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13th Jul 1941 Convoy
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Those known to have sailed in
during the Second World War 1939-1945.
- Armitage Benjamin.
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Benjamin Armitage King's Own (Royal) Lancashire Rgt.I joined the AFS (Fire Service) for three years, then I was called up for military service and served in the King's Own at Lancaster. There were eleven from Wallasey. I was the only survivor, the last one from Wallasey and still around. My company was sent to Swansea to be in charge of the wooden bridge. It was a past-time and Lil came down, she was here for four or five days. We were also in charge of the fish market. The Sally Army came around with tea and cakes for a nominal fee. We were billeted behind the church hall and I had just got to bed when someone came and kicked me and said a couple was getting married and no best man had turned up, so I was the dogs body. So I went to the church and stood for them. After, I went to their house, had a drink, wished them good luck, and back to my sleep.
We were called back to Lancaster and on to the Pollock Camp, where we were rigged out with tropical kit to go to a hot country. But on the way to Port Said, we were then changed to winter gear and landed at Port Said. We found a NAAFI with clean table cloths. You paid one peasta for bacon, one for tea, one for chips, one for egg, and finally one for cake. One for bread if one wanted. Approximate total about two shillings.
We were the first convoy to travel through the Mediterranean. There were destroyers on the flanks, and cruisers and battleships guarding the merchant men. One particular ship had a red flag, which meant it was carrying ammunition. It was struck and blew to pieces. There were two destroyers and most of the merchant ships went. We entered Pantolere Straits and the heavy battleships and the Arc Royal pulled out. HMS Manchester, which I was on, got torpedoed in the back and a four-inch gun turret. Quite a number of sailors and soldiers were lost. We had to turn around and go back to Gibraltar. You could touch the water from the top deck of the ship and I could not swim, very dicey.
We stayed at Gib for four days, then we embarked on the cruiser HMS Hermione and set sail at midnight, destination again Malta. I was on the upper deck talking to a sailor when the skipper said 'Hear this - we are not stopping at all.' Then we cut an Italian submarine in two. We did not pick up any survivors, just kept on moving. We arrived at Malta and Maltese stood on the walls of Grand Harbour cheering the cruiser in. Malta is only seventeen miles by nine and it had over 9,000 tons of bombs on it. '9020' did not have quite so many and 'Cos' had nothing at all.
Malta was the only island unoccupied. If the Germans had taken it the war may have lasted much longer. But Hitler decided not to send his Eleven division in. 'Haw Haw' said he will leave Malta to starve, which it nearly did. I went down from eleven stone to around eight stone. It was so bad, notices were put up: 'Anyone caught stealing would be severely dealt with.' The cruiser HMS Welshman' and a submarine would come once a fortnight, mostly with ammunition and mail. HMS Welshman was one of the fastest in the Navy, but Jerry got it because of lack of planes, so that Jerry could land and take off at will. The American aircraft carrier USS Wasp had forty-five planes on it and every one was shot before it could operate. One great feature was the oil tanker called the Ohio. It had a hole in it where you could drive two double decker buses through. Either side of the tanker was a destroyer tied to the tanker, to get it into the harbour. One Friday night, a dozen 'E' boats came to attack but our gunners knocked hell out of them. One of our gunners had his arm blown off being too slow to pass an order. Things eased up in Malta and we were off.
Doc Cole was a great fellow and he told me that I could not go as I was downgraded, so I asked him who signed the medical records. He said I did and had better writing than him. So I said 'Here goes, I am upgraded as from now H.A. Cole, doctor.'
We had a few weeks before we left Malta so we still had SLEK parades. Salkeld had a bad neck, full of inflammation. I was treating it using my scalpel. I cut the bad stuff and told him to hold the chair arms while I put on lotion, and he nearly hit the roof. I told him he could go on duty at the airfield, he was chuffed. He was killed before lunch.
It was my turn to go to Luca aerodrome. I got friendly with an airforce officer. He said that he blew up bombs, I said I was medical and would look after him. Then he called me over and said would I listen to this bomb ticking [at] both ends. He put a fuse in both and said 'Over the wall with!' And it nearly blew the wall down. I invited him over to our canteen. He was lucky, a large lump of shrapnel shot through the wall and stuck in his bedding. He was very lucky to be at our place.
This is now cheerio to Malta and we boarded a cruiser, destination: unknown. Crossing the water we got mixed up with Captain Potato Jones's convoy watch. To our advantage we were due to attack Leros but we were too late and the First Battalion went forward in our place and got a severe bashing, so we became the First Battalion King's Own.
We left Egypt and sailed for Italy. Landing at Taranto we moved forward to Ancona. There was a large hotel. Jerry held one part of it, we held the other. We eventually got shut of Jerry, but he left some booby traps for the engineers to sort out. We could climb on to the roof and count how many he had on sick parade. If his red flag was not out our gunners would give him a few shells to liven him up. Sewion Singh was my first Sikh driver, but he ran away to the Tenth Indian Field Section. Sikh number two was worse than the other. I gave him an instruction: straight on and turn right. The poor chap put his head lamps on and Jerry woke him up. [I] jumped in to the ambulance [and] took him back. Captain Jones said he had a good man, an ex-taxi driver, So'an Sing. He was crazy but a good driver. He took control of the ambulance [and] mad, I even got scared he would get off his seat and bang like Hell out of the ambulance. He was a good driver, a little erratic. Threatened him with a big stick. He said: 'give me stick and I will fight you.' [I said]: 'Get behind that wheel and drive or I will fight you without the stick.' I asked him if he had food. He told me that there was only one sheep a marrators cut the sheep's throat across and a Muslim cut the sheep down. An argument ensued, who will win? In the meantime someone did not mind up or down: they swiped it.
Next day we moved on to 'Forlee' and Forlee in Poplar. These were divided by a wooden bridge. Forlee was on time covered by our unit and on the other side was the Devon Light Infantry. We were knocking hell out of each other and to handle the fray Jerry flew over and dropped a bomb right in the centre of the bridge and there endeth that lesson. I still had my mule (Elmer) going toward the River Po. There was a rope stretched across. I had a medical pannier on one side of the mule and a stretcher on the other side. I was up to my armpits but managed to make the trip but Tyson, a Liverpudlian, had a big radio on his back but the weight took him down stream. We found him later on the sand and on the riverside. We went further up and twelve feet back and reburied him.
We caught up with Doc Cole and the padre. Captain Bill Beresford, he was not too happy being so far ahead. We found a deserted Jerry first aid post, all it contained was a full operating kit and paper bandages. The operating kit was worth over five hundred pounds, so I stuck [it] in my medical kit. Doc Cole and I went forward to find a better place for a medical unit. The padre said 'Don't leave me here' and tagged on behind us and lo and behold a six-foot Jerry jumped out of [the] bushes shouting [in English], Bombers, mercy, mercy,' and put his hands up. None of us had a gun to hold him. I persuaded Doc Cole to book out two Tommy guns and ammunition for self preservation. Because you can feel safer with guns than Red Cross armbands at night. We ditched the padre as he was nuisance value. We went to 'A' company and met a Scotch Church army man. He had a mule with pannier with cakes in and a tea urn full. But, alas, the lid was loose and the tea was going over the mule. The faster it was going the faster the tea spilt. The mule was going towards Jerry lines so they got tea and cakes and even a mule for nothing.
The following day we were to attack the Germans, the Canadians on the left and the British on the right. We had a good house for a medical post. Jerry started to shell the post: if the shell burst of the right I dodged to the left and vice versa. I was fixing a Gerry's leg which was badly fractured but I failed to hear this shell and received a big hole in my head. That ended my partnership. It took twelve hours to get to hospital and a further five hours treatment. I had a local anaesthetic. I got over this then I flew to Naples, went into Ninety Second Hospital. After a few weeks I was demobbed long-term. Released from hospital, [I] went on the liner the Oranjee. Left Naples, back to Liverpool. Put on a train to Shaftesbury, Dorset and got my discharge.Philip Handyside
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