First Time at Sea
Next day much to my delight, the Express sailed out of Durban, and was soon under way at full speed, 36 knots. Out in the Indian Ocean we made for Mombassa for a try out after the refit. The lads had had a lovely time in Weinberg and Simonstown while the work was being carried out.
It was a thrill for me to be part of a real ship's company, and giving orders as a Leading Hand, "Clean up the Mess", "Close scuttles and deadlights" and enjoying the thrill of being on a Destroyer at sea. The radar set was easy to maintain, and it only seemed to go wrong in the middle of he night, though I soon got to know its faults. But despite all this I encountered two snags on this first voyage and they could have been very serious. First I was going down the companionway to our Mess, in the forepeak, when a crate of tins of pineapples got dislodged off a shelf above me, due to the roll of the ship. The heavy crate fell with a crash just missing my head. Then another day part of the old mast, which had been lashed to the newly fitted one, not very securely it turned out, and fell with another resounding crash in front of me down on to the deck! Was there going to be a third time unlucky?
A week on board and I was soon at home with my new set of 'Oppos', especially the 'Major' and the radar operators, but the P.O. Telegraphist wasn't very keen. He thought I had come to take his job. Also the Coxswain, a Chief Petty Officer survivor off the Repulse, who was determined to get me in the rattle. The first time was after a couple of days at sea when "action stations" were sounded at dawn (this was strict routine at dawn and dusk) when every officer and rating had an action post. I hadn't been given one yet, and thought it would be a quiet time to have a bath and shave, as the 'Heads' were empty. Well the Coxswain came in and caught me, of course it was a crime not to be at an action station, but I explained that no one had given me one! He was wild, so I soon got one.
Very good it was too, in the Wheelhouse with him at the helm. I was given the job of timing the 'Zigzag' manoeuvre, which all ships do in convoy.
A secret code book, setting a number of zigzags decided by the Commodore of the convoy, the number in the book which you were given at the start of the watch, which told you which course to steer, say 10 degrees to port for 5 minutes and then 15 degrees to starboard for 10 minutes and so on till the watch ended. This information was passed on to the Coxswain who then (according to my very accurate Navy stop watch) steered the ship on the same zigzag as the rest of the convoy. All this was carried out in the hope of avoiding enemy torpedoes, and was very successful as far as Express was concerned. Anyway this was my action station at dawn, dusk, oiling ship, and enemy action that gave rise to the wail of the ships hooters, which would awaken the dead. And there I was right under the beady eye of the Coxswain. Once, while all this was going on, he offered me a cigarette, and then threatened to put me in Captains Defaulters for smoking at "action stations"! But as I politely pointed out, with the cigarette still in my mouth, it wasn't alight yet! Twice he tried to catch me, but sometimes he was quite friendly and would tell me of his days on the Repulse and his survival of that terrible encounter.
Japanese Zeros Bombing Prince of Wales
After a few convoys in the South Atlantic, with war material and troops for the Far East, we had a few days in Durban where I nearly had my third escape. One evening 'Jacko' and I had a few drinks in a bar, and then bought two lovely pineapples and hailed a rickshaw (there were plenty of them in Durban pulled by Zulus) to take us back to the harbour, which they did and we thoroughly enjoyed it, spitting out the pips and laughing, and on arrival at the ship paid them off. The officer on the Quarter deck, who had seen us, reprimanded us for our foolish action (it was really) because as he told us that we wouldn't have been the first to have been taken up a dark alley, robbed, battered, and left.