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Warsailor Stories - Page 6
Warsailor Stories - Page 7
Edward Driscoll's Story - D/S Fjordheim and several others
"I signed on my first ship in October 1940. She was the 1575 ton Runa, one of Glens of Glasgow. I was 15 years old and signed as cabin boy. My duties were as follows: Start at 06:00 with tea and toast on the bridge and the same down below for the 2nd Engineer, make all the bunks and wash the cabin decks. Then work in the galley peeling spuds and washing dishes, pots and pans. Next to the saloon to lay the table, serve the meals and wash the dishes. Back to the cabins to polish the brass, and then take afternoon tea to the bridge and down below for the 3rd Engineer. Later, I would make up sandwiches for the 8-12 watch. In port, I had to trim all the mates' and engineers' and saloon lamps, fill them up with paraffin and clean the lamp glasses. All this for £4 a month. There was, however, a wonderful captain called MacClarty, from Oban. He always called me "Ned".
I did three trips on the Runa, two to Spain and one to Portugal for iron ore. It was while I was on this ship I heard my brother's ship, the Lady Glanely, had been torpedoed (see the external link at the end of this text). James (Driscoll), who was 17 years old, was galley boy on the ship and the second youngest member of the crew. The youngest was 16 year old Kenneth Dollah and there was another 17 year old first tripper by the name of Terence Rosser, from Llanelly. I remember the day the Lady Glanely sailed. It was a beautiful Sunday in August and my father and I walked over to the Mountstuart Dry Dock to see her out. They had just flooded the dock and were about to pull the shores away. Jimmy must have been the last member of the crew to board her. I'm sure I heard the Cook say, 'where have you been?'. It was near to dinner time. Then Jimmy vanished into the accommodation. We never saw him again.
My mother received the news when she went to the grocer's shop to buy potatoes. The potatoes were wrapped in the newspaper that reported the Lady Glanely as being sunk. I think there was a photograph of the ship as well. I heard the news when I was in Middlesbrough on the Runa. I was working in the pantry, when I heard the Chief Steward reading the newspaper out aloud in the saloon. He read out that the Lady Glanely had been sunk with the loss of all hands. Needless to say, I cried for my brother. There was no chance of me getting home from Middlesbrough.
I paid off the Runa in Ardrossan in August 1941 with not even enough money to pay my fare home. Luckily, we had free rail warrants then. Not long afterwards, I joined a home-trade ship called the Slemish, belonging to the Shamrock Shipping company. I joined her in Cardiff and left her two months later in London. In October 1941 I joined my first Norwegian ship - I think it was the Cetus. There were seven more to follow: the California Express, the Bosphorus, the Fjordheim, the Frode and the oil tankers Daghild, Solo (there was no Norwegian ship by this name - I believe this may have been Solør) and Skotaas.
I was torpedoed in the Fjordheim in September 1943 (this should be 1944 - follow link above for more details). We had loaded coal at Swansea for Halifax, Nova Scotia and joined a convoy at Milford Haven. I was an ordinary seaman on the 8-12 watch. We were off the west coast of Ireland and could still see a shore light flashing astern. I was about to call the 12-4 watch at one bell and, as I stepped inside to call the 2nd Mate, there was a terrible bang. I ran up to the boat deck, where I was joined by others, and we went about lowering the lifeboats. I think I was frightened then, but most frightened of another torpedo hitting the lifeboats as they were being lowered. But it did not happen. It was fine weather and a full moon. We could see the ship clearly as she went down stern first. We were in the lifeboats for a few hours, when a warship came close by and picked us up. It was the Canadian frigate Montreal. We were treated wonderfully for five days, until it was time to transfer to the rescue ship Fastnet in mid-Atlantic. We were sorry to have to leave the warship, they were so kind and helpful. I cannot praise them enough. Things were very different on the Fastnet. I would rather not say anything about that, because it would be all bad. We were taken to Halifax and, on arrival, there were newspaper men on the quay asking questions. They then took us to a lovely Norwegian guest house and, later in the day, to a big store for clothes.
I cannot say for sure how many men were killed; not too many, as we were torpedoed between No.'s 3 and 4 hatches (the report says hatches No.'s 4 and 5 - complete crew list is available on my page about Fjordheim - 3 died). I did hear later, whilst in Canada, that the Donkeyman was in the water without a lifejacket and was seen by the 3rd Mate of a British ship which had stopped - which may or may not have been the right thing to do. The 3rd Mate dived off his ship to reach the Donkeyman but, it was said, he missed him by inches. The Donkeyman was drowned. He was a Norwegian of about 50.
After about ten days in the guest house, I joined the Norwegian tanker Skotaas and I landed in Scotland. Then it was a 19 hour train journey back to Cardiff for a few days leave. Everything went all right for a while until I joined the Norwegian coaster Frode in April 1944 (again, this year must be a misprint - Frode was sunk in Apr.-1943). We sailed from Shoreham, bound for the Bristol Channel. It was a nice, sunny Sunday morning and I went ashore to post a letter home before we sailed. I remember saying in the letter I would be home in a few days. When we were off the Isle of Wight - it was about five o'clock in the afternoon - I was leaning on the midships gunwale waiting for the Cook to dish out tea. The next thing I knew I was being stripped of my clothing on the deck of a French destroyer. I had been in the water for one and a half hours. The doctor of the destroyer had me carried below and put in a bunk. Other survivors from the Frode were also on the ship. They told me we had hit a mine and several had been killed (crew list is available on my page about Frode). It was later said that the wake of a Dutch ship ahead of us had pushed the mine into the path of the Frode. Apparently, I had been blown clean out of the alleyway where I was standing into the sea, bouncing off the steel deckhead as I went.
The French detroyer was too big to bring us into port and so I had to transfer on a stretcher to a smaller British craft. When we got ashore, there were ambulances waiting to take us to the Royal Huslar Hospital. When we arrived at the entrance to the hospital, a nurse was handing out cigarettes to those in better condition than me. All I asked for was a drink of water, but was not allowed to have it. After I was examined, two hefty hospital attendants held my arms as I sat on the side of the bed and another put a large needle into my back. I was told later that this was to allow the air to escape, as the broken ribs on my left side had punctured my lung, causing a fifty percent collapse of the lung. I also had a bad graze on my back where I must have hit something when I was blown off the ship. There was also the imprint of the lay of a rope on my back. I can remember the doctor saying I also had what is known as an emphysema, a swelling of the lungs. This, he said, had probably kept me afloat for all that time I was unconscious. After a few weeks in hospital, I was sent home with my ribs strapped up and wearing a "utility" suit. I had a spell at home - not long - and then I was off back to sea again.
I left the Norwegian Merchant Marine as the war ended in 1945. I am glad I sailed with them. I made many Norwegian friends. Their ships were spotless, inside and out. The food was excellent, with no rationing. The crew's quarters were very good and the pay was much better, with extra money for every day in America and Canada. I am sorry I did not stay with them after the war. But I went tramping with different companies and then went into New Zealand ships, running between Australia and New Zealand. I became a "wharfie" in Wellington for 18 months and, whilst working on a cargo ship called the Wharanui, I asked the 2nd Engineer if there was a job on her, and there was. I signed on as donkeyman and stayed with her for six months. I paid off in New York when they had a crew change, came home and got married. That was the end of the sea for me."
Edward Driscoll was later awarded Krigsmedaljen.
Related external link:
Warsailor Stories - Page 7
I would again like to encourage others to send me more personal stories for inclusion on this page, these stories are very valuable.