Neil is new on the scene from Scotland seeking details of an Uncle's service in the Hospital ship Leinster to document his Medal ntitlements. Reg Gill sailed in her to when she hit rocks off Gibraltar. and I found this story for Neil.
This was now April-May 1941 and my next leave was embarkation leave. The war wasn't going very well. We weren't sure where we were going but we knew it would be abroad.
Back we went to Crowthorn where I was told I was in charge of the Units equipment which would be put on a train and taken to Edinburgh. I had a clark and with my help he took an inventory of the equipment we were to take. Personal effect mostly, some of the officers had cabin trunks, the rest of us had kit bags. Not a lot, but there were 200 of us so it was a fair amount in bulk. Off I went with a corporal, lance corporal and half a dozen men to Waverley Station Edinburgh and the rest of the unit was to follow. When we got to Waverley station, no-one knew anything about our movements or what we were there for. I went to see the Transport Officer (every big station had one) and he said he had had a phone call to say that we were to go to Glasgow and then onto Greenock, the usual place where convoys went from.
We arrived there and installed ourselves in Nissan huts waiting for the main body to arrive. All the equipment in the meantime had stayed in the guards van and had gone on to Greenock where it was left in a warehouse by the dockside. The main body arrived and at the same time, arriving just off Greenock, were many merchant ships. Out to sea were lots of warships.. Medical personal were distributed onto the various ships. I was put onto a little ship called the Leinster and one of the holds had been fitted out with hospital beds. With me was a dental Lance sergeant and 8 male SRNs.
When I first met them on the Leinster, they were the most petrified bunch of army privates I'd ever met. They'd been to Aldershot and had been thoroughly brow beaten by army Sergeant Majors and Sergeants. Nice bunch of chaps though.
I was told there would be a medical Captain coming aboard. The rest of my unit, the 18th General Hospital were aboard other ships but they didn't tell you that of course! Anyway about 2 a.m., the ship got underway and we could here the engines thudding away and in the morning we were just passing the Isle of Arran going into the Irish sea. We didn't go down the Irish Channel. we went round the north of Ireland way out into the Atlantic for a couple of days.
In the meantime it was quite impressive to see the rest of the ships of the convoy. There were two battleships Nelson and Renown, aircraft carrier Arkroyal, three cruisers 14 - 15 destroyers, mine sweepers and about 20 merchant ships.
Aboard the Leinster, there were 200 RA and the MO told me to inoculate them. I said, "I'm a radiographer, Sir. Its not my job." He said "You do as you're told. You inoculate these people". So I lined them up, plunged a needle into them. Several fainted. I hope I didn't hit any nerves, I don't think I hit any arteries.
So we sailed way out into the Atlantic to avoid the long range bombers and fighters particularly the Focke Wolfes. Obviously we had a pretty good anti-submarine escort, the destroyers were rushing round and we headed south. It was very cold for the first 2 days and then it suddenly got quite warm. The rumour had it that we were off the coast of Portugal and heading towards Gibraltar. It was quite comfortable on the Leinster, she was a steam packet boat on the Liverpool to Dublin run and was 4300 tons. Our only problem was that our station in the convoy was about 50 metres from the battleship, Nelson, the flagship and she sent a series of signals to the captain of the Leinster to get out of the way, keep his station because quite close to us were the steel bows of a 33000 ton battleship.
In the Bay of Biscay where the waves were probably 4-5 metres high, a little ship like ours was being tossed about, whilst the Nelson ploughed straight through. I thought she could plough through us anytime.
We expected anything to happen and sure enough it did. There had been one or two submarine scares. The destroyers perhaps several miles away from us were blasting away dropping depth charges and things and sure enough at 2 a.m. there was an enormous crunch, the alarm bells rang on the ship and there was pandemonium. We weren't sure what had happened but we were firmly wedged on rocks on the coast of Spain. We had several patients in the hospital sick bay and the SRN's were getting them ready to evacuate. When it was getting light, you could see several Spanish motor torpedo boats around our ship which seemed to imply that we would be interned. Of the rest of the convoy there was no sight at all. We were told that a submarine had launched a salvo of torpedoes at the Nelson, which she had avoided and our skipper had put his helm hard over. We must have been very close in to the coast of Spain and we just headed straight onto the rocks. I've never heard the full story but there was no doubt we were on the rocks. The medical Captain had disappeared, leaving us with the people in hospital. We just didn't know what would happen. We were told by the Captain to get the people ready for internment to be taken ashore but after several hours, a destroyer came alongside. I thought this was very odd because she was obviously in Spanish territorial waters and Spain was not particularly friendly. Eventually the destroyer took the fit RA men off and gradually we were able to lower the sick down the rope ladders onto it. A few hours later it landed us in Gibraltar. This of course was an extraordinary adventure.
I don't know what happened to the Royal Artillery men. The medical corps were posted up to the military hospital in Gibraltar where I met a monocled Colonel who seemed somewhat eccentric. He showed me his flytrap. He had a system whereby by creating a continuous draft from one section of the hospital to another the flies of which there were plenty, were all driven along into an enormous trap that he'd got. He'd been awarded an Iron Cross before the war for accepting wounded from a German submarine which had been damaged by a Spanish destroyer and had put into Gibraltar.