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To War With The Bays: 13 - Guests Of The Misses Stone

...Once on shore, we found the good people of Cape Town waiting to greet us, sitting at tables just two or three hundred yards from the docks. Soldiers were standing in a queue and as their turn came they were taken off to be entertained...

After five weeks on the troop ship Empire Pride Jack Merewood is delighted to arrive in South Africa.

To read earlier chapters of Jack's vividly-told wartime experiences please click on To War With The Bays in the menu on this page.

We knew we were heading for South Africa. On 30 October we sighted land. After rounding the Cape of Good Hope the convoy split in two; one half went on to Durban, our half went to Cape Town.

After five weeks on the Empire Pride - shore leave. Heaven! We were all a little unsteady on our feet. It took some time to adjust to walking on dry land, and we probably rolled when we walked, like sailors. Also, for five weeks we had been made to wear pumps. Now it was back to boots, and this didn't help at first. But, we were on land, and this was a blessing.

Once on shore, we found the good people of Cape Town waiting to greet us, sitting at tables just two or three hundred yards from the docks. Soldiers were standing in a queue and as their turn came they were taken off to be entertained.

Ronnie and I had vowed that the first thing we would do when we got ashore was to find a restaurant and have a good meal. So, anxious to put our vow into practice, we gave the queue a miss and found the Waldorf Restaurant and had eggs (two each!), chips, peas, bread and butter and tea - and strawberries and cream for dessert.

Afterwards we walked about, looked around the shops, and then went to the cinema to see Leslie Howard in Pimpernel Smith. We felt great. There was no blackout in Cape Town, so in the evening the lights were a sight to enjoy.

At night it was back to the ship. We were given no indication, for obvious reasons, as to when we would be sailing, but next morning we were still there, so Ronnie and I joined the queue to the tables.

It was our good fortune to be the guests of two middle-aged sisters, the Misses Store, who turned out to be marvellous people. That day they took us to a coastal town called Muisenberg a few miles away. There was a long white sandy beach, the sea was blue, the weather was warm and sunny, and we had a wonderful day with them. They took us back to the ship in the evening with the promise that they would look out for us next day. We certainly wanted them to. What we didn't want was the ship to sail in the night.

It didn't, and true to their promise they met us next morning. This time they drove us up Table Mountain. When we got as far as we could drive, we could have ridden the cable car to the very top, but unfortunately the top was covered with a cloud, 'the tablecloth' they called it. We were still high up on the mountain however, and the view from there of the city, the wide expanse of Table Bay, and the ships, was out of this world.

Once again we had a marvellous day with them, then back to the ship and a promise to see us tomorrow. On board the talk from everyone was the same, of the fantastic hospitality being shown by these South African people.

The next day we met the ladies again. They took us for a drive, then to their lovely home, with a beautiful garden filled with an abundance of flowers. They fed us like kings. That was the first time I had ever tasted passion fruit. We also had a bath in a proper bathroom, a real luxury.

Back to the ship at night with a promise to meet tomorrow. We had been there four days, but tomorrow never came. In the early hours of the morning we heard the ship's engines start to throb, and we were on the move.

One of the sisters, Miss Gladys Store, wrote home to my parents. She and I continued to write to each other for many years, until one day in the early 1970s I received a letter from someone in Cape Town to say that she had died. She and her sister were wonderful ladies. The way they took care of us those few days in Cape Town could never be forgotten.

We sailed up the east coast of Africa and were joined by the rest of the convoy from Durban. For two days we had an albatross following the ship.

One day the Repulse, a battleship which had been part of our escort, sailed slowly up and down between the ships of the convoy and very close to them. The sailors lined the decks and waved to us. We all waved back and cheered. It was a very emotional occasion. The Repulse sailed east, and a short time later we learned she had been sunk in the battle for the defence of Singapore.

The weather began to get warm, then hot - so hot that for several nights, the sea being calm, many of the men, including Ronnie and myself, slept up on deck.

Sight of land again, and this time it was the port of Aden (then a British possession) at the southern end of the Red Sea. We stayed in the port (not allowed on shore) for a couple of days, and then the Empire Pride sailed up the Red Sea. The sunsets were beautiful, and at times we could see colourful, but barren, land on both sides.

On 25 November, 1941, we docked at Suez, the southern end of the Suez Canal. Except for the four days in Cape Town we had been on board the Empire Pride for nine weeks. Now we had to get used to dry land again.


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