by

N.J. Thomson # 777 – 1934/36


DEPARTURE

Having just done three trips across the Western Ocean (North Atlantic) I felt it was time to head for Summer (sunnier) climes so, when the ship docked in a West coast port in the UK, I wasted no time calling in at the Shipping Office. I explained that I was a South African and would like to join a ship going that way. I had not seen my parents for some years. Of course, the Shipping Master would not say where any ships were headed for. In those war years one did not even mention the ship’s name, less still where it was bound for. As it happened, the Shipping Master was a kindly looking fellow with a broad smile and a twinkle in his eye and so understanding. “So, you want a ship going to South Africa !” – he both stated and asked at the same time, “Are you ready to leave immediately ?” Sure I was, if I was going to get my wish.” There’s a ship leaving now, she’s in the river and they are short of a third mate. Would you join her ? It might well be to your advantage.” So saying, he gave me a broad, knowing wink. Well, a wink is as good as a nod, so I took his launch and raced after the ship. It already had its anchor up and the pilot was beginning to manoeuvre it into the stream. I urged the launch coxswain on; It was touch and go but gradually we gained and dropped alongside the ladder.

I was soon aboard, kit and all, which I dumped in the alleyway and made my way to the saloon where the Master was waiting, pen poised over the Articles for me to sign. I glanced at them and pointed out that my salary was shown as £13 per month. I said I wanted £15 a month, as that had been my previous salary. He bent down and scratched out the 13 and wrote 15 and initialled it. “Initial the correction and sign the articles,” he barked. This I promptly did and by so doing became one of the crew. The pilot picked up the ship’s papers and left in his launch.

The Second Mate showed me to my cabin. Luckily it was one with a large porthole overlooking the sea. Dead right when in the tropics. Could let in a bit of cool air at night if I kept the cabin lights out. Lady Luck was smiling ! I opened the wardrobe and lo and behold ! – there was a beautiful thick furlined coat. I shouted to the Second Mate who was hovering at the door and told him that the previous Third Mate must have forgotten it when he left. “Oh no”, he said, “that is for you – a present from the Ministry ! Look in your top drawer.” I did so and behold a pair of glasses. I told him I did not need sunglasses as I was used to the tropics. He looked puzzled for a moment and then said: “There are not sunglasses, chum; they are snow goggles.” There seemed to be a bit of a mix-up. “Why would we need fleecelined coats and snow goggles for a trip through the tropics to South Africa ?” I asked him. “South Africa ? ” he said. “We are not going to South Africa, we are going to Russia, North about.”

I felt quite sick. I remembered the Shipping Master, his smile and his chuckle. I bet he’s chuckling now, I thought. He would by this time be in the “local” with his cronies. I could just picture him, telling how he had caught a young sailer for a sucker. How they would all be chuckling as they slapped each other on the back and called for another pint!

LOADING CARGO

Getting over my shock at finding myself Russia bound (North about), I soon settled to the ships routine. We headed North in beautiful weather although Autumn was in the air. That is one reason I wanted to head South, to get away from the Northern Winter and into a bit of good old-fashioned sunshine. I had pictured myself lolling in the sun, an ice cold beer in my hand, sunbathing and turning a golden brown – but no, we were headed North into the cold and snow.

Up through the Minches off the Scottish West coast – an incredible sight like rows and rows of Chapman’s Peaks to left and right, or should I say port and starboard. The waterways through the Minches are very narrow in places and the convoy, by now six ships, threaded its way in single file as there was not room enough to move two abreast. We had no escort as subs did not visit the Minches. One patrol at the South end and one at the North end could bottle up a sub, if foolish enough to enter their waters. The scenery was magnificent and the sea flat calm. Out of the Northern end of the Minches, a quick dash round Cape Wrath and on Eastwards to the Faeroes and Scapa Flow.

Soon all was activity, naval personnel dashing hither and thither and cargo coming aboard. Cargo was the first mates’ province, not mine, but I went to have a look at what was going on. All this heavy stuff was being loaded into all the holds, covering the whole bottom of the ship. What was it ? I made discreet inquiries. When I got the information I was not happy. We were loading hundreds and hundreds of torpedo warheads which Mr. Stalin so urgently needed. Cargo loaded, we sailed. Where to ? No one would say. The Captain would tell us when we were at sea. The six little cargo ships now had an escort of a few navy ships. The ships with cargo were becoming more valuable. Up to this time the ships, being empty, were not protected by the navy, but once they became more valuable because of the cargo then they were accorded more protection. This is no reflection on the Royal Navy, as they were also short of ships and protected where protection was most needed. Cargo was the first priority. Their ships were mostly small and old and they did magnificant work under the most appalling conditions.

The sealed orders were duly opened. Next Port : Reykjavik, Iceland. Iceland is more than 60 degree North and getting close to the Arctic Cirle. The whole place is covered in ice and snow except round the volcanoes. There are many volcanoes in this ice-covered place their heat melted the ice in the craters and on the slopes so that these black mountains stood out starkly. Into port at Reykjavik and carry on loading. I couldn’t believe my eyes ! Here we were, loading high octane aviation spirit in cans and tins, all laid out on top of our torpedo warheads. I was already unhappy but became unhappier still. This was all heavy stuff and the ships sat deep in the water, but there was still plenty of space for lightweight cargo. The rest of the space was filled up with army boots and Tomahawk aircraft in crates, the aircraft being partly assembled. To finish off, the decks,fore and aft were covered with crated Tomahawk aircraft.

NAVIGATIONAL PROBLEMS

Our six merchant ships sailed from Reykjavik, Iceland, Westward through the passage between Iceland and Greenland. We had a valuable cargo and had to be protected. I was amazed to see that there were eightteen navy escort ships to look after us; three to each merchant ship – and there were two aircraft carriers amongst them. The weather turned foul – bitterly cold and thick fog patches. When the fog lifted for a while one of the escorts ran up and down the column of ships playing music on a loud hailer. I had never seen or heard this before; it must have been an attempt to keep our spirits up.

We wore our life belts all the time, day and night, mainly to keep warm. Snow flurries became frequent, and, out of an old sheepskin floor rug, I fashioned a pair of mittens which stood me in good stead. In thickening fog the ships towed astern, on a long line, a kind of board with a tube through it. A scoop under and the tube projecting above gave a plume of water, which the ship astern endeavoured to keep in sight as one ship could not be seen from another. These boards sometimes turned turtle and sank and the mark was lost.

The watchword was, according to our Master, “Whatever happens keep your course and speed.” To deviate from that would lead to disaster. Night came and I paced the bridge. Suddenly there was the Master, Captain Ginger Harris, at my elbow. In the gloom he looked like a little hunchback, with his big coat over his life jacket. “Care for a noggin ? ” he asked. I smiled weakly. Of course I did, but never did we have drink on the bridge of British ships. “Take an hour,” he told me, “In the saloon I have put a bottle of whiskey and some nuts and raisins. The other officers are there. One hour – no more. Away you go.” This was new to me. Never before had I known a Captain to relieve a junior officer on the bridge and send him away for refreshment. Our Captain rose in my estimation. In the saloon the other officers told me that our Captain, Ginger Harris, had been brought up in the clay schooners trading only under sail between the Bristol Channel and the continent.

He was a practical sailor, without a doubt. His brother was on board as a lower deck able bodied seaman and our Captain showed no favouritism to him reprimanding him if he steered badly. The Captain did not even refer to his brother by his christian name, merely calling him Harris, with no prefix of Mr.

The further North we sailed towards Spitzbergen, the worse the fog. Navigation became difficult. We rarely saw the sun or the horizon so could not fix positions accurately. Both the sun and the horizon must be visible to take a sight with our sextants. Also our navigation tables stood good only from 60o South latitude to 60o North latitude. We ran out of our calculating tables so had to extrapolate the errors, which grew progressively larger the further North we went. Our course took us between Spitzbergen and Bear Island, 73o North. Some call it Cherry Island, but names mean little up that way. Looking at the chart I remarked that the Westcoast of Spitzbergen seemed to be well defined, but that the East Coast was only a series of “pecked” lines. “Thats because the East Coast is unexplored land,” replied the Second Officer, “No one knows where the coast is. Keep in mind my friend that you are now within two hundred miles of unexplored land”, I felt as though I was Scott of the Antarctic.

Come the great day ! The commodore ship, after taking a mean of all the noon positions of the ships, decided that we turn due South on Longtitude 33E and run directly South to Murmansk. In these high latitudes the meridians of longtitude come close together – A few miles can put you in a different longtitude altogether. We ran South in thick fog. During the first night I heard footsteps pacing up and down. They weren’t mine, and not on board my ship. Then realisation came – we were close alongside some other ship. I hollered out “Ahoy there, what ship” A voice came out of the night. “This is the commodore ship. You must get back on station immediately”. “Certainly sir,” I replied, with no intention what so ever of doing so. “What ever happens keep your course and speed” – thats what our Captain had said and that’s what I intended to do, regardless. I had a lot of faith in Ginger Harris.

I must explain. Trying to get back on station on a black night with thick fog and none of the ships carrying, or making sound signals, was fraught with the danger of being rammed by one of our own ships or ramming another. The wisest course of action was to keep present course and speed and hopefully the morning would bring better visibility and the ability to manoeuvre more freely. Such it proved to be and the scattered convoy re-formed the next day in comparative safety. Time after time we reformed the convoy. Ginger Harris was right once again.

On the bridge of a ship at sea, whether in peacetime or wartime, there are no lights except in the closed chartroom. This is to facilitate the officers’ night vision. The only dim light is the compass binnacle cover so that the helmsman can see the compass and, as he is inside the wheelhouse in any case, not a glimmer of light projects outwards. The officer of the watch, on entering the wheelhouse to check the steering, sees nothing but blackness and a ghostlike face floating in black space. That is the helmsman, his face vaguely lit by the reflected light from the compass. The officer and other watch-keepers would pace up and down to keep circulation going in the bitter cold, but the helmsman could not do this, so his legs and feet were swathed in hessian or sacking and he stood in a large box of sawdust or wood shavings in order to stave off frostbite. But the problems of navigation continued.

For the layman I will try to explain in simple terms the difficulties of navigation. Within 60o N latitude and 60o S latitude we worked on what is known as the Mercator projection, where the roundness of the earth is stretched out in these latitudes onto a flat chart to match the length in proportion to the equator in order to make a flat surface. The Northern and Southern latitudes on a chart are therefore deformed and corrections have to be applied. However, this projection cannot be carried on up to the poles, as the pole would occupy the entire top or bottom of the chart and the errors would rise to infinity. Polar travellers and explorers use another projection for the polar regions called the Gnomic projection, where the pole is a spot in the centre and the lines of latitude are drawn in circles round the polar spot. You may see this in any ordinary world atlas which gives a map of the polar regions. We were not taught, and never used, this latter projection, but here we were, outside our normal methods and into a system we did not know. Hence the problem, plus not being able to get sights of the sun or horizon for days on end, due to fog. We were forbidden to use radio direction finders or echo-sounding devices in case the enemy picked them up and homed in on them to our discomfort. We sailed south, as we supposed, longitude 33E, hoping to make a land fall at Murmansk. The land to the West was Norwegian and enemy controlled and for that reason we approached from the North.

Still in thick fog we plodded Southwards. One morning when I was on watch the fog suddenly broke into patches and to my horror I saw huge black lava cliffs close ahead. Enormous seas pounded the base of the snow-covered cliffs. “Hard a port !” and two short blasts on the ships’ whistle – an immediate alarm and Ginger Harris was beside me. Slowly, agonisingly slowly, the ship turned away from the cliffs. With our two blasts on the ships’ whistle, the other ships did likewise, for with the broken fog patches it was difficult to see what the others were actually doing. However, we were not safe yet as we found that we had entered the outer reefs where rocks stuck up out of the sea here and there, but we ziggzagged through them, praying that with our cargo of 1000 tons of high explosive and high octane petrol we would not touch solid rock.

An hour later we were well out to sea again and the convoy reformed. We seemed to be constantly re-forming the convoy, as we became scattered so often. It was obvious to all that we were very far to the West of where we hoped to be and must be off the Norwegian coast. It was soon established that we had arrived at Norway’s North Cape, the land of the midnight sun for tourists during the short summer season, when the sun never sets but circles low down round the horizon. In winter its a different matter of course, for the sun never appears above the horizon at all – a bleak enough place at any time with black snow topped cliffs plunging into the sea, but more awesome from the sea when one is about to be wrecked on it with a cargo of torpedo warheads and petrol. How did we get there ? None knows to this day. Maybe navigation errors; maybe unknown currents. No one will ever know – just one of the hazards of the elements. We headed East and soon found Murmansk where three of our six ships slid into harbour with half the escorts. Our remaining three ships and escorts pressed on Eastwards towards the entrance to the White Sea and comparative safety.

Came the great day when we entered the White Sea – Captain Ginger Harris waved his arm. “See the ice floes ?” he asked. Oh yes, I had indeed seen them. “Thats our danger, lad” he remarked, “Its autumn and one strong gale from the North will bring down more floes and the White Sea entrance will be blocked for the winter.” I was cold and shivering, but when he said that I shivered even more. Ginger Harris went below and returned to the bridge with his rifle which he proceeded to polish, oil and test with an occasional shot. Perhaps it was all getting to much for him and I wondered if he was contemplating suicide. I’d have to look into the matter at more opportune time.

ARCHANGEL

I did not want to ask our Captain outright if he was finding it all too much for him and was contemplating suicide as he walked about with rifle, but I wanted to find out, so put it more tactfully. “What are you going to shoot Captain ?” I asked, “Nothing yet,” he replied. The answer did not quite satisfy me. Perhaps he thought Valhalla would not be too bad a place to be in. Valhalla, the place to which brave sailors go, those not good enough for heaven, but not yet bad enough for hell. A sort of halfway house, Then he came out with it. “You know lad,” he said to me, “If we have to spend six months bottled up here in the ice, we will need food. We have plenty of vegetables on board, I saw to that, but we must have meat. That is what the rifle is for. We will be living on sea birds and seals.” Now I’m no eskimo, but if it is a case of eating seals or die, I’ll eat seals, blubber and all. He turned to me, “Your job tomorrow is to hang off the anchors, range out the cables on deck, and see that all the connecting shackles are free, because if we are iced in we will hang off the anchors and run the cables ashore, one ahead and the other astern, and let them freeze in when the sea freezes. Then we will be secure for the winter.”

Our British escort fell astern, running short of fuel, and returned to Murmansk for bunkers. Russian escorts took over and to a sailors eye, they certainly looked business – like. A sailor knows a good ship just by looking at it, and these Russian ships were good. I can’t speak for the crews though. We entered Archangel and made fast to the wooden jetty. It seemed to be some kind of estuary of a river into the White Sea. Everything in Archangel is wooden. The houses, the roads, the pavements, all is wooden, all seeming to float on the mud. This was tundra and taiga land, the taiga ever-green forests to the South, and the moss and mudflats of the tundra to the North. It was all thick, soft mud and clay where you would sink up to the armpits if it were not for the wooden walkways. Everything, including the wooden houses, floated on wooden platforms on the mud. It was misty with no sun, a most depressing place. Now, in those days Archangel was a strange place. As far as I could estimate the total population was about three thousand and three. I say about three thousand and three, because, of them all only three were males, and the three thousand were women. All the menfolk must have gone to the front. When our crew heard about this they went wild.

The first man we met was the Officer who came to take over the cargo. He was a big man and in a beautiful uniform, covered with medals and red stars. I never did find out if it was Navy, Airforce or Army. Perhaps it was all three. He could not speak English. The second was the agent/cum interpreter who spoke both English and Russian, and the third was the driver of what I’d call a mechanical horse – a great lumbering vehicle that shifted cargo up and down the wharf. He spoke neither English nor Russian but only grinned like a Cheshire cat. This grin on his face was permanent and I wondered that if he disappeared perhaps his grin would remain, like that of the Cheshire cat. He was also rather deaf. I wondered if it had anything to do with the rest of the population being three thousand women folk.

We got our passes and went ashore to the Community Centre where we sampled the local Vodka. Not much oomph in it, not more alchohol content than a bottle of cheap South African wine. Returning through the dock gate we noticed that it was guarded by, of course, another woman. She was old, very old – must have been past ninety – but when I looked at her rifle I gave her a very wide berth, keeping close to the fence, and as far from her as possible as I showed her my pass. Why? because her rifle was fixed with a bayonet but not Western style. It was about twice as long and needle shaped, much like a rapier, thin with four grooves in the sides. It seemed that elderly women may have difficulty in stabbing with a conventional bayonet, but this type made it easier to spear a man through with the least expenditure of energy.

The cargo came out fast, and in a few days we lost sight of the glorious uniform. Then it was time to load. You’ve guessed it. Timber. Pine planks by the thousand, no doubt to build Nissen huts back in Britain. The stevedores arrived in their hundreds to handle the cargo – all girls

Loading timber went on a pace, the women stevedores swarming about the ship and doing a good job. They were not dressed very elegantly – thick clothes, legs and arms covered in sacking or hessian. Then a little problem developed. Some made their way to the crews’ quarters and by gesticulation indicated that they needed safety pins to close their blouses which all seemed to be losing their buttons. They were in the modern idiom which was not then in vogue, just letting it all hang out. When the ship ran out of safety pins the girl stevedores figuratively and literally just let it all hang out. Since then I have always carried a couple of safety pins in my pocket to help any lady in distress. I moved over to the rail and watched the man driving his mechanical horse. He still wore his stupid perpetual grin; he was also a little deaf and I was now convinced as to why !

I asked our Captain if I could give a few vegetables to the other ships in harbour with us, as they were running short. His look could have killed me. He exploded ! “Call the mate” he yelled, and I leapt to his command. When the mate arrived “Ginger” pulled him to his side and said : “I issue a general warning and instruction to the crew that no one, repeat, no one is to give away one potato, one cabbage, one carrot, one turnip – in fact no food-stuffs of any kind from this ship until we are out of the White Sea. I saw to it that we would have food if bottled up in the White Sea for the winter and if those fools did not make provision in case of such an event then that is their problem.”

Captain Ginger Harris, as always, came up trumps. He ordered three cases of vodka for the homeward passage – just to keep out the cold, you know ! The great day arrived : Departure. We all mustered in the captain’s cabin with the agent and the captain dragged out a bottle of vodka. “Lets’ crack a bottle and drink a toast to the Russians – then one for us for a safe passage back.” A good idea, I thought. He poured out the tots, well up the glass. The agent became agitated and said in broken English that we should have small tots with lots of water. We all laughed scornfully. We knew Russian Vodka from the community centre. Pretty mild stuff, with not much more oomph to it than a bottle of cheap South African wine. With a flourish we toasted Russia and took a swig from our glasses. Have you ever tried siphoning petrol from a car with a rubber tube ? You get petrol on your lips. A sort of shimmering takes place over your lips and the skin begins to peal off. The same thing happened. We banged our glasses down and the agent explained that we were now drinking real vodka, the export variety. What we had been drinking in the community centre was the variety for local consumption. With plenty of water we drank to a safe passage and were on our way.

We threaded our way through the White Sea and out into the Arctic Ocean. There was much more ice at the entrance than when we had come in, but a passage out was still possible. In my cabin I scraped the ice off my porthole to get a better view of the ice floes and the gloomy scene outside. This was the porthole which I had hoped would open at night to let in a little cool air when in the tropics. The ice I scraped off was on the inside of the porthole, not outside. It tinkled down into my wash hand basin and remained there until I got a jug of hot water to get rid of it. When I thought of spending six months there, but now knew we were passing out of the White Sea, I could have knelt down and kissed the deck.

HOMEWARD BOUND

After clearing the White Sea entrance we ran into fog patches and it was bitterly cold, but we pushed on Westwards towards Murmansk where we were to join up with the other three ships, form a convoy and head homewards. Loaded with timber, we could hardly sink if attacked; also, the timber was so wet that there was little fear of fire, so we were all very happy. We were routed much further south, thus the length of the passage home was shortened. Arrived at Murmansk, Ginger Harris was prepared to dish out vegetables to all and sundry and he had stowed his rifle away.

Some time after leaving Murmansk I was pacing the Bridge just before 2 a.m. It was not my watch but I was helping the Second Mate out because his hip was troubling him – the cold, no doubt. He always had a limp – had been shot in the hip during a Negro riot in New Orleans a year or two previously. As I passed the bridge in the dark, I bumped into the hunch back (Ginger Harris). “Could you go a fried egg or two, chips and a cup of hot coffee ?” he asked. Could I ? One can dream, can’t one ? “Go down and shake out the Chief Steward. Tell him to fix you eggs, chips and coffee.” “But Sir, ” I replied, “You must be joking ! It’s just 2 a.m.” “Do as I say,” he said. “Move ! We are out at 2 a.m. and what’s good enough for us is good enough for him. He can sleep all he wants to tomorrow”. I moved. Bleary-eyed, the Chief Steward reluctantly turned out and prepared the meal. I was back on the Bridge at 3 a.m. sharp and Ginger Harris went down to the galley. I wondered if he was a bit off his rocker. I also wondered if the pleasure I had experienced was due to the meal or to my freedom from the miseries of the bridge for an hour.

Next day the weather cleared and all the other ships were visible. Fearing submarine attack, the Commodore ordered a zig-zag course to be steered. The object of this was to try to bamboozle any submarine lying ahead in wait. He would have difficulty in predicting just which way the convoy was headed. You know, there is something rather pretty in a zig zagging convoy with all ships turning onto a new course at precisely the same moment. As all the ships were moving at the same speed, and with the sea and sky merging into one in the misty overcast weather, it seemed as if there was no forward movement, but that the ships were all standing still except for the graceful weaving from side to side as we altered our courses. All the ships were painted a dark dingy grey and looked rather like big grey monsters performing a graceful ballet dance on a boundless stage. We pressed on, some good weather, some foul.

I had come to like this ship and its crew. It was what is called a “Happy Ship”. A ship with a jinx on it had to be avoided at all costs. Now, when a sailor finds himself on a happy ship with a happy crew, that is the kind of ship on which he wants to stay. I had found my happy ship and intended to stay with her. Winter coming, I was sure she would be on some warmer run on her next voyage. She sure was a happy ship and happier still were the crew when at last, without incident, we docked in a U.K. port.

THE PARTING OF THE WAYS

Discharging of the timber cargo was on the go. Within a few days it was all out and I believe Nissen huts were being built all over England even before the last of the timber was landed. Everything was rush, rush, rush – a hustle and a bustle. Ships were at a premium and they could not spend their time lying idle in harbour. Into drydock for a quick lick and promise clean-up; some minor repairs, then to load and out to sea again.

I had a few days leave due to me but others of the crew were away first, so I stayed with the ship until some of them returned. Drydock work went on day and night and one evening I went on deck and was surprised to see a glow coming from for’ard. I investigated and found that some welding was taking place by special permission, although we were observing the black out regulations. The welders would be warned by telephone if an air raid was imminent and would then have to stop welding operations until the raid was over.

Next morning I went down to the bottom of the drydock and was surprised to see so many workmen working at the ships bows. Steel plates and girders and angle brackets lay all about me. I had not heard of any major repair job to be done near the bows. We only had small defects to be attended to, as far as I was aware. Getting one of the workmen to one side I asked : “What goes on here ?” “Bow strengthening,” he replied. “You know, internal and external strengthening to withstand ice conditions.” The penny dropped. I said nothing but when I went on leave I took all my gear and kit with me because I knew I would not be returning. Obviously she was going to go on a winter trip to Murmansk. Archangel would be iced up but it would still be possible to get into Murmansk by following ice breakers. When I departed on leave I left a fleecelined coat in my wardrobe and a pair of snow goggles in my top drawer. I was off to see if I could get another ship – one going to South Africa. The parting of the ways had come.

A few weeks later, while sunning myself in the tropics, I reached out for my icecold beer. The Second Mate at my side was musing. He was thinking, but thinking aloud. “Tough on those Russian convoys, eh !” he mused. I had not mentioned that my last voyage had taken me there. I had kept that to myself. He went on voicing his thoughts aloud.

“It must be hell up there – pure murder. I’ve heard that now that the Jerries have learnt the convoys go that way, they are all out to attack them. Take convoy PQ 17, for example. Of 35 ships, 24 were sunk. Only 11 got back. I’ve heard that it got even worse. Whole convoys simply disappeared, never to be heard of again. In fact,” (lowering his voice still further to a whisper) “I’ve even heard that it has now become so bad that all convoys to Russia, north about, have been cancelled, stopped altogether, as they were attached remorselessy by warships, submarines and aircraft. They just had no hope of getting through.”

He rambled on but I did not hear him. I rolled over to get a little more sun onto my right shoulder, reached out for my beer and took a swig. Ah, lovely ! What a life ! I thought : Where was Ginger Harris ? Where was that tall gangling Second Mate, the one with the limp who had been shot in the hip in New Orleans ? Had the ship gone North for a winter trip ? Did they get through and, more important, did they get back ? Was the ship sunk ? Was that happy ship with the happy crew now lying at the bottom of the Arctic Ocean ? Perhaps the ship did not go North after all. Perhaps it had been sent on a different run altogether. I could only guess. You too, can make a guess if you like, for your guess will be as good as mine ! The small convoy I was in was lucky. We got to Archangel and back undetected by the enemy. Had we been detected you would not be reading this narrative.

The final irony of it all ! In all, forty convoys sailed North about to Russia during the Second World War. One hundred ships were lost, but many more than that number in personnel. Our cargo of torpedo warheads, high octane aviation fuel, Tomahawk aircraft and army boots were stacked on the end of the wharf at Archangel and remained there through the war – unused ! The Russians did not require arms and ammunition. They had all they needed. What they did need was medical supplies, food and troop carrying vehicles which came too late to help them.