Troopships and the Regiment
Life on a troopship - first impressions
The late RSM HC (Tommy) Atkins wrote in his autobiography ‘Toil, Tribulation, Triumph’, his first impressions of life on a troopship. He moved with his Regiment, 2nd Bn The Queen’s Royal Regiment from Southampton bound for Haifa, Palestine on the 1st January 1939 in the troopship HT Nevasa. He was then a very young private soldier.
“The routine of embarkation at Southampton went with the military precision that one would expect from our battalion. Of course, they like the 1st battalion had considerable experience of trooping by sea from their many excursions abroad. There were of course a number of us who had never travelled abroad on troop ship before and we were excited at what lay before us.
HT Nevasa was a well-known troopship to all old hands. As we went aboard we were allocated to a mess deck. I think mine was about four decks down. There were no cabins as was to become the fashion in years to come except, for the officers. All our kit bags and heavy equipment was stowed below in the baggage hold, and we were left with just small items such as washing and cleaning kit for the voyage.
The mess deck consisted of a number of tables and benches firmly secured to the mess deck for obvious reasons, and arranged uniformly in rows. Sleeping accommodation was in hammocks slung from hooks on the mess deck heads. The hammocks could not be collected from the hammock room before a certain time each evening, about 2000 hrs. In the morning, immediately after reveille, the hammocks would have to be rolled to a certain pattern and size and returned to the hammock locker.
The more experienced old hands would reserve all the good placed for slinging their hammocks, while we the in-experienced had to learn all the tricks of living and sleeping on a troopship. But by and large, we all mucked in and we settled in very quickly.
The sight of troopships leaving Southampton is now a thing of the past, and has been since about the 1960’s. The nearest parallel was the recent Falklands War in 1982. It was a more common sight in pre-war days especially during the Trooping Season. As the troopship edged away from the dock side a Band would strike-up with the tune ‘Auld Lang Syne’, and a small fleet of small boats would follow the troopship out into the Solent. On board many of these small boats would be many Senior Officers who had served with the regiment, and past and present members of their families. It was a touching scene, and these many years later the tune ‘Auld Lang Syne’ reminds me of those days.
By the time the first night at sea had passed most of us were well and truly sea sick, but by the third day we had begun to find our sea legs and the remainder of the voyage passed pleasantly.
One small disappointment I had while on board. As we neared Gibraltar, it was my turn to be posted as sentry down in the hammock hold. By the time I was relieved and got to the top deck, all I could see of Gibraltar was a lump of rock sticking out of the sea from the stern of the ship. The next time I was to see Gibraltar was in July 1944, when again I didn’t see very much as we were in a convoy of ships and passed through the straights in the hours of darkness, and at the same time there was a submarine alert on.On the 11th January we docked at the port of Haifa, disembarkation proceeded immediately with the same degree of military efficiency as for embarkation.”