Far East Bound
We moved next to Winsford in Cheshire there we got the message to get rigged out with overseas dress, khaki drill and pith helmets, which hinted that our next destination might be the Middle East.
MV Warwick Castle
We boarded the troop ship the ‘MV Warwick Castle’ at Liverpool Docks and set sail with six other troop ships on 24th October 1941. Our final destination was still a secret but we set of towards the North West and crossed the Atlantic. There were lots of storms and seasickness during the crossing and we arrived in Halifax, Nova Scotia in Canada on November the 8th.
The Warwick Castle was built in 1930 by Harland & Wolff Ltd in Belfast as a passenger ship. Owned by Union-Castle Mail SS Co Ltd in London it was requisitioned by the Admiralty as troopship in September 1939. The 20,107 tonne ship was one of the largest ships sunk in the War, just a week after our voyage to Canada.
At 08.44am on 14th November, 1942, the Warwick Castle was hit by one of two torpedoes from the U-boat U-413 about 200 miles northwest of Cape Espichel, Portugal. The U-boat hit her with two Coups de Grāce that caused the ship to sink about one hour later. The master, 61 crew members and 34 service personnel were lost. 201 crew members, 29 gunners, 5 naval personnel and 131 service personnel were saved.
As soon as we landed at Halifax we were transferred to a fleet of American troop ships, ‘USS Orizaba’, ‘Miss America’ and ‘Westpoint’, which made up the Convoy, 'William Sail 12X', at this stage America wasn't even in the war. I boarded ‘USS Orizaba’ under Captain Clarence Gulbranson. During service Capt. Gulbranson became a destroyer expert and was awarded the Belgian Military Cross for his feat in navigating a destroyer through the Brussels locks in 1935. During World War II he was involved in the North African invasion and saw action in the Mediterranean and the English Channel. Before his appointment to the Amphibious Training Base in 1943, he was awarded the Legion of Merit.
Conditions were very cramped aboard the old boat, Orizaba took on 1500 men which was greater that its normal capacity. The Orizaba was named after the town of Orizaba, Veracruz in Mexico and built for the Ward Line by William Cramp & Sons Ship and Engine Building Company of Philadelphia, she launched in February 1917. Upon Orizaba’s completion, she was delivered to the US Navy for transport duty on 11th April 1918. Assigned to the Atlantic Transport Service, Orizaba carried over 15,000 troops in six convoy trips to France before the end of World War I. In October 1921, Orizaba was back in service with the Ward Line and placed in New York–Cuba–Mexico service. Ward Line cruises were one of the least expensive ways to travel to Havana for what one author called "alcohol-enriched vacations" popular because of Prohibition in the United States. A typical voyage at this time sailed from New York and called at Havana, Progreso, and Veracruz. During her civilian service American poet Hart Crane leapt to his death, clad in pyjamas and overcoat, climbed the rail at the stern of the ship and plunged into the ocean in 1932 and Katharine Hepburn sailed on Orizaba to get a Mexican divorce in 1934. There was a reacquisition by the War Department and she was transferred to the Navy on 4th June 1941, and commissioned as Orizaba (AP-24) on 15th June 1941.
Over the next four years the ship made several transatlantic runs, receiving damage in an air attack in the Allied invasion of Sicily, and made trips to South America. Also serving in the Pacific Theatre, making several transpacific voyages. In June 1945, Orizaba was transferred to the Brazilian Navy where she was renamed Duque de Caxias (U-11). In August 1945, Duque de Caxis carried troops from the Brazilian Expeditionary Force from Naples back to Rio de Janeiro. Badly damaged by a fire in 1947, but repaired she remained in service and permanently transferred to Brazil in 1953. Duque de Caxias was decommissioned in 1959 and scrapped in 1963.
On the 10th November the convoy of troopships left Halifax, the journey south saw us travel through the Gulf Stream and as the air temperature rose things on board became very uncomfortable, though there was a plentiful availability of cigarettes and chocolate bars, cheaply and in quantity, a lot different to home.
Our journey took us first to the Port of Spain in Trinidad. We docked on the 17th November and here only the American soldiers were allowed ashore. On our departure two days later, 19th, all troops were issued with ‘May-West’ style lifebelts in case of submarine attack, there were one or two alarms but no action.
After crossing the South Atlantic we arrived, eventually, in Cape Town, South Africa, on the 9th December 1941. We were all allowed ashore over the week we were here. Word arrived that Japan had attacked Pearl Harbour and mounting tension in the Far East drew the United States into the War. First against the Japanese and then Germany as allies to Britain.
The convoy departed on 13th December, but we remained behind on the Orizaba, the big ships proceeded to Singapore our ship went up the East Coast to Mombasa for repairs. We were allowed ashore again although it was not very hospitable and the weather was really very hot. We marched for two hours every day but most afternoons we were allowed shore leave until evening. We spent Christmas on board the ship and left Mombasa on the 29th December.
Now we knew we were not going to Egypt but to Singapore but before heading there we went to Bombay in India arriving on the 6th January. Upon arriving we were put onto a train up to Deolali Camp for two weeks. It was extremely hot and there were more route marches. Before leaving we labelled our European kit bags and left them behind to go into storage. Back in Bombay we boarded the ‘Felix Rousell’ a free French ship which had been used by native troops and the conditions were filthy.
The Felix Roussell was built for the Messageries Maritimes by Ateliers et Chantiers de la Loire, St Nazaire being launched on December 17th 1929. The ship was named after the former chairman of the company, M Felix Roussel. The Felix Roussell arrived in Bombay January 17th 1942, ready for our voyage to Singapore.