The month of December 1941 was spent in Kolkata, getting new uniforms and making the most of a well earned holiday, which included a short trip to Dhaka to meet and say farewell to my Nana (Grandfather Nawabzada Khwaja Atiqullah) and other members of the family, including Piari Nano, who took me round to meet many relations in Ahsan Manzil, and felt very proud and happy showing them the medals that I had won in the Dufferin.
I was back in Kolkata, when, in the first week of January 1942, I received orders from Messrs. Mackinnon Mackenzie & Company Limited, Managing Agents of the British India Steam Navigation Company Ltd. (B. I.) directing me to report to the Master of S. S. Chilka. The ship was moored at No. 1, Esplanade Moorings, opposite the Outram Ghat, Calcutta, which had a lovely restaurant where we went often for tea and ice cream.
While my parents were happy that I was about to join my first ship to start my sea career, they must have been quite concerned, yet, they never showed their emotions that they were parting with me at a time when death at sea had become commonplace. I am certain they had sleepless nights in those anxious times and I marveled at their self restraint and composure. They accepted the situation in silence, with patience, courage and, above all, faith in Allah. My eldest brother, Khwaja Zakiuddin, was studying in England and exposed to the dangers of the German blitz; and Khwaja Wasiuddin, my second brother, was then a Lieutenant in the Indian Army, awaiting orders to proceed to the front, and, in fact, left for Burma soon thereafter.
The Chilka was a cargo cum passenger steam vessel built in 1922. She had a gross tonnage of 4360 tons and a cruising speed of 10 knots. She had accommodation for Twenty two first class passengers, fifteen second class and about three thousand deck class passengers. In addition she could carry about 1500 tons of cargo. She normally plied between Calcutta, Rangoon and Vizagapatam. Her days as a regular passenger ship were now over.
She lay at the moorings being re-fitted and prepared for transporting troops to the war front. Workmen and technicians were on board fitting guns – a 3” High angle gun in the stern, and two anti-aircraft guns on either side of the Bridge – as they were required for self defence in case she was attacked. Anti-magnetic mine devices and other protective coverings were also installed. One of the cargo holds was being converted into a magazine for carrying ammunition.
On the morning of 11th January 1942, she looked beautiful in her war-time grey paint as I approached her, with all my belongings, in a small dinghy which came alongside and I went up the gangway, while the Sukhani (helmsman) on ‘Gangway duty’ arranged to have my gear brought up. I was led by a member of the crew to the Captain’s Cabin. I knocked on the door as hard as I could and, in a loud and clear voice announced: “Cadet K. S. Shahabuddin reporting for duty, sir.” A voice from inside the cabin said “Come in”
Captain W. Bird, Master of s.s. Chilka, of medium height and a pleasant face, was seated at his desk looking at some papers when I marched up to a few feet from his chair, stood at attention and looked him straight in the eyes. He looked me up and down with his piercing blue eyes and asked me whether I had been to sea before. It was quite obvious from the brief conversation I had with him.that, at a time like this, he had hoped that the company would send him a cadet with some previous sea experience. He was aware of the heavy responsibility that had been placed on him with his ship having been converted into a troop carrier.
The Captain of a ship is usually a very lonely person. The nature of his duties and the authority that he has to exercise necessarily keeps him away from the other officers and members of the crew. It was more so in the case of Captain Bird as he did not much care for company, anyway. He was in his early forties and still unmarried. He seemed to have had a particular dislike for the fair sex, and, never really liked the occasions when, as a matter of duty, he had to dine with the first class passengers, and protocol demanded that two ladies sit on either side of him.
He was, however, very fond of his pet cat which had a brownish-grey coat and must have weighed over 10 pounds. She was the only one, other than the ship’s officers, who had free access to the Chart Room, where, very often, she would make herself comfortable on the charts spread out on the table.
Be that as it may, he was soft spoken and had a pleasant personality. He now turned his attention towards me and informed me that there was another cadet on board who had been with him for the past one year, and asked, if I knew Cadet Ghansam Soni? “Yes, sir” I answered. “I know him very well as he was a year senior to me in the Training ship Dufferin.” He then directed me to report to Mr. Green, the Chief Officer, the second in command in a Merchant ship and the Chief Executive, the administration of the ship virtually revolves around him.
He maintains discipline, the smooth running of the ship and is in charge of all matters pertaining to passengers and cargo. He is the busiest person on board while the ship is in port, and has much to do while at sea including keeping watch on the Bridge from 4 a.m. to 8 a.m. and again from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. The cadets are his immediate responsibility. He allocates them duties and gets results. It is so easy for the Chief Officer of a Merchant Ship to make the life of a cadet miserable.
My first meeting with Chief Officer Green was most reassuring. He was of medium height, handsome and well built. He had a heavy voice but the twinkle in his eyes showed that he was kind at heart. He explained to me what my duties were to be, while in port, and informed me that I would be keeping watch on the Bridge with Mr. Feast, the Second Officer, from 12 noon to 4 p.m. and from Midnight to 4 a.m. He suggested that I should spend the first day on board surveying and getting to know the ship with the help of Soni, the other cadet on board, and sent for him.
It was good meeting Ghanshyam Soni who was one year my senior in the Dufferin, and he too seemed pleased to see me as he entered the Chief Officer’s cabin. He was in his white overalls (Boiler suit) as he had been supervising the crew working in one of the lower decks. I can still picture him, tall and thin with slightly bent shoulders and a very close hair cut which utlined the shape of his scull. Soni was not a big eater and in spite of the lack of sufficient exercise at sea, he did not appear to have put on any weight since leaving the Dufferin a year ago. Seeing us greet each other so enthusiastically, the Chief Officer leaned back on his chair puffing his pipe. Suddenly, he sat up and in an authoritative voice he instructed Soni to show me round the ship and acquaint me with my duties.
Soni suggested that I should first see my cabin and change into white overalls. He and I were to share the same cabin which was on the same deck as the First Class passenger cabins. In fact, our cabin was one of the First Class cabins allocated to the cadets as the ship did not hve a cabin for cadets on the officers’ deck. It had two beds, a writing desk, a wardrobe for hanging clothes and drawers under the bunk.
No sooner had we arrived at the cabin, the steward, Muhammad Baquer, designated to look after our needs, appeared and proceeded to unpack and put away my clothes in the chest of drawers and the hanging wardrobe.. He handed me my white overalls, and while I changed into them, Soni told me all about his experience at sea, and I gave him the latest news about our colleagues in the Dufferin.
Soni gave me a conducted tour of the various parts of the ship and, in the course of our rounds introduced me to Feast, the Second Officer, and the Third Officer, Hodges. In the Engine Room I met the Chief Engineer, whose name I forget, and the 5th Engineer C.G.K. Reddy, an Ex-Dufferin of the 1936-38 batch. He welcomed me warmly and told me that I should not hesitate to drop in and see him whenever I desired. Reddy was from Madras, a highly intelligent and well read officer, who has been mentioned in a previous chapter entitled “The Three Dufferin years.”
Sony and I returned to our cabin to change for lunch. I was pleased to find that our steward, Baquer, had laid my day uniform neatly on my bed for me to wear. It was not customary to go to the dining room unless properly dressed. During lunch I met the ship’s doctor, Dr. Mason and the Purser, Mr. Munro who sat at our table. I saw the ship’s butler, Bazlur Rahman, a dignified old man in his sixties, having spent many, many years at sea, supervising the serving of various dishes. I had a vey good appetite and it was natural that I should have every item on the menu – soup, fish, a meat dish, curry and rice, pudding, cheese and biscuits, and coffee. Food served aboard ships is usually good, but meals on B. I. Company passenger vessels were exceptional.
As there was no work or duty for me that day, the Chief Officer permitted me to go ashore after 5 p.m., and I spent a pleasant evening and had dinner at home with the family. It was quite late when I returned to the ship and found Soni awake. We chatted for a while and went to sleep.
The following morning our steward, Baquer, woke us up around 6 a.m. with tea, toast and bananas. This was indeed a luxury I had not expected. I reported to the Chief Officer, as I did every morning while the ship was in port. I was directed to supervise the shore crew working onboard, check and arrange proper stowing of life jackets in the life boats, inspect the gear and do other odd jobs which kept cropping up from time to time.
In the course of my work I met Abdul Rashid, the Cargo Gunner, an expression used for the cargo superviser. He came from a well-known family in Kidderpore, Calcutta, and had many years of experience handling cargo and men at work. He was tall and well built with a prominent forehead and a booming voice which could be heard all over the ship during working hours.
There was plenty of activity aboard the ship during the day, and one got accustomed to all kinds of noises: the sound of winches, the continuous clamour of banging on the ship’s hull by the crew engaged in chipping and painting and the shouting out orders to one another. The ship was crowded continuously by visitors who came on various business appointments in connection with the stores, catering and supplies. There were also many army officers making plans for accommodating troops and checking up on facilities for storing ammunition, etc.
One day, I do not remember the date, we received orders to move into the Kidderpore Docks to load coal and prepare the ship for the embarkation of troops, and we left Calcutta on 23rd January 1942, with a full complement of Officers and Jawans to face the Japanese army in Burma.
The Harbour Master, whose name I do not remember, was now in full authority moving from one end of the bridge to the other with a megaphone in his hand giving orders to the helmsman, who was steering the ship, and to the officer, who was handling the telegraphs to send orders to the Engine room to control the movement of the ship. The Harbour Master used his megaphone every now and then to give orders to the men on the jetty to release wires and ropes; and to the steam tug which was helping him in this difficult manouvre to come out of the Docks.
We were all at “stations for leaving harbour”. On the bridge, which is the nerve center of the ship, Captain Bird was present and watchful. It was his ship. He would ultimately be held responsible if anything went wrong.. But, at this moment, the Harbour Master was in charge and he was handling the ship intricately out of the busy and over crowded dock area. Third Officer Hodges was handling the telegraphs. Each time the Harbour Master required the ship’s engines to be made ‘slow ahead’, ‘slow astern’ or ‘stopped’, he would operate the telegraphs which would communicate the order to the engine room for action.
It is the convention on board ships that all orders must be repeated. Each time Hodges would operate the telegraph “clang”, “clang” “clang”, the Engine room would repeat “Clang” almost immediately, and the ship would vibrate with the movement of the engines. In addition, Hodges had to observe that the Sukhani (Helmsman) was carrying out the orders given by the Harbour Master. The Third Officer also operated the ship’s whistle. One short blast was blown when turning to starboard (right), two for turning to port (left) and three short blasts for going astern, or, as landlubbers would say, reversing.
While at stations for “leaving or entering harbour” the Third Officer would also be communicating by the ship’s telephone, with the Chief Officer stationed on the forecastlehead, the foremost part of the ship, and with the Second Officer in the stern, the after end of the ship. If there had not been a cadet or two on board, the Third Officer would be looking after the ship’s log as well. On this day, 23rd January 1942, Soni was stationed on the bridge with the Third Officer and was keeping the ship’s log up to date, and assisting him, whenever necessary, in operating the telegraphs, the whistle and the telephone.
The ship’s log is one of the most important documents aboard a ship. It has a current record of everything that happens, minute by minute. Every order given is recorded. The log contains information about the weather, barometer readings, temperature, force and direction of the wind, speed of the ship and so on. It is considered to be the most authentic document in a Court of Law.
I was stationed on the foc’sle (forecastle, the foremost part of a ship) with Chief Officer Green, and next to us was Muhammad Ishaque, the Serang, head of the deck crew, along with a number of the deck crew ready for action when required. Second Officer Feast was stationed in the stern, right at the end of the ship overlooking the propeller.
That brings me to the engine room of the ship and the Engineer Officers who actually make the propeller to turn causing the ship to move forward or backward as required. The “Chilka” had six Engineer Officers – Chief, Second, Third, fourth and two Fifth Engineers, both of whom were Indians. I have already mentioned Reddy, the other was Patel, not an ex-Dufferin cadet, but, all the same a good chap.
While the officers on deck navigate and handle the ship, the engineers are responsible for the maintenance of engines, electrical and mechanical systems and provide power which makes the vessel move. They have a fairly hard life as their work keeps them in the confined spaces of the Engine Room, sometimes below sea level. Their living accommodations and dining saloon are located in the vicinity of the Engine room. Due to the nature of their duties they are permitted to have their meals in their grease and oil smeared overalls.
It usually takes time for a ship to come out of docks. It must have taken us over three hours to come out in to the river Hooghly, near the Botanical Gardens. Meanwhile, the Hooghly pilot had already come aboard and taken over charge of the ship from the Harbour Master who boarded his launch and bade us farewell. The pilot was Daniels the senior most Indian pilot in the prestigious Bengal Pilot Service, a Government of India Class 1A service, like the Indian Civil Service (I.C.S.) and the Indian Police Service.
Apart from himself and Pavri, all other Indian pilots were Ex-Cadets of the Training Ship Dufferin. With perhaps a very few exceptions, most ports in the world have a pilot service, and Captains of ships are obliged to take a pilot before entering a harbour. However, there are not so many ports many miles away from the sea, as Calcutta. The Hooghly River is 80 miles long from Calcutta to Saugar Islands, at the entrance of the river. At this point there is a natural barrier between salt sea water and fresh river water. However, the narrow channel, marked by Light vessels extends 70 more miles out to the Bay of Bengal. This area is known as Sandheads where one of the two Pilot Vessels – “Lady Frazer” and “Andrew” – remain on duty for a month, while the other vessel remains berthed in Calcutta.
They change positions once every month. When a ship arrives at Sandheads after leaving Calcutta, a boat from the Pilot Vessel collects the Pilot who remaims on the Pilot Vessel until his turn comes to pilot a ship to Calcutta. The Pilot vessel is manned by a Captain (a senior pilot) and three Leadsman Apprentices as Chief, Second and Third Officer who perform ‘watch-keeping’ duties as in Merchant ships. The vessel has cabins for Pilots who may be required to remain on board, awaiting their turn, for a couple of days or more., and a dormitory for Leadsman Apprentices – who do five years before qualifying to become a Mate Pilot, then a Master Pilot and finally a Branch Pilot.
They normally accompany a pilot to learn and get to know all the land-marks, buoys, lights, track marks etc., on the river. The qualification for joining the Bengal Pilot Service used to be a Second Mates Certificate which a Dufferin cadet obtained by passing an examination after serving three years at sea. However, during the war pay and allowances at sea were so much higher than the salary of a pilot, that holders of Second Mates certificate did not ahow any interest in joining the Pilot Service. Therefore, the Government of India decided to accept applications from holders of the Dufferin Final Passing Out Certificate (D.F.P.O.)
Reverting back to the morning of 23rd January 1942, Master Pilot Daniels having turned the ship around, headed down river towards the Bay of Bengal, as one by one the tall buildings of Calcutta disappeared from our view. Except for those on duty – keeping watch on deck or in the engine room – the officers and crew returned to their respective quarters. At midday, Second Officer Feast and I came up to the navigation bridge and took over the watch (12 noon to 4 p.m.) from Third Officer Hodges and Sony who had kept watch from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m.
On this, my first day of keeping watch, Feast explained my duties to me and asked me various questions to assess how much the Training Ship Dufferin had taught us. As we went along he pointed out various land marks on the river bank, and made me look after the ship’s log. I watched Daniels with keen interest as he gave orders to the Sukhani (the helmsman) to turn the steering wheel to port or to starboard, keeping it midships when required. Each time he would call out an order the Sukhani would repeat it loudly and simultaneously turn the wheel as required. Our watch-keeping duty ended when Chief Officer Green relieved us at 4 p.m.
At dinner, I met all the Army Officers traveling First Class. Among them were a number of Indian Officers, who reminded me that one of them could have been my brother, then Lieutenant Wasiuddin of the Royal Artillery, who was awaiting orders to move to Burma. However, I slept for a few hours after going to bed, to be woken up just before midnight for my watch from midnight to 4 a.m. When I went off duty and back to bed, the pilot was still on board.
On waking up in the morning I looked out of the port hole to see the deep blue sea and was reminded of a poem by John Masefield, taught to us in the Dufferin by Headmaster H. I. Jones:
The sea, the sea, the open sea
The blue the fresh the ever free.
Without a mark, without a bound,
It runneth the worldwide regions round.
I learned that we had dropped the pilot at Sandheads about an hour earlier and had set course for our first port of call, Akyab, a small port in Burma with its open harbour and an airport which was to become quite important during the war with Japan. For me, however, it was of great significance as it was the first place outside India that I had visited. We spent two days in Akyab landing some of the troops and unloading ammunition that had to go with them. Soni and I got the opportunity to go ashore before we left, to visit our Army friends in their camps and wish them good luck.
As we left Akyab we got news that two allied ships had been sunk in the Bay of Bengal and the course we had set for Rangoon passed very close to that area. Captain Bird was to take no chances. He gave orders to the Chief Officer to arrange for extra lookouts, and the three Naval gunners (instead of six or eight) supplied by the British Navy, were instructed to train the gun crew made up of four volunteers. They were Feast, Hodges, Soni and myself. For the next two days we had extensive gun drills aiming the 3 inch high angle gun at a target which had been floated for the purpose.
However, luck was with us, and, after an uneventful voyage, in the evening of 28th January, as the sun was about to set, we were steaming up the River Irrawaddy with the Rangoon Pilot guiding the ship and berthing her at a jetty allotted to it to disembark the troops.
Rangoon, with its world famous Pagoda, was reported to be one of the most beautifully planned cities in the East. We were unfortunate, in January 1942, to find it in a mess created by air raids by the Japanese Air Force. in December 1941. There was hardly any life in the city. Shops were closed and houses in residential areas were locked and deserted. Many of the inhabitants had left for the interior with the hope of traveling to India via the land route. Those who were fortunate were able to get passage on passenger ships leaving Rangoon for Calcutta or Madras. Our own ship, S.S. Chilka, loaded coal, which makes the ship very dirty, but, on the morning of 3rd February 1942, she was free from the slightest sign of coal dust, looking spik and span, ready to embark passengers – only women and children.
There were approximately 3,800 evacuees leaving their home not knowing if they would ever return to this city. The First and Second Class cabins were full, and the decks below were so over crowded that there was hardly any space to move. Even wealthy families of Burma were compelled to travel as Deck Passengers. There was a bit of panic when air raid sirens were sounded, but, fortunately for us, there was no air raid, and embarkation of passengers went smoothly.
As a rule, relations of officers are not permitted to travel aboard a ship where officers related to them work. But, under the situation as it prevailed at the time, this rule was relaxed to enable officers to evacute their families from Burma. Soni’s mother, a sister and a brother were living in Mandalay, and, on arrival in Rangoon he was granted leave to fetch his family so that they could be evacuated from Burma. It was inconceivable for us to think that they would spend the voyage in the over-crowded lower decks. Soni and I gave our cabins to them and, during the hours we were not on duty, we managed to find some place in the upper deck to sleep.
The sun was setting, a crimson disc in a cloudless sky. Slowly, almost wearily, it disappeared below the horizon. An evening breeze was blowing gently from the north, but nothing disturbed the calm waters of the Irrawaddy river save the sound of our ship. Once again “Chilka” was leaving the port she had visited so many times. But, this departure was to be a memorable one, for it was to be her last. The ship was carrying evacuees who were now homeless and in flight. They were leaving behind them not only their properties and their belongings but all their hopes and their memories – all the insignificant everyday things that had made the fabric of their lives.
It was pitch dark when we dropped the Rangoon pilot and entered the open sea. A complete ‘black out’ was in force, and all the portholes had to be kept tightly closed to prevent the slightest beam of light to be seen from the outside. So much so, that passengers were not even allowed to use flashlights. To ensure this, Soni and I had to go around the lower decks every night – as often as we could – and we appreciated the hardship the lower deck passengers were enduring. They longed for day-light when the portholes were opened to let in fresh air.
Thank God, we had a safe voyage and reached Calcutta on 7th February. One can imagine how happy and relieved Captain Bird was having brought his ship and about 3800 passengers safely to Calcutta. It was also a day of happiness for my parents and other relatives to see me when I went home in the evening and had dinner with the family. However, my pleasure of coming home was marred by the news that my brother, Wasiuddin, had left for the Burma front a few days before my arrival.
We were in port for almost a week and sailed, once again, for Rangoon with troops and ammunation. This time we were in a convoy of four ships escorted by two naval cruisers. Somewhere in the Bay of Bengal, three other ships, which had sailed from Madras, joined our convoy. Sailing in a convoy gave us some experience of communicating with one another by signaling, using the Morse code. One day, one of the ships hoisted the flag ‘O’, which indicated that a man was over board. I do not remember the action the seven ships took to manouvre without colliding with one another to pick up the person who had fallen over board.
As we were approaching the mouth of the river Irrawaddy to proceed to Rangoon, we received a signal instructing us to return to Calcutta. All the ships had to change their courses to return to Calcutta and Madras. This action was taken as Japanese forces were advancing rapidly towards Rangoon, and it was felt that the troops could be used to better advantage later. Once again, we had a safe voyage and returned to Calcutta and disembarked the troops and unloaded all the ammunition we were carrying.
A few days later we started loading stores, live stock, fresh vegetables and fruit in such quantities that it was evident our ship was being prepared to go on a very long voyage. Apart from the excitement in the air, no one, not even the Captain, had any idea where our forthcoming voyage was to take us. As usual, there was lots of speculation, and each person had his own ideas, based upon which various bets were placed,
While we were in port Chief Officer Green was transferred to another ship which made me very sad as he had been such a kind and considerate person, and it was a pleasure to work with him. His place was taken by Chief Officer Arthur Andrew, a round faced and bulky person who, from our very first meeting, made no secret of the fact that he was not going to like me. I was the only cadet left aboard the “Chilka” as Soni was transferred to another ship. I was happy, however, that Reddy, the fifth engineer, remained with us.
He had been a good friend and companion during the past two months and I had begun to like and respect him. Almost every night, while at sea, I used to visit him in his cabin after dinner and spend an hour or so chatting. He was very intelligent and well read, and being a few years senior to me gave me sound advice on various matters. It was fortunate for me to have a shipmate like him, and I was looking forward to getting to know him better in the months and years to come. During our meeting every night I used to give him the position of our ship so that, in case the ship was sunk, he would have an idea of where we were.
Looking back, I cannot help remembering the last seven days of the month of February. Our ship was in port loading stores and provisions for the forthcoming voyage. There were many ships in the docks loading cargo, military equipment and preparing to embark troops for various destinations.
A ‘blackout’ was enforced in Calcutta as it was feared that, sooner or later, the Japanese Air Force might make Calcutta its target. Street lamps were so covered that only a very thin beam of light could be seen from right under them. Shops, cinema houses and residential buildings had shades around lights as well as on windows. There was a general exodus of people leaving Calcutta for safer places in other parts of India. The families of Uncle Nazimuddin, Uncle Nooruddin and my father were sharing uncle Nazimuddin’s big house on Gariahat Road. They felt it would be advisable to send the families to Aligarh where they were accommodated in Rahat Manzil.
As on previous occasions when the ship was in port, my day began early in the morning and I was kept busy on various jobs till 5 o’clock when I went ashore. I can still picture myself on my motor cycle, rushing from one place to another visiting friends and relations. I would invariably go to “Pari Manzil” on 36. Theatre Road, the home of Nawabzadi Pari Bano Begum, my Grand-aunt, whom we used to call “Kalkutta-ki-Nano since she lived in Calcutta, and later Dadi. She was very fond of me and liked listening to my stories.
There were other children in the house, among them was my cousin, Ayesha, who, like me, was full of life and I had a special liking for her. I took special pleasure in showing off in front of her and her sisters Haseen and Lal (Laila) and their cousin Akhtar Morshed. I used to have them spellbound listening to my stories. After that, the two persons I met regularly were Rene Palit, my best friend from St. Paul’s School, Darjeeling, and Sadri Ispahani who used to join us during our winter holidays from school.
In February 1942, Sadri had gone away to Lucknow where the Ispahani families had moved. So Rene and I spent most of our evenings together. I always made it a point to be present at Gariahat Road to have dinner with Uncles Nazimuddin, Nooruddin and my father. One evening towards the end of the month I learnt, on arrival at Gariahat Road, that my father had left for Aligarh the night before on receiving news that my youngest brother, Shahed, was seriously ill with typhoid.
On 28th February 1942, I went to “Pari Manzil” and found Dadi slightly under the weather lying on a bed in the bedroom downstairs. Her own room used to be upstairs. As usual I told her and the children gathered around her stories and she informed me that they would be moving to Dhaka soon where they would be staying in our home “Bait-ul-Amn”.She asked me various questions about the house, the lay-out of the rooms etc.
This was my farewell visit as we were scheduled to sail the following morning. After dinner with uncles Nazimuddin and Nooruddin I went over to my friend Rene. We were joined by another school friend, Minnie Sen, and the three of us went over to Dhakuria Lakes which was not far from Rene’s house on Lansdown Road. It was a beautiful moonlit night as we walked round and round the lake talking about the lovely times we have had and about our friends, and about the future – where our paths would lead us six years hence. It was almost 1 a.m. when we decided to call it a day.
We dropped Minnie at his house and on to Rene’s where I found a taxi to take me to the docks. It was in the early hours of 1st March 1942, that I bade goodbye to Rene and our hands met in a warm clasp, not knowing that I would not see him for the next four years.
The early spring morning was a memorable one. Winter had gone, but there was a trace of it in the cold breeze blowing from the river. Three quarters of the population were still asleep, while in the docks clusters of workmen were getting ready to start the day’s work. Fires were burning and tea being prepared in the shops on the outskirts of the dock area.
I returned to my ship and found the “Chilka,” which was due to sail within an hour or so, alive with excitement as the time had come to call ‘all hands’ for harbour leaving stations. There was just enough time for me to change into uniform, have a cup of tea and report for duty.
The sun was up by the time we sailed out of the docks. We proceeded down river as on the previous two voyages, and by midnight we were out in the open sea once again. Thus began a voyage for an unknown destination. It marked a turning point in my life.