The War Service Story of Charles Thomas Tulloch (Scottish Immigrant)

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Charles Thomas Tulloch

Charles Tulloch was born at Dundonald Golf Club, Gailes, Scotland on 7 November 1924. He enlisted in the British Merchant Navy in 1942 at the age of 17 and served 14 years as a Radio Officer, eight of those as Radio Officer In Charge.

During World War 11 he served in eight different ships: CLARISSA RADCLIFFE from 4 may to 17 September 1942, LORIGA from 5 October to 4 December 1942, MANCHESTER MERCHANT from 11 December 1942 to 1 February 1943, LOCHMONAR from 8 February to 16 July 1943, NOVELIST from 6 August to 8 November 1943, EMPIRE AUSTEN from 19 November 1943 to 3 August 1944, MACGREGOR LAIRD from 1 September to 6 December 1944, and CITY OF CANTERBURY from 5 January 1945 to 24 July 1946. For his wartime service he was awarded the 1939-1945 Star, Atlantic Star and Clasp, Burma Star, Italy Star and the War Medal 1939-45.

He married Elizabeth Ann Raeside in 1958 and emigrated to Canada in 1959. He worked as a television master control room technician in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan and in Peterborough, Ontario, and died in Peterborough on 8 December 1993. He is survived by his two sons, Tom and Angus, who are currently serving in the Canadian Navy (2004).

This account, written by Charles Tulloch, describes his experiences in his first ship, the CLARISSA RADCLIFFE (Port of Registry London, 5,753 Gross Tons) on convoy duty in the North Atlantic during World War 11. He served in that ship as 3rd Radio Officer for two trips during the Battle of the Atlantic: 4 May to 15 June 1942, and 18 June to 17 September 1942. The CLARISSA RADCLIFFE was later torpedoed and sunk by U-663 on 18 March 1943 as part of convoy SC-122.

She lay against the wharf in Middlesboro Dock, like a great hulk which had been submerged on the sea-bed for eons; with the patches of rust along her battered, grimy sides, bleeding like so many open wounds along her great length. Her stark grey smoke-stained funnel standing up, as did her stokehold ventilators, like the ravaged limbs of a long forgotten sea-creature. A small army of Geordie ‘dockies’ laboured to unload the remnants of her cargo of coal from her dark and cavernous holds.

Up under the fo’cs’tle-head, barely discernible amid the flaking grey paint, one could make out the name “Clarissa Radcliffe”. She was undoubtedly a Welsh steam collier, backed up by the inch or so of coal dust which lay about her everywhere, and which permeated thru’ the smallest openings, into her cabins and accommodation, to form a black layer on top of all the exposed furnishings. ‘Irish Pennants’ were everywhere!

This was my impression of my first ship, to which I had been assigned as 3rd. Radio Officer, and indeed, the future looked very bleak! Although I did not know it at the age of 18, marked the beginnings of a long infatuation with the sea and ships, which were to take me to far, and otherwise exotic places.

I had left High School at 15, just as W.W.11 had been declared, with the ever present desire to join the British Merchant Service, like so many of my forebears had done. I was not sure how one would set about such a venture, however marine engineering seemed to hold some attraction for me. My first job was with Laird’s of Irvine, which Company manufactured Pulley Blocks, and galvanised fittings of every sort for the Royal Navy, who incidentally were their only customer! They were the main suppliers of all kinds of wooden and metal blocks and tackles for use on board ship, including the massive great anchor chains, made up of links around 20” long 12” wide and 3” thick.
The Blockwork was a main industry in Irvine, and a large portion of the local population was employed there. My ‘job’ was filing the bumps off the galvanised fittings, and after a while, and what seemed to be miles of galvanised fittings, bruised hands and ego, I decided that it was just not ‘engineering’ and turned away from that project very much enlightened!

As the wartime preparations took hold of the country, various Anti-Aircraft Units began to spread themselves thru the area in strategic positions. Barracks and camps were commandeered for quarters for the many units of Allied Forces. Tanks and Artillery rumbled thru the streets, bent on secret individual manoeuvres. Barrage ballons flew over Nobel’s Dynamite Factory, and the Royal Ordnance works to deter enemy low-flying planes. Barbed wire entanglements, and anti-tank obstacles were much in evidence along the exposed beaches, as were various Anti-Aircraft gun emplacements.

After about a year or so as a very junior clerk in the Navy, Army, & Air Force Institutes,…affectionately known as the ‘NAAFI’ by the troops, and who dealt with all the various provisions required by the many units and regiments stationed around the countryside, I found that supplementary Radiotelegraphists were required by the Merchant Navy to form a continuous Radio Watch for the Safety of Life at Sea. I started to attend classes in 1940 at the Glasgow Wireless College in Clifton Street, where there were quite a number of people about my own age, including girls, taking the P.M.G. Special Wartime Certificate in Radiotelegraphy. The course was not a difficult one, and consisted mainly of Morse Code, Sending and Receiving, Rules and Regulations of the Post Office, Telegrams, Q-Codes, together with Distress, Urgency, and Safety Procedures. The remainder of the course dealing with the fundamentals of Radio, Transmitters, receivers, and Direction Finders. Every so often there were Post Master Generals Examinations, and if one was lucky enough, became the proud possessor of a Special P.M.G. Wartime Cert. of Proficiency. Then it was off to ‘Paisley’s’,…the Naval Outfitters in Jamaica St. to be measured for uniform, which sported one single wavy gold-lace stripe around the cuffs, and the much admired brass buttons! Thus, one became a Junior Radio Officer or ‘Sparks’,… and repaired to the Marconi International Marine Communications Co. to break the happy news!!

The Marconi Int. Marine Comm. Co. manufactured, supplied and fitted various radio and electronic equipment to ships when they were built. They were also responsible for staffing these ships with qualified Radio Officers, who were assigned to the different ships which were about to sail. Ships Articles were signed, which was a formal legal contract agreement between the parties concerned. In effect, we were employed by the Marconi Co. and loaned out to the various shipping companies. So far as money was concerned, an allowance of four pounds per month was made to each man, which, hopefully would cover all cash requirements on the voyage, with regard to advances and Ship’s Slop Chest! Such was deducted from one’s basic salary when the vessel closed Articles. This allowance was barely enough to get by on in all the different countries one was liable to visit during the course of the voyage, and did in fact give rise to the popular belief that R/O’s were the poor relations to the sea-going profession.

During wartime, three R/O’s were appointed to each ship to provide continuous watchkeeping coverage in the ship’s Wireless Room. On the “Clarissa Radcliffe”, Chief R/O Willie Steptoe from Newcastle, 2nd R/O Claude Riches from King’s Lynn,…whose father was a gardener at the Royal Residence there, and myself. We managed somehow, to clamber up the rickety accommodation ladder suspended almost vertically from the main deck some forty feet above. Thankfully, the Bosun had thrown us a line to get our baggage on board.

Our accommodation was a cabin below the bridge on the main deck, right next to the saloon, whilst the Chief had his single cabin next to the Wireless Room, adjacent to the Captain. The Wireless Room was little bigger than a walk-in closet, filled to capacity with Transmitter, Receiver, and a rather Heath Robinson antennae system of brass and copper. A large black canvas curtain baffle hung in front of the door,…and immediately behind the operator’s chair! It was so cramped that when the three of us were inside it was like being crammed into a British Post Office Telephone box! All the extra space was taken up by a Lifeboat Transmitter inside a floatable suitcase, and a small battery receiver. A rather ominous galvanised tin box, riddled with holes, and weighted with lead, was evident under the bench. This was where all the Admiralty Secret Codes were stored, and which, in the event of being torpedoed, was one of the first items to be dumped overboard. A precaution to prevent the Codes from falling into the hands of the U-boat skippers. Thankfully, I have never had the occasion to dump, altho’ this situation came perilously close during the next four years of war. Three years later on a troop ship “City of Canterbury” we lost the Secrets box as we were about to leave Bombay. A thorough search of the ship was to no avail. Somewhat sheepishly, our Skipper had to report the loss to the Port Naval Authority, who in turn advised the Admiralty in London of the serious loss. As a consequence, all the current Convoy and Naval secret Codes throughout the whole world, had to be cancelled, and new codes instituted. A week later, our skipper discovered the ‘sinker’ with the code books inside, under the bunk in his stateroom! That was the real ‘sinker’!!
“Clarissa Radcliffe” sailed from Middlesboro in convoy to Newfoundland in company with some 15 to 20 other vessels. We left the convoy there, and carried on alone to a small island in Conception Bay called Wabana, Belle Isle. There to lead a cargo of Iron Ore. The convoy was made up of all types of ships, tankers, passenger-cargo, freighters,… some old, some new, with a few really ancient tubs of foreign registry, and of doubtful origin, daring to risk the elements of the ocean. All were arranged in lines, the whole forming a solid block, all travelling at a speed acceptable to the slowest member of the group. Three Navy destroyers were in escort, the Senior Escort officer travelling zig-zag fashion across the front of the convoy, the other two making runs back and forth at the sides. At the rear, was a Rescue ship,…usually something fancy like a steam yacht, which had been taken over by the Navy. Her purpose was to hopefully pick up any survivors in the water in the event of a U-boat attack. They were usually well appointed vessels, with lots of accommodation and facilities.
The voyage across the North Atlantic Great Circle Route was tense, and it was at the height of the U-boat menace in the Battle of the Atlantic. Radio silence was the order at that time, and apart from taking the Traffic Lists from Portishead at the start of each watch, for any messages for the ship or convoy, there wasn’t much for the R/O to do after checking equipment, and topping up the batteries. Both 2nd and myself, because of our signalling skills, were henceforth required to stand watch on the bridge. In this way we managed to become quite expert with an Aldis Lamp, together with the strings of flag messages put up by the Commodore ship. In the heavy weather of the Western Ocean, it was hard to become accustomed to being wrapped up in a Duffle-coat, and seaboots, handling an Aldis in the heaving wetness of the bridge wing, with the ever present nausea in the pit of your stomach. Nice tho’ in the balmy mornings with the cold sun shining. We found it most absorbing receiving flag signals of U-boats in the vicinity, from the Senior Escort, and the various counter-manoeuvres.

With us on the bridge watch were the Officer of the Watch, a Cadet, Helmsman, Two DEMS Naval gunners, and a ‘Peggy’,…who constantly kept us supplied with huge mugs of cocoa, hot and steaming, and slabs of bread and sweaty ship’s cheese,…and who cared!! All most conscious of the fact that we were being surveyed thru’ some Gerry periscope out there in the rollin’ ocean potion!! There were some U-boat contacts, kept at bay by the wits of the three destroyers and their depth-charges. During this, the whole convoy did zig-zag turns, relayed by flag signals down each line. It was amazing to see all ships turn at the same time, unless it was some old battered Peruvian scow which turned the wrong way, or didn’t get the signal!! Finding himself close up on another vessel coming over his bow. Pandemonium then ensued!!

We loaded Iron Ore from Wabana, Nfld. And after a most pleasant week on shore there, with the friendliness of the local people, headed back to join the Eastbound Convoy for Cardiff, Wales. It was a very apprehensive trip over, as all the time we were aware that if we actually were to take a torpedo with this cargo, the old bucket would go down like a stone, in three minutes flat! Before you would ever have time to get your ‘Wellies’ on!!

Off-duty hours were not at all boring, as there was always something on the go. There was no hot water piped to the washrooms, so each cabin was furnished with a watering-can with a spout. To get hot water for shaving or dhobying, one had to go along to the galley mid-ships, and try to scrounge some from the cook. If he was is a congenial mood, you got it,….otherwise one had to go down the Engine-room and collect some from the condenser hot-well! In such an old ship of some 22 years, it was an unnerving experience negotiating your way down the steel ladders of the Control platform, ducking hissing steam-pipes and sliding around on the film of coal-dust and oil, which covered everything! One was all but deafened by the noise down there, from the generators, and all the associated pumps, and the huge triple-expansion engine. It was a good place to learn lip-reading, as ordinary conversation was out of the question. It was tactful to ask the engineer on watch for a favour, and I must admit to feeling rather foolish, trying to raise my voice above the din of the machinery. Funny too, trying to understand what he was saying. It was a bit like being in some form of Hell, with the racket, and the heat, sweat, and the clatter of shovels on the Stokehold. All the while, I stood just mesmerised at the tons of steel whirling around, driving the eighteen inch shaft which disappeared aft down the tunnel, towards the propeller. I found it an absolutely fascinating place! Tho’ I was always brought back by the morbid thought, that if a torpedo were to hit, that whole ship’s side would just open up like a tin can! It is frightening enough to be down there when the depth-charges are being dropped…….sounds like the voice of doom!
The stokers were all Liverpool-Irishmen, and tho’ rough as diamonds, could be a real good bunch. On the 4-8 watch in the morning, they’d start up their band,…keeping time on the shovels to a mouth-organ. All the seagoing shanties were aired at the top of their lungs, the end result issuing from the two huge stokehold ventilators on either side of the funnel, and audible to the watchmen on the bridge. It was always most amusing! Times they would fry some eggs on a shovel, inside one of the furnaces, and Boy!...They were excellent! It sure took real men to endure that kind of environment! Their whole lives seemed to revolve around shovels and coal. Even when they were all dickeyed-up to go on shoreside, there was still a kind of dustiness following them around,…like Lynus and his grotty blanket!!

Meals on these ships were somewhat Spartan! Some Companies did not have good meals, and were well known for their lack of culinary arts! Stew was on the menu one day, and when it arrived, it had a distinct green ‘aura’ around it, which did nothing for the appetite! Always, it seemed, if you took your porridge or rice pudding apart, you would discover a myriad of steam flies or weevils cooked in along with it! ‘Course the real shocker was when you found the corpse of an unlucky cockroach,…or half of one! ! These were always part and parcel of these old ships, as were rats! Large, greasy looking rodents migrating from the far Eastern ports. Ship rats, which, when cornered, would face up to a man! Sometimes at night, when in port, we would put a cargo lamp cluster over the empty hold on the hatch-coaming. You could see the rats foraging around in the dunnage, some sixty feet below in the bottom of the hold. With a large marline spike which weighed about 12-14 oz. and a line attached, it was possible to kill some of these ‘stowaways’ by dropping the spike down on them! That thing would be really travelling, when dropped from that height! And, ‘Whap!....it would hit and pin the rat to the dunnage! It was an effective way to get rid of these unwanted guests, and provided some form of recreation among the crew!

After an eventful voyage across the Atlantic, we arrived in Cardiff, Wales, to commence discharge. From the Marconi Depot there, I was reassigned to the ‘Clarissa Radcliffe’ for a successive trip, together with Claude 2nd R/O. We were a bit disconsolate when we discovered, that while in port, all the Main Generators were shut down, and we were reduced to the dim and somewhat miserable light from oil lamps for the rest of our stay in port! This must have been one of the very last ships to have oil lamps fitted in brass gimbals on each bulkhead. Shades of the Depression era, when all seamen, including Officers were required to supply their own bedding, etc…..usually a straw mattress referred to a as a ‘Donkey’s breakfast’. Facts which were always brought home to us by Captain Dai Jones, a rough character with an obvious resentment of the sea and ships, to say nothing of his crew! Indeed, his very presence on the bridge brought back all the poverty and hardship of the Depression, as tho’ he himself were the cause of it! Possessed of an acute canniness where money was concerned, and tight as the proverbial drum, he had been at sea since boyhood sailing on ocean tramp steamers. ‘Tramp steamers’,…because they were just that! Nondescript vessels, old, dirty, and covered with rust, which plied the world searching for cargoes, wherever they could find them, in any and every out-of-the-way place. Truly he was the only Skipper I sailed with who could be referred to as a ‘crusty old shellback’! No fault to him, tho’, as it was a hard life to have to live!

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The second voyage of the ‘Clarissa’, was very much the same as the previous one, altho’ the destinations were different. We proceeded back across the Atlantic to Montreal, where we loaded gypsum for two or three days. After this we went downriver to Trois Rivieres, and loaded a deck cargo of sawn timber. The timber was stacked on the main deck, fore and aft of the Midships accommodation, to a height of about eight feet. This meant that the seamen and firemen had to scramble up and across the top of the timber, in order to reach the after accommodation or the fo’cst’lehead. In addition to the stowage, large baulks of timber ten feet long were lashed along the sides of the ship to prevent the lot from working loose and falling into the sea. The whole thing was lashed down with wire hawsers and bottle-screws, to eye brackets welded to the deck. The cargo booms of each hatch now lay horizontally within eighteen inches of the deck cargo each in its cradle, to prevent shifting. We sailed alone down the St. Lawrence to Halifax, where we joined up with the East-bound Atlantic convoy. All eager to get the trip finished, and gain a spot of leave, and home!
Halifax, then, was not the grand city it is nowadays, with all the new shopping malls, large hotels everywhere, restaurants, bars, etc! But rather the typical sealing port, with all the sights, signs, and smells of the fishing industry. There was a distinct odour of tarry ropes, mingled with the smells of the different cargoes in the warehouses. Wooden wharves were much in evidence, and one could practically tie up alongside Barrington Street. The houses and store-fronts were all wooden clap-board, frame buildings, many of them having seen better days! It was a safe harbour, and provided refuge for the convoys and escort vessels, from the harsh elements of the Atlantic, and the ever present threat of U-boat attacks. We lay in Bedford Basin, behind Halifax, which was a natural anchorage. From here, all convoys were formed up, for the many destinations, and after the Admiralty Convoy Conference had convened, all ships would form up again outside Halifax, and the Secret Orders would be opened.

The necessity for Radio Silence, again meant that we would be on the bridge watches, handling the signal-flags and Aldis Lamp. The weather was fair, with the promise of a fairly good crossing.
When we were about half-way across the Atlantic, the Chief Engineer came to the bridge to see the ‘Ol Man’! It appeared they were having some problem in the Engine-room. The ‘Chief’ was an Irishman, from the Free State. He wore a battered greasy uniform cap on his head with a badge and the skip slewed around over his ear. He wore an off-white and grimy pair of overalls, liberally stained with grease, with rips and tears as evidence of long and faithful service down below! The comical part was a pair of crossed eyes, over a very stubby beery nose. Each eye focussing on an opposite thwart! While he spoke to the Captain, I got the uncanny feeling that he was talking to me!
The ‘Chief’ came to the bridge on three separate occasions on the same day. Next morning there was a bang from the engine-room! The cover had blown off the circulation pump, and the sea-water was mounting almost to the level of the Control platform, consequently the ship developed a list to Starboard at an alarming angle! Up on the bridge, the Captain and three Mates took off for the engine-room, leaving me alone up there with two gunners, and a curt ‘Keep a good lookout Sparks’! The ship was listing quite badly, and we lay without power on the swelling sea. This is an awful feeling, wallowing from Port to Starboard,…just like being on a dead whale, uncontrollable, and nothing you could do about it, as the rolling ocean came up and under.

Up forward, I could see the cradle for the #1 cargo-booms, each time she heeled over, the cradle would move slightly to each side. After a while, the cradle collapsed, and both 3-ton booms slewed to Port, and mowed down all the tops of the vertical baulks exposed, right back to the forward masthouse. Here, they fetched up with an ominous boom, which echoed thru the ship, before they started out on their Starboard careen. The vertical baulks on that side were also reduced to matchwood, again, right back to the masthouse.

Realising that either the deck timber, or the booms and forward mast may be broken, and go right over the side, I jumped to the engine-room voice pipe, and yelled the news to the Mate. Shortly after, a small wiry ‘Geordie’ Bosun with a jaunty walk appeared, and clambered up on top of the deck cargo. Watching for an appropriate moment, when the booms had passed, he ran to the fo’cs’tlehead and found another wire hawser. With this he managed to lasso both booms, and snug them tight, as they passed centre again. Then both were lashed down securely once more. It was like a Wild West Rodeo, watching him juggle with those 3-ton monsters, and all by himself too!!
It became most apparent that we were in a pretty bad way, to be in the middle of U-boat territory! The convoy had, by this time, long since disappeared beyond the horizon, having not dared to slow down and wait for us! The Commodore dispatched a tiny Corvette back to us, and they commenced to circle us, to give some sort of assistance in case of an attack. Truly, we were an immense ‘sitting duck’, and one torpedo would have terminated all possibilities in righting the vessel, and of making any repairs.

Shortly, the Captain was forced to concede to the emergency, and ordered all hands down into the tween-decks of the ship’s coal-bunkers to try and help counteract the list by shovelling the coal up to the other side of the ship! This meant, that all available manpower,..including the R/O’s and Cadets, had to turn to, and fill wheel-barrows, and run them up the steep deck, and empty them on the high side! Two days and one night were spent in shifting this lot. Working feverishly in the dim and dusty confines, together with the stokers, trimmers, greasers, and most of the deckhands! The Captain and Mates, keeping the bridge watches, and communicating with the Corvette escort, who continued his circular course!

Slowly, the ship gained an upright position with the help of ballast tanks to gain equilibrium. All this while, the engineers had been attempting repairs down below, without very much success, altho’ they had managed to stem the inward rush of seawater, and pump out most of the flooded bilges. But the extent of the damage done, was beyond any effective repair. Word was relayed to the Corvette that we could not regain power for propulsion. We were a bit far out in the ocean, and it was very risky to break Radio silence and get a deep-sea tug out to this longitude, to say nothing about how long it would take! Finally, it was decided to pass a manilla hawser to the little Corvette, and he would make an attempt to tow us closer to Northern Ireland.

This situation went on for a further two days, without any incident and relatively free from U-boat contacts! We inched our way across the remaining expanse of ocean to within 100 miles of Ireland. Then the Corvette Skipper flashed that he was having engine difficulties, due to the weight of the tow. In fact he had strained his main engines to the point where he could no longer carry on towing! Radio silence was broken, and a message was dispatched to Admiralty, duly coded in the secret convoy codes, and we settled in to await the arrival of the deep-sea tug.

We all had the uneasy feeling, that in the Northern Approaches to the UK there was a chance that our Radio signals would be intercepted by the U-boat packs in that area. This was where they cruised, and lay in wait for the convoys moving in and out of the UK ports. All on board were prepared in readiness to abandon ship, each with life-jacket on, and one’s valuables in a small bag slung around your neck! Life-boats were made ready to lower, L/B Transmitter in its suitcase stowed in #1, and all lookouts were doubled. Just why we did not have any trouble with U-boats at this time, was not fully understandable, to the extent that it bothered everyone. But there was not even an alert, or a submarine sighting at all, and we considered ourselves extremely lucky in this respect! One theory was, that the U-boat packs were already stalking another out-bound convoy at that time, and this could only fit with the situation.

The deep-sea tug was a welcome sight when
she arrived, some twelve hours later. In a flurry of bow-wash and foam…like a mother duck bustling around her charges, in no time at all, she had her hawser on board, and began to tow us in company with the little Corvette.

The tow ended at Birkenhead, Liverpool, where we were thankfully paid off, and discharged. Then it was up to the Marconi Depot in Water St. to claim our well- earned leave! For about three weeks after, I kept discovering coal-dust in everything I owned, and perhaps a day or so getting rid of the ingrained black dust on my hands and arms! So much for ‘tramps’, and thankfully they were all to disappear shortly after, perhaps ‘slated’ to become temporary harbours during the Allied invasion of France! These old ships were towed in close to the beach, and sunk, to provide breakwaters and docking facilities for the invading forces.