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As we approach the centenary of the signing of the armistice to end the First World War, the Argyllshire Advertiser is publishing a series of extracts from a wartime diary with a difference.
The diary belonged to blacksmith and engineer George Kennedy, who emigrated from Scotland to Australia in 1912, aged 31, with his wife and baby daughter. George, and many others, answered the call to return to Britain and did so in 1917 to help the war effort in the manufacture of munitions.
George Kennedy was the uncle of Inveraray woman Jenny Speirs, who kindly allowed the Argyllshire Advertiser access to her uncle’s records.
His diary records an arduous and eventful three-month journey back ‘home’.
A fleet of transport ships was leased by the Commonwealth government for transporting the Australian Imperial Force personnel to their overseas destinations. These ships were also used to carry various goods to Britain and France. The fleet was made up of British ships and captured German vessels.
Diary of the 1917 voyage of HMA troop ship TSS Ulysses from Australia to Great Britain – Part III, by George Kennedy
On Tuesday morning, June 12, we sighted the coast of Natal and made for the port of Durban by 12 noon. We had to anchor but got shore leave and our feet on Terra Firma once more!
No need to say we all were very glad of our liberty and a change of diet as fare on board was not always 1st (or 2nd) class. We got our two delegates who were left at Fremantle here. They had travelled on the ‘Benalla’.
We made the most of Durban and its surrounds. I can heartily recommend Durban as being a city of the first class. Clean always, good sanitation, water and harbour facilities. Public parks, Botanic Garden, beautiful beaches and baths and excellent train service run by the city council.
By Sunday all our ships had coaled and taken cargo and water and cleared off. We had the misfortune while shifting our berth for the ‘Suffolk’ to ram us with her stern and put a lovely hole in our port bow above the water line, so we were held up until this was repaired.
We enjoyed the few extra days here visiting native markets and also visited the floating dock and breakwater
We cleared off at 7am on Tuesday June 19 all on our own. The escorts having gone off with the others while we were detained repairing.
We soon got into the open sea and the storm but weathered through all safe, arriving at Cape Town on Friday at 9am only to find that some of our ships and one of the Japanese escorts had not arrived. They left Durban on the Sunday and got badly knocked about on the way and didn’t arrive at Cape Town until the Friday afternoon.
We anchored in the Table Bay and the first misfortune was to lose our anchor! There was such a heavy sea running in the bay that the anchor cable broke. We heaved the other out which luckily held us safe. We had enough excitement. On the Saturday morning we got signalled to come to berth, took the pilot on board.
How helpless a ship is in a gale. We got safely moored but were tugging like a hound at the leash. I may say here that the other ships of our convoy which had arrived earlier left us as we berthed, so there was a lot of murmurs about our misfortune in losing our place in the convoy.
More from George Kennedy’s diary in next week’s edition of the Argyllshire Advertiser.
The Suffolk HMAT A23 troopship which collided with George Kennedy’s ship ‘Ulysses’ in Durban harbour. no_a42GeorgeKennedy_Suffolk01
George Kennedy as a young man in Scotland before emigrating in 1912. 06_a42GeorgeKennedyStory01
George Kennedy’s neice Jenny Speirs, still hale and hearty in Inveraray. no_a40GeorgeKennedy_Jenny01