Sketch by Jack Chalker

SS Washington

Japan joins opposition

With all my happy thoughts of playing football with my fellow professionals, I stepped aboard the troop-ship in Liverpool Docks, ready for anything the Germans could mount against us.

I was a member of the 18th Division and before leaving our last billet we had met the King and Queen.  They wished us ‘God speed and a safe and happy return home’.  That was my first and only introduction to Royalty, but I thought the gesture was very good and meaningful.

It wasn’t long before ‘Excitement’ was to be the keynote.  Leaving Liverpool Docks, we headed for the Atlantic, and whoever said the Yanks weren’t in the war was telling bloody lies.  Halfway across the Atlantic, our English Patrol Vessels were exchanged with USA equivalent vessels and our English ships returned home.  Now we had American escort vessels and lease-and-lend was not supposed to be a commercial proposition.

Not many hours later, we heard the alarm – ‘Enemy in Sight!’.  Submarines were firing torpedoes – never a dull moment.  The Germans gave us a right pasting.  We lost a few ships, but none that were carrying any of our units.  We had many frightening moments and gained nothing but experience.

USS Mount Vernon-2

SS Washington

(While being used as a troop ship was renamed USS Mount Vernon)

Finally, we docked in Nova Scotia – Canada where we boarded the American ship ‘Washington’ which, at that time, was the largest ship in the world.  The name of my hometown was ‘Washington’, in England, the same name as my ship.  So how could I possibly go wrong?  I felt luck was with me.

Again we set sail for a destination unknown to us.  We went down the coast of America until we finally dropped anchor off the coast of the West Indies.  Arrangements had been made for two soldiers from the 197th Field Ambulance to go ashore.  Mine was the first name to be drawn from the hat.  My colleague and I set off with the rest of the party.  The ship was anchored on the horizon and the place we were to visit was Trinidad.  It was quite a momentous occasion for me because it was the first time that I had ever set foot outside of Britain in my life.  I found it all very exciting.

My colleague said to me;  “What about a Brothel trip?”

“Never been to one in my life,” I said.  Anyway, we found one and we both went in.  The place was filthy and stank.  We dashed out quickly and were jeered and mocked by the prostitutes.  That experience has always remained in my thoughts because I was so appalled by the dirty, filthy conditions, and I guess those situations aren’t exactly my ‘cup of tea’.  The occupants of the brothel were simply nauseating and disgusting.  My thoughts turned to my mother – she would never have understood, but I said there and then;  “Wait until you are married Nurse Sam.”

Whilst on land, we had to do some shopping for our colleagues still on board the SS Washington and we remembered literally everything.  So, we were quite acclaimed upon our return.  The pleasure on their faces was a joy to behold because we never had much to celebrate since we boarded the ship.

During my time my time on that ship I stuck up several friendships with the Yankee sailors, including one who approached me with this exclamation;  “Can you cure a dose of Gonorrhea?”  Pleasant eh?  I told him that I would see my Captain and see what we could do.  If the Yanks were found to have any venereal disease, they would be put on a charge and lose their wages.

I explained the situation to my Doctor and he agreed to help him – on the quiet.  We cleared the chap up on the proviso that he didn’t tell any of his shipmates, otherwise we would have been inundated with clients.  He asked what the ‘damage’ was.  I told him to supply me with ice-cream until we parted company.  My doctor was a great lover of ice-cream and Yankee Ice-cream was divine stuff.  So we both had ice-cream whenever we wanted it.

This all happened at Trinidad and we were to stay with the Yanks until we reached India.  My mates all thought I was a great fellow because they too were to partake of all the contributions.  It so happened that the ‘Yank’ was the Chief Chef and would have lost quite a few hundred dollars in wages had he have reported sick.

Off to sea again, and we all wondered where we were heading and what was to become of us. 

One morning, we saw Table Mountain – so it was Capetown – South Africa.  It was there that we had some of the most enjoyable time in our army life.  I must say that the way those South Africans treated the Blacks was disgusting.  The cruelty was really awful.  It gave me the feeling that it would have been better if they treated their Blacks with the same kindness that they had reserved for us.  But all they did to their Black servants was to belt and abuse them.  What was one to do when faced with such a situation?  We didn’t know.  I suppose that we should have shown some sort of disapproval of the South African way they mistreated the Black population.  Maybe, in those days we were all a little prejudiced against the Blacks.  I don’t know.

We were taken from the ship, by car, to the homes of the White South Africans and given literally, the freedom of the City.  They even took us to Simonstown, which I believe was one of the war bases for ships.  It was a beautiful seaside resort and it was really something.  We were taken to dances in Cape Town, shows, parties, dinners and a good time was had by all.  But the only blot was their cruelty.  They just belted their servants for no reason at all, and the servants just took the treatment for granted.  Although the South Africans gave us such a wonderful time, I have no wish to ever talk to a South African again.  These people actually wrote to my parents in England to inform them that we had stayed, and been entertained by them for a whole month.

During our stay in Cape Town; we heard that Pearl Harbour had been attacked by the Japanese.  The devastation was said to have been Horrific.  The comment from my ‘Gonorrhea friend’ was;  “Give us six months and we’ll soon have them in line!”

A load of codswhallop!”  I said,  “It will take years!”

From then on we seemed to be in for a hard slog.  I had never seen a German yet and now we were moving towards Japanese country.  We had orders to set sail and our next port of call was Bombay –India.



Empress of Asia



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[Mister Sam] [Kick Off] [Nurse Sam Purvis] [Skipper of the 197th] [SS Washington] [Empress of Asia] [Singapore] [Singapore Hospital] [Road to Changi] [Welcome to Changi] [Shanty Town] [Selerang] [A Good Jap] [Walking Dead] [Kranji] [Timberyard] [The Last Post] [Setting of Rising Sun] [Acknowledgement] [The Last Laugh] [The Quest]


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