, very successful.
On one of our return trips to Sydney Harbour we were told that Rear Admiral Fisher was making an inspection of the Auxiliary Fleet and would be boarding that same afternoon. We, naturally, had to put on a show so I organised the guns crew and two POs, put aboard to supervise the cargo, into a welcoming party and formed up on the main deck. When the RA’s barge came alongside, the first to greet him was the ship’s dog which ran down the gangway and tried to sink its teeth into his left leg! The dog was dragged away with a portion of the RA trouser still between its teeth and I apologised then escorted him up to the deck. He inspected the party and was suitably impressed, explaining that he had been aboard one ship to find only the bosun and a Cadet to welcome him. On enquiring about the rest of the crew he was told that they had all b******d off ashore! Our Captain had organised his own welcoming party on his deck with a bottle of whisky, and out of the corner of my eye I saw the Mate helping himself behind the Captains back. A true “alcho”, but it lent a Fred Karno atmosphere to the proceedings!
On one memorable morning I went up on to the bridge to relieve the Mate at 8am to be greeted by the Captain. Asking about the Mate, he told me to look in his cabin, and there he was, slumped in his chair unconscious with an empty whisky bottle beside him. Apparently he had been found like that at 6am when the Quartermaster had called the Captain, having seen another ship on the horizon!