Friday, July 31, 2015

Blog #37 - The Manchester Shipper

The "Manchester Shipper," Letty's ship in 1944
The captain of our ship was a crusty old fellow, who had been at sea all his life, from fourteen years old. Our lounge was small, so there was no room for a lot of activities. We knitted, sewed, played cards, and read books. We were allowed on the one deck only, as there was gunnery practice all the time, sailors painting the ship from stem to stern, and flag signals run up on the high rigging for the rest of the convoy (because ours was the flag ship.) The little corvettes that kept watch, bobbed around the convoy day and night, to warn us of submarines. (U-boats.) The men who sailed these little ships were a hardy lot, and saved many lives and ships. They must have been very uncomfortable as they bobbed around like corks, and these men were all volunteers.

Letty's convoy was part of the HX series of convoys. Click here for details. You'll learn how convoys were created, based on the type of ships and their speed. Fascinating; I had no idea.

First thing I did when we found our cabin was to have a bath. It was the last one I had for two weeks as we crossed the ocean. In our cabin, which had room to sleep six, were two young women, a baby of seven months, and me. The one single girl was going over to be married, and was of German parents. Her name was Alfreda Friemark, rather pretty, but bold. I wonder how she got along. The other lady and baby were headed for Manchester. So we had three empty upper births. We ate in two lots of twenty-three and that, some days, was a real accomplishment. The sea was so rough at times, the plates slid along the table, and it was almost impossible to eat soup, or drink tea, even with a rail around the tables.

Two nights out from Halifax we were told to put our warmest clothes on, and had to stand in the passage for two hours. We had two husky seamen with us, and a steward, who were muffled up to the eyebrows, and there was no sound of engines running. At about 11 pm a bell rang and we were told we could go to bed, and the ship was moving again. I never undressed at night again, and slept with my fur coat on. The only things I left off were my shoes, but kept them handy.

Our ship could do 19 knots, but because we had all manner of ships in the convoy, we could only do 6 knots, because of an old banana ship that could only do 6.

Some nights were very dark, some were bright moonlight. These it seemed were dangerous, and later we learned why: we were a sitting target for the enemy. We were also told the night we stood in the halls, the convoy going the other way had lost three ships, and ours had picked up a raft from it. Oh, it was hectic! Then as we zigged and zagged across the sea, fog came down and hid everything. By this time I had lost a lot of faith in ever reaching England, and Ronnie. For two weeks we rode all over the Atlantic, and finally a cry went up, "Land ahead!" The next day we had to wait in line, to go up the sea lanes to Liverpool.

The pilot ship came and led us up to the submarine nets that guarded the harbour. A small boat on each half pulled the nets apart, so we went in, then they closed behind. us. The harbour of Liverpool was a mess of half-sunken ships. How we got safely into port I don't know, but we finally got moored along the quay. It took an hour to get off the ship and into a huge shed, where, with all our luggage, we were locked in from 7 pm to 11 pm. This was the customs shed, partly wrecked from bombs, and some of the roof was missing. After the customs were through with us, we were taken by bus to a nice reception center, after a light meal of sandwiches, cookies, and tea, we were taken upstairs to bed. Every bed had a hot water bottle in it, marvellous, and I cried myself to sleep with relief, to think I had finally got safely to England in wartime, after a trip of twenty-three days. It was Hallowe'en night in Canada.
Liverpool harbor after the 1941 bombing blitz