Sketch by Jack Chalker

Homeward Bound

Chapter Eight

Homeward Bound

 

April  5th 1944 :

For Albert, April the 5th 1944 probably started much the same as any other day. But at some time before 10.30 a.m. that morning, he was involved in a particularly nasty road accident, an accident that would soon bring an end to his Army days,   though the injuries he received, would affect him for the rest of his days.

 

5.4.44.  No.13 General Hospital

              Fractures ; left femur

              (multiple). Concussion.

              Fracture left radius.

              Lacerated wound left leg.

Previous history :-  involved in road accident prior to admission. Details not available.

Condition on admission :-  General condition 10.30  hours

Unconscious.  Pulse : good volume, 96.

On examination :- Fracture shaft left femur. Lacerated wound upper third left leg. Fracture left radius. Abrasions left thigh, right knee, face, scalp, right elbow.

Reflexes : eyes : pupils equal, react. Abdomen : present, equal.

Right knee and ankle normal.

Treatment ; Thomas Splint left leg, Thomas Splint left arm.

X-ray.

Placed on seriously ill list.  18.00 hours.

Temperature 100.4 .   Pulse 80, periods of consciousness during day, drowsy, irrational.

6.4.44. Operation.

  1. Wound left leg, toilet suture with drainage.
  2. Plaster of Paris applied to left area after manipulation.
  3. Pin through left tibial tuberosity. Thomas Splint applied. 20 lbs. Weight applied.

Conscious during day, drowsy, irrational, irritable.

X-ray.

 

7.4.44. Remains restless.  Interferes with dressings, splint and plaster of Paris.  No recollection of accident or subsequent incidents

11.4.44. General condition good.  Temperature 98.  Pulse 68.

Still restless and obstreperous. Tore off dressings and part of plaster of Paris during night.

13.4.44. Sutures removed from leg – infected.

15.4.44. Off seriously ill list. X – ray.

 

Mr. Alec Adamson. RAMC :

Road accidents were far from uncommon – we obeyed the local custom and drove on the right. All our vehicles were made for Britain and there were no conversions to left hand drive. This probably contributed to the number of accidents we had. The roads in the Delta area generally had quite a good surface but there was no substantial edge to them. Gradually the tarmac was crumbled at the edge causing dangerous potholes.

 

Another of my interesting and exciting discoveries, found tucked away at the back of Albert`s Army Service/Pay Book, was a movement pass, authorising him to travel to Port Tewfik and Suez while on duty at all times. I should imagine that he could have travelled to both Port Tewfik and Suez during the course of his duties, to collect invalids documents from Hospital Ships and Trains, as detailed in the A.D.M.S. Quarterly Report, second quarter `42. Could he have been doing this on the morning of the 5th of April 1944? Interestingly the pass records Albert`s rank as Lance Corporal.

Albert`s Movement Pass -1

Albert`s Movement Pass

17.4.44. Weight increased to 25 lbs. For 48 hours and fracture manipulated.

18.4.44.  X – ray.

19.4.44.  Profuse discharge from leg wound.

20.4.44.  Further manipulation of leg. X – ray.

3.5.44.  Leg cleaner – healing.

4.5.44. Transfer to Orthopaedic Centre is now recommended.

 

Les Bird was stationed at 13 BGH Suez for four years.

Mr. Les Bird. RAMC :

The hospital itself consisted mainly of a large number of converted Nissen huts with little offices built on for the staff and medicines etc. The Theatre consisted of a clutter of huts and buildings, the patients were transferred to and fro to their respective wards by ambulances.

In Theatre, 13 BGH SUEZ -1

In Theatre, 13 BGH SUEZ

Les Bird (standing right)

The staff on the wards were, QARANC Sisters, RAMC personnel, foreign nurses, Italian/German POWs as orderlies, and Egyptian labourers under British control, Royal Engineers and Pioneer Corps.

The cookhouses were run by the Army Catering Corps and Sudanese cooks, with foreign labourers (POWs). The African Army Corps catered for themselves regarding food, they liked their meat raw.

The QARANC nurses ate in the Officers Mess; as you can see it was a problem with so many nationalities. Thinking back to those days we had a Matron in overall charge, everything was clean, discipline was strict, 30 beds in a ward, and very little post-operative infections etc. not like today`s hospitals, and all our medical and female wards were of a good standard despite TB/Malaria and other medical cases being mixed.

We did manage to go out occasionally on trips, like going over to Alexandria and my favourite, Port Tewfik, and a trip to the Red City (Petra, Jordan) by ponies, bit sore afterwards. Egypt and other areas, we found were not very clean, plenty of flies etc.

Les Bird at 13 BGH SUEZ -1

Les Bird at 13 BGH SUEZ

With regards to Port Tewfik, when we went visiting I recall it was very busy, with the loading and unloading of the boats.

The town itself was predominantly French, the Merchant Sailors with their berets and heavy drinking in the bars etc. There were some nice little cafes with French staff and some nice shops etc.

There were some good times and of course the not so good times, like losing patients and staff who had become your friends, in the lonely type of life we lived, especially when on shift work in the desert.

13 BGH SUEZ -1

13 BGH SUEZ

Albert spent thirty three days at 13 BGH Suez, before being transferred to No. 2 Orthopaedic Centre, 63rd General Hospital Heliopolis, Cairo.

 

7.5.44. Transferred to No. 2 Orthopaedic Centre.

Condition on admission :-  Left arm in full arm plaster of Paris with elbow at 90 degrees. Forearm in mid position. Left leg in Thomas splint with knee flexion piece. Kirschner wire through tibial tubercle – knee flexed to 136 degrees. X- ray femur shows backward and outward displacement.

 

8.5.44.   Kirschner wire removed and fracture manipulated.

10.5.44. X – ray femur. No improvement. Backward displacement persists.

15.5.44. Re-manipulation femur under general anaesthetic. Some pocketing of  pus in front of thigh. Lateral counterincision. Plaster of Paris off forearm – fracture clinically firm.

18.5.44. X – ray femur – unaltered. Callus beginning to form.

26.5.44. Re-manipulation femur under general anaesthetic. Fragments appear impacted in soft tissues. X – ray control in theatre shows no improvement.

13.6.44.     X – ray. 15 degree outward bowing at fracture site.

19.6.44.  Correction outward bowing under Pentothal and lateral pressure pad applied.

20.6.44.  X – ray. Slight reduction in outward bowing. For skin graft. 

7.7.44.    Free razor grafts from opposite thigh to left shin.

15.7.44.  Dressing removed. Graft only taken in two areas, but whole area is cleaner.

24.7.44.  X – ray. Outward bowing persists. Recommend grading category D. Evacuate United Kingdom, Hospital Ship, lying case.

30.8.44.  Hospital Ship. “Oranje”. In Thomas Splint. Small healing wound left thigh.

So this was it, after almost three years away from the United Kingdom, Albert was homeward bound, aboard His Majesty`s  Australian Hospital Ship Oranje.

 

War Diary. 63 General Hospital  M.E.F.Admissions, Discharges And Deaths  –  Month of August 1944. (WO 177/1318)

August 30th 1944 :

        Discharged  Officers   3

                     Other Ranks  78

 

War Diary. Medical Branch. HQ 17 Area Cairo. (WO 177/56)

August 30th 1944 :

Ambulance Train No. 3 with 32 lying and 41 standing invalids for U.K. from hospitals in area left Cairo Main for Port Said  0100 hours.

Harbour, Port Said -1

The Harbour, Port Said

The Stoomv.Maats.Nederland liner Oranje was completed in 1939, and left on her maiden voyage to Batavia on September 4th of that year. She remained in Sourabaya following the outbreak of war, later sailing to Australia where she was converted to a Hospital Ship for the Royal Australian Navy, though remaining under the Dutch flag.

 

Norman Mallins returned home on the Hospital Ship Oranje, from Italy in 1943.

 

Mr. Norman Mallins. Royal Tank Regiment :

While serving in Italy, I was wounded in the leg and spent some time in the 98th British General Hospital, Naples. I returned to Liverpool on the Oranje, she had been launched in 1939 by Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands and she was a beautiful ship.

Oranje -1

Oranje

 When I eventually returned home, I had a night out in my home town of  Manchester, I made sure I was in uniform and put on a bit more of a limp, I got all my beer free that night.

 

Nobby Clark, shared his memories of the events leading up to his time on the Hospital Ship Oranje. Nobby served as a signalman with the Royal Navy.

Mr. Nobby Clark. Royal Navy :

I was a signalman aboard the frigate “Halsted” and went over to Normandy on D-day leaving from the Thames Estuary on the Monday afternoon, June 5th 1944. When we arrived off the Normandy coast it was like Piccadilly Circus, so many ships and landing craft, after discharging our convoy of troops and supplies we returned to the Thames Estuary to refuel and gather another convoy (which included large concrete blocks, which we later learned were parts of the Mulberry Harbour) then back again to Normandy. On the night of Saturday June 10/11th we were attacked by six German E-boats detected by radar, we fought off the first attack and about 0200 they re-grouped and a torpedo took our bows away including our A gun, pom-pom and left our B gun a tangled mess. Some 27 shipmates were killed and  twice that number injured. Luckily, the forward   bulkheads remained firm, so we remained afloat, I  learned later that she was towed back to Portsmouth. The destroyer HMS “Fernie” was in the vicinity and when no further attacks seemed likely, she came to our assistance.

I had been injured above my right eye, at this stage it was thought the eye was gone, two shipmates helped me down from the flag deck and took me to the first aid station by the funnel. Some time later I was asked with others  if we would climb down a scrambling net in to a boat sent by the “Fernie”. Once aboard the destroyer, which was crowded with survivors, I was taken first to the ward room, where I was plonked alongside a fellow who had been swimming in fuel oil, he was in a terrible state, oil in every orifice, eyes , nose, mouth, ears and he vomited oil all over my shoulders. A bit later we were taken down to the mess deck and given a cupful of neat rum. The next thing I remember, I was aboard the “Oranje” in a cot with an SBA attending me  and being made a stretcher case as my clothes were in tatters and soaking wet, what was left of them were cut away.

We were then transferred to a Red Cross barge, being hoisted on a stretcher by the ships crane and down into the barge. This took us to a beach, possibly Southsea or perhaps Gosport where we were unloaded into Army ambulances and taken to Cosham Hospital, near Portsmouth.

 

Norman Albon, also served with the Royal Navy as an Air Mechanic (electrics) from January 1943 until March 1946. He recalls the Oranje.

Mr. Norman Albon. Royal Navy :

The Oranje is a memory that is easy to recall, she was a most impressive vessel. I was serving as a member of the Naval Air Dockyard Party in Mombassa. I recall her moored alongside our workshops, she took on board service personnel for return to the U.K.

I remember there was a bit of a panic as her propeller became fouled by a mooring rope. My unit helped by getting a diver to clear the obstruction, this would have been about mid July 1944. I remember her leaving and her route would have been via Suez, where it is probable your Grandfather was taken aboard.

 

Mr. Tommy Evans. Royal Artillery:

We were all given a postcard of the Oranje and a bag of boiled sweets, when the ship was loaded at Naples, in 1944.

As for the RAMC, our money and watches were asked for by the New Zealand Wardmaster, telling us they would be safe from theft in the ships safe, this we trusted. When we got to Liverpool, I asked him about my belongings, and was told that our possessions and £7 in back pay was on its way to the hospital we were going to, along with a good German made watch, which I treasured.    They never arrived.

Oranje -2

Tommy`s Postcard

After my demob, watches were hard to come by, I wrote and complained to the New Zealand Government. Eventually my watch, and money in postal orders arrived even without an apology. I often wonder what happened to the Sergeant Wardmaster, probably a rich retired jeweller today.

 

“Coo – she looks like bloody Blackpool, don`t she ?”

Eleven sisters were on the quayside. I was the last to arrive. We were soon hurried into the waiting launch. Our eyes were turned to the large ship lying apart from a mass of anchored vessels. Against their drab wartime paint, rust-stained and damaged, her white hull gleamed brightly, the broad green band broken at intervals by large red crosses marking her out for all to see as a hospital ship.

Destined for the Netherlands and East Indies run, the Oranje had been on her maiden voyage when the Netherlands were overrun by the Germans, who then declared her a prize of war and ordered her immediate return to the Netherlands. Her captain refused and sailed her to Australia, where she was offered for use as a hospital ship, under Dutch command. Most of her crew, medical and nursing staff remained with her. Many of them had homes and families in the Netherlands or the East Indies and unhappily knew little of how they were faring. Once the ships nursing sister, our matron had trained in the Netherlands and worked in Britain. She seemed a quiet, competent lady whose English was excellent.

We learnt that we had been brought on board as replacements for an Australian unit who were now serving in the Pacific area. A number of New Zealand sisters and VADs (Voluntary Aid Detachments) who had been on the ship for two years came and made us welcome. Our British group had come mostly from hospitals in the Middle East, but two had recently travelled out from home and were a source of news about food-rationing and life in wartime Britain. There were a few British orderlies who later joined us.

Oranje -3

H.M.A.H.S. ORANJE

Stretcher patients came out from shore on lighters – flat boats used for supplies. Once alongside, they were hoisted up by crane. Two stretchers were placed side by side on a flat pallet, and the New Zealand sergeant major stayed with them. All through the fierce heat of the day he stood astride, balancing the weight and assuring the men of their safety. It was no easy feat, but the loadings went smoothly and without mishap.

Hospital blues were a thing of the past: White shirts and blue shorts were the rig of the day.

Food was the chief topic among the men. It was the variety and the amount of the servings that amazed them. I had a hard job persuading the Dutch steward to make helpings smaller, except the ice-cream, which was a firm favourite.

When we were at sea at night, our decks were brightly illuminated, in great contrast to other shipping, where even the glow of a lighted cigarette called ripe comments from the bridge. Light shone continuously on the green band that circled the ship, on the Red Crosses and the huge flag that we flew. There was no way in which such a vessel could be confused with battle or merchant shipping by enemy surface craft.

One evening when I was on deck, a naval launch came past, we were near a port.  A rating looked up and called :

“Coo – she looks like bloody Blackpool, don`t she ?”

Betty Parkin    “Desert Nurse”

Oranje -4

H.M.A.H.S ORANJE

Oranje, The Floating Hospital -2

Oranje, The Floating Hospital

Oranje, The Floating Hospital -2

During my research for Albert`s War, I have had the great fortune and privilege of being able to talk to six of Albert`s fellow travellers from his Troopship, the USS West Point.

 

Regarding the Hospital Ship Oranje, I have also had the great fortune and privilege of being in touch with one of Albert`s fellow patients from that voyage home, Frank Munro.

Mr. Frank Munro. 205 Group. R.A.F. :

We left Port Said in the early evening, two or three evenings later we watch a most beautiful sunset as we sail through the Messina Straits and continue up the coast of Italy. Next morning when I looked out of the porthole, I learn we have docked at Naples (Port Said to Naples 1115 miles). We had hooked on to one end of several sunken ships in the harbour, we watch as German POWs with stretchers bring on the wounded along the side of the sunken boats and then into the side entrance of the Oranje.

After breakfast I went up to the top deck by lift to watch what was going on – but best of all, I watched with awe and wonder at the volcano Vesuvius which had just become active and could be seen spouting high up into the sky.

That afternoon we sailed again, we missed seeing anything in the Gibraltar Straits as we passed through sometime during the night, next morning we were informed we were in the Atlantic. Sailing on in this early part of September, we sailed round the top of Northern Ireland, next morning we learnt we were outside Liverpool.

 

The following passages are excerpts taken from Chapter One of Frank`s fascinating book, “An Interlude When I Was Young”.

For the best part of two days the hospital ship in which I lay had been pitching and tossing in gale force winds and squally conditions off the coast roads of Liverpool Docks.

We had been informed by members of the New Zealand nursing staff that we were queuing up for a berth behind two other hospital ships and hence the delay. During the previous evening I had stood, propped up on my crutches on the open deck looking at the coast of Scotland slowly slipping by, we were nearly home and our hearts were glad and minds were happy.

I remember I awakened some time during the night to the sound of utter silence, the throb of the engines and normal functional sounds had uncannily ceased and instead of the normal sounds of our own voices we were whispering quietly to each other as to what had happened and why we had stopped. As daylight broke on this day in early September 1944, one or two of us who could walk, kept a watch from the portholes. “What can you see?” asks someone. “A number of buildings and bloody great cranes, but we are a long way off, bloody miles I should think.”

All that day we remained hove-to and it was not until the afternoon of the second day that the engines restarted and we proceeded slow ahead towards Liverpool Docks only to stop yet again as nightfall came.

Information was yet again imparted that we were to remain here overnight and we would dock at the quayside at first light in the morning, causing more moans and groans of disappointment all round. We were all young and naturally impatient and many of those on board had not seen England for four years. For once, the “Gen” was “Pukka – Gen”, and we did dock early the next morning.

After some considerable time things began to move. Stretchers and bearers were at the ready and we were placed on them ready for removal. I remember requesting a blanket, as I was so cold. Most of us still had our greatcoats but mine had got lost somewhere along the way. At last we were passed out of the hatch and onto a wide gangplank that was high above the ground, and we proceeded directly into the bowels of a huge warehouse, which was adjacent to the jetty.

Oranje -5

H.M.A.H.S. Oranje, Liverpool Landing Stage, 1944

I next found myself in a huge lift that took us down to the ground level. While this was going on we were aware of a loud hissing of steam from somewhere and then realised that we were being loaded straight into a hospital train. Just before I enter the train an elderly lady with a smiling face hands me some writing paper and envelopes, a couple of stamps, and, of all things, a bar of soap (a rare commodity in wartime Britain). I thanked her, and she placed her hand on my shoulder and wished me luck, I noticed the Salvation Army uniform she wore.

I was placed on the second bunk up from the floor on the train, which pleased me as I was able to look out of the window. My first thoughts of the sites outside, was that everything seemed so dirty. The buildings were dirty and black, and with a sky to match, everything had a look of shabby weariness. Still – we had landed in the UK – the war will be over in a few months – then everything will be so different. (How young I was !) Then came the shouted orders and instructions again and I assume we will soon be on the move, but no word yet of our destination. After all this excitement I find I am now cold again lying there with nothing to do. Everyone is asking where we are going and eventually we find out that our next stop will be Manchester, where some of us will be off loaded and then the train will continue to Sheffield.

I lay thinking of my journey so far and in particular the departure from the Middle East with memories of brilliant white buildings with the constant sun in the sky. Little wonder I found it difficult to accept the oncoming English winter to which I was not acclimatised.

 

September 9th 1944 : Liverpool

Albert and his fellow passengers disembarked from the Oranje, at long last they were back in the United Kingdom, home ! Some as Frank were bound for the Royal Hospital Sheffield, others, Albert included were bound for St. Lukes Hospital Bradford.

 

9.9.44. St. Lukes Hospital Bradford

Condition on admission :-  X – ray shows very little union of left leg. For transfer to hospital.

Condition on discharge :-  In statu quo.

12.9.44. Keighly and District Victoria Hospital

Fairly satisfactory. Union of fracture, left knee still very stiff, unable to bend the knee more than half flexion. Adhesions due to prolonged extension of limb.

26.9.44. Manipulation, adhesions broken down.

29.11.44. Derby City Hospital

Condition on admission :-  temperature 97. Pulse 82. Respirations 20. Fracture left femur and left radius seven months ago.

Now – union of fractures.  Left knee able to bend to 90 degrees, almost full extension. Foot : oedema of foot, half full dorsi-flexion. Sweating of trophic limb. Healed fracture (left) femur. Healed wound over (left) tibia, wound Achilles tendon region, ankle bone stiff. For massage, exercises and physiotherapy.

 

30.11.44.  For X – ray left femur and left ankle region, especially lower tibia. Satisfactory to go to Parwich, walking.

30.11.44. X – ray left femur :-  Old fracture mid shaft finally united. Left ankle – recent decalcification. He is not clear that there has been a fracture.

2.12.44. Parwich Red Cross Hospital.

Parwich -1

Parwich

(Taken around 1980)

Left wrist – good movements arm and wrist.  Left leg : scar over tendo-achilles  -  tendo-achilles shortened. Extension of knee full flexion to 120 degrees. Foot very swollen, very little Flexion and extension right ankle – no tibial movement. Crepe bandage to foot. Exercises and faradism left leg and foot.

9.1.45. Has had three weeks disembarkation leave with treatment at Derby Infirmary, Out-Patient Department. For vigorous exercises to left ankle. Exercises left knee and hip.

28.1.45. For boarding tomorrow. Foot still swells a little. Tendo-achilles less contracted.

 

March 27th 1945: Derby

At long last, after four years and fifteen days service with the colours, Albert was finally discharged. But life would never be quite the same again.

 

 

 

Sharing information with others is rewarding in itself, the pieces from the jigsaw begin to fit together and a picture begins to appear. Improve your knowledge and help make the Fepow Story an everlasting memorial to their memory.

Any material  to add to the Fepow Story please send to:

Ron.Taylor@fepow-community.org.uk

and their story will live on.

 

[Alberts War] [To Leeds] [Winston“s Specials] [Cape Town] [Doolally Tap] [Singapore] [Suez] [Shitehawks] [Homeward Bound] [Epilogue]

 

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