Sketch by Jack Chalker

Foreign Soil


Foreign Soil

Finally, we arrived at this port in France which turned out to be Cherbourg, all of us glad to be on "terra firma" again. Then in the early hours, being shepherded on to a train for the next part of our journey to where? We did not know and if our trains were uncomfortable, try the third class coaches of the French trains. Of course, we are talking of fifty-odd years ago and in wartime.

We seemed to travel for days; so many stops and into sidings for hours. Tired and weary we finally arrived at a large port which we learned was Marseilles. Billeted overnight in a school hall we marched down to the harbour and embarked on a liner converted into a troop ship. It turned out the ship was the "Andes" and would be taking us all the way to Singapore. Conditions on board were much better than we had experienced up till then. We did have a hammock to lie in and once you got used to it, it was heaven compared to what had gone before. One thing, the weather was warmer and as we set sail a band played on the quayside "Will ye no come back again?", little knowing what was ahead of us.

So, out into the Mediterranean, again changing course, accompanied by destroyers and other vessels in convoy, to eventually enter the port at the head of the Suez Canal called Port Said. During this voyage full army training was in force, starting the day with P.T. followed by drill, then weapon training. Between noon and 2.00pm we had to rest. Afternoons, more drill and other warfare activities, with a few sessions of boat drill thrown in.

The sail took a full ten days to Port Said. Approximately half of the forces on board got a 12 hour pass to go ashore, but I did not have one so stayed on board sunning, by now getting a good tan, looking more like fit and fighting men.

Next day we sailed through the Suez Canal and into the Red Sea. Now the temperature was really becoming very hot and humid and the days followed the same pattern as before.

Next call was Aden, a port in the Gulf of Aden, where shore leave was granted to those who had no passes at Port Said. We went ashore in groups of a dozen or so but it was too hot to enjoy it in the time allotted. So it was back to the ship and ready to sail as soon as all were on board. During our leisure time we played deck quoits, cards, read and wrote letters back home, now many, many miles away.

Our next port of call was Calcutta, via the Indian Ocean, and we had a number of musters as it was known German submarines were operating there. However, we arrived safely at Calcutta but no leave was given.

Stores were taken on and once again we sailed onwards down the west coast of Burma and the Malay Peninsula. Finally, three weeks since we set sail at Marseilles, we entered Singapore Harbour where there were many ships and coolies working to unload cargoes into the godowns.


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