Mr Rees joined his first ship, the freighter Roxburgh Castle (1) in 1941 as a deck boy aged 15½. Sailing for Rio de Janeiro, his first three days were marked by chronic seasickness. In the early morning of the fourth his ship was torpedoed.
Four boats were successfully launched and the ship sank half an hour later, bows first, in an almost perpendicular dive.
A little later the U-boat — with four aces painted on her conning tower — surfaced and came alongside the boats. Her commander apologised for sinking them, — “It’s the war you know” — asked if anyone had been hurt (there were no casualties), dispensed food and water and told them they were about three days sail from Ponta Delgada in the Azores. He then wished them luck and made off.
Whilst in the boats it was the turn of the rest of the crew to become violently seasick while, much to his surprise, young Rees remained totally immune — even to the extent of adding their meagre rations to his own. The boats made it safely to shore and, landing on shaky legs, the crew were welcomed and hospitably treated by the Portuguese.
Their stay promised to be a long one, but in the third week HMS Berwell, one of the 50 old four-stacker American destroyers landed to Britain in exchange for naval bases, arrived in port and the survivors fraternised with her ship’s company; to the of being invited to take passage home with her. This, however, was against international law.
This fact meant nothing to young Rees and his fellow deck-boy and they stowed away in the destroyer. In this they were aided and abetted by the crew, although they steadfastly denied any connivance when eventually hauled before the destroyer’s captain a day after sailing. They were put to work and a few days later having encountered heavy weather, Berwell put in Londonderry with a heavy list. There followed the usual immigration formalities and the lads were issued with survivor’s certificates and sent home on leave.
His next ship was the Dunnottar Castle and on joining her in Liverpool he, quite by chance, encountered the Roxburgh Castle’s crew only then arriving home. From them he learned that his former captain had been hauled over the coals and severely reprimanded by the Portuguese Governor for allowing the boys to escape.
Einon Rees spent an adventurous period in the Llangibby Castle during the invasion of Sicily. He recalls, as an Oerlikon gunner, having no proper sleep for months, and nothing at all during the two days they spent off Sicily.
He remained with Union-Castle until 1952 serving as an able-seaman in the mail ships Winchester Castle and Stirling Castle along with his brother Evan whose story I hope to tell in next week’s column.