May 1940, Madras


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It was a nice summer’s day in Holland. In the port of Colombo the Captain of the Abbekerk ordered the officers and crew members to the saloon under the bridge. Here he told us that he had received news from the Netherlands that the German Army had crossed the Dutch border and that The Netherlands was now at war with Germany. The ship would not be returning to Holland but would take its cargo to England.

Withholding his emotions with difficulty, he could just shout: ‘Long live the Queen’ and left the saloon and after we had shouted an emotional and hoarse ‘Hurray, Hurray,Hurray’ we left the saloon, each with our own thoughts, not knowing what the future would bring. Particularly those with wife and children were shocked and depressed.


Abbekerk in Capetown june 1940. Painted grey.

Being at sea was going to be no longer what it used to be. It was just as well nobody could look into the future. We were not trained or prepared and had not even studied for the tasks ahead where we had to face a well prepared and experienced opponent.
Learn we did. The reality looked after that but we never got used to it. We quickly found out that at sea you could be blown up every second of the day or night. This possibility was very real and that fear was with you for weeks and months at a time.

Convoy SL.38

Convoy SL.38 from Freetown to the UK

What made this life bearable? I think it was the fact that we were in familiar surroundings, doing the same normal shipboard duties at the same times. Most importantly the same crew we had known for some time was there. We were all in the same boat together.  We did not know it but from this moment in time the world was turned upside down for millions of people.


When we left Colombo with a fully laden ship we knew we were going to Great Britain. During this voyage nothing much happened. We arrived on 20th July 1940 in the harbour of Belfast where we were told to anchor.

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