More from Bob (Welfreighter)

This is a continuation from Bob which I'm hoping to catch up on.

10/20/2004 (Number 59 for Terry)

Dear Mac Gregory,

Thinking of you and Denise enjoying your wonderful Med. Cruise and all it`s delights!  For the last few days I have been working  on my lack of skill and expertise re. the Computer.  In particular  I think that  I can now type and send reasonably long screeds using a combination of : “ Micro-soft Word”, “E-Mail” and “Attachment.”   Now I intend to type my stories,save and then send them to you  for  your  return on the 16inst.


You probably know or have heard about  www.bbc. Peoples war.   It is a very interesting and historically  fascinating project in which  the stories of ordinary people in WW11 are recorded for posterity!   In particular I am sure that you will find the stories about the Navy most interesting.  Please let me know if you can access it?

I thought that it would be a good idea to log on while you were away and try to contact anyone who could help with the question of “ What happened to the Welfreighter at the end of the War?”  The Project provides a Journal in which to note ideas,etc!   I have done this mainly as a useful and easy way of notekeeping!  I intend to send you on the little tit-bits which I noted down.   You are my friend and the main man for all my stories!   There is no way I could be disloyal to you and write for someone else!  From time to time I may jot down something about the Welfreighter and it may appear to run in tandem with you.  Would that be O.K. with you?  I stress that you are the number one man for all my writing! 

Mac Gregory, this is for the Welfreighter file!  As I said in my note to the B.B.C. Daily Journal it would appear that perhaps I am one of the few remaining  (or at least the only  one to make contact) surviving members of the Welfreighter maintenance team  who served at the Frythe, garden Island W.Australia and Morotai, Borneo.  I believe that my eye-witness is importantand should be noted.  There are other accounts,albeit important and valuable in themselves,which  are still second or third hand and based mainly on anecdote! 

The point I am trying to make is that a slightly confused or blurred picture may emerge of important people  or events if there is no eyewitness account!  To this end I offer some pen pictures which may be interesting.  As he is such an important figure in the Welfreighter story I begin with Lieutenant Colonel Dolphin!  I call him Lieut. Colonel Dolphin because all the time I served under under him I never heard him  called a full colonel.  I know that everyone calls him a full Colonel now.  He probably was made a full Colonel but it must have been late on after the squad went to Australia in 1944.  I am checking on the Army List in the National Archives,Kew.

I can see him now making his morning  rounds around all the Workshops at the Frythe. He was always alone.  He was never  surrounded by a group of officers.   No, that is not correct!  His Alsation dog was his constant companion.  It followd him everywhere.  He would move from bench to bench in the workshops and took a keen interest in everything  and asked questions from time to time.  He seemed to miss nothing!  He was  tall (well over six feet) and walked slightly stooped with his hands clasped behind his back.     His batman messed with us and it was no secret that his boss was a quiet,highly respected leader  who hated ostentation among his men  particularly with regard to dress!    He gave the impression ( looking back now as a retired mental health officer) that he presented as a slightly melancholic figure.  I think that he was in his middle forties and he wore the two WW1 medals known popularly as Squeak and Wilfrid!

When I was reading the Welfreighter files at the National Archives in Kew I came across a memo from the Admiralty  seeming to deplore the fact that Colonel Dolphin and Professor Hewit were academics of high quality and were extremely intelligent but were not of a practical bent ,  and knew next to nothing about simple  small boat practical questions!  It would  seem that the Welfreighter was very much his project.  He came across as a sober retiring man who went quietly about his business and that business was to win the War! 

I note from my B.B.C. Journal (notebook) something which I must bring to your attention.   Your ship was the “Shropshire” and the mention of the word in my morning paper,the Herald, jumped to my attention.   It appears that  Colonel John Kenyon of the  Burma Star Association  condemned as  “appallingly insensitive the proposal to mark the 60th. Anniversary of the end of the Japanese War  and hold events on July,10th,. more than a month before the Japanese surrendered on the 15th. August, 1945.”  “Friends were still being killed and  prisoners of war  were still subject to the most appalling cruelty for another month.”  I praised the Colonel for speaking out!  To my amazement I have not heard a word from the British
 Legion or any other such body!

Another note in my journal to pass on to you concerns the “Sandaken Conspiracy.”  Cfr. Lynette Ramsay Silver in her book “Conspiracy of Silence” Publisher;Sally Milner,2000.   The  alleged conspiracy concerned the “Kingfisher Plan” to rescue allied Prisoners of War from the Japanese as the war was drawing to a close.   See the brilliant article by Keat Gin in the “Manual” on the Australian War Museum Web site!   Apparently  General Blamey blamed General McArther for not supplying the required Aircraft  Alleged massive cover-up of S.R.D. enormous  cock-up with regard  to the Passing of `Intelligence`.      Mac Gregory, as far as I can see, I am up to date with my Welfreighter notes  and now I will return to the Saints,God Bless em!

When I finished the above notes last night I watched the B.B.C
Channel Two Programme  on six four Man submarines (R.N.) attackind the “Tirpitz” in the Norwegian fiord.  Three out of six went in to attack.  Two skippers got a V.C. each and their crew got a D.S.O each.  The “Tirpitz” hit one X craft with her guns and destroyed her.  Confusion no  doubt  arises as to whether the X craft that was hit managed to lay it`s saddle-bombs near  enough  to help cripple the “Tirpitz.”  The powers that be decided that there was not enough evidence to show that the third craft contributed to the attack on the “Tirpitz” and so the Skipper and crew did not share in a posthumous decoration.I thought    that that was rather hard. 

One of the survivors talks with great feeling  about the difficulty of four  well-built men living and working for period of time in such a cramped space.   It was very difficult to get any sleep and they had to be careful not to eat and drink more than was necessary because of  the  difficulty later on with regard to disposal.  The air was foul and the smell in the craft was bad.  Mental and physical exhaustion was soon apparent.

The four man sub. was towed by a submarine  to the Fiord where the “Tirpitz” lay.  The X Craft crew were passengers in the towing submarine until they reached their destination and then they were transferred to their craft.   They were extremely brave and gallant  men .  I salute them!

The danger and horror that submariners could be called upon to endure was emphasized and brought into prominence this week when the Canadian submarine which was bought second hand from the Royal Navy  was handed over at Faslane on the Clyde  and set out for Halifax.  The Engine broke down and she drifted in heavy seas off the Irish coast.  T.V. pictures ahowed horrific pictures of her being tossed hither and thither like a very large bottle in a cruel and angry sea!   A fire broke out on board;  immediate urgent calls for help were sent out to all who could hear!  Ships began to comverge on the stricken vessel.   A rescue services helicopter airlifted  three crew members from the craft and they were taken to a hospital in Bangor,Northern Ireland.   The three men were suffering from smoke-inhilation.   One, a young officer  died.  The other two are still in a  critical condition.  A tow line was made good and the craft towed to Scotland in very heavy seas.   Yesterday afternoon she arrived safely at Faslane to the tremendous relief of everybody.

To crown a rather grim week we heard the appalling news over the wire that the Liverpool man Ken Bigley  held hostage by Iraqui terrorists had been beheaded!   What a shocking terrible thing to happen.  Apparently the evil deed was done with a large knife and the whole act was recorded on video.

Over half a century ago Captain Robert Page D.S.O and his fellow heroes of the “Rimeau” S.R.D. operation were beheaded in Changi Jail by the Japanese.   According to their fellow prisoners in Changi and  quoted  in my letter to the Buchan Observer in 1984  the executions were not carried out in a clean smooth action by a a skilled soldier.    Drink  was plentiful to the the Japs who hacked Captain Page and his men to death with dirty jagged knives.    A similar sort of fate  was endured by Ken Bigley.  Evey day for ove fifty years I have included the men of Rimeau in my daily payers and now I add poor Ken Bigley  from Liverpool.  God help us all when we think of what evil man can do to his fellow man!  Robert  Burns was right when he talked about “man`s inhumanity to man.”

I want to refer back to the X craft that attacked the “Tirpitz.”   One of the original five X craft broke   it’s manilla towline and she simply sank to the bottom and all perished!  The survivor in the T.V Programme spoke of the the shock and horror felt by all at the suddenness of the incident which led to the death of their shipmate and  friends.  I felt in a sense that he was still shocked and shaken by the enormity of what had happened all those year ago.

In a certain  limited way  I could and did relate to what had happened.  From limitd personal experience inside the S.O.E Welfrieghter  for a long period of time on my own at the bottom of the enormous tank at the Frythe I could equate with regard to he physical conditions  and limitations expressed by the crew of  Xcraft.   I have just come across recently some notes I made about the Welfrighter  about thirty years ago.During trials at Fishguard,   I wrote “that I nearly lost my life on the Welfreighter due to someone`s carlessness and studidity!”  The extraordiany thing is that I cannot recall that incident in any way.   It has been completely wiped from my mind! 

However I must stress that my experience was in no way comparable to the heroes of “Tirpitz.”    Their courage and dedication was of the highest order  and should be saluted by us all.

I am meerly saying  that having worked on the Welfreighter from 1944 to the end of the war on Morotai,Borneo under Captain Taylor R.E.M.E and Chief Engineer  Sublieutennt Williams  R.N.V.R that I and the rest of our party  could certainly show a great deal;of insight, compassion and empathy to the physical and emotional conditions  aboard a four man submarine of any make.  Of course there were self evident differences between Norway and the Pacific.  But the core relationship  of well built men  working  andnot getting  to sleep  for long periods of time  in cramped conditions can certainly be shared.  I think that the B.B.C  should  be greatly   admired for showing such a programme  and it had a profound effect on me!.  I was terribly saddened at the loss of the craft which parted from it’s tow rope and sank to the bottom of the sea.   The survivor summed it all up perfectly when he said “ The enormity and suddeness of their loss was hard to bear and to comprehend.”   Many thoughts flashed through my mind at the the end of the programme.  One persisent niggling one was the sense of relief that the war ended when it did  and no more lives were put at risk  in the  Welfreighter or wherever!   I believe that there are people who have studied the Welfeighter and other Midget  Submarines as a sort of strange hobby or to make games for a commercial end . I feel rather sorry for such people! 

The following story has nothing to do with the Welfreighter but it may fit in.  The interconnecting link is old age  and hallowed memories.    I t all starts with the Queen Mum`s Royal funeral last year.  I love state ceremonies ,the music of the Pipes and all the pomp and circumstance.  I was sitting  in front of my T.V. waiting for the ceremonies to begin when I dozed off  as old men are apt  to do.  I woke up with a start just as the cortege reached Westminster hall and I just managed to glimpse the slow  march of the Scots Guards and  to catch  the dying srains of the Lament which was being played on the Pipes.  

It was moving!  I thought  that the tune being played was  “Oft in the stilly night” by Thomas Moore.   I checked up with the Royal  College of Piping in Glasgow and it certainly was “Oft in the Stilly Night.”   The Queen mother had many wonderful and sad memories.   She lost two brothers in the Black Watch during the first world  war.  

The words of the lament are  beautiful and rather wonderful especially when you are  in our age group!    I intend to scan you a copy.  Forgive me if I am too sentimental but I suppose that that is th Irish coming out in me!  The thrd part of the story began when I opened my morning paper ,the Herald.  There staring up at me was the photograph of two dignified  old men in their eighties.   When H.M.S. Royal Oak  was torpedoed at Scapa flow on this the 65th. Anniversary of the sinking these  two old men were two 17 years old boys sleeping in their hammocks.   I believe that the words of “Oft in he Stilly Night” would certainly fit in their mind scale yesterday!   I will  send you a copy o the picture  tmorrow!  Deo Volente!  I have another intereting story to tell about our holiday in Spain ths year and a  man called Juan Gomez.   He fought  in the International brigade against  Franco  during the Sanish Civil War.  But  I have been  too  long on the computer according  to “She who must be obeyed” and so my story must keep for  another day!

All the Best for now!


(Number 60 for Terry)


Revised Saints. ( This does not cancel out the stories which I have already sent.)

The narration of all stories may twist and turn as they slowly develop and grow.  This turns out to be the case with the “Celtic saints.” A few years ago I was greatly interested in Greek Mythology.  I came across a piece by a Canadian Professor on the internet which was most helpful.  He suggested taking a central point as in a vast landscape painting and then adding all the extras to the painting over time.  For example with regard to Greek Mythology he suggested taking the “The Legend of Troy” as the centre piece in my mental painting and then adding all the thousands of stories to the main picture in the course of time.  This has certainly worked for me and has been a great success.

I intend to adopt a similar technique to my stories about the Celtic Saints.   The centre piece must be the Nile Valley and St. Anthony and the Desert Fathers.  According to Diana Leatham in her 1948 book, “ They built on Rocks”  St. Anthony on the east bank of the Nile organized the first colony of monks or Monastic gatherings.  The monks lived in separate cells, reading,praying and working with their hands at jobs necessary to sustain their way of life.  They gathered together to hear their appointed leader (Abbot) preach and to join in the celebration of he Holy Eucharist.   Silence and the contemplative life were  encouraged and great emphasis placed  on the power of good example.  So it should be today in our modern world.  The power of good example is the best form of  spreading the Good News about our Christian Faith.  Banging drums and shouting at each at street corners is a complete and utter waste of time. Just take a long hard look at the North of Ireland and its troubles over the last thirty years and you will see what I mean.     To put it simply, we are here on earth only for a short time and we should try our best to get on with one another.

The Celtic monks were faithful and copied the life of their mentors but can you imagine how difficult it was for the monks in cold, wet Scotland, Wales and Ireland.  The sun shone on the Nile but not so much on Scotland and Ireland.  At times St. Anthony`s monks were given special permission to sleep on the roofs of their cells on account of the oppressive heat.  In 1945when H.M.S. Speaker made her way between Hong Kong and Sydney bringing home Australian prisoners of War we were given permission to sleep at night under the magnificent Southern Cross in the glorious night sky.   When ever I go to Australia and look up at the Southern Cross I see an old friend and feel at home among friends.  To this day fifty odd years later I still remember the thrill and sheer joy of those nights under the stars.  

Life for the monk on a bleak cold island off the Scottish or Irish coast could not have been more difficult.   I have never been able to sleep on a hard base.  In the Navy we were sometimes paid “hard lying money” because for some reason or other we had no means or place to sling our hammocks , and perhaps we may have had  to sleep on the deck or he mess table.  I have had to do that more than once!.  Apparently the Desert monks found no great difficulty in drawing their cloaks around their shoulders and curling up in a corner of their cells to sleep on the ground.  I am sure that it would be a entirely different kettle of fish on Iona in the middle of November.  So there we are with  St. Anthony and the  great St. Martin of Tours as our role models and exemplers.

In 80 A.D this time the Romans made a successful invasion and Tacitus in the first recorded history of Scotland, states that among the tough legionnaires were a few Christians in the regular army whose fathers and possibly some relatives , had been among those who had served in Palestine at the time of Christ.   The monastic ideal came to these cold lands overland through Europe.

Why did the Christians go to the desert in the first place.  According to Diana Leatham the Christians flocked to the Desert initially to escape taxes and persecution by the Empire.  The rapidly increasing number of Arians who denied the Divinity of Christ made it essential to define that Doctrine and the Doctrine of the Holy Trinity.  A local bishop Athanasius and St. Anthony led the fight against Arianism. St. Anthony organized the men who had followed him into the Desert.

By the time that the Persecution ceased , some Christians decided that they quite liked their lives in the Deserts  of Syria,Palestine and Egypt. Last  evening Cynthia and I watched a wonderful documentary on the Blue Nile and the annual flooding, which has been so important to  the people who live
on it’s banks. The Documentary was excellent and most rewarding to watch! 

Before I go on to explain  about the monastic ideal  crossing over Europe to Britain I would like to spend some time on the attraction of the desert to people either whom I have known personally or read about.

Charles de Foulcauld was a rich playboy,soldier,patriot,explorer,hermit and he had certainly loved wine ,women and the good life in spades and then some!   As a rich, spoiled and irresponsible young aristocrat and Hussar our Charles tasted all the worldly pleasures that France in the 1870’s and 1880’s had to offer. But after being sent to North Africa with his regiment Charles fell under the spell of the Sahara and undertook a dangerous mission in Morocco,mapping this exotic and vast wasteland. It was in the desert that he first became aware of religion and his own destiny.

After a dramatic conversion  Charles became a monk and then a hermit when even the austere Trappist Order failed to satisfy his growing asceticism. Finally he became a priest and went on to lead a very hard and tough life in the Sahara building a church and winning the friendship of some very tough desert people.  In 1916 they turned on him and killed him.
I am scanning some stuff on him you may wish to use.

Then there was T.E.Lawrence aka Lawrence of Arabia and his fascinating “Seven Pillars of Wisdom” When I was a mental health officer in North London in the sixties I had a client who had served with Lawrence in the desert. My client and friend was a wonderful old man  who told me he had survived the war “despite the efforts of  “that mad b***** who tried to kill us all”, but the old man obviously loved and admired his old leader and C.O. The old man had been a machine gunner in an armoured car with Lawrence.

He was very distressed at that time with the number of people who were  determined to “debunk” Lawrence. 

Then there was my friend  from Western Austalia with S.R.D. on Garden Island.  He had been a solitary Gold Prospector near  Kalgoorlie in W. Australia during the Depression of the thirties.  He was a huge gentle giant and a true mate! Some of the stories he told me were pretty scary.   At one time he was lost for three months in the outback and his pals had given him up as lost.   Then he suddenly appeared among them one morning emerging from the Bush pushing his square old fashioned Barrow on which he had piled his gear i.e. shovel, pick,cooking stuff etc.   He had walked something like three hundred miles .   He loved the silent and lonely places and hated big cities like Perth.  I gained some impressions of his beloved lonely places when I crossed the Nullabor Plain in 1944!

“The Long Walk” by Slavomir Rawicz.  One of the most moving and powerful  journeys which I have ever read about a forced treck through Siberia,Mongolia, across the Gobi and Tibet, to India, a journey of some six thousand miles covered on foot!  (Thoughts of my daughter and the two years of V.S.O. service in Mongolia.)  Not forgetting your own trips through the magic places!  (To be continued.)


10/27/2004      ( Terry.  No 61.  “More from Bob.)

Dear Mac.Gregory,

Good morning  my dear friend and how are you both?  You and Denise have the memories of a wonderful holiday to sustain you and I am sure that you will enjoy!  Hope all is well with you both!
First of all, a few words about Welfreighter.  I said that it would probably be helpful to those who are interested in the Welfreighter to have a  pen-picture of the people whom I knew.  The officer in charge of our Maintenance Group was Captain Taylor, R.E.M.E.   

The Captain presented as a slight, spare figure who always appeared to be ill at ease and rather aloof.  He seemed to be always alone even in the middle of a crowd.   He did not converse easily.  I think that probably he was an  extremely shy and quiet man.   He was an excellent officer and looked after his men well .  He was  considered a good engineer who knew his Welfreighter inside-out!   It once slipped out that he was from “dear old South Ken.”  He was referring to the London Borough of Chelsea and Kensington.

At the impromptu celebration party (which broke out in the middleof the night when the news flashed round like magic that the Japs had surrendered) he  joined us  but discreetly slipped away when the celebrations became rather noisy and hectic and the latrines were burned o the ground.  There were many,many sore heads in the morning after that night to remember!

After that wonderful night Captain Taylor joined our party on a couple of fishing trips.  It was pleasing  to everyone that he relaxed and enjoyed himelf.

Sublieutenant Williams R.N.V.R  .  University graduate, young,tough and cocky and very much his own man.  Into every sports, especially those connected to the water.  A born leader and popular with everyone.   Always on the go!  He was the man who sorted out all the problems if and when they appeared.   A fair dinkum sort of guy!  He married in American en route to Australia.  He was certainly a very happy man when the Bomb was dropped!

Now to other things.  Last night Cynthia and I watched a fascinating programme on T.V.  It lasted for two hours.   It told about the sea battle ( apparently the last of the great battles between great warships) between the H.M.S.Hood and the Bismark.   It told the story of the battle and the successful attempt to find both  or I should say the remains of both Battleships at the bottom of the sea.  Most interesting but rather sad.   Ludovic Kennedy was one of the young  officers at the scene and he was full of compassion when  he talked about the 750 German survivors who were being rescued by out of the water by British ships.   Suddenly a U boat was spotted and instantly the order was given to all ships  to abandon the  the rescue operation  and perforce, the sailors in the water were left to their fate!   Not a pleasant thought for anyone;  especially the poor man who had to give the order!

Mac and Terry:  “She who has to be obeyed has given orders that I am this computer this instant and go for my walk now.”   I dare not disobey!

With every kind wish to you both!


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