John Watson – RAF

Diary entries kindly supplied by Valerie Tarbit – daughter of John Watson.

Dec 19th

“Weather much better this morning. So much so that we did a spot of p.t. This ocean travel might be ok if the conditions are good. It is a great deal warmer and the wind has abated. Just beginning to enjoy the voyage.”

John Watson RAF

John Watson RAF

Dec 20th

“Saw land for the first time this morning. Passed a town lit up on the starboard side. It must have been a neutral town. Passed Gib. a little later enshrouded in a mist. We kept the coast of Spain in sight for a long way. The weather was delightful & the sea like a lake. Saw hundreds of dolphins diving about in the sea. Lay about the deck in the sun all day. A remarkable change from the weather that we have been having. Had a premonition that something might happen as the sea was so calm & the sky was clear. Also we were right inside the danger zone. Decided to sleep on deck, just in case.”

Dec 21st

[pullquote align=left] “Was woken about 2.15 A.M when I heard a crash & guessed that we had been hit. A lot of water was thrown over us on deck. I had no feeling of panic & felt for all the world that I was watching a film. I was surprised at the crash as I thought that it would have been much more severe. I put on my boots, unfastened & put on my life jacket & made my way with Tom & Jack to our boat station.
[/pullquote]

We were first there as the rest of the boys were sleeping well below. We proceeded to lay out the rafts on the deck & then ‘stood by’. By this time our life boat was lowered away filled with ??? & sick personnel with an officer in charge. I thought then that it was us for the drink but no order came to abandon ship. By this time almost all the lifeboats were away and also a lot of rafts. Two of our boys got mixed up with another crew & were ordered to take to the water. We did not see them again until the following day. All the rest of our crew were on deck by this time & lined up. There was no sign of panic & they all stood talking quietly among themselves.

A little later the order came from the bridge that they thought it possible to save the ship & we had to stay on board. We settled down in various corners wrapped up in our blankets until dawn came. Dawn & the ship had not listed any more & everyone was feeling a lot happier. There were no life boats or rafts to be seen, they must have drifted miles since we were hit. The rest of the convoy had gone on but we had a couple of destroyers buzzing around. Later in the morning I decided to go below & see what I could salvage. Found the place in chaos. Managed to save my side haversack containing razor, hairbrush, cleaning materials etc. All my personal stuff was in my kit bag including 1,000’s of fags, soap, razor blades etc.

[pullquote align=right] Wish I had known that we were to abandon ship as I could perhaps have saved more. Still, I am a lot luckier than a lot as they only had what they stood in.
[/pullquote]At approx 12.30 pm HM Destroyer P came alongside & took a lot of us off. The RAF being first. Before this we had seen HM Destroyer V pass us filled to overflowing with survivors from the rafts & life boats. HM Destroyer P wasted no time in getting away.

After half an hour I saw flames from the S.A & later learned that the boilers had burst but everyone had got off safely. We landed at Oran approx two hours after being taken on board the destroyer. How the Navy lads looked after us. We had lots of tea, Bully beef & biscuits. We made a collection for them but it would not repay them for all they did for us. After we disembarked, we paraded on the quay until we were taken away on lorries. We were taken to the Duchess of Y. where we slept overnight.”

Dec 22nd

“After breakfast we left the Duchess of Y. & boarded the Duchess of Richmond. Conditions here were much better than on the Duchess of Y. The Yanks were very good to us, giving us 180 fags, 4 cigars, soap, shaving soap etc. These were very acceptable as we were down to rock bottom. Left Oran shortly after 5.0 pm & had an uneventful journey to Algiers.”

Dec 23rd

“Arrived at Algiers at about 10.0 am. Were issued with a few necessities as soon as we landed such as blankets, towel, socks, boots, gas cape, shirt, vest & pants. Were then taken by bus to a school a few miles outside of Algiers where we had dinner. The food was all tinned but was very good. Later in the afternoon we marched to M.C where we were billeted in a school. Had to sleep on the floor – stone. Not very impressed with the place. Apparently we are in the Arab quarter. Did guard this night.”

Also I have an old, small newspaper cutting that my mother must have kept:

Five Thousand troops were on liner when torpedo struck

Five thousand troops going to North Africa were on board the 24000 ton liner Strathallan when she was torpedoed late in 1942 it was disclosed yesterday. She was a new ship, launched in 1938, and withstood heavy damage, remaining afloat for a considerable time, so that the loss of life among troops and crew was comparatively light. They tried to tow the Strathallan to Oran – and it nearly came off. But fuel oil came into contact with the boilers and the vessel turned into a raging furnace.

Les

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