The author went to sea at the age of sixteen in Jan.1939. He describes the everyday life, work and routine aboard the Saint Merriel, a cargo ship trading between Europe and the ports of South America. The various characters on board who taught the young apprentice the skills of seamanship are brought to life. Subsequently he learned the art of navigation and the duties of a deck officer.
Then came the war. On the second day a ship was sunk twenty miles astern of them, at a position they had passed through two hours previously. The crews now had to learn to keep station in convoy and how to operate armaments and new defensive weapons (some quite absurd). They faced the dangers of mines, submarines, aircraft and surface raiders. Home on leave he met Edna who was to become his wife of fifty nine years.
Sent on one of the early Arctic convoys taking munitions to the USSR, his ship became frozen in at Archangel for the duration of the Russian winter of 1941/42. Upon becoming qualified as a watch keeping officer, he sailed on a succession of ‘replacement’ ships, to the invasions of North Africa, Sicily, Italy and the South of France.
“Canada and the USA built replacement ships for us, both to a similar design. Their names had the prefixes Fort and Ocean. There is a tendency to denigrate these ships as being quickly built, cheap and nasty. They were nothing of the kind. (Built using revolutionary methods there were bound to be a few problems). These ships saved the free world; it’s as simple as that.”
When the European War ended he married Edna and they lived in Liverpool for a few weeks while he took the examinations for First Mate. Edna was pregnant when he joined a small tanker at Falmouth as navigating officer. Although Japan had by this time surrendered they set sail for the Far east and got as far as Colombo before being stalled and sent back to the UK.