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Long Journey Home

From John Hicks, 12th Anti-Tank

drawing of busy messdeck with hammocks and kit everywhere
The Mess Deck

"Reading the accounts of journeys home in last year's journal brought back memories of my trip home for demob at the end of October 1947. I left the camp at El Burah and duly arrived at the transit camp at Port Said where I was to wait a week before my name appeared on the notice board informing me that I would be boarding the SS Scythia. After getting settled below decks we were seated eight to a table. Whilst talking to some of the lads who were already on board when we arrived, I was horrified to learn that the ship had started its journey at Singapore and had taken six weeks to get to Port Said. The reason being that it had broken down twice and had spent time at ports in India so that repairs could be carried out. We were scheduled to sail non stop to Liverpool and by that time I was wondering if we would ever get there.

All went well until we neared the Bay of Biscay where we were hit by a violent storm. It was certainly a case of battening down the hatches and we were banned from going on deck. We had to take turns in going to the galley to collect the meals for our table and it was my turn that particular day. We were at the stern and had to go up two flights of stairs before walking almost the length of the ship to collect the food. As I left to collect the dinner there were only six left on our table, the other two had long disappeared to get rid of their earlier meal. The ship was mainly pitching and only slightly rolling so once I had got up the stairs it meant that first I would be walking uphill and then preventing myself from running downhill.

It became rather complicated on the way back when I was carrying a metal Dixie. The worst part was going down the stairs pressing my back hard against the rails and then hang on until the ship pitched the other way. I was quite pleased with myself on reaching our table without spilling a drop. There were now only four lads sat at the table as I removed the lid from the Dixie and announced 'We've got stew today, lads' - and then there were only three of us left. We ate a hearty meal but couldn't eat the lot and I was quite amazed that the movement of the ship never affected me at all. The storm lasted about 24 hours and we duly landed at Liverpool on a wet November morning after 10 days." Gunners in Palestine, No.5, 2005.

Donald Ensom, 33rd Counter Mortar Battery

"We sailed from port Said in the Winchester Victory one of the Mark IIs of Liberty Ships. It took one and a half hours to raise the anchor which was not a good start. After two days of on/off, reduced speed we lost all power and were drifting. No lights, limited water, no hot food for some hours. Then limited water, no hot food for some hours. Then limited power at least for a hot drink. A day's low speed then drifting. We slept on deck and were woken by an early morning BBC News, broadcast over the Tannoy to tell the world (we did not need telling) that we had broken down and tugs were racing to the rescue from Malta. No tugs arrived but next day a frigate came alongside and took us in tow to Malta where we trans-shipped to a Liberty ship SS Cape Douglas. We had to wait while parts were taken from Winchester Victory to repair Cape Douglas and when we sailed the Captain of the Winchester Victory stood on his bridge to wave us off and raised his hand with fingers crossed. At Toulon we had to wait for the pilot and as he took us in we hit the dockside with enough force to hole the ship and bend its screw! A four day voyage going out became a 12 day one. Had this been a wartime journey the results might have been disaster." Gunners in Palestine."

harbour showing ships and ramparts.
Valetta harbour, WWII

Photo: Chief P/O Christison (RN retired)