We left Blighty on the 28th October 1941 sailing from Liverpool in the Reina Del Pacifico, although embarking with tropical gear, our was destination was unknown most thought it would be the desert of the Middle East.
Reina Del Pacifico sailed with Convoy CT.5 to Halifax
Dad had joined 18th Div. HQ as their Bren Gunner before sailing so was no longer with the 4th Norfolks who sailed in the Andes
The 18th Division consisted of mainly East Anglian Territorials from Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambrigdeshire but there were also the 1st & 5th Sherwood Foresters, 9th Royal Northumberland Fusiliers and the 5th Loyals from Lancashire. The journey was rough and seasickness on a crowded boat has its disadvantages but it can also help bind men together and spirits were high, we were off to show the enemy what we were made of, but under the bravado I was uncertain of what lay ahead. Halfway across the Atlantic our small British escort changed to a large American force including an aircraft carrier the Lexington, two heavy and two light cruisers and destroyers.
Arrived Halifax, Nova Scotia , Canada, on the 8th November, we where only ashore a few minutes before being transferred to the U.S.S. Wakefield (27,500 tons) with 5.000 others, formerly being a luxury liner called Manhattan, our quarters had tiered beds, four to a tier, but we were not overcrowded.
American Report on the Troop Ship Convoy
The West Point sailed three days later for New York and arrived on August 1st. To join the unprecedented American convoy WS-12 carrying British troops a month before Pearl Harbor, West Point sailed from Portsmouth, Virginia, on November 3rd. 1941, to Halifax to embark 5,443 personnel of the British 55th. Brigade, 18th. Division and 100 U.S. Army personnel for Basrah. Escorted by the Aircraft Carrier Ranger, cruisers Quincy and Vincennes, and eight destroyers. America was at war by the time Cape Town was reached on December 9th. Thence, West Point and Wakefield proceeded directly to Bombay escorted by H.M.S. Dorsetshire and arrived on the 27th.With the rapidly deteriorating situation in Malaya, the British ordered both transports to Singapore with their troops. After the 30-foot draft West Point jettisoned some ballast, she and Wakefield, Duchess of Bedford, Empress of Japan and Empire Star sailed on January 19, 1942. Escorted by H.M.S. Exeter through Java's shallow Sundra Strait to avoid Japanes subs,
West Point docked at Keppel Harbour, Singapore, with 5,272 troops and vital supplies on the 29th. A Japanese air raid early the next morning hit Wakefield, straddled West Point and showered her with shrapnel. The transport rendered medical assistance to her fleetmate and both hastily completed their refuelling. After taking on 1,946 military and civilian evacuees, West Point, together with Wakefield, sailed at 6:00pm. on January 30th, 1942, and called at Batavia the next day. In perhaps the "first" for a U.S. Navy vessel, a baby boy was born aboard on February 4th. on the Equator, Christened Westpoint Leslie Sheldrake, and the crew, "initiated the juvenile pollywog into a heavenly shellback, certainly the youngest in the history of the navy"
Left Halifax on the 10th November in the Wakefield with U.S.S Westpoint (formerly Miss America) and U.S.S. Mount Vernon (26,000 tons, formerly Washington), accompanied by an American escort including an aircraft carrier, Ranger, cruisers and destroyers. America was not in the war at this time so there was no shortages onboard, the food was very good and being a luxury liner it was very comfortable and we found ourselves putting on too much weight. We passed through the Mona Passage between Puerto Rico and St Domingo, arriving at Trinidad on 17th November in glorious sunshine so our tropical kit came out, but unfortunately no shore-leave, we left after two days of taking on supplies. On 24th we crossed the equator, there was a crossing the line ceremony.
Crossing the Line Ceremony Certificate
December 8th Japan declared war, by attacking Pearl Harbour. The day after we docked at Capetown, South Africa. There was no blackout, everything was illuminated. We did not get shore leave on the day we arrived but was granted the following three days, giving us plenty of time to see the sights. We lodged with Mrs Burton who made Jack and I very comfortable and promised to write to Phil and Ivy which pleased us both. Unfortunately I got a sceptic foot and only went out twice, when I did get out the shops were worth a visit, they were well stocked, with a variety of goods we hadn't seen for a long time in Blighty. The warmth of the South Africans towards us was very comforting, they seemed to like having us around and I was sad when the time came to re-embark on the Wakefield.
On 13th we left Capetown, we now had a British escort (H.M.S. Dorcester). 5th & 6th Norfolks on U.S.S. Mount Vernon left convoy for Mombassa latter joining a convoy to Singapore. We crossed the equator for the second time, arriving at Bombay, India on 27th December. We travelled up country by train to Ahmednagar, near Poona where we trained for the next twelve days, route marching in the sun to get used to the heat and wondering what all this was for. The poverty in India was terrible, children foraged for food in gutters because of starvation, it made me feel guilty of the food we had consumed onboard the Wakefield. The Japanese at this time had attacked Malaya and were moving south towards Singapore.
We had just seen in 1942 only to embark on 17th January back onto the Wakefield. The ship sailed the next day with a British escort, the H.M.S. Exeter and H.M.S. Glasgow with British and Australian destroyers. It was at this time we heard that the Prince of Wales and the Repulse had both been sunk by the Japanese and we were on our way to the Far East. We passed Colombo, (Ceylon), crossing the equator for the third time, we passed through the Sundra Straits between Java and Samatra and then the Banka Straits. The convoy was then bombed by Jap Planes, there was no damage but we were now alerted as to their intentions, so we picked up steam, the Wakefield was the first of our convoy to reach the safety of Keppel Harbour, Singapore on the 29th January 1942.
Ships were ablaze in the harbour, clouds of smoke drifted acrossed the sky and the smell of fumes was overpowering, this was not the best of greetings. We did not know it at this time but the Japs had taken most of Malaya in the last three weeks and were only thirty miles away.