"NOW HEAR THIS"
Title: North Africa, Mers-El-Keber Harbor, 1943
Published: July 1996
By: Lyle Davis
The Savannah was tied to the port side of the harbor. To our starboard, directly across the pier from us was the H.M.S. George V, a British battleship. This ship was tied port side, too, with their starboard facing seaward. Both ships had been docked in place for about 10 to 15 days. The Savannah during this time got to feeding so many of the British Ship’s Crew at lunch and dinner that our Purser (supply officer) came to Capt. Carey and complained. As you remember, Capt. Carey was a very charitable person, so he was rather surprised at hearing this.
HMS George V
After pausing a few moments to gather his thoughts, he finally replied, “Our supply lines are well established, we are not suffering shortages are we – we are all in this together so what difference does it make – generally our mess is so much better that theirs I really can’t blame them for coming over here. Their captain or Ex-Office hasn’t complained that I know of about our officers going to their war room mess and drinking up their whiskey every evening. Turnabout seems fair play to me.”
Lt. R.C. Carman (asst. navigator) who was present during this conversation related the story and remarks to us at a later date. Personally, I always suspected that many of the English sailors’ invitations by our crew were only bribery to get their daily rum ration.
One of the funniest incidents which took place at the time was when the British received word late one evening that his Majesty King George VI, was to make a cursory inspection the next morning. As you may recall, the HMS George V was a dirty rusty looking monster. It was weird looking – almost as if its fantail had been chopped off. (Later it was learned the original design has been altered to comply with tonnage limitations under an International Disarmament Agreement after World War I.) Early the next day the HMS crew turned out at 0430 – by working diligently and with lots of hustle, they managed to get the port side of the ship’s hull and super-structure painted. No time left to paint the starboard side which was seaward.
The King finally came aboard the HMS George around 1000 hours, along with his entourage of about 15 people. All were high ranking military personnel of the English, French and US Forces. The crew manned the rail port side in their dress whites, and their Captain proceeded to escort the king and his group from forecastle to stern, port side only. The group was not allowed to see any of the starboard side of the ship. (Our crew on the CL-42 laughed about that paint job for weeks on end as I remember.) I don’t remember if they ever did paint the starboard side of the ship. (Surely they must have at sometime.)
We (CL-42) went to quarters in our working uniforms and when the ceremonies were completed on the HMS, this group came aboard the Savannah. (In the four years plus that I was aboard the CL-42, it was the only time I ever remember being called to quarters. (“N” Division assembled on the main deck, starboard side of #2 turret.) The king stopped at each of the divisions’ quarter station and spoke a few words with each Division Officer. To Lt. Carman he said, “You have a f-f-f-fine looking cr-cr-crew.” (None of us had previously known he stuttered. Later I read this affliction was the reason for him appearing to be very shy and introverted – which was not his personality at all.) He then saluted and walked down the gangway. To this day I can’t recall ever being issued any rum – do any of you?
I do remember while at sea, a group of us getting together in the sail locker, from time to time, to split a pint of 198 proof alcohol which was supplied by one of the Pharmacist Mates. We cut it with orange and grapefruit or pineapple juices, as I recall.
I write these reminiscences in hopes they will stimulate your memories so that these stories and others can be embellished upon. By recording these and others, we can leave a real legacy to our children and their offsprings.
Recently I read a book on the Civil War. It was just collected letters to family and friends from those individuals who participated in the conflict. It was very interesting. Let’s not let our memories die with us.
Lyle Davis, "N" Division