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of a lower deck and we waited patiently enough, but bored to death. In my case I waited for ten days. Then the call came, one morning, for 32 RAF officers including me, all of us specifically named, to get aboard a couple of open trucks with our trunks and kitbags and get down to Durban docks which I had last seen more than two years before. We needed no second invitation and clambered on to the trucks, 32 young


officers with my own Thornhill CO, Group Captain Claremount, the senior among us in both rank and age. I knew none of the others. Off we went through the streets of a city with pleasant memories of sun-burned leave and the generous hospitality of the old Mayfair Hotel. We drove through the dock gates and turned left along the broad quay where a line of ships was neatly tethered, our drivers, as we knew, looking for that troopship which would be already crowded, offering us that dismal prospect of somewhere to sleep furthest away from the gangway and the ventilation. The trucks stopped. But it was just a joke. We had come to rest opposite a ship of fair size, sitting low in the water and with only its superstructure rising above the level of the quayside. It looked, to the landlubber like myself, something of a cross between a cargo and a passenger vessel, for it had a substantial centre section with obvious cabins and a promenade deck at one level around them. But we knew it was not our ship, with its promised unattractive accommodation for a few late arrivals like us. That was quite obvious, for the promenade deck was actually being used for promenading. And the promenaders were one hundred per cent female. Not only were they female, but they were on the whole young and, from the twenty yards that separated us, seemingly attractive. Some were clad in shorts rather shorter than even South &African fashion dictated. ‘Right!’ we called to our drivers, ‘You’ve had your fun! Now drive us to where we’ll be shoved into the corners furthest from the gangways! The joke’s over!’ ‘No!’ shouted our drivers. ‘This is yours!’


Unbelieving, but not unwilling to test out the instruction, 32 officers leaped from the back of the trucks, grabbed their luggage as best they could, and made for the gangway leading from the dockside up to the ship’s deck. We were allowed on board – perhaps ‘welcomed’ would have been the more appropriate word. It had been no joke. But it still made almost everyone laugh! It was indeed our ship, however disinclined we were to believe it. Crew members had our names on a list and told us where to find our berths below, where we were doubled up two to a small but comfortable-looking cabin. We were also asked to assemble in the dining room as soon as we could. By this time we were beginning at last to believe our luck. The ship’s captain was McDonald by name. He welcomed us in a few short words and told us we had arrived aboard the SS Nestor, a ship of some 13,000 tons which was indeed a mixed cargo/ passenger vessel. It had a cargo of wolfram and had left Sydney, Australia six weeks before. Its passengers numbered something like 150 and they were all


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