Alan Mills

Conscription- The Road to Palestine…Life on the Ocean Wave
Memories of a bygone era from East Leeds resident Alan Mills

Within a month of his interview with the Palestine Police, Alan found himself on a troop ship bound for the Suez Canal and on towards Egypt.

The next part of our journey to Palestine was by troop ship from Toulon, over the Mediterranean, up the Suez Canal towards Kintara. We’d had to wait a few days for our ship the ‘Empire Anvil’ to have some maintenance work done but finally we got going in November 1946.
As much as I was looking forward to a cruise on the calm blue Med, I wasn’t over impressed with the facilities on board. The sleeping arrangements were double rows of bunks, each bunk about 70″ x 20″, there wasn’t a great deal of room between the bunk above either. There were no showers,  the toilets weren’t great to start with and got worse as the voyage progressed.
We were all on the first deck down, which wasn’t bad until we got out to sea, we then found out how much the ship plunged and rolled even in reasonably calm waters. As the journey progressed the weather and thus the sea was anything but calm, it was rough, stormy and virtually everyone was violently sea sick. My hopes of a calm Med cruise had turned into a nightmare of storms and high waves of Biblical proportions.
The Med was at its most turbulent for many years and the decks were literally awash with vomit for days on end. To make matters worse, the boiler on the ship which had delayed our departure packed up again and the scheduled three days journey looked like it would be closer to a week.  We were all ill to varying degrees and nobody ate much, however,  the galley at the end of our deck was where the kitchens were and the whiff of bacon wafting through on a morning turned all our stomachs.
There was no such thing as privacy on a troop ship and the bunk became your sanctuary. Fortunately our party of eighteen were attached to the Airborne Regiment and we were all similar ages, tried to have a laugh when we could and
really just got on with it. We were about half way across the violent, stormy Med when it was announced the boxing match between the English cruiser weight Freddie Mills and famous American heavyweight Joe Backsi would be broadcast over the ships loud speaker. I was a big fan of Mills, as a young Army cadet I’d seen him knock out Leeds heavyweight policemen prospect Al Robinson at Headingley cricket ground with probably the finest punch I’ve ever seen. Anyway back to the broadcast of the fight, we couldn’t hear it down below, so the only way we could listen to it was to link arms and form a ring round the mast which held the speaker, needless to say we were all drenched and if I remember rightly Mills retired hurt in the sixth.
Smoking below decks was forbidden and if anyone wanted a smoke or just some fresh air you went up on the outside decks. I was a light smoker but during that time even the thought of a cig turned my stomach. Joining the decks was a wide, steep staircase of about fifteen steps. This arrived on a landing which housed a long deep trough which served as a stand up urinal. It was regularly flushed out with sea water, which in theory worked well but most of the smokers had taken to having a fag at the top of the stairs as the weather was so bad on deck. They then flicked the tab end in the trough and sometimes the empty packet followed it. Consequently it often became blocked and filled with a mixture of urine and sea water. So with the ship rolling from left to right and back again, the steps became drenched with the contents of the trough. If you wanted to go up or down between the decks, you had to wait at the top or bottom of the steps for the ship to roll to the right, the timing was essential, if you went passed the urinal when it rolled left, the chances were you’d end up covered with it’s contents, so everyone used to congregate at the top or the bottom of the steps waiting for the boat to lurch right, there should have been a traffic light system or something, so many times the lads going up clashed with the lads going down and the only winner was the contents of the trough!

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