More memories from the past about the Welfreighter from Bob Quinn


   # 63 For Terry.  ( More from Bob ) ( Ignore 62.)

Dear Mac and Terry,

           More memories from the past about the Welfreighter. These thoughts were evoked by a chance  E mail from Tom Colville  recently.  As you  know Tom`s father was the officer in charge of one of the Welfreighter Maintenance Crews sent to Australia . I happened to  mention to Tom that at one time the serious suggestion was made that S.R.D. should have been called “Jock Force” because of the amount of Scots in S,R,D.  I cannot remember who made the suggestion.  Tom was tickled pink at the idea and pointed out that there would have been no  . “S.A.S. were it not for Scotsmen!”

           I remember  being sent to repair some faulty wiring on one of the “ Snake Boats.”  When the job was finished I joined the local maintenance crew in the water.  Swimming in Darwin Harbour at that time carried a certain risk to your health.   The inside walls of the swimming area were lined with shark proof netting.  Sometimes a shark broke through and created havoc. 

           I remember at the time that for a brief second after entering the water, I could have been back in Scotland because of the amount  of varied Scots  accents and tongues I heard all around me!

           Four men just wearing khaki shorts and stripped to the waist were loading bolts of silk on one of the boats.   Other trades goods were also being loaded.  It seemed obvious to me that preparations were being made for a trip to one of the islands in the area.  The Snake Boats did a great job  slipping silently in and out of the Islands preparing for the end of the conflict which was drawing  ever so close.   See my previous note about the attempt to free the  Australian prisoners of war.   Please refer to the “Journal” in the Australian War Memorial.   Also if you can please read “Ring of Fire” by D.C.Horton.   1983 …Published by Leo Cooper.

      In 1966 when I  joined  the Annual Pilgrimage  to Garden Island I met quite a few of the old veterans and we all agreed that Scotland had more than its fair share of men  with S.R.D.    The Vietnam War was on  and President Johnson of  America had asked the British government to send some Bagpipe playing Black Watch to be sent to Vietnam but the answer was in the negative.   Australia had sent troops to Vietnam.  The soldiers who formed the Guard of honour at the S.R.D. memorial on Garden Island at that time were the S.A.S. from the Naval Base at Freemantle.  Their officer in command had trained with S.R.D. on Garden Island.  After the ceremony we all returned to the naval base for a meal and a dram. It had been a very moving experience.  The Memorial is a beautiful one and very simple…  The S.A.S. were very proud of their connection with S.R.D. and held them with great respect and affection.

      During and after the meal the talk flowed and I was surprised at the strength of some deeply held opinions about the two raids on Singapore.  Among the veterans many held the view that the Folboats should have been used and not  the “Sleeping beauties” ( mechanised one man submarine.) on the second raid .  Also I was aware  that the “Welfreighter” idea was not popular either.   Looking back now I cannot help thinking of Captain Scot and his attempt to get to the South Pole.  Amundsen used dogs and not tractors as Scot attempted to do.   Amundsen was successful in his attempt. Scot preferred the use of the machine.   “Jaywick” used muscle power and the `Folboat.` As a matter of interest  during my time on Garden Island and Morotai among S.R.D. veterans, the `Folboat` was never referred to as a canoe or kayak but always as a `Folboat` betraying its Germanic origins as a fold-up small water craft.

      Some more thoughts on the Welfreighter and small craft.   I wonder about the towing speed of the Welfreighter when itwas being  towed either by a submarine or a Snake boat?  In my Stella Maris I have had to go out in pretty rough water in the North Sea to tow in friends who had got into some sort of trouble ( usually run out of petrol or fouled engine) and had to be towed  back to the harbour.  The Welfreighter was supposed to be towed at 20  knots but I wonder about that.  14 knots would be nearer the mark.  That is, in calm or moderate conditions and certainly not in the dark!  I have never towed in the dark or just after dawn when presumably the Welfreighter would have been used on its clandestine journey.   The Stella Maris was 14foot long and top speed was 6 knots.  Also I knew the coast I was steaming very well indeed.   It was not strange and unknown territory.   Also from many points of view the Welfreighter was not easy to tow especially in angry and rough seas and in strange waters.   Remember that inside the Welfreighter was  akin to being inside a tank.  Your vision with regard to what was outside was very limited indeed.   At sea in the Stella Maris in my open boat I had to be on constant watch all the time for all such possible dangers such as, floating timber, wooden fish-boxes and pieces of rope which could foul the propeller.   One had to be vigilant.  Another point.   At the National Archives in Kew there is a memo from the Admiralty  commenting about the lack of adequate protecton  against foul weather while steaming.   This Memo was addressed  to Col. Dolphin.   Apparently one officer fell ill with pneumonia after a session on watch.   Another memo. Stated that it was apparently very difficult to keep the hatch door open in moderate seas.

    From the available memos it appeared that there was an ongoing tension between I.S.R.B. and the Navy.   Colonel Dolphin complained about a lot of deliberate delaying tactics being used with regard to the operational use of the Welfreighter. 

The Navy were apparently suspicious of the Sleeping Beauty and the Welfreighter.   The R.N. wanted to use their own X Craft and they were certainly a great success on the raid on the `Tirpitz.`  It is believe that the Royal Navy wanted S.O.E. to keep well out of the way of the Royal Navy!  One memo stated that ‘ Hewitt and Dolphin were  of high academic status but do not have  the practical knowledge or working experience of working small boats.’

     I should mention that Professor Hewitt was the chief Scientific officer at the Frythe in over-all charge of all projects there including the Welfreighter.

      The general impression appeared to be that the “Sleeping Beauties” and “Welfreighters” were alright in Europe but not for the vast Far East operational area.   I would say that there appeared to be a consensus of opinion in that particular area.  However there was no bitterness or anything like that among the S.R.D. Veterans but simply fair expressions of  deeply held opinions .  So be it!

     I  mentioned above about the Black Watch Regiment being wanted by President Johnson for Vietnam all those years ago.  Well as everyone probably knows the present (for the time being) President has asked for the Black Watch to be sent to Bagdad to aid the Americans and this time the request has been granted.  It appears that they are doing a very good job indeed.   

   As a boy I wore the Black Watch kilt when I was a member of the John Ogilvy Scout Troop in Garnethill Glasgow.  The founder and Soutmaster was a retired Captain Smith of the Black Watch.  He had served on the Western Front in WW1.   Once a month on a Sunday morning the troop attended Mass and Holy Comunion inSt. Aloysius, the Jesuit church in Rose St, Garnethill.   After the monthly mass the Pipe band with Captain Smith in front leading the way swung down Sauchiehall St,playing all the tunes of glory, heading towards a wee Italian restaurant in Cambridge St. for breakfast.   As we marched we were on top of the world!  I can listen to the Pipes all day long even now.   When we go to Aberdeen to shop Cynthia heads for a Marks and Spencers shop and I sit on a bench in the square.   There is usually a Busker there who stands close to the Prince of Wales pub and plays a broken down old set of pipes which sound their age.  I give him a pound to play “Dark Island” and I am a happy man!  It would be nice if he could play  but so what!  You can’t have everything!

     The Prime Minister has promised that the Black Watch will be home for Christmas.  Does that phrase not sound familiar?  What about 1914 or there abouts!  I hope that the lads do come home for Christmas but I wonder!


N.B, Yesterday  (4th.Nov.04) I heard the grim news that three Black Watch had been killed and seven wounded by a suicide bomber! 

    A lot has happened since the 4th. Nov.   On the 24th. Nov. we watched  a history Documentary with a good three slots on `Raids` in WW11.   First we had the `Cockle Shell` heroes…..the Raid on Bordeaux harbour by Major ‘blondie’ Hasler and his fellow marines.   There were five canoes.  They were taken in by Submarine.  I  believe that four of the marines who had to give themselves up were shot out of hand by the Germans.   Hasler who had  fluent French was the only one to connect with Resistance Forces and get home via Gibralter.   Incidentally Major Hasler was the brainchild behind the `Sleeping Beauty.`

     The second part of the slot concerned Jaywick.`   It was very good indeed.    The third part was on `Rimeau`  and Colonel Lyons and his gallant party.   See what I say above about the preferred used of `Sleeping Beauties` or their tried and trusted `Folboat.`  I have some added newsreel shots of Lyon and his men of some thirty yeas ago but I must say that the photographs of the last Documentary were simply superb.

     A stray thought occured to me while I was watching `Jaywick.`  Ronald McKie in his book on the "The Heroes by Ronald McKie." 1960 Panther Books.` i.e. the Operation Jaywick has this to say about the efforts made by some of the members of the operation; `a map shows that the voyage they made was one of the most fantastic in the history of war, in the history of the sea.  For nearly two thousand miles they paddled eastwards from island to island,moving only between dusk and dawn down the long Indonesian chain. Lynette Silver in her brilliant work on the `Jaywick` Operation also  highlights the above. Thinking of open boat survival and the strength of he spirit and the will to survive I thought of Captain Bligh and the Mutiny on the Bounty and St. Paul and his many shipwrecks. One can learn so much about life in a small craft in rough seas!

        At the end of the War we returned H.M.S. Speaker to the American naval base at Norfolk Island Virginia and we returned home from New York on the Queen Mary.  I remember her maiden voyage in 1936 in our class in St. Thomas, Riddrie we had to write an essay on the launching of the Queen Mary. She had been lying rusting on the stocks in John Brown`s shipyard all during the Depression in Clydebank and it was a great day for Glasgow and the Clyde when she eventually hit the water! We watched a Documentary this month on the new Queen Mary. What a magnificent ship. If I win the lottery I will book a place for the two of us on this new wonderful ship!

    Thus from one extreme to the other;f rom small craft to the two Queens!  By the way, I remember that one of the passengers on board the Queen Mary was a well-known film actor of that time called Godfry Tearle.  The year was 1946.

     Dear Mac. Gregory, I should imagine that you know all about the Victory Services Club at Marble Arch, London.   It is open  to all ranks both retired and serving members of  the Forces.   I believe that it is the first of its kind and opened around the turn of the century after the Boer War. Cynthia and I go down about three times a year and he place has a great attraction for visiting Australians and their families. We have been members for many years now.  My first visit there was in 1943 or 1944 en transit per London. The pure joy and  gem of this popular club is that it is open to all ranks. The Americans are just beginning to discover it as being one of the best bargains in London. Bed and breakfast in a Hotel at Marble Arch right in the heart of the West End would usually cost you and an arm and a leg but not in the Victory Club. The Club`s Rates are extremely reasonable. The Club is ideal for Sightseeing and shopping.  Last August when we went down to the National Archives in Kew re. the Welfreighter we stayed in he Club as usual.  By chance we met the new Secretary, Ron Lennox. We spent some time chatting and talking about the new atmosphere in the Club.  There has been a temendous change and improvement over the last few months. The whole place is being freshly decorated and modernized.  Great stuff!  Ron Lennox is a fellow Scot and he impressed me as a warm friendly professional who reaches out to all and is doing a wonderful job. He is anxious for the Club to be better known in America and the Commonwealth. Above all, he is anxious to attract young people and families using the Club. If I may I`ll stick down the address and Email as it may help.

    The Victory Services Club,63-79 Seymour St. London.W2 21-If

E. Mail info@vsc.co.uk

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