Stormy Mediterranean crossings

“We embarked in the early morning into the various vessels awaiting us in Sousse harbour. Companies were packed in pairs into infantry landing ships. With the company transport, I boarded a tank landing ship, a very roomy vessel with bunks and other luxuries.

E Company Commander was Major APK (Kevin) O’Connor. We were chatting on the upper deck when we were approached by a desert warrior dressed in a blue flannel shirt, immaculate shorts and stockings and wearing what we called brothel creepers (brown suede half-boots). He threw up an impeccable salute and said: ’Sir, I have three priests and crews with me, where shall I put them?’ O’Connor returned the salute. ’Put the men on the mess decks and the priests into the officers’ mess.’ The desert warrior looked bemused. I interpolated: ‘Sir, priests are mobile, tracked 25 pounders.’ To the major, who was a Catholic, a priest was a chaplain. Like many of our officers, he was unfamiliar with the names of our weapons.

As we left the shelter of the harbour, we were met with mountainous seas. Our large ship was heavily buffeted but the infantry landing ships were tossed about like cockle shells. We knew that the first assault landings had encountered heavy weather and that commandos and air-borne troops had suffered casualties. Many parachutists finished up in the sea, and some were dropped as far away as Malta. I remembered that both St Paul and St Anthony had been wrecked in storms in the Mediterranean.

I took to my bunk, occasionally going aloft to be greeted by howling winds and spindrift. Finally, we entered the port of Syracuse. The companies literally crawled off their ships. Most had been seasick during the voyage and had had nothing hot to eat or drink as the galley fires could not be lit. They were speedily boarded onto TCVs and we made our way towards the centre of Sicily.


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