Veteran Stories:
Alan May

Merchant Navy

  • Alan May, Merchant Navy, 1944.

  • Continuous Certificate of Discharge belonging to Alan May. Replacement card, as original was lost in blitzed home.

  • Wartime ship S.S. Empire Gale, changed to peacetime colours and named Langlee Gale. The ship was Canadian built, but under British control. Photo courtesy of Alan S. May.

  • National Union of Seamen, members contribution book. Replacement issued to Alan S. May, as the original was lost in his bombed home in Manchester.

  • Continuous Certificate of Discharge belonging to Alan May. Replacement card, as original was lost in blitzed home.

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"Of course, you know, we were all under attack at that time being shelled, and the landing craft were going in. It was generally pretty hairy action."

Transcript

My name is Alan Stanley May. I joined the Merchant Navy at the age of 16, and then served in various theatres of war. Firstly across the Atlantic during the U-boat times as a galley boy and steward, and then I was assigned to a small ammunition ship and sent out to the northern coast of Africa, where we offloaded troop supplies and ammunition, and that sort of thing. We were attacked on the way through there, by the German Air Force and Italian Air Force from Sicily. It was a fairly hairy voyage, it was the first one after the famous Malta convoys. Malta was a fortress island in the middle of the Mediterranean that just didn't give up. It was a British possession at the time, and the famous Malta convoys supplied fuel and food and that. Ships from various nationalities were involved and suffered great losses. A particular famous tanker made it into Malta, but very badly damaged, but full of gasoline, actually sank as it got into the middle of the harbour. They were very hairy convoys. There was a few of them. Once north Africa fell, of course, things quietened down quite a bit and the preparations were in action there for the invasion there of Sicily, which we took part in as a supply and ammunition ship. They assembled in a big attack force in the harbour in Tripoli, in north Africa, and our munitions supply ship that was a very old British collier that used to run coal up and down the east coast of Britain, consequently it was a fairly draft and it was able to get fairly close in [to] shore. So when the Sicily invasion took place we were involved in that behind the first waves, more or less, off-loading into the small landing barges and that whatever supplies we were carrying: ammunition, food, all sorts of stuff onto the beach. Of course, you know, we were all under attack at that time being shelled, and the landing craft were going in. It was generally pretty hairy action. After that we returned to Malta, where we were resupplied by the bigger ships coming in from the U.K. and America, and the next action we went on was the Severno landings. We were again involved in that action, and anchored in the bay there fairly close to Naples. This landing was pretty rough due for the troops there, and during the time we were anchored in the bay Vesuvius, the volcano there, blew it's top and covered all the ships in about 18 inches of ash. We were all shoveling this ash over the side, it was [chuckles] quite an unusual procedure. After that I was taken off the ship in Algiers, and then I was shipped home on a ship called the Sarcassia. From there I was sent to Glasgow to join a ship that went up on one of the Russian convoys.
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