Gordon joined the Sibajak, a Dutch troopship and stayed on it for about seventeen months carrying African troops from West African ports to Bombay (Mumbai) India. It was quite an experience dealing with all the nationalities aboard at any one time. The ship’s officers were mainly Dutch and the rest of the crew were mainly from the Dutch East Indies but did include a number of Germans who were on board at the commencement of hostilities.
Gordon found the food on board very fatty for his liking, meat balls and sausages often stale. The cook came from Java but used to say “Liverpool good” obviously liking the city.
The Dutch were remarkable in conversing in Dutch, German, French, English and Malay often in the space of a few minutes. Very impressive but as one remarked, “We need to as no-one learns Dutch”.
Most of the African troops came straight from the bush and had never been aboard a ship. They seemed so unready for the conflict in Burma. Their white sergeants tried to keep them occupied during the voyage by organising physical exercises and boxing matches. One got out of hand when one boxer really hurt another. All hell broke loose and a small tribal war started. Order was only restored when the gunners got them dancing round the deck . What a joy to see hundreds of Africans doing the Conga.
Following two trips to Bombay, they started carrying troops from North African ports to Italy. Back and forth they went across the Mediterranean carrying thousands of troops whilst dodging German bombers. They sailed into an Italian port at dawn, unloaded 1000+ troops in an hour or so and then sailed again south.
Once, they moored in Naples for 36 hours where Gordon met up with Clifford Ayres, an old friend from York who was a railwayman. He was now a Captain in the Army and he treated Gordon to a meal and a visit to the Opera which was wonderful, entertaining mostly British and Canadian troops. Quite a change from normal watch duties,0400 - 0800, 1600 - 2200. Sleep 2200 - 0330.
They once loaded a large number of strange desert fighters from Morocco who were to fight in the French Alps. They had women with them who washed clothes in the lavatories by pulling the chains continuously which brought gushes of salt water. There was usually a queue at the aft end of the ship for their other services!
Gordon and his pals were allowed ashore in France for a few hours but were scared off by approaches by local ladies. Gordon recalled the cafe proprietor yelling after them “Anglais!”
A memorable voyage was carrying 100 wives and 150 children, some babies, from Aden where they had evacuated from Singapore and the Far East back home to Liverpool. There were sighs of relief all round when they docked in the Mersey.