From: Richard Pocock, Elizabeth Bay, Sydney, Australia
Thank you for the article on the French transatlantic liner Ile de France. I enjoyed it immensely, in large part because my grandfather, Captain W.E.L.S. Pocock, was appointed by P&O to command her from 1940 until 1943. His was a story of courage and achievement having joined P&O later in life with an Extra Masters in Sail. He took command of Ile de France in Singapore where she had been left by the French. His officers were both English and French. Her luxurious accommodation for 1,200 passengers was immediately converted to house some 4,000 troops. She was further converted in Port Elizabeth a year later, to carry 7000 troops. Living conditions led to at least one significant mutiny by Australian troops. By virtue of her speed, she sailed either on her own or in convoy. On one occasion she sailed in company with Queen Elizabeth, Queen Mary, Mauretania and Nieuw Amsterdam. Grandfather likened it, together with the host of protective warships, as the Spanish armada. Throughout the war, Ile de France zig zagged her way across the globe avoiding convoy collisions and attacks by U Boats as they sailed between South Africa, Suez, India, Australia, Hawaii, and America. On one occasion they led a sail out from Sydney Harbour followed by Aquitania, Queen of Bermuda, New Amsterdam and Queen Mary with just three warships to protect them. By any standards it remains quite remarkable how the Merchant Navy rose to the occasion of war.
As a boy this proud mariner would sit me on his lap and regale me with stories of life at sea. One was of a large shark that they caught whilst at anchor off Bombay. They cut the stomach open to find a straw hat and a wellington boot. Another explained a serious knife wound to his hand which resulted from trying to prevent a lascar from jumping off the top of the foremast on Viceroy of India. At the age of 14 I went to HMS Worcester and at 16 I joined my first P&O ship, “Salmara” under Captain F.F. irons. At the age of 29 I left P&O and “Canberra” which was under the command of Captain E.G.H. Riddlesdell RD RNR, who had in turn sailed under grandfather. I settled in Australia.
At the end of the war my grandfather was awarded the Cross of Chevalier de l ‘Order du Merite Maritime by a grateful French government. Together with that order, I still have a war time telegram of encouragement that he received from ‘Free French’ – the pseudonym for Charles de Gaulle.
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