A Voyage on The S.S. Baron Graham - By Joe Norton

I signed on the S.S. Baron Graham as Galley Boy at Greenock on the 28th July 1943. After discharging a cargo of sugar we went up to Glasgow where we spent some time getting extra guns fitted including a “pillar box”. This was a dome shaped contraption with ten rockets either side. After leaving the Clyde our next stop was Penarth. Shore leave was forbidden, but being local, myself and another Barry boy were allowed to go home for a few hours. This was appreciated except for the fact that I had to walk from Barry to Penarth as the last bus was full. In Penarth we loaded army trucks on deck, plus their drivers and mechanics. We sailed for the Solent where we spent 14 days swinging around the hook, but we did get one night ashore. Early one evening we noticed a lot of activity. Naval tenders were approaching the 14 cargo ships which had now assembled. They were carrying DEMS gunners to man the extra guns that had been fitted.

Later in the evening we raised the hook and set off in convoy with a naval escort. We were ordered to muster on the forward well deck at 7.30 p.m. when we were told that we were to sail along the French coast in the hope that the Germans would send out their planes to attack us and the RAF would come and shoot the Germans down. Fortunately nothing happened. At the time we had over 100 people onboard as did the other ships. What carnage could have occurred. We headed for Swansea where we unloaded the trucks and excess gunners and drivers. We spent several days in Swansea loading coal and then sailed for Milford Haven to join a convoy.

Eventually we left Milford and headed off into the unknown. After several days we developed engine trouble and had to drop out of the convoy. One of the escorts circled us while the problem was being sorted and we then rejoined the convoy. Unfortunately we had to drop out again but this time the escort was not so friendly. The message was “the convoy must go on. Goodbye and good luck”. Things were going alright until one morning when a plane was spotted approaching from head on. It was flying low from fore to aft and the Swastika and the German Cross told us that it was not a friend. We could actually see the crew pointing at us. It flew astern of us, turned and started it’s bombing run. It was then that our gunners opened up with the rockets. The plane veered to port and disappeared. It did not return. We sent an attack signal and a British destroyer met us and escorted the ship to Gibraltar. We waited to join another convoy at Gib and ended up in Algiers.

After a week or more in Algiers we set off for Gib for orders. Several days at anchor here, no shore leave, then a convoy of 4 ships set off for Huelva in Spain. Quite pleasant steaming up the Spanish coast within the sight of land. Had a nice time in Huelva especially in the “pastelaria” (cake shop). Then it was back to Gib to wait for a homeward bound convoy.

After three attempts we were finally on our way home. Unfortunately we were picked up by a spotter plane. Our escort was reinforced, but three days after being sighted by the Spotter plane, the alarm bells rang and the heavy mob arrived. There was a near miss when a bomb hit the water between us and a corvette. A ship in the centre lane was hit and started to burn. Luckily the crew managed to fight it. As dusk descended the raid ended. Things were getting back to normal when the alarm bells sounded again. The u-boats had arrived. The all clear was given a couple of hours later. I read a report of the incident which stated that the convoy was attacked by 25 aircraft. One merchant ship was sunk, an escort vessel damaged and 2 U-boats were also reported sunk.

We eventually arrived in the UK , discharged our cargo in the North East and sailed to Barry for paying off. This was my only taste of war action thank goodness. My war days finished when the S.S. Empire Don, on which I was serving, arrived at Genoa on VE Day.

Joe Norton
December 2014