ALEC
 

ON Saturday 10th November our committee member "ALEX BUCHAN" will proudly represent the Merchant Navy in Scotland at the Albert Hall Festival of Remembrance televised live on Saturday night.

In Alex's own words

The 3rd September is now recognised world wide as Merchant Navy Day.    3rd September 1939 was the day World War II commenced.

A matter of hours later, the first major casualty had taken place – the Merchant Ship “Athenia” was torpedoed in the Atlantic and many innocent people had perished, men, women and children.   Welcome to total warfare!!

In 1945, six years later, the War ended.   A few hours after the Armistice was signed, a merchant ship was torpedoed and sunk off the East coast of Scotland.   Between those two events, thousands of tons of allied shipping had been sunk, bombed, mined, torpedoed or shelled by enemy Q. Ships, pocket battleships or just victims of the elements.

Winston Churchill’s greatest fear during WWII was the U-boat.   He feared that if the bridge over the North Atlantic was breached the UK would be starved into submission.   He likened the Merchant Navy to be the 4th service – and thanks to the efforts of the merchant navy our people did not starve. 

However, this was at a cost – over 32,000 British Merchant Seamen made the supreme sacrifice.At 17½ years of age, I joined the Merchant Navy Pool at Aberdeen.   Most of my time was spent on the coastal trade carrying goods to and from seaports from the Shetland Islands to Cornwall.    It was quite hairy at times.   Enemy aircraft would leave the coasts of Norway, round to France, either attacking shipping or laying mines.   Mines were the silent but deadly killers, especially in the shallow waters off the Humber, Wash, Yarmouth Roads or the Thames Estuary.   South of this you had to contend with Bomb Alley, then Shell Alley and finally E. Boat Alley.

 

Early in my career I was ordered by the Pool to join a ship at Canada Dock, Bootle, Liverpool.   This turned out to be a M.A.G. ship – eleven of this type of vessel were either built or modified by placing a flight deck on top of the cargo holds or, in the case of an oil tanker, a flat deck above their huge cargo tanks.   We called them “Woolworth Carriers” as they were quite cheap to build or modify.    They each carried 3 or 4 Swordfish aircraft or “String Bags” as they were fondly called.   I don’t think any of them registered a kill, but it was very comforting to see and hear them bombing overhead doing nearly 100 mph, especially in the middle part of the North Atlantic where we had no land based air cover from the UK or Canada.

It took 2 to 3 weeks to cross “the Pond” as the convoy had to proceed at the speed of the slowest ship and that would average out at about 10 to 12 mph.

I was fortunate to have survived – so very many of my Merchant Navy colleagues did not.

 

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