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


Alongside at Madras, Gangway down, local dignataries aboard

Birth in a Sickbirth

So what is the story behind this title? If you are sitting comfortably I will tell you, although it is not your usual Royal Navy Sickberth activity.

It happened like this you see. In 1945/46 His Majesty's Ship Sainfoin was involved in the mopping up operations around the Dutch East Indies, names like Sumatra, Batavia, Bali, The Celebes and other such exotic places. Our Marines and yours truly had been popping ashore in the early hours together with such Army detail as we happened to be trooping at the time, to rescue sundry prisoners of those nasty little yellow men that had been, and were still, causing problems in the area. The outcome of one such episode saw the ship alongside, and a Welsh colleague and yours truly ashore liberally dusting with D.D.T. powder a group of native men, women and children whom our Marines had released from a P.O.W. camp where they had been held. They were to be taken onboard Sainfoin to a place of safety, the whole episode being filmed by the Surg. Lt. with his cine camera. (I wonder what happened to that film). Taff and I were well away with the D.D.T. when one of the Marines gave us a shout that one of the women who was very obviously pregnant had keeled over and needed attention. I picked her up and carried her onboard to the ships sickbay where the duty staff, comprising the Sickberth Chief Petty Officer. Subsequently Warrant Wardmaster Norman Pincher Martin (well known sportsman in the Chatham Division) who took charge, called the Duty Medical Officer Sub. Lt. Francis and together with LSBA Stubbins, Taff and yours ttuly proceeded to set up a `labour ward'. Yes, and you are right, a very healthy and lusty baby boy was brought into the world by kind permission of his mother and the pride of the sickberth staff. Neither his mother or his father could speak a word of English so everything had to be done by sign language. So the whole operation was a masterpiece of organisation in the finest traditions of the branch. The child was named after the ship, and I've often wondered if the parents or even the child himself realised that `Sainfoin' was named after a Derby winner circa 1890, also the rest of the flotilla which you may have come across. They were Sefton, Sylvia, Persimmon, Rock Sand, Sansivino and I believe one who's name eludes me. It is interesting to note the ships motto of Sainfoin was `First in the Fields'. Very appropriate in the circumstances.

I don't imagine there were many children born on HM Ships, especially with an all male mid-wifery section in those days.

John `Doc' Wallaker.

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