The boys always beefing, anyway, so when they asked what I thought of the idea I just replied that the doctor ordered a rest so I figured that I'd make this a two month's cruise for a rest. It all started at O.T.U. where we had just completed our training and were now supposedly fully trained fighter pilots. Out of the two dozen pilots seven were picked for overseas service in India. We were given a choice as to whether we wanted to fly in England or elsewhere then the names must have been put into a hat and shaken up because it seems that the boys that volunteered for overseas were kept at home and vice versa.
"Gibbie" and Knowles were commissioned and I was promoted to flight sergeant before embarking. The other boys, Crumb, Clarke, Fisher and "Moose" remained as before - Crumb, Clarke and fisher as sergeants and "Moose" a flight sergeant. On the ship we took a couple more Canadian pilots into our fold. There was Kerr, a pilot officer to keep "Gibbie" and Knowles company and there was Dunster a sergeant that could shoot a line along with any of us. Knowles is what we call an injustice or to quote some of the boys "a brown noser". We rarely ever see Knowles and figure he must be hob-nobbing with the Captain and the C.O. - the keen type. My opinion is that he spends most of his time telling the boys in the mess what is wrong with the government and why.
I am going to put us all in the ship. There are several thousand of us on it -soldiers, airmen and a few civilians. There are also several nursing sisters on board but we best forget them if that is possible. Clarke suggested that a couple of girls apiece would make the trip much more enjoyable. Of course we all agreed. Incidentally I have just left the cabin occupied by Clarke and Crumb. "Moose" is there with a book called "The Technique of Sex " and is reading it aloud to "Gibbie", Crumb, Clarke and several other pilots. One of the boys asked my approval of a picture he had rigged up and has it framed on his desk. It has the body of a nude model from a book entitled "More Eves Without Leaves" and the head of one of his female friends. He thinks it is a masterpiece and threatens to have it photographed but I think the head is too small in proportion to the torso.
Lifeboat drill is bags of panic at first. You see we know that the bell is going to ring at 10:30 a.m. every morning and again at 4:30 p.m. So we are all dressed and ready for it. The bell rings and there is a mad dash for the staircases. The first few days it was a tie. The army and R.A.F. reached it reached it together and you couldn't go up or down for love nor money. When they were all eventually assembled on deck they just stared at one another trying to look tough, rough and ready for any eventuality. At one of these drill practices the guns and anti-aircraft guns scared the living daylights out of them. The imagination runs away with you at this point and you start seeing every submarine and planes that are not there.
As pilots we are issued with special life preservers that are officially called Mae Wests. We wear them on lifeboat drill because they are warmer and not as bulky as those issued by the ship's captain. Thee are numerous straps and buttons on it, a pocket for emergency rations and an oxygen bottle, a whistle and an air-tight torch. Should the oxygen bottle fail to inflate the concealed rubber bladder there is a tube with a screw valve that can be used for blowing it up. And there is also a cute little skull cap that is worn on the head and looks like a baby's bonnet, and ties under the chin. The preserver and skull cap are a deep amber color. The whole rig was made into a jacket and you can understand that we felt safe in there and also proud to have one. Especially when it was rumoured that the kapok-filled preservers issued to all the others on board were good for only a few hours in the water.
Clarke and I were on deck one afternoon pacing back and forth for exercise. Clarke suggested that we walk back and forth even though it did look foolish. A couple of army officers stopped us and asked us questions concerning our Mae Wests. Hen they came to inquire about the use of the two loops in the front of the Mae West we unhesitatingly told them that when we die we invariably float on our backs and that the straps are used for the purpose of pulling our bodies out of the water. They took a dim view of our answer and made for their cabins. When a pilot does tell the truth nobody believes him anyway so Clarke and I just laughed and resumed our stroll.
An announcement came through the air raid system that in future if the Sergeant's cabins were not kept in neater condition the cabins would be given over to the troops and that we would have to sleep in hammocks. He also said that our washrooms were in an appalling condition. Little did he know that the troops were using our washrooms. He speaker was the Ship's Captain, a civilian. His remarks, even if they were true, were demoralizing from the military point of view. The Sergeants of course kicked up a ruckus and the officers were also loud in criticizing the announcement. The troops, of course, got a laugh out of it and spent the rest of the day snickering up their sleeves - at our expense. The troops cheered the Captain and we suffered in silence. It wore off and al was normal next day. The Captain did a wise thing when he ordered all firearms to be put under lock and key in his custody. The sod!
Every night about ten o'clock "Moose" and I seem to end up in the cabin occupied by Crumb and Clarke to do what we call "hangar flying." P.O. "Gibbie" and a few other pilots were present for the shoot up tonight. Crumb and Clarke came in half drunk on a couple of pints of McEwan's Ale and stopped "Moose" in the middle of a loop. "Moose took a dim view of the interruption and took the rest of the night telling the boys why young squirts like Crumb and Clarke should not be allowed to join up as pilots. I helped "Moose" along because "Moose" and I are the oldest members of our fold. We gave the account of every accident that we had heard or seen and blamed every one of them on inexperience and the recklessness of youth. Crumb and Clarke fell asleep in half an hour so we finished the night talking to ourselves.
For those types with the cast-iron stomaches it was a picnic n the Erk's mess and the Sergeant's mess. The ship rolled, pitched, dipped, and did practically everything but take wings. Pots and pans, plates and cups were rolling up and down the tables. Fish, "Moose" and I sat down at a meal and stabbed at the food as it slid by. It was fun. One RAF Sergeant at our table had a plate of soup that he called "the danger warning bowl." He just sat there watching the soup as it slid up the side of the bowl and when it reached a certain level in the bowl he would yell "oh, oh" which meant "grab what you can." We stabbed at whatever we could lay our hands on and the remainder slid down the table. Most of the boys were sick today so we had no trouble getting two helpings of peaches and cream. The boys are invariably getting sick and spewing
in the trickiest corners of the staircases. They seem to spew in patterns so that should you miss it with one step you get it with the other or else you are left hanging in mid air which is impossible.
All the boys were horsing around on deck trying to work up a laugh in spite of their miseries and loss of appetite. Crum suddenly pulled his head out from beneath his coat and wanted to know if there was any room on the rail. I told him where he could find a yard of railing and away he went looking like the Hunchback. Poor Crumb! We fed him a piece of bread and butter and a cup of coffee later that night. Seeing that nobody else was hungry, "Moose", "Gibbie", Fish, Crum, Clarke and I had coffee, cheese, and salmon before retiring. The subject that night was all the loves and lives of sergeants and U.T. pilots, meaning us. We found out that "Moose" knew very little about women until he had joined our clique at Annau. He keeps kicking himself for having blindly spurned the golden opportunities of his U.T. (untrained) days. Since leaving Annau we consider ourselves fully operational. Before Annau we are considered U.T. (untrained). A queer setup!
You've probably never heard of "Buider." "Buider" or P.O. Pruve's mut, a sniffing piddler of a dog with a pedigree as long as your arm and just as varied as it is long. Right from the beginning of the voyage "Buider's" disease took a firm hold on the personnel. I honestly believe that she piddled on our shoes as we were struggling up the gangplank loaded down with kit bags. The troops are always bruding and bitching because they haven't got a mess like the Sergeants - because we sleep in cabins and they sleep in hammocks and bunks - because we can get beer every night and they can't - because they lounge in overcrowded, etc. The Sergeants are bruding because the officers have two blankets, sheets and a pillow slip and we have only one blanket and a pillow - bitching because their mess is better than ours and because our food is the same as the Erks except that it is served to us individually - bruding because they have to get up every morning - because it is rough and stormy - because they are leaving England and Canada - and because of the girls they left behind them. Is your journey really necessary? You ask a Canadian that question and he will usually say, "England has given the world one real benefit and that is an asylum for the Englishman. Give me Canada any day. I never asked for this trip to India and what good is India anyway? Polo grounds for the Englishman. We were just beginning to know people in England and they sent us to India where the women are black. Rice and currie! Phoo. Give me Canada and its shapely women, ice cream and pies, steak, mushrooms and real sausages, etc. "
The Canadians are the best bruders. They say they are fighting for a Britain that is starving but that is no reason for rationing the Canadians. Canada can feed all Britain and Canada too!
About half an hour ago an incident occurred, only a little mistake but it is little things like this one that that occur every day that cause hard feelings toward the other fellow. I asked for a bottle of beer and it was refused to me because I had no mug into which to pour the beer. But here's what gripes my arse. There were at least a dozen Warrant Officers and Sergeants standing around the bar drinking out of bottles and taking the bottles out of the mess which is supposedly a major offense against the rules of the mess and ship's regulations. The Sergeant behind the bar knew where to "brown his nose" and turned his head and turned his head away from the other blokes. He wore service stripes and was probably in the service about
ten years and looked proud of it but any chap that's been in the service ten years and boasts only three stripes should get out of the service and try thinking for himself for a change.
Sergeant Patterson, an RAF Pilot who sleeps in the bunk below mine threatens to wake me up at 4 A.M. He is going on duty at four to make he rounds of the ship checking the black outs and to see that no one smokes on deck. He's a pretty regular guy - can get food from the kitchen any time. Says there is a friend of his from his home town working as a cook. I believe this because he is always digging food out of his pockets.
The English Sergeants are having their usual nightly game of cards - call it "Brag." It's the same as poker except that only three closed cards are dealt to each player and the betting goes on until there are two players left. They bet until one calls a stop. Winner takes all the pennies. I lost a shilling in a Crown and Anchor game. Ship's rules prohibit gambling on board.
The gambling stakes, as usually what happens when it is continued night after night, ahs increased considerably over the last ten days. What started out to be a friendly game with a tupenny limit has turned out to be cut throat game with a four bob limit. In a few days if there is any money in circulation the sky will be the limit. Most of the R.A.F. Pilots are losing as much as five quid and some are broke. What gets them madder than hell is that the winner is a flight sergeant that was invited into their game. They suspect they will humiliate them by bragging about how he cleaned out the pilots. He is one of the ground crew. The Canadians refuse to play cards at these sessions unless it is poker or dice. But the R.A.F. are afraid to ever learn the game. We think the main reason for this is because you have to use your head whenever you lay a bet. The game they like best and have been playing all along is "Brag" or three card poker. The highest hand wins the pot, all very simple. Just luck.
P.O. Knowles gave a speech last night about his boyhood days and ambitions in life and opinions of Canada and the R.C.A.F. He was apparently a silkworm grower, an amateur baritone and loves the R.C.A.F so well that he hopes to make it his career. He hates U.S.A. because it has given him nothing and loves Canada. We are of the opinion that no one should go out of his way to criticize his own country. You see, Knowles is an American boy. He is suspicious of everything and feels you are indebted to him for any favors done. He conveys that attitude and it is losing him many friends. He is obnoxious and has to force himself into some one else's friendship. He says he has found many friends among the army officers. A queer thing because we know that they look down on the R.A.F. Sergeants. We have nothing but scorn for most of the army officers because of their pasty faced attitudes. There isn't a Sergeant in the R.A.F. or R.C.A.F. that hasn't seen at least twice as much service as these new army officers just fresh out of O.T.C. training. The pay-off occurred yesterday when both decks were declared out of bounds to all other ranks leaving only the one bottom deck for about 300 airmen and troops to squirm around on whilst the 300 officers had the huge spacious promenade and roof decks all to themselves. P.O. Kerr, our Canadian officer I.C., put in a legitimate protest and something is going to be done about it, we hope! I suggested that we give the officers the whole blinking ship and stick it up in fine pitch with flaps down. Let's head the life boats for Canada.
A health talk from the M.O. was very interesting. He said, quote, " "Keep the bowels open, stay out of the sun and trust in God." That was his wind up about how to stay healthy in India. Alleluliah!
The C.O. inspection parade was a flop from our viewpoint. There we were 27 Sergeant Pilots, 2 Flight Sergeants, and one P.O. all shined up and shaved something that often doesn't happen, waiting for the C.O. to respect us and the bugger didn't show up. After waiting over an hour we decided to dismiss ourselves.
Sergeant Villa gave us quit a bit to talk about when he disappeared out of the porthole and hung by a rope just a few feet above the water. He tried to climb back up the rope and got tired out so we had to pull him up. He said he wasn't scared but just the same he was white as a ghost and shaking like a leaf. He did it on a bet of two quid but he didn't collect it because the fellow that was to pay up told him not to try it because he wouldn't pay it. We discovered that Villa had a serious crack up in a Moth at Elementary. Some boys say that he fell from a height of 6000 feet onto his head. Whilst in the hospital he threatened to commit suicide by diving out of his bed and landing square onto his head. So to keep him alive and from messing up the ward they gave him another aeroplane [airplane] to fly. Now he is a Sergeant Pilot just as crazy as the rest of the boys that fly. Birds and fools fly by day and bats and bloody fools fly by night. He should have stayed in the hospital. He is really a good type though - would wake you up out of a sound sleep at the most ungodly hours of the night just to offer you a cigarette. Generous type!
We cornered "Dusty" all by himself and wouldn't let him go until he finally was convinced that the English system of education, government, and everything in general was out of date. Canada was the coming country to him and all of us until Carr gave a good picture of New Zealand. He claims that New Zealand is a haven for Catholics. Clarke and I promptly shook off our native country and stuck up for New Zealand. Canada is okay for United Church goers and Orangemen. One of the Westerners, Sergeant Dunster, claims that Poles and Germans are the only ones that can properly colonize Canada. The English want the dole. The city folks are all equally educated and don't want to labour and the country folks are too lazy to work and pull their children out of school at an early age to work the land. It goes to pot
There was a sort of banquet in the cabin occupied by the same Crum and Clarke this evening. No one could eat the rice and whatever it was for tea and a usual ration of bread and a cube of cheese was too binding so we collected all the food we could lay our hands on and went to town. The cocoa from the kitchen mixed with the Nestles condensed milk from the mess tasted very good. Clarke produced a can of Spam that he got in a parcel from Canada. "Moose" dug up a can of honey butter. Anchovy and salmon paste, peanuts, chocolate bars and a can of Xmas cake were produced in short order out of a clear sky. After the food was disposed of the boys settled down to a discussion of what to do after the war. Or rather what was to become of them after the war. We figured it out and came to the conclusion that the war would end while we were still in India, all the jobs in Canada would be filled with war workers, already flush with dough, or the forces guarding Canada's mighty shores. Years later, nervous and broken men, we would come back to Canada to find that people had forgotten all about the war we spent the best years of our lives fighting in. We cuffed the English, silenced the Germans, and skunked the Japs so now we will have to put the Canadians in step. Most of our schemes for doing it were not practical. - shooting the Premier, kicking out all the old cobwebs out of office, forming a gang to rob those that made fortunes at our expense, and so on.
Land ho! Today was my first sight of land in about two weeks. Guesses as to what it might be were wild and varied. Sergeant Mayhew is all excited because he just saw the lights of a town in the distance, something strange for an English bloke. Come to think of it it's the first sight of a town in lights that I've seen in sixteen months. It does look a sight. In my estimation it should be one of the Canary Islands group.
Back in these pages, somewhere we put in a legitimate protest for more room in the boat decks and promenade decks. We won the protest a few days ago and lost the friendship of all the officers but since they're mostly "sprog" (sprug/spug?) army officers we haven't lost anything. All other ranks have the complete use of the boat decks and the lounge decks. The sergeants have the sue of the forward half of the promenade deck and starboard side leaving the officers three questions of the prom decks for the use of. Now it is entirely up to the officers to squawk, which they did, saying that we Sergeants are not making use of our half of the promenade deck. It's been touch and go all along A good suggestion is to have an impromptu lifeboat drill in the early part of the morning when the night is at its blackest moments. In the scramble a few officers may fall overboard and help relieve the congestion.
Gosh! The heat has been terrific this last month. It's been clear and sunny all day long. With the occasional sprinkle of clouds. But even from behind a cloud the sun's rays are still strong enough to cast a shadow. It's a sticky sort of heat that makes one want to sleep all day and night. And that is exactly what we are trying our best to do. I got a beautiful tan not like the kind I usually got from our Canadian sun - first brown and then chocolate in color. This sun is turning my skin the color of deep bronze, a sort of beet rot color. All the other lads that have lighter skin than I have are turning a peach color, exactly like deep rouge. And the queerest part about it all is that it isn't forming blisters or peeling. It doesn't even hurt them in the slightest way. Enough about the sun.
Freetown in Sierra Leone was a beautiful sight. The high range of hills on the coast. The high range of hills on the coast, green and thickly wooded, with palms and what-nots crowded it so that the city was sprawled for miles along the coast. The city was built on land that was redder than the ground in Georgia or Alabama. I picked out a few lagoons. The water was smooth like glass; the beaches dazzling white. And with the palm trees to complete the picture. No wonder England covets this strip of Africa. It's rich in lumber and natural beauty. Before docking at Freetown a message over the Tawoy? warned us about the shortage of pennies on board and that none were to be thrown overboard. This was just like telling the troops and Erks to throw their pennies overboard because that is just what they did. Now we are critically short of pennies and only on specially designated days can we get paper money exchanged. The canteen sold out of chocolate, coffee and milk in cans and condensed milk. Out of a clear blue sky they suddenly dug out their stock of canned fruits. So for the past week I've been stuffing myself with peaches and fruit salads mixed with condensed milk. I never though it possible to eat a two pound can of fruit at one sitting but that's what we are doing. I finished off a can just before starting to write this page of nonsense. Being a suspicious sort of guy since joining this outfit I don't doubt that the canned fruit may have been put on board for our tables but the authorities that be changed their minds and sold them instead. They taste better in the cabins anyway.
We had a beautiful fight in our mess. The Canadian Sergeants versus the W.O.'s and one F/Sgt. Leg. Here's the setup. The W.O.'s drink in our mess, hold drinking bouts until all hours after the bar is closed to us, and run the place like dictators. They crowd the bar. And yet they eat in the Officer's mess. On several occasions they have openly insulted the Sergeants and have a few put out of the mess. It had to come to a head. One W.O. called a Sergeant a ---- for no apparent reason. He was sitting at our table so we immediately threatened to put him on a charge, or if he didn't apologize to keep him out of our mess. This W.O. in question happened to be the C.M.C. of the mess so he promptly told us to leave the mess. Which we did but our threat to put him on a charge still held and he knew we'd do anything in our power to carry it through. He's apparently never had a dose of his own medicine and was scared. He sent the F/S Leg. to our cabins to try and call it al of as a mistake. But F/S Leg. When he called in at one of the cabins saw a card game in progress and put one of the players on a charge for gambling. This particular player just happened to the same one who was going to put the W.O. on a charge. The money was in evidence during the game but he got scared of his own skin and decided to drop the charge against the W.O. The charge against him was also dropped. But in spite of everything it made a huge change in the mess. Now we can at least get a beer without having to fight our way through a maze of W.O.'s and F/Sgts. They spoke out of turn one too often when they insulted one of our pals.
A lot sure has passed over my head since I wrote the above paragraph. We were ousted out of our cabins, all the Sergeants and Flight Sergeant Pilots were given hammocks in B2 Hold - the "Black-Hole of Calcutta." All this came about as the boat docked at Durban, South Africa. The excuse for this move being the cabins had to be made available for some thirty W.O.'s that were embarking at Durban. We could have understood this necessary change but when our cabins were promptly filled again with Army Sergeants, Sergeant A.G.'s and Sergeant Mechawes, we raised proper hell and wait promptly to see the embarkation officials, the British and the American counsel at Durban. No Canadian counsel was there.