Your Memoirs – “A Passage To India”

A few months after the evacuation at Dunkirk in 1940, two boys, me aged five and my brother (eight) perched on a pile of trunks at Southampton Docks, while our mother queued to hand in our gas-masks and ration books,  The trunks  had ‘cabin luggage’ stencilled on them, or ‘not wanted on voyage,’ which meant they could be stowed in the hold.  

Then we were walking up the gangway. My mother was crying because there was no knowing when we might return or whether she would ever see her parents again. 

The Narcunda was a small passenger liner, on its last voyage before the scrapyard.  The three of us were crammed into a small cabin, with bunk-beds, below the waterline. There was a shared bathroom on the same corridor. The bath-water was seawater. Special salt-water soap had to be used. Every twenty yards or so there were steel watertight doors along the corridor which closed automatically in an emergency. That night, before we set sail, the Docks were bombed. We could hear the explosions in the part of the docks which was for cargo ships.

At that time, the Mediterranean was controlled by the Italian Navy. All voyages to India, instead of going through the Suez Canal, had to go right round the Cape of Good Hope at the tip of Africa – a voyage which lasted two months. Until we got well into the Atlantic, we travelled in a convoy of other ships, guarded by Destroyers. In the Bay of Biscay, two German cruisers appeared over the horizon. Our Destroyers layed a smokescreen, behind which we altered course.

We had lifeboat drill every day. When the alarm sounded, you had to grab your lifejacket and head up to your appointed station  on the open deck. One day I lingered in our cabin too long and found myself alone and trapped between two watertight doors. My mother, of course, was frantic with worry. Even though I got a row from her when they reopened, I was mightily relieved to be reunited.

Submitted by Robin Lloyd-Jones, 86, Helensburgh

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