The Orkney News is running a series of articles looking at aspects of World War II and Orkney. In this one I look at my father’s account of the ‘Earl of Zetland’.
Christie Herkes Grahame born in Leith, 1915 volunteered for service with the outbreak of war in 1939. Along with a pal he joined the King’s Own Scottish Borderers with a sense of adventure, quite a lot of bravado and with a deep fear of his white skinny legs being revealed in a kilted regiment.
Like many in the services frequent transfers took place. Christie, during his 6 years of army war service, was with (in chronological order) the King’s Own Scottish Borderers, The Glider Pilot Regiment, the King’s Own Scottish Borderers (again), the Seaforth Highlanders and the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders.
During his spell in Orkney he was stationed at the camp he referred to as ‘Sunnybrae’ , on the outskirts of Kirkwall. He described this as a ‘right doddle’ where he was on permanent duty in the signal office. With three shifts a day and every day different the signallers assigned to this duty were very much left to their own devices. ( More about that in future articles)
This is now his account of the Earl of Zetland, Troop Carrier
Ma very first time in Stromness wis spent coorin in a shed at the harbour, waitin oan the trooper comin in frae Scrabster. The rain wis like spears an comin in sideweys, driven by a wind that, even in the shed, almaist tore the gr’undsheet off ma shooders. Ah wis loaded like a horse wi aw ma kit an haud tae fecht ma wey alongside a K.O.S.B. Corporal tae get tae the quayside tae get aboard.
God! Ah nearly turned an ran. It wis the Earl o bluidy Zetland.
“Look at thae burds?” This wis frae the rifle company Corporal an referred to some Wrens an ATS that were haudin us back as they were bein led up ontae the Bridge. Burds! Ah wis nae thinkin aboot burds. Aw Ah could think o wis that bluidy Earl o Zetland. The Corporal an me got pit doon wi a mixture of sojers an sailors intae the hold tae sit oan a form that ran roond the sides o the hold.
Five minutes or less ootside the harbour an the Earl o Zetland wis stannin oan its heid. If it wisnae hingin frae right ower tae its left, it wis judderin back tae its right or ev’rythin wis upside doon. It stood oan its beam end an it dug forrit oan its front. Sometimes it tried the lot at the same time.
The Infantry Corporal, whae wis neither up ner doon, haud a grip oan the back o ma battle dress at the collar an held oan tae me like grim daith or Ah wid o been doon in the vomit, kit, rubbish and swaddies an sailors that were rollin aboot in the bottom o the hold. Sweat, like syrup, wis oozin doon ma face drap by drap or dreepin reluctantly, dependin oan oor position at the time, frae the end o ma nose. If ma feet happened tae be higher than ma heid it juist crept up intae ma hair an jined the rest that haud ma heid aw matted an stuck tae ma scalp. Ah could nae e’en be seek.
Naebody but masel could ever ken juist how bad it really wis. Nae words o mine or awbody else could describe that feelin. The Corporal haud mentioned that at least there widnae be any U boats or Heinkels prowlin aboot in this weather. Ah wid o welcomed a torpedy or a bomb, anything tae get relief frae the worst anybody could ever hae felt.
Ah dinnae ken when we got tae Scrabster. Ah couldnae o managed the ledder frae the boat tae the quayside withoot the Corporal’s help. The boat wis low doon in the water an the ledder seemed a mile lone reachin up intae the sky.
The Corporal pued me up wi ma rifle sling. When we reached the tap an wis oan dry land ma rifle wis that heavy an Ah wis that weak that when Ah slung it owre ma shooder it swung me right roon an Ah fell doon oan the quay oan tae ma back. Ah haud tae pu ma kit bag along the causies as Ah couldnae o liftit it wi ma rifle oan ma shooder.
Ah could only drink some o their wat’ry beer at the canteen and Ah could nae finish it. There wis no whisky. It wis a bluidy N.A.A.F.I. canteen.
The experience of signaller Grahame was not unusual and that fate befell many service personnel being transported to and from Orkney during World War II.
Reporter: Fiona Grahame