1-4 DOWN THE EAST COAST OF AFRICA
I found that I was sharing a cabin with five women, none of whom spoke English. The conditions there resembled what I have read about for refugees coming to America. Bill's cabin conditions were similar but worse because his was farther back in the ship right over the propeller shaft which made a thumping noise all the time. Fortunately most of our friends and the Strong’s had cabins in first class and they told us to visit them anytime. The middle of summer as we left Suez was very hot, particularly below decks, so we spent most of our time on deck. In fact, after the first night, we slept on the lifeboat covers which were like hammocks.
The chief radio officer found me there one night, where I could have rolled off into the sea, and invited Bill and me to stay in his sitting room. When he found out what kind of food was being served us he treated us to all kinds of goodies that were available to the officers. After that, Bill and I almost never went back to our cabins, and the radio shack sitting room became the center where we and the Dewey kids hung out. I remember one time Bill being offered a drink of beer and his choking on it. The same happened to him with a cigar.
After leaving the Red Sea and moving south down the east coast of Africa, it was discovered that, due to the crew's unfamiliarity with the ship, almost all the fresh water had been pumped overboard. The only fresh water available was given out by the glassful in the dining room. The excuse was that the ship, having been Indian previously, had everything written, such as valve names, in a language the Greek engineers couldn't understand.
The ship's position was posted on the bulletin board every day and one day, after we crossed the equator, most of the boys got into bathing suits and got splashed with salt water, an initiation that was supposed to take place the first time you crossed the equator. Since only the radio shack had a radio, news bulletins, mostly about the war, were also posted, and it was the morning ritual to line up to read them. Of course Bill and I had heard the BBC already in the radio shack.
As we approached the Port of Mombasa, a flotilla of British warships passed us and entered the harbor before us. The flotilla took up all the harbor dock space and we had to anchor out for a number of days before the ship could be serviced, including getting fresh water.
A small boat went back and forth to land everyday so we could get off and see the city and countryside. I remember one day the Deweys and Bill and I rented bicycles and rode out to a nice clean beach. There were some cottages nearby, but no one on the beach. We got quite hungry and thirsty, so we opened cocoanuts and drank the milk and ate the meat. I think I ate about half a cocoanut. No one had warned us about how constipated that would make us for the next few days. I remember another day Bill gave up his seat on a bus to an old black woman, and it almost caused a riot. This was my first real experience with racial segregation.
Some of the sailors from the HMS Hermes visited us and it was fun to talk with new people who spoke English. Most didn't seem to be any older than Bill or Edward Dewey. Then suddenly one day the Flotilla left, to search for a German raider it was rumored, and our ship was moved to a dock. Still it was another week before we also left. Seeing the English Flotilla had brought the realities of the war home. The sailors had told us that they were hunting for a raider that they thought had sunk the sister ship of the ship we were on - a ship called the Zam Zam.
Still, the war seemed far away as we continued on our trip, passing through the straights that separate Africa from Madagascar. We were going into the winter of the southern hemisphere with blue skies, partially filled with big puffy clouds. Our favorite activity was lying on our backs at night on the canvas covering one of the cargo hatches, watching the brilliant stars, including some southern stars we had never seen before. Also, we liked to stand at the rear deck rail and watch the wake of the ship which gave off a bright green glow at night. One night we noticed the direction of the stars change as the ship changed course, which by the stars must have been to the east instead of how we had been going other nights which was south. For a number of hours, the ship kept changing course in different directions. When we went inside, we found the lights were off. The explanation came out the next day. Apparently, the ship's officers had seen a ship on the horizon in front of them and assumed it was the notorious German raider. They had information that there were no other friendly ships in the area, and so had taken evasive action to avoid being sunk. Our ship was neutral, but so had been the Zam Zam. Since it would have been impossible to assure a blackout on short notice, the chief engineer had simply turned off the generators. A blackout was attempted for the next several nights before we arrived at Capetown, but with so many language barriers, cooperation of the passengers was difficult, and it was not successful.
As we arrived at Capetown, there was a sudden weather change and we entered the South African winter, which is mostly just wet and cold. There was no trouble getting dock space, but other troubles were waiting for us there. The Indian deck crew were being paid $4 a month plus clothes, and their leaders complained to the ship's owner that the summer clothes issued them at Suez were inadequate. The owner refused to issue warm clothes and the crew went on strike. This being illegal in wartime, at least so said the port authorities, the crew were promptly arrested and jailed. This effectively stopped the servicing of the ship and we were in for another two weeks delay as we had had in Mombasa.
Again, we took to going ashore for recreation and amusement, and for some of our meals. With the crew in jail, not only did we not get our usual afternoon tea, served English style with cream, sugar, and cookies, but there wasn't much to our regular meals. It didn't mean that much to Bill and me because as usual we were being fed by the radio officer. It was a real mess in the kitchen and dining room, particular in second class, as steerage was called, because the passengers were trying to fix their own meals, each for himself or herself.
One afternoon, which I believe was a Sunday, a group of us young people went to a Congregational Church young peoples' meeting. It seemed more like a party than anything religious. Mostly they were sitting around a piano and singing popular songs. I noticed Bill, on a couch, was quite startled when a girl next to him put her hand on his knee.
Mostly we just walked around Capetown and enjoyed the beautiful gardens. I don't think it normally freezes during their winter because there were a lot of blooming flowers. You could see a mountain nearby from almost anywhere in the city, and when we asked if we could climb it, people laughed and said, certainly not in wintertime.
The port authorities needed the dock space our ship was taking, so they brought the crew back from jail, less their leaders. They ordered the ship's owner to provide the men with warm clothes and told the Captain to get ready to head out into the Southern Atlantic. Since the crew was not considered very reliable, all English speaking males over 15 were recruited into a vigilante group to enforce a blackout across the Southern Atlantic, the part of our journey considered the most dangerous. The American solders were the core of this group and contributed their weapons to enforce the blackout. Bill took part, but told me he was not given any training and that the gun he carried was not loaded. Naturally as we left Capetown, there were some misgivings all around.