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women, the wives and daughters of service personnel, civil servants and some civilians who had lived in Singapore. When the 1942 Japanese invasion was imminent, these ladies had been sent off to safety in Australia, and were now being repatriated to the UK, with their menfolk still languishing, if they had survived at all, in the care of the conquering Japanese. Captain McDonald had a sense of humour. We learned shortly after our meeting that as his ship had approached Durban he had told his women passengers that they would be taking on a party of 32 nuns, members of some convent who were also being repatriated. The dismay among the ladies had been profound – they had already had six weeks of their own company, and the prospect of another slow voyage home with a posse of nuns was more than they thought they could stand. So our arrival seemed to be reasonably welcomed. McDonald told us we would be joining a convoy and sailing up the east coast of Africa to the Suez Canal and then home through the Mediterranean. We would be asked to look after a specific number of the ladies in the event of an enemy attack and any disaster, four or five to each officer. We also learned from the Captain that the Nestor was not a troopship but what was technically known as a ‘sea transport’, the difference being that it was not under military control but operated as a civilian ship, which meant among other things that there was alcohol allowed aboard. He assured us that there was plenty of gin in the ship’s store. Of course there was a war on, and we were counselled to bear this in mind – we would be steaming up the coast of Africa on the way to Suez in a convoy accompanied by a frigate or two, and the danger of attack, particularly from submarines, was always present. We got ourselves settled in and made the acquaintance of the batch of ladies whom it would be our personal responsibility to muster and try to help in any way if there should be an alarm or an actual attack. The womenfolk included quite a few young people, the daughters of some of the married passengers. There was no delay before we found ourselves casting off from the Durban quayside and moving slowly down the narrow exit to the Indian Ocean up which I had sailed in the Scythia just over two years back. Once clear of the channel, we anchored in the sea just off the coast to await the assembly of the ships which would proceed north in convoy. Our ship was circled by sharks of frightening size which came to scavenge whatever found its way overboard from the anchored vessels, but we were not there for more than a day or so and eventually found ourselves under way and turning to the north in a queue of ships like our own.


It was a unique voyage. Apart from boat drills there was nothing to interfere with a leisurely life, good food and some cheap drink. The convoy had to proceed at the pace of the slowest ship and as this was no more than six knots it was going to be quite a long trip. Between the ladies and the officers there was lots of co-operation to mount amusing games and shows on a small stage in the big


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