Frank W Masters

Frank W. Masters – Former Crew Member SS Strathallan

As a young man I was very keen to join the P&O Company, and on my second attempt, armed with a reference from Captain King, who was the former Commander of RMS China and Ranpura, I was offered a job in the Pursers Department and joined the SS Strathallan for a short cruise to Alexandria in Egypt. My employment commenced on the 9 th May 1939 when I was aged 17 years.

My follow up voyage to Australia started in June 1939, and was much longer than anticipated because war had been declared, and it was necessary to return to England via Cape Town . During my journey around Australia an amusing incident occurred. We visited Brisbane and some of the crew members suggested we go horse riding. Being the youngest I was left with a horse called Satan. The ride into the bush was difficult because Satan would not go at a gallop. However we all managed to arrive at an isolated house, where we asked for water. The residents made us very welcome and gave us tea and sandwiches. On the way back to the ship, Satan decided to plod along at his own pace, and I was left by the others who galloped ahead. The only thing I could do was to let the horse take me to his stables, where I arrived in the early hours of the following morning. My experience on Satan cured me of horse riding for ever.

During the next eighteen months we travelled to many countries, including the Middle East , carrying passengers and military personnel, until early in 1941 when the ship was converted into a troop ship able to carry a large number of troops.

In November 1942, at the commencement of the North Africa campaign, we made our first trip to Algiers with a full complement of troops. Whilst there, we came under heavy bombing by German aircraft and it was a great relief to leave Algiers for home.

The following journey to North Africa as Commodore ship of the convoy, was to be much more eventful for all on board Strathallan. My recollection of what happened is detailed below.

On the night of 21 st December 1942 , I was in my upper bunk, Port side in the forward part of the ship, when an explosion occurred which nearly shook me from my berth. The ship was in darkness until the emergency lighting came on later. We quickly got dressed and I went up onto the well deck to see what had happened. Looking over the port side I could see a huge hole amidships and realised we were in great trouble. Ships near us were moving away from our ship and destroyers were dropping depth charges.

I went back to my cabin and put on my top coat and collected a few personal items. I then made my way up to a boat station. All those people allocated to my lifeboat were forming up in front of the boat. After a while the staff commander ordered abandon ship and everyone got into the lifeboat and we bumped our way down the Starboard side into the water. Immediately we hit the water soldiers started to slide down the ropes onto us and it was necessary to pull away quickly to avoid being capsized.

The lifeboat was fully packed with survivors and we propelled it near the other lifeboats and tried to keep together throughout the night and morning. A large number of people in the lifeboat were nurses. Everyone kept cheerful and disciplined until we were safely picked up by the destroyer HMS Verity. The Naval Ratings gave us large mugs of hot tea – so well done to Verity. We were taken to Oran and the crew were transferred to the Canadian Pacific liner Duchess of York.

A colleague from my cabin had an entirely different experience. His name was Christopher Goodall and was the swimming instructor. He got to his lifeboat on the Port side to find it half full of water, possibly from the explosion of the Torpedo in the water.

When the order came to abandon Ship they went down hitting the water at such speed they were swamped and washed overboard. Being a good swimmer he was able to collect a number of nurses in the water around a raft he had secured. His bravery and cheerfulness in keeping them around the raft earned him the B.E.M and Lloyd’s medal for bravery.

Christmas Day Menu    On Christmas day on board the Duchess of York, which was taking us home to England , we were served our Christmas dinner by the Officers of the Strathallan and the menus with their signatures, and those of the Pursers department are reproduced here. After the loss of the SS Strathallan I was appointed to SS Ranchi and on my first voyage with troops we were attacked by German aircraft off North Africa . A bomb destined for us was miraculously deflected and exploded outside the ship causing damage to the ship’s side. Repairs were carried out in Alexandria and the ship and I finished the war without further mishap.
I married Marjorie in 1945 and decided to leave the Ranchi at the end of the war. I then joined the Ministry of Defence and later the Department of the Environment, retiring when I became 60 years of age. I am looking forward to celebrating my 60 th wedding anniversary next year.

I was introduced to this website by my son Philip and granddaughter Sarah on my 82 nd birthday. Tim my grandson is studying at University.

Congratulations to all those involved in establishing a website dedicated to the Strathallan. It is worth remembering when one considers the magnitude of the task in rescuing safely over 5000 people in the middle of the night, from a torpedoed ship, on fire, listing heavily and sinking in the Mediterranean . As a result there was a minimal loss of life. This website is a tribute to all those concerned with the Strathallan. The SS Strathallan was a truly great ship and I treasure many happy memories from my time on board her. In the end she proved her worth by allowing the many thousands of us to be rescued before she sank.