RMS Orion to South Africa
Next day I arrived in Liverpool Victoria Dock, and was put aboard the liner RMS Orion, a huge troopship carrying about 3,000 soldiers and 3,000 R.A.F., and of course myself and 5 other sailors. We waited at the mouth of the river Mersey bar for the escorts, and the rest of the convoy, mostly troopships crammed with soldiers and R.A.F. bound for the Far East. The Japanese Theatre of War was looking very dicey for Allies. The convoy set sail north towards Greenland, and then down the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, turning back east into the magnificent harbour of Freetown, West Africa (Sierra Leone). This held the whole convoy easily to revictual and refuel. We were not allowed ashore. The voyage had not been without incident during 15 days at sea. We had Christmas on board, much better than the last fiasco at Stoke Damerel! It was excellent Christmas pudding, cake, and a bottle of beer.
It had been a bit rough at times, one trooper, the Rangitiki, with Nurses on board, reported sea water cascading below decks which must have been very frightening, but we were all glad to be in warmer climes. During the voyage the Army chaps seemed to do all the work, humping large sides of beef about and other jobs. We all slept in hammocks: it was very crowded on 'H' Deck, 5 decks below the water line. I wouldn't rate our chances in the event of a torpedo hit. The evenings were taken up with playing cards. It was an education to watch the soldiers playing pontoon (mostly the Black Watch Regiment), twisting and conniving for quite big stakes. We all had an allowance of two bottles of beer each.
One of our group of sailors found he could not live below decks, or stand the roll and pitching of the ship. His name was Jack Moreland, and he crept into one of the ship's lifeboats under the tarpaulin on the main deck. I took him food and water, but he looked like a ghost! We sailed out of Freetown and along the West African coast to the Cape of Good Hope, where a Destroyer came out to escort us into Durban. I was delighted to see she was HMS Express and my future home looked and smart in her tropical paint.