Memories of years ago show that stirring from the deep and usually dreamless sleep of ‘the watch below’ was either from a crew member’s insistent efforts to put me ‘on the shake’ for yet another watch on the bridge at some ungodly hour, or by the sudden eerie silence in the dead of night when the main engines stopped without warning, at which time all on board were soon awakened! In such circumstances, instant recall of any dream was effectively nil, until that is, later reversion to landlubber status.
Recently, I was jarred to wakefulness in the comfort of my own bed just at the point at which my ship in convoy was being torpedoed. This seemed strange, as I was in fact a ‘Baby Boomer’ – a member of the ‘post-war bulge’!
With memory later restored, it was only days before, during the summer of 2015, when by happenstance I had fallen into conversation on the berthing pontoons at the confluence of the Rivers Kelvin and Clyde at Pointhouse, with Calum, skipper of the small passenger vessel Ellen’s Isle of the Govan Ferry free-to-all ‘summer only’ service. As a hitherto lifelong trawlerman of Eriskay, South Uist, Calum was as good for ‘a yarn’ as any seafarer. His story on this occasion referred to another seaman who, had he lived, would in time, have been his uncle.
The details of his relative’s wartime demise, possibly with a little lost in the telling by successive generations of family, seemed sketchy with the vessel in question, Empire Moat, supposedly an ocean going tanker, a unit of a convoy to Gibraltar, torpedoed and sunk in the night, but with all on board rescued by the Union Castle liner Balmoral Castle. By further misfortune however, the rescuing vessel had been bombed later by a German aircraft, with the loss of five Empire Moat crew including Calum’s 21 year old Able Bodied seaman relative, Malcolm.
Never one to ignore the prospect of an intriguing story, I determined to further research the circumstances and clarify the details of Malcolm’s loss, if for no other reason to, in today’s parlance, provide closure for the family. What transpired however in my research was rather different to Skipper Calum’s earlier perceptions.
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