Veteran Stories:
Sydney Thrussell

Merchant Navy

  • Sydney Thrussell’s Discharge Book showing a number of ships served on and respective dates of discharge, 1968.

  • Cairo 1940, Sydney Thrussell is third from the left

  • Sydney Thrussell (on right), and unknown friend

  • Sydney Thrussell (on right wearing coat), Halifax 1942

  • Sydney Thrussell, 2010

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"e were coming around the Cape of Good Hope and the convoy were loaded with British troops headed for the Middle East and Suez"


I was in Shanghai [China] onboard the [RMS] Empress of Asia, passenger ship from the CPR [Canadian Pacific Railway] ocean service, from Vancouver, Victoria, Honolulu, Yokohama, Kobe, Nagasaki, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Manila and back again. They had four ships on the run. We were in Hong Kong. The [RMS] Empress of Japan was in drydock at that time having a refit. We came in and we heard word that they were looking for crew members for the Empress of Japan because the fellows that were there, all boys, there were seven of us onboard that ship, each ship had seven boy seamen on it. And they requested to go home and they had to send them home because they were only, what, 15, 16 years old.

So I put in for one of them. And the old man, that’s the skipper on the ship, he said, I’m sorry son, I can’t let you go because the only way I can let you go is to get word okay from your father. And I said, well, you can’t do that because my father was at the time in the 15th Field [Regiment, Royal Canadian Artillery] of Bessborough Armoury in Vancouver [British Columbia]. And by that time, he’d been shipped somewhere else, I don’t know where. And the skipper said, if I get permission, I’ll certainly let you go, if you want to go.

So the next morning he called me up and he said, you’re in luck, son, he says, we got a hold of your father last night and he said, okay, he can go. That’s how I got to go on the Empress of Japan [in 1942, she was re-named RMS Empress of Scotland]. And a little while after that, the Japanese sank the Empress of Asia in Singapore. And we were there a day after that and we got blasted by the Japanese too. Where did we go from there now?

We took Australian troops from Australia to Singapore and the poor buggers, they didn’t even get off the dock. And when we were there, we got bombed again by the Japanese. That’s not very good things to talk about. Anyway, when we got the troops off, we got all the women and kids onboard the ship and they had what belongings they had and they were told to leave everything on the dock, just get aboard the ship, we’ve got to get the hell out of here. Which they did. And we took those people back to Colombo in Ceylon [now Sri Lanka] and then they sent us back to New Zealand and we picked up New Zealand troops there and took them to Port Tewfik, Suez [Egypt].

We discharged those people and then they sent us to Bombay [India] to pick up Indian troops. And the Indian troops we took around to England. That’s where we got bombed, bad, by a Focke Wulfe Condor, these were big four engine bombers that they [the Germans] sent out from France at that time, what was occupied by Germany. And they hammered the hell out of us. The old man got the ship intoGourock [Scotland] , positioned her right on top of a sandbar and when she shank, she settled on top of the sandbar. And the next day, the navy came with what they call collision masts, like a big bandaid and put it right around the ship and then pumped her out. Then we went over to Harland and Wolff in Belfast [Northern Ireland] to get repaired. We were there for quite a while. When we were there, the Germans bombed that, too.

I guess one of the worst things, I shouldn’t … (emotional). Sorry about that. We were coming around the Cape of Good Hope and the convoy were loaded with British troops headed for the Middle East and Suez we were headed for. And during the night in our convoy, we had a, oh God, HMS, I forget her name, she was a brand new maintenance ship being sent out from England, HMS Cyclops. And she coughed it, and she was right in front of us. And we had all Chinese crew on that ship. All those ships had, Empress boats all had Chinese crews. And the old man turned to the quartermaster and he said, okay, quartermaster? Okay, sir. Okay, you do what I tell you and nothing else. Whoever tells you anything, you just listen to me. I was there with him.

And the old man said, okay, he says, we’ve got problems, steady as she goes we were on a zig-zag course to avoid the submarines and torpedoes and whatnot - and the old man says, steady as she goes. Well, by the time we got up to where the Cyclops was, all those poor bastards, pardon me, were in the water, yelling and screaming and whatnot. Again, the old man said, steady as she goes, don’t you move that wheel one bit. Of course, we ran over all those poor bastards, just chewed them up like mincemeat. (emotional) What are you going to do?

Time has passed since that happened and I thank God for the old man. He did the right thing. Had he stopped or tried to get out of the way, we were next on the list. You follow me?

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