Information for Veterans and their families
Robert (Bob) William Charles Wright
This is the diary as kept by Bob Wright during his time in WWII. It was provided to me in paper format by Angela Edwards, Bob's youngest daughter and I have copied it from his writing here.
Bob was born on 23rd May 1923 and died on 28th May 2000. This is the tale of a 21 year old's experience during WWII from 1944.
All images can be enlarged. In order they are:
- December 1943
"We left Portsmouth Barracks at about four o'clock in the afternoon on the 15th July 1944 and proceeded on our train journey which terminated at Liverpool, I say terminated at Liverpool because none of us knew where we were going at that time, in fact it was a very hush hush affair. However the journey lasted about twelve hours and there was only one stop, namely Manchester, which looked very bleak and dreary due to the early hour of the morning no doubt, not to mention the blitzing it had received.
Anyway, once we set foot off the train we had a role call and proceeded to the dock where the troopship was awaiting us, after a short while we were aboard the ship (S.S. VOLENDAM) and were informed that breakfast was about to be served. Well by that time every man jack of us was literally starving and we soon got rid of that breakfast which was a couple of hard boiled eggs.
Before I say another word I will say right now that the food on the Volendam was the best I had experienced in the Navy up to that time.
Nevertheless, the journey itself lasted fourteen days and was very uneventful as regards enemy interference, although we all had a hell of a good time on board, what with concerts and a good boxing match, well we didn’t have anything to complain about. I might add that once of the boxing contestants was “Reggie Meen” ex-heavyweight champion of Great Britain.
Just before we reached the end of the trip we sighted many islands including the “Isle of Capri” which looked very beautiful projecting out of the equally beautiful Mediterranean.
A good few of us disembarked at Naples and the Naval draft to which I belonged transferred to the S.S. VILLE D’ORAN which as the name implies was a French liner, after the scrupulously clean Volendam it filled me with nausea because it literally stank, in fact it’s one redeeming feature was its speed of 30 knots, the Volendam incidentally only did 11 knots because it was governed by the speed of the convoy.
However, we only spent 1 night on the French ship because we were bound for Malta and one may readily see that it didn’t take us long, travelling at that speed.
It was a very uncomfortable night because the climate was so hot we were forced to sleep on the deck under the stars. One point I omitted was that we passed through the Straits of Messina which I thought was very picturesque.
Anyhow we sighted Malta next morning at about 9 o’clock and I felt a strange feeling of adventure surging through me for which I was thankful in as much as it automatically did away with my home sickness. Very soon we were passing through the boom defence and into the Grand Harbour, having tied up we had a couple of hours to wait while our disembarkation was being organised, during that couple of hours we bought some oranges from the Maltese who were sculling around and making fabulous profits for they charged fourpence each for those oranges, you see they were taking advantage of the effect the heat was having on us.
From the last 2 or 3 lines one can gain an opinion of the Maltese, for that was very typical of everything they engaged in.
Having disembarked we marched to the Naval Barracks at “Verdala” which was a steady mile, all uphill the heat was terrific and I felt as if I must die any minute but we all endured it without anyone passing out which was pretty good considering there was about 300 of us, but then again every one of us was perfectly fit.
When I saw the barracks I couldn’t help groaning because it looked a horrible shambles, the mess I was in was a small white-washed caboosh, that night I prayed that I might see England again sometime in my life.
I was there for a month and attended sick-bay every day with what I called dysentery for the want of a better name, the Naval slang for it is gypo-guts. Well I must say it is very unpleasant when one has to get out of bed about 3 or 4 times a night and run like hell for the heads only to find a big queue there. Fortunately there was plenty of accommodation. (HM).
The days seemed to drag like years and one needed to be a millionaire when ashore.
told I visited several places in Malta, those that I can recall were:-
After doing a bit of sightseeing and riding about in gharry’s I decided to go swimming in the future trips ashore which I did and I found that it improved my rapidly declining health, so that when I eventually got my draft I was feeling more like my former self.
My draft was to H.M.S. VULCAN, a small repair ship and I never regretted leaving Malta. The way I reached it was very eventful as several places were traversed on transit and the following is a description of the journey.
I boarded H.M.S. Guardian to start with in the Grand Harbour and when we had loaded some stores aboard her we set off.
As we steamed away from Malta, I had that same adventurous feeling that I had experienced before, for I was on my way to pick up my first ship.
The journey took 12 hours and I found myself in the big Italian port of “Jaranto”, we only stayed there half a day in the barracks and then we were on the move again. This time we travelled by road and finished up at Bari the journey took about 4 hours. There was one thing about that short journey that I will always remember, and that was the lorry broke down alongside a field where grape vines were growing by the million and we all ate about 2 bunches of the big black grapes which we regretted afterwards. I leave the readers imagination to fathom out my meaning.
Anyhow we reached Bari without any more events taking place such as I have just mentioned.
We were in Bari barracks for 2 days and 2 nights and then we boarded a motor minesweeper bound for Ancona, it can now been seen that we were gradually creeping up the Adriatic coast of Italy. Well to continue, the journey to Ancona took 14 hours and was very pleasant indeed as the intense heat of the summer was by now abating.
When we pulled into the harbour we went right alongside a ship which proved to be the Vulcan, so I had reached my journeys end.
Having reported myself to the skipper I was shown my mess and then began to unpack and acquaint myself with my new home and new mess mates.
My job on the Vulcan was that of ships electrician, also I had a lot of jobs to do on minor sweepers as we were their depot ship.
Ancona proved to be a very much bombed port, although I had several very nice runs ashore there including a 4 days leave, on that 4 days I don’t remember being sober once, although I ruined a suit over it I can’t say that I regretted it because I was with another couple of London blokes and we sure did enjoy ourselves.
We were in Ancona 2 months and then had sailing orders for Yugoslavia.
We didn’t go straight to the mainland, fist of all we called at the Island of Viz and I sure wish that I could have gone ashore there but we were only there for 3 hours. I might mention that it took us about 16 hours to cross the Adriatic to Viz, we were steaming at about 12 knots all the way.
Just before we got there a floating mine was spotted 12 yards off our starboard bow, it was promptly dealt with by a minesweeper and it taught me that a man’s best friend is his lifebelt.
We duly left Viz and after another 3 hours steaming sighted the Yugoslav mainland, we anchored about a mile off the beach spent the night there and went into harbour in the morning.
The place we went to at Viz was called Port Bomitsa.
At that time the Partisans along with the Yugoslav population were holding a big celebration. Fireworks, rockets, flares and tracer bullets were being fired everywhere, even the few ships in the harbour were illuminated with flares it was a marvellous sight and I doubt if I will ever forget it. On the distant hillside were written the letters T.I.T.O. all in coloured lights, the people all worshipped their great Partisan leader.
The town was only liberated a week before we arrived, and every time we went ashore thousands of little kids flocked around us asking for chocolate, the poor devils were nearly starved under German occupation.
All the little boys of 10 or 12 years old carried sten guns and hand grenades, while nearly all the young women were members of the Partisan army.
It certainly seemed strange to see women with pockets full of hand grenades, and they knew how to use ‘em too.
Having stayed in the Split for about a fortnight, we once again crossed the Adriatic to Ancona. I expected to stay in Ancona because we couldn’t come to any agreement with the Partisans in Yugoslavia, anyhow I was proven wrong because we were only there about a week before we were Yugoslavia bound once more.
The week before we sailed was very eventful so I will write a little about it before I continue.
Firstly, we had a new Wireman drafted aboard us, who incidentally was detailed to work with me. Having made myself acquainted with him, I acquainted him with the ships electrical installation. We went ashore and saw a “George Black” show entitled “Stars in Battledress” and also a very good film “Thousands Cheer”. So it may be rightly supposed that we had a very good run ashore.
To continue the original narrative, I may as well say a word about the crossing, well to be blunt it was deadly, we started at about 6am and it didn’t take very long before the ship was pitching and tossing violently, once this horrible motion commenced water began to pour into the mess and it turned out that some idiot had left his porthole open the result was that 3 seamen had their beds drenched while I had my locker filled with water, which meant hours of disobeying and drying clothes which at the best of times is a grim ‘sitch’.
Nevertheless after we got the mess dried out things were a little more comfortable, except for the ships motions which had become 10 times worse if that were possible. Myself, I was seasick twice and I consider that I got away with it very lightly compared with some of the chaps.
Having made the crossing we found ourselves to be at Zara! The approach to Zara was very picturesque, as in the previous trip the sea was studded with islands and I had to just stand and gaze at the scenery.
Meanwhile my workmate and I had several jobs on hand which we systematically completed the most interesting of these was on the Motor Mine Sweeper (2012). They had a motor generator which failed to excite [?] on the ships voltage for some obscure reason, we managed to excite it with a 12 volt battery on the workbench which proved that the exciting circuit was working alright, the generator was intended to work on a 110V supply and generate 240V. I eventually found that the sweeper’s dynamo was giving about 120V which proved to be the whole trouble.
It was not very long before we sailed for Ancona again, in fact these trips became quite a practice, first Zara and then Sibenik. Once when we were anchored outside Sibenik for a night we were constantly being awakened by depth charges which were being dropped at the rate of 6 every half hour.
Another incident of note was when we were in Zara. Our main protection was M.T.B.s and an ack, ack cruiser, H.M.S. Colombo, anyhow, one night, roughly midnight to be a little nearer the mark the alarm was given and we had to rush for our action stations. The cruiser opened up with her 4.7s for a while. Myself, I thought it was an aircraft attack, however I was wrong because it was an E. Boat attack.
The enemy directed an explosive laden motor launch at the cruiser, but before it got very far one of our M.T.B.s sand it and took the crew prisoner, if they hadn’t, we would have been sunk in both senses of the word. There isn’t much else to say about Zara except that we had several walks ashore among the bombed buildings hunting for souvenirs. We discovered a bombed church with its organ pretty nigh intact, and I played it very often, it sounded very weird indeed, while I played it one of the boys pumped air into it, it was very funny indeed. We also found several German books and magazines, it was only a few weeks before that they were driven out.
Having returned to Ancona after this last trip we stayed there for a refit.
Before I continue, there is a rather amusing incident which I forgot to mention earlier on.
Having arrived back in Ancona after a crossing, we went ashore and got drunk, and it was the worst I have ever been drunk in my life. It appears that when I eventually got back to the ship I proceeded to the paint shop, got out a brush and pot of green paint, staggered on to the well-deck and commenced to paint the skippers cabin, I was very fortunate insofar that he didn’t find out who did it, also the boys had to drag me away as I started hammering on his ports with my fists.
Having enjoyed ourselves very much in Ancona we prepared to put to sea again after our months’ refit. I might add that during the refit I went to Rome for a week.
When we put to sea we discovered that we were going to Ravenna, which had only been captured 3 weeks before. It took us about 16 hours all told to get there, once there however we discovered that we were only 7 miles from the front line. In actual fact we were berthed in a canal about a mile inland at a place called Porto Borsini.
Altogether I had about 6 runs ashore in Ravenna then we went back to Ancona for a couple of days, we were in Ravenna 3 weeks all told and I got fed up with it there eventually.
The 2 runs ashore in Ancona were very nice indeed, I saw “When Irish Eyes are Smiling” and the second night got drunk. The next morning we put to sea, bound for Zara, the effects of the drink made me sick nearly all the morning but I recovered a bit after I had drunk my tot, I couldn’t entirely blame the drink for this because a heavy swell was running and one or two chaps were genuinely seasick.
Our next trip was to Selce, which is situated in Yugoslavia 10 miles south of Finme, altogether it took us 2 days to get there, we anchored off the Isle of Rab for one night because navigation is very dangerous in those waters during the night owing to the fact that there are so many islands about and also many straits to navigate. However on arrival we found it a very small dead and alive sort of place. We were only there one night when we received sailing orders to proceed straight back to Ancora again, the reason being that the Germans had capitulated in Italy.
A few days later, namely May 8th saw the total capitulation of Germany.
This was what we had all been waiting for because we were then assigned to escorting German naval units back to Ancona. These consisted mostly of E. Boats and midget submarines. We were only 2 days on this job when we had orders to go immediately to Trieste.
On arrival in Trieste we saw thousands of people on the quayside and directly we had tie up they flocked up to us asking if we had any sugar, margarine, butter, meat, tobacco, etc, etc. It appeared that they were half starved, the Germans had pulled out of Trieste 3 days previously and the Yugoslav Partisans were responsible for the administration of things, although on the outskirts of the city was a division of Kiwi’s. In a very short time there was very serious trouble brewing between the Kiwi’s and Marshal Tito as to who should have Trieste, several crises were reached including one which all but amounted to War again. We had to steam for it well outside the harbour, while in the meantime several warships were summoned to the spot. Within a few hours we had two destroyers on the case, H.M.S. Cleveland and H.M.S. Lauderdale and also 3 heavy cruisers H.M.S. Ajax, H.M.S. Achilles and H.M.S. Orion. When the Yugoslavs saw our warships lying ready they just packed in and it wasn’t very many days after that the whole contingent withdrew from Trieste, that is, the Partisans of course.
After this unpleasantness had subsided, we started what later proved to be one of the happiest episodes in my life, not to mention many of my friends who were also in full agreement with me namely the good time we had in Trieste. I may as well start from the beginning as there is so much to relate.
For the first half a dozen runs ashore we used to have a drink or two and then walk around the city sightseeing and buying presents, although there wasn’t a great variety to choose from at that time. The little kids used to flock around the ship and we used to give them our nutty ration, biscuits and any other luxuries that we could obtain from the canteen, I was just beginning to like the place when we were suddenly sent back to Ancona on the way we stopped at Porto Quieto and were able to do a spot of swimming in the bay, on arriving in Ancona we had a hell of a lot of stores to get aboard, also we oiled ship. All told we were in Ancona a fortnight during which time my friend and I went swimming several times at Falconara, the sands at Falconara were absolutely marvellous, in fact after swimming we used to lay on the beach sunbathing and eat a kilo of cherries each.
After we had finished in Ancona we sailed for Trieste once again. On arrival all the little kids flocked up to the ship again and they even remembered our names. Incidentally our berth was always alongside Lloyds building where the big pre-war liners used to tie up.
In a very short while I was having the time of my life. We used to go swimming at the place called Barcola which is along the Riviera, there isn’t any sand at Barcola in fact it is a very rocky beach. Thousands of people flock to the beaches there to swim and sunbathe however, and first of all we were rather embarrassed as regards undressing, because unlike English seaside resorts the people just strip off their clothes in front of everybody else, they don’t bother about holding towels around themselves, very soon we were doing this ourselves. It certainly makes one think how narrow-minded the people in England must be. If a man or woman undressed in this manner on an English beach he or she would most likely be reported to the authorities for indecency.
To continue, after our usual swim and sunbathe we would have a couple of ices and then return to the shop stopping on the way for a couple of orangeades in a bar on the corner of a street called “Via Roma”, this street runs from Trieste market into the main strada which is the main road. In Italy all streets are known as ‘Via’ whilst roads are known as ‘strada’. Anyhow, when we reached the ship we would change from tropical rig into full blues, as that is the anti-malaria precautions.
Having changed we would then proceed ashore again until 10.30 playing billiards mostly and paying an occasional visit to the Italian cinema, and also we would sometimes take short walks through the city and around the outskirts. By this time I had begun to pick up the language which enabled me to converse with people and also to enter shops with confidence, if it wasn’t for this I don’t suppose I would be had half as good a time as I did have.
We made several friends who often proved helpful to us, also we worked several rackets, the most common being with soap and tobacco, the money gained paid for our runs ashore.
After about 3 months carrying on in this fashion we were sent on another operation in Selce for a couple of weeks which incidentally turned out to be nearly a month. During this time we were all very fed up in as much as food and water were concerned, for all we lived on was dehydrated and tinned food, as regards the water, well, I just couldn’t touch it. As a result of these conditions several of us were queer, in fact 2 of my mess mates contracted yellow jaundice another one boils whilst I had sores breaks out on both my ankles. None of us could go to hospital as there wasn’t a hospital for about 100 miles away, so our Captain spoke with the Partisans who gave us permission to attend their doctor, you see they are very queer people in fact the queerest I have ever met.
However I went to their so called hospital, which was a hotel in peace-time “Hotel Rokan” and found that they had a captured German doctor in charge, he attended to me and another chap from the ship personally, I was able to talk to him because he spoke Italian. After a few attendances he began to confide in me. He told me that he was a surgeon captain in the German Army, had fought in Russia and Italy and was finally captured at Finme, also he stressed most sympathetically that he wanted to escape from Yugoslavia. The Yugoslavs treated him just like dirt, they had no regard for his rank or for the fact that he was healing their sick and wounded. They took all his clothes away from him, and he was left to work in a pair of old khaki shorts and a pair of boots, nothing else whatsoever. I thought it was very humiliating because even though he was a German he was a doctor and the medical profession is international whatever the regime may be, at least that is my way of thinking, however as regards the average German I am all for the preaching’s of Lord Vansitaast.
The doctor asked my friend and I if it was possible for us to stow him away aboard our ship just before we sailed, so that he could give himself up to our authorities on arrival in Trieste, where we were going again, he knew that once in the hands of our people he would be treated properly.
For my part I was rather sceptical, my friend however wanted to help him because the doctor had operated on his thumb which was gangrenous and had no doubt saved an otherwise necessary amputation, so I agreed to give a hand. We made plans, the doctor was to swim to the stern of our ship at 2 o’clock of the morning we sailed, we were going to signal him the all clear or danger with a torch, and then drop a knotted rope over the side for him to climb up. Once aboard my friend was going to take him down the lower hold which is battened down whilst at sea, so it would have been impossible for anyone to have found out our secret.
The day before we sailed my friend attended the doctor with his thumb, in other words he went to tell him we were ready. I didn’t go myself that morning because I had a couple of electrical defects on M.T.B.s to deal with, anyhow when my friend came back he looked very unhappy and didn’t speak for a while, on asking him what the trouble was he told me that the Partisans had discovered the doctors preparations and had consequently taken him away, so that was the end of that little episode, three days later we were told by a chap who had left Selce just after us that they shot the doctor.
We next went to Trieste for the 3rd and last time. As we sighted Trieste in the distance everybody rushed up onto the well deck and [unknown word] boy what a sight it was for sore eyes after Selce.
Having had a good look a the good old familiar landmarks in the distance such as the viaducts up on the mountainsides and the Barcola lighthouse, I rushed down to the mess and changed into the rig of the day ready to go shore when we landed. After I had dressed, I then went up on to the foc’sle to watch us sail in to the harbour, as we got nearer I could pick out the buildings, which I knew off by heart. First the “Stazione Marittima”, then “Molo Bersagliere” where we tied up before. “La Strada Principale”, “Piazza della Unita”, “Albergo della Litta” and a host of others.
We tied up in the same berth as before, and all the little kids we knew were still there, it was like a dream come true after 4 weeks starvation at Selce.
When shore leave was piped I was away like a shot, I did my usual rounds, looked up several Triestinin friends, and also several Trattoria, one of which I will always remember was “Trattoria di Fillipo”.
My friend Arthur Law and I went to Barcola and Sistiana very regularly swimming.
Out of all the places I have been swimming I should say that Sistiana is the best. It is about 20 miles away from Trieste on the road to Monfalcone. To get there, we used to thumb a lift from a jeep which would do an average speed of 50mph in other words we was there in about half an hour. The road was straight most of the way although there was one or two treacherous bends to encounter, and also 3 tunnels, two of which were near the “Castello Miramare” and the other nearer to Sistiana.
However on reaching Sistiana we would then get out of the jeep, have a couple of orangeades and get another jeep down to the beach which was a few hundred feet below. The ride down was beautiful in fact it was like driving through English woodland.
The beach itself was in the Gulf of Sistiana and had been a German Midget Submarine base during the War. The sand was beautiful, it reminded me of Dimchurch.
However after we had changed into our swimming trunks we used to paddle out a way, the water was very blue and the bottom all sandy without exception. It was lovely to just paddle out until the water encircled ones neck, and then start swimming out 20 or 30 yards to a very conveniently situated raft.
We would rest for a while on this raft and then dive in and swim underneath it, I remember once we collided directly underneath. It was a sort of opaque greenish colour underwater, so clear that we could see myriads of tiny striped fish unhurriedly making their way around us in circles, an underwater world, strangely reminded one of the ‘Water Babies’ and the beauty of aquariums.
After an hour or so swimming we would then return to the sands and sunbathe to our hearts content. We often said “if only our folks could see us now”. The water at Barcola was always a little cooler, probably due to the fact that it is rockier there.
Apart from swimming I should say that the next best thing we went in for was walking. The distances traversed invariably averaged 5 miles and usually covered the mountainous districts overlooking “San Giovanni” and the Riviera.
I’m sure I could write a book on Trieste alone, however as my narrative is confined to, or should I say essentially, memoirs, I’ll continue from where we were about to leave Trieste.
We left Trieste on 25th September 1945. We were bound for Messina. Having left the Istrian Peninsula we made a beeline for Ravenna, then turned to port so that we were steaming along parallel with the coast. Next day we sighted the Ancona headland in the distance, little did we know what was in store for us. It took the form of a terrific gale, what a terrible experience! All told it lasted just over 2 days during which time I thought I would die, and I wasn’t the only one. Every time anyone had to cross the upper deck they were drenched and nearly blown overboard. The foc’sle went under every time the ship pitched, I thought that maybe she would capsize any time anyway I guess she was made to weather the storm by the time things began to calm down we were passing Bari and Barletta.
After Barletta we only had a small swell running for which I was mighty thankful.
Several more hours passed with no land in sight then suddenly a lookout spotted the coast of Albania, shortly after we turned hard to starboard and commenced to cross the Gulf of Jaranto. We lost sight of land again for almost 24 hours. The weather had brightened considerably by then and the Med was looking marvellously blue. When we entered the Straits of Messina it was only about 5 hours steaming, that is from the far side of the Gulf of Messina itself. Anyway, I didn’t feel very enthusiastic about the whole thing at all. The only thing that struck me on entering Messina harbour was the hills surrounding it, which bore a resemblance to Trieste.
My first run ashore was not eventful. We caught a landing craft which served as a liberty boat, on reaching the far shore we were besieged by small ruffians who followed us all over the town worrying for cigarettes and tobacco. For cigarettes they gave 200 Lire. For tobacco 1,000 Lire per half pound. Money wasn’t any good though because there was nothing to spend it on, anyway it didn’t worry me because we had a complete refit in dry dock, which meant tons of work aboard.
Four Sicilian electricians plus their mates were detailed to work on the electrical installation, and of course being ships electrician it was my job to give them their work each day. The majority were alright but one pair proved to be complete idiots as well as bunglers, and my mate and I had our work cut out seeing that they didn’t blow the ship up or cause any fires.
The weather was exemplary in fact for the time of the year (October) it was simply marvellous, particularly in view of the fact that we were all going to a rest camp for a fortnight’s holiday.
The camp was a Hotel situated a few miles from Mount Etna the huge volcano in a small town named Taormina which was a 1000 foot above sea level.
Before I attempt to pen the picture of Taormina which is very vivid in my memory, I will just add that for the rest of the time in Messina we more or less lived on fruit, in the form of grapes, tomatoes, apples, pears, etc not to mention nuts and eggs. I thoroughly enjoyed this, it always makes my mouth water when I think of those grapes big clusters of them always available.
To continue, the journey to Taormina was by rail. We caught a small diesel train at Messina main station, which travelled around the coast. This journey really was beautiful, all along the line was orange and lemon trees heavily laden with ripe fruit, whilst along the other side was the truly beautiful Sicilian coast with its wealth of colours.
After that unforgettable journey we boarded the truck which took us up the winding road to Taormina. The station was named Taormina Giardini, Giardini meaning gardens.
On reaching the hotel we were assigned to our rooms, I shared mine with my friend Arthur with whom I spent all my time in Trieste. We had a small veranda outside the French windows which looked over the cliffs and sea. From the terrace Mount Etna could be seen towering up into the sky, with smoke pouring out of the craters, and the beautiful snow belt engulfing its peak. It was very hard to realise that snow was so near and yet so far away as I was to discover.
I had about 4,000 Lire at my disposal, with which I bought several presents, this left me with about 500 Lire to spend. It was a good plan in several respects, because I didn’t have sufficient money, hence it was impossible to squander, at least, I would have been a fool to have done so, money at Taormina was truly like water.
Our days with few exceptions were as follows:-
Rise at 7.30am, wash, have our breakfast, and then dress, the latter being a very simple operation, because all we wore was a pair of blue trousers and a tropical front, the weather, or should I say the sun was absolutely scorching. Then we would gather our swimming trunks, towel and a book and take a very slow stroll down to Taormina Giardini. I almost forgot, several mornings we took a walk around the public gardens, which were adjacent to the hotel, this was before breakfast. They were so beautiful that we decided to make this a regular walk, after all we were supposed to be resting. The view of Mount Etna from these gardens was perfect. I’m afraid I find it hard to find fresh adjectives for this place, which seemed to me a paradise, with all its wealth of flowers, birds, fountains and coloured fish swimming amidst myriads of cool gentle wavering weeds. It often makes me wish that I were a fish, that I may explore their world of green beauty.
As I stated before we commenced our walk down. From Taormina Giardini we walked for about a mile along the coast road to a small swimming beach, every inch of which was golden sand. As a rule we would sit down and read for about an hour, thus allowing the sun time to warm everything, with a very pleasant effect. Having read a chapter or two we then undressed donned our swimming trunks and commenced bagno in l’aqua.
The water was very warm and we simply revelled in it. I found that after my previous, self tuition, in Trieste and Selce, that I could stay in the water for at least a couple of hours without coming out.
Arthur, who was an excellent swimmer, and I, would stand at a distance of seventy or eighty feet from each other in the water, pick up flat pebbles from the bottom and skim them along the top of the water at each other, it was good fun, particularly when one of us almost stopped a pebble.
A little way out were some rocks jutting out from beneath the surface, these proved excellent for diving, for which I had developed a passion.
When we were at last exhausted we would return to the beach lay flat on the sand which was almost unbearably hot and go to sleep for an hour or so. On waking, neither of us felt like moving, although we had to make a move at about 11.30am otherwise we would be late for our dinner. As you can gather we never dried ourselves with our towels before we laid down on the beach, however when the time came to make a move, we would just rinse the sand off our bodies by having a five minute swim around, then dry ourselves off and amble on our way back.
The rum was unadulterated for which the majority of us were thankful. This combined with the swim made us hungry as animals. The dinner consisted of venison, sweet potatoes, peas and cabbage preceded by vegetable soup, and followed with some sugary sort of pastry. This combination it may be seen, was a perfect incentive for sleep, which usually lasted until 4pm. We then had a cup of tea and a slice of bread.
Taormina night life was quite similar to that of Malta, dozens of bars, dancing, singing and general merrymaking. We would very often take a walk down to the sea at night, to listen to the chuckling of the waters and to see the fire-flies. On returning we always had a large plate of spaghetti each, before retiring.
In the bedroom we had to be very careful about the lights, as they attracted mosquitoes from miles around, so we would shut the French windows get undressed turn out the light and then open them again, as it was very nice to sleep with the cool night air wafting over us.
Just before we were due to return to the ship we had a day’s picnic at Mount Etna. This day was both eventful and memorable. We started off for the volcano at 9am in a truck, about twenty of us. The day started by being a typical scorcher so we quite naturally went in our normal rig, number threes negative jumpers. The ascent was inclined to be somewhat hazardous insofar that narrow tracks had to be navigated or conquered, what you will. After a very short while we realised our folly as regards dress, for it started getting quite chilly and we had about another 6 or 7 thousand feet to climb. Very shortly the fields changed to lava plains which seemed so vast that it gave one a sort of feeling of apprehension. By now we were knocking at the knees and chattering at the teeth, and we severely reproached ourselves for being so idiotic as to tackle a mountain with tropical clothing on. Anyway we didn’t regret the experience, although once we had reached the snow capped peaks and craters, we found it impossible to eat our dinner which consisted of a dozen fish sandwiches and a bottle of beer. It was too darned cold. Fortunately we weren’t interested in hunger or any accompanying pains.
Having more than satisfied ourselves with the points of interest we started to descend the mountain. We went through the small town of Enna and from there to Catania where we picked up the coast road for Taormina. The very pleasant ride along this road, which incidentally took an hour gave me time to think of the beautiful holiday we had had.
The approach to Taormina Giardini brought no regrets whatsoever, in fact we were unanimous in our feelings which were of perfect satisfaction.
The next day we packed our few articles of kit and boarded the small diesel train for Messina. On the platform in Messina station we met another party of chaps from the ship just starting on their journey to Taormina, of course we made them very happy with our stories of the place. After this meeting we went straight to the dockyard and boarded the ship.
Whilst in the Adriatic there were forever tales spreading around that we were going to Malta. We set sail at last, it was quite a pleasant trip, on sighting Malta my mind went back several months and it didn’t seem so very long ago that I was approaching Malta on the S.S. VILLE D’ORAN, although actually it was about 15 months.
Naturally enough we had several good runs ashore, my friend Arthur and I had some jolly good games of billiards and saw several good films at the “Command Hall”. Next came Christmas, it was much livelier than the one I spend in Ancona, and we were able to get some genuine English drinks. This occasion was followed by an equally festive one, namely new years eve.
The six months that followed were very , very dull indeed, in fact we only went to sea about three times and each one of these times was for a period of only 3 days. The object of these small trips was “Dan Laying” which means laying small buoys out in the Med for radar purposes.
In May we went into the [unknown word] dockyard creek, which meant a fortnight in dry dock having our bottom scraped. During this time the rig of the day became tropical rig.
We all looked forward to coming out of the dock because the buzz was very strong that we were going to sea. I particularly wanted plenty of sea time so as to make the time fly and hurry up my demob which was rapidly approaching.
My birthday didn’t seem to make me feel elated at all so I just celebrated with a quiet run ashore."
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