After my leave we went by train to Liverpool where we embarked on a troopship converted from a large passenger liner, the Stratheden. It was moored next to the Royal Liver Building which had a model of the mythical liver bird on its roof. (pronounced ligh-ver). Decks starting from the top were numbered from A to H. And the front of the ship was 1 and the rear of the ship was 8. We were on H8 deck which was at the bottom of what had been the hold. It was three decks below the waterline and had the propellor shafts running through it. When we did boat drill, with the lights on and no panic, it took us 20 minutes to reach an open deck. In an emergency there were scrambling nets up the very long way to the top of the hatch. I decided that if it became necessary I’d take a chance on the climb and hope that somebody at the top removed the hatch cover. In the past day or two, thinking about this, it’s occurred to me that hatch covers are too large and heavy to be moved manually. I don’t know much about marine architecture but I’d guess that there’d have to be some machinery to move the cover and that was probably worked by steam or something from the engine room which could be out of action. Luckily I never needed to climb up and then find myself trapped and go down with the ship.
We slept in hammocks which were surprisingly comfortable. At sea the ship joined a large convoy with destroyer escorts. By that time the worst of the submarine danger was over. In any case troopships were in the middle of the convoys. For a submarine to get close enough to fire a torpedo at it the sub would virtually have to commit suicide. There was one night when we were ordered to sleep in our clothes and to keep our lifesavers on. These consisted of two flotation pillows front and back. We were told that if we had to jump off the ship we should hold the front part of the lifevest down otherwise it could come up and break our neck when we hit the water. The vests had a whistle attached by a short length of cord. That was for attracting attention if we were in the water. There was also a small light attached. But all that was a pious hope. Navy ships never stopped to pick up survivors because their duty was to stay with the convoy and continue to protect the other ships. And the water in the Atlantic is very cold so you’d probably die of hypothermia after about 20 minutes. During one daytime we were ordered below because of an air attack. I don’t remember hearing any bombs but I did hear some anti aircraft fire.
Back to Hess. The documentary mentioned that there was a fighter base in Scotland not far away and the progress of his plane was tracked by radar yet no attempt was made to intercept it or shoot it down. Interesting.
For the purposes of the draft I was given a temporary promotion. No extra pay or privileges but the first night on board I was put in charge of the job of posting sentries at various points. These were to stop soldiers going into the corridors containing the women’s cabins, the officers’ cabins etc. That meant going up a deck or two, or down a deck or two, in order to move along the ship because certain more direct routes were closed to you. I found the layout of the ship confusing and it took me a couple of hours to put sentries in position by which time it was necessary to go out again with their relief. next