After a day and night at about 30 knots (only our speed would have let us catch up with the convoy) we caught up with this large conglomeration of ships, which had to be seen to be believed.
There was a battleship, (HMS Valiant) in the centre as the Commodore protected by 3 cruisers, 4 destroyers, and several large liners which were P&O Castle-type troopers carrying soldiers from Australia. On board Express underneath our guns (we didn't know this at the time) were grey boxes containing gold bullion in ingots from Johannesburg for the Allies war effort.
The Express was given the job of 'Canteen Boat' when we caught up; this meant she had to circle the convoy all the time. The ships were spread out in a sort of ellipse of about 5 miles, zigzagging at 10 knots. This suited us better, looking out for danger in these South Atlantic waters where the Germans were known to have 'Pocket Battleships', nasty things for a convoy to meet. We saw whales spouting, and flying fish, but none of the ships, which the Germans were so proud of, and were so deadly.
It was at this time crossing the Equator that the crew of the Express decided to hold a 'Crossing the Line Ceremony'. I was one of the victims chosen to be a recipient of the ducking, blacking, washing down with some awful black liquid, and finally immersed by a figure with a trident named 'King Neptune' as a penance for crossing his domain marked by a line nobody has ever seen. Well it was not to be; I was saved by the bell or rather the ships hooters. Just as I was put in the chair for my ducking, "action stations" was sounded. I was at my post in the wheelhouse before you could say 'sacrifice'! But as I had started, I was accepted as one of his subjects (in fact I live in his (Neptune) road, Tywyn to this day!). To prove all this fantasy I was given his signed certificate.
Like clockwork the Express was back on war footing, speeding off to investigate a report of three warships on the horizon, but on approach they turned out to be friendly Dutch destroyers. The next incident was while sweeping round the convoy (as 'Canteen Boat' you get involved in everything) we had an Aldis lamp signal from the battleship Valiant to go alongside and rig up a Bosuns chair, as the two ships were moving, and zigzagging (very tricky) to pick up a sailor on board. He had appendicitis that turned to peritonitis and his life was in danger and he needed hospital treatment urgently. I was detailed for the job with two seamen, and we took him in the Captain's motorboat to a French base (already radioed) at Point Noire in French Equatorial Africa. We took him to the jetty of this hot desolate place and he was stretchered away by two black doctors. I was very glad to get away from this grim looking place and return to our ship, and get under way and catch up with the convoy to our next port of call, which was Freetown, Sierra Leone.
A few days sailing and the whole convoy anchored in this vast and very fine harbour. This time I was allowed to go ashore, but always returned at dusk or before, because of Freetown's 'White Man's Grave' reputation for Malaria carrying mosquitoes, which we were assured could not fly out as far as the ship out in the harbour.