Sketch by Jack Chalker

San Francisco

And so again we set sail and eventually we sailed into San Francisco Bay. Oh what a sight, the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, and one sight we never expected to see, on arriving at San Francisco we were met by all sorts of small ships, some with dance bands on board, loud speakers and all sorts of decor. This was, we thought, a wonderful welcome, but much to our surprise. Although we joined in and was most welcomed by the Americans, in the distance we saw coming behind us, but in a different direction none other than a fleet of battle ships returning from the pacific war. This was Admiral 'Bull' Halsey and the third fleet. What a coincidence! and what a wonderful sight and we thought the welcome was for us, but we were not disappointed as we were given the same welcome. As I have said before, these Americans do things in a big way.

Well the ship berthed at the quay and eventually we disembarked. Again the coffee and doughnuts were distributed and after again gorging, we finished up boarding small ships and landed on Angel Island. Why were we landed on such a solitary place was the question. You are going to be here for three days in quarantine, you will be examined to see if you are clear of all diseases that you may have had and that had been missed on the last inspection. It's better to be safe than sorry, I suppose.

We were told we were to be there for three days, again food was very good and any goods we needed could be had at the PX. Again no need for money until something happened the next day. The previous night we were looking at the lovely lights on the mainland. Gee, would we like to be there but no chance. Well the next day we saw a fisherman in a small boat laying off the beach, myself and two of my mates hailed him and asked if he would row us to the mainland. Of course, this was going against the orders from the American Authorities but who cared, we had been P.O.W. 's a long time and we were now free and were going to make the best of it.

There was a ferry going back and forward to the mainland, this needed money, not only that, American Military Police were guarding the quay and stopped all P.O.W.īs from going on the mainland. You could see why we were in quarantine. So he agreed to take us to the mainland. We had a marvellous day, but could not purchase anything, no money. After spending a lovely day sight seeing, hunger was beginning to tell and the question was, how do we get back to the island? Only one way. It was getting dark, so we thought we would try to get on the ferry without being seen. No such luck! We were spotted by an M.P. 'Where have you guys been? How did you get on the mainland? Don't you realise you are a danger to the population on the mainland?' 'Don't be ridiculous,' we said. We crossed on the ferry and were handed over to the M.P. on the island.

Names were taken and the next day we were brought in front of the Camp Commander. He really laid into us for about half an hour as to why we were not allowed on the mainland. We did feel a bit embarrassed because, being British, and him being an American, it made us feel very stupid. We were lucky to get away with what we did. 'Sorry sir,' we said, 'we shall not do it again.' 'No,' was the reply, 'you will not have the time as you travel tomorrow.' After dismissing us with a telling off, we made for the room and slept soundly after a lovely day. Even if we still felt extremely hungry.

The next day, everyone was on the move early and looking forward to the next part of the journey. Again we boarded small boats and landed on the mainland. This time we were taken to San Francisco railway station and embarked on the train. We were given a sleeper each and told this journey would last five days. What a lovely journey. We were looked after by coloured porters, they brought us breakfast in bed and we could have stayed in bed for lunch if need be. But this was not needed as we thought we were losing time and missing all the sights of this wonderful country.

Our first stop was Salt Lake City, two hours were spent there. We were allowed off the train to do a bit of shopping because before we left Angel Island, we were given some money. So this came in handy. Two hours soon went by and it was back to the train and off to our next stop which was Denver, Colorado. Again, round came the porters asking if we required anything, the life we were leading at present could not be beaten. It was all a dream, please don't wake me up. Strangely enough, this was the first time I had heard coming over the tannoy system that lovely song 'Sentimental Journey', quite appropriate, I thought.

Our next stop, as I mentioned, was Denver, we arrived there around two o'clock in the morning and were told we were stopping for four hours, if anyone wanted to get off the train, they were welcome to do so, what at two o'clock in the morning. But we did not want to lose any time, so off we went into the city, things were very quiet, but we came across a small cabin selling coffee and hamburgers and hot dogs, etc. My mates and myself thought we would indulge in one of these and after explaining who we were, he let us away without paying, typical American 'Thanks'.

The owner was so thrilled by our stories about being P.O.W.'s he rang his home and before long a crowd had gathered to listen to our experiences, they thoroughly enjoyed listening to the conversation. Don't forget, this was very early morning and the usual sound in the states, flee, naw, nee, naw, and it was getting louder. One thought, another car chase by the police, but no, the police car came to a stop right by where we were, they had heard no doubt of this crowd that had gathered at the cabin, so at once they joined in the conversation. It was like an interrogation, so many questions were answered. We tried to keep them amused about our P.O.W. days and they appreciated it very much. One big question was, was it the atom bomb that freed you? Yes was the answer, it was a pity it wasn't dropped months earlier, then maybe there would have been quite a lot more of our mates enjoying the same freedom as we were. No doubt they are probably looking down on us now and saying to themselves, 'How lucky you are to be alive.'

 

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Queen Elizabeth I

 

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