"The ship was loading ammunition and we loaded 10,000 tonnes of 500 pound bombs and millions of rounds of ammunition."
For some reason or other, I didn’t pick up another ship until April twenty-seventh. I went down to Saint John, New Brunswick, and I joined the ship called the [SS] Sunalta Park. It was a brand new beautiful vessel. It had nets for anti-torpedoes. They had two booms up fore and two booms back aft; and they would lower the booms down in towards the water. And between these two booms, there was a net. And if the torpedo was shot at the ship it would sort of a tangle in the net.
But, anyway, the ship was loading ammunition and we loaded 10,000 tonnes of 500 pound bombs and millions of rounds of ammunition. And we were supposed to take it to the Canadian soldiers fighting in the Adriatic in Italy. I think there was a net stretched between Gibraltar and Morocco with sort of a door in it. And they would open the net because the ships went in, all one behind the other. And once we were in the Mediterranean, they said no blackout was necessary.
We landed up at a port called Brindisi in Italy and stayed there for a day or two, and then the ship went up into Bari, Italy. It was a lovely town, and I was absolutely fascinated. I loved that city very much. And the ship was supposed to unload the cargo. But for some uncanny reason, we just stayed there for a couple of days and the ship did not unload the cargo; and it left Bari and went towards the Suez Canal, where the rumour was, we were going to Rangoon, Burma because the war had just ended. It was the first week in May.
But as the ship was going towards the Suez Canal, I remember, there was an awful commotion and, by then, I was an ordinary seaman on the ship, and I was on deck and there was an awful commotion that there were loading mines in front of us. They said the Germans had dropped the mines a long time before, but sometimes they’d stay in the water for weeks and then they’d pop up. Well, we had a degaussing system on the ship, which meant, it was sort of anti-magnetic. So I didn’t care very much about the mines, but I ran out onto the starboard side and sure enough, I could see one of those floating round balls.
And onboard this ship, we had 10 naval personnel, her Majesty’s Royal Canadian Navy. And there was 10 guns and when a problem would occur, one of those sailors would run to a gun and one merchant navy man would also go to the gun and I was posted to one Oerlikon [20 mm anti-aircraft autocannon], which was an anti-aircraft gun. I sometimes would get there before him on the practice and I put my shoulders into the gun, and put the strap around the back of me. And then you can swing with it. But I was actually, he was supposed to do the shooting, I was supposed to just pass the ammunition. But in this case, there were mines so the navy, 10 navy fellows ran out from their quarters and shouting and yelling, and some of them had rifles. But the captain yelled through a loudspeaker, do not shoot.
And, of course, everybody was just standing; and the ship slowly went ahead, and we just passed the mines. And guess the captain called the British naval forces somewhere to come and sweep them away. We all continued on through the Suez Canal; and before we got out on the other side, the ship stopped and anchored in what was called the Little Bitter Lake [in Egypt]. It was a very salty lake. The ships just stopped and anchored there and I’ll be darned, they unloaded the entire 10,000 tonnes of ammunition by little barges, bomb by bomb, and they would take them ashore and they’d put them on a little railroad track and they would run underground, under the Sinai Desert. So this whole 10,000 tonnes of ‘hot’ ammunition was all unloaded under the sand, right in the little place that we knew of called Thamadah. That was the name of the town.