Archive number: 790
Preferred name: Ron (Oz)
Date interviewed: 22 January, 2004
You are listening to the interview audio
Ron thanks so much for your time today. Could you begin just by sharing with me a brief overview of your life, where you were born, were you sort of find yourself now?
Well I’m of a fifth generation pioneer family
the Barwicks, Saunders, Ashfords and my father’s family, Ware. I was born at Scone in New South Wales and but I grew up at a wonderful place on the Central Coast of New South Wales called Wamberal which is just north of Terrigal between two lakes and I we had 20 acres there
some of it under cultivation with orchard. I went to a local school there. I was bare footed. When I walked on the beach, I was there till I was 12 but when I walked on the beach I foot printed my way along the beach and they were the only footprints there and it was pristine, two
wonderful lakes. I grew up on our own grown fruit and vegetables. We had two cows. I before I went to school I’d have to hand cut sorghum and corn and then take it down to the cow bail and chaff it up with a hand chaffer and then milk the cows and
go up home and collect the eggs for my mother and then I’d be off to school so and my Dad who was retired from the sea or tried to retire from the sea, he’d become a farmer. I was off to school. I enjoyed my school life. I remember an odd incident I
suppose it was. We had at the school house at Erina Heights which I visited in revisited in 1988 there were six classes in three rooms. There was two classes to a room and when I was in, we used to catch cicadas and I know there were lillipillies growing in the school grounds and it was wonderful to bring a cicada in, in his shell and they’d
crack open and climb out of it if the headmaster didn’t catch it cause they were ink wells in those days not ordinary pens but on a particular day there something that stuck in my mind. We had a combination of the 5th class and 6th class sitting together, a 5th and 6th sitting together because the 5th class or form were having an examination
and they wouldn’t have two of the same class sitting together. This man I can say his name I suppose his name was Buchan and he was a very severe person. Anyway the boy next to me whose name was Dean Kenyon and I met him later on after school. Suddenly the head master called my name. “Ware,” I shot upright and,
“Stand up boy.” What have I done, and I stood up and he said, “You just spoke to Kenyon.” He said, “Are you cheating, you’re helping him cheat”. I said, “No sir I didn’t speak.” He said, “Come out here boy, don’t lie to me” and he hauled me out or I walked out and he caned me twice and I hadn’t done anything. Now injustice has always been burned into my brain. I would, if I ever found
out that I was wrong about something I have always apologised to that person, personally because injustice is a dreadful and it’s in a way it’s maybe in a way it’s a bit of a canker in a person. After I’ll jump now, I came back to that school when I was 19, in uniform. I had two stripes on my arm
gold stripes and I came to visit my school and the headmaster proudly showed me around and I have some ribbons, service ribbons and I had an MID [Mentioned In Dispatches] then and he showed me off and I said to him later I reminded him of that incident. He said, “Oh you don’t want to worry about those things boy, sir young sir,”
but I said but I did and, “It’s an injustice and I think you should know that,” and well I mean he was older than I was. He must have been in his 60s then but this was what? Nearly 10 years later and I’d been around the world and I’d enjoyed a lot of things so I had a lot of, I had the required amount of self esteem and self assurance.
What was his response to that
Was well he said “You don’t want to worry about that, a little thing like that,” and I said “But look,” well words to that effect and I said it wasn’t a little thing to me. I was unjustly accused of doing something so I’ve always remember that and I remember it crystal clear now but in I went to Gosford High School there by bus. I liked the life
then we had survived a drought and I remember we shifted to Newcastle and I needed another reason was that at Gosford High School I wasn’t taught trigonometry and trigonometry was going to be a requirement for navigation and at that early age I was committed to go to sea. I used to carve my own little sailing ships and float them on the dam and in the lake there
and I went to Newcastle and I was there in my second year there I was Junior Vice Captain of the school. I used to cycle from where we lived into Newcastle every day. I became friends with some of the masters there and they liked me because I was different. Probably one of the, I had a lot of
initiative I think and one of the things that I think got their attention was that I came in half way through the second year of learning trigonometry and I didn’t know anything about trigonometry except I was going to need it if I was going to be a navigator and I was given an exercise to do. He said “Do the best you can,” and the next
day I brought in the answer and it was right and I never forget his name. His name was Murphy, Frank Murphy and he said “Well stand up.” “Yes.” He said “How did you get this right? Who helped you with this?” And I said “I didn’t get any help sir, I worked it out,” and he was stunned. So I’d learned the
rules of trigonometry fairly quickly and the fact that I’d worked it out without any help, because my Dad was working away at the time, I think got his attention. I’d be in anything. I was an eager beaver. I used to cycle into town and I was a cadet in the Nobby Surf Club at Newcastle
and every Saturday and Sunday I used to swim in the Newcastle pool. It’s a hundred yards by 50 yards except at one end it’s 50 metres, it’s cut out for cause that was Olympic, pre Olympic times and this particular morning there a group of masters including Mr Murphy and McKenzie and Jenkins they were down the other end of the pool
and I swam the length of the pool 20 times and when I hauled myself out and they were just by and they were a couple of them were smoking and he said, “How far did you swim Ron?” Ronnie which is a privilege instead of being called by your family name cause you used to be addressed by your family name not your first name in those days. I said, “20 lengths sir,”
and he said “That’s 2000 yards.” I said “Yes,” and one of the others who was smoking said he said, “You keep doing that Ronnie and you’ll get, you’ll hurt your heart,” and I thought that was a signal to me and I never forgot it because it’s sad but interesting that very few smokers
can laugh without coughing and I worked that out pretty quickly so that’s one of the little things that I retained which I think steered me through life. Cigarettes were free in wartime. Anyway I was elected Junior Vice Captain in the third year at high school which is year nine now but war had broken out and
to me that was very exciting. My Dad had served in World War I. He’d had a bad time. He was, although he’d been at sea, he joined the army and to his I think regret later on he was at Gallipoli and in the Western Front and he’d been buried alive from shell bursts and he got very sick on Gallipoli I know and was evacuated and he
went to France and he was evacuated home later but I was committed to go to sea and my Dad wanted me to finish high school. Year five it was then. Now it’s the equivalent of year six, which is 12 but you’d go to university at the end of 5th year at high school, year 11 and
I wanted to get away as early as I could so I decided to sign up anyway. So I put my age up and I found out I learned there and there was an instant decision because whoever it was in front of me was asked his date of birth and they
accepted that so I put my date of birth back a year so I was older by and because I was fit and I used to row in the surf boat I was very fit and broad shouldered and very strong and I looked older than my 14 years and 10 months as I was when I went away to sea but I got by on that and I was
at sea and on an Australian ship first and then my itchy feet got the better of me and I’d saved enough money to buy my or provide my requirement of 12 pounds to become a cadet and I joined the Federal New Zealand Shipping Company, Federal Steam Navigation Company, New Zealand shipping company
and off I went overseas and my first ship was the Cornwall, beautiful fast refrigerated cargo ship and we were to go to Britain but we went through to the Mediterranean. Our first voyage was to Britain, then our second voyage instead of going to Britain we went through the Mediterranean
for the relief of Malta. That was my first of two trips in the Mediterranean and we were bombed I was then my action station was on a Hotchkiss machine gun on the starboard wing of the bridge and I was a good shot because going back to my
farm life days we had, my brother and I had a daisy air gun between us. That was a, they used to call it a pea rifle and you could fire little BBs [Ball Bearings] or slugs from it with a pump action compression and we fired at targets but what we used to do also was spin a penny into the air and the other one had to have his back turned
and you say now and you would turn around and had to aim and fire and I’d get it about, well more often than my elder brother did. He joined the navy in March 1939 and went away to sea before the war. Anyway I was a good shot and it became apparent when I was being trained on the machine gun that my ability to aim off and allow for
something moving, moving fast was very good compared to those who never had any previous training and had to be taught. It was a, I guess a gift, an instinct or whatever it is, one of those things and on the way to Malta we were bombed and hit. One of the
first unpleasant duties of my life in wartime was I was on the bridge. I was on standby at the, I was loader at the gun the other cadet was on it at the time when a bomb struck the after end of the bridge and one on our stern and the ship caught fire but the one that struck the after end not of the bridge of the boat deck and it hit the radio shack and I was sent down as
in charge of the fire party. I was only 15. I was supposed to be 16. Course everyone else is at his station and I was part of the fire party and I chucked some, we had buckets there and they connected up the canvas hose and two or three of the seamen and myself
were, and the bosun was there so I was not in charge. He was in charge, not me but the Chief Radio Officer had been killed and decimated and that was my first exposure to a human body but on my next voyage
from we went onto Britain from there and then did we go to Britain from there? No we came back to Australia from Malta, came out through Alexandria, the Suez Canal and back to Australia and then we loaded up for Britain and we, that’s where I wanted to go. I got close to it in the Med but I hadn’t got there and we loaded in Australia and New Zealand and across the Pacific through the Panama Canal
to Kingston Jamaica and up to Canada to Halifax Nova Scotia and that was a convoy port. One of the things that fascinated me when we entered into that famous port, which was a big convoy port in World War I as well is that in the grand harbour there which was surrounded by
had been very tall trees but they were all flattened and radiating irradiating out from the harbour and the pilot said that, the captain knew he’d been there before. Gee this was 19… towards the end of 1940 that the… in World War I an
ammunition ship had for whatever reason blown up in that harbour and it flattened everything around. I mean it would have been five or six thousand tons of high explosives. ‘Boom’ and sunk a few ships as well and then we were across the North Atlantic and we were, had attacks by long we had submarine attacks on the convoy and
long range Focke-Wulf I think they were Kondor aircraft they were long range anyway attacking the convoy and that was when I had my second chance to use the anti aircraft gun, the Hotchkiss and I was in Mort [?] I was complimented by the Officer of the Watch there of the accuracy of my fire
and they were only 303 machine guns and they were single mounted machine guns. On my in England I transferred to the, no back to Australia again and I transferred to another ship of the line, a bigger and faster ship the Orari. She was in there were two shipping companies combined. There was the Federal Steam Navigation Company
and New Zealand shipping company but they were all owned by, it was P & O [Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company] owned anyway and we left from New Zealand and through the Panama Canal and again across the North Atlantic and when was it? I think it was about December. I know I was damn cold, freezing and heavy seas running and
we were travelling alone at the time The ship was relatively fast. She could do 15 knots and we were torpedoed and we were torpedoed on the port side between number four and number five hatches and I was just going on watch at the time or I’d been below for whatever reason and I was just going back up on the bridge when the torpedo
struck and about 10 seconds later there was a consternation, well everyone was heading for the damage control area on the deck to see what was the damage in that area but even before people got there or crew got there, there was a consternation or a commotion
down aft and the second officer who’d gone after the end of the boat deck shouted back to say that we’d had, we’d just taken another torpedo but the torpedo had landed on the deck on the hatch, flown out of the sea onto the hatch without its warhead. So the explosion of the first one, I’ll give you hindsight information
now, the explosion of the first torpedo when it blew a hole in between number four and five hatches, including blowing the bulkhead down, so both of them were filling very rapidly. The second torpedo was blown onboard and landed on the hatch. At that stage no one knew that the warhead wasn’t still on it until it was identified that it was cut off that it was
flat at the front of it the opposite end of it the propellers and it had gone. So what was done then was to lash it there and we were about 400 miles we were a fair way north. Anyway the ship became unstable and an unstable ship is a pretty scary thing. We had so much water in the ship
and what you call free surface effect, that is it sloshes around according to what the motion of the sea does to it and it’s not confined in tanks which then it’s not free surface. So it was making the ship lurch at the time which caused a lot of concern so what they had to do, the captain, Chief Engineer was to give it more stability by putting
more water in the double bottom tanks to lower the centre of gravity so the ship didn’t roll over and the ship was totally full of food cargo, that’s butter, cheese and meat, lamb and she’s those ships were refrigerated cargo ships. They’re no longer in existence because they have containerisation now which I helped to bring in later but we got her
into port into the mouth of the Clyde there and I have a photograph here of her somewhere in there and when they got us up the river for repairs and to unload it because except for those two holes that were blown open. See refrigerated
cargo ships had very large compartments like the size of this room and they were individually they were isolated from each other but the temperatures were controlled according to whatever was in need for carrying, butter or cheese and we had a lot of wool in the ship as well and when the torpedo struck all around the ship was cases of butter and
bales of wool and what have you. Anyway when we got to the Loch and up the Clyde we were alongside the wharf and the King and Queen came onboard to have a look. I don’t know whether they were visiting at the time or whether they, I think they must have been visiting Edinburgh or Glasgow at the time because they used to get around as sort of
for morale for the people and the merchant navy was getting a caning in the North Atlantic at that time. I mean no convoy went across there without any attack and the fact that we had survived an individual attack on us and got our ship into port. Gosh what was his name the captain? Rice. Double barrel name but he got an award
for bringing the ship in after that. My next ship was back to the Cornwall and to Australia then back to Britain again and then I joined, on a couple more voyages, then I joined the Dorset and in Australia I transferred in,
not in Australia, I transferred in New Zealand. The ship sometimes took whole cargoes from New Zealand. That was the food box for Britain. New Zealand and Australia and particularly New Zealand which was almost totally dedicated to the production of lamb, we got a lot more mutton from Australia. On one voyage we loaded in Brisbane I know yeah at the Borthwick Wharf but
in Dorset we loaded out of Britain, out of New Zealand and across the Pacific and then to and she was a fast ship. She could do 17 knots and she was pretty new and I was there for, transferred around we cadets so that you got experience on the different types of ships and the different captains and the officers and
I mean no leave. I think I went to London about three times for three or four days that was all and in Dorset we discharged in Liverpool and then we got word that we were going to load outwards and it wasn’t Australia we had another destination. They didn’t tell us but they started loading fitting us out
for extra gun positions on the ship. Our standard protection on that ship was Oerlikon cannons in the wing of the bridge, each side and we had one, what you call a Bofors anti aircraft gun, a 40 the Oerlikons were 20 millimetre. The Bofors were 40 millimetre and they had packs of five, clips of five shells at a time and we took on special
military gunners for those usually and when that was being fitted out in Liverpool and our Captain, oh I stepped back. The voyage from the Panama Canal to England we were what they call you were routed independently
that was you went on your own because a big fast ship in a convoy was not a good thing at all but we depended on our own speed and armament to get away from submarines. Submarines, the U-boats [Unterseeboot, German submarines ] had a surface speed of about 17 knots which was what ours was so if we ever, and we were sailing it with
pre determined zigzag courses but we went from the Panama Canal up past Cuba and Florida and directly up from Britain up through the middle to keep away from the cross shipping lanes but not along them and on three separate occasions over a period of three days
we had attempts by U-boats to hit us. On the first one a periscope was sighted by the lookout. In those days except for in the North Atlantic we had a lookout in the Crows Nest which was well up on the foremast. Later on they took them out of there because they had very little hope of getting away if they were getting free of the ship
but you had plenty of eyes around the bridge. A periscope was sighted which turned into a submarine fairly quickly and so we altered course and this is Captain Nelson-Rice? He and we turned away at high speed and we engaged the submarine. I wasn’t in the gun crew. I was in the wing of the bridge on the starboard
Oerlikon. The gun crew the captain gave the order to fire at it and over the open sights they fired about five rounds at the submarine and it dived. We were given permission to fire too, just join the stuff that was going towards the submarine but he was, our shots fell short and it happened again another
on, not the same submarine on another day but we would have been reported and we knew it so, when you got into that part of the world in the ocean we were on watch and watch, that’s four on and four off, four on and four off which can be pretty taxing but we had dog watches too which was you were four on and four off except in the afternoon you went, in changing the watches you’d go from
come on watch at four o’clock and you went off at six o’clock and you had a break for two hours then you went off, on again at eight o’clock so you changed watches by that method. That’s what you call the dog watches but we were constantly, we weren’t doing any maintenance on the ship. We were purely in defence of the ship and all eyes alert. At that stage I
still had a pair of binoculars my Dad had given me. On the second time we sighted a submarine it was close ahead and the periscope was sighted and the alarm was raised and the captain altered course to starboard and asked for increased speed, not that we’d get very much more cause we were doing at least 16 knots, with probably a reserve of a knot, a knot and a half
and that’s not much of an increase and we went right over the top of this where the submarine was last seen, the periscope and on those fast merchant ships if you could do 12 knots or more they fitted all of us out. We’re supposed to be not an armed service and we’ve got arms all over us. We were fitted out with at least eight depth charges which were used as a
dissuader or a persuader whoever you want to look at it of if we could get a run at a submarine. Well in this case we did. We went straight for the submarine. He was too close to us to do a swing away cause he was sighted about three points on the starboard bow and at a distance of about 400 metres which meant it was too close to turn away or he’d have just
banged a torpedo into us. We’d have turned broadside onto him and we went for it and the captain gave the order to unload we unloaded four depth charges over the spot where we last saw him. Two on each side and you had they were in cradles on the stern on the and on the quarter so that you could just knock off the senour slip [?], pull off the
holding wire and just pull the trigger and it’d go over the side. It was well enough aft to miss the propellers of course but it gave the when we’d let these go it created a great commotion which I thought was fantastic to see our own torpedoes and everyone was looking hopefully for oil or whatever debris to come up but no we didn’t see anything
but we didn’t’ see him again. Now on the next day, that’s three in three days. There’s, we’d sighted another one and we were zigzagging and moving quite quickly at, and in fact really at top speed at the stage. We were right up to maximum. When you’re running away from someone who’s going to sink you, you put a pull out all stops and we had another one sighted
which we dropped two, went over the spot and because we were again too close to it to turn away from but we didn’t see anything. On the third occasion he was on the surface and seen at the, he surfaced there. Why he surfaced I don’t know unless he was going to get a dead shot at us. We were a big, fat target
and she dived as well and this is all logged by the way, ship’s log and we went over the top of where he was and course again we were too close to get to expose the ship’s side by turning it too early. We didn’t see again and we didn’t see any more action thankfully and we
didn’t get any air attacks except we saw an enemy aircraft in the distance which would have reported us when we were on the, what you call the western approaches when you’re coming into the Irish Sea and like I’ll go back now. The first time I crossed the North Atlantic and we came into Belfast Lough there. We took a pilot
onboard and the pilot cutter would come out and I’ll never forget this mournful cry. They’d call out through a megaphone, “Any survivors?” Like if you’d picked up anyone you know. It was always sort of a very not a depressive, but a jolt to remind you that a lot of people were being lost at that time. Anyway when we came into Belfast harbour
the very first occasion and on each occasion following that they always said called the same, any survivors? But I remember there was two masts and a funnel sticking up out of the harbour. We’d passed her about quarter mile off and in those days and the pilot said yeah he was a magnetic mine
got him and he said what had happened was it was a Norwegian ship, I forget the name, Trident I think and there she is sitting on the bottom, submerged except for the funnel, top of the funnel and the masts and he said that they’d anchored there and apparently in switching off what you call your degaussing gear they’d
changed generators and in that split second when the coil of special wires that go all the way around the ship at deck level inside the bow, like rails, it’s called degaussing, now that demagnetises the ship so that the magnetic mind will not be triggered. In this occasion, poor fellers, for a split second
the degaussing was off when they switched generators so the pilot said and bang up she went and blew a hole in the ship. Now that was there for the remainder of the time in the war that I came into Belfast harbour.
Interviewee: Ronald Ware Archive ID 0790 Tape 02
A story about the captains and their growing up years and being seduced as young lads?
Yes now this was in later years now I’m speaking and I was at the head office of the Australian National Line in Melbourne and I was
Assistant to the chairman, Captain Sir John Williams and at the time that we had some ships in port and some of the captains on leave and we got around the table a particular night and had a dinner and there were a couple of other master mariners in port at the time and one was a sea pilot and who all have to be master mariners with sea going experience in command and
the subject got around to their first sexual experience and of that dozen the 12, 10 of the 12 of us their first sexual experience was they were seduced by a female several years older than themselves which in today’s
lifestyle I suppose and laws would they would be considered predators. Now I asked them the 10 of the 12 and they all had smiles on their faces, would they consider that of telling someone in authority and of course not. That’s a very private thing and there used to be
stories at sea that the French often mothers would often depute their younger sister to seduce their male child or children. Now I have no access to whether that’s fact or fiction but that group of mariners, my friends remembered that their, first
incidents their first sexual experience that it was a treasured memory and as I’ve said it certainly left me with a smile on my face and there was no way in life I was, I would become a homosexual. It was almost a mothering, a loving, giving experience and each one of them said
the same thing.
On the issue of homosexuality a lot of people rightly or wrongly associate sort of the navy or shipping with the issue of homosexuality. Did you come across that during your years of service?
I had many years at sea. I have never known of that incident onboard any ship or that
behaviour, call it what you like onboard any ship on which I served and from time to time one would learn from innuendo from crew that perhaps stewards some of the stewards were, but if, I was never aware of it.
If there had been homosexual activity onboard
were there disciplinary actions to be taken?
If it was known they would have been put off the ship very definitely, wherever they were. If they were in port at the time that would have been it, but I don’t know. I remember one great captain. I was with Captain Alfred Victor Knight a very much decorated man from World War I
too and he was one of my two role models when I was Chief Officer and learning the special skills of ship handling, what have you. He had his own personal steward who used to follow him around and there was some remarks that maybe his steward was homosexual but
the captain certainly wasn’t and I know that. I remember he was he’d been Chief Officer on that beautiful ship the Niagara which later was mined in the Tasman and he was my captain on this particular ship. We’d been to Japan and came back via Nauru with a lot of phosphate for Adelaide and when we were in Adelaide
the captain was interviewed and there was an article in the paper about him and he next day or the day after he called me into his cabin. We became very, very good friends and when I became a consultant in my own right, he was chairman of my company but Captain Knight called me in and he said, “Ron read this,” and it was a letter from a lady and it was words
to this effect and it was no name put on the letter. “I wonder Victor if you recall when I sailed with you in the Niagara to Vancouver Honolulu and what wonderful delights you taught me on the voyage and I have never forgotten nor will I ever forget and I handed it and
wish you well,” and all that and I said “Who was she?” She said, “Damn it old man,” he said, “That’s the damn problem. I can’t remember what her name was.” I said “Were there too many?” and he just chuckled.
So this woman had in a sense stowed away or?
No, no she was a passenger. She was a passenger. No she wasn’t stowed away. That was a passenger ship. Sorry I didn’t explain
it was a beautiful passenger ship that ran between Sydney, New Zealand and Hawaii and Vancouver. All those beautiful days of those sort of ships and people wandering around the world on a 12 passenger ship, they’re gone and now they’re dreadful and I helped design it and it is the container ships that
spend maybe two days in port. They are most unromantic. They are, there’s no aesthetic beauty in them from maritime works of art as ships used to be. They are just now efficient floating boxes, with a sharp end at one end and a blunt end at the other, covered with boxes.
Just going back to again the issue of homosexuality, you said if a fellow was caught or accused of I guess such a thing
they’d be put off the ship immediately?
Yeah no questions asked, gone.
Is that because of the fear of the captain and crew or because…?
Not at all, no homosexuality was very definitely a no-no at sea, very definitely.
Because it would upset morale?
I don’t know whether it’s, see there’s been a change, and this takes us to another subject.
The incidence of homosexuality has increased dramatically in recent times in male and female. Now I believe that it was never in any way like this in the past even those who were the closet homosexuals and I believe it’s there are a lot of things that are affecting human diet in recent times and also and I have reason to believe this
that there is a relationship between lack of amount of breastfeeding in, there’s something in there and there needs to be a proper scientific study done on this and I’m going to encourage it when I carry out that interview for UNE [University of New England] next month. There is something more than it is part of the powerful
defence of the immune system that is passed from mother naturally to child male or female through breast milk. It is known that it empowers in the immune system and a lot of other, asthma is one that’s not properly looked at it but it enhances the immune system. Now there logically has to be a connection too between
the stimulation of the natural sexuality of a person and that doesn’t put anyone down if they are homosexual or bi-sexual.
OK so let’s come back now to your growing up days.
Yes I’m still growing up. I refuse to grow old.
Age is a state of mind.
OK your younger days rather than your
young days now. Your father, can you share me your early memories you have of your father?
He was a very quiet man. I think he had a dreadful time in, I know he did in World War I which left him damaged and yet he served in World War II and died in service but he was a friend to me
and when I was at my best, sweetest growing up age in my, when I 10 to sort of 14, 13 to 14 and we had our farm our orchard at Wamberal between Terrigal and Wamberal Lakes and we had orchard and we used to grow beans and peas between the trees, peas in winter time, beans in summer time. I remember we
had a particularly bad year and our place didn’t have a road to it, but it had a, it had a road at one end with slip bales and one up near the house which was a track but a truck would turn up and the men would load say beans or peas whatever it was that was growing between the tracks. Cause oranges you had to wait for once a year
in winter time I think it was and a whole truck load of beans was loaded and I remember it went to Gosford and they used to have small steamers, the Erinna and the Gosford used to go from would you believe, from Gosford to Sydney to the markets and that was direct and anyway on this occasion he got a letter back and a bill for delivery of beans which
weren’t declined at the market but there was a glut and that means that not only did we not get anything but there was a debit. Now this happened twice which caused us to have to leave the property cause we couldn’t carry on like that. But one of the delights that I experienced there was I’d come home from school and my mother would say “Dad’s gone fishing down to the beach. He wants you to go down and catch him some
bait,” and I used to take oyster bottles and a couple of pieces of bread, we home baked bread, a fuel stove. I used to have to cut the wood, never a problem, no chores. Kids these days, you know if I want my kids to cut the lawn they can invent 27 reasons to and want to be paid for it you know and they live here. What a difference. They didn’t, they don’t enjoy the pleasure of being a working
input component to the wonderful life that we had, living on the farm and everyone supporting. But I’d take oyster bottles to the lake and put the bread in it and shake it up with water and get the air out of it and leave and there and chuck a few pieces of bread in the water or soggy bits of bread so you didn’t give too much to the mullet and they’d come around. Then you’d find them go into the bottle
and they can’t turn around and get out so you might get four or five or six what you call potty mullet in the bottle and when I’d get say 10 or 12 I picked it up and go hunting along the beach to find my Dad fishing and he loved that and he’d say and I remember and I’d go home cause he might stay on till midnight. I remember one night when he came home and
he’d caught a 75 pound jewfish on a hand line off the beach there in a sort of a gutter and that was I mean that was awesome. Those that sort of experience and cutting the wood, the logs set up in the forks of two trees stuck into the ground but one day I remember was very sad and it was the demise of our life on the farm. I came
home from high school and my mother was in tears and she I said “What’s the matter?” She said “Tiger,” we had a draft horse, medium sized draft horse. She said “Tiger’s fell down the well” and I said “How could he get into the paddock where the corn was?” She said “No it’s the dry well.”
We were then digging the well and I used to spend maybe an hour after school with a mattock and bucket and digging and putting the clay into the, we were down about 20 feet, 15, 20 feet then go up and haul it up and dump it and go back down. But she said no the dry well and that was in the area of still uncut still
forested land. We had five acres with a stand of big blackbutts and what have you and there had been an old well there with a slip rail, not a slip rail, a single spar fence around it with slabs across the top of the well. Cause it was
unused but it was about 15 feet whoever dug it, people who’d lived there before us had given up and said no they you know, water diviner was a bit crook that day or something. See they used to divine for water then and that’s where we were digging in a different place and while my mother was telling me I heard a shot and she said, “Oh God he’s done it,” and
she said, “Your Dad came up to get his 303,” and when I got down there they were already… Dad said, “No, stay away son,” and what had happened was the horse had backed up against this railing apparently and he must have been rubbing himself on it and the thing had carried away and it was close to the edge and he’d gone backwards onto the slabs
that were maybe four or five, six inches between them and they were upside down and flat and he’d gone through that and they’d all given way. Not broken but splayed open and he’d fallen down backwards into this well and there was no way we could get him out and my Dad had shot him and he was our motion for farming, for ploughing and that was the
writing on the wall for us to have to leave our treasured existence there and I loved it, fresh fruit, oranges, citrus. I used to work every Saturday morning for our neighbour who had a, the Warrant family who used to have a nursery of budding on naval oranges onto common lemon stock and
I used to work for him to earn four shillings to pay my bus fare a week to Gosford so I paid my way from school days and it was a good lesson.
In respect to your dad you mentioned earlier that he’d served in the war?
What stories had he told you about World War I?
Nothing, he wouldn’t talk about it but I remember
meeting some of his mates once and they told me about it. They said no he was buried alive once you know, shell blast and they were covered up and he sort of got himself partly out and then they realised that he was there was someone still there. There’s was a much worse war than ours
from that point of view. The death and destruction at World War I must have been awful and I had my father’s brothers and I didn’t pass this onto Vet Affairs or archives. I should have because my brother, my father had brothers who served in World War I as well. In fact I had one of his brothers became and there were casualties amongst them and I don’t know what it was cause they were decimated his family
but one of his brothers became quite famous and you’re probably too young to remember. There was a series on television called Danger is my Business. You probably, no you’re too young. That was one of the first television programs and it was about his brother, Sergeant Harry Ware and he started the police rescue squad. He was the one who started and designed
apparatus for the police to go down and retrieve people who’d fallen off cliffs or jumped or their bodies but his family were they were very, very proud family the Wares. They apparently, most of them were in Adelaide, not in New South Wales but I’ve
Very proud family you were saying?
Yes all very well spoken and they were early settlers in Adelaide and Port Lincoln I believe.
You mentioned earlier your dad served at Gallipoli. What did you know of Gallipoli?
I had some stories from him but I know that it was a dreadful, I’ve never been there and it’s because if my Dad had been, well he couldn’t have been, but if
had he been killed there and I’d been old enough which I’m not, I’d have certainly gone there as a in a memorial. This is why my having been selected as one of the 28 veterans to go to London for that dedication of the War Memorial, that’s an enormous honour. That’s without peer
So what stories had your dad shared with you about Gallipoli?
Very little. As I said he told me about going there on, he went there to the Middle East on the Blue Funnel Line ship and he came back on another ship of the Blue Funnel line when he was evacuated to Lemnos to hospital and
then to Egypt and he was medically unfit and came back to Australia but his times he wouldn’t open up to me on it at all and he just he said I hope son you never have to have something like we had and yeah.
How had he been injured during that time
I take it he was injured at Gallipoli is that right?
What had happened to him?
As far as I know he was buried alive and he was at a time there he was there in 1915. I don’t know at the end of it or not, 1915 but he was there in a very cold and wet time I know that and they had
a fairly high casualty rate of wounding and trying to get them out of there I think and in the cold, wet conditions and that’s all I knew about it.
And how had the war I guess emotionally scarred him?
He was very quiet and there were times when he would drink. He was never
aggressive or maudlin but he’d just go, clam up altogether and he never, I never saw him drunk ever but he’d get together with some mates I think and they would.
You mentioned as well that there?
They, my family, father’s family
came from Adelaide. I’m trying to think of the suburb and some of them settled at Port Lincoln too I believe which is still in South Australia.
You mentioned earlier that the farm didn’t quite work out for your dad. Did that emotionally upset him?
Yeah it was cause he gave up a lot of things to do that to be able to live separately and give us, to give my Mum
his wife and us a quality of life that was good and natural and that the whole family could contribute to and feel part of.
The fact that the farm didn’t work out and obviously financial stress upon the family, did that cause division at all between your mum and dad?
No division not at all. No my Mum and Dad were they were
a family unit and I was aware of it. I’ve never heard him swear and certainly not in my mother’s presence. He never swore in my presence. In fact on my first voyage home from sea before I left the Australia ship Iron Knight and I came home and in uniform and I was you know a sailor
then and I swore and he just winced and frowned and he said, “Please son,” he said, “Don’t get into that habit.” He said, “You don’t have to use…” and all I said was bloody. He said, “You don’t have to use dirty words. The only people who use those are people who don’t have enough command of English to use the right words,” and I never forgot that and I made it a, I don’t
if anyone’s about to mouth off here, it’s forbidden in my family, don’t do it. You’re just short of English. Even if they’re assailed by it every day and night on television I mean you, I don’t know, it’s now the four letter word is used instead of as a possibly a selective emotional and
intimate word in sexual activity, which is entirely acceptable, that’s people. Just using it to fill in a space in conversation is just revealing that the person doesn’t know enough English to use an appropriate word, in my opinion.
Your mum, what was she like as a woman?
A gentle lady, gifted
frustrated in the things that she could have done, cause we were a family of six. I think there were times when my Dad would become aloof and stand off and not morose but not conversational and she used to worry about that I think, cause she knew a lot more
about what he’d been through than I did cause they married, met two years after the war I think.
Now you’ve been back to your school a couple of times, what memories?
I take it your primary school?
My primary school.
Where you’ve had, you shared with us one memory about getting the cane a couple of times?
Only once but two strokes.
Two strokes, what memories do you have of that school?
I’ll tell you of another school where I got hit
the only two times.
Tell me about that?
Well the second time, the only time, no I was caned three times at school. The first and people these days would freak out if they knew this. I was in kindergarten. I would have been no more than five and I was at a scripture lesson and I didn’t speak but there was a bit of chatter going on
around me again. I mean I was a conformist so I didn’t do the things that you weren’t allowed to do. Not because I was a goody-goody but there was a reason for it and I was quiet but I was the teacher who was present while the scripture lesson was being given by some minister or whatever he thought I’d spoken and he sent me straight down to the head master’s office
and I was five you know and I was caned for speaking during scripture you know. Number one indignity, first of all it’s an indignity to be caned in front of a class when you’re not guilty of something. The second time was at my primary school, at a different school then. I’m talking about kindergarten living at Wamberal
and the third occasion was the maths master caned me because I hadn’t done my homework and I said “But..”, he said, “No buts, come out and did you do it? Did you do it?” “No sir.” “Have you done it?” “No,” and I said no so he said, “Hold out your hand,”
caned me twice, two cuts and one of the others in the class then he said, “He wasn’t here sir yesterday,” and he said, “Is that right?” for the homework, cause it was taken down. I was doing something at the headmaster’s office. I was school editor at the time and I was in, no I wasn’t then, but I was doing something legally, legitimately away from class and I hadn’t, didn’t know and I
hadn’t seen anyone between then and the school breaking up in the afternoon and he apologised to me. He said, “Well why the devil didn’t you tell me?” and I said, “Well you didn’t give me a chance.” So that was three, the only times, ever so I if ever I’ve been wrong about anything I’ve apologised and asked that person to forgive me.
You mentioned in scripture you got a caning. Religion did that at all play a part in your life or your family’s life?
My parents saw that I went to Sunday school. I was not in the conventional, I was baptised at Sparks Creek church out west of Scone which was burned down
a couple of days later or something and records of my baptism were lost at that time, which incidentally later when I was and when I married my wife was, had no lean towards religion at all and I baptised, this is my first marriage, our three children myself in the swimming pool at Maroubra Bay
because I had learned that anyone who was baptised has the authority to baptise someone else but when, just to ensure because when I was promoted to Captain in the Australian National Line I remember on one trip I was in, had a firm belief in God. I had survived the impossible many times
and I had prayed and I mean I’ve survived when it was not possible to survive. You know like even taken down on a tanker when she was blown up, taken down deep but when I was Captain and I was Lord of all I surveyed, in command of your own ship. You are Captain under God in the merchant navy, did you know that? You’re the one on total, utter
control of your ship, particularly if you’re not in sort of coastal water. They can’t tell you what to do with your ship. This is why that event off Christmas Island was a tragedy an absolute aberration of legality [reference to the Tampa Incident in 2001]. He had, our Prime Minister had no right to
order that ship not to bring the people in, you know that? He was in charge, not, and they left him off the hook on that, Howard and the navy couldn’t do it either because he was on the lore of the sea, L-O-R-E and law of the sea he was following all the accepted precepts, concepts of maritime law, actual law
and lore which is the traditional behaviour. He rescued people from the sea and he was to take them to the first place of succour for them and I think that’s used.
So just coming back to the subject of religion with your parents?
When I was captain and my ship was in Townsville and I went to see the Seamen’s Mission chaplain
there whom I’d got to know, lovely fellow. He was English and I said I told him that my initial records had been destroyed at this, where I knew I was baptised but I didn’t have any written law to it. When I married my first wife the church in Sydney at St Stephen’s in Darlinghurst, he said, “Well that’s it, you’re baptised
that’s it,” but I wanted a piece of paper and I asked this chaplain at Townsville the Port of Townsville would he baptise me and he said, “Yes I will. It’d be my honour to do so,” and he did and I got a piece of paper.
What about just in respect to religion with your mum and dad, were they
religious type people?
They I can’t ever remember them going to church but the children, we children were encouraged to go to Sunday school and I know that my Mum used to read prayers from time to time. My Dad didn’t but he was, he practised religion in that he was always kind to other people.
He was a born helper and I learned things from his behaviour which I think is passed onto me and I don’t know they seem to have missed, my genes seem to have missed it in my current crew of four. Everyone’s out for whatever they can get.
Finally school memories, what are your memories of the teachers? You spoke a little bit of your maths teacher
In at Gosford I didn’t get the maths two that I needed which was trigonometry. I don’t know if I got algebra there or not but I was taught business principles as well and because it was an agricultural area I was doing agriculture which was not going to be of any benefit to me at sea except maybe to watch the white horses out there
but I was on friendly terms with the masters and mistresses at Gosford High. They used to wear gowns and mortar board once a week at the quadrangle at the gatherings there. That was a, for a public school it was
a very efficiently, traditionally run school. Newcastle was different. That was an industrial area but they were always friendly. They liked me because I’d come in and was catching up from behind and I caught up in that year so when I went into year three at high school which is the equivalent of year nine these days, I was elected Junior Vice Captain
and I hadn’t been there a year so it was something that I was doing and that I had showed I think initiative in catching up without being a pain in the backside. I did it myself and I think they recognised and I think my leadership values I think must be genetic but my father never did anything of which I was ashamed and my mother was
a gentle soul and I recognised at Newcastle, oh the school motto was ‘Faber est suae quisquae fortunae’, if I’ve got it fortuna, which is Latin for ‘Every man is master of his own fortune’ and you can make that essentially every person is master of their own fortune
or destiny now. I have never forgotten those words. In fact I remembered them a couple of years ago when I got the priest here to write it down, the exact spelling in Latin and I still remembered it and my kids now, I’m a pain in the arse to them if I, excuse me, if I repeat it. I said, “Remember every, yes,” and they all just copy me. Yeah every man’s a master of his own fortune, so what. I said, “Well you make your own bed to lie on.
You choose your own path in life and all I can do is given you, your mother and I have given you the benefit of our genes and advice from your mother and from me and from our life experiences. What you do with it is up to you,” and I remember my…
Interviewee: Ronald Ware Archive ID 0790 Tape 03
Ron I’m just interested to start with a history, a brief history of that first ship. You were 15 years old what was it like, who was on the boat, who was on the ship?
Well actually my
very first ship I was 14 and 10 months. I was two months short of my 15th birthday and that fact was read out in front of the Governor General at Canberra before we went overseas and I heard a lot of ooh’s and ah’s in the audience. Two months short of my 15th birthday. On that first ship I was taken under the wing of the captain and the Chief Officer straight away
as I was ear marked for cadetship and go up through the ranks and eventual command. Although that looked too far off in those days and the Captain’s name was Captain Dan Ross and the Chief Officers name was Mr Reg Steer and he was one and every evening
before I’d do my watches myself and the other trainee cadet we’d have to we learned the rule of the road which was the law of the sea and navigation, the light signals on ships and what they were for and they had to be learned word perfect and there were 32 articles of
law at sea for safe navigation of vessels in manoeuvring with lights and shapes and what they meant and in buoys on the channels and it was called the rule of the road and they had 32 articles which was about 38 to 40 pages altogether, had to be learned word perfect and I’m not kidding, word perfect
and I had to learn signalling in semaphore. That’s with flags and the Morse code in light flashing the lights and I had in fact my chief officer I had the letter to visit his sister in London when I left the ship to go to England but
that ship was sunk a year later, or was it two years later? Sunk by the Japanese two years later and 36 I think it was of that crew and I knew most of them, were killed when that ship was lost including the captain and the Chief Officer.
Were you on the ship when that happened?
No, no, no. I was over the other side of the world. I was… had had a lot of warfare and
that happened in 1942. The Japanese torpedoed that ship somewhere southeast of Sydney. A lot of ships were lost here during the war.
You mentioned earlier that you decided to join, that your father decided to had a contact and you joined this ship and that you put your age up etcetera. What actually made you decide to go to sea?
I loved the sea. My imagination was out on the sea from as young as I can remember when I first saw the sea and it has never changed. It has never diminished one jot. I love the sea. It is the source of life. It is a source of energy. It is in constant, it’s a living
mass of life. The scientists say we evolved from the sea. I don’t know but the sea is full of wondrous life and I’m actively one of those who endeavour to preserve that. I’ve never been anything other than a
mariner at heart and I write poetry about it. I write about it. I’ve kept a diary. I lost my diaries in wartime and gave up but I’ve got, I’m redoing it now. Some of it was mournful when I was going through a depression about two years ago from, I had a delayed what you call
what was it? Traumatic distress disorder. I’d bottled all the stuff up that happened to me in World War II and I suffered a big financial loss up here and I had a most wonderful property up here and lost that and then all of this stuff that I’d stored up of memories in World War II it
the log jam broke and gave me a bad time but I’ve never even that I’ve never stopped my, ceased my love and respect for the sea.
Can you give me an idea of the backdrop of the war at that point when you joined the first ship?
The first ship was, ships were being mined around Australia here and
sunk by raiders, enemy, German raiders and it’s not a lot of people know that so the first casualties, Australian casualties or in this area were the merchant navy. Ships were mined off Wilson’s Promontory and off on the western side there and off near Gabo Island and in the Tasman Sea
and near New Zealand and ships were being intercepted by armed German converted merchant ships which they called raiders of the type that later on hoodwinked the captain of HMAS Sydney and he approached too closely. They blasted, sunk the Sydney. You know they were big armed merchant raiders, merchant ships converted into raiders and they
were wandering the seas at the time so in the merchant navy once you’re put to sea in wartime from the time you put your nose outside the Heads you were at risk for that reason. Even before the Japanese entered in here there were ships being sunk off here by mines and what have you.
Can you remember where you were when war was declared?
Yes I was
playing cricket in a paddock not very far from where I lived at Newcastle and someone said a young boy, young feller I was playing with. Duncan Banes was his name, who died later, he said, “They’ve declared war,” and I ran home told my mother. They said “It’s just coming on the radio,” and I ran, I was playing cricket
at where was it? West Mayfield was big open paddocks then. I don’t think it is anymore and it was enough grass that it was good for a cricket pitch and I ran home to tell my mother and she burst into tears. She said, “All those young boys again, it’s going to happen again.” She didn’t meet my Dad till after the war. She didn’t know him during the war and her boyfriend
and his two friends were killed but she broke up and I said and I was to me it was exciting and I was determined from then on to go to sea and that was in September 1939 and remember that five months later I went to sea so I finished
that year at high school. I was Vice Captain of the school then, Junior Vice Captain and I didn’t go back to school cause it was due to start in February, 1st of February or something like that. I went back to school to say goodbye to the head master because I said I was leaving to go to sea and he said, “For God’s sake son,” he said it you know it,
“You’ll get there sooner or later, this will probably be a long,” his name was Morgan, John Morgan. ‘Unc’ we used to call him. Thick set and he used to cough loudly when he was approaching in the corridor so he didn’t surprise anyone and he thought the sun shone out of me. I was editor of the school magazine and I wrote the first ever article at school about
surfing the origins of surfing and one of my colleagues who later after the war met him again, Jim Searant, he still had a copy of that magazine which I didn’t have.
So in terms of the war being declared you then five months later, after you’d finished school you were on this ship, this first ship?
No not five months
it was I finished in December 1939 and on the 7th of February 1940 that’s six weeks later I went to sea, two months before I turned 14 which was the 11th of April. In fact I’ve got my certificate of service here somewhere.
So what was your mum’s response when you told her that you were planning to do this?
She broke up and she
remonstrated with my Dad and he said he’ll go anywhere. He’s determined, he’s a competent lad and I can’t stand in his way. He makes, he’ll make his own way in life, he’s done well so far and then it had an attraction to me of, I used to row bow oarsman in the surf boat crew
junior boat crew in fact the senior boat crew when I was 14 at Nobby’s Surf Club and I used to swim two miles every weekend so I was fit and very strong for my age and had endurance cause I used to swim and I had no idea that my spirit people or preserving spirit,
spirits was preparing me for my life ahead. Why did I do that? I don’t know but I did. I loved it and I was fit when I went to sea and I, after a few months on my first ship I transferred then to the overseas run cause that’s where the war was and that’s what I was determined
to get to because I was and remained and still remain an adventurer. I do things even now at my age that people of my age don’t do you know like surf and surf big surf and I’m not being boastful there. I’m just different. My eldest son, my son by my first marriage who was named after a cadet who was killed near me on
a ship later on, his name was Stuart McDonald. My son Stuart as recently as before I went to London said to me “Dad” you know and it was almost… he said “Dad when are you ever going to stop and get down and smell the flowers,” and I said “Well what do you mean?” He said “It’s always you.” I said “Well why should I change? I smell the flowers every
day in the things I do.” Now I’m in the sea every day. I love that. That’s smelling the flowers isn’t it and I literally smell the flowers here. Like I put seed out near here, wild sunflower seeds for the galahs and they come and feed in there and it’s cat proof and I can see them. That’s smelling the flowers.
Just to ask you a question, that first ship
what was its purpose and…?
Which one, Iron Knight?
The very first ship?
The Australian one? She was owned by the BHP [Broken Hill Proprietary] company and of which I was later a very senior position later on in life. I was head of logistics. Anyway she was carried iron ore and steel cargoes. Totally owned by the BHP line and ran from Newcastle and Port Kembla to
South Australia to what was it? Whyalla and loaded also limestone and those sort of cargoes. She was a bulk carrier. Not very exciting, which got up my nose sort of thing and I yearned for the adventure then when the opportunity came to go overseas I went.
Was she involved with the
war effort at all this ship?
The Iron Knight?
She was sunk two years later. She was fitted with a four point seven inch gun on the stern and I immediately became a member of the gun crew when I joined the ship and so I was competent from and that is in handling shell, in loading what you call gun training and gun layer
that you lay it on the target and the training is that way and the layer, you lay it on the target so I was competent and in the ammunition crew straight off. I was into everything I could.
So on that first ship is the Iron Ore yeah is that the name of the ship?
Iron Oe? No her name was Iron Knight.
As in Sir Galahad.
OK so on the Iron Knight what when you were
actually on that ship what were the roles and duties that you had to do on that ship?
Whatever I was required to do. I was under training and I worked two watches a day but out of my watch in the evening I was required to do studies so I would have worked a minimum of 12 hours a day
but 12 hours formal on duty and the other is study.
You mentioned that two years later the Iron Knight was sunk?
Yeah I wasn’t on her then.
You weren’t on her then, but during the time you were on that ship where there any things that were being done in terms of the war effort on that ship? What was being done in terms of the war effort, if anything?
In terms of the war effort well she carried iron ore between the source of it in South Australia and Newcastle and Port Kembla and converted it into steel and we carried steel back to Whyalla which was then being developed as a ship building port, facility as well and to Melbourne and all of that sort of steel was being used for war purposed I guess.
Was iron ore one way and steel the other, maybe to Melbourne or
How did the opportunity come up Ron to join a ship that was going overseas?
My Dad had friends in the shipping world and I was spoken for by him to the agency in Sydney for the line that is the Federal Steam Navigation Company
and New Zealand shipping company owned by P & O and there’s one of my ships up there, that’s the Dorset that one and so I got in early and put my age up and between my Dad and myself I found (UNCLEAR) for which is it’s sort of underwriting your employment and your pay for the first year which is 12 pounds
and it was then which is what 24 dollars now but different values then but that required and all I got was 12 pounds for the first year, paid I accumulated that and you worked when you were required and leave quote unquote was a privilege
and I used to work 12 hours there was watch on, was what you call watch and watch which is four hours on, four hours off and my first voyage I told you about that in the Cornwall.
So did you ever get seasick?
Never been seasick and the reason for that I put down to the fact that when I lived at Wamberal as a
lad I used to walk down to Terrigal you know where Terrigal is? Terrigal Haven. Then it was a beautiful pretty place in those days. Terrigal is Aboriginal for pretty place with many pretty birds apparently and there was a fisherman, the fishermen had their launches there then. There was a fellow there then named Nugget, that was all I knew
him as, Nugget and I used to go out in a dinghy, his dinghy with his permission and fish off his launch in the bay there in Terrigal Haven in the safe anchorage and then I got to know him better and he, I asked him could I go to sea with him fishing and he used to go and catch tailer and troll for them and that sort of thing and I was out
out of the safety of that little Terrigal Haven and onto the open sea and went up as far as Forrester’s Beach and even the Entrance and back again in sort of rough seas and so I learned the motion of a boat even in confined waters, in rough water and for that reason I think that I got my sea legs while I was still
So is that actually quite a phenomenon getting your sea legs? Does that actually happen? Do some people get seasick and then they get over it or?
Yes everyone. Very, very, very few people remain permanent susceptible to seasickness. Mal de mer, it’s only the motion but it’s learning the competence to walk when
they say you get your sea legs it means that you can walk on a ship when it’s pitching and rolling without being thrown around so you learn to reel against to lean against the force involved. I had something
naturally whether it’s genetic or whether it’s I guess it’s you know God, nature throws a mix of genes together from man and woman and the outcome is often a puzzlement. They don’t, the children of that mix of genes are not necessarily similar in appearance or in nature. It’s an incredible
mix and what I did have is what I call the ability or the gift of affinity and affinity is your emotional relationship with whatever and I had a very definite affinity with the sea. I’m happy to know and still
I have an affinity with what is right and what’s wrong and I’m very strong on that sometimes to the dismay of my children but that affinity I had with the sea I’ve never lost it. It’s never dulled. It’s still honed to sharpness and the softness that’s required I think.
You know it’s like in sea birds any birds, it’s I guess it’s an affinity with nature too. It’s not just the sea. Sea is part of the maximum but I’m still extremely interested and get excited about the universe and all of those possibilities. It excites me
it’s not just a you know I’m not a nutcase. That would attract me an article instead of some dreadful article about violence or what have you. If there’s an interesting article say on the universe or exploration of Mars or landing on the moon that’s what I would go for. It’s something that I am still going to get reward from and can tap into
with my sensitivities rather than that awfulness that is being so destructive to young people these days. They’re becoming conditioned to violence and accepting of violence and that’s got, that’s big problems ahead for society that they accept it. This way of life and I’ve even heard my wife say it you know. What the kids you know what kids do these days is their
business. They make their own way.
Do you think that you experienced no seasickness because of your surfing as well?
It could be I was rowing in surf boats and up and down and that could, would have, could have, would have contributed to it and then in those early days we used to have
what they called surfer planes and they were inflated rubber mats that the advanks people used to have put out, surfer planes. In fact my first real surfing adventure was a major one and a friend of mine who used to be the beach inspector at Terrigal whose name was Roy Davies who later I joined as
in the Executive of the Surf Life Saving Association he used to be the beach inspector at Terrigal and he used to seduce all the girls when they came up on their holidays, Christmas time and Easter time but he had these hired surf mats called surfer planes which he would let out for a shilling an hour or sixpence for half an hour and I would be his go-get boy. He used to retrieve it when they’d run out of their time to go and get them
in or they’d pay more and on this particular day I think it was between it was a holiday area that one and they had guest houses and now they’ve got high rises and that at Terrigal which spoilt but his surfer planes were put away and this particular day I thought I’d borrow one.
He didn’t live locally, he lived somewhere else so I borrowed one and I took it to Forrester’s Reef which was past Wamberal and the next headland and around there and I went out there in the surf about as high as that rail and while I was out there and I caught a few waves and they were bigger than I’d ever caught before but on this surf mat it was excellent surf and while I was out there
the surf came up, big swell just arrived and I thought how am I going to get in and the only way I could get in was to ride a wave in and I caught this wave. It would have been twice as high as that and I would have been 10. I never forget it. I was 10 and 10 or 11
Anyway but I was still fit and I caught this big wave in and it just chundered me and I lost it and I had to fight my way into the beach. It was all going in mind you at that stage and up on the beach and I looked for the surfer plane and I couldn’t find it and I walked along the beach a bit and I found it. It had come in with the surf
and it had gone around between the reef and the shore and it had gone out to sea again and I was there was a decision to make. If I go back he’ll kill me. I’ve taken his surfer plane without his permission and I didn’t know how much they cost but it was a case of that or go out and get it and I decided to go out and get it and I
swam out in the rip to it. I could see where it had got to and it was only sort of half three quarters of the way out in the rip, half way out, but by the time I’d swum out to it that would have been about I suppose 150 metres out, I got and I was in the rip and it’s still going out and the only way to come in was not against the rip was to go round and do again what I’d done and lost it first time
and I did and I went around and got into position and waited to get as small a wave as I could but there weren’t a lot of small waves and I hung on to that in, it, they had rubber handles on ring handles on each side of the front and I came down that way at high speed and hung onto it and prayed like mad. “Please God,” and shot out
in front of the wave and then the whole this avalanche of water caught up with me and swallowed me up. It shot me out again but I got in. Now that was my first major test in life of couple of things. Whether what was right and what was wrong and what was I more afraid of and I still don’t know
but I didn’t go out again on that place. I didn’t ride that place again until after the war on a surfboard but I took it home and I told him Roy Davies later that what I’d done and he said, “You should have let it go son.” He said, “Your life’s more precious than one of those,” but I couldn’t see the difference cause I’d taken it see and all I could see was that it was beyond my financial means
to pay for a surf plane.
What is a surf, what is a surf…?
You blow it up. It’s a, surfer plane was the name of it. They’re still I think they’re making them again now they’re so good and they were just sort of convoluted across but long. They were about that long I suppose and you could lie on it and it was about one and a half times a body width and you just paddled them and you had two rubber handles on
the front when you’re on a wave to hang onto.
So it’s kind of like a boogie board but…?
Like a boogie board but it was inflated.
Yeah very similar.
How many, was there many people surfed in those days?
A lot of people body surfed but there were no surfboards in those days, none. I had my own surfboard, first one designed just before the end of the war. I came home and I got my, I’ve got a photograph of it
here somewhere with my dog on it and it was 14 foot long hollow plywood board with a chrome handle on the back cause it was tear shaped not like today’s body boards, it didn’t have any fins.
Was it very long?
14 feet it was and the longest ones were 16 feet and they used to paddle and race them then.
And where did you get the idea to get a surfboard?
That was after the war not when I was young and there were boards around then and you know I was 20 then at the end of the war and there were hollow plywood boards around then. That’s you know that’s five years later, more and is that 10, 11, two, 20, nine years later.
So nine years later it was common for people to be surfing and?
Not common. There wouldn’t have been more than
half a dozen people 10 at the most at any one beach who owned surfboards. Surf life saving was the go then and surf boats but surfboards I had one then when I was 20.
We might come back to that later cause that’s interesting social history about the surfing but just on the subject of that second ship that you were on, what was the name of that ship again?
The ships were named
after the, there were two lines incorporated. One was the Federal Steam Navigation line which is the one that I joined and they were named after the counties of England. Like Cornwall, Dorset, Durham was the cadet ship. Nottingham was the ship I was appointed to later but missed her because of bomb damage to the railway line and she was sunk
with all hands and I missed it and saw her sail. Nottingham, they were named after counties in England. The other side of the line was the New Zealand shipping company and they had New Zealand names.
Just on the issue of the war the war was well and truly happening at that point when you were on the Cornwall?
Yeah very much so
This is what 1940?
1940. So what involvement did the Cornwall have in the war?
She was supply ship. She was run, first run I went on to Britain via the Med [Mediterranean] then I came back and we loaded and went to Britain. Like we took armaments to Malta for on the very first voyage and we were bombed on the way in but we came back out through the Suez Canal back to Australia and New Zealand
to load food. That’s meat, frozen. She was totally refrigerated cargo ship, big and she was an older one. I think she was built about 1925 when I was born but she was still modern in ’39, ’40 but she carried refrigerated beef from
Australia and lamb and mutton from New Zealand and cheese and butter and wool. We had some holds just full of bails of wool so those were the ships that were absolutely vital to England surviving. We were the supply ships. They didn’t produce any of that stuff in those days. They had
depended on those ships and there was not only our line but there was a Blue Star line and a Port line and others that were permanently on the run between Australia, New Zealand and England with food between World War I and II.
I have to ask this question. In terms of motivation for joining the Cornwall, you mentioned that
your father did, had a connection?
He had a connection yeah.
What kind of expectations did you have joining the Cornwall in terms of the war that was being waged on the world stage?
I had no fear of it. To me it was an exciting it presented at exciting adventure. I’ll be perfectly frank and that’s what attracted me. There was first the love of the sea,
in not necessarily this order. This is the component of that motivation was A my love of the sea, overseas, new places. New Zealand was the first foreign country or overseas and then crossing the Pacific, the Panama
Canal. I mean these are places I’d learned about them but never see. Panama Canal, the West Indies where we went to refuel at Aruba and Caruso, the Dutch islands which were oil producing places, bunker there. Bunker means to refuel like your service station, OK, that’s bunkering is refuelling the ship’s fuel and to
Caruso, Aruba, Willemstad and to Jamaica and Kingston, Port Royal. You know these were names I’d read about in books about pirates and Francis Drake and all of that stuff and it was exciting to me and I was even if we were going to make a landfall and it wasn’t in my watch I was always there to see it because it was
brand new, excitement, adventure, affinity if you like. Life turned me on from the moment I think I smiled at my mother and it still does and that gets up the nose of my kids because they don’t they think I’m hyperactive.
Interviewee: Ronald Ware Archive ID 0790 Tape 04
Ron I’m just interested in hearing about your first experience of war on
My first experience of war was on the Cornwall. Apart from what I’d seen and learnt about in Australia with mines and fitting paravanes and being taught how to use paravanes to cut mines and all that. That’s preparation for practical preservation of ship and personnel but into actual
combat against the enemy or attacks by the enemy we loaded in Australia and finally in Fremantle then we sailed on our own. A lot of people had the mistaken understanding, and a lot of people in the navy as well and in the other services that every time a merchant ship went to sea it was in a convoy. Well the number of times ships the percentage of times ships
merchant ships spent in convoys would be far below 50 percent of the time that they were at sea because most of the time, except on particular routes like across the North Atlantic and the one that I am about to tell you about was in the Mediterranean it was, you’d sail from east Australia, west Australia, across the Indian Ocean to Aden where we refuelled or bunkered at
the mouth of the Red Sea. Up the Red Sea through the Suez Canal to Alexandria and there we joined a convoy and that was the navy escorted us and I have an idea there was an Australian destroyer in that group but there were four merchant ships and we were from there to Malta was about a thousand nautical miles and we were bombed on the way there
and it was that was the time when we were hit. We actually had three bombs hit us and there was one on the after end of the boat deck which is below the bridge deck and the radio officer was killed and it just demolished that part of the bridge and set fire to it and then we had two on
the stern that blew up our ammunition supply below the four inch gun which wasn’t manned because we weren’t fighting surface ships, thank God and it blew up the ammunition locker aft and imprisoned one of the crew members who was below decks at the time and he couldn’t get out and a couple of the crew were wounded and that and that was my first experience
and I had to confront the dismembered body of the radio officer and report to the captain that he’d been killed and we were without radio control and our steering when the bomb landed on the stern and blew up the ammunition locker there it put our steering out of action and because we were a twin screw ship the captain had to maintain course varying the speed of the port or starboard propellers, engines
see and he steered us in and he got an award for that, Captain Angel who was killed later and I should have been on his ship when that happened cause he wanted me on. Anyway we arrived at Malta and that and Malta was being bombed every day there. Then we came out of there now where did I go to?
Yeah we came back and we did repairs in Australia but because our ship was damaged there and that’s where it was designed to go from Australia and New Zealand to Britain they carried out repairs in Australia and I was transferred to the Orari and that’s, she was my second ship and they did repairs, third ship. The first one was the
Iron Knight, the second one was Cornwall, third one was Orari and I came back to the Cornwall later on.
Before we go to the Orari this may be difficult but I’m wondering if you could maybe just imagine that I’m with you on the Cornwall when this attack on the ship happens? Could you walk me through what happened, what you saw, where you were, all the things that, all the visual things and essential you know visual
detail that you can talk me through on the ship?
Right then my duty as a cadet officer and qualified in the use of the Hotchkiss machine gun which was one of the first we used for anti aircraft. It was a 303 machine gun specially fitted and positioned so that you could fire against ships,
aircraft directly overhead. They were a single 303 machine gun. We had one in each bridge and we had a 12 pounder gun which was fired shells about that round about three inches two and a half inches across on the stern, alongside ahead of the four point seven inch gun which fired big shells which weighed about 35
pounds or say 15 kilos and they were against surface ships or submarines that were on the surface. That Hotchkiss machine gun when the air attack started on us my position was on the starboard Hotchkiss and I shared with another cadet there and we took it in turns to be
the gun layer, firing it or keeping the ammunition strips which were metal hinged belts, supplied and see and when you were nearly out of, if you stopped firing and you weren’t out of ammunition on that belt you took it off and put a new one on. Then that was put aside and the job of the assistant, taking turns, was to replace the empty bullets
with more bullets from the ammunition boxes so that you at all times had all of your spare ammunition was ready to use so even when you weren’t actually firing it, you were working so that you had full ammunition at all times. There were tracers involved about every fourth bullet I think so you could follow the flight of your bullets up at the aircraft and you returned and I had that, I was used to it as a kid firing a BB gun
when we’d flick a penny up and as to what you call aim off and in direction of the movement of the aircraft you had to anticipate where it was going to be by the time the bullet arrived at his aeroplane so it was a skill that if you didn’t have an affinity with it and a capability then you were wasting a lot of ammunition although it could still be a deterrent
to the pilot if he’s got flashing lights coming past him, his plane all the time and that’s what you hoped that you’d put him off and if say, if it was particularly if it was getting closer so he’d haul up from his bombing attack.
So what could you see where the gun was?
You could see white, you could see tracer bullets going up through the sky. They’re little like little white lights, yellowish white lights.
And this was at night?
No it was in daytime.
So what could you see apart?
Tracer bullets have a I think it’s magnesium on it so that its velocity its speed going through the air creates a friction which lights up that magnesium skin, burns on the bullet so it’s like watching a little plane go out and about every fourth bullet had them so you didn’t waste so much precious metal on every bullet.
It was about every fourth was sufficient in the stream of bullets going for you to be able to keep on your trajectory of your bullets intercepting the diving aircraft or whatever it was.
And how many similar guns were on the ship?
On the Cornwall on the initial trip we only had two of those cause you know that was early days in the war and they were fitting out ships and producing
and yeah we only had two anti two anti aircraft machine guns and one anti aircraft 12 pounder gun. That was an explosive and you had to hope that you it would explode in proximity to the aircraft and in all it’d take about five seconds or more between
firing run and being able to reload and fire another one and that was physical training, was much slower. More what’s the word? Cumbersome than the machine gun but you’d have to virtually hit a plane or they did explode they were set to explode at a certain height anyway. That’s usually about three thousand feet.
on that day when the Cornwall was sunk, was attacked sorry?
No she wasn’t sunk.
When the Cornwall was attacked, sorry, what could you see of the enemy from your vantage point where you were?
The aeroplanes. There were no surface ships involved and we had destroyers and a couple of frigates escorting this group of and I think there was a cruiser too and we could see them and everyone’s firing at these planes
as they come over in formation and you could see the bombs released and are they headed for us or which ship? A couple of them were hit and we got hit too. We were the biggest of the ships so they had a, we were number one target.
So did you have time to be able to look as well as do, loading ammunition and operating these guns? What could you see?
the gun layer his job was to anticipate the position of aircraft as they are approaching to attack at any time and be in that position, ideal position to fire when called upon by the bridge to do so and the captain or officer of the watch would always say you know fire when ready and then it was up to you to determine
the precise moment of opening fire but it’s usually almost immediately after the captain orders fire because he’s the boss after all and it was anticipation in anticipating the position of those flights of aeroplanes because they didn’t come in one at a time. They would often come in as a squadron or a group
and plaster you. They might fly in two or three and they never performed the same attack identical twice. They always did something different but they, that was comparatively pussycat stuff to what we had later in the Dorset. That was almost a gentleman’s war, that one.
But it still must have had a great impact on everyone on the ship. What was the kind of tension like
You’re not aware of tension. Everyone is in a position where you are defending your ship and you do your job and you do it precisely as you were taught to do, otherwise it didn’t go click, click and you must not run out of ammunition or if you’re not on the gun, you run, if you’re on the gun you run out of ammunition or you get a jam on it then you know bloody hell that’s
major cause you’ve lost one of your defending guns so you have to watch very carefully that every bullet that was put in those metal strips and they were in sort of clips, pressure clips in it, spin loaded, that you put them in correctly otherwise if they weren’t in precise line they’d jam in the gun then you’ve got a problem. You’ve got a jammed gun and you’ve got to
you know clear it and you’re not in action in defending so it is important when you train and you understand it very quickly that you do it precisely and you mind your own business. If you’re reloading then that’s what you do and if you’re aiming and laying that’s what he does but if you’ve got a partially expired ammunition belt
call it the belt cause they were steel belts then you could certainly follow the other fellow who’s on the gun and you know whether he’s on target or not and you don’t interfere with him anyway even he’d not right on the target cause that’s his and you might put him off something when he’s just about to correct it so you mind your own business and you do as you’re
So when you’re standing, are you actually standing when you’re pointing the?
We’re in a sort of a gun pit and it’s defended all around. It was sort of like concrete around it but it had bitumen stuff on it as well but painted grey but you had about four inches of concrete all the way around you and that’s your protection against air attack by machine gun
bullets or whatever.
So just as an aside how would you actually define the merchant navy?
This is off the record now?
You still running?
Yeah we’re still running.
Right well the merchant navy
is my… I am a master in the merchant navy and I’m a member of the Company of Master Mariners which is a very professional body and it’s the oldest seagoing body in the world cause you had merchant ships long before you had naval ships and you had naval ships to protect merchant ships later but merchant ships originally carried guns anyway
and the merchant navy although it’s being bastardised now because they’ve got foreign crews on and doing things in our waters here which I will predict will be cause a calamity potential to cause a calamity and render this country acts of terrorism like putting ships ashore or sinking ships in various places or
as they do from time to time I’m pretty sure they pump oil over the side. There’s a lot of ways you can do harm and they’ve got foreign flag ships operating in Australia now and that’s a sore point. Not manned by Australians so they have no loyalty to the place or affinity and they’re paid absolute peanuts and they come from some place remote. No remotely connection to the sea from one of the ex republics
of Russia or whatever and they pay them nothing so they don’t have any care for our waters or our country and Australia should and I know and I’m qualified in the area. I’ve got a masters degree in maritime science and a PhD [Doctor of Philosophy] in it that’s the logistics of trade and if we’re not carrying at least 65 percent of our own products in our own ships
we’re at very high risk of being used to our great detriment of the economics and safety of this country and we are in that situation at the moment. Penny wise and pound foolish, they’re getting things cheaply on cheap freights but that’s not the name of the game. United States doesn’t do that. I mean they’ve still got their own flag ships and there’d be more
at least half their trade comes in, in American flag ships, like Britain too, Norway same.
Merchant navy’s role in peacetime is to keep commerce going quickly, effectively and efficiently and as economically as reasonably possible in peacetime. In wartime the role of the merchant navy is to carry whether it’s troops, ammunition
or supplies as they recently had a ship go to the Solomons. They had one go to East Timor. They had them going to Vietnam and there are ships, British ships and American ships carrying cargoes into Iraq and don’t open that one up on me. There’s
but they provide logistic support. They’re the transport vehicles of the ocean and that’s the merchant navy. The merchant navy itself has a very proud tradition. What is not generally known is that Her Majesty the Queen is Master of the Merchant Navy quite separately to her role as Head through the Governor General of the armed forces
of Australia. The Queen is Master of the Merchant Navy and she’s inherited that title which was became a, what’s the term? Imperial appointment by King George V of his son who was then the Prince of Wales, he was the first appointed Master of the
Merchant Navy. Then he Edward I think it was he became King then he abdicated and his son [actually brother] King George VI inherited the title and then it went from King George VI to his heir Queen Elizabeth and she’s Master of the Merchant Navy and it’s one of the remarks she made to me
and she knows of course and not even I don’t think the Head the senior naval officer was there in London, knows. She said to me I am pleased to see my merchant navy here today. My, not the. She’s master of the Merchant Navy and the fishing fleets of Britain.
So was there any patriotism towards England that came across when you were on the
Cornwall during that merchant navy time?
It’s I mean she was a British ship and all Australians I never met anyone who was not loyal to Britain in World War II. No it was an automatic thing. I mean we were a British nation then and we’d have been 95 per cent British then.
What was the breakdown of who, what the nationalities
were on the ship?
A hundred per cent British. They were all British and you’re talking about Englishman, Cockneys, Irish, the cooks and one or two of the crew and Scottish. They were British. I was the only Oz onboard the ship.
How were you viewed?
With a friendly sort of chiacking [joking] you know
Aussie but it was how you, not having your leg pulled, it’s just how you were accepted by everyone and I was totally fully accepted. Never been any other way in all my experiences in World War II. The Brits recognise us as, they’d be affectionately condescending you know. Say, “Show us your convict, show us your leg chain marks Oz,”
you know from convicts.
Was there any?
We’d always hold our own.
Being the only Aussie on the ship and being that the Australian army had quite a presence on the world stage in terms of the war, did you get any sort of queries as to why you weren’t joining the Australian navy or anything to do with the Australian army?
From the crew on the ship
or anyone that you were in contact with?
No I was in the merchant navy. They were too. I was a brother in the brotherhood of the sea. I was a merchant navy mariner even though I was that young, 15 first, then 16. Never any doubt and wherever I went in United Kingdom the fact that I wore a gold Australian flash on my shoulder it was very definite affection the fact that I was
an Australian there in Britain.
I remember going down into a tube station in London in wartime where the people used to sleep in the underground see when they were bombing London and they’d see the going down in the tube station and they’d read the Australia flash and they’d say oh Mum there’s another Aussie. Very much so, very affectionate
and people would say so too. You know it’s wonderful to see you here helping us, very definitely.
Could you describe the uniform that you wore?
It’s the same as well navy blue double breasted uniform. Eight, six or eight buttons and navy trousers, black shoes, black socks, white shirt, black tie and a cap, badges
slightly similar to the navy but it’s got a different crown. It’s got the merchant navy crown which is the Tudor crown. Same as theirs and on the sleeves instead of navy ring with a ring on it and I was later I was in the naval seagoing reserve too Lieutenant Commander later, but we wore a diamond instead of a circle. On that stripe it had a diamond on it.
Just another quick question, with the Cornwall did the being a young man being 15 years old what are some of the things?
I didn’t think I was 15. I wasn’t asked my age at any time.
How old would they have thought, did they think you were 18?
No, no, no, the merchant navy it was legal to go to sea as deck boy as I did for a couple of months
until I was turned 15 then I put my age up anyway. 14 was the age that you could go to sea, peacetime, wartime. It’s not anymore. I think it’s around about 17 or 18 now.
And how old did they think you were they thought you were 16?
Well they didn’t ask me my age. I don’t remember being asked. I think the Chief Officer knew my ages
and yes they probably knew. Yes I don’t, I’d never been chided or specifically questioned about my age. I looked like other young people in the ordinary seamen and other people my age and I was as I said I had a good physique. I’m shortened up a bit. The older you get you start to lose a bit of bone mass.
No, I was never felt out of place, ever.
So they didn’t treat you like the baby onboard?
No never. I mean I could steer. I was vigilant at the wheel and I was even preferred by the captain when we were coming into port to be at the wheel because I was a perfectionist
in what I did and I don’t mean that I’d be a pain in the backside. I mean whatever I did that I had to do, I did it to the very best of my ability and I had good people training me and I learned how to steer the ship and to meet it and to steer it exactly what course I’m supposed to steer even in very rough weather. There’s things that you learn and it’s part of affinity
and your affinity to understand how the motion of the sea and swell and waves affects the ship and you call it what you call you meet her and you don’t ship not be put off course and in steering and coming into channels and narrow channels in ports and that you have to be very careful.
What kinds of things were you taught
or did you learn inadvertently being I mean a fairly experienced young man when you went up there, what kinds of things did you learn from them in terms of anything, discipline, moral conduct, sexuality, all sorts of range of things that you could be learning from these older men?
Well they were, see because they were professional seamen they had
very, they had highly developed skills and there are certain things that one had to constantly learn if the sea was going to be your profession. There was endless things like the lay, what you call the lay of rope and how to splice and how to and there’s maintenance of the ship. I used to have to go with the duty engineer down
deeply down into the ship where they had access to thermometers that led from different compartments and be his safety person while he reads all that information. It’s in wartime you didn’t do any maintenance like chipping the steel or anything like that cause you didn’t want unnecessary noise being transmitted through the water to submarines but
it was maintenance of equipment, the life saving equipment, life boats, provisions and checking contents and the rafts and you’d have boat drill, how to import to speed lower away a boat and take it away and rowing and hoist the sails and import and you have boat drill it was called
and you rowed and there’d be an officer in charge and you’d row around and back watered and how the oars are used and the tiller and the commands for toss oars so that everything happens drill fashion and everyone did it, what they had to do at the same time and that’s life saving and which is very important and how to launch a life raft
in an emergency situation, which we didn’t even get a chance to do on the last ship I lost. Not one, they broke adrift themselves the ship went down so fast but in handling sails and reading a boat’s compass and there was and signalling and you had to be very proficient at learning the international
code of signals which is 26 different flags with different meanings and what the single flag meant and special two flag signals. You had to know that so when a in convoy and you’d have an identity number in a convoy. Like we were, what were we? We were bravo three in pedestal, that’s column B and number three ship.
Like Alf A B C D well you had to learn their names. Like it was Able, Baker, Charlie, different now. I mean they’ve changed one and I knew they were going to change it. It used to be R was Roger A B C D E F G and you had a sound which was for each one and then Able, Baker, Charlie, Delta and then after, R used to be Roger
and they went international with what do they call it, politically right or something they said then they changed it Roger R to Romeo and I said this is a lot of bull you know cause you can use that phonetically on the phone and on radio and you hear it, you’ve got static and you say “Romeo,” or “what is it?” It’s you’re saying three vowels O E O Romeo so and
I said it’ll go back again and they did, they changed it back to Roger and Roger is easier to say, which Roger, Roger means yeah OK, instead of saying Romeo, Romeo so it’s been changed again. Now we had to learn all of those and identify, as cadet I had to do that and in if you’re not on duty in convoy at the gun station there’d be
on duty on the bridge for flags and you had to know that international code of signals and you had what you call an answering pennant and when a signal went up you’d hoist that answering pennant and that signal might be do an emergency turn right and you had to read that flag signal. Like it might be C K it’s or
which is Charlie Kilo and identify it even if it wasn’t your responsibility. We had to do it because the officer of the watch would do it and he’d say, “Say Charlie Kilo,” and then because what did that mean for this particular convoy and it was up to the second officer who’d be on duty. This is for visual daytime, never mind night time. This is just daytime and that means emergency turn
forty degrees right and that had to be identified because and you’d put your answer pennant up which means yes I’ve got the signal. I understand it, ready and then the moment that flag signal was pulled down and their answering pennant came down, you turned the ship immediately and in battle situation you had to do that, right.
You must do that otherwise you’ll have collisions cause you’re going fast and you’re only 200 metres off another ship at the most and you’ve got one there, one there, one there and one there maybe so you had to understand and identify and it was my job to get that flag signal, well when I was on duty which was four hours on, four hours off, identifies four hours off then I’m on a
gun or something so it was watch on stop on every for every moment of light and then you’re on during the night as well. I mean how we ever got passed without falling sleep. There was one occasion in the North Atlantic in a blizzard there I was staggering around the gun on the wing of the bridge and there’s a blizzard and I was asleep on my feet. I was just bumping around there. Anyway
you had to get those flags down and you had to get them un-pleated, rolled up precisely as they’re supposed to be rolled up and tagged and ready again and back in their locker. There was, you were, it was total preparation, be at the ready and
activate and be ready again. Simple things like that. I mean we were changing stations all the time in convoy sometimes. If you were under attack then you’d be you’d all turn together, emergency turn or whatever.
So did you guys have, what did you guys?
And we couldn’t use sound signals cause you’ve got machine gun fire and guns going off everywhere so it’s no good blowing a whistle or a siren
it had to be visual.
That’s really interesting information. I’m just interested to know it sounds like it was a very intensive work situation. What did you do to play, was there any time to play?
No I didn’t play. When I was off duty I was reading, learning my rule of the road. I was studying reading. When I was
off duty I studied. I remember reading the only book I read away and I think I got it was it in New York I was given it or somewhere? It was a book called and it was a very, very naughty book. It was called No Orchids for Miss Blandish and it was the first of the really naughty books, you know but we didn’t have a lot of common interest
books. We had a library but I was under training and I was a very committed young man and I used to study. I mean I still had to learn parrot fashion the rule of the road, ship over, (UNCLEAR) and the port height of the vessel and the height above the hull of not less than 40 feet or and not less than the beam of the ship of white light
visible from right ahead to two points above the beam etcetera, etcetera, etcetera I still know it, cause it went in there and it was burned in and you knew it instantly if you had, were called upon for this situation of identification, you’d know, you know instantly and I had to learn my Morse code as I said and to hear it, read it by sound. We had to get 20 words a minute and I had to be able to read it by
flash light and have to read it by semaphore.
Interviewee: Ronald Ware Archive ID 0790 Tape 05
I’ll just throw the question at you?
This is my second voyage in the Cornwall and it come across it was in the second voyage in the Cornwall and from Australia this time. Not to the Mediterranean. It was Australia to England totally loaded with food again in
Australia. Joined her in Sydney, then to Brisbane and loaded meat at Borthwick’s and then across to New Zealand. Loaded in Australia with beef and mutton I think it was and wool, then across the Tasman to New Zealand and we loaded there chock a block. Now
let me intercede, no don’t stop here. You’ve heard of the Plimsoll line and you’ve heard of the Samuel Plimsoll who was the man who was responsible for putting load lines on ships because they used to just fill ‘em up and fill ‘em up and they used to lose ships at sea or in heavy weather. There were no regulations for loading ships but Samuel Plimsoll at one stage he was
he brought out, he was responsible for a law in maritime law and that was ships had to be certified to how deep you could load a ship and it was on the load line marks and on the side was a circle with a line through it and it had L R, Lloyds Register and each ship was classed that there was a limit to which you could load it in the specific gravity of salt water which is a thousand and twenty five and that was the safety line.
In wartime they scrubbed that right which means they every ship was filled up to maximum right. So there was no safety factor in loading. You carried you were right down to the gunnels almost. You had, there was no, forget about the safety of the people onboard and we don’t mind sacrificing that cause if you can fill it up and while you’ve got space in the ship fill it up and we’d
all the ships were totally loaded so when Cornwall loaded in New Zealand that time we were totally full when we left and I was seduced again by the most wonderful lady in New Zealand. Anyway and off we went to the North Atlantic and through the Panama
Canal again and up to Halifax Nova Scotia and across the top and we were attacked by submarines, our convoy was attacked by submarines and we had long range bombers on board and my mate was killed next to me when we were attacked and they strafed us as well. His name was Stuart McDonald and I had his blood on me when he was killed
alongside me and in fact he’d just taken over my job and he was replacing ammunition belt at the time which I should have been, well it was probably my turn I don’t know. Anyway he was killed there and I named my first son by my first, my only son by my first marriage after, I named him Stuart after my mate cause we had a pact he and I that
if we lived out the war we would name our first son after the other. I didn’t get it. My first son was named Stuart and he hated his name. He said “Dad why’d you call me Stuart. They called me stew pot and stupid and stewy and all that” so I told him and I said, “Don’t you ever be embarrassed about your name, you know he was my mate,”
and I had to, when he was buried at sea, I had to, the captain said the prayer but I, it was my duty as his mate to just pull a little plug and he’d slide down the waxed what’s a name and be dumped in the sea and they put shackles around your feet and sew you up in canvas and that’s it. You’re consigned to Davy Jones’ locker and that’s,
no grave but the sea they call that. Anyway and we passed we were attacked by long range planes and we had we saw survivors, no, we saw people in a life boat that had, who had been survivors and I’ll never forget it. There was
a raft there tied to the life boat and there was someone on there and it was just ice you know and you could just see that they had legs and in the lifeboat there was someone in the stern of the boat and they were all dead and here was his hand frozen like that.
In a wave position?
Well I don’t know just
attracting or looking for help or whatever. He had his hand up but and you know sometimes you go into a hotel and you’ll see one of those, they carve things out of ice. It spooks me every time, I go back.
And was the whole ship debris on the water?
No there was no, it gets blown away you know but there was a lifeboat with a raft tied to it and everyone was dead in the boat.
And this was on the Cornwall?
Yeah well I was in the Cornwall at that time and I was we were one of the outer ships and we could see just from with binoculars cause and they’re not going to alter course simply because there’s a lifeboat there and we saw it and I suppose from 150 metres away I suppose.,
So what happens in a situation like that when?
What can you do?
Just thank God it’s not you.
Do they do burials?
I mean they were, you can’t stop the convoy or stop a ship. They’re dead, what can you do for them? Nothing you can do for them.
No way you can do the burial like you mentioned with Stuart?
No we read the service for that mate of mine and someone else but it’s no that’s a formal burial
at sea and it’s very it is a very moving experience to bury someone at sea, particularly in wartime when they’re killed and they get shackle, heavy shackle that’s redundant and it’s tied around wired around the feet and they’re sewn up in canvas and put on a
a hatch, not a hatch board what’d you call it? A staging board that you hang out over the side of the ship if you’re painting the ship and was on there and they just wax it with or grease it and read the service and they upend it and they just slide down the plank and into the sea and you’re gone
you don’t even stop you don’t slow down cause you might get sunk yourself so you know but at least you’ve given a proper farewell.
How old was Stuart?
He was the same age as me, the same month as me. How old would he have been? 16 and he came from a place called Tunbridge Wells
in England south west, south east of London and I visited his mum and at that time his dad was… his brother had been killed in the merchant navy and his dad was… his ship was missing so the poor lady she had three. One, I never went back. I just couldn’t do it, couldn’t do it.
Couldn’t go back to the Cornwall?
no not to the Cornwall. I couldn’t go back, couldn’t revisit her. It was just too shredding.
But you did visit her the once?
Yeah because I said we would do that for each other.
That must have been a really harrowing experience having to talk to her and give her that kind of news?
I had a worse one later. Anyway that was back here.
Are you feeling OK do you want to have a break or?
I wanted to just ask you in terms of the Cornwall
This was the second time.
This is the second time you were on it so in between that time you were on the Orari is that right?
Yeah Orari and then when she was damaged I had to leave her and join the, she was repaired there, yeah join the Cornwall which is a different port
down on the south west and the captain then was Captain, no Captain Angel I was with him on the first time on the Cornwall. What’s his name second time on? Anyway it’ll come to me again. I’m on the Cornwall on the way across the North Atlantic and we saw the bodies and
we had air attack. We had five ships sunk on the way across and this was in gosh what was it? I was on the Orari in December when we were, ’40 when we were. The Cornwall first then August in the Med and then I was on the Orari in
December when we were torpedoed and went into Loch what’s the name and because she was a disaster I mean she’d had a hole blown in the side and they had to, we all left and she was in the hands of the dockyard when she was paid off and I joined the Cornwall and now we’re on the Cornwall coming back from Australia and we’re in the North Atlantic again
right and when I told you before. We were attacked by long range bombers and a submarine sunk five ships. Ah a very important thing here and it’ll be the first time it’s ever recorded and I told a United States Admiral this at the dedication at the Merchant Navy memorial
last October in Canberra. I said did you know that in now when was it? It was in November, October, in October 1941 two months before Pearl Harbour I was in a convoy that left Halifax from Nova Scotia. You can record this because
this is fact and it’s not on record here in this country. Two months before Pearl Harbor and I’m on duty on the Cornwall. We’re on the port side of the convoy. Oh we sailed from Halifax on early, was in October because that was, November first. It was in early October
1941 and when we got outside the port of Halifax we had Canadian, couple of Canadian destroyers and I think a Royal Navy destroyer then it was dark and we were on the port side of the convoy about number three, four ship. No we were number three or four ship
on the port lane which would be what you call A or Able three position and in the morning low and behold a grey blue grey painted destroyer which wasn’t a British destroyer came up alongside us and called out Captain you were showing a light last night sir and it was a United States navy destroyer and it had commenced escorting us
with two other United, one, two, three, four. Four other United States destroyers we saw later and the ships ahead of us that had come in were a particular blue. The Americans have a blue grey colour. It’s sort of a bluish colour. We have a dull grey and it was a blue grey and there were two big merchant ships in front of us that had
dropped back into position there and they joined us after just well at dusk and we couldn’t see any flags or anything. There was no name, they’d paint out the names and those two ships, two ships it was were big grey United States ships because they could read it from the bridge in the morning light and I forget their names now but they were United
States Navy supply ships, merchant ships and here we had four United States ships, destroyers escorting us and they were with us for five days until we were half way across the Atlantic and then from ahead came British destroyers that formed up alongside us and took the place of the United States destroyers, the four destroyers
and off they went cut left. They had flag signals, what’s a name, orders lamp Morse code signals flash between them and those two big armed American merchant ships with guns all over them. They were merchant ships, not battle ships and those went off and they headed North and I found out
and oh that was it. Then the convoy closed ranks and we were escorted only by British destroyers and this is half way across the Atlantic all the way to Belfast and to the Clyde. The Firth of Clyde was where I meant before and after, I’ve got to jump ahead now
Later when we were just sailing from Britain on the night of December the 7th, it was 8th here, 1941 we learned that the Japanese had sunk Pearl, had bombed Pearl Harbor. That was the night, I was blowing like a son of a bitch and it was sleeting and it was the 7th of December and we’d sailed in convoy from Belfast Harbour and Belfast
Loch and we heard the news the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. You know what a shock and two days later we heard that the Repulse and the Prince of Wales, the two battleships had been sunk as well. Bombed by the kamikaze not the kamikaze the Japanese off Singapore and a mate of mine was on it. One of Joanna’s, Joanna’s mother’s brother was on it too and he escaped.
Anyway now then we realised that what had happened and we learned later the next time I come across the Atlantic those American two fully loaded naval supply ships had gone to Reykjavik in Iceland they occupied Reykjavik. They occupied Iceland, the Americans occupied Iceland two months before Pearl Harbor so
Churchill and Roosevelt must have had that understanding you know. I mean Churchill had been across the Atlantic to talk to them at that time. Now the American admiral last year in Canberra when I mentioned to him he said, “No I didn’t know that”. He said I’ll track it down through naval records. I said you have my solemn word of honour and it will be on records there in your country, not necessarily published but that’s what the Americans did. They occupied
And what’s the significance of them occupying Iceland?
Well they were in a position there standing guard over the whole of the North Atlantic and that was a convoy port later when we were supplying Russia, Soviet Russia from Britain and from America to Reykjavik that was the staging point, big harbour like Halifax.
When you describe that convoy of American destroyers that joined your ship that was on the Cornwall?
There were only American ships and a couple of Canadians.
This is on the Cornwall, yeah you’re on the Cornwall?
How, this is a question just to?
You can put the pieces together can you?
Yeah I’m just trying to get it in my head, when that actually happens when other ships join in a convoy?
No one says anything about it. I mean it was a great mystery to us, why and then we were trying to sort it out ourselves. Why have we got American destroyers? Well what the Americans were doing at that stage was taking the weight off Britain’s back.
before the Japanese came into the war they were helping by, the United States east the Atlantic Fleet were helping to escort British convoys across the North Atlantic.
So you’re actually saying that the Americans were involved in the war?
No one else knows. You’ve got something totally awesome in terms of…
Archive oh yeah.
So you’re actually saying that the Americans were involved in the war prior to Pearl Harbor?
That’s what I’m saying
that’s what I’m saying. Well they actively escorted a convoy in which I served in SS Cornwall in October 1941, two months before Pearl Harbor.
OK so in terms of your knowledge like when these destroyers approached the ship how did you know what their intention was, how was it sort of arranged?
Well they were just they were escorting us
they were there at dawn right alongside, out there just manoeuvring around and
They were merchant navy though?
No destroyers are not merchant ships, they’re navy ships but I said they were two supply ships, big merchant navy supply ships immediately ahead of us in our column on the port side of the convoy.
OK and just to clarify one more thing?
Are you understanding or?
I’m understanding I’m just sort of reeling a bit that’s all
and in terms of Iceland how did you find information out about their occupying Iceland?
Well I learned it you know years, six months later or something.
How did you find that information out?
Well we knew then that the convoys were going via Reykjavik to Murmansk, Archangel in North Russia to relieve the pressure on the Soviets because the Germans had attacked
Stalingrad and surrounded Stalingrad and they were on the doorsteps of Moscow. Then it was major, major, major worrying times. Looked as though we were all going down the tube together the Russians and us.
Were you ever able to have any conversations during the convoy with any of the Americans?
It’s just not possible when it’s just simply the formation occurs and then they go?
How you going Yank? No I mean you’re serving ships. What are you going to say to them? You don’t use flashlights unnecessarily like Morse code. Aldis lamps they called them or signalling lamps. No and it was none of our business. I mean you don’t ask questions unnecessarily to find out information that you don’t need to know and there was one of the things that was paramount in wartime, you didn’t
push for information on something that was none of your business in case you were caught and interrogated OK.
I need to ask one more question?
Stick to your own patch.
This is just for to get it into my head here. The Americans were there positioned waiting for you?
They were there?
We sailed from Halifax harbour
late afternoon in winter time, probably about four o’clock. I mean it’s starting to get dark then and when we formed up into our position and we were in the left hand column of it’s like you know got 40 ships see and yo might have eight across that way and five down the sides. You’ve got eight columns of five and
you’ve got there’s patrolling destroyers ahead of you listening on their ASDIC [submarine detection equipment] for hydrophones for submarine activity and you’ve got at least two on the side, you should have and you’ve got a tail end Charlie which is a rescue ship which is usually a corvette or something like that or an older merchant ship and he was tail end Charlie designated as rescue ship right. The Germans didn’t necessarily honour those cause they’d sink anything
that’s floating that’s not German, Axis power was fair game OK so that didn’t mean if you got picked up by a tail end Charlie, a rescue ship that you’re going to not be hit again if you’ve lost your ship but that’s how we went into the darkness and you followed the ship ahead of you by
there was no radar in those days and you didn’t use it anyway. You couldn’t have used it anyway because the enemy would have picked you up and you would have been like a massive transmission tower that they could hone in on. There was no radar so you relied entirely on your mark two eyeballs right, your eyes and vision. I mean your binoculars, you’re lucky if you had night glasses but a ship ahead
in fog and in bad weather you’d tow a buoy on a length of wire behind you and it was 200 metres and it would someone would fit it with sort of a scoop so it would throw up a jet of water. You’re towing it along, it’s like a barrel, small barrel and you keep your, if you can’t see the ship ahead if you can keep that, your eye on that with a man posted in the very bow of the
ship and you can see it then you know you’re where you should be cause the other end of that wire is the stern of the ship and that’s how you followed in convoy in fog and in poor visibility OK. So you kept in line like that and you paid absolutely strict attention to your steering otherwise you’d finish up out of line and suffer a collision and you’d lose
a ship or damage another ship and you’ve lost the whole reason for being there and getting across to the other side. But when those, in daylight the British destroyers came from ahead and zoomed down a very, very what’s the word, in dramatic style and split ahead of us and came down the sides and came up the sides and replaced on either side
and in the fore part of the convoy they replaced the four United States destroyers and the couple of Canadian destroyers who came with the American destroyers were still there but you had British, Canadian cause British, Canadian, Australia we’re all the same we’re family OK. You got that?
Then those two, two or three I forget now. Was two big American supply ships
cut off from ahead of us in that I say it’s ten o’clock in the morning and headed north with the four escorted by four United States destroyers. They were that blue grey colour distinctive and off they went, headed north. We wondered where the hell they were going.
So how did you know just backing track before the convoy itself occurred, how did you know they weren’t enemy ships?
When you described that situation of being
fair game on the water. When they’re on the distance on the horizon how did you ascertain that they were American ships and how?
I mean the American ships positioned themselves around the convoy after we left Halifax Nova Scotia just on dark. It was all prearranged. I mean the navy runs that show and they had arranged and through Admiralty and all of that
what I’ve told you is exclusive. I mean that’s not on record.
OK one more question.
Might be in England it’s in log books and that but I mean that was secret stuff. That was really under cover stuff that was happening before America came into the war, before Japan hit them.
This is fantastic information. I just want to ask you what?
So put it on record. You can use my name because I mean it was early October
and cause it took us about two weeks to get across there then to England. We went into Belfast. We got bombed again in the Irish Sea and we went down to in the Cornwall we went down then to the Avonmouth. We discharged our cargo at Avonmouth down near Bristol and in Cardiff and Swansea the other side of the
the British Channel. I had leave up in London. I used to stay in London at the Victoria Overseas Servicemen’s Club at Nutford Place in Marble Arch and I visited it that Nutford Place Marble Arch but it’s a private residence now. Used to be a big in wartime it was a place like a
big boarding house but it was nice and lovely ladies there and we from the Empire, Australian, New Zealanders and Canadians and there was some Czech pilots and that we used to stay there. The Overseas Servicemen’s Club they called it and I paid peanuts for it and I remember when my ship was in I got leave for five days
and yeah and when I came back yeah and we were each given a leg of lamb, even though I was an Oz from special supplies onboard, a leg of lamb and a block of cheese or a quadrant of cheese. They used to have perfect cheese, none of that plastic stuff that you buy these days. They were all matured cheeses in cheese cloths and they’d weigh about you know 20
kilos a minimum those things. Anyway we’d get each one going on leave got a leg of lamb and a block of cheese and I think it was a two pound or a pound might have been of butter in its wrap and when I arrived there you know I was a hero at the place where I was staying in London. Gave them my leg of lamb and
the cheese and the butter you know. Oh fantastic and the ladies’ would cook it. Anyway
Can I just I was just going to ask you one more question about the convoy before you move on. I just wanted to know what cargo you were actually carrying at that point when you left Halifax port?
We came from Australia, New Zealand. Remember I said we loaded in Australia and New Zealand we loaded beef in Australia and wool
We loaded lamb and we loaded beef, mutton and wool in Sydney and Brisbane and we loaded lamb and butter and cheese in Wellington on that particular voyage and sailed chock a block we were.
So why do you think, just surmising, why do you think the Americans were issued order to protect that, protect your cargo
which was what I’m assuming they were doing?
It’s not just our ship’s cargo. We’ve got 40 ships. 40 ships they were not just protecting us. They are part of the convoy escort a naval escort and they would be listening for submarines and they adapted they put two of their own big supply ships in our column as an excuse for them to be guarding their ships when they were going to Reykjavik but
those two ships out of 40 were American and the rest of us were British, Australian, New Zealand, Norwegian, Dutch, Danish. We were allies see. All of those, the merchant navy, all those countries I’ve just mentioned we were all in it together.
Got ya. Just one last question about the convoy. You mentioned that these two destroyers went up to Iceland?
Four destroyers went up to Iceland?
Two, two supply ships, big United States cargo merchant navy cargo supply ships but they would probably have had the United States navy flag like they do these days. You’ve got a supply ship that goes to Honiara it’s got a navy flag on it.
Just to get it clear you mentioned before that they went to Iceland. Where were they when Pearl Harbor was bombed?
I didn’t say, we all assumed that they’d have gone there. There was no other place for them to go just the North Pole and Iceland was, is the prized possession of the North Atlantic. Whoever owns, possessed Iceland and the biggest port is Reykjavik is, they control the North Atlantic so the powers that be including Roosevelt
and Churchill at that time were setting themselves up to make certain that no one else took Iceland. I mean if it became a German, if they’d occupied it and although they wouldn’t have because it’s a long way from Germany but they could have ruled the North Atlantic if they did it. I mean as it was, it was the staging post for the United States and Britain to run their convoys from Reykjavik
to Murmansk and Archangel in Russia when cause that was at the time in 1942 when the Germans were assaulting, trying to take over Stalingrad and you know when that Colonel General whatever his name is [Paulus] he got caught there and we lost a, I don’t know whether we lost three quarters of a convoy in, you should if
you don’t someone should tell you about this. In a convoy called PQ17 that I wasn’t in, but it sailed from Britain and some of the ships from America and they assembled in Reykjavik in August 1942 when I was in the Med on operation pedestal and at that time they assembled the convoy and I forget was about 28 merchant ships, British and a couple of American ships with
the Royal Navy escort of battleships and that and then we get a break through to Murmansk and Archangel and this is August which is summer time so up in the North Atlantic so you’ve got light 24 almost 24 hours a day and the ice had retreated further north and this convoy called PQ17 went through and they and when they’d got to a critical point of half way from Reykjavik to
Murmansk or Archangel which was the Soviet’s seaports in the White Sea up there suddenly they got the navy with their cruisers got an order from White Hall from navy office, son of a bitch, and telling them to withdraw the whole of the escorts except
a couple of corvettes and proceed westward at high speed cause they got information, so they reckon later, that the German fleet were out and they were going to intercept our, those escorts from PQ17 and a battle couple of battleships and cruisers couple of British battleships and cruisers and the destroyers and these the Scharnhorst, what was it the Scharnhorst
and the Gneisenau, the Tirpitz the big German battleships were going to come in behind them and intercept them and create havoc and we only had old battleships up there and they abandoned the merchant navy. They said make your own way to your destination and the navy never lived it down and there were fights in ports in taverns cause it
got out and they abandoned they said go to your destinations the merchant ship and all they left was a couple of small corvettes and one rescue ship and a trawler, two little trawlers to escort 28 ships and the Germans murdered them and they attacked them from the air and the submarines and they sunk I think 15 out of the 27 or more it was, was nearly as bad as ours but we had a proper battle there.
Anyway they abandoned them up in the ice up there and pissed off and the Royal Navy did not ever live it down and the abandonment of a peak, convoy PQ17 is still a sore spot with the Royal Navy and the Royal Australian Navy.
Interviewee: Ronald Ware Archive ID 0790 Tape 06
I’ve told you about the Americans’ participation.
Yeah we’ve come off we’re pretty much now off the Cornwall and you were travelling up, you were going to tell
us the story of travelling up by train to the Nottingham?
Right so we’re on there.
So just explain the train journey up?
Right I went from Avonmouth in the south of near the Bristol area and caught the train. Great Western Railway it was green train up to Victoria Street I think it was
in London. This has changed now you’ve got British Rail now then I had to go to another station to get a train from London to Scotland and there were two lines operating. One was LMS London Midland Scotland, Scottish which went to Glasgow and the other one was LNER which was London North East Railway which went to Edinburgh and I checked in at the different stations
again and they said sorry no trains are going to Glasgow the line was bombed out last night and this was I think it was about the 28th of October. So we left Canada and went across the north coast. Anyway I had three days leave I think
in London then I went back and rejoined my ship the Cornwall at Avonmouth and I got notification that I was, Captain I mixed him up I think. I don’t know it was Captain Pretty not Captain Angel. There’s a relationship there. He was another Captain I served with, that the Nottingham was brand new and commissioned by Captain Pretty
whom I’d served with in the Cornwall a year before and he’d requested me to be sent to his ship for training so I had a good you know he thought enough of me to take me under his wing. Anyway I went to the whatever it was. Paddington Station I think because the other one had been bombed out. The
LMS London Midland Scottish line had been bombed. The Germans had been over and they’d plastered it and it’d been plastered right up half way up and they said the best thing is to get up fast get the train to Edinburgh. I had a priority ticket and get something across from Edinburgh to Glasgow. It wasn’t all that much, about 130 miles I think. Anyway that’s what I did but I’d gone to the wrong station. I’d gone to one station
then I had to go back to get to the other one right and by the time I’d say no and I’d got my ticket and they said “No hang around here, can’t go. They won’t be finished the repair of the line” and I went across. I think it was to Paddington and I caught the train to Edinburgh. I had my seabag and I thought that was pretty neat because it was a brand new ship and I got to Edinburgh
there was no to get across the only way I could get across. There’s no regular sort of service like that in wartime. There was some sort of busses but there were queues a mile long and I got a lift across with the navy, naval police bus, small bus and got across to Glasgow. Then I had to get a lift again down to the
dock and I should have been there to join the ship the night before I got there and which was I think it was the 31st of October. Any rate it was the end of October but I know the day she sailed and the day I missed her was the first I’m certain it was the 1st of November and I got to the
what’s a name the dock police office and they said “Where are you going young feller?” and I said “I’m going to join the Dorset” and he said “No you’re not…”, not the Dorset, the Nottingham. He said “No you’re not. There she is, she’s on her way down the river,” and it was a grey misty day but I could see her in the distance and she was just taking a bend in the river and I said “Oh please I said I’ll give you all I’ve got”
I said “All I’ve got is five pounds,” and in those days the five pound note was a white thing that looked like made of tissue paper and had black printing on it and I used to think they were funny money you know maybe it was wartime money but no that’s what it was but it was indestructible funny sort of paper. Anyway he said “No you’ve missed it. The ship’s been cleared for sea and that means and the sea pilot is onboard now. The river pilot has
left her and you’ve missed her,” and he wouldn’t listen. He said “Look don’t fuss lad,” he said “Do not fuss lad,” he said “Maybe you’ve got a guardian angel.” He said “Maybe the Lord’s looking after you,” and that wasn’t any solace for me but he said “Don’t fuss.” He said “You’ve missed it,” he said “And I’ll give you a note whatever you like
to take back but go and check in” and I went back to the and I stood and watched her go you know and I felt distraught and I missed my ship you know and that’s a not a crime but a professional you know blot, even though the line had been bombed out. Anyway I went to the dock office and they gave me a note to the effect that you know confirming that I’d
arrived at that time which was late. I was I know I was about 14 hours late or something or more and I’d missed the ship and the ship had been cleared for sea so that’s it and I so I caught a train back. I went the line was still the London Midland Scottish was still blocked, still not open anyway
and then they’d have to clear back logs and that so I went across to Edinburgh again and I got a train back to London and I reported.
So you were telling us about returning on the train?
Returning to London with my tail between my legs but a clearance a note from the dock police that I had arrived at Glasgow at that time
and the line was still blocked so I’d gone across. I’d got I got over with the army. They were always pleased to help. With my seabag and a letter from the Ministry of War Transport which ran the merchant navy in wartime. Lord Leathers was the head of it and he was a shipping magnate and he was an exceptionally brilliant man, headed P & O
and to say no confirming that I’d gone, what had happened and I got to London and I reported to our headquarters there in London which was at 138 Leadenhall Street which is the P & O headquarters right and I told them what had happened. They said “OK rejoin the ship,” and cause I’d left one space short by my going there
anyway and from there I went I came back to no we went to Cardiff and Swansea to part load and had some bombers onboard for Australia. Now this is November ’41, the end of October ‘41
and then we sailed for we were loading for Australia again. I was looking forward to going home and when we got to Belfast which to me there was always drama at Belfast. Bringing survivors in and our ship the Cornwall when we came in from Halifax when those
Americans ships were with us. I forgot to tell you when we, oh no, we got to Belfast and we were on our way out forming up for a convoy and the tanker lost its steering and cut right across in front of us and we slammed into it. Not a huge deal but it put a hole in our bow and the Captains used some pretty blue language and yelled
but it was their steering had gone anyway. Something had happened to the tanker’s steering and we hit it but it was a tanker and ballast cause you don’t take all that way, you bring it in this way and we had to go into Belfast for three days and they worked around the clock putting what you call a cement box in the bow. They just all they do is weld up the hole and put fill up behind it with cement which gives it
sturdiness and then you’re pushed off to sea again and they said you can get it fixed in Australia and off we went again and we no sooner got outside so that was December, no what was it? Yeah it was while we were in Belfast the and
we must have left on the 5th or 6th of December but while we were there, must have been early December the Captain called me up and he said and he addressed me as Ron and I thought “Shit what have I done?” The Captain calling me by my first name instead of Ware or and sat me down and he said “You’ve got a guardian angel.” I said “Yes sir” and he
said Dorset that I hadn’t sailed on was torpedoed and was lost with all hands seven days after I left her right, the 7th of November and they lost everyone so you know which is pretty, in a way it’s psychologically you feel very guilty, when you’re a survivor of something. That happens I think to all
of us who survive and other people don’t and you, why is it me? How come I have..? Am I at fault in some way? Anyway
That was Nottingham not Dorset wasn’t it?
Nottingham, Nottingham and then I we sailed from Belfast and two days, no when, we had just poked our nose outside and a gale was blowing
into the western approaches we heard news on the bridge that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbour. Now this is October, November, December? This is two months after what I’d said had happened off Halifax and Nova Scotia cause we were around England and I mean we took longer getting around because they were the place was a there was still a lot of damage around and
the shipping was increasing and increasing but the facilities were not being better, becoming more effective. We heard that the Japanese had hit Pearl Harbor and then two days later we heard that the Prince of Wales and the Repulse battleships had been sunk off Singapore. I didn’t know it then but Joanna’s mother’s brother was on it and he got
off it and a friend of mine after the war Admiral Guy Griffiths was on it too and he got off it. They were midshipmen. Now on Saturday the 13th of December I’ll never forget this. Saturday the 13th I’m confident my memory’s not a lie cause it was just on nearly a week after
Pearl Harbour we were in a hurricane, we got hit by a hurricane in the North Atlantic and it was terrifying. I can tell you I was afraid very, very afraid that that ship would be turned over. She was a big ship and we the wind speed was a hundred and twenty knots which is 200 kilometres an hour and the anemometer mast blew off. We lost our
foretop mast and we lost a lifeboat when the men were trying to secure it and we lost seven men on it, just vanished before my eyes and I was on the boat deck opposite hanging on terrified to the rail there on the lee side and the ship could not be brought up into the wind because the tremendous force, the velocity of the wind was so tremendous in one side
of the ship you couldn’t turn it cause it kept it across the wind and the seas broke over the ship. We had a bomber in a Halifax bomber in a case on the number two hatch and it just snapped the wires, the sea snapped the wires and the box and it just end over end and disappeared and I was on the lee side didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t help the men and they were
taken and I thought the end of the world had come cause there was the noise was so totally overpowering you couldn’t speak. You couldn’t hear anything. It was just the most incredible sound and there was no difference between sea and the air. It was all white and it just
the wind velocity takes cuts whole tops the whole top of a wave off and just hurtles it horizontally and it’s strong, heavier than hale and there’s nothing you can do. You’re at the mercy of it. Anyway I had to get back in through there and they had observed from the bridge the loss of these
seven crew members and that was tremendous shock on the bridge but then the telephone rang from aft and I answered it. He said, “Get that…”, the Chief Officer said, “Get that Ware,” and I answered the phone and it was from the poop deck aft and it was a call to say that our that four depth charges
had broken loose and were out of their cradles see and were rolling round the deck and the Captain said “Well the only good thing is it’s not Friday the 13th, it’s Saturday the 13th.” You got any more bad news and they had to, but
these depth charges didn’t go off and they had we had to just dump them. They had to go over. You couldn’t hold them and the depth charges were rolled put over the side but they had a rubber diaphragm on the top which had to be removed so that the water pressure could get in to explode them, you listening, and that was a safety cap and they were left on so
as the captain said well we should hopefully drift faster than they can sink so that when they do go up they will we’ll be away from them and we heard thumps a few minutes later so they were down along a fair way down but they were too far away to hurt us and anyway we were in convoy at this stage and it was
a terrifying situation cause ships were blowing down past us and it was if any two of us had hit. I believe a couple did hit but that wasn’t confirmed, we were just smashed against each other. You were just totally out of control and if you hit a convoy of ships that close then you’ve got no hope of saving anyone cause they just get mangled up together.
What we didn’t know at the time is that big cement box in the bow had just broken adrift and we took down well we knew the next day that it had gone before daylight because the ship was down by the head so she’d taken water down in through the hole that we’d had patched but the next day the wind had gone had dropped right down and it was
it had passed us and it was glassy calm for about 12 hours, 18 hours and a ship we sighted another ship, one from our convoy and it was sailing parallel to us and our bridge was 80 feet above the sea, above sea level and the other ship was only in the next swell which was a fair way away
a couple of hundred yards and it disappeared and we couldn’t see it because of the height of the swell so that would have been 80, 90 feet high swell. Not breaking, swell, sea swell but the enormity of the size of it was awesome. Anyway we found out that she was leaking forward and we were diverted to Halifax
to go and get repairs before we came back to Australia. So we actually had Christmas in Halifax which was something of a left handed Christmas present and it was, oh about 24 hours, 48 hours after the hurricane passed we were in a blizzard and the ship was totally iced up right so when seas broke onboard they froze
and it was at the point where we had what you call a free surface effect in the ship. That was the water in the bow the front of the ship in what you call the four peak tank there which can be used for ballast or fresh water and she was down by the head and you could feel the joggle movement of the ship as it was affecting our stability, rolling. We were and
the ship’s carpenter was able to do soundings in there and that was about 25 feet or something of water in the four peak tank so she was going along like this so we were diverted to Halifax. I don’t know we received a message I wasn’t privy to that but I was told we were going to Halifax, diverted to Halifax and when we arrived in Halifax there was ice all over the deck
two would have been at least two feet of ice on the deck, thick which was salt water. There was ice there was snow and salt water but that added sufficient a mix for it to be able to freeze although the ocean wasn’t frozen because there was so much snow and ice and hail had landed on it and it was heavy
and it froze over so we came into Halifax I think two days, a day and a half before Christmas and when we got there we nearly sunk a tug because we had steam on deck for winches but we couldn’t use them because the all the pipes were frozen and we couldn’t get steam through the line to drive the steam winches and there was a
gale blowing at the time. It wasn’t snowing thank God but it blew us and we had two tugs between us and the wharf and the wind changed and swashed us, the tugs, the ship squashed them between the ship and the wharf you know and you could hear all these noises saying they were swearing and they were f’ing, “Bloody Limeys [English],”and
There was nothing you could do?
Noting we could do
and but what they did they as soon as we did get alongside and there was another ship this side of the dock so we squashed the tugs up against this ship and they were sounding off about it. Oh dear.
Did the tug sink as a result?
No, no they got out but they took off somewhere but they were very concerned. Soon as we got lined on the wharf and it was they had to be pulled in by hand
over on and they just put them over the bollards and we hung on there until the tug did come around again and push us in further and we, got to hand tie it and then they took off. Now
So these big winds lasted for quite some time?
North Atlantic was mad in that it is a scary place to be
even these days you know you’re on a ship they can break ships, really can if they crack ‘em unless it’s precisely loaded. Anyway I was going to say once we were tied up they sent great holders of salt onboard and they shovelled salt all over the ice then and salt will melt ice. It will
soften it and crack it up and it was another day at least before we got were able to get steam from the boilers through steam lines on deck to be able to manage to be able to use the power of the winches. We were disabled but we were there for Christmas and took off. I remember going over on a ferry across the other side of the
entrance into Halifax and a place there called Dartmouth and the lake was totally frozen over and I had my first ice skate on the lake and was back into Halifax. Anyway we sailed off from there and came back to, without major incident because remember the Germans and the Americans were now in the battle. Cause the Americans declared war on Germany as
well as on Japan and but they were very disorganised in their eastern in the Atlantic Fleet the Americans because they were now concentrating on Pearl Harbor in the Pacific cause the Japanese were all over the place. You know they were bombing here and they were bombing Singapore and they’d come down and they’d captured Singapore and
all that awful stuff and they were merciless bastards they really were. Anyway we came to get back to Australia they at that stage they closed the Panama Canal and they so we had to go down and around the Horne that way westing about to get back to Australia and when we
our first and there was a drought on. I’ll never forget that. This was in early 1942 and when we I don’t know February or March or something and we I think we came into Melbourne or Sydney? To Sydney and I had news that my Dad died on service and I got compassionate leave to
for until the ship got back to got to Brisbane cause my elder brother was away in the navy and my Dad was dead and the captain called me up for that and he said, “I’ve got bad news for you Ron.” Anyway I got compassionate leave and didn’t have to rejoin the ship until she left
no I got I think three, from the time we were in Australia and she went from Sydney and they did some more major repairs on the bow there cause they only did a makeshift job in Halifax and to Brisbane and
I was on compassionate leave and when it came time to rejoin the ship my mother, my siblings, I had a sister who was a year older than me but my mother, the three of us, I had a younger sister and two younger brothers and my Mum was in a bit of a mess so I asked permission could I miss
a trip to look after my mother and they said yes and I was and I used the time as well while I was there to do some study on my signalling and navigation and to keep myself up to speed and then I picked up the Dorset there
but I had about a four week break altogether. Then I joined her there and then went to New Zealand and we loaded there cause she brought stuff out aircraft and stuff out from England and I joined the Dorset there and then across to New Zealand and we loaded up again and it was his name? Captain gosh Trotter no Trotter was
the Chief Officer. Anyway I’m not as good as I used to be.
So before we actually talk about that particular voyage?
It’s the next one was a bad one.
Yep which we’ll get into. So can you just share with me what happened to your dad, how he died?
Well he joined the army again and they accepted him in but he’d had
he died actually he got a pension from World War I from his wounds, injuries and his medical condition from being I think and it was a pulmonary it created a problem with his heart which it’s I think these days they’ve got another terminology for it. It’s something
but it’s a heart ailment that comes from infection in particular wet and cold and anyway that’s how he died in Sydney and my mother was you know pretty shattered at the time.
So sorry, your dad was in a training camp or a home?
No, no he wasn’t in a training camp. He was occupying a
non active service role with the military but because of his military background and training and his record he was of he was able to give to his satisfaction service to the country which is this is what worried him. Anyway he died from a pulmonary problem and
off I went again after that. My mother was settled and in proper accommodation. They evacuated people in and including her which was a worry to her at the time out of Sydney when the Japanese attacked Sydney. That was after then. I think that was about May of that year but she was in Sydney at the time, that’s right but
her problem was what to do for our younger three children and so I joined Dorset when she came in. I knew she was, I didn’t know when but I was told that the shipping line Burton Company was the line in or the agents in Australia for the Federal Line and the New Zealand Shipping Company and the head of it after the
war was a friend of mine. He was in the office there, a fellow who is a very dear friend of mine now but he was at that stage he was the office boy there cause he was only my age anyway but and it used to awe him the stuff that I’d been through and I was the same age but he joined the air force. Dick what’s his name and he finished up as managing director of the line and you know we’ve been great friends
after the war.
Sorry you were going to share then you were in New Zealand with the Dorset loading up?
And you’re about to head off to obviously?
Back to England.
And a major?
Yeah I didn’t know then and she was you know she was beautiful ship and she was of the same class as the Nottingham was but she was a modern, more modern build cause it was only
five years old and that’s her you know that was her but we’d loaded in Australia and across to New Zealand and filled up to the gills and but see I was then I was then 16. I’d just turned 17 then you know so I’ve had three years of war then, or three and a half, two and a half years of war
and I did training in Sydney before I went on the new type of 40 millimetre guns and the 20 millimetre cannons and Dorset had that and then we went to New Zealand and filled up and we went across via Pitcairn Island cause those ships as a purely as a favour used
to take mail to Pitcairn Island from Australia and from England and coming back the other way dropping it off into Pitcairn Island on the way back but when I came back in the Cornwall we didn’t go that way, we came round Cape Horn see so that mail was I think left behind or something cause that line was the only one that used to do that, take it to the Pitcairn Islands. You know there’s only a hundred of them there at the most
I think. They’re all half mad and
This is my knowledge of Pitcairn Island, but there’s an interesting story about dropping off and picking up the mail, you don’t stop you, you?
No there’s no anchorage, there’s no you just stop engines and you drift half a mile off the island. There’s no port, there’s no safe anchorage, there’s no bay or anything. It’s surf and slosh up
waves up and back so they’re excellent boatmen but they were all a mix of the Polynesian and the white and they were sort of sallow skinned and dark hair and they’d just wear you know canvas past and that but it was quite an interesting situation cause I had done that and I forgot to tell you. We stopped off on the Cornwall
when we went over. Not the first time, no, no, no Dorset was the only occasion and we had mail from the last voyage and you pick up mail as well. You just put it down on a heaving line and they take off one bag and or empty out the sack. You have a bag in a bag and they whatever it was like canvas
and they just put their mail going out into it and I forget whether they even had stamps on it. Anyway then we headed to Panama and we got through Panama and the war in the North Atlantic cause you hear this information on when you meet up with ships I mean at Panama at the Miraflores, Gatun Locks and Panama
city is on the western side on the Pacific side and I went ashore there and then through and what fascinated me was with the going through the canal we had what you call mules and you tie it up and they were like steam engines only they were diesel engines
and you hook the wires from the ship to these mules they’re called and they’d just drive them along slowly in. They tow a ship in from a line you know like out like that to that if that’s the ship and you tie up alongside it and they tow you along out of the Loch and into the next Loch and then the next lake into the lake and the people who drove them were all from Jamaica and they
spoke the most beautiful Oxford English and here’s the around on the ship. They’re Cockneys and they’re Londoners and they come from Newcastle and all of that and I thought what a how interesting that and they’re taught beautiful English and most of the Jamaicans still speak beautiful English. When the cricketers come out the West Indies you know they speak beautiful English, not like the ocker Oz people.
Interviewee: Ronald Ware Archive ID 0790 Tape 07
So you’ve taken us to the point of the Panama Canal?
Yeah and through and we refuelled or bunkered as we call it. She was a fast motor ship. She was she could I remember the chief engineer
he said she could do 18 but he hadn’t opened her up to that but if he had to we could you know do 18 knots and I think I mentioned before that it was, we were had just cleared Cuba and it was and heading up for just east of Miami and Florida the Cape there
when we had our first encounter with a submarine right.
Were you in convoy at this point in time?
No convoys, right. This is still the Americans were still not organised and we were a fast ship and they don’t convoy fast ships see. This is except for when we later we got on operation pedestal and then we all had to be fast ships to endure
that gruel into there. That was ghastly but what happened after we, and we knew as soon as we left Kingston in Jamaica that we were going to go from, we fuelled at Aruba which was a Dutch island which was an oil producing place and then up to Kingston and
we took on extra gunners there who were actually had been dropped off there on a ship coming out from Britain and we were to pick them up and take them home so we had more army or seagoing service gunners, fighting service gunners than we needed but they were being repatriated and then we headed
up past Florida but the U-boats we knew were around there and they were starting to sink ships left, right and centre. Our line lost two in the next month. Three, three there and one of the ships was lost picking up other people, survivors so you were they couldn’t tell us not to pick up survivors. You’re not allowed to pick up survivors in convoys.
You’ve got to keep going. Your cargoes are more important than people in the water and now that’s how it was. Doesn’t matter whether they were on fire or what, you had to keep going, cause you had to get your cargoes there, whatever it was and that was when we had one submarine sighted when we turned
and ran and fired at it with the I forget whether it was the first or the second one, fired at it with the gun. These are three in three days and put the stern onto it and fired and put the submarine down. They some of us thought that we’d hit the submarine and we couldn’t tell but it put her down. They changed their mind and dived but she wasn’t
going to chase us and the chief engineer got her up to 18 knots and we were running so we were at least equal to the top speed of a submarine on the surface which would certainly draw attention to itself if it was travelling at that speed because you get what you call a bone in the teeth, that’s a white power wave and that’s what you call a bone in the teeth, a yacht or a ship and then the next one the periscope was
seen and it was seen close to it’s about I think I told you it was about 200, 300 metres away and it was because it was up we had no choice. We couldn’t turn away from it and run because it was there looking at us and they couldn’t they got, we turned for it and we couldn’t use the gun on the stern because it would have blown us off the ship, you with me? We’ve
cause that’s pointing that way and you could only have it for that sort of arc of about 270 degrees at best and it wasn’t that way. That was 45, 45 and their, anyway we got depth charges on it. Dropped four on that one and that was the second one and then the next one on the following day was seen at a greater distance away from us and the
we turned and fired at it. We only dropped depth charges once but we had two actions with the four point seven inch gun which dissuaded that one from and it was seen the conning tower was just seen so it was reckoned that it was coming up to get a faster speed on
the surface to get into a position to hit us and they didn’t know what speed we could do anyway so we turned and fled. We fired at them and what happens is in wartime is that if you are attacked by aircraft you sent the message A A A three times. That’s aircraft and A is dah dah. A is dah dah right. You send it three times
dot dash, dot dash, dot dash. Dah dah, dah dah, dah dah and you send it three times altogether so it’s nine times you send As. That means you’re being attacked by aircraft. If you’re attacked by a U boat it’s, you send S and that’s what it was. It’s dit dit dit, dit dit dit, dit dit dit three times and that’s all because
and your own code signal which is not your signal letters because signal letters is your international ship’s name in four alphabetical letters but that wouldn’t have been sent because the submarine would have known what ship it was so it was sent and your own code signal which each ship got when you sailed from whatever it was and you got that signal
for that voyage and that’s you. Might be VKJ7 or something like that and that was sent out and you sent the S so we had alerted and we were the ship would be identified by the naval intelligence we’d we were attacked by a submarine and then we headed up the North Atlantic and it was unbelievable. We were fast and zigzagging. I told you how you
zigzag with a base course so you’ve got it might be an 80 percent efficiency or it depends 70 percent but that slows you down so you’re only getting 70 percent of the distance you’ve steamed in a straight line on a course, your base course, the track you were to go on but we until we got right out of had dropped the submarine behind we
went as flat out as we could but on a not a big zigzag just to get ourselves away from that area because this is where they were concentrating the U boats. You see the ships would be coming out the Panama Canal or going into the Panama Canal or going into Willemstad or Caruso Aruba for oil and they were sort of broad highways that was maybe I don’t know a hundred, 200 nautical miles across
but that was a track so we got out of those tracks and went for our life up in the North Atlantic and we got and we had no problem all the way. Unbelievable but going for the lick of our lives and we brought in a full cargo and we were you know Captain was thrilled to bits and the line was thrilled to bits and we discharged at Liverpool which
was a bit unusual for us then cause we used to go down to the Avonmouth and that area and Swansea, Cardiff. Anyway they trucked us there and then we and people were sent on leave. Our Captain was changed and we got the new Captain. What’s his name? Trotter was the Chief Officer. It’ll come to me again in a minute. I’ve been thinking to much about it I think
and people were sent on leave and I didn’t get any leave that trip because I’d had leave at home in Australia compassionate leave so I had you know and I wasn’t English so I was watch on stop on and when they discharged everything they started while they were discharging all this cargo and food they started building turrets, anti aircraft gun
turrets around the ship and they put a big one on the bridge and I remember the Captain, Chief Officer Trotter came back and our Captains changed and I was the only cadet left on the ship. The others were on leave. They were Brit’s there was two of them
what’s his name? Dickie I used to call him Charles Dickens. Dickens was one of them and Pat Gordon was the other cadet. They were English and they went on leave and they were fitting us out and it was obvious that we weren’t going back to Australia unless we were going to go back to Australia and get up
into the Pacific Islands here somewhere and so it was a scuttlebutt where were we going to go and I had specific gunnery training for a day on the Bofors no Bofors. Bofors guns which are 40 millimetre shells in the clips and we had four of those onboard and we had
four turrets, by the time we’d finished fitting out of Oerlikons that’s the 20 millimetre and they were the ones that I used and I was a pretty good shot with them too. I don’t think I told you that when I went to that training the first time for anti aircraft training in Britain. It was down in Wales somewhere, not Wales no it was
near Bristol and we went out to some palatial home there with some Lords mansion or something and we had clay pigeon gunnery practise and they used to fire clay pigeon disks up there and you’d have… and it was a in a machine gun mounting but it was a shot gun right and
you had to hit these clay pigeons and you had to have your back turned and then they’d yell out, “Fire,” or whatever it was, blew the whistle or something or other and you had to turn around and you had to hit it in flight and that you had to line up and hit it and I was a pretty good shot anyway and I had a reputation to being a good shot and the gunnery officer said I believe
you’re not a bad shot and cause the first time I did that and I got eight out of nine see and this time I got nine out of nine and he said, “There’s a reward if you get nine out of nine.” This is the Lieutenant Gunnery Officer. I said, “Well I’m not getting, I don’t want the prize I got last time.” He said, “What was that?” I said, “Well I got eight out of nine and they
gave me a reward which I was to pick up that night at the Red Lion Hotel and they poured me a drink in a mug, was a pint mug,” and he said, “Oh shit they didn’t hit you did they?” and I said, “Yeah.” But I was a real simple Simon then and I said, “I don’t drink alcohol. I don’t want it.” They said, “Don’t worry Aussie it’s
just apple juice,” and it was what you called scrumpy, it was rough cider see and that’s a amount of five per cent alcohol or more, six per cent or something or other and you know it knocked me cold and so I said “No I don’t want to win a prize thanks.” Anyway back to Liverpool they fitted us out and then Captain came back and
we started they were loading us up then and it was pretty clear we were going to somewhere hot and they were every hold in the ship had a cross section of all the cargo. It was not all of this in
in that hold or that in another. We had bombs and artillery. We had anti aircraft shells. We had depth charges. We had small arms and Bofors and anti aircraft shells and then on top of that we had food and supplies and
sometimes it was a mix in that but it was all of it was in sort of was quite clever really cause they had no cranes in Malta. Anyway we found out we were going to Malta see and we said shit and cause it was a bad time down there and the Germans were running riot in North Africa and we were cut off and they were going to have to surrender Malta. I mean we knew about this even
there. It wasn’t a total secret you know we were having a bad time in there and we were going to Malta and that’s when the King visited us in Liverpool and that’s when I got my little my little New Testament and I said “Gees that’s a worry getting one of these before you go on it.” Anyway
now when we got up to on deck see what I realised was that a lot of it, it was all coming in that you could put a whole lot of humans in and unload it. See because if we’d been disabled there were no, there’d have been, I know I’d been to Malta before and there were no cranes or anything. They’d bombed shit out of Malta and it was I mean it was a pile of rubble that place and
they had catacombs they had towns and everything. People were living in tunnels and they’d shattered all the habitation and they had underground the hospitals and you know from the catacombs from the knights of 500 years ago whenever it was last previous century to see the previous era, anyway a thousand years ago but it was very cleverly done but it was a potential bomb for us
because on top of all that it could all be unloaded by hand. The units were could be unstrapped see and they’re not in great blobs that you could pull off and quickly unload the ship and on top of it we even had bags of coal, cause the power stations there were you know they had it wasn’t just fuel. A lot of the stuff was still coal
fired and on top of all of that we had in all in the ship we had more than a thousand tonnes of aviation gasoline in remember old kerosene tins? In those and they were stacked all over it and on deck and on the hatches right and on top of that they had bagged coal and I mean it was
all over us. We were full to the gills and the ship was a time bomb so wherever you got, if you got hit you’re caput and up you go and would have made a mess of the Captain’s ship. Anyway off we went and I when was it? We’d first I think we sailed from, we joined together at the Clyde and the
Ohio the tanker had joined us there. She was an American tanker which they brought over cause she was a fast Texaco tanker and named the Ohio and there were 13 others ships. Two American cargo ships, the Almeria Lykes and the Anita, what was her name was? [Santa Elisa] And we had two blue star ships and we had a Glen Line ship the Glenorchy and Andrew Ware line ships but they were all capable
of 17 knots because the convoy speed was to be 15, 16 knots but all of them were faster than that except the tanker was the slowest one and she could do 15 knots, the Ohio and she wasn’t loaded with gasoline. She was loaded with fuel oil and diesel oil. We had aircraft gasoline, all the ships and the reason they did that
well it’s logic, is if the tanker had been hit which she was, severally and she was torpedoed later and bombed and she took one of the aircraft on the bow and one on the stern and we reckoned the one that hit her on the stern was the one that we shot down overhead cause she was next to us there and they claimed it, we claimed it and the navy claimed it
so everyone poured fire into them cause they were you know, it was death or glory stuff that but anyway we gathered off the Firth and there were 14 merchant ships including one tanker, which the American tanker Ohio which they took all the Americans off it and put a British Captain on, Captain Mason and British officers and crew, gunners, what have you
and much to the Americans claimed it later. You know it was an American tanker. Well it was an American tanker but the captain and crew were British. Anyway when we gathered off the Clyde and put to sea and out into the Atlantic there were over 50 warships escorting there was variously
counted 54 or 59 but there were three battleships, three aircraft carriers, cruisers, heavy cruisers and city cruisers. The county cruisers were the three like The Australia and the Canberra and those in wartime and they were heavy, they were 8 inch gun cruiser and we thought Jesus we’re
they’re expecting the Italian fleet to have us. Anyway we passed through, we went out and wide down and came in through Gibraltar on the night I think it was Sunday the 10th of August 1942 and coming in through that the Straits at night time in misty stuff but there was a
we found out later a French plane, France was had been overrun by the Germans and there was Vichy France which was against us that joined the Germans and they occupied Libya in North Africa so we had enemy on that, unfriendly people on that side and on this side we had the Italians and the Germans so we were
meat in the sandwich going through there. We passed through the Straits of Gibraltar and apparently, we learned later, we didn’t know at the time an American commercial aeroplane flew over that night and exactly reported the composition of the convoy and escort and its direction and the Italians and Germans knew it before we got into the Mediterranean and they knew exactly where we were and what our escort
position was and the three aircraft carriers and
So who did the American report to?
Not the American, the French.
Oh was a French plane OK?
Vichy, Vichy French plane.
That’s alright I thought you said American that’s why?
If I did I’m in error. The Vichy French commercial liner reported us just topped us off you know was a very friendly thing to do. Anyway that was the
10th and the next day was Monday the 11th then on the 12th we were belted, oh our first casualty was the aircraft carrier, Eagle was torpedoed and she had just flown off or no, she’d just
taken on aircraft and they were still on the flight deck when she was hit by two torpedoes on her port side. Very first ship was one of our escorts and it was the Eagle and she disappeared in about five or six minutes. She just rolled over and I will never forget all those planes just sliding off her deck as she rolled over on her side and they lost a lot of people in her.
I think they lost the navy lost well it was about a hundred I think in war. Now we had the, I think it was the Argus what’s her name? There was one oh and the Captain said “This is bad news, they’re picking off our escorts,” which were aircraft carriers, that’s supposed to protect us but the other ship
there was one the Argus, she was loaded with Spitfires for Malta and when we got close enough there to be within range of Malta they flew ‘em all off so she went back with cruisers and some destroyers back to Gibraltar and she didn’t have any fighters for us. She had to fly this from Malta but we had to fuel in the convoy see.
Anyway the next one of the ships was gosh what was her name? Deucalion it was the first merchant ship to be sunk and she blew up. She was hit. We were attacked all day long from dawn till dark and it was summertime in the Mediterranean so you had darkness till eight o’clock at least at night and they’d come over in waves
and it was and there was high level bombing parallel and there was medium level bombing and there was low level bombing and there was torpedo bombing and they were launching, they’d come in low and launch torpedoes at you and we had the Stukas, the dive bombers which had these sirens on them and they’d dive down at you
and this scream of these (UNCLEAR) it was terrifying sound as they were getting closer and closer but they were their tactics were to launch different types of attack at the same time and while this was, now a submarine had just knocked off one of the carriers, the Eagle and which meant that as Captain
Tucker said, it was Captain Tucker and Mr Trotter was the Chief Officer. Pat Gordon was the other cadet and Dag Dickens was the other cadet and Ronnie Ware. We were on the bridge and manning the Oerlikons and so it was a fear from, psychologically they
were the enemy was extremely efficient. The psychological effects of it losing our aircraft carrier first was bang and the next thing, then the Deucalion was number one and the port wing, port line of the convoy. He’d have been Alpha One or Able One it was then and then the next
thing we know was an enormously concentrated attack on the Indomitable the other aircraft carrier and they left the rest alone and everything piled in on them and they hit her with three big bombs on the flight deck and she had an enormous fire and she was
totally disabled put her engines out and they had extremely high casualties but her engines were still capable and but she couldn’t provide any fighter escort for us anymore against the enemy but she stayed with us until the next day and I’ll never forget they
cleared all of the people the bodies out of it and there was over a hundred and they were, on those ships when you got hit by bombs and there was a an explosion flame explosion it cooked everyone in rage you know they were just charred straight away and they cleared them all out and I heard this later when we got to Malta but what happened was that they
passed the message that we were going to have a burial service. It was an awesome and very moving event. They had, they cleared lower decks on that ship and she still, I mean she had, she’d been hit by three bombs, major but her engines were not totally disabled but they stayed with us and they had a service on the flight deck with everyone and they played the bugle
and it came across and we closed in everyone, all the ships closed in and we got a bit of a break at that and at that time they had the burial service and they buried the people over the side, they put them over the side but that bugle I’ll never forget it. They played the Last Post and it came across the water, amplified on their system and a very moving moment that was so
Just so I understand the picture so far, because it’s not over yet?
And we’re still a long way from Malta and we’re very close to Sicily and the landing fields on that island there too.
OK so at the moment the enemy’s objective is to take out those aircraft carriers, is that, or just hit anything?
Whatever hit anything but I mean we are more at risk. They are more effective if they don’t have
if they only have our anti aircraft fire to deal with and not the super marine Spitfires that were the fighter escort which was getting into them, right the attacking planes. They shot down quite a few planes, the enemy planes. Mostly the Germans, the Italians weren’t big on that there but they were into it but they knew where we were all the time. I mean they were on apparently on English language broadcasts and all that so
we’re going to get you, we’re coming again, we haven’t forgotten you and then the submarines started to get at us.
OK so at that point in time, where we are in the story some of the aircraft carriers did launch obviously their spitfires to get up amongst the Germans, Italians and…?
They had it at first but we now we didn’t have any right. We’ve lost one. It was torpedoed and sunk. She was three torpedoes and was it? No two
but it was bang fore and aft and was it two or three? Anyway she healed over almost immediately. That’s the one that was torpedoed. The one that was bombed got three big bombs on her and she was out of commission anyway. Her flight decks, she had no hangars, she had no lifts so whatever
she had in it the, and their casualty rate was pretty awful cause those big flight decks down below they’re big. I mean a bomb going through and exploding down there and it’s
She had, though, launched some Spitfires off already?
She had yes.
Where were they to go, straight to Malta?
Well some of them went to Malta. I think a couple dropped in the sea and they didn’t have, only had a couple of little boats
there at Malta cause everyone was going to help us.
OK I’ll let you get back to the story now.
Alright now the night of this is now the 12th of August and our armageddon was about to come and they’d hit two more ships, the Almeria Lykes and
the other and American one and was? The British one was the Empire Hope got hit. Now these are all fast, big ships, the best of the British Merchant Navy at that time and as I said once and then the Brisbane Star was torpedoed and he
in the bow and blew a hole right through the bow. I’ll never forget it. She went passed us and you could see right through a big hole in the bow of the ship right under her anchors and she’d been hit by a bomb as well but she and she fell out and she was going her Captain she was he was going close to the North African coast and take his chance with the trench,
not the Abuin [?] what’s the name of it, it was then? Anyway the Ohio got hit by a bomb too. This was the first bomb that hit the tanker before we got into this hell hole that we had to get in that night. We were funnelled in to what they call the Skerki channel which was close to
or on the Horn of that, not the Horn of Africa but there was a big hump there and it was a narrow channel and unfortunately the battleships couldn’t get in there so they turned and left us at night or on the night of the 12th and by this time we’d had two more ships hit
the Waimarama was hit. That was a Shaw Saville ship, the Brisbane Star had been hit. We had we’d had near misses on the Dorset. We’d been straddled a couple of times by, like that, you know both sides and it was only by great conning off the Captain in
altering course and reading and the intense gun fire that our ship put up there that should put ‘em off you know and we knocked one down which landed actually on, we got two but that first one we got landed on the Ohio next to us. She finished up with two on her. One on the stern and the funnel over on its side like this and one on the fo’c’stle head and her steering was put out but that was
well I haven’t got to that get. We were coming into this narrow channel and at night time and it’s eight o’clock it’s called a Skerki Channel and unknown to us there were 26 E-boats [German torpedo boats] waiting for us. They’re the very fast 50 knot motor torpedo boats and there was either three or four enemy submarines.
They were Italian as it turned out and it was a minefield as well. The mines were laid so we had to have our paravanes out and it’s a thing that goes down over the bow and you tow a wire with an underwater aeroplane and that wire if it hits the anchored mine wire, it’d run down to that, in theory, to these cutting jaws and cut it off and we had
we hit two that night. The mines blew up when we cut them and the whole ship jumped out of the water and it started, leaked in the engine room start the plate you know. I mean you’ve got welded plates or you’ve got riveted plates. They were riveted then and you start leaks in the ship which means the strength the skin strength of the ship is reduced. We had two and
at about it was just after midnight and I was watch on the starboard side of the bridge and the there was gun fire and a torpedo explosion and that was the what was it? The gosh the Empire Hope I think that was
that night or the Brisbane Star got hit again. No I forget. Anyway the…
Interviewee: Ronald Ware Archive ID 0790 Tape 08
So we’re just continuing on this story Ron.
We at this stage the convoy is in what they call the Skerki Channel. It was too shallow for the battleships. They’d turned around with their cruiser escorts and
head off west to Gibraltar. Goodbye to them so we’re left with three cruisers and some destroyers. There was two destroyers which were deputed, they were the rescue ships. One was the Bramham and her Captain had been up in the Arctic in that PQ17 and the other one was the Ledbury and
they were fast, modern destroyers and their major job was to pick up the survivors from the merchant ships right and they were fast and they did a very thorough job and whatever the risk and now we’re at night now in the Skerki channel and it’s just after midnight when there was a
bang and one of the cruisers gosh what was its name? One of the six inch cruisers. The Manchester was there and golly the two six inch gun cruisers. Both the cruisers were had been torpedoed but we didn’t know. There was just bang and they
we knew that they’d got it because when the flash went up you could see the shape of the cruiser. We’re all very close together and we’re in shallow waters and in a fairly confined area and then the E boats came at us and I’ll never forget the lookout on the fo’c’s’le head which is right in the bow of the ship said there was an E boat fine on the port bow
headed straight for us and the Captain ordered hard-a-port to try to ram it and it was coming at us at high speed and he passed. It nearly ran into us and we thought he’d launched a torpedo because we had just detonated two mines with our paravanes and you can’t tell the difference between a mine explosion except it didn’t hit us and they were anchored mines or what a torpedo
explosion is. It’s got to hit you for you to know get some idea of whether it’s an anchored mine or whether it’s a torpedo. Now the lookout said he saw this E boat coming at high speed and the Captain ordered harder port and then in seconds in came right down the starboard side of the ship and I couldn’t depress the muzzle of my
Oerlikon gun to hit it cause it went past so fast so close I couldn’t point it down and so I swung it around and I was just about to fire and the second officer smacked me across the back of the head and he said “Don’t f’ing shoot he said you’ll kill the gun crew aft,” because we weren’t expecting that. These were for anti aircraft fire. The Oerlikon’s 20 millimetre cannons
but I could have hit it but I was given permission then when we straightened up to fire and the gun aft fired at a shell at it but there were these torpedo boats, 24 of them came hurtling through the convoy and the escorts and they sunk two cruisers and the other one the Manchester they sunk and in the morning she was
so damaged there and sinking that they scuttled her and some of the survivors went across to North Africa and some were picked up by the destroyers but that and it was such mayhem that our Captain, Captain Tuckett, said, “Let’s get the hell out of here,” because we were now in such a state of not confusion but and because we had to alter
course and estimate where we were, we were at a stage where there were no ships ahead of us so we increased to maximum speed and headed south east. We only saw the results of more explosions half an hour, an hour later but at morning, that morning and that was the morning of the 13th
we were on our own in the, in the this is in Dorset, but we could hear the sound of gunfire further to the west so and because we saw enemy planes on the horizon the Captain deemed it best and more strategic to get back to with our escorts that we’d outrun that night, not outrun but we’d gone in a different, because all ships took evasive actions against the submarines and
there was one of the submarines fired three torpedoes and that submarine sunk two cruisers and hit the Ohio the tanker with one spurt of torpedoes. I don’t know the fellers name but Mussolini must have given him a knighthood or whatever it was for that but it was one of the most fateful what’s the word spate of torpedoes
in the Second World War and they got three ships, two cruisers and the tanker but the tanker was still afloat anyway.
So what condition was your ship in?
We were leading from the explosion near misses straddled and the two mines exploded by our paravanes and we’d had one small fire on the
forehead end of number two hatch between the two forehead hatches which was put out pretty quickly because we were all a floating time bomb. See if you caught fire and you couldn’t handle it that’s the end of you. Anyway at dawn there were enemy aircraft in the distance so we headed in the direction where we would meet up with the other ships in the convoy,
the survivors and when we did the Ohio the tanker had been she’d taken one torpedo and at least two bombs and she had two aircraft on her deck, one on the fo’c’s’le head and one on the stern and anyway she came up alongside of us
and the convoy the survivors were still there. There was five of us, that’s all and they continued to bomb us from all directions all that morning and at about 11 o’clock they hit us. They straddled the ship and blew the sides in and the engine room and the ship was started to sink. This is on Dorset and
there were a fire had started up again between number one and number two holds and the Chief Engineer reported that the ship couldn’t be saved because the electrical the generators and everything were under, about to go under water and we couldn’t stop the inrush of water because it’d split the sides of the ship and
at when that final straddle hit us it blew on the starboard side and another cadet and I were in this turret. It’s a round area and you’ve got your guns in there and the water went so high that when it came down it washed us both out of there onto the deck and you had to and it was the water
from the bomb it was so, bombs that were so close and we got back in and pulled a gun off and shook the water upside down and out of the barrel so if we’d fired it would have split if it’d had water in it when we fired. Anyway that’s what we did and all this time no one you don’t go to the toilet. I mean if you want to have a pee and I never I didn’t eat any food I don’t think for two
days and your retention of urine is it must be a nervous thing or whatever it is but only once did I go to the toilet and that was in the fire bucket see and you just chucked it over the side and but I didn’t leave the bridge and none of us on the bridge left that bridge for two and a half days and nights and all we got to eat was they were excellent. They’d made
sandwiches for us and bring some cocoa up but eating and drinking was not a problem. You were otherwise occupied surviving. Anyway when it was clear that our ship was when we were finally hit, straddled and sinking then they we lowered the lifeboats and
we went across to the Bramham the destroyer. She came alongside us and we went onboard her and then the Captain said well the Bramham said could you make certain that you can’t save her and the Captain said yeah we’re certain but we’ll go back again if you like and we all went back on, some of us about a dozen. There was Captain, the Chief Engineer and the Electrical Engineer and
about 10 of us who were gun crews went back and we no sooner, and I was hoping to get my cadet’s journal, my diary and the Captain said “No you don’t go down there. If we get hit he said you’ll stay there,” so just up on the bridge to my gun station and we were no sooner there than they came in again
attacking us from the air and it was very clear looking into the engine room and I had a look in myself on the way past that it was right over the piston heads in the engine room so she was hopeless and sinking fast. Now that was about noon that day and we got back onto the Bramham the destroyer and the Bramham and the Ledbury destroyers were milling around picking up survivors cause one
of the other ships had been hit. What was her…? The oh the Waimarama was her name. A big ship and just before we retuned to the convoy in the morning, just as we were coming up to the convoy, remember we were detached during the night and coming back to it and she was hit
by a massive air attack and she blew up and it was like just the picture was just like you see of a nuclear explosion. It was just an enormous bang and it was ear shattering from a mile away and the flame went up ages and a big black and we didn’t think anyone would get off it and the Captain of the Ledbury who’d been
serving as a gunnery officer, he’d been, his destroyer had been up in the Arctic when they were ordered to abandon the convoy PQ17 and clear out and he was Eddie Banes I think it was and he has a tremendous guilt complex about that and he never got over it and when the Waimarama blew up, the ship, we didn’t think
there was anyone and the sea was on fire and we could see from where we were he backed his destroyer into the flames to pick up survivors, anyone there in the water and he said afterwards, stuff the navy. If there was a merchant seaman in that water, I was going to pick ‘em up from being ordered up in the Arctic to abandon that immense convoy. He never got over it. Anyway
there were about 15 survivors from that out of about 65 or 70 and we got together on the Ledbury, the destroyer and the Bramham the destroyer and we’re only 40 miles from Malta. We could just see the outline of Malta when the other ships that were still afloat went passed us
on their way to Malta but we’re on the
So we can just see the outline of Malta?
Just see the outline of Malta and the two destroyers had hundreds of survivors onboard you know they were the pickup rescue ships and we were on the Bramham then and we hadn’t lost anyone on this trip.
No deaths at all, incredible miracle. Although we’d been straddled and hit we hadn’t had anyone killed and the ship was now sinking and the Ohio the there was mayhem that morning and aircraft coming in from all directions and the Ohio the tanker had been hit again by a bomb and
they abandoned her because the action of, one of the bombs landed on the stern and that was followed by, I think I told you, one of the planes that had, we’d shot down, whatever the ship, it came over us and it landed on the I think the pilot was just about he must have been dead when he hit the stern of that of the tanker but what it did
was to destroy the or wreck the steering engine in the stern area that controlled the rudder and the rudder was harder starboard so it couldn’t be towed cause it’d go round and round in circles so that was a problem but because she was loaded with oil and diesel oil then she was desperately needed in Malta so
they called on us those of who weren’t wounded. I only had skin off me from being blown out of the turret and…
Skin off you where?
On my face, up here and I had a bleeding ear and my backside was saw where I’d rolled down the ladder. Anyway the
captain of the Bramham called for volunteers to go and man the guns on the Ohio the tanker and there were five seamen and I was the cadet who went as well cause I still a good shot and from our ship and we manned the and there were other people from one of the other ships
the gunners. Let me say that the Ohio when she’d been hit so often she was she’d lost a lot of her crew and her captain was taken off as well. He had no crew. He was after awarded the George Cross, Captain Mason, for his efforts in getting the ship to there and we five and four others manned the Bofors and the Oerlikons while the
Bramham the destroyer and the Ledbury the destroyer tried to push and pull the Ohio the tanker to Malta and it took us 24 hours to get there but by this time we they and organised now in the last 24 hours that was, was it Saturday the 15th? Friday the 14th of August
we were inside of Malta and we weren’t getting as many air attacks because we were getting fighters that were on Malta and one of the ships had got in. The Melbourne Star had got in. She was the first one in and what was the other one? Not the Glenorchy. Anyway they got the fuel off. Do you remember before I said all of these were four gallon cans and
they just put hundreds of people on and they carried them off see and put ‘em on trucks and went to the airfield and some of their fighter aircraft then had sufficient fuel to give us some air protection while they pushed and pulled us to Malta and but we because they got in on the 14th which was the Friday and we were still our there and we thought that we’d missed out on the welcome when we got there
because we were the last one in and they there was a destroyer alongside and pushing so that the ship didn’t turn to the right and one pulling it and we had a minesweeper, the? She was there when I went in with the same ship into Malta with the Cornwall in 1940 two years before. I forget her name now. Anyway they came out and they were between
two destroyers and the minesweeper they pushed and pulled us into Malta and we arrived in Malta on the Saturday and it was one of the most dramatic experiences of my life and the most, probably the most memorable from that point of view of pride I suppose, only equalled by my recent trip to London to the dedication of the War Memorial and we
thought that the Maltese would have you know the ships that got in, other four ships that had got in however damaged including the Brisbane Star which had crept along the coast of North Africa and got in anyway and she’d been torpedoed and bombed but she got in with her full most of her cargo and they had a wonderful welcome which we didn’t know about but we knew that they’d have
had a wonderful welcome and on the Saturday we finally arrived at the entrance to Grand Harbour and it’s enormous cliffs there and there were thousands of people up there and we could hear them cheering a mile off shore and they just kept on making this incredible noise and shouting and cheering while the ship was the Ohio was pushed and pulled.
I wasn’t one the crew. We weren’t, none of the original crew were on it but we were the gunners occupying or operating the guns that had been left there and we had enough anti aircraft fire to make a good account of ourselves if we were attacked again but on the day we got in we weren’t attacked and we got in there just I think it was about noon
and it was the most awesome sight and sound having all these people shouting and yelling and cheering to us and they blew whistles and everything like that and when we got ashore there they got us off and away and they connected up, the ship the Ohio the deck was only that far off the water right cause she’d been holed and was full of saltwater too and she had a hole in the
bow and she was holed aft so she was well down but most of her cargo of diesel oil and oil fuel was still intact so she was worth getting in and the price paid for it but when they got us alongside they got us off as fast as they could and the people just I was given a little carved wooden cross by a nice old lady
and she said “Thank you son and I said well it’s nice to be her and this old lady said I knew, we knew you would be here because today is the feast of the assuncion, ascension?”
Assumption yeah was the feast the 15th of August, the feast of the assumption. They and I was you know I was almost angry to think well you knew we were going to get here.
Well we didn’t you know, we had to fight our way here.
So that could have been lethal if the Ohio cargo had been?
If it had been gasoline? But then it you see if it had been hit and it was full of gasoline, if it had been hit the way it was hit and it was gasoline it would have blown up and it’s gone. As it was each one of the ships and I said it before when Michael [interviewer] was talking to me, we had every ship had a cross section of cargo
so if you got one ship through you would have a cross section of all the things that are needed for some time anyway and that was what, the fact that we got there and I was only there a week before they evacuated us, those of us who were healthy and fit but the Maltese faith in the fact that we were going to get through just
was almost annoying. They knew we were going to get there. Well we didn’t.
Well how much did they know?
They didn’t know anything. They weren’t told anything but they could for 36 hours they could see and hear this tremendous battle going on at there at sea with the bombing and what have you. Anyway they we were made most welcome and
but we were there only, they checked us out medically and those of us who were fit and the youngest ones they invited us to leave because we were going to eat the food we’d brought then so we don’t want to see you but we, it was great to see you but we think you should go. Not in as many words but we knew that that was the situation.
We were expendable so we had to get back to whatever we were doing in wartime so there were two submarines there. Let me say that they recovered almost all of, about 80 per cent of the Ohio’s oil and diesel oil. The diesel oil was for submarines and generators and what have you and the others there were intact cargoes on some of them
the Sydney Star and the Melbourne Star and a couple of the others. My ship we lost everything of course but it was worthwhile and it saved Malta. Now after five days there they invited some of us to leave and there was two British submarines, the P21 and the, P31 and the P32 were due to
they could evacuate a number of us and I think on the one I went in was the P32 was, we went to Alexandria anyway and the others went to Malta and how they worked that out I don’t know but we were evacuated and I when I was on the trip to London I met a man named Don Wilson who’s I don’t know he was interviewed on this. He was an Australian
submarine officer and he was on the P31 that took them to Gibraltar from my ship and I went just a whisker, toss of a coin whether I’d gone on his submarine or not but we shared again that moment at Malta when we came in, with each other. From there I was evacuated to Alexandria and
then to Suez, Port Tewfik and down to Aden where I was appointed as cadet a senior cadet on the tanker, the next ship I joined which her name was Scottish Chief and we took cargo from, we went up to Buterang Island in the Persian Gulf and took her cargo to
Cape Town and then back up again and we at a place called Bandar Shapur, Bandar Shapur in Iran and we were on our way to Cape Town again to Simonstown which was the naval base there and she was a fuel oil tanker the Scottish Chief. She was a big ship, 12,000 tonnes, a crew of 52 and about four days north
of Madagascar we ran into a tropical hurricane cyclone and I remember the Captain was afraid that we would damage the ship would be damaged very severely. It was another situation like it was in the Atlantic when I was on Cornwall coming west on December the 13th the year before and
hurricanes and tropical cyclones or typhoons, they’re all the same animal. It’s only a different name for different parts of the world but the hurricanes in the North Atlantic and the Indian, the Atlantic Ocean north. There were no hurricanes in the South Atlantic. I won’t go into the meteorological reasons for that and hurricanes in the North Atlantic and
there are tropical cyclones in the Pacific, Coral Sea but the same creature only even more violent are the typhoons of China and Japan and that. They’re the same creatures. They just it’s nature gone mad and it produced in us in the Scottish Chief I remember enormous seas again and they’d break right across the ship and the Third officer
and two of the seamen had the Third Officer was aft checking on some damage there and they were on their way back when they got caught half way between what you call the stern castle, that’s the stern of the ship and on tankers you have a running bridge like a narrow lane elevated from the deck. They call it the, it’s a flying bridge
but it’s not but it’s a safe walkway and for the seas break over the deck right from side to side in a tanker when you’re loaded. I mean they’re under water like a submarine half the time, the deck is and they got caught there on the way back to the bridge this, the Third Officer. I forget his name now. You know that’s sad and he was an older man who was about
40 who’d come back to sea in wartime. He’d left the sea and he’d come back and he was serving again cause he was qualified the those three the Third Officer and the two men seamen were just taken off the ship. An enormous sea broke across and they just disappeared and went and they were lost overboard. Now I was they were gone. There was nothing you could do about it. We didn’t even see them again. Although
they had life jackets on it was like I was describing in the North Atlantic it was just white water and the wind speed was over a hundred knots again so you got enormous wave breaking surf all the time and because we’d lost the Third Officer I was promoted to acting Third Officer and in charge of a watch. We had the Chief Officer
Captain Thoroughgood, Mr Thompson and Ken Markham the Second Officer and I was the acting Third officer cause I was the most experienced and I could navigate anyway. I could keep a watch, I’d done all that and then five days later when we were south of Madagascar and in the Agulhas current had a, I was on watch and it was about eleven thirty at night
and we had one other Australian onboard, no two others. An Australian seaman Dan Wells and this young chap Jack Brassington who was my age and we’d become friends and he wanted to become an officer so I was teaching him what I knew and signals and all that and rules of the road and semaphore Morse code and all of that and he was on lookout on the
monkey on above the bridge. I was in the wheelhouse. I had a man, Arthur Sandlance was at the wheel and there was the radio officer in the radio cabin and I was on the bridge and I could, we were headed south and we were about a hundred and fifty miles I think east of Lourenço Marques which was Portuguese East Africa and south east of Madagascar and we’d come
out of this tropical cyclone and there was in better weather and we had south east wind, not and it was only a moderate sea and I suddenly smelt diesel smoke and I was used to diesel smoke. My ship had been, the Dorset had been diesel and the Orari was diesel and diesel smoke smells different to any smoke from an oil burning steam ship and we were a
twin turbine tanker that burnt fuel oil but we were carrying a cargo half diesel oil and half fleet fuel oil to go to the naval base in Cape Town. Anyway I smelt smoke, diesel smoke and I immediately my immediate reaction is it must be a submarine. I’ve smelt their smoke and diesel smoke
and so I yelled out to young Brassington up on the bridge. I said “Can you smell anything?” He said “Yes Ron I can smell diesel smoke.” I said “That’s good enough for me,” so I shot over to the voice tube to the Captain’s cabin immediately underneath and I blew on it and I said, “Captain, permission to go hard-a-starboard, I think we’ve got a submarine, I can smell diesel smoke.” He said “No.” He said, “I’ll be right up,” and you know there’s things that
remain in your life of what if and he said I shouldn’t have it was my instinct and experience that I, you know I was 17 that it was that was a risk. I could smell diesel smoke, it wasn’t from my ship and they didn’t rout or route ships close to each other. If you were travelling alone as we were you were kept a hundred miles apart and anyway
no sooner I heard the Captain’s steps coming up. He came up on the bridge and this is, was a full minute, minute and a half later. To me that really dragged see and he no sooner stepped on the bridge when, I alerted the radio officer. I said, “Sparks I can smell there could be a submarine around here,” and I had already given him a list as you’re supposed to as Officer of the Watch.
You give a latitude and longitude position for every hour on the Cornwall hour that’s was all GMT [Greenwich Mean Time] or what it used to be. Now it’s universal time, they’ve changed it and then I said update on this cause we might have a submarine here. He already had it but I alerted him and I said I called the Captain and he put a couple of switches on, and he was a great fellow. He survived
with me and anyway the captain no sooner stepped on the bridge and bang up she went. There was one giant explosion and the whole ship shook like that, like a snake and all the lights went out and Sparks, he just, he was a great radio officer. He threw his switch on and there was a red light on in there so in the radio shack
and he switched the batteries and within no 15 seconds he’d he was transmitting but within about 15 seconds after the first explosion we got hit again so we got hit twice and the ship just upended like this. She broke. I think she broke in two or we certainly got hit in the engine room as well
as in because you could smell oil everywhere and the Captain just said to me. He said, “You know, do your best,” and he was an older man. I mean he’d have been in his late 50s or something middle 50s. They were you know they’d go to sea a career in those days. Anyway the Sparks was, and I heard him transmitting. I saw the red light on. He’d switched to batteries as soon as I’d alerted
him. It was on ready to go and he’d have sent that off straight away. I found out later he did but the Captain he was off to his boat because we’re finished and the Arthur Sanderlance the was it Sanderlance? No, anyway he was at the wheel. He said “You were right Ron you should have done it,” and next thing
Jack Brassington came hurtling down. He was the ordinary seaman, the OS, and he ran down past me and he was in my lifeboat which was the S1 starboard midship boat and the Captain was had the port boat and then we were she was going down like that and I could hear the roar of seas coming in across the deck as she was sinking.
Interviewee: Ronald Ware Archive ID 0790 Tape 09
The radio officer just sent off an SOS?
Yes. And he got it off I know. And the young ordinary seaman
Jack Brussington shot past me down to his boat station which is on a deck below the bridge on the starboard side and the captain, my duty as officer of the watch, and it was, it had to be done immediately before I left the ship because I had to get the code books which were in a canvas bag with holes in them, that’s like
a glass ring holes and it had a lead weight in it. And I had to get into the chart room and pick up that from the radio shack and get out to the wing of the bridge and hurl it out into the sea, the secret code. Code books that we were issued with and that was positioned all of that and what signal to use each day to identify yourself with the navy ship. That was all it is , the secret code books. Anyway the officer
of the watch with the captains permission, if the captain didn’t make it, you pelted it out of the side anyway, and I got it over the side. And the captain farewelled me. I didn’t see the chief officer or the second officer. But except that I heard voices and after the first explosion, and we’d, the sparks put the alarm on which was
but it didn’t work because it had blown all the , I mean, the first torpedo must have broken all the wires running on after the engine room and what have you. So no, nothing went off, no alarms no belts, not anyone’s fault, just the destruction of the first and the second torpedo. But I did hear Ken’s and the chief officers, Ken Markham’s, and the second officers voice, voices at one stage, but
they would have been taken. When the whole of the after end, that’s the back of the ship, went down and the whole rush of the ocean coming in over the ship from both sides. And they would have been overwhelmed there, when they were on that catwalk going aft to get down to their boat stations which were aft, on the port side and starboard side aft. My boat should
have been the chief officer’s one but of course I was the junior officer, and just appointed. I was given his boat on the starboard side of the bridge and the chief officer had the third officer’s one, and he’d been killed, see, so I took his boat, that was, I knew that as soon as I was appointed, promoted and appointed. So that was my boat station. And you could
hear the rush of sea in as she, and it was black as the guts of a cow inside, and it was, the ship was rearing up, not rearing up, going down very fast by the stern, very fast. And all of this would have taken about a minute and a half to now, and I got down onto the boat deck below us and Jack Brassington, the ordinary seaman was there, and I heard him and he was trying to clear the boat
when everything flipped like this, and I heard him scream out and I went to him, I had on my life jacket by now, I didn’t put my light on at that stage. Things were happening, because you had a battery powered thing with a little red light and you’d plug it in the top, put a little connector down in the top of
the battery, which was waterproof, and you’d have a little red light on your battery. And I got down onto the boat deck and Jack Brassington was there and he screamed out that his hand was caught and I grabbed hold of him, and his hand was caught in the mechanism of the boat davits, the wind out mechanism in the
on the, and it was tight in there, and we were going down really fast. The water was up to my waist already on the bridge, below the navigating bridge, it was going down that fast. And he said, “Don’t let me go” and he said, “Cut my hand off will you.” And I couldn’t do that, I hung on to him. His other hand
and we went down together, and I hung on and hung on. He said, before he went under he said, “Don’t let me go”. And I didn’t and I went down so deep and it hurt, my head, and I, in the end we got swept apart and I was underneath the wing of the bridge and
I tried to kick up and my head hit the steel deck head like the ceiling. And I knew I was going to die and it was so deep and the pressure on me, and I knew as I was under there I was going to be trapped, there was all ways but one. If I kicked out and the ridge of the deck head
the steel web was down across my chest and it hurt and I’m still going down. And I knew the only way I could get away was to push myself further down by pushing against it and keep going down, just to get away from this steel bar across my chest. And I had to decide which way to go because if I went the wrong way I’d get further trapped. And I kicked out and I don’t
know whether I prayed or what I did, but I kicked out, and then I was free of it. And then I kicked up and up and up and I could remember my throat was clacking as if I was going glug, glug, glug. And then I exploded up out of the water and I was free, I was alive. And I screamed out at the top of my voice, “I’m alive!”
And I, it was pitch dark and I bumped into a life raft and those were the life rafts you read about, and they were made from 6 44 gallon drums strapped together and I bumped into it and hurt my head, and my leg was crushed, somehow, I don’t know where but it got crushed, that leg, and I was in hospital last year
getting it fixed. And I climbed up onto the raft and I heard a voice, I heard the able seaman Sanderson, Sandy, and I found the raft light that should come on automatically, should tip upside down, but it was jammed on the raft, it’s got a weight on the bottom to tip it up, and the battery connects and the
white light come on. And it was jammed and I shook it out, and I found the light, it was jammed but I shook it free, it was still tied onto the raft. And I held it up because the light came on and I heard this Arthur
Sanderson, and he said, his first words when he climbed over the edge, he said, “You look like Florence Nightingale with that light”. Oh what a man. And then we got to the, the radio officer came onboard, and that was three of us. And the next morning we found, shouts and yells
and I heard one scream out “Shark”. And I don’t know what it was cause I didn’t and I just yelled out Jack Brassington’s name, “Jack, Jack” a number of times and I didn’t get any response. And he would have drowned. I was very fit, and I tell you what, I thank god for all the things I’d done as a kid to get fit. And there was 3 of us on the raft and we found this other raft
they put the light on , and on it was one of the engine room crew and the chief cook. And they came from the after end of the ship, the funnel is the stern is, that had been blown apart down there. And the cook shouldn’t have lived because he couldn’t swim. And he was fat, but he had come across, when he came out of his door, went up onto the boat deck there
rocking his way was a box of life belts, spare lifebelts. And he had 4 lifebelts on him and they found him the next day, and he couldn’t swim. And Andrews was his name. And the engine room crew man, Manning, so there was 3 on one raft and 2 on the other. And our raft, I checked, at daylight, I checked the situation and
checked our provisions and the other one, had a look at the other one, and they’d, one of them , they wouldn’t admit it, one of them I think had unscrewed the top of the fresh water tin by mistake. Now those provision life saving provisions on those rafts are designed so it didn’t matter which way it came up, you could get access to it from the top or the bottom.
There was no top or bottom except that the paddles were tied on and the, they all came on to our raft for comfort. And I went over to have a look at that raft and found that the water container had been breached and it was polluted, there was oil in it, see. And
on that, and there were provisions in that and we tied it, the two rafts together and we all got onto that while we were having a look at the problems with provisions in the water. And I said, “Now, be careful” and this was morning time, and I said, I took charge, and I said, “Did everyone have a meal last night?”, “Yep”, “And you had a drink last night, tea or coffee or whatever, water?”, “Yep, I said, “OK
well that’s the last until tomorrow, we don’t know how long we are going to be here”. And not long after that we saw a Hudson bomber in the distance fly out from West to East, so coming from the land somewhere. So we knew that we were, or I knew the position, we were in the Agulhas Current, which is in the
Eastern side of South Africa, and it runs south like our East Coast Current does and it very strong. And I knew we were in that. And while we were on there looking for the, at this raft, we were all one the one. And I said, “Now, be careful, lash the other one on, it’s got our good water. ” And
this was by now afternoon time, no one else survived and I saw, oh, to facilitate our, this is before they put proper mirrors on the raft, stainless steel mirrors. You know, this one had been away from the United Kingdom for a while so she didn’t have
any modern fitting on her. The, so I got my, cut my, with my knife, cut the kapok out of my life jacket and took the stuff, that’s like wool. And I polished up one of the provision tins to use it if we saw a plane again, and it was not too bad at all. And then
I saw this Catalina circling, not circling, flying south of us again, and this is after that, 4 or 5 or 6 hours after seeing the bomber, the Hudson bomber. So I used this polished up tablet tin, and guessed the angle between the sun and that mirror and the plane and waggled it around a bit and hoped and prayed they’d see it,
and sure enough, the plane did a dip and came around and flew around, and when it did. I, and we were on the damaged raft now, right, with the fuel oil and that. But that’s where we were at that time, and I thought the other raft had been tied securely. And I am distracted because I am trying to
attract a rescue for us. But they saw that flash and they came and circled us, and I went like this with my arms which meant I wanted to send a message. And they flashed a light down, romeo roger, and so, I went, J for a, wanted to send the plane a message. And he sent a flash, okay, so I sent the name of the ship, Scottish Chief, and he
sent an R, that he got it. And about two minutes or three minutes later, he still flying around. And he flashed me, didah, didah, didah, and I went like that, and he sent, AR, which is he wanted to send a message, and I went like that with my
hand and I’d given my shorts to Ken Andrews, had a great backside wound, so I was, I was naked except for a piece of canvas around my waist. So I gave one to the other fellow who got caught out of bed in his nude. So all I had was piece of canvas around my waist at this stage. And I
he signalled me, and I said, ‘Roger, got it’. And he sent, ‘Help is on the way’, and he flashed it. Dit, dit, dit, dit, didah, didah,, dit, didah, day, dah, dah, dah, dah, is on the way. And I said to them, “Ah bloody helps on
the way” and they said, “Fantastic”. And I said, well, they well, “Now can we have something?” and I said, "No bloody way, he said, it’s on the way, it’s not here, and we have got about two hours until sunset, and he didn’t say how far away was the help coming”. And while he was doing that I suddenly realised that I was totally occupied with sending and receiving that signal,
and he kept up wind from me, and I turned around, and there’s the other raft, with our only good water, and it’s about 180, 200 yards away drifting away down the wind, because they hadn’t lashed it on properly. And I should have made certain myself, but I was totally occupied signalling the Catalina coming back. And I said,
“The bloody water, I’ll kill you, who did that? Who didn’t lash it on?” No one owned up and I said, “Well we’ve got to get it”, and they said, “Don’t be mad, Ron, there were sharks here this morning” and we saw one of the bodies and it would have been bitten. And I said, “We’ve got to have that water” and they said, “Don’t go in there” and I was the only one who
was competent enough to swim out, it was nearly 200 yards away I would say, and it was drifting away down wind. And I said, “I am going to get it, but please start paddling because that will blow away faster if you don’t, and the best I can do is probably hold water so it doesn’t blow away much faster. And if it blows any stronger it will go anyway, but it’s got the water” And they said,
“He said, help is on the way” “Pig’s bum, I’m going in the water”. So I’m looking down wind where it was drifting, it was under a cloud of a funny shape and it was south-easterly wind, it wasn’t bad weather at all. And it wasn’t rough but there was a bit of a swell running and a chopped sea. So estimated the distance at 200 yards, there weren’t metres then. And I knew from countless swimming
up and down for 2000 yards every Saturday and Sunday, I knew how many strokes it took me to go 100 yards. You know, god somehow, or my guardian angel had organised me somewhere along the line. And so I saw where the water was it was under this particular cloud and I said, “I am on my way” and I peeled my piece of canvas off, I didn’t want that dragging me around.
There was no reason from modesty and off I went. And I saw where the cloud was and I swam and just checked my direction a few times, and when I got to 175, and I reckon I would have been close enough to see it then. And I stopped. I could still see that cloud, I couldn’t see the raft and I turned around and I couldn’t see the other raft. And I was alone on God’s ocean.
On my own. Petrified. And I thought, “Gees, I am going to die anyway now”. And I, Anyway I swam another 10 strokes, I couldn’t see anything, and I thought, “Maybe I am a little bit off, but if I go that way, which way do I go? Do I go left, do I go right?” And I went a bit to the left
about 10 degrees, 15 degrees to the left, and I swam another I think 10 strokes and stopped. And I couldn’t see it and I swam five strokes the other way and I stopped and looked up. And it was about 10 yards away from me, the second raft, the one I was going to that had all the water on it. And I swam over to it and I climbed up on it, and I looked back and there they were, these 4 bastards standing there looking at me. And
this raft had a paddle on it, it had two paddles on it. And I grabbed the paddle and held it up and shook it at them, and went like this, shook my fist at them. And they got the message. And they started paddling, and I paddled with all my strength just to hold water so it didn’t blow away. Because the water that was polluted on there had oil in it, had oil fuel in it and there was no way
you could drink that. And it didn’t matter if you, you couldn’t turn it over because we tried but couldn’t turn that raft over, there were 6 44 gallon drums. And it, we got together again anyway. And I said, “I will kill you bastards if you do anything mad like that again”, I said, “Ronnie, don’t trust, you know, help is on the way.” Well 10 days later
and we hadn’t seen, except planes way in the distance, no ships, and it was hot, and we’d have been dead if I hadn’t gone and got the water. And that’s how the desire for self preservation is powerful and you’ve got to work it out even if it’s painful to do it. You have got to do it. And on the tenth day, almost the same thing happened. I saw a Catalina and I used the
this time, I thought, I used the tin with my little testament in it, and it was smaller but it was brighter, and the other one was bigger but duller. So it was, you know, I kept it, it had been in my pocket of my life jacket for two years, not 6 months, 6 months. But I always kept it nice and clean I scratched all the
paint of it, it was, log cabin tobacco tin. Anyway I used that, as small as it was and the plane saw it. And it came around us again, and it wasn’t the same one, it was a different squadron but it came from Durban the same place the other one came from. The first one I found out later was an Australian crew from Rhodesia. They had a Catalina base
at Durban harbour. He saw it and I sent the message again. Semaphore, Scottish Chief, and he sent the same message, help is on the way. And I said, they said the same, we have heard that before too. but sure enough about half an hour, 3/4 of an hour later over the horizon came a
corvette. And it, when it came close enough to me I made a motion with my arms to signal. And they sent a man up on the flying bridge, a signalman, and he had two flags, the red and yellow diagonal flags. And I sent the signal to him, and I sent the message, J then he acknowledged. And I sent, “What’s for dinner?”
and the message came back, “Rum” And you know that is in the records of the Royal Air force and the Royal Australian Catalina at Durban. And we were taken on board, that was HMS Jasmine the Flower-class corvette. And was on her over the next, I was in hospital for 5 days before they would
let me walk on my leg and I was walking wounded. And then I flew with the Australian squadron and the RAF [Royal Air Force] squadron Catalina as a spotter looking for survivors from ships. Because I felt very strongly about that, you know, when you are out there and you just, you got to hope that someone is going to see you. So I had another set of eyes up there on both those occasions. I didn’t see any survivors but I saw a lot of wreckage and a lot of
bodies in the sea. Because it was carnage off that coast at the time. Some of the U boat aces were operating there to stop all the supplies and troop and ammunition going up to the middle east for the big battle that was coming. And it was, it actually started when Rommel’s 8th Army [the 8th Army was actually opposed to Rommel] was knocked out. Up there.
10 days is an extraordinarily long time to be on a raft?
Ah there is people , there was one fellow, a Chinese fellow survived over 100 days on a raft. How he did it, I don’t know. I don’t know.
Apart from the water what else did you have on the raft with you?
We had Horlick’s malt tablets and compressed meat extract tablets called pemmican. And this fellow, the Brits have got a lovely sense of humour. And
this particular morning, on the morning of the 10th day, and I had been on watch in the morning, and I , and as soon as dawn came I laid down and went to sleep, well had a rest. And I felt this tap on the shoulder, and there was this, the chief cook Andrews, and he’s got his hand behind his back. And he
has got this gold coloured Horlicks malt tablet tin. And on it he’s got a malt tablet, a white one and a brown pemmican one on top of the tin. And he said, “Good morning, Sir, what would you like for breakfast?” So people like that are priceless, if you can put a touch of humour into desperate situations.
Anyway it was a good omen because they saw us and got us in there.
How did you managed to salvage the Horlicks and meat tablets?
Well that was, I told you those tins whether it was water or provision tins. They’ve got a screw top with a rubber grommet on it and they’re screwed tight from both ends so it doesn’t matter which side comes up, you’ve got a screw, you can unscrew it and get access to water
if it’s a water can. But that other raft, that we were on, that they had, I don’t know how it happened but it had oil in it. So that water was useless.
Are they attached to the raft itself?
Well they are part of it, fitted onto the raft. So that the small end, they are long rectangular cans. Something like one of those only smaller
and it goes through from one side to the other. And the top and bottom have got screw caps on them, about 6 inches across and they have got a rubber grommet which seals it from water getting in it. Except that this one had been displaced, on that one which I was on, looking at the situation when the plane came over the first time.
How long were the provisions meant to last for?
Well it, how long is a piece of string? Because it depends on how much you are going to use and how much you are prepared to use. And so it’s best to start off small anyway. Because your bodies metabolism will slow down and as I said to them when we got on the raft. It’s, “Everyone had a meal last night?”, “Yeah”, “And a drink or something?”
“Yeah”, “Well, tomorrow we start with provisions, none today.” And if, actually I gave them a bit of a drink as a reward, let them have it. See on the water can you have got a brass chain that goes down and a brass, no plastic in those days, enamelled dipper with a wire hook on it. So that its
accessible and there is hook on the bottom of it. So the top or bottom you’ve got a little dipper attached that you use to dip the water to get it out. It will probably hold about I would say about that much water. My next
What did you ration for water, just one dip?
I forget now. It was minimum anyway, it was only a drink in the morning when you, just after daylight. And a drink after the sun has gone down, at sunset so you are not going to waste it. And I got them to do what I used to do when they got confident that they weren’t going to be eaten by a shark, and I would go in the water, wet my whole body with salt water, which means
my body is, the body is refreshed by that, and I’m not wasting perspiration, and it’s cool. And you go in 2 or 3 times a day, making certain there were no sharks around so that you keep the body temperature down. I learnt all this as I went along, there is no manual on it.
Was it common practice to have the Horlick’s and the meat tablets on the raft?
Oh yes. What else could you have?
Did you eat them straight?
What do you mean straight?
Did you miss them with water?
Your saliva, and you put it in your mouth, like you would a pebble in the desert. And you would just let your saliva fix it up. And you would just
How much sustenance does it give you?
Enough. Plus you have got your hope, and that’s a big sustenance too. So it’s not something, I mean, these days they have got particular things to put in rafts. And there has been a lot of scientific progress in that, but these were, this was different, this was war time and those rafts, the early rafts
were thrown together in a hurry to , in other words, they had better rafts the Carley rafts later on but some ships went right through the war with out those. The early ones were made from timber decking. Three inches wide, whatever it is 8 foot long, whatever, and about half an inch between them. And that allows water in and out, so that’s what that was.
And the next ship, the Atlas, I was promoted to third officer straight off, and we did voyages in East Africa. And then to Mombasa and then up to India. And when, went via Mauritius and then up to
Ceylon, and across to a place called, what was it, an Indian port it was, and we loaded up there with a cargo for Australia. And we had heard that the Japanese had been very nasty to survivors and we, we found out, Vishakhapatnam, the name of this seaport. And we sailed from there to Fremantle
What did you hear about the Japanese?
They had murdered survivors. And they did, the bastards, and we were more than, we sailed after dark at night. And come the morning and we’d had a SOS message from that our radio officer, this ship
the Atlas had Indian crew, and all British officers. And there was another Australian onboard, Tom Whatsaname, and myself, I was third officer. I was still uncertificated but I had qualified, and I was still only 17. And we went back to Durban, and I was there in Durban
for Anzac Day in 1943. After being up to the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea and back, Mombasa, then down to Durban. And then went to Lourenço Marques Portuguese East Africa, which they have got another name for it now. And then up to India on this ship. And I was singed on her in December after I was declared fit again. And then went
up the Persian Gulf and then back in her. The Atlas was her name and she had British officers and captain and the second officer and myself were both Australians. Found Australians all over the world, like that in the merchant navy, all over the place, we were. And we filled vacant spots anywhere. Anyway we left Vishak on this ship and we were loaded with copper and sisal for
Australia and the sparks had let the captain know that we had had an ‘SS’, submarine message, but we didn’t know where it was from at the time, or did we. Yes, and he gave latitude and longitude and it was in our area, I mean, we, what were we going to do, run away from it, we couldn’t. Where do you go to? And sure enough
at about 10 o'clock in the morning we saw astern of us coming up was a navy vessel travelling at a fair amount of speed, not very far away from us. What was the name, oddly enough, that ship was the sister ship that I’m just about to tell you about,
of my next ship. Which was one form the British Moller line which used to operate out of Hong Kong and Shanghai and Hong Kong and Singapore to England. And they carried passengers. And this ship, was it the Daisy Moller, they lost about 3 of them, there was one off Durban when I was there. I think it was the Daisy Moller, anyway
we came upon 10 survivors in the water. And life boats had totally been machine gunned and shot up. And rafts there that had been shot up and people and bodies in the water. And they were form this ship, was it Daisy Moller, because I was on the Helga Moller the very next ship, by a weird coincidence, in one of those weird coincidences
in my life. And anyway these people were in the water and they said that there had been over 50 of their friends had been murdered in the water, had been shot up by this submarine. And it was a Japanese submarine, and they deliberately left some survivors because what they wanted to do, apparently, and I learned about it later, why would they do that and leave some when they murdered 50 in the water? Was they
spread the element of fear to merchants ships, navy ships, this is what we will do to you if you go to sea. And they were merciless, evil, those people. That fellow who murdered them. Oh and when the Indian corvette came up and signalled, we saw the survivors before they did and we signalled to them, I did in fact, with the Aldis lamp, the signal lamp.
Because you don’t use radio in wartime unless it’s an absolute emergency. And you report your own demise that you are sunk or hit. And I sent that there were survivors in the water close by. And when he came up, well there was nothing we could do about it, except we looked after these people while they were there. And I don’t know where the submarine went to. But he didn’t get, I don’t know whether he got back to Japan or he sunk any more. But he was one of the rotten bastards.
Interviewee: Ronald Ware Archive ID 0790 Tape 10
Can you lead me up to the story of Jimmy Gouch?
Let me say, when my ship got back to Australia I got leave to sit for my formal examinations, by the Department of Navigation for second mate, second officer, which
I passed only a week after my 19th birthday. But I had my qualifying time in anyway, full see time. And I passed that and I was appointed to my next ship, her name was a British ship, Helga Moller. And I was appointed as second mate of the ship and I was the navigating officer and gunnery officer of that. And well qualified to do to. And we were on the run to New Guinea taking
supplies, troops, ammunition supplies, fuel in drums to New Guinea and I was at Finschhafen and Wewak and Aitape and it was off Aitape when my ship was anchored. And there, that we were unloading into he combination water, land vehicles, they used to call them ducks and they had 4 wheels and a propeller and they could carry
about 5 tonnes and they could go out into he sea an back and trunnel up the beach as they did then. And we were off a place called Aitape, north of Wewak and the 8th Squadron , bomber squadron was operating out of Aitape and it was a metal strip that the Americans and the Australians had laid there
and they were operating against the Japanese in the mountains behind Wewak which was further east. And this air force officer came onboard this particular day and I saw him come on board, and I introduced myself, “Can I help you?” and he said, “Oh yeah I hope so, what have you got for us?” and I said,
and he said he was flight Lieutenant with the 8th bomber, Beaufighter bomber group squadron. And I said, “Come and have a look in this hold and that hold and” I said, “We got full of bombs, we got ammunition and we’ve got 25 pounder guns of the army, and aviation gasoline for you people” and he said, “But
what have you got to eat?” and I said, “Well come along to this hatch, look down there, can you read the labels on those cans” and he said, "Oh shit, powdered potato, I’ve been living on powdered potato and canned food for the last 18 months nearly” and he said, “You can’t believe what it’s like living on that” and I said, "Are you not eating coconuts and stuff, getting fish?” He said, “No”
Anyway I said, “Would you like to have dinner onboard ship this evening, we will be eating at 6 o'clock” And we had Indian crew with light jackets, I mean it’s wartime, and the British officers, I was the only Australian onboard again. And so he stayed and have dinner and he had dhal and curry and rice and all the goodies that Indians know how to prepare and he thought it was a real feast. And he said, “Can I do anything for you?”
And I said, I didn’t drink, and I had a dozen Tooheys export beer I think it was, yeah, and I said, “Take this with you if you are allowed to have it” and he said, “Allowed to? They will I think I’m Santa Claus” and he said, “Is there anything I can do for you?” and I said, “Well I’d like to, any chance of flying with you, coming up with you?” and he said, “Sure”, I said, “I mean on operation
I don’t want just a trip around in a plane.” And I told him I had done lookout in Catalinas. And he thought that was different. And he said, “Can you handle a machine gun?” and I said, "What is it?” and he said, "A Browning” and I said, "Yeah, I’ve handled Browning machine guns” and he said, "Well you can come up as waist gunner with me tomorrow and we are on operation strike tomorrow,”
and I said, “Okay, you’re in” and I got a launch ashore at 5 o'clock in the morning and we flew out at the civilised time of about 6 o'clock. And I was the waste gunner in that and his name was Jim Gouch, flight Lieutenant. And I went, we went on a bombing run and attacking the Japanese from the side of the mountain, Maprik village up in the Alexandra Mountains behind Wewak, south of us there. And across the other side
of this valley or gully was the 6th Division 17th Brigade there. And what we did, and the strategy was, we flew around , kept away from this area, then we lined up and we were alerted, in line ahead, and I don’t know why, I think we were number three. And he told us what was going to happen. And that is just before we got to a certain place that we knew it was going to happen and the
Japanese didn’t know we were coming, the 17th brigade would fire a smoke bomb across the gully about 300 yards away on this side. And right on the village we were the hit where the Japanese were ensconced. And that’s what happened, and I was alerted by the wing commander to, I was free to strafe as soon as we were on the target area, and as soon as
you see that smoke bomb, go for whatever you can see there because they will be in there. And that I think was, I forget what colour smoke it was. Anyway, it went off and we dropped the bombs on them within 10 seconds of that smoke bomb going off. They didn’t know what hit them and we strafed all the, cause we were, they were just nearly at eye level as we went past them. And I let fly
Now I did that on two occasions in the, on the next day as well on another place there. And that , and Jim, and the next trip up there, I will tell you in a moment about Jim recently. I went back to Australia and my next voyage up there we landed at, we were doing
the same for the air force and the army at Cape Wom which is a place called Wewak. And we were, they had 25 pounders there and there was a, up in the mountains were this relative to be friend of mine, Private Andy Patterson was up at the 17th brigade that we had hit, assisted on the last trip. I had a
Christmas cake from his wife delivered to him. If I could get it ashore somewhere and it could go up to there, I spoke to the intelligence officer at Wewak and he was a Lieutenant Colonel Sharpe, his name was. And he said, “Would you like to deliver it?’ and I said, “Is that possible?” and oh, incidentally my captain, Captain Hilton Johnson gave me permission to fly with Jim Gouch, we were good friends and I was different. And in this case, the same captain, same ship,
his, this Lieutenant Colonel Sharpe said you can get your lift up there you can go in a transport plane, air transport pane, and we are going up there we are taking reinforcements up to that 17th brigade tomorrow or something or other. So I told him I had a Christmas cake and he said, “Deliver it yourself. And here is a note from me to the General Brigadier there I charge.” And anyway I went up and they had
reinforcement soldiers in the C47 and we landed at this place and they had 4 wheel drive jeeps and an escort. and the reinforcements and myself. And a Jewish Rabbi, I didn’t know he was a Rabbi but I put my foot in it , when we stopped along the way heading up to this Maprik village in the mountains behind Wewak. And
he said, he was going to say prayers at a grave, and I said to the driver, “Why isn’t there a cross on it?” and he said, “Because he is Jewish” He said, “He’s a Rabbi” and I said, "Well he hasn’t got Rabbi written on him, how would I know he is a Rabbi?” and he didn’t have a reverse collar. Anyway he said prayers there and
sprinkled water on it. And we went up and we got up right up in the mountains, and there is a track there. And when we arrived, not long before nightfall, I arrived with this Christmas cake in a tin from this soldier’s wife. And he was three I knew because the intelligence Colonel Sharpe told me that’s where he was, 17th Brigade, that’s where he is. And we took reinforcements up there because they had had a couple of casualties.
And I arrived at the big hut where the Brigadier is and he got the shock of his life. And here I am with my gold cap on and I had jungle greens, boots and my pistol on my hip, 38 Smith and Weston. A webbing belt and my cap badge. although I had a khaki coloured cap cover which the navy , they did up in those areas. I still had my gold
cap badge. And he said, “Jesus Christ, take that off they will think you are a bloody general and they will shoot you,” the Japs. You first. Anyway I gave this, the note from this Colonel Sharpe to the brigadier and he said, “Well make yourself at home, keep watch with Private Patterson this evening if you like.” And that night there was a bit of a fire exchange
but not where we were. And anyway he was shocked out of his mind, here is this private up in the mountains, and here I had, turned up with a Christmas cake, cross my heart. And he is still around that fellow he lives up at the Entrance, got his telephone number, he will confirm that. Anyway, two last Anzac Day 12 months or two years ago, yeah, I was at the
RSL here and I was ready to be, I’m Vice Pres here. And we were having drinks together and one of them, he said that he was, I said, “What squadron were you in?” he was talking about Beaufighter bombers about the Beaufighter. I said, “Where were you?” and he said, “I was in New Guinea, up in the islands there” and I said, “Who were you flying with?” and he said, "8th sSquadron”
and I said, “I flew with them,” he said, “You what? You were in the merchant navy how could you fly with Beaufighter squadron?” And I told him and he said, “Who did you fly with?” and I said, “Jim Gouch” and he said, "He was my CO up there” and I said, "Well that must have been after I flew with him because he was a flight lieutenant then” And he took over from Pat Hall, the wing commander who was wing commander when I was there. That was nearly a year later it was in
’45 I think. and he said, “Have you been in touch with him since?” and I said, “No” and he said, “He’s around you know” and I said, "I’d love to talk to him again” and he said, “Look I’ll tell you what I’ll find out from the air force association where he is” And he rang me that night, this fellow’s name is Bill Flowers he lives just down the road from me. You know the coincidences in life, you know we are having a drink at the RSL [Returned and Services League] and
this story pops up. And he rang me, and I said, “Don’t ring him, I’d like to ring him” and he said, "No I won’t ring him, I can’t tell you his phone number but I can tell you he lives at Upwey in Victoria” So I range Telstra and I got it from hem, I rang this fellow, and I said, “Is this Jim Gouch?” oh and this Bill Flowers he said, “He is not a flight Lieutenant anymore and he is not a wing commander anymore he retired as a air commodore. And I rang him out
of the blue and I said, “Is that Jim Gouch?”, “Yes”, “You were in 8 Squadron?”, “Yes”, I said, “Well you were my guest on my ship for a meal once” and he said, “Ronnie Ware, you’re kidding” and that was his first response, and I said, “You don’t have Alzheimer’s disease your memory is still good” and he said, "They were special times” Anyway we haven’t met but we correspond regularly and that was
only two years ago. And that’s another one of those strange coincidences in my life. And that’s about the end of my war time stuff I think. I went to Vietnam in, I joined the Royal Australian Navy Reserve Seagoing, in the merchant navy. and I rose to lieutenant commander. I couldn’t go any higher because I couldn’t get time off from my more important jobs, not more important maybe, but to do the qualifying time. But I served
as a lieutenant commander in HMAS Sydney in 1967 when we took one of the RAR [Royal Australian Regiment] up there I forget what it was. That was my last naval command, my last merchant navy command was Captain of the square rig ship the Bounty on three ocean going voyages in 1989
’92 and ’93. I was part owner of her. I went on, after the war I was in senior positions in the Australian national line and I was general manager of logistic in the BHP Steel group , I was chairman of the Iron and Steel shippers. I did a Masters and a PhD
and I was I was, consultant to Bill Hayden when he was Minister to Foreign Affairs. And I had my own company them. That was in 1980, was it, ’85 then. And I have worked all over the world. I was , worked for Bill Hayden, and at that time
I was under contract, I was appointed by what they called ADAB then, Australian Development Assistance Bureau which was part of the Foreign Affairs. Now they have got, as I recommended in my final assessment, they should, instead of having the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of Trade it would be one because then you are doing the same thing anyway. You, they should be combined, the Department of trade didn’t think that was good because they cut down numbers. But
while I was there, and working for Bill Hayden, I was on loan from ADAB and Foreign Affairs to FAO Food and Agriculture Organisation and I was, went to Rome and I was in charge of all food aid to Ethiopia during the really bad famine time. And I sorted out the mess the logistics and ships and supply and the crookedness that was
going on. Like poor old Bill, what was his name, [Bob] Geldof, made donated millions, and the fat cats would charter a ship and send it to Ethiopia and it’s in line waiting there for, you know, 3 months. And the taximeter is running all the time and that was nasty for doing that with a lot of ships. They were filling them up and sending them to
get in a queue at Eritrea and the ports for Ethiopia and you know, no chance of unloading for months. And I blew holes in that and I went, anyway, that was mine, because I was professionally qualified in that, the logistics. But I had had an interesting life, and I still have an interesting life. And I have given you my philosophy there about youth
read it because it’s real, you are as old as, only as old as your fears and you are as young as your hopes and, positiveness. Oh I did open, repeated Captain Bligh’s open boat voyage in 1983, which I was awarded, I was elected a fellow of the Royal Institute of Navigation, the Australian , fellow of the Australian Institute of Navigation and I was
awarded the Australian Geographic Society’s first medal of excellence for adventure, by Dick Smith, himself, in those days. Anyway.
One final question in respect to Jack, whose hand you were holding?
Jack Brassington, yes, thank you for reminding me of that.
In Canberra at the Australian War Museum [actually Memorial]. Out the side, one side of it they have a sculpture, a stone sculpture of a Carley raft which was a more… later model of the raft which the navy used more than poor old merchant navy had at that time. And people in the raft helping survivors out of the water. And along there they have a list of the ships that they know that Australian merchant navy served on
overseas with their names on them. And I had a look at, the year before last when I was down there, and at the Australian War Museum, they, there was one there with the name Scottish Chief, which was the tanker I was on. And they only one name on it and it was D Well, which was Danny Wells and he was the older seaman on the Scottish
Chief who lost his life. And they didn’t have the name Brassington on there, Jack Brassington. And I wrote to the them about it, and when I was in London I, before I went to London I wrote a long letter to Rear Admiral Simon Harrington, to say that, giving the circumstances in which Jack Brassington lost his life. And I was the last one to see him and I know that he drowned. And while I was in London getting my first, and
very honourable and proud moment, was for me to read the prologue at the merchant navy War Memorial in Notting Hill in London. And after I had read the prologue, I had alerted the some of them, the nurses went with us, and one of them had a little bottle of whiskey there, she said, “You might need this after this”. I didn’t, well I don’t know, I
private moment I did. Anyway, I said to her, “While I am up there on the podium, getting ready, have a look for the name Scottish Chief” I had already found the name of the Nottingham and there was my friend Captain Pretty and he was dead, every one of them gone you know. And I got you know, it spooked me because my name should have been on that.
And it wasn’t and when it came to the Scottish Chief there was only one D Wells and Brassington wasn’t on it. So before I went to London I wrote a letter to Simon Harrington and gave it to them when I was there, and I said, these are the circumstances of this boy, he was my age then, 17 and lost his life. And they, he said, “Well I will pas it on” and he has written to me since to say that he has passed it onto the War Grave Commission.
But in London I found the name J Brassington on the list of names of dead for the Scottish Chief. And I got the official photographer there, and RAAF [Royal Australian Air Force] man, to take a photograph of that, and I said I wanted a copy of it please, before I want to give it to the War Grave Commission. Because when I came back to Australia I fulfilled my second promise to someone
he and I, Brassington, when Australia was in real trouble in 1942, kamikazes were around, we were even, we were romantic adventurers and we were prepared to join any equivalent air force thing in Australia. But, they didn’t do that stuff. Anyway when I came back to Australia I went, because I had posted the letter, and I knew then
I don’t know any more, but he lived in Newtown and I knew the address. And I called at his home, and I told you about the time when I met Stuart McDonald’s mother, well I knocked on this door, apprehensive again. And it was worse, I knocked on the door and a young girl in her teens came to the door and she said, “Hello” and I said, "Are you
Jack Brassington’s family?” and she said, “Yes”. And I said, “Well I was a friend of Jack’s” and she yelled out to her mother, she said, “Mum, quick it’s a friend of Jack” and she thought she said it was Jack that had come back. And oh shit, went through it all again. And she cracked up, so did I. And I said I would never do that again.
I was never called upon to, but I could never do that again. And the mother, it was, and she wanted to ask the, you know, his last words and I couldn’t tell her how he died. I said he died trying to help someone into the life boat. But, I couldn’t tell her, and she showed me photographs of him when he was a little baby and
I took her flowers too again, took some white roses. And his sister was alright, she said, “Oh Mum, you know, Jack’s gone now” and it was two years later. It was ’42, ’43, nearly it was nearly two years later. And here was I brass bound, two brass rings on my arm and I’m
19 just turned 20 I think. And she said, “You know, why?” words to this effect, “Why are you here and he wasn’t?” You know, “Why couldn’t you help him?” And what do I say, tell her how he died like that, I couldn’t do that. Anyway that should be about enough I think, oh gee.
My kids don’t know any of this, you can’t tell them, they don’t want to know either, they don’t have that sensitivity, that’s the olden days Dad. They’ll have their own adventures I think.
Thank you for all you have shared with us.
Well if it does any good, I don’t know, it needs to be recorded
I tell you what I am going to do. Because on those biographies that come out, and there is a, you don’t need this do you?
Is there anything you’d like to add?
Well I can add this, if you like, because I am going to do it. In the biographies of the 28, 27 veterans it says things like, so and so when in the air to air, Empire Air Training Scheme, went to
South Africa and trained there. What do you mean they went there, how did they get there? They went on merchant navy ships and all the 8th Division that went to Singapore, they went on merchant ships, they didn’t go on naval ships. And the navy crews that went to England to man new ships went on merchant ships. And the
air force that went to Canada and then went across to America went to Canada by merchant ships, so there are adventures, and I am going to contact them and others to, what ship did you go on and what were your perceptions, you know. Because that’s a segment in it that’s missing. What, I won’t say piss me off, that’s not polite, I don’t use bad words. When I first went to Canberra and had a look at, I went around with this well intending Saturday afternoon
fellow, he was a volunteer, and he said, something that got right up my nose. Talking about the 6th Division went to the Middle East. And I said, did they? Did they paddle there, did they fly? How did they go there? And I, I have
you know I reacted, I’ve got a shorter fuse these days I have to say about things like that. And when they first, they did a series, Australians at War. And it was a series there with everyone, they mentioned everyone including the land army girls, the girls who worked in the factories. And they didn’t mention the merchant navy once, except to say that
some ships were sunk in Darwin harbour, and I went off my cruet. And I wrote a letter, I wasn’t Vice President then, a very strong letter, you can have a copy of it if you like, to the head of, the President of the RSL here and it was with a request and I read up this background. Who do you think supported, who was doing this and that
and it was acknowledged and I made a recommendation that it was, I would, that they go with this, that a public apology be made to the merchant navy. And by the people responsible for producing that and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, or whoever was responsible for that production, for allowing it to go on the air without that. And I said, and we did, the merchant navy, we had the highest casualties of any
service. We lost one in about every 3.2 men. One in 3.2. Now the Battle of Britain pilots lost about that, it might have been even. But it was, it was the fact that it had been totally neglected and
I demanded, went to the state president. That’s why in the end, it may have even triggered the initial, that went a long way because I demanded that it did go a long way. And I wanted answers, I still haven’t got it in writing. So this is another way, it might have initiated this about getting stories from veterans as well. But when we, I didn’t get one as a merchant navy officer one, I got one
in open competition with all the services. And that was part of the rules for the being selected to go. Because if you have got some insight into stuff, that was pretty hands on stuff.
Thanks Ron, we appreciate it.