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Sainfoin’s War
By W.J. Mitchell and Colin Buckenham

Some Chef's Stories

Dick Imrie

Trafalgar Day

I joined H.M.S. Sainfoin on a warm dark night 23.10.45 at Colombo. She lay out near the harbour entrance and when we approached her in the launch, she seemed like a great big building after my two previous ships. H.M. Rescue Tug Flare and H.M.S. Rapid (Destroyer). I had been drafted off Rapid some days earlier and had gone to Mayina, the transit camp.

Dick Imrie - Cook circa 1943

Rapid was sailing for the U.K. having returned to Ceylon after operations in the Malayan landings where she had been escort to a carrier group. I was 18 and too young to go home with her - her war had ended and it was still a blow to see shipmates part forever, however I was young and eager to see more of the East. Sainfoin was entirely different from Rapid's Canteen Messing as she had General Messing and a chief cook to keep it all running smoothly. I found GM best with its system and routines and I ate better! Canteen messing was almost starvation diet for me (another story). However back to 23/10 - I soon joined ship and was shown to my bunk in a `Hold' where up to 70 men were, much better than the squeeze on Rapid and nil room to sling the hammock, As soon as I was aboard (with another 3 or 4 `Draftees') we sailed and headed for Medan in Sumatra, where there was a big Japanese Aerodrome etc. and so began my many voyages on Sainfoin carrying troops to many countries and places in the East Indies. The allies wanted the Dutch to get back into their pre-war colonies and there were groups of nationalists who were determined that this would not happen, hence - much fighting and turmoil for everyone, with Britain caught in between. So, Sainfoin ferried troops of various nationalities to many places, - We could land a battalion on to a beach anywhere, so were ideally suited for the job in hand. Soon after leaving Medan, we were summoned to get to Padang (West Sumatra) a.s.a.p. where a lot of civilian refugees awaited `Rescue' (caught up in the fighting). On entering Padang harbour, we soon discovered that there were other hazards besides fighting groups! We went aground in the middle of a not so big harbour. Apparently we only had Pre-War charts and Sainfoin was 11,000 tons!! and so in a very vulnerable position! The skipper tried to get us off in a number of ways but NO LUCK - NO MOVEMENT but plenty of muddy water around. Next, he ordered all of our L.C.A.'s (fifteen, one lost at Nicobars) to be lowered, and try to tow us off! (There was a cartoon drawn and shown on the notice board later showing this attempt). However, at last and with the help of the high tide we got off. So, off we sailed for Sabang (N. Sumatra) with our refugees. All relieved to be on our ship. At Sabang, the refugees went ashore and we were welcomed and given a `Thank You Evening' ashore by the Dutch there. Lime Juice or Tea - No strong drink. So we went back to Madras for another battalion of Indian Troops to join so many others already in the fight, a sort of shuttle service I guess, for the fighting which was getting worse. Later Sainfoin needed some essential work done `Down below' and so headed for Calcutta and the dry-dock there. The natives were rioting there, so the Sainfoin needed an armed guard if the `natives' got into her. The crew were given leave and so Port Watch went to Darjeeling, 9000ft. up in the Himalaya's for 7-8 days. At our departure point we were assembled at the Central Station where we had to step over hundreds of natives trying to sleep on the only bed they knew - the station concourse. We caught the `Night Mail' north (my second train journey out there), quite an experience in itself, with it's crowded compartments and wooden seats and giant cockroaches which darted everywhere - no more so than in the toilet - a six inch hole in the floor with suitably placed foot rests. After many hours travelling and stops at important places (at one, in the early hours a young boy of around 5 or 6 yrs. sang `Pistol packing Moma for Bucksheesh Sahib'), Obviously some Yankee airmen had been to Darjeeling before us! At Siliguri we detrained and joined the Mountain Railway Trains to continue on our way. There were five or six of these small, engine and four carriage trains which went up the steep railway in convoy. Each engine had five or six men to operate it - Driver and Firemen (2) with 1 to keep the coal up in tender - going down to the firemen. Also 2 men up front at the wheels. These had a bucket of sand to enable them to place hand-fed sand on the railway lines to make the get a grip at certain spots - quite a feat and quite a sight! Soot and grit was everywhere, including our eyes and our White Uniforms! We had thousands of feet to climb, so it was a memorable journey zig-zagging and crossing lines we had only just crossed over, so loops as well. We were allowed out of carriage once, halfway up, to stretch our legs and toilet.- Phew!!! It was dark when we reached the top of the railway, so it had taken a day to travel up

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