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

Some Chef's Stories - contd.


At the leave camp we were given a meal and issued with extra blankets etc. It was COLD. The issuing Sgt. was a K.O.S.B. so I felt at home straight away and it was super to hear my own Scottish Border Tongue again, spoken in such a distant place. Next day we were issued with ten litre bottles of Canadian BLACK HORSE Beer and the food was good and refreshing and fresh, - What a change from our `Everything Dehydrated Food' on Sainfoin!

Shore leave in Port Said

Three Royal Marines with Ray Self (front right ) and a fellow seaman

We were even woken up in the morning by a bearer with a cup of Super Tea. Soon, however, I realised that I would have to give my beer ration away (HORRORS!!!)- My stomach would just not accept the cold beer - I couldn't believe it as I had for so long prayed/longed for many months for a `long cold drink'. The heat of the Galley and General Health were the culprits of my distress - so I made up for it all with Darjeeling Tea. So many memories of Darjeeling. Horse rides included one to see the sun arise from behind Mount Everest seventy or eighty miles away, a lovely sight. We had to arise at about 4am. and ride to Tiger Hill in the dark. One of the Stewards horses was stung on the neck by a hornet (on the way back) at a very steep part of the path. When the horse bolted with him hanging on for dear life, Gordon Richards would have struggled to have beaten him! We laughed to see him and horse as they disappeared from sight, but it was many hours later before they reappeared at camp. Leave was soon over and so back to Sainfoin. The Starboard Watch returned from leave and we were ready to sail again. Portholes had been installed (one port, one starboard) in the Galley - WONDERFUL to be able to breathe now and then - I was caught looking out of the starboard one later!! First morning out and sailing down the Hooghly river to the sea was good. Next morning I was duty cook. After I had made the bread dough, I had to cook breakfast with another two cooks and get the lunch under way - so I set to cook two eggs and bacon a man. The Supply Officer (Lt. Foden) had purchased some eggs at Calcutta, so we were `celebrating'! I began frying the eggs at around 5.30. There were approx. five hundred to do and after I had broken about three dozen and hadn't found one decent one, I had to `volunteer' to go and give the chief cook a shake and inform him of my problem. He shared a cabin with the jaunty who was my enemy! So I had to watch points as I was also due to go before the Skipper that same morning on Jankers Parade. Previous to going on leave I had fallen foul of him. Being a ships baker meant that I had to endure some hellish temperatures at the bread ovens. The 150 on the thermometer meant nothing, so because of the conditions and the hours worked in the bakery, I always fell into my bunk exhausted after the `ovens' every other day. The shifts were 8am till 8pm one day, 3am till 1pm the next, then an afternoon off, then it all started again! 8 till 8 I worked in the bakery moulding the bread - then general galley duties. 3am till 1pm, - up early to make the dough - cook breakfast - then 8am mould bread loaves and rolls then bake the lot. Finish 12.30 - 1pm. In the very hot temperatures it was `killing', so when I left Rapid Fit (the Galley was on the upper deck) I soon began to have `skin problems' on Sainfoin and became a well known `customer' at the Sick Bay. Painted Red, Green, Blue, Purple, White etc. etc. depending on what `the Quack' decided. I also had a salt deficiency - so he said that I must drink two quarts of salt water every day in the sick bay where Tiffy could see me! So my Ulcers, Boils, Rashes, Toe Rot, Ring Worm etc. were treated. How I was allowed to work in the Galley I couldn't understand and couldn't go sick because cooks were under strength. It wouldn't be allowed to happen now. However, because I was in this state I fell into my bunk the day we were going to have Pay Parade prior to our leave at Darjeeling. Sadly I fell asleep and missed P.P. - So I had cash to go on leave (two pounds and ten shillings). I went up to the Galley and asked various chefs for a loan, but got nowt - P.O. CK Verity suggested that if I had a quiet word with Lt. Foden (Supply/Pay Officer) he might be kind! I plucked up courage and went first to ask the Master at Arms (who shared a cabin with Chief Cook) and explained my predicament! Request refused. - I then thought it over and said SOD the MAA!!! and went up to Lt. Foden's cabin - knocked on the door - and I was in standing under a lovely cool fan!!! I explained it all and he agreed to give me my pay. However, he said that there was a snag! He must have the MAA to witness this, and thereupon he sent a message for the Jaunty to come up!! When he came in and saw me - his eyes did a double roll - I knew that I shouldn't be on H.M.S. Sainfoin in the foreseeable future! However, he had to see me get my dosh and so I beat a retreat to the Galley and P.O. Verity. No sooner had I done this than I heard myself being piped - CK Imrie to report to the Master at Arms Office IMMEDIATELY!! Now it was my turn to quake and so I was put in `The Rattle' GET YOUR `CAP' and so we both proceeded up to the bridge! Anyhow - I did my seven days `Number Elevens' after we sailed from Calcutta. So I had an `Enemy on Board'. Which all gets me back to the BAD EGGS. I volunteered to go and give the Chief Cook a shake - making sure that I woke up the Jaunty too. My stroke of revenge was sweet!! The eggs were a disaster and so Chief Cook Mann had to arrange for powdered egg from stores to be sent up pronto. This was served with bacon. The morning after when I was on Breakfast / Dinner duty again we had a load of chickens sent up - another Calcutta buy of Lt. Foden! Once again I made the dough and breakfast was tinned sausages and tinned tomatoes. Soya sausages were Yankee issue and good. So we got this all set out OK. and I set to to prepare the chickens for lunch. They were all about the size of big wood pigeons and I soon discovered that most had little sachets of wet looking saw dust stuck up in their gullets - all to add a little weight. CRAFTY SUPPLIERS! Also this seemed to have caused a deterioration in their freshness, so they ponged a lot! Once again I had to make my way to shake up Chief Cook Mann, and of course I took great care to do the same to the Jaunty. "That bugger's got something in for me!!" says he. Once again the menu had to be changed and I was pleased in more ways than one. I'm not a lover of chicken, even in these modern times. It was a proper fowl up, much to my amusement. Dehydrated Food - everything was the norm on board. Never any fresh and we were never in port long enough to catch some of the supply ships etc. We did get some yams - Sweet potatoes - once and chiefy decided to deep fry them. I got the job and I found them OK. There were some moans though. The chefs had to dish up the food in the Cafeteria (I did this every other day, when I wasn't baking the bread). One day I recall, I was on the mashed dehydrated spuds and put a spoonful in each tray as it came by when I suddenly realised that I was the object of a lot of abuse, "Who Called The Cook" and much worse, because the next thing was that the tray had been thrown at me. Luckily it struck the wire mesh between us, but I seemed to covered in squares of dehydrated mashed spud! Chief Cook was around to nab him in an instant and he was led away. A bit nutty and I think he left Sainfoin soon after. One of the perils of being a cook in the public eye! I suppose the strain of living was too much for some, so Sainfoin did have some suicides or attempted ones. One jumped overboard and it wasn't discovered that he was missing until the next day. Another tried to jump off when we were in dry dock and there were others as well. One was a native soldier (Indian) . Sainfoin was sailing East in the Java Sea towards some trouble spot with a Battalion of Indian Troops, a lovely day and all seemed well, so I went up on deck for a quick cigarette and break from the Galley heat, when suddenly a soldier ran past me very FAST. There were rupee notes fluttering all over the place, which soon had other men trying to catch some, which somehow hindered the soldier's pursuers. Anyhow I was too surprised to get any lolly and apparently the private (who ran past me) had been playing cards, with a Sgt Major and two sergeants and had been on a winning run when he had decided that he had played enough. Now, not being a student of human nature he hadn't realised what opposition he would have had to his move. When he spoke of leaving, he was told to SIT STILL AND PLAY!! However the sight of so much lolly was too much for him, so he grabbed at the kitty with both hands and took off, although he hadn't realised that after a certain distance there was only water there. However, this did not seem to bother him, because when he got as far as he could and realising now, I guess, that he had lost almost all, he dived over the Stern. Luckily for him, Ray Self, threw him a life belt and raised the alarm `MAN OVERBOARD' to which Sainfoin put her helm right over and began a huge circle to try and reach the hapless Pontoon Player, or perhaps it was The Three Card Trick. Fortunately we managed to get back and get him, half drowned but alive. He was put in a cot in sick bay when I later saw him, (on my daily visits). He was handcuffed to the cot and had about twelve charges on a sheet at his head. Assaulting S/M and NCO's , delaying HM ship at sea etc. etc.. The things that a guy had to do to get a cot! I wondered if he realised just how lucky he had been to have escaped from the man eating sharks which are so plentiful in these waters. When we were off West Sumatra we crossed the line (not my first time) but apparently as the war had ended Sainfoin decided to have a ceremony and so a Dipping Chair was rigged up on the Boat Deck adjoining a big canvas pool. I didn't know much of it all, but soon found out what was in store when three or four of Neptune's assistants waylaid me and soon I was in the chair. My crime read out was that I had continually tried to poison the crew, and so it was a big relief to be thrown out of the pool and escape from the rough handling. I stayed to watch more of my shipmates endure it. Much merriment for those who were not initiated, not so nice to have seawater everywhere, in and out. We were all given a Certificate and somehow my one survived later travels and I now have it framed here. It was good when Sainfoin called into a decent port, such as Penang, Singapore, Madras etc. where we could get a good feed. My favourite order was always `The Lot Johnny' and so had bacon and eggs, sausage, steak etc. all on a big plate, and something to look forward to.

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