Join the Navy and See the World
Join the Army and See the SEA

by Edward Anthony (Tony) Clarke, October 2005

{ This is the story of a journey to the Midddle East
taken verbatim from a record kept by Pte. E.A. Clarke -- 152945 }


A bit about me first and how I came to be there. Reaching 20 in December 1939 I was ripe for ‘call up’ but not yet a seviceman did not know the creed,”Never Volunteer” I decided to join the navy, coming from Portsmouth, the principle naval port. But they weren’t taking any at the moment, “Put down for the navy when called and you’ll be in”. Having made my decision to join something I went down to the army chap who greeted me with great “bonhomie” and assured me I’d picked the right time -- he was trying to fill the R.A.S.C. For all I knew this could have been spotters for the artillery hanging from a balloon over the German trenches (after all the British Generals were still thinking 1914) but that would have to be it anyway.

Of course he was right. Had I waited I would have either gone into the navy and seasickness is my natural enemy or gone into the “Hampshire Regiment” and been killed as happened to the husband of my future Wife’s ‘Maid of Honour’ after a week of married life.

So it was the Service Corps. A behind the lines duty, no need to know which end of the rifle was important and off to France in three months.

At least the Top Brass knew that motivation was no longer horse drawn and we were something to do with petrol. Being very naive we didn’t realise that lolling around in the midst of petrol was not the happiest of non-combatant set ups. We had a couple of fires but not from enemy action.

Out of Dunkirk we came, during which, had I been an American soldier I would have got a “Purple Heart” for ruining a cartilage. While in hospital waiting for an ‘Op’ the unit was ordered abroad so I got out and stayed with it.

By now we had a rifle apiece and when there was time would actually be shown how it worked. Eventually we did go on a mild sort of ‘Commando Course’. I really looked forward to this and got quite a kick out of it -- first shot thought I’d broken my shouder! Anyway it appeared I wasn’t bad at it, was the best of the group and got most shots around the bull.

Picture me a Sniper up a tree or in a church tower -- impossible! Like thousands of other 20 year olds I would have been poor material for the infantry but with discplined training would have run screaming at the enemy more in fear than anger and died for King and Politicians. (How many of them died from enemy action -- even Hitler killed himself rather than face the enemy.)

The Voyage – 16 Dec 1940 to 6 Feb 1941 (7-1/2 weeks)

Mon. Dec. 16th 1940

We left Caerphilly at 7.15 am. by train for Avonmouth where we boarded the “Rangitiki”. This ship was one which escaped when a convoy of 38 ships was attacked by a surface raider and six were lost including the armed merchant cruiser “Jarvis Bay”. (note - With a shortage of suitable naval vessels peace time passenger ships were fitted with 4 inch naval guns and anti-aircraft, probably ‘Bofors’.)

During the afternoon I was made batman to Lieut. Baylis in place of John Hart who had either by accident or design missed the train. (note. Because of the strained cartilage in my left knee during the Dunkirk evacuation and which continued to give trouble, I had applied for ‘light duty’. As it happened it worked well since I was excused most parades and had the use of the cabin throughout the day. It was also a source of amusement later to my grandsons seeing ‘Opa’ as Batman!)

We settled down to sleep much like sardines in Hammocks which was a new experience for most of us.

Tues. Dec. 17th.

Early in the morning the ship sailed and for most of the day we saw little land. A destroyer passed us during the morning and signalled. Soon after we turned and finally arrived off Barry (n.b. Sth.Wales) where we lay until the following morning.

Wed. Dec. 18th.

We left early and passed out into the Irish Sea proceeding northward in company with a destroyer.

Thurs. Dec 19th.

Met convoy early and joined it, guarded by 6,000 ton Cruiser and 6 or 7 Destroyers and ‘Sub Chasers’. (Note - These sub chasers - corvettes? - were equivalent to the Frigates which came later)
Going N.W. Enemy plane came near in the morning and was fired on and driven off.

Fri. Dec 20th.

Weather rougher and quite a few chaps likewise. I am none too well, was sick last night and can’t shake off giddy feeling. Still travelling N.W. Blackout lasted till 9.50 am so must be getting well out into North Atlantic. Had 10/- pay and relieved a chap on guard. During which was warned to keep special watch as 3 ‘U.Boats” were reported near. Convoy turned further North to avoid them. (n.b. only time a guard duty the batmen did - too incovenient for their officers.)

Sat. Dec 21st.

Sea rougher still and wind pretty high. Fog last night and we nearly rammed a boat which cut across our bows (n.b. - getting quite nautical!)

Sun. Dec. 22nd.

Lost convoy during the night due to engines breaking down. Going full speed on one engine to pick it up again.

Clocks went back two hours. Travelling mainly to the west now. Met up with convoy again at 9.30 am and turned south west. Two or three ships missing probably carried on to Canada or U.S.A. The American destroyers that were with us have also left. (Note - These may not have been American manned since Churchill traded off with them for some fifty of their ancient rubbish)

Mon. Dec. 23rd.

Clocks back another 40 minutes. Going almost due south now. Weather milder and chaps beginning to get over sickness. Cargo vessels, one small cruiser same class as our own and two aircraft carriers appeared on the horizon in the early morning and are now with us. Planes have taken off the larger carrier and are circling around. Carriers are probably ‘Hermes’ or ‘Furious’ and ‘Eagle’.

Convoy reputed to be 1,000 miles west of Cape Finisterre at 4 pm.

Clocks back 40 mins. last night.

Tues. Dec. 24th.

Rougher again this morning. One cruiser left us and was replaced by a larger one of 8,000 or so tons.

Have verified that the aircraft carriers are 'Eagle' and 'Furious' [Editor: not sure about the 'Furious'. The 'Hermes' seems more likely].

Ran into a squall this morning. Sea very rough and weather becoming close and heavy below decks despite high wind.

Unit is giving a concert to officers on board at 8.30 pm.

Clocks back 10 mins. last night.

Wed. Dec 25th.

X.Day and a very Pleasant Start?? Allowed to stay in bed till 7 am. as special favour but called out at 6.45 owing to armed surface raider firing on convoy.

Shells landed either side of us (nb. We were the biggest ship in the centre of the convoy - (for My protecttion!) and one ship reported hit but not to any extent. A plane from the raider is reputed shot down but cannot vouch for this. (nb. Rumours were always about - getting direct information wasn’t easy). Raider, believed to be of the “Deutschland” Class made off when cruisers, destroyers and aircraft carriers opened up and gave chase. No news so far of result but it’s possible it escaped in heavy mist. [Editor: This report (see bottom of first column) says that the raider was the 'Admiral Hipper', and that the Rangitiki had come under even worse fire on its previous voyage.]

Had dinner searved by officers and sergeants. Consisted of pork, potatoes and cabbage followed by pudding and beer. Not bad but sooner be home! Tea was better as Robbie and I had fruit salad and cream from Thelma. (nb. Wonder who she was?). It tasted Good.

Our position is somewhere west of South Portugal . Sea very rough and all ships are pitching well especially the sub-chasers which at times appear to be diving under the sea to look for subs.

Thurs. Dec, 26th.

Getting warmer though still cloudy. Travelling S.E. and reported passed The Azores. Should reach Sierra Leone in eight days or so. Some ships are still missing from convoy including cruiser and other warships. No news yet regarding the raider. Sea calmer and hopes of better weather tomorrow.

Fri. Dec. 27th.

Very little worth mentioning.Many rumours regarding the raider but none really authentic. Most important item was usual 10/- pay.

A large cruiser of the County Class is now looking after the convoy. Early in the morning another cruiser with a large cargo vessel following passed along the starboard horizon.

Sat. Dec 28th.

Getting much warmer and calmer now. We waited around a bit during the morning until joined by four or five other ships and then continued southwards. The 'Ark Royal' joined us during the day and is apparently carrying three types of planes -- 'Swordfish', 'Fulmars' and 'Albacores' (nb. The Swordfish was a very slow old type biplane but a very efficient torpedo bomber. Although the other two types were superceded the Swordfish carried on longer and was instrumental in crippling the 'Bismarck').

Sun. Dec. 29th.

My 21st. Birthday.

News of the raider at last. It was hit amidships and a supply ship wih it was set on fire and sunk.. On our side we sustained a hit on one vessel and another hit on the cruiser “Berwick” which was evidently one of our accompanying ships. It is not serious and she is carrying on. (nb. It would be interesting to know just how factual some of the information in this write -up is [Editor: according to this report, quite accurate – except that the vessel that the raider hit sank).

The ‘Costa Rica’ is not with the convoy now, although another motor vessel which has been lying on our port side most of the journey and has also been missing for two days came up yesterday. “Ark Royal” and cruiser are still with us and still heading south. (nb. What seems to be an important point missing in this article is the action of the convoy on Dec. 25th. When the attack occured, obviously to a pre-arranged plan, the convoy scattered and we were left alone with a sub-chaser as escort. Over the following days the convoy gradually reformed and it was interesting to see each ship appear on the horizon and take its original station in the convoy).

Mon. Dec. 30th.

Still travelling south at about twelve knots. Little to remark upon. “Ark Royal” had gun practice in morning and some of her planes did a little dive bombing practice. Weather really good now.

Tues. Dec. 31st.

The ‘Costa Rica’ has just rejoined the convoy. Weather still good. Late to bed but soon asleep. Quite few on the verge of being drunk and everybody cheerful. (nb. Beer was readily available but was mainly drunk out of the men’s enamel mugs. In my superior position I had a glass from the cabin).

Wed. Jan 1st. 1941

Changed into tropical kit but haven’t drawn a Topi yet. (nb. This was typical of the out of date thinking of the war leaders. After a few days early in Egypt the Topees were withdrawn - they belonged to the “Colonial Days”). Nothing of any note occured. Sea very calm.

Thurs. Jan 2nd.

Joined by a second cruiser of the same class as the one we already had and towards evening a destroyer also came up. At 6 p.m. we pased a spot where a tanker was sunk by torpedo two days previously - hence presumably the extra guard. The destroyer did a great deal of rushing to and fro in front of us but the sub is still about as yet. (Strangely everyone seemed more interested than worried maybe hoping to see the destroyer go into action)

Had a lecture from the CSM in the afternoon. Malaria is rife in Sierra Leone, the worst it’s been known and we have been warned to take care. Had our first of six doses of Quinine in the evening as guard against it. Should sight land tomorrow or Saturday and reach Freetown Sunday.

Fri. Jan. 3rd.

The ‘Furious’ and a couple of destroyers joine us this morning. Usual pay of 10/- but nothing else worth mentioning.

Sat. Jan. 4th.

No land in sight yet but can’t be far away. Shoals of small flying fish passed inthe morning and later in the day other fish which leapt out of the water and dropped back in. May be porpoises but rather small.

Sun. Jan.5th.

Sighted a couple of sharks. Reached Freetown about 10 am. and passed into river mouth. Dropped anchor at 11 am. At least 60 ships here ranging from 2,000 to 20,000 tons including two cruisers of 8,000 tons and other warships. There must be quite six troop ships. Natives came around diving for coppers and trying to sell fruit but we are not allowed to buy.

Were shut below decks at 5.30 pm. and unable to sleep on deck. Terribly hot and stuffy and unable to sleep properly. Can’t understand why sardines look so comfortable in a tin but can see why so many died in the”Black Hole of Calcuta”! Can’t see why soldiers should be allowed about six cubic feet to lose themselves in! It’s questionable which is worse -- the chance of malaria or suffocation.

Fri. Jan 6th.

Awoke, or rather “came round” with a nice fat head but it passed off after a turn around deck.
Told us we may be here for three days but not so anxious to stay now.

Oil tanker “Inverosa “(London) is alongside now with three monkeys playing around on deck.

Vision is clearer now and both banks fairly easily seen. The near shore on which Freetown is situated has mountains of quite 1,000 ft. or more covered with dense foliage with huts and houses in the cleared spaces. Near the water’s edge are more modern working buildings and three or four oil tanks.

The further shore is flat and low lying with what looks like quite an inviting sandy beach.

Tues. Jan. 7th.

Still in the harbour expecting to move off tomorrow. Very hot and sultry. “S.S. Gryfevale” (Glasgow) came alongside at 12 am (pm ?) with water.

Wed. Jan. 8th.

Left the harbour soon after 1 pm. and glad to go. No land in sight after 3 pm. Convoy escorted by two large cruiser and “Ark Royal” as formerly with a light cruiser of 6 or 7 thousand tons, two destroyers and four sub.chasers extra. Will sleep on deck tonight -- a happy thought. (“Ark Royal” was the latest and really the only decent aircarft carrier in service. No great thought seems to have been given to the likely need for such ships by a backward Britain prewar and in fact a couple at least of some were merchant vessels hurriedly altered with a flat deck and a few planes, and called ‘escort carriers’. The “Royal” was constantly being sunk by the German radio but eventually was torpedoed by an Italian sub. in Nov. 1941).

Thurs. Jan. 9th.

Very hot but a fairly good breeze blowing. Took my life in my hands and shaved off my moustache. Result not too bad. (Forgotten I still had one!) “Costa Rica” once again joined the convoy making 20 ships excluding escort. (In retrospect we must have been a very important collection considering the size of the escort).

Fri. Jan. 10th.

A third “County” Class cruiser joined us early this morning and after much signalling it made off at great speed with another of our cruisers and the “Ark Royal”. Have not seen yet whether they’ve returned.

The two cruisers and aircraft carrier were not with us when sun set.

Sat. Jan. 11th.

Crossed the equator at approx. 2 pm. King Neptune came aboard bearing a slight resemblance to Major Sexton beneath the whiskers etc. and much sea water was received by the officers.

The convoy is now escorted by one “County” Class cruiser one smaller cruiser, two destroyers and three or four sub.chasers. (I apologise that there is so much description of our protection but bear in mind my enjoyment of the cabin and cooling fans and being able to ring for the steward and order a beer or occassional gin-and-lime plus keeping Mr. Baylis’ and my equipment up to standard would be even more boring. Believe me, although we never seemed to worry about getting ‘There”, after Christmas Morning’s awakening the escort could never be too large.)

Sun. Jan. 12th.

Sleep was poor last night due to high breeze on starboard side blowing blanket about. (At night the decks were completely covered by sleepers although it meant being up at 5 am. when the crew started hosing down).

Church service at 11 this morning so expect I’ll go. -- Service not bad-- plenty of hymns and no sermon! Convoy now has only “County” cruiser as escort. Others left during the night or early morn. Going a little faster now to beat another convoy to Cape Town according to one report.

Mon.Jan 13th.

Small cruiser returned. Sky cloudy but vary hot still. Full moon last night.

Tues. Jan.14th.

Still going south. Nothing to report on.

Wed. Jan.15th.

Nothing to report.

Thurs. Jan.16th.

Convoy continuing south. Had whist drive on deck in afternoon. Played with Robbie and scored 122 -- winners had 136.

Fri. Jan. 17th.

Removed Lt. Baylis from Capt. Windsor’s cabin to a single one on port side. Much better cabin and more room. Pay as usual.

Sat. Jan.18th.

Nothing of importance. Boxing tournament in morning and afternoon.

{ Just over a month of travel. So here are a few items of things that had happened while we had been counting the waves:

Sun. Jan. 19th.

Weather much cooler and sea rougher. Boxing finals in afternoon. One or two good bouts but No. 2 Base (Our Unit) was put out. (Well nobody asked me to do the job!!!)Strong wind blowing in the evening.

Mon. Jan 20th.

Rough day - fairly cool.

Tues. Jan.21st.

An albatross or two flying around this morning. Slightly milder. Going S.E.

Wed. Jan.22nd.

Sea rough but sun very hot again. Robby ran in “A” team in relay races and helped them win. This puts N0.2 Base 2nd. in the series of sports.

Are now rounding the “Cape” and due to reach Durban on Friday.

Thurs. Jan. 23rd.

Turned N.E. Had lecture from Major and M.O. on behaviour at Durban this morning. Weather getting much warmer again. Expecting to dock Saturday morning.

Fri. Jan.24th.

‘Avro Anson’ plane belonging to S. African Air Force circling the convoy. Reported 17 miles from the coast at 7.30 pm. Payed a Pound (No pound key on this Yank. machine) -- extra for shore leave.

Sat. Jan.25th.

Just reached jetty at Durban at 9 am. Weather very poor, raining and quite cool.

Ashore at 2.30 until midnight. Durban is a fine city. Wide roads and fine buildings and everyone friendly. Robby, Jack Ryder, Daponio and Down were my mates for our journey around. (nb. Interesting about Daponio -- with an Italian name and looks he didn’t fancy being caught by the Italians so in Egypt had his name changed officially to something English -- can’t rember now what it was.)

Had good food at very cheap rates at the ‘Victoria Leagues Club’. It is a fine canteen with upwards of 50 girls doing the work voluntarily.

Sun. Jan. 26th.

Ashore at 1 pm. Still raining. Through meeting a S.A. soldier we were able to get a car ride to the “Bluff” where we had tea. This Bluff is a spit of land which forms the bay in which the harbour lies. At the point of it is a lighthouse which at the moment is in military hands. Tea, or rather early supper at the ‘Victoria” and then to a concert at the City Hall.

The concert was broadcast and the main items were:

Orchestra consisted of 38 instumentalist.

Also on the programme were an accordion player; another girl singer; Banjo player; and xylophone player. All were first rate artists and it was a fine show.

Mon. Jan. 27th.

In town again soon after 1.30 pm. Dinner at the Victoria and then shopping. Visited the local Woolworths Stores which were very different from the English and the “Nothing over 6d” sign was absent. Tea -supper at the Victoria once again and then Pictures which are locally termed Biograph. Saw the “Strange Case of Doctor Kildare “ and then back to bed. (nb. Must mention that at the Vic. there was a big bowl of various local fruit including my first Avocado. Must also tell of the fierce looking Zulu in full regalia who was selling Pineapples.These had about three inches of stem attached and he sliced off the skin and we walked down the road eating them like ice creams. -- Was there a war on?)

Tues. Jan. 28th.

Should have left this morning and didn’t expect to get ashore. Were allowed out at 2pm. until 8pm. and was rhere a rush!

Robby and I went bathing on the beach. This was against orders actually as members of a previous convoy had been near to drowning and had to be dragged out. Bathing Trunks were not allowed in the pool so we went into the sea and thoroughly enjoyed it. Actually swimming was out of the question since the surf was too strong. We were knocked all over the place by the waves but took it in great part and were thankful for the chance to be there. Tea again at the Vic. and then we said “Goodbye” once more to the lights and fun of “Durban”.It will be a long time before any of us forgets the fine welcome we had there.

The food at the Victoria Club deserves mention. The prices of some of the items are:

Nothing more need be said.

Wed. Jan. 29th.

Pulled away from the jetty at 7.30 am. and took our last look at Durban. Cannot easily forget the fine patriotic spirit of the S.A. soldiers and airmen we met or the first ride we had in a ricksha. The land has faded and we must get back to the ship’s food which isn’t very tempting now. The spells of rain continue but weather hot.

Thurs. Jan. 30th.

Still hot. Whist drive on deck in afternoon. Convoy guarded by two S.A. destroyers -- small but good looking craft. There are 22 ships in the convoy 12 now. Finished a box of peaches which cost 1/6 in Durban for batween 40 & 50 fruit. Robby and Jack have each a 10 lb. box of grapes at 1/6.

Fri. Jan. 31 st. to Thurs. Feb. 6th.

Convoy continues to go northward. Clocks have twice been put forward one hour. Two ships left under escort of one destroyer for Mombasa two days back. Recrossed the equator today as we are off Italian East Africa. Have been told that last convoy was bombed so may see some action. One of our escort described as a destroyer has turned out to be a Dutch Light Cruiser carrying a seaplane and today we were joined by another -- they are probably the “Jarva” and “Sumatra” which carry a plane and 5.9 inch guns and are actually “pocket cruisers”.


We reached Suez on the morning of Sun. Feb. 16th 1941 and since the “Rangitiki” was too big to dock we anchored just outside the harbour . On Monday and Tuesday most of the troops were taken off in lighters. A rear party consisting of Lt. Baylis, Sgt. Lummis, Cpl. Howard, Lcpl. Wright, 4 drivers, 3 other privates and self stayed as baggage party.

We left the ship on Wednesday at mid-day and stayed at a rest camp for the night. Most of us went into Suez that evening and went to the pictures. The following afternoon we saw Suez in daylight and it’s a filthy place. From the harbour the buildings look like small skyscrapers but up close they are merely ‘ dirty heaps of bricks’. (nb. at this time the multistorey buildings we know today hardly existed --- The Empire State Building was a marvel for many years.)

Port Tewfik, the real port of Suez, is a better place and there are well- built houses and a beautiful tropical park.

We left Suez by train for ‘ El Kirsh’ at 5pm. on Thursday and after a two hour wait at ‘Ismailia’ Station a lorry took us out to the camp some three miles in the desert.

Ismailia is better than Suez and populated by Greeks, French and the natives. A filthier crowd of beings than these ex-arabs cannot exist and those who have goods to sell do their best to rob everyone. (nb. After our shelterd life it’s obvious the first sight was a bit of a shock but after much time in Egypt I came to understand the country and and have a liking for it.)

Everything is dear. Beer at the N.A.A.F.I (Navy, Army and Air Force Institute -- big name for the Army Canteen) is 3 piastres or 7.1/2 a bottle containing just over a pint yet in town it is 8 or even 10 pst. for the same thing. A taxi from the town to the camp cost 20 pistres at a special rate ie. 4/- for 3 miles. Up to eight can be squashed into a car which helps the individual fare down. (I can’t say when I last read this but I’m finding it amusing to see myself back then.)

There are two or three cinemas the cost of which is 6 pst. downstairs and 8.1/2 pst. balcony.
Wherever a soldier goes in town he is pestered by natives selling leather fly swats, wallets, trinkets, ‘Parisian Photos” and various other items. For an article worth 5 piatres they will ask 50 and have to be beaten down to as little as possible.

The camp is a mixture of huts and tents and is fairly comfortable. The foodis the best we’ve had in the army as yet. Many ofthe chaps are ill now and a dozen or so in hospital, For the past three days the weather has been wet and very cold and we have changed into battledress. The wind is very strong but the rain has dampened the sand and prevents too much being blown around.

Today is Mon. March 3rd. (We had been on Egyptian soil since Wed. Jan 19th. and stayed at El Kirsh until Sat. March 15th.)

We left on Sat. Mar. 15th. and awoke early and entrained at Moasca the military quarter of Ismailia. The train left at 1.30 pm. and arrived at a place twenty miles from Alexandria at 10 pm. Place called “Amrya”

Sun. March 16th. Mr. Baylis, Sgt. Brearley and self left company and moved three miles to another camp and joined an advance party of Aussies., N.Zs. and British units.

That is the end of the note book.

The camp here was beyond a hill of sand but I had what many would wish to see -- “ The sun set, the moon shine and the sun rise on the top Half of the Pyramids!!” We were en route to Greece with the unit split with our other half going to Tobruk. Just another Churchill blunder? Well no worse than the British, Aussies and N.Zs. at Anzac!

So! What had been happening while we were at sea and for some little time afterwards? “Wavell’s” British and Australian troops were chasing the Italians across Libia. As time went by the Aussies took Tobruk and the debacle went on with Benghazi falling. Over 100,000 prisoners were taken with little loss. This of course was too much for Hitler so the German backup arrived in Tripoli and were soon in action. The see-saw desert war was about to start. Back went the British but Tobruk was by-passed by the Germans and the Aussies dug in. Half of our unit was there and this time armed should it be required.

I was by then in Greece where the Italian invasion there via Albania was also getting knocked back so in came the Germans and yet another withdrawal, first to Crete and then to Egypt. Losses in Men and materials was enormous including Many naval vessels, even a battleship.

In hindsight it’s obvious that had all that effort and material been available in the desert the outcome there would no doubt have been very different. Things started to go badly with Germany attacking and sweeping through Russia.

Night time bombing of Britain’s civilian population was well and truly on, my home town Porstmouth beingbombed and firebombed on Jan. 10th the news of this reaching me from a naval detachment on Crete. They had run the gauntlet through the “Med” with the loss of over half the convoy. News of this from the family to assure me they were OK only reached me when back in Egypt.

Good News?

The ‘Bismarck’ was sunk with great losses to balance our big loss of the ‘Hood.’

In Eritrea and Abbyssinia which were Italian colonies mopping up cleared the Italians out.

The “Vichy French” army in Syria was forced to surrender to a British and “Free French” attack. (The “Vichy” Government was formed after France suurendered to Germany).

A naval battle against a big Italian force resulted in seven of their fleet being sunk with no loss to the British. (The Italians had no heart in the war and Mussolini must have been regretting thinking that he might get something out of it if he came in with Germany).

A few other Snippets!

For Now -- THE END

This a page within Roger Clarke's Family Web-Site

Contact: Roger Clarke

Created: 29 December 2006 (Tony's 87th Birthday); Last Amended: 29 December 2006