John Dunsmore

Recollections taken from LOF News

The 'Ville De Strasbourg' was caught trying to run the blockade back to France and was handed over to the Union Castle Mail Steamship Co.. I signed on her as cadet in Birkenhead on the 11th November 1942, shortly after this had happened. We loaded a full cargo in Liverpool and as she was a passenger cargo liner, we carried a number of troops. The ship then proceeded to the Clyde to join a large convoy bound for North Africa. We were made commodore ship, and the name of the Commodore was Anchor.

The ship arrived at Bone, the other ships in the convoy had separated and had gone to Oran, Algiers, Bougie and Phillipville on the way. At Bone, we came under heavy air attacks until we sailed. I remember the ship ahead of us at Bone was the cruiser HMS Ajax, which was hit by a large bomb and had to proceed to Gibraltar for repairs. Quite a number of other ships were hit and sunk at Bone, including a tanker which lit up the harbour at night until they managed to put out the fire two days later.

The ship was well armed, but we ran out of ammunition for our guns three times at Bone and had to wait for replenishment from ashore. The bomb that struck us at Bone was only 50 kilos and did not do a lot of damage except to our superstructure and unfortunately to our 2nd Radio Officer. After leaving Bone, we were torpedoed in the port side of No.1 hatch off Bougie. We then abandoned the ship and were picked up by a escort vessel.

Then when the ship did not sink, a small party, including myself returned to the ship. I was sent down No. 2 hatch with the Chief Engineer to carry a torch while he inspected the bulkhead between No's 1 and 2 hatches. We found that all that saved the bulkhead from collapsing was 600 tons of coal against it, which there hadn't been time to unload at Bone. I always remember standing looking up at the bulkhead in No. 2 and watching it bend in and out as the swell swept in against it from the torpedo hole in No. 1.

Eventually, with the help of the Tug 'Salvestor', we ended up in the middle of the South Harbour in Algiers at anchor. About two weeks later, we were again hit by a very large bomb, which landed on the forecastle head. The damage it caused was very extensive, setting the ship on fire and fracturing all the pipelines. Without the 'Salvestor' , being alongside, and with the use of her hoses and help from her crew the ship would have been a total loss. Part of the windlass ended up in the tween decks of the ship discharging alongside about a quarter of a mile away - this gives you some idea of the force of the explosion.

I was on the bridge standing next to the Chief Officer and we were both hit by shrapnel. Unfortunately, he died shortly afterwards from his wounds. I was eventually taken ashore, operated on in one of the army field hospitals, and about six weeks later came home on the Hospital Ship 'Newfoundland' I recovered from my wounds and returned to sea some 6 months later. Being seriously wounded, I was put on full disability pay which was £2 17s 6d (£2.875). My wages as a first year cadet was £2 10s (£2.50) per month, plus half war bonus of £5 per month, making a total of £7 10s (£7.50) per month.

So as you can see, as a cadet, I was far better off when wounded than when I was working? Repairs to the ship were carried out and then she returned to Gibraltar, where further repairs were completed. She then returned to the Clyde in July 1943 and as I did not live so far away at the time, I was invited on board to see her. she had certainly taken a lot of punishment and had survived.

G.N. Elliot 4th Officer promoted Chief Officer    Awarded MBE

G.C. Granger AB   Awarded BEM

Captain E.G. Perkins  Commended Posthumously

Chief Officer G.W. Du Fosse

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