Albert McQuire. Lancashire Fusilier

 

 

 

 

                      

                    

Sergeant 3459648 Albert (Mac) McQuire

10th.BATTALION LANCASHIRE FUSILIERS

INDIA AND BURMA

 

WORLD WAR II

            

           

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Albert (Mac) McQuire was born in 1912 at Hunslet, Leeds. During his childhood his family moved to Blackpool where his parents initially ran a boarding house and latterly a grocery shop. He later joined the Blackpool CO-OP as a butcher and spent all his working life there apart from the war years. He retired as Manager. In 1936 he married Helen Singleton (See photo gallery) who sadly died in 1975. His younger brother Leslie served

in the Royal Tank Regiment and took part in the Normandy Invasion.

 

Albert (Mac) McQuire died in 1992 at Lytham St. Annes where he was then living in retirement.

 

He is survived by his only daughter Avril who lives with her husband Bernard Boden in Gainesville, which is about 30 miles West of Washington DC. Virginia, United States of America. Avril and Bernard emigrated to the USA in the late 1960’s where Bernard took up employment with the Boeing Aircraft Corporation. They now live in retirement. (See photo gallery)

 

Albert (Mac) McQuire served with the 10th battalion from it’s formation in 1940 and went on to serve in India and Burma and fought in the First Arakan Campaigns. It is believed that during 1943 he was wounded / injured and spent some time as a patient at the BMH  Meeret, India (See photo gallery)

 

Typically, Albert throughout his lifetime was extremely reluctant to talk about his war time experiences. However, during a visit made by Avril and Bernard to his Lytham St Annes home about two years before his death Albert began for the first time to talk about his war time experiences. He was asked to ‘write something down for posterity’ and during a subsequent visit, Albert handed Bernard the following written account.

 

It is repeated here exactly as written……………..

 

 

REMINISCENSES OF SERGEANT ALBERT E. MCQUIRE

 

Dear Bernard,

 

As promised, I relate to you the happenings as I remember them. Don’t forget, my memory can play tricks and 50 years is rather a long time. I suppose I should start at the beginning, but I only intend to tell of the parts that could interest you and just mention the outstanding events or I would need more than a few sheets of paper, nor do I intend to relate any of the events that I wish to forget as you know and Avril knows I rarely talked about my war, and I am of the opinion those who do are relating events they heard about, not partaking in. So here is all I will tell you.

 

 

I was recruited in Airdrie, Scotland and after so‑called training with no rifles only pick shafts, clothes that did not fit, only my buttons, boots that were too tight, I became a soldier ‑ unpaid Lance Corporal. 

 

I soon learnt Army ways; never complain to an officer, I did about a caterpillar in my food, put on a charge and had to report to Commanding Officer next morning.  Seven days washing cabbage then cutting meat but I rebelled.  I ensured that by altering the shape the officer’s cookhouse got tough meat and our chaps the best. We were, after three months, issued rifles, etc. and sent down to Lowestoft.  For miles back it was cleared of civilians.

 

We were inspecting barbed wire on the cliffs in winter and German planes took a delight in letting us feel their presence, one lad fired his rifle and it exploded, the barrel was choked with mud! I was then put into the Carrier Section after they found I could drive, and we enjoyed getting used to those ungainly machines, you steered by joy stick, by slowing one track you steered quite effectively.  I had a tommy gun, Chicago model.  The crew had an anti‑tank rifle, very dangerous to use, Bren gun, and rifles and no ammo.

 

If you got a leave, 7 days, mine came six months after joining and Helen accused me of not wanting to come home.  We were later equipped to go abroad, down to Liverpool where our home for many, many weeks lay.  She was an Argentine liner, the Reino ‑ del ‑ Pacifico converted for us but not the officers!  They had cabins, swimming pools and dining rooms, whilst we had lower decks and hammocks and as the ship swayed in a big sea so the hammock swayed.  I thought being a fully paid Lance Corporal I should assert my rights by sleeping next to the ships side never thinking that 50 men were on one side and 1/2 inch of metal the other. I lasted part one night in open sea, all the time after on the floor. I well remember seeing Blackpool tower as we passed by on our way up to Greenock to assemble in a convoy.

 

 

 

 

 

There would be about 40 ships set sail together with an old

Battleship to escort us, and right away it started being rough and I mean rough. Our battalion of 900 men plus many hundreds of others must have been more sea sick than any in the Army.  The wash rooms were over a foot deep in sick, you could not get on deck to be decently sick so imagine a thousand men being ill at once except ME.  I wasn't.  The rough sea was our salvation, no submarines could hit us, but to see a huge ship suspended, apparently 100 ft. above you and then you were 100 ft. above the next ship in line was quite alarming.

 

We eventually arrived in Freetown, West Africa.  The

natives came to us in canoes some filled with various fruits and bananas which we had only dreamed about.  Others, divers, you used to wrap silver paper around halfpennies, the natives expected silver shillings and they knew all the rude words when they came to the top.  The sailors bought fruit to sell to us! exorbitantly,and as a parting gift to the natives emptied there slops over the canoes.  Oh yes they loved the English!

 

We then set sail and finally got to Durban, South Africa.  We were issued with tropical kit, you never saw "Fred Carno's Army but we were it, sun helmets, ex Boer War, 3/4 length shorts, spine pads, thick socks, boots and puttees!  And all odd sizes most issued to7 ft. GUARDSMEN.

 

 

We were allowed ashore daily while awaiting sailing orders.  We had forgotten what summer clothes looked like after wartime Britain, but the inhabitants took pity and made us welcome.

 

 

 

 

 

We left Durban, bound for Singapore but at sea we were diverted as the Japs had invaded Malaya.  We heard by radio that two of our battleships had been sunk, the Prince of Wales and I forgot the other, it was again fortunate for us or we would have been prisoners or dead!  After 6 weeks at sea we arrived in Bombay, India. Thoroughly fed up, little water, little food and no medical supplies, they had been put at the bottom of the ship.  I had 2 carbuncles,size of hen's eggs one for each armpit so I roamed around like a bat, caused by not being sick and little or no toilet. Just my luck I enjoyed sailing to India.

  

We marched with bands playing to the rail head and after a week on the train arrived in Quetta to take over from the First Battalion who had been stationed for years.  It had a volcanic eruption previously and consisted of mud built shacks and hundreds evil looking natives.  When on guard duties you had big fur coats full of lice and warned that the Afhgans liked to creep up and cut ones throat.

 

We had inherited 3 very bad lads who were in prison, awaiting court martial, one expected to get 5 years, he wasn't bothered he said he would escape the war, not so us.  His associate was in for striking an officer!  We had also inherited the previous battalions vehicles all pre 1918 vintage, or so it seemed.  I'd never have believed the British Army in India to be so badly equipped, however, we were sent up to Afghanistan to train in mountain warfare we erected tents on the edge of a desert near small mountains and the tribesmen came to stare and to show us their prowess in shooting, they had Russian rifles and also long

Native guns firing home made bullets, they were very good at targets in the hills.

 

 

After about 3 months we were sent back to Quetta and entrained for who knows where. After 7 days going to every town in India it seemed we arrived in Dacca.  After a week or so to Commilla, a port, then steamer to Cox's Bazar, disembarked our carriers and proceeded up the coast road.  This road was really a railway track, the lines and sleepers had been taken away. The bridges over rivers had no sides just a fifty foot drop into the river, a hair‑raising achievement to cross and as we found out the Arakan is a land of small hills and valleys and covered in jungle and brush almost impenetrable.

 

The forward Japanese were somewhere ahead and we had no

experience. No idea of what lay ahead. We having carriers, i.e. track vehicles were able to go up this ex railway track to scout. Two or three days elapsed until one morning the leading carrier caught a cold, the crew killed, my pal driving it, had it!  I turned on a sixpence and the last carrier too and came back to report as instructed as we only had light guns. The battalion advanced and engaged with mortar fire and after weeks and making little headway returned to Cox's Bazar.

 

After re‑equipping tried different tactics.  Now all large

Steamers had been destroyed or sunk to prevent the Japs entering in force to India so we sent patrols by canoe, few came back whilst at Cox's Bazar. I was put in charge to my amazement of about 50 coolies. They had a bamboo pole between them on this was hung sacks of flour ‑‑‑ about a cwt. each pair.  They were strung out in line waiting for us.  I had to take them it seemed about 30 miles along tracks in the jungle.  They started at a jog trot, I at the head was soon exhausted, finished up at the back!

 

They had stopped at a river crossing.  On the opposite bank was a crowd of coolies coming the opposite way! However they had a large raft about 20 at a time and pulled from side to side with ropes, but confusion prevailed.  They all had poles and sacks and I couldn't tell which was mine and found out later they just went for the ride!  Getting tired of this I had one of my men go across with about 10 and hold our coolies till another group got across.  Eventually all my coolies were over, soon losing sight of the last pair. 

 

 

Towards night I arrived at a forward base and was informed we had done well only losing 1/4 of the supplies.  The next day we had to find our way back to base and nobody to show us through the jungle. I knew the approximate way to the river so made tracks for that. After various mishaps arrived and followed the river but it was so hot and little food, after a long time came across a native village and persuaded a boatmen by bribery and promises of hundreds of rupees to take us downstream to Cox's Bazar.  So we laid in luxury in the canoe, the boatman demanded payment.  We had no money so sent him to the big chief who would gladly pay! 

Poor fellow, he's still waiting.

 

Later, we got orders to advance.  Our Major took 4 men in a boatup river to investigate.He didn't come back. Having still got our carriers we used them as scouts, lovely beaches hard sand. I was second carrier, everything lovely, sun shining, then all hell broke loose concentrating on 1st. carrier, the crew wiped out. I turned on a sixpence hearing bullets hitting the carrier and gotaway. I'm so brave, or lucky!  On arrival to report found one of the rubber centre wheels was minus a tire, our adventures had

started, and so it went on.

 

We soon found out that the Japanese well entrenched, we lost too many men so we were forced to retreat!  We were so badly equipped.The push was known as the battle of the Arakan.

 

 

Then followed a period of equipping and re‑reinforcements.  We went farther back to the mainland.  Daily visits from the Air Force (Japanese),but this time there were no carriers, justyour own two feet and a great big knife to slash your way through the undergrowth.  The thorns were making it almost impossible to advance. The monkeys enjoyed watching us and the Japs too. They were everywhere, especially in the high trees, but we learned. 

They used to shout to us in the night "Come on Johnny" or "Give up Johnny". After weeks of this it was decided that I and others return to bring carriers up and meet at the junction of a railway which we came across (note the railway was non existent,just an embankment, no sleepers, no rails) it had been dismantled earlier.

 

 

 

The idea was that we could follow this "line" and match the Jap's miniature tanks with heavier weapons than we had so back I went the way we had come. I was loaded with heavy mortars, shells, etc., and set off back up or on this embankment.  Coming to bridges there were no rails, nothing to guide me and very high.

 

All I had was a little slit for viewing.  Anyway I was young,little fear, and crossed frequently, safely.  We camped once,this side of a tunnel, being daylight you could see the end in the distance.  Suddenly it vanished, got back in our carrier for safety and to our surprise a herd of elephants came charging out.  They used this tunnel to get to water and we were in the way. Wasn't it lucky we were in the carrier.

 

 

We eventually met up with the main crowd.  They were able to make headway with mortars and shells.  We were then sent scouting in he carriers, always us, to report any activity up front.Later, much later, we had been sent on a track that had been quiet!  It was lovely low hills, gentle valleys, we decided to hide the carrier behind a cutting on a bend in the track.

 

Next morning, beautiful, and in the valley a pool. Being a Sergent, went first to was and shave, stripped off, washed my shirt, had a shave and went back to the carrier and just then several trucks came and 100 yards away the first went up in an explosion. The following trucks just kept coming till a huge pile up with explosions to follow. The Japs knew that these trucks came at a certain time and laid preparations. They had watched me go down to the pool, watched me doing what I did but they wanted bigger game. As I came back to the shelter, the other carrier that had been sent up ahead came back.

 

 

  

 

 

In the meantime a family of natives had found shelter with us. The carrier crashed right into them, killing most. I with others sprayed the trees with Bren-Gun fire seeing one or two bodies fall out, then all went quiet. I sent one man to the rear of us with a message for assistance but he only went 100 yards, so sent another one. He got trough and an officer came up on a motor bike. He said “now then, what’s happening? I can’t see anything” climbed up on the carrier and immediately fell down with a hole in his head.

 

About an hour after, mortar fire started coming from our base.They must have sent someone to report by radio the results and the first shell fell short of target, the next one just in front of us.  They were trying for 50 yards ahead and we were right in the way. 

 

Anyway they managed to find the range but the Japs had gone. I got back again and later was detailed to destroy the dump we had worked so hard to build.  I took my crew and found there were thousands of tins of bully beef, biscuits (hard) 6 inch square, etc. and best of all stacks of tins of tobacco (officers for the use of) and whisky.  We loaded the carrier with this lovely loot, well the tobacco mainly, and poured petrol on the rest and left

in a hurry with a blazing rag as a parting gift.

 

 

Another time, 3 carriers, me in the middle (my favourite spot)had been sent scouting and ran into heavy fire the leading carrier taken by surprise swerved, probably driver killed, wentdown a ravine overturned with crew inside.  We could see a hand and an arm sticking out, obviously trying to attract notice quietened off.  We crawled down to help and on the sheltered side, scraped a hole in the soil and gradually was able to free a man, badly hurt but alive, nobody else.  We got back into the carriers and in the 3rd. one sent the injured man back. We later heard that the recovery lot salvaged the carrier and bodies and

received a medal for their efforts, but not us.  You have to be een by an officer. That's probably why I disrespect medals.

 

  

 

 

These were just everyday happenings.  Towards the end of the campaign in Burma we were free of the jungle but badly decimated, the old 10th. Battalion was now composed of army, RAF and even sailors, and in the final push in the rice fields I lost sight of my old mates and my carrier. I was sent to GHQ in Delhi to recuperate.  I found some accounts in magazines later.  I saved a few, hope they'll be of help but I didn't relate the bad things, who is interested in death, especially someone elses!

 

 

 

 

Bernard and Avril have provided the following document which must be unique and of enormous historical interest. It is a day by day diary of the journey undertaken by the 10th battalion from Unsworth Mills, Whitefield to Quetta, India during December,1941 and January 1942.

 

It is reproduced here with the original annotations made by Bernard Boden who transcribed it from the original hand written diary.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 VOYAGE TO INDIA

 

3 DECEMBER 1941

 To

2 FEBRUARY 1942

 

 

 

 

 

 Albert E. McQuire

 10th. Battalion

 Lancashire Fusiliers

 

 

 

 

Following is a transcript of a diary kept by Albert E. McQuire of the 10th. Battalion, Lancashire Fusiliers, during a journey from Liverpool in Northwest England to Quetta, India via Glasgow, Sierra Leone, Capetown, Durban and Bombay.  Quetta is located in an area that subsequently became Pakistan.

The diary has sustained water damage and consequently some of the handwriting is difficult to decipher.

 

The diary covers only the period in this transcript.  However, separate notes describe incidents that took place in the jungles of Northwestern Burma.  Major actions in this area became known as the First and Second Battles of the Arakan.

 

 

Wednesday Dec 3rd 1941

 

Marched to Whitefield .... traveled to Aintree then Liverpool docks and boarded ship.  Reino del Pacifico.  She is about 17000 tons a grand ship and there are about 2500 troops aboard, we are squeezed almost to suffocation whilst the officers have room to spare, they are very fortunate living like first class passengers.  However, we all seem to be a cheery lot.  I wonder when we shall sail.  8 P.M. and we queue for hammocks.  What a laugh putting them up.  There are 130 men in our room and its 72 x 24ft.  We cannot even roll over and I'm squeezed against the wall and table, still it's great fun.  Lights out 9-30.

 

 

Thursday Dec 4th 1941

 

Reveille 6-30 what a fight to get washed and shaved 4 washbasins to 130 men.  Afterwards rolled hammocks up and had breakfast piece of fat bacon, bread and tea.  Still at dockside, what's left of it, every dock warehouse has been blown up as far as I can see.  ?A.M. tugs come alongside and pull us into midstream, fussing about for two hours.  Dinner 12 o' clock, stew, potato and cold rice pudding.  Tugs leave us 2 P.M.  Bought cigs in canteen 50 for 1-6, tobacco 4 ozs for 1-6 and good quality.  Plenty of chocolate but its all queuing for hours.  Tea 4 P.M. small teacake and 1/2 pint of tea.  Lovely evening quite mild, supper 6 P.M. cheese, bread and pickles with tea.  Same old fight for hammocks.  Life jackets issued.

 

Friday Dec 5th. 1941

 

Still here - breakfast: kipper, bread and tea.  Quite cold and showery until 11 A.M. when we raised anchor. Destroyers all around us we are third from last in convoy of about twelve ships so far as I can see.  Last thing I saw was Blackpool with it's Tower gleaming in the sunshine: what memories of those so dear to me: near yet far away I wonder what Helen and Avril are doing.  God bless them: everything is bright and lovely, first lifeboat practice, and can just see Isle of Man, going very slow, but can hardly tell ship is moving.  No noise whatever, after tea went in canteen, the lads held an impromptu concert.  Very good talent,

enjoyed it very much.  Boat rocking quite a lot.  Few sick.  Sailing without lights at good speed wonder where we are going.  Lights out 9-30.  Boys soon asleep.  No pay today.  Canteen much quieter.

 

 

Saturday Dec 6th 1941

 

Revielle 6 A.M., same old fight for space to dress, found my pack, and lost lifejacket, can hardly keep a thing five minutes.  Breakfast: sausages, we appear to be off the coast of Scotland, I believe is the mouth of the River Clyde.  We appear to be waiting for something or other but I can't make out what.  Very rough weather can hardly stand, ships all around us all shapes and sizes.  11 A.M. two small submarines glide past us, not as big as I thought.  Ship keeps shifting anchor on account of strong tide.  Opposite us is Greenock with Loch Long at our side and the mouth of the Clyde at our rear.  Dinner time 12 o'clock, very good indeed, first good meat I've had since we came aboard.  2 P.M. pay parade, 10s.  Troops well supplied with money but all paper money no change.  Postal Orders not accepted.  Tea 4 P.M., bread and tea.  Late dinner 6 P.M. stew and curry, very nice, surprised.  Lovely and clear tonight with ships lights still shining, canteen packed as usual, in bed 8.30 can hardly breathe, packed like sardines

 

Sunday Dec 7th 1941

 

Breakfast, bacon, porridge and fried potatoes, went on deck until 11-30.  Still in river, snow has fallen thinly during night and all the hills are covered, very pretty but cold.  Big battleship about 1/2 mile astern and destroyers chasing about.  Medical inspection 10-30 A.M. O.K.  Can write letters but when can we post them?  Dinner time 12 o'clock, roast lamb, spuds and peas with barley soup and an apple for dessert.  Went on deck for smoke.  Scenery lovely, hills all around us white topped, just like a picture.  Steamer just crossed our stern.  It was the Lady of Mann and full of troops.  Very cold on deck, so bought this book and rewrote all my notes.  Spent all afternoon writing. Tea 4 P.M.  Went on deck saw seal playing about in water.  Canteen full as always.  Raffled lighter 7-6, not bad.  Selling tea in canteen.  Bed 8-30.  Expect to sail any time, hope we do, getting bored now.

 

 

Monday Dec 8th 1941

 

Breakfast very poor indeed, glorious morning just like an

oil painting, sea very calm.  10 o' clock boat comes alongside with fresh water, and several naval launches,

appears to be some movement now amongst the ships as though

they are taking up positions.  Thousands of seagulls swarm around the ships as waste food is pumped overboard.  Lifeboat drill 11 A.M..  Dinner stewed rabbit, saw submarine repair ship, looks as though it is cut in two.  Went in the  ... and fell asleep on floor.  3P.M. played cards .... lunch tea and jam.  Went on deck.  Barge brought barrage balloon, fastened it on stern.  Huge battleship crossed our front, wonderful sight.  More troop ships maneuvering in place.  Trouble in Far East with Japan where she lost an aircraft carrier and four subs.  She has done damage in return might affect us, might not even go.  Shall have to wait and see.  Late dinner 6P.M.. went in R.A.'s mess, chap playing zither, marvelous kitchen below decks, spotless.  Bed early, anchor weighed 10 P.M.  Lot of moving about.

 

Tuesday Dec 9th. 1941

 

Ship moving, low speed.  Breakfast liver.  Very dull, slight rain but very bracing on deck.  Met an American, interesting conversation.  Ship rolling very bad, many of men sick.  Not affected myself yet.  Dinner very poor stew.  Borrowed book from library, had sleep for 1/2 hour.  Can see about 30 ships from ours.  Tea time, men getting worse, sick all over the place.  Stew again for tea, upset men more than ever  Averaged good speed since noon, bed early.

 

Wednesday Dec 10th. 1941 180

 

Good nights rest, men very ill, good breakfast, potatoes and scrambled eggs, still stormy, waves nearly high as ship and can hardly stand in wind.  Dinner not so good.  Tempers getting frayed.  Difficulty in getting clothes washed and dried.  Heard by ships news bulletin that two battleships "Prince of Wales" and "Illustrious" had been sunk off Malaya.  I hope young Harry is safe.  Sea getting rougher.  Prows of ship buried in sea and then high out of water ..... Looking over side of ship one can see balls of phosphorus playing round, a remarkable sight.  Just like electric bulbs in the water, bed 9 P.M., very wild today.

 

Thursday Dec 11th 1941  297

 

Reveille 7 A.M. owing to clock being altered back.  Herrings for breakfast.  Still wild. Last night one of ships caught fire but was soon put out.  Many rumours as to distance traveled.  Popular one is 625 miles to last night 12 P.M. 

Saw seagulls this morning, bought 1/4 pound bar of chocolate for 1s. plenty of chocolate, oranges and sweets aboard.  Saw airplane high overhead leading destroyer fired on it but too high.  Stew for tea, very nice.  Up to now more than twelve hundred miles out.  Todays news says over 100 survivors landed in Singapore from HMS Prince of Wales.  Hope Harry amongst them.

 

Friday Dec 12th.1941  274

 

Another hour back.  Breakfast liver, on guard today 24 hrs.  R.A.'s had concert this morning on deck.  Weather very bright, huge swells, running into better weather today.  Dinner good.  Pay day, 10s.  Wonder how Helen and Avril are.  Wish I could hear from them.  Miss them ever so much.  Stood guard all night.  Tried to sleep in officers passage, too disgusted at the class distinction so slept on deck.  Not cold but extremely windy.

 

Saturday Dec 13th. 1941   287

 

Came off guard 7 A.M.  Breakfast potatoes and fried egg.  Saw school of porpoises jumping out of water just like rabbits, 10-30 A.M.  Boat drill 11 A.M.  All ships started firing their guns, must be airplanes about.  Heavy barrage.  Huge light cruiser on our port side; changing course every few minutes.  Have just seen ... gyro compass, wonderful instrument, following course of 190 degrees.  Cruiser crossed our course and signaled that we had a transmitter on board, search made, one of crew put in prison.  Captain of Empress of Australia died today, buried at sea.  Plenty of "card sharping" by crew.  "Crown and Anchor".  New successes in Malaya, Libya and Russia.

 

 

Sunday Dec 14th 1941  314

 

Air putrid below decks, very warm on deck, showery, calm sea, service on board but didn't go.  Took underclothes off Most of men sleep on decks during afternoon, stew for tea, had open air concert in pitch darkness, looking over side brought memories and thoughts of home.  Just bet Helen is at the pictures, it would be 9.30 now, 7.30 here.  Sea is like mill pond and can just make out silhouettes of companion vessels.  Phosphorus lights very bright now.  Nothing much to write about, getting very bored.

 

Monday Dec 15th 1941   307

 

Lovely morning, had early tea in canteen, breakfast fried spuds.  Ship sailed about 287 miles in previous 24 hrs  Somewhere between Azores and Canary Islands, very warm breeze.  Typical tropical rain storm, lovely one minute then like ....  low cloud with pouring rain the next, over in a few minutes.  Few more shots fired this morning, plenty of hooters and sirens blown.  Supposed to be within sub range of Dakar.  Saw small black bird thousand miles from land called sea swallow

 

Tuesday Dec 16th 1941   318

 

Rather dull first thing, later glorious, sea a blue I have never seen before.  Just like an advert, hardly a ripple.... did P.T. on deck.  Everyone brighter, about 30 ships now, one battle cruiser and three destroyers amongst them.  Breakfast sausages, dinner good, wrote letters home, no. 4.

 

Wednesday Dec 17th 1941   320

 

Marvelous sunrise, great gold ball, rose quickly out of the ocean of blue with the rays streaming into the heavens.  Promise of hot day.  Noon just like summers day, laid in sun all day in shorts.  Did 1/2 hrs P.T.  Concert at 4.15, very good.

 

 

 

Thursday Dec 18th. 1941   309

 

Rather cold first thing till about 11 o' clock, then very hot.  Drew topees and tropical shirts, gym shorts, no P.T. so fell asleep till 4 P.M.  Concert again.  Should be about Avrils bed time now, how I long to see her.  I hardly dare think of Helen how I love that girl she means all to me.  I only hope and pray that she never forgets me.  It must be so easy for a girl in Blackpool but I know I can trust her.  I am entering the ships speed on the date for each day.

 

 

Friday Dec 19th 1941   311

 

Went on deck 6-30 to watch sun rise, saw Catalina flying boat circling round convoy, must be near land now.  Convoy passed us going back home.  Wish I was.  Saw flying fish, thousands of them.

 

Saturday Dec 20th. 1941   297

 

Hot again this morning, heading east now towards Sierra Leone.  On guard today 24 hrs.  Planes flying around all day, many porpoises about.  Very hot at midday, sweltering, several birds flying about.  Should see land tomorrow I hope.  On guard below decks, nearly collapsed with stench and putrid air.  

 

 

Sunday Dec 21st. 1941   204

 

Engines stopped 5 o'clock this morning, quite dark, clock advanced one hour.  10 A.M. started moving again, can just see coast of Africa, hazy, cruising nearer, gunboats, planes and motor boats lead us through boom defence, a steamer sunk outside.  11 A.M. draw within 1000 yards of land and drop anchor.  Boats come alongside, throw money in water.  Negroes dive for it, swear and curse like heck.  Sell bananas, oranges, coconuts, fine built men, wonderful swimmers.  Town called Sierra Leone or Freetown, opposite this page is an illustration of what the natives are like.  No blackout tonight all ships lit up like fairy castles.  Singing on deck till 10.30.

 

 

Monday Dec 22nd 1941  

 

Slept outside on deck.  Had anti mosquito ointment given us last night, makes one sweat so much.  Very dull today but also very hot and clammy with mist rising up from the land.  Opposite us is the mainland with hills rising from the sea.  Vegetation grows right to the waters edge, very dense.  Water boats come alongside us.  Natives come again, same old cry: bananas, oranges, limes, divers shouting "Glasgow tanner for diving man".  Crew empty swill among fruit, natives don't care, fish it out of water, chaps wrap coppers in silver paper, natives play holy heck.  So hot below, sweat runs off face into dinner, wet through all day, not allowed on shore.

 

 

Tuesday Dec 23 1941

 

Quite cool first thing but just so hot as day goes on.  Had good concert last night till 10 P.M.  Gave native 2d for West African penny.  Still clamoring round boat side, men  swap all kinds of junk for fruit but can't twist the natives.  Can hardly write this for sweat dropping on paper, better chuck up.

 

Wednesday Dec 24th 1941

 

Boiling hot today, just imagine tonight is Christmas Eve and the sun is burning hot, my shorts and shirt are wet through. but worst thought of all I wonder how my little one is tonight.  I can just imagine her hanging her stocking up, her innocent little face looking up the chimney but I know she will get plenty, my sweetheart I cherish the thoughts of her.  I hope it won't be long before I hear from her.  Please God make her happy this day and brave to carry on give her strength dear God she will be sorely tried in the next year.  How I worry when I know I have no need but even the niggers are happier than I, they have their homes and families.  I hope I am remembered tonight at my mothers.  I know Dad will, he has done what I am doing now.

 

Thursday Dec 25th 1941

 

Christmas Day! in West Africa what a joke.  Had bit of sing song on deck last night, heard one carol, lights out 10-30.  Not even a drop to drink, no celebrations.  Wish I could be at home this day.  Wonder what Avril got Helen, love to see them, hope Avril got her wish, bet she plays school all day with mummy for the teacher.  Boiling hot again today, got menu issued, well I'll wait.  Yes, turkey and Christmas pudding.  Raised anchor 12.45 so good-bye West Africa.

 

Friday 26th. Dec 1941   290

 

Slept on deck as usual but got caught in tropical rainstorm whilst asleep wet through in seconds.  Out at sea today should be near equator today.  Pay day 10s.  Surprising how it gets spent but it goes.

 

Saturday Dec 27th. 1941   294

 

What a life, nothing to pass the time away with.  Just eat, sleep and play housey housey.  Very big change today, windy cold on deck even though we passed the equator last night.  Had lecture on life in India but I wonder if we shall go there.

 

Sunday Dec 28th. 1941   304

 

Nothing much to write about, very windy but sun very strong.  Ye Gods, how fed up I am,  How I long to be home with Helen and Avril.  When will this war be over.  I've been away from home over 18 months now.  It seems like as many years and now going to the other side of the world.  Please God bring us together again and quickly.  I can't stand the separation much longer and God grant our love stays strong enough but even an iron link rusts and breaks in time: yes it's a real test of true love but it will never break for my part.  How I long for a letter, some news from home.  Have I really got a home, a wife, a baby.  Or has it been a dream.  I wonder but I suppose every man here feels just the same.  How I loath the name of Hitler damn his soul.  I had a surprise after tea, Father Neptune came aboard and we had plenty of laughs at the celebrations after all.

 

 

 

 

Monday Dec 29 1941   310

 

Same routine, inspection and afterwards PT. quite cold today can't understand it, shall sleep below tonight.

 

Tuesday Dec 30 1941   319

 

Cold again, everyone fed up, who wouldn't be cooped up like this for a month.  We are now more than six days out from Freetown about 1500 miles. 

 

Wednesday Dec 31 1941   302

 

The last day of the year.  I hope better things are in store for us, the news is very good from Russia but rather bleak in the Far East.  In Libya General Rommel is being held and beaten by our troops.  Cold again today New Years Eve what a joke.  No celebrations not even a drink or a decent cigarette.

 

Thursday Jan 1st. 1942   324

 

New Years Day.  Cold and windy but very hot in the sunshine.  Boxing on deck, good meals today for a change.  Wonderful sunset and beautiful starlit night , lovely sight to see.  Convoy in bright moonlight.  Wrote Helen and Avril letter number 5.

 

Friday Jan 2nd. 1942   314

 

Getting rougher as we get near the Cape.  No parades today.  Cut king's head out of halfpenny to pass time away.  Pay day 10s.

 

Saturday Jan 3rd. 1942   329

 

Everyone very depressed, food getting terrible, quite rotten sometimes.  No use complaining.  Spent day ironing and polishing.  Nothing to report.

 

Sunday Jan 4th. 1942   318 

 

Rather bright this morning.  No parades today.  Slept most of day.  Half convoy left at 5.30 P.M. to go to Capetown.

 

Monday Jan 5th. 1942   319 

 

Lovely morning, can see Table Mountain about 15 miles away, curious sight just like huge table, many more mountains as we round the Cape.  Grand to see land after so long at sea.  Just about ... days to Durban.  Plenty of Bofors gun practice in afternoon.  On guard at night.

 

Tuesday Jan 6th. 1942

 

Dull today but warm, had inspection in tropical shorts ...,puttees and socks, jacket and topee.  Very tired today.

This is our  ... day at sea since leaving Scotland and 35th. since we left Liverpool.  Saw lighthouse in distance.

 

Wednesday Jan 7 1942   300

 

Misty in morning with slight drizzle.  Land in sight but traveling down coastline yet.

 

Thursday Jan 8th 1942

 

Sand quite near, 7 A.M. started moving to harbour.  Arrived at Durban, South Africa 12 o' clock.  As we approached a school of porpoise followed us.  Can see the city as we pass very modern.  Sky scrapers, villas, very English in parts, American in others.  Modern docks.  draw in to wharf for oil and water.  Negroes swarm about fixing pipe lines for oil and water.  On shore leave tonight.

 

Friday Jan 9th 1942

 

Shore leave again from 3 P.M. what a wonderful city.  Huge sky scrapers, marvelous shops.  Wealth in evidence everywhere all people seem to have luxuries.  American cars.  Canteens are free to troops, much food as you want.  No rationing, even every variety of English chocolates, etc.  Spent whole day in the city.

 

Saturday Jan 10 1942

 

We are 12 miles away from Durban but go there by special train each day.  The place swarms with natives who seem poor wearing any old clothing unbelievable  ....  of 100 natives loading ship working like hell for about 2s.  In afternoon went to native quarter, wild monkeys in trees.  Taken round Durban in huge car, how I'd love to settle down here, plenty of opportunity.  How Helen would love it, native boys to do her work.  Lovely houses better than anything at home.  Just like being in America.  Luxuries, tobacco 6d for 1/4 pound, brandy 7/6 bottle, many kinds of fruit.  Mangoes taste like turpentine, but nice oranges, pineapples, grapefruit, coconuts wild, melons, plums, peaches.  Whites just boss and live like lords, food free in some canteens in others 2 eggs

2 rashers of bacon sausage and chips, fruit salad, cream ices, tea bread and butter 9d. and don't pay if you can't.  But troops spoil themselves, drink and behave like lunatics.

 

Sunday Jan 11 1942

 

Went to Esplanade for free car ride, waited 2 hours,hopeless so went bus ride on outskirts, lovely views, free meals all day.  Walked until footsore.

 

Monday Jan 12th. 1942

 

Last day on shore, free meals again.  Bought carving.  Sent cable home 2-6.  Spent afternoon in native quarter.  Very  interesting.  Had photo taken in rickshaw.  Went to pictures at night, had lovely day.

 

Tuesday Jan 13 1942

 

Raised anchor 9 A.M. good-bye Durban the beautiful.  Making better speed now, saw small boat 200 miles out.  One of liners stopped to pick it up.  Survivors from some sunken ship, poor blighters, hope we get through.  Same old routine.

 

Wednesday Jan 14th. 1942   345

 

Very hot today can't understand why we get stew every meal.  Wet through with sweat.  Plenty of flying fish here.  Making faster speed this trip.  Put clock back again.

 

Thursday Jan 15th. 1942   445

 

Very hot first thing, several chaps fainted with heat but turned out very wet, heavy rainstorm today.  Regular tropical gale, vivid lightning, brighter than anything at home.

 

 

Friday Jan 16th.1942   425

 

Pay day 10s., terribly hot felt sick with heat and am breaking out in boils.  Don't know how I shall go with this itch of mine.

 

Saturday Jan 17th, 1942   401

 

Saw school of whales quite near porpoises and flying fish by the thousand.  Sea just like molten glass never a ripple and the sun so hot.  I can only compare it with being under a magnifying glass.  At 12 A.M. the leading cruiser Dorchester sighted a tanker gave chase and the last we saw of it was the stern just sinking below the sea, scuttled.  Deck horse racing, lost 2s.

 

Sunday Jan 18th, 1942   419

 

Very hot today, wrote home again how I long for a letter some news from, Helen, nearly eight weeks now, sick tired and fed up.  Breaking out in boils.  Big one under arm now, very painful, food terrible.

 

Monday Jan 19th. 1942   401 

 

On guard today 24 hrs, too hot to breathe.  Oh for a sight of England, still traveling fast but not fast enough for me.

 

Tuesday Jan 20th. 1942   406 

 

Big boil or carbuncle in pit of arm troubling greatly.  One of ships stopped to bury one chap, this makes the fifth death since leaving England.  Lighthouse shining tonight not far off land.  Am I miserable, worse than ever I've been since I joined up.  Dare not think about home.

 

Wednesday Jan 21st. 1942   403 

 

Land in sight as we round the cape towards Aden.  Had lecture by Cpt. Howarth, developed into argument.  Sudden orders to alter course, proceed direct to India believe to be Bombay.  Went to M.I. room and had abscess lanced, much better.

 

Thursday Jan 22nd. 1942   403 

 

Up till noon yesterday we have traveled 10982 miles since leaving England!

 

Friday Jan 23rd. 1942   349

 

Pay day again.  Altered clock.

 

Saturday Jan 24th. 1942   315 

 

Not far to go now, wrote Helen again.  Hope she writes me regularly.  Sent her photo.  Altered clock again.

 

Sunday Jan 25th. 1942

 

Packing our things now, goodness knows how, dress parades.

 

Monday Jan 26th. 1942   353 

 

Collected all money for exchange to rupees, 2 pounds thirteen.  Altered clock!

 

Tuesday Jan 27th. 1942   200 

 

Sighted land 6 A.M. Bombay harbour, anchored in bay.  Bum boats come alongside selling fruit, knives, wallets, ..... looks quite modern.  Just opposite is the Taj Mahal hotel.  Tremendous place.  Next to it is the Gateway to India.  Should go ashore tomorrow to entrain for somewhere inland.  May be on train for several days.  First thing we heard on anchoring was air raid sirens!  Docked today, went ashore and got on train, started for Quetta 2 P.M.

 

Wednesday Jan 28th. 1942

 

Traveling all day - slept in train on racks, one blanket, very cold in night, every station natives come, char Sahib, cigarettes from 1 anna packet, Woodbines 2 annas, Players, etc. 3 1/2 annas.  Matches 2 boxes 1 anna.

 

 

Thursday Jan 29th. 1942

 

Arrived Delhi 4 A.M. spent morning in train and platform, saw mongooses and streets of city from station entrance.

 

 

Friday Jan 30th. 1942

 

Traveled through mountains, awe inspiring but bleak, marvelous railway.

 

 

Saturday Jan 31st. 1942

 

Rather cold at night, snow on mountains, natives live on nothing.  Called at Sibi, besieged by beggars, last big town before Quetta.  Arrived Quetta 7.30 P.M., met by 1st. Battalion band, marched 3 miles to camp, done up! supper on arrival and billets

 

Sunday Feb 1st. 1942

 

Camp new, town bare and 3 miles away surrounded by mountains, not a tree or a blade of grass just pebbles and stones, spent day getting settled.

 

 

 

Monday Feb 2nd. 1942

 

Settling down to same routine, wearing thick clothes, food moderate, amusements few.  May the Lord help us and shorten our stay.  Troubled by sciatica and abscesses.

 

 

 

 

                  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Click on cutting to enlarge

 

Illustrated
London News
23rd March 1943

 

 

 

 

The above extract from Albert’s Diary is from the final page and lists the various places

he visited during his period in India and Burma.

 

 

 

 

 

Geoff Pycroft

April, 2005

for part 2 of Alberts story

Click here