Harry Greening- Staff Sgt REME Transcripts from Harry's Diaries
Our sincere thanks go to Alan & Georgina Greening for sharing Harry’s Diaries
The following is a transcript of the Diary of Frank Harry James Greening of Dorchester, in Dorset, England, 1906-1986, which he kept when aboard the troopships ‘STRATHALLAN’ and ‘ LANCASHIRE ‘ in 1941. It was not discovered until after ‘Harry’, as he was known, had died, so apart from a couple of photographs taken in a desert somewhere, nothing much is known about his immediate whereabouts after that. He was also at Dunkirk , and the first rescue boat he tried to get on was full, so had to take another one, which in fact saved his life, as the first boat was subsequently shelled.
What follows is exactly as is written in the Diary.
Strathallen, 23,000Tons. Max speed 20 knots. Convoy at present 34. 10 destroyers, one Yank, 2 Cruisers.
Left Aldershot Mon 28th July ’41.
Embarked at Gourock , Scotland Tues 29th.
Left port Sat 2 Aug at 7.30pm.
On Bren gun Sat 2.00pm till Sun.
Sea calm (when leaving), strong wind and swell, worse from 10-12hrs. Evening and night wind worse & heavy seas, sometimes washing decks, most of the lads are sick.
Mon Aug 4th.
Bank holiday, sea a lot quieter. Mounting Bren Gun 2pm.
Turn 4-6. Sea getting rougher & pouring in rain, not so good, I mean weather.
Second turn 10-12pm, cold and thick fog.
Wed 6th Aug.
Still foggy dismount Bren 2pm.
(Morn early accident in fog, Windsor Castle & Auxiliary cruiser)
Thur 7th August.
Sea much calmer, fog’s light, much warmer.Last destroyer turned back, one cruiser in convoy.
Destroyer returned this afternoon.Clock retarded 1hr Sun, 1hr Mon & 1hr Tues night.
Fri 8th Aug.
Sea calm & bright sunshine. U boats following. Two sea planes from cruiser scouting round. One U boat comes to surface & plane & destroyer make a dash for it and drop depth charges, believe destroyed. This happened about dinnertime.
Depth charges dropped again in the evening. Up on deck just after 9 o’clock it was glorious, a perfect sun set & a lovely blue sea & the convoy in perfect formation.
Sat 9th Aug.
Sea still calm & fine weather. Destroyer G85 seems to have left us.
Sighted land about 1.30pm, at 5pm passing the Azores, looks like (the ump) Portland , I wish it was, knowing you are probably there with the boys. I think I should feel like making a swim for it. I hope the weather is as nice as it is here. It’s grand, glorious sunshine & the sea is like a mill pond. I keep thinking about you sweetheart. I hope you and the boys are keeping well. I do miss my letters but I don’t suppose I shall get one yet for a while. (He is referring to wife Ivy, and son’s Frank and Alan.) The destroyer G85 has definitely gone.
It’s just 9.15pm, that’s 3hrs behind British time, I expect you are all in kip so I am just going to sling my hammock saying goodnight to you & the boys, Dear.
Sun 10th Aug.
Weather hot & quite sea. Destroyer 85 returned, another cruiser arrives, old one leaves us. On Bren gun duty at night.
Mon 11th Aug.
Weather getting hotter, nearing equator.
Tue 12th Aug.
Handed in letters written overnight (Mon), ships mail bag open. One to Ivy and 1 to mum. Bren gun all day. Weather still hot. Its terrible sleeping below, it’s a job to breath.
Wed Aug 13th.
Very hot, boxing contest during the afternoon, some very good fights, so hot we had to wear topees, sea got rough after tea.
Wearing tropical clothes had a fine swim in the ships pool. More destroyers join escort & big Sunderland flying boat. Flying right over top of boats and crew leaning out waving, & cheer goes up.
Fri 15th Aug.
Sea dirty but weather still hot. Pay day (cheers) 10/- this week.
Bren gun duty from 8 am (24 hours). Must be getting somewhere near land, seen a swallow & a few gulls. Passed a school of porpoise, must be hundreds, sea is thick with them. Passed a big convoy, all merchantmen, they look grand, all in formation, probably going to dear old England , Bon Voyage.
Sun 17th Aug.
Land sighted between 5 & 6 o’clock. Coast of Africa, Freetown . All getting excited, it’s good to see a bit of land but we know we won’t be allowed off the boat, they say there’s too much fever etc in the place.
Dropped anchor just after 10am, Swarms of natives coming out in canoes (looks like an invasion). It’s surprising how they keep them afloat. The lads are throwing coppers in the water & they dive out of the canoes into the water after them. The boys wouldn’t half like to see them, its great fun. They are trading bananas for cig & biscuits & choc or anything the can get hold of. Selling them 1d each. They sling a rope aboard with a basket on the end & so it goes up & down with the goods. They look some devils, absolutely jet black and they can curse as well as us, the lads are having a great game with them. It doesn’t look a very big town but it’s rather mountainous, you can’t see the top of some, they seem to go right in the clouds.
Mon 18th Aug.
It’s been pouring in rain all day. It gets dark at 6pm; we pull the shutters up at 7 but don’t close port holes until 10. There’s no black out here, the ships are all lit up and there must be dozens of them, it looks like a big city lit up in peacetime like the embankment.
Filling up with fuel and water. The natives are still trading their fruit.
Tue 19th Aug.
Still raining, we’ve just come in time for the rainy season.
Weather still wet but it doesn’t stop the natives coming out with their fruit. Sunderlands are flying around & flying boats from H.M. Ships. Sunderland base here. Two fighters flying round, crazy devils just missing the ships masts.
Bren gun duty.
Thur 21st Aug.
Absolutely teeming in rain this morning. Natives are out here again. They must be hard they only wear an old shirt or part of one & a rag tied between the legs & stop out here all day. It isn’t cold at all but ever such a clammy atmosphere. The natives speak good English especially the boys, they must be taught it at school.
We are just getting ready to sail. Testing depth of water. Weighed anchor at 2.30pm & just moving, getting in formation. Cheerio Freetown & West Africa.
Weather has cleared & sea not too bad. I hope we take a quicker route when we come back. I’ve got a stock of green bananas I bought off the natives; they won’t take long to ripen on the ships.
Frid 22nd Aug.
Remembering it’s your birthday. Many happy returns of the day Sweetheart, I hope the next one we will spend together. Clocks are put on 1hr that makes us 1hr behind G.M.T.
Sat 23rd Aug.
Sea choppy and a big swell. Quiet day.
Sun 24th Aug.
Crossed the equator line just about 2 o’clock. We had some real fun. A crowd dressed up and painted, including officers, old Neptune & the Queen & court. They tried the prisoners & then wiped fish round their chops, lathered and shaved them, cut some of their hair off and then threw them in the bathing pool. When they had all been treated like this they turned round and threw king, queen & all the court in. Then they grabbed hold anyone they could get hold of & threw them in, clothes & all on. I thought it time to make myself scarce & I had to run for it, but I just made it & got below deck just in time for our 4 o’clock cup of char.
Mon 25th Aug.
Bren gun duties are finished for a while but the crew are having instructions again. M.T lectures & P.T in the afternoon.
I have had my usual blow on deck in the wind about 8 o’clock. It’s darker tonight & you wouldn’t believe how fascinating it is to look in the water. It’s just looking into the stars, but these are moving. The boat washes up a lot of small jelly fish & they are luminous. It proper lights the side of the boat. We have lost the destroyers even the 85 that’s been with us all the time. there is only the cruiser(s) here now. By the way I forgot to say that I heard Churchill’s speech on the wireless last night. My thoughts were home imagining you sitting down & listening to it. But you may be still at Portland . Clocks are advanced 1hr tonight.
Tues Aug 26th.
Sea very choppy & it’s much colder, in fact we’ve had to leave off tropical clothes & wear khaki again. Cheers, we are allowed to write a letter, so first, I will write to my darling Wife, bless her, & the boys.
Wed 27th Aug.
Showery and sea choppy. Bren gun instruction for crews on mechanism, all the week. I just written to Mum, & Mum at Portland.
Thur 28th Aug.
Fairly quiet day, it is still cold.
Frid 29th Aug.
Pay day, the most important parade of the week. We are paid 10/- one week & 5/- the next. I’ve just handed back the 10/- for exchange in the African coin which we get when we get to Cape Town , that won’t be long now.
Sat 30th Aug.
I haven’t said much about the grub so far, but it’s got lousy to what it was. We get fish until we are sick of seeing it and rice. I think it walks from the holds to the boiling pots judging by the number of maggots. But still, why worry, there’s a war on.
Sun 31st Aug.
Sea getting rough. Went to church service at 10.30am in the mess room. Clocks were advanced 1hr during the night.
Mon Sep 1st.
Have been in the army 2 years (too long). Sea is much rougher & a hell of a swell.
Tues Sep 2nd.
Sea is still rougher, it’s quite a thrill. It’s impossible to see the other ships at times; the waves are so high it’s like riding on a rocking horse.
Tues 2nd Aug (Sep).
We can see land, Cape Town , the weather is dirty & a hell of a sea going.
We got in the dock and dropped anchor just about dinner time. We are all very excited hoping to get ashore today.
Cheers go up, we are getting paid £1 & passes & allowed ashore until midnight. My Pal I have made up with, George, and myself got away just after 5 pm. It was good to get a foot on land again. We walked down the main city street & the first thing we done was to get a good feed, eggs and bacon etc. We spent the evening touring round and sampled the beer & it was very good. It’s a beautiful place & lovely buildings & some sky scrapers. We got aboard respectable but some of the lads were as tight as owls.
Wed 3rd Sept.
Went for a route march in the morning, had dinner on board & had our passes at 1 o’clock. Sent off a cable gram. Bought a letter card of views & addressed it home, to be sent after we left. We are not allowed to use the post at all. Trips are organised for the troops, so we went to Muizenburg. It’s a grand sea side resort. We had free tea in the pavilion & plenty of oranges. We toured round the place & went in a boozer, they are opened all day. We went back to the pavilion at 6 o’clock & had a good hot supper. There was a dance afterwards but we were not interested so went back on the train & went to the coluseum & saw “In the Navy” & enjoyed a good show. It was grand to see the place all lit up & the electric signs all flashing. My mate being a cockney talked about them all the time. A lot of them are the same as they are (or were) in London.
Thur 4th Aug (crossed out) Sept.
We had bad luck last night. One of the R.A. lads fell between the ship & the quay getting on our boat and was drowned. A diver got him up this morning, he was only 23.
We went ashore at 1 o’clock & allowed out until midnight each night. We went to Camp Bay , another sea side resort & had another good tea, all free, bus rides included. We left soon after 4pm for the city. We had a good look round. The city is tucked right underneath the mountains, the Table mountain being the biggest. It costs 3/- to go to the top in the electric cable lift & that was a reduced fare for the troops, but we couldn’t afford it. We were in the middle of the town studying the map that was given us discussing where we should go for a bust (!!) up when a civvy came and asked if he could help. He insisted that we should go to dinner with him, & it was a swell turn out in a big Hotel, you should have seen the officers & their women look. he took us for a ride round in a big flash car & then to a picture show. Two of the lads in the convoy broadcast while we were there. One sang & the other played the piano & they were good. We finished up with a couple of drinks, half lb slab of choc & then he drove us to the docks after a very good outing. The people of Cape Town are giving all the lads as excellent time. They are full of praise.
Frid 5th Aug (crossed out) Sept.
Usual route march in the morning.
We got off the boat soon after 10 o’clock & decided on going for another outing. We went to Rondebosch. The railway station is called Rosebank because of the magnificent show of roses that bloom in Jan, but we went on the bus. We went to a big pavilion & had tea and fruit. We then went to the zoo & had some fun, & managed to get away again. That took a bit of time; we went back to the hall & had some more eats etc. We then went out for the evening with some people, to their house for the evening, as we weren’t interested in a dance that was being held in the hall. We had a good dinner at 7 o’clock, spent the rest of the evening talking & then had a good supper to finish up with. We had a lift back to the town in a car. We drove round the mountain side & could look right down on the city & it was a grand sight to see all the lights. The time here is 2 hrs fast of G.M.T.
Sat 6th Aug (crossed out) Sept.
We started to move out at 7am & are all very sorry to leave Cape Town . It’s such a grand place & the people gave us such a wonderful time, it will always be a memory. Things are pretty quiet today; the lads are getting some sleep back on the decks. The sea is a bit choppy.
Sun 7th Sept.
It’s a job to know if it is Xmas or Easter. A quiet day, everybody is talking about the time they had at the Cape . Sea is rough; it will be until we get round the Cape .
Mon 8th Sept.
Usual routine P.T and lectures, the sea is much rougher, but we are used to it now. Picked up some of the convoy that went to Dublin.
Tues 9th Sept.
Sea is rough & it is cold although we put on tropical kit again this morning. Clocks are advanced 1hr. Payday 5/-.
Wed 10th Sept.
Sea still rough. usual routine. I thought the grub would have improved after restocking at the Cape , but it’s about the same..
Thur 11th Sept.
The sea has clamed down & it’s much hotter. A lot of the ships have left us., there is only six now with one cruiser included. Boxing tournament in morning & afternoon and some very good scraps. Clocks are advanced 1hr tonight that put us 4hrs ahead of G.M.T…
Frid 12th Sept.
It is much hotter, we are getting near the equator again & the water has settled down nice and quiet. cruiser has been carrying out exercises, laying smoke screen & doing a bit of gun firing.
We have been having a couple of oranges with our 7 o’clock meal since we left Cape Town, what the people sent aboard for us, so we have a good old battle with the peel. We had our usual game of housy, I came up once. At 9.30pm we packed up & we went mad for a while. The orange peel battle started again & when the hammocks went up as soon as you got in them someone unhooked it & down you came with a bump. We had boxing again this afternoon but I didn’t go. I was on fire picket last night & lost a bit of sleep, so I made up for it today on the deck.
Sat 13th Sept (again).
We passed land this morning at 7am, the Madagascar Island . (Boxing again this afternoon). I don’t know if there was anything lurking about but suddenly all the ships put up a smokescreen & quickly altered course.
Stiff breeze going, heavy swell. First parade 8.30am, roll call & usual Sun. feet inspection. Church parade at 10 o’clock.
Boxing on A deck Sun deck. Some good bouts & Ordnance won competition on points. Another cruiser turned up & are having some gun practice. We can see the shells pitching in the sea.
Tues 16th Sept.
Clocks advanced half hr last night & another half hr tonight, that’s 5hrs ahead of G.M.T. It is much hotter. It’s murder sleeping below deck. My mates and I are sleeping on the top deck, even there the wind is hot.
Wed 17th Sept.
Sea is quiet and believe me it’s warm. The second cruiser is gone. Wrote a couple letters to Ivy and mum.
We had a picture show in the afternoon & saw James Cagney in “G Men”. We shall soon be getting in port in India , probably Bombay .
Fri 19th Sept.
We don’t know for sure if we have to disembark in port & get another boat, but we are getting ready. We have fetched our universal kit bags from the hold & packed away all our surplus gear.
Sat 20th Sept.
The sea is just like a mill pond. We can see land & it’s hardly 9 o’clock. We are moving in very slowly, there’s a lot of shipping in the harbour.
I’m beginning to feel a bit excited. The place looks grand from here, it’s 11 o’clock. I expect you are still all unconscious, it’s only 7am at home as we are 5 hours ahead of G.M.T. I have been hanging out of the porthole in our mess & just seen the anchor go down. We are a little way out of the harbour, there’s several hospital ships near us.
We are in Bombay . There is a Greek cruiser alongside, besides several of our own. We are staying here tonight and disembarking tomorrow morning.
Sun 21st Sept.
Reveille at 5am, packing our kit ready to get off.
We pulled alongside soon after 9am & it took us the best part of the day to transfer to the Lancashire , an old trooper that we used in the last war. being a bren gunner we had to carry the guns besides carrying our full kits & it was some caper & it was boiling hot. Our shirts were soaked through sweat, you could ring it out.
We got aboard the Lancashire & were put in the lower mess deck just above the water line & we are not allowed to open the portholes. When we were all sat down to grub & there’s more to come in yet, it’s hell, the sweat absolutely runs off. We shan’t get ashore until tomorrow.
Mon 22nd Sept.
We got ashore just after dinner until midnight. We were pestered with natives every few steps we went, begging & trying to sell us a lot of junk. Women with babes asking for annas, it was rather heart breaking at first & we gave a fair amount to them. We got used to it after a while & took no notice of them, we were told not to by white people in the services canteen that was all they did, scrounge for a living. I must say I was disappointed with Bombay . I always thought it was such a grand place, but it’s a dump, especially in comparison with Cape Town , it proper stinks. We had a general look round & and had plenty of ice drinks & spent a fair time in the canteen eating something decent for a change & and that’s about the only place you will see any white people & can have a chat. It’s a sight to see these natives sleeping at night. They sleep all over the pavements, under the arches, anywhere they can drop down. You have to be careful you don’t walk on them. Children as well kip down with the men, some of them have a piece of sack to lie on & some nothing at all.
Tues 23rd Sept.
Went ashore about 4 o’clock & it’ s boiling hot. We toured the place pretty well & had plenty of iced drinks & a bottle of iced beer, but we couldn’t stand the price of that, it was over a rupee a bottle. We visited a lot of the rougher native quarters, it’s a sight to see them. It gets dark about 7 o’clock & it’s semi blackout so there isn’t a lot to do, only go to the canteen & eat and have a sing song.
We are waiting for a R.A.F. crowd to get aboard before we push off. We are going ashore this afternoon, I expect for the last time.
We walked round the shops & through the Gateway of India. Then we had a garry, 7 of us & they are only supposed to take 3 or 4 at the most. It’s a horse drawn sort of landaul. One of the lads drove & at times he wore the Indian driver’s round hat, we had some good fun. We went round what they call the cages in Drant (!!) Street. The houses, such as they are, have no windows, just iron bars. They are really brothels & when they get a customer they pull the shutters together. Any how I’m not interested in that sort of thing. Talk about a stink, there was goats tied up to the front doors piddling all over the place & nothing stinks more than a billy goat & the smell of incense. Of course there is some smashing buildings here besides the dumps, but I don’t think I ever want to live here long.
Thur 25th Sept.
We are rushing the last of the stuff on board, all the troops are on and most of them moaning about the old cattle boat, especially the R.A.F. This is the first time they have had hammocks, they have had cabins all the time.
We pushed off just after dinner there in convoy, troopers & no naval escort so it must be fairly safe waters.
Not much to talk about, I’ve got a job in the Sgts galley, not much to do & plenty of good grub.
The weather is very hot, it’s murder down in the mess deck, you can pull your vest off & ring out the sweat after about 10 minutes. I’m glad I don’t eat down there. We are all sleeping on the decks in short pants, those that can find room.
We seem to be separating, we can only just see the other ships. There’s shoals of Porpoise in this water, there must be thousands of them, they come right out of the water.
There is no sign of the other ships. Occasionally we pass a sailing ship in the distance, so we can’t be so far away from land. I am mounting the Bren gun tomorrow with the team in case we meet aircraft , so I shall loose my job.
We can see land, sometimes on both sides, we are just entering the Persian Gulf . We can write a letter, only one & they have to be in today, so here goes, but it’s rather a job, they won’t let you talk about anything.
Tues 30th Sept.
On the old Bren gun again. Land is close on both sides at times. By the way, the clocks have been retarded 2 and a half hrs during this week.
Oct 1st 1941. Well, this is the end of our voyage. We’ll disembark today at a port near Basra & are stationed in a dump in the desert about 20 miles out, & was greeted in a sand storm so I think I will end up at that.