We arrived on the dock at Liverpool 26th October, 1943 and were not long in boarding the troop ship John Ericcson. This was a German liner that was seized in New York harbour at the outset of the war and converted to carry troops. [ A few years after the war the John Ericcson burned up while in New York harbour ] Now we were told that Ireland was to be our destination and I suppose we did not doubt this. If we had listened to the civilians on the street and around the dock we could have guessed that it was not Ireland, as we heard “give them hell Canada”, and “come back safe”. Oh yes, the civvies knew more then we did. We marched on board carrying all our personal kit and small arms rifles and Tommy guns, no trucks and guns all left behind. What a shame the loving care we gave those guns and to leave them behind was worse then leaving family. To an artillery man the guns were family. That may sound strange to most but that is how gunners are .
I was allotted a bunk in a section of the ship which held either 180 or 200 other Sergeants. Our bunks were, I think, about eight or ten high. Our unit sgts. were in this area and also the rest were from other 5th Division units and it was not long before the crown and anchor dice came out, or the poker playing started, or the rolling of the dice. There always was an enterprising fellow ready to skin his fellows out of their pay, such was the start of a voyage to Ireland.
We set sail down the Mersey River towards the Irish Sea, and if memory is correct, we sailed up along the coast of Ireland gathering more ships in our convoy. Then we turned back and started sailing in a south westerly direction past the southern tip of Ireland . Oh I say this was a different change of what we had been told. We continued on this course so long that rumours were that we were going to the States to get new equipment. Oh I say rumours started quickly, but is was not long before we were getting a mepacrine tablet and malaria lectures.
As the days went by the weather was getting warmer , at least we thought so and then after all the westerly sailing we turned east. Here we had more lectures on Behavior of Troops in North Africa. Up to now it was a great trip with American rations , [even though only two meals a day what a change from brussel sprouts and mutton]. The sea all during this first few days was terrific. A lot of escort vessels and every now and then we had some aircraft patrolling above us . I cannot remember if we had any submarine alerts.
Probably about the 4th or 5th of November we sailed past Gibraltar. our history quote saying it was a beautiful sunset and a view of THE ROCK was great. As darkness fell we could see the lighted cities on the North African coast all lighted up. What a sight after the years of black out. We could not see enough of this. Smoking on deck after dark was prohibited, also you were warned not to throw anything over board in case a sub picked it up and used the information to track our passing.
We now knew we were Italy bound to join up with the First CDN Division. Lectures were given to let you know how powerful the Italian Vino was compared to beer and other liquor. We were getting pretty excited as the chance to really get in on the fighting was a culmination of all our training and were we ever eager. Looking back, boy, we knew nothing about people getting killed,
But we were young and we were ready to take on the enemy right now. On the evening of 6th November just after our fighter plane escort departed for their base we were hit by torpedo carring Junker 88s.
The German airforce had their timing just right!