"When we were finally allowed on deck, the sight of being in a huge convoy was overwhelming."
My name is George Mock. I served during World War II in the Royal Canadian Corps of Signals, in the Mediterranean theatre of operation. I joined when I was eighteen years old. I went to London, Ontario, where after three days of indoctrination, I went to the Signal Corps, and then they sent me to Barriefield, where I did my basic training in the middle of winter – twenty below zero, learning to be a soldier. Later, I took an advanced course on signals in Ottawa, and was shipped over when I was nineteen.
We landed in Liverpool, England, and stayed there for a while. My older brother Bill was also in the Signals Corps, and he had gone into France on D-Day. I tried to get a letter to claim me, and by the time I got a letter from him, I was posted to Italy, and his letter said, "Stay where in the hell you belong, where it's safe." So he didn't know that I was going to Italy.
Anchored in the Firth of Clyde was our troopship, the SS Chitral. She wasn't very large – only 15,248 tons, built in 1925 – compared to the [RMS] Queen Mary, at 81,000 tons. We were assigned to "E" Deck, the lowest deck on the ship, just above the engine room. Our compartment held over two hundred, with bunks stacked four to six high.
After three days on board, we finally pulled out to sea. By daybreak we were in a storm, with the ship rolling and pitching. Nearly two thousand troops were seasick. What a mess! When we were finally allowed on deck, the sight of being in a huge convoy was overwhelming. There were ships as far as the eye could see, along with many Corvettes for protection.
Days later, we saw the northern coast of Spain and Gibraltar. The convoy then began going through the Straights of Gibraltar in single file, while PBY Catalinas flew overhead. Three days later, we arrived at our seaport in Italy, with bombed out ships, submarines, and even a sunken Red Cross ship. It was Christmas Eve. After fourteen days, my Mediterranean cruise was over.
After we disembarked, we were taken by train and then by transport to our depot in a bombed out building, halfway up a snow-covered mountain. We arrived late that night. On Christmas Day, I was volunteered to return to our troopship to help unload supplies. I hadn't eaten all day, and I'd also missed out on Christmas dinner. When I finally did get some food, it was so dark I had no idea what I was eating. I guess this is why I enjoy being with our children and grandchildren every Christmas, and why it means so much more to me than anyone can imagine. I might add that my brother and I were the lucky ones. We both made it home safely.