Veteran Stories:
Tom McCulloch

Merchant Navy

  • Tom McCulloch's Murmansk Run Medal, issued by the Russian government to sailors who ferried war supplies from Allied ports to Northern Russia during the Second World War.

    Tom McCulloch
  • Tom McCulloch's medals (from left to right): the 1939-1945 Star, the Atlantic Star, the 1939-1945 War Medal and the Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Medal.

    Tom McCulloch
  • Tom McCulloch's certificate of discharge book which recorded his wartime service and beyond. Issued in 1941, it was completed in 1952.

    Tom McCulloch
  • A photograph of Tom McCulloch, in uniform, taken during the Second World War.

    Tom McCulloch
  • A merchant vessel docked in port during the Second World War.

    Tom McCulloch
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"We could see these fellows on that particular ship, dashing to get off before it sank and many of them didn’t get off. So that’s the thing that sticks in your mind more than anything else."

Transcript

I arrived in Liverpool, joined the ship called the Mandalay and two nights after I joined, we went through the May [German bombing] blitz, May the 1st to May the 8th, horrendous experience altogether, for a young lad, for any person. So that was my start.

When we eventually got out of there and loaded cargo, we loaded cargo for Burma. And at that time of the war of course, the Mediterranean was closed and we had to go in convoy out into the Atlantic and then we were on our own then, headed all the way south, around Cape Town and Durban [South Africa], across the Indian Ocean and up to Burma.

When we sailed from Scotland, I was out into the Atlantic, worrying about U-boats and enemy aircraft, were things I was supposed to worry about because I would be stuck up on the wing of the bridge as a lookout. But really, they were the furthest things away from my mind because I was dreadfully seasick for the first week that I was at sea. So by the time we got clear of the hazardous area and started heading south in the Atlantic, we were pretty well home free. At least I thought we were. There were German radars around but luckily, none of them saw us and we didn’t think too much about that. I mean, if it happened, it happened. It didn’t, so there you are.

Coming back, there were several ships, some from the convoy we were in and I saw one ship go down in less than two minutes. And you knew damn well that with the weather the way it was, the weather was the very worst thing, because the convoy always had to be heading in a particular direction because they got information about submarines or aircraft in the vicinity. So very often, they were heading into the weather, the very worst weather that you could get into. And that happened continuously. So I would suppose that I worried as much about weather as I did about submarines.

We did think not so much about the danger to yourself, although that did occur to you, but you thought about these poor souls. I mean, we could see these fellows on that particular ship, dashing to get off before it sank and many of them didn’t get off. So that’s the thing that sticks in your mind more than anything else.

We eventually joined a convoy of about pretty close to 30 ships, all bound for Murmansk [Russia]. We picked up our main escort off Scapa Flow [Scotland], by the way, rather interesting about that because there were three Tribal-class destroyers came out from Scapa to head up the convoy and I’m a bug as far as knowing things about the navy and ships, I wondered where the hell they had come from because all eight of the original Tribal-class destroyers had been sunk in the Mediterranean. And there were three ships, there were three Royal Canadian Navy ships that were built in Britain but they were manned by the Royal Canadian Navy. So there is, there is my first connection with Canada. Okay. And then from there north, we had the usual German aircraft coming around. I think our convoy was, I mean, I was on a merchant ship but we had 35 gunners onboard in addition to the normal crew, we had twin Oerlikons [20mm cannons], we had [40mm] Bofors guns, 12 pounders, rocket guns, we were well armed as a total convoy, well armed to take on any enemy aircraft. Not like it was say in 1941 or 1940.

Well, we ended up in Weymouth [England] and our original instructions were to remain there until further orders, which we did. And we were expected to go out in a convoy on D-Day [6 June, 1944] or close to D-Day. And there was an awful lot of German aircraft coming over bombing at night, etc. And during that particular period, we took a bit of shrapnel on deck, which set the odd fire here and there. Anyway, our instructions were that we were to follow the D-Day convoy but not be on the D-Day convoy. So we lay there on D-Day, in fact, from about midnight that night, to about 6:00 in the morning, the whole sky was filled with aircraft towing gliders, all bound for Normandy. Eventually we did get out in our convoy but we couldn’t claim that it was a D-Day convoy. But we were there.

Before the war ended. This would be March, April, 1945, I was in a convoy that went across the Atlantic to Canada. We went up St. Lawrence River and we tied up in Quebec City, of all places, and discharged our cargo there. And that’s when VE Day [8 May, 1945] came because I can remember firing off many of our small guns at that time, to celebrate the VE Day. And that was the end of the war.

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