Chapter 5: Cruising the Mediterranean

Discussion in 'North Irish Horse' started by Gerry Chester, Jul 24, 2006.

  1. Gerry Chester

    Gerry Chester WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    Cruising the Mediterranean - Day One
    Page 31

    Early in the morning of Sunday, April 16th, leaving the tanks and their drivers behind, we bade Ain Mokra a fond farewell. Aboard Bedford 3-tonners it was off to Bône and the ship that was to transport us to Italy. From the quay she looked somewhat the worse for wear and, once on board,we found the conditions indeed left a lot to be desired. Due to her being constantly employed shuttling troops to the Italian Theatre the crew had little or no time to clean up the mess left by the previous passengers. I cannot recall the ship's name.
    In less than two hours, with the Bedfords safely stowed on deck, we steamed out into the Mediterranean to join our awaiting escort. With the destroyer on the port side we then sailed steadily eastwards hugging the North African coastline to the south.

    As darkness fell, food at last was served. Thus satisfied, we bedded down wherever a spot we could be found. As the sea was calm most managed to get some sleep before being awakened by the call to breakfast. While eating, the ship perceptibly slowed down until the throb of the engines was no more, the sudden silence being broken by the rattling of an anchor's chain.

    Pushing uneaten food to one side, everyone dashed on deck to take a first look at the Boot of Italy. To our surprise, a voice on the ship's loud speakers informed us we were anchored in the middle of Malta's Grand Harbour.

    Cruising the Mediterranean - Day Two
    Page 32

    In the early morning's sunshine Valetta,
    Malta's capital, looked so beautiful and
    undamaged, that it was difficult to visualise those hectic times when the George Cross island had been under continuous and heavy bombing attacks, by German and Italian aircraft, for month after month. After a few hours, led by our faithful "shepherd", we were once more underway. The reason for our short stay in the Grand Harbour now became clear - we were to complete the second leg of the voyage as we did the first, under the cover of darkness.
    Once clear of the harbour, the destroyer once again took up position, this time on the port side. As our ship ploughed steadily northwards we realised that it would be sailing parallel to the east coast of Sicily, before transiting the Stretto di Messina.. Few, if any, stayed on deck when darkness fell, the lack of sleep the previous night having taken its toll.

    Early on Tuesday morning, a call came over the loud-speakers to prepare to disembark. Following a quick breakfast, it was up on deck, to find ourselves sailing across the Bay of Naples. Off to the starboard side the sun could be seen rising above the recently erupting Mount Vesuvius. About a mile or so from the port of Naples we heard a loud "whoop" of farewell from the destroyer, which had safely seen us thus far, as she veered away doubtless to perform further escort duties.

    A short while later, the throb of our ship's engines gradually lessened until she came to a final stop. By about 09.00 hours the Squadron and the Bedford 3-tonners were on Italian soil. How many wondered if the old saying "See Naples and then die" would apply to them. Sadly, only too soon were we to find the Grim Reaper still about his deadly work.

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