In memory of HMS Dunedin and her Men

Part Three: Monday 21st November – Dinner then into the South Atlantic

The sinking of HMS Dunedin and the Epic of the “Dunedin”, by Harold Woodley

“Pass the plates down Paddy”,

“Let’s have some corned dog Mac, I’m bloomin starving”.

“Who hasn’t had their tot yet or doesn’t want it, it’s my birthday today?”

“I’ve got a blinkin cockroach in my spuds!”

“Ain’t you lucky, always getting something extra!”.

The mess had already started to get down to their dinner.

Darkie drank his tot down and asked who had the latest “buzz”.

“Mick”, who always seemed to get hold of any information, said “I heard from the “bunting tosser” that a draft is leaving the ship tomorrow!”

“Where for Mick”, someone asked.

“Home”, Mick replied.

A silence greeted his reply, for the mention of a chance of going home always raised hope in everyone’s heart.

The silence was broken by the “boson’s mate” piping mail for collection at the mail office. One man from each mess made a rush towards the mail office to collect their mess’s mail – the next best thing to being home, and how they looked forward to those letters!

Dinner was soon finished and plates pushed aside as the mail was opened up. Some lads took themselves off to quiet corners and others wet to the upper deck, for the feeling of privacy, while they were once again joined with home in news and thoughts, made the link complete.

Soon the boson’s pipes were shrilling again and the call “Out of Pipes” was echoing over the ship, to be followed in a couple of minutes by “Hands fall in on the upper deck”.

The ship’s company made their way over cables, ropes, girders, tools and paint pots, scattered all over the decks while the ship was undergoing repairs, to their various parts of the ship for detail of their respective jobs.

As the hands fell in they were reported by the Petty Officer or leading hand in charge as all correct to the Chief Boson’s Mate, who in turn reported to the First Lieutenant or “Jimmy” as he was called. The First Lieutenant then handed a list of names to the Chief who commenced to call them out, about twenty men in all, and who were told to report to the Master at Arms immediately.

A buzz of excitement soon went round the ship; “It’s a draft for England!” was on everyone’s lips. Then, as if that didn’t cause enough stir, the ‘Chief’ “Clean up and prepare for sea”! That really was a bombshell, and most of the men felt a queer feeling inside for they knew something was “on”!

As the lads were detailed for their various tasks, excitement was paramount, and ‘buzzes’ of where they were going flew from one man to another.

“Old Mickey was right”

“Must be a Gerry raider outside”!

“We might be going home” was one hopeful comment.

“Yes and we might be going to China” someone replied.

Then came from one or two the reminder that they would miss the concert party, and that put a gloom over things.

Soon too, the news spread that the twenty men whose names had been called were really going on draft – and back to England! That news put a damper on those who had hoped that was where the ship was heading.

The Dunedin was alive with men, cleaning up the mess of the half finished repairs, washing down decks, preparing cables, getting the boilers up to full steam below, stowing away the paint. While on the messdeck the twenty men on draft were sweating profusely as they endeavoured to cram uniforms, coats, towels, underclothing, shirts, ditty boxes, and a thousand other things a sailor manages to collect in his kit, besides the presents to their wives, sweethearts and mothers, of silk stocking, dress material, beads, ivory elephants, and many other oddments brought ashore – all into the ever engulfing kitbag!

Gradually the old Dunedin began to take shape once again as the fighting ship she really was. Gone was the litter from her decks of cables, ropes and tools, and like a man having the bandages removed after an operation, began to look itself except for the few tell tale scars of repairs.

“Let go for’ard!”

“Let go aft!”

Slowly the Dunedin drew away from the repair ship. Wires were already being reeled up and ropes stowed away as the throb of the ship’s engines gradually gathered momentum. Her propellers were thrashing the sea in ecstasy – like a swimmer having his first plunge into the cool water, feeling free, away from the heat and the sweat.

He head turned towards the harbour entrance and the open sea, the bows lifting gently up from the sea – proudly, like a capable and beautiful woman gliding across a ballroom floor.

The land was slowly slipping away from view, only the mountains of Sierra Leone, shaped like a lion as the name implied, could now be seen, and soon they too were engulfed by the horizon. Ahead of the ship, as far as the eye could see, was nothing but the expressionless Ocean, expressionless now, but as they all knew too well, capable of presenting amazing beauty, as at sunset like a sheet of glass reflecting the most beautiful colours of the sky – or, crashing into a thousand demons at play, tossing, rolling, smashing into the ship as if she were a toy or that the whole of their fury was directed against her.

Now as the Dunedin steamed into the vast South Atlantic, although smooth and placid on the surface – who knew what hidden dangers lay below, what devils lurked in the depths of the sea! Soon they were to find out!