Veteran Stories:
Bill Hollahan

Merchant Navy

  • I.D. card and certificate of registration for the Merchant Marine, cover. Issued to Bill Hollahan in 1942.

    Bill Hollahan
  • ID card for the Merchant Navy.

    Bill Hollahan
  • Bill Hollahan was aboard the SS Arlington Beach Park, an oil carrier seen above, from 1943-1946.
    Note the booms pointing away from the ship. Attached to them are the torpedo nets to protect the ship.

    Bill Hollahan
  • A sailor's seabag sewing kit (4 pieces). Clockwise from left to right: Brass seabag lock to connect the gromits together ; sewing palm, to protect your hand while sewing; needle for sewing sides and bottom of the canvas seabag; safety pin. Bill Hollahan's wife had his initials engraved into his safety pin.

    Bill Hollahan
  • Bottle of Elderbery wine from 1944. That year, Bill Hollahan met Etta Smith at a USO show. She brought him this bottle of wine from her aunt's house in Portland, Maine.

    Bill Hollahan
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"And what really happened is that we were zig-zagging and the captain or somebody got mixed up in their zig-zagging. The old stories goes is that he should have zigged when he zagged."


They sent me down to Imperial Oil to pick up the [SS] Arlington Beach Park. She was a converted Imperial Oil tanker. Saying that she was a converted tanker means that they were sinking so many ships off Cape Hatteras, down around Aruba in that areas, that they couldn’t keep up building tankers. So they changed the cargo ships into tankers. I was on that one for nine months of a stretch, which was good. People were leaving them left and right.

In that nine months, I went from peggy [deck boy] to steward, to ordinary seaman, to able seaman. We were always in convoy, all during the war. Now, there were certain times that it was so foggy that you had to put out a fog line. A fog line is something that you haul back of your ship to let the other ship know how far you’re away from them. So on our ship, the ship ahead of us, we had to put a fellow on watch in the forecastle [upper deck]. He would watch that fog line. And then there was other times you’d miss it. So there was several accidents at several places.

I remember one time there was a convoy had left Halifax, picked up ships in Boston and New York; and there was a big ship in the middle of us. I don’t know what she carried. But you could hear her a long ways away. She was there in the nighttime and then the next morning, she had gone. She was torpedoed. We didn’t hear anything. We heard the sirens, but we were used to them. Used to sirens going from the corvettes [lightly armed convoy escort vessel]. We were used to that, so we didn’t mind it too much. But we always, if you had to have a bath, you would rather have a bath in stormy weather or foggy weather. You’d never be able to do it on moonlit nights or clear days, because you didn’t know what was going to happen.

It was in November, the navigation was closed up in Montreal. St. Lawrence [River] was closed up. We were a light ship, thanks God we were cleaned. What I mean by clean is that tankers will butterworks themselves. A butterworks is a hose that goes down into the manhole cover with steam coming out of it. And that cleans your tanks. So if you got torpedoed, the fumes and everything else of the tank was clean; we could get away a lot better.

In a way, just outside of Sydney was snowflakes. The visibility was probably down to nothing. I was in playing cards with the boys in the alleyway in the mess hall, but all of a sudden around 10:00 that night, we’d tumbled over. The ship started to roll for no reason. The lights went out, I grabbed the lifejacket and I ran out through the alleyway; and when I opened the door in the alleyway, the stairs leading up to the lifeboat deck was right in front of me, and I had forgotten all about it. I banged my head into the stairs, knocked myself out. George Smith who was in the same alleyway, he ran out, he didn’t know I was there. Jumped on my neck and went on to check to see what our damages was.

The other ship had come down onto us; and what really happened is that we were zig-zagging and the captain or somebody got mixed up in their zig-zagging. The old stories goes is that he should have zigged when he zagged.

There was a place in Bordeaux where we took a pilot. It was called Marquis. The captain says, boys, we’re only going to stay here for an hour, there will no ladies onboard of the ship. Within the time he left, we were there about an hour, an hour and a half, got the pilot aboard, let go of the lines on our way. And there was 48 men aboard of the ship. There was 36 ladies also aboard the ship. Now, they weren’t there because they were, they were there to scrub your rooms. They would come in, clean your rooms and do your room up for you for a pack of cigarettes, or a couple of bars of soap, or pack of chewing gum.

I’m trying to refer now to how the people were not supplied with food. It was unbelievable because we played cards coming across the Atlantic, and we played for cigarettes. Well, I didn’t smoke, but I was half decent at cards. Well, I cheated a bit, there’s no doubt about that.

So by the time I got over, I had 18 to 20 cartons of cigarettes that you could buy in Philadelphia for 90 cents a carton at that time. So when I got over there, I had all I wanted. They’d come clean our rooms; and there was one lady I took out to go dancing and things like that. Her father owned a cafeteria; and I brought him up some coffee. A gallon of coffee we used to get at that time, so I took a gallon of coffee off the boat, brought it up to him and I got liquor for all night. But that’s all I got.

Interview date: 11 August 2010

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