Interview with Laurence W. “Bill” Bettinson, 3rd Radio Officer on the “Lisbeth”

Interviews with Laurence W. “Bill” Bettinson, 3rd Radio Officer on the Norwegian ship “Lisbeth” January 1944

By Bruce Bolinger, Dec. 6, 2004, May 28-31, June 2, 7, 10, 15, 20, 23, & 27, July 1 and 5 2005


I. Life Before Going to Sea

II. Ambitions to Go to Sea

III. Training as a Radio Operator

IV. Prior Voyages, Length of Voyages

A. The Lisbeth – His First Merchant Ship

V. The Lisbeth – Insignia, Color, Structure

VI. Bill’s Second Voyage: Lisbon, Seville, & Gibraltar

VII. Arrival at Bonanza, Guadalquivir, & River Pilot

VIII. Conditions in Seville

IX. Loading the Lisbeth with Oranges

X. Captain Einar Apeland

XI. Contacts Between Captain and Consulates

XII. The Party and the MacAndrews Co.

XIII. Spanish Guards

XIV. Preparations for Sailing

XV. Voyage from Seville to Gibraltar

A. Fuel for the Ship

B. Ship Security

C. Port of Bonanza

D. Cadiz

E. British Frigate

F. U-boat Attacks

G. Convoy Formation

XVI. Contact Between Crew, DEMS, and Airmen

XVII. Gibraltar

A. Mining of Ships

B. Contact with Authorities in Gibraltar

C. Departure of the Airmen

D. Business and Shore Leave in Gibraltar

XVIII. Communications

XIX. Ship’s Crew

A. Mixed Nationalities

B. DEMS – Military Personnel on the Ship

C. Crew Quarters

D. Duties of the Crew

1. The Mates

2. The Engineers

3. Boatswain (Bosun)

4. Donkeyman

5. Greaser

6. Firemen

7. Trimmer

8. Carpenter

9. Radio Operators

10. Able Bodied Seamen

XX. Food on Board the “Lisbeth”

A. Man Peeling Potatoes

XXI. Defensive Measures and Armament

A. Armament

Four-Inch Gun

Oerlikon Anti-Aircraft Guns

Gunnery Practice

Hotchkiss Machine-Guns

B. Degaussing

C. Barrage Balloons

D. Paravanes

E. Water-tight doors

F. Reinforcement against attack

G. Attacks on Bill’s Ships

XXII. Conditions on the “Lisbeth”

XXIII. Carley floats and Lifeboats

XXIV. Uniforms; Forms of Respect

XXV. Crew Recreation

XXVI. Medical Treatment

XXVII. Navigation

XXVIII. Third and Last Voyage; Other Memories

XXIX. Written Records of Bill’s Service at Sea

XXX. Medals for Bill’s WWII Service

XXXI. Bill’s Career After Leaving the Sea

XXXII. Reflections on His Time at Sea

XXXIII. Current Activities

XXXIV. Family

Books Cited

I. Life Before Going to Sea

Laurence “Bill” Bettinson grew up on a farm near the small village of Fleet in Lincolnshire, south of Reading and northeast of Portsmouth. It was a family-run operation, his father having inherited it from his mother. With 365 acres, it mainly produced potatoes, sugar beets, oats, and barley. Five to six acres were devoted to strawberries. They also raised cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and celery. Some crops, such as potatoes, corn, and sugar beets could be stored until it was convenient to sell them. Others, like strawberries and cauliflower, were called “cash crops,” i.e., they had to be sold immediately.

Bill had general duties on the farm – he did what had to be done. In the early 1930’s the family had only two or three cows producing dairy products for family consumption, but later they had 30. Bill milked the cows daily, bottled the milk and cream, and made daily milk deliveries. They had a separator to separate the cream from the milk, and sold butter to a local shop.

Bill had one brother, John Charles, seven years older, who joined the RAF in 1938, fought in the Battle of Britain, and was shot down and slightly wounded. He suffered some shock and was off for three months. But when his physical condition was being checked so that he could go back to flying duties, it was found that he was colorblind. He had “daltonism,” an inability to distinguish red from green. This led to his being disqualified from flying duties. Because he had joined the RAF on a five-year commission, he was able to resign from the RAF, freeing him to join the ATA (Air Transport Auxiliary), which ferried planes. He would fly the planes from the factory to the aerodrome. He survived the war but later died in an operation due to surgical error. Bill also had two older sisters, both still alive, Elizabeth Mary Noble, ten years older, who will be 90 in September, and Margaret Ethel Rudge, who will be 89 in January. His grandfather lived to be 98 and his father 81. Bill will turn 80 on July 24.

A brother-in-law of Bill’s was fluent in German and French and also spoke Russian. He spent the entire war in Bermuda, which was the routing point for communications to the US.

II. Ambitions to Go to Sea

Bill said that he had wanted to go to sea ever since “I was knee-high to a grasshopper.” He had made his plans clear to his family at an early age, and they supported him in his endeavors. But he had problems with his left ear, which required five mastoid operations. (He is now completely deaf in that ear.) That wrecked any chance of his joining the Royal Navy as a cadet. Next he applied to the University of Southampton training school for merchant ship Navigation Officers, but his eyesight exam showed that he had the same condition as his brother, and he was turned down again. (His color blindness is only partial—he can make out traffic lights but not the pinprick red or green lights of the eye exam.) If he had been able to become a deck officer (1st, 2nd, or 3rd Mate) he could have advanced to the position of Captain and he would have made a career of life at sea. With that closed to him, he decided to become a Radio Officer and took a course in radio communications.

III. Training as a Radio Operator

He received his initial training and his ticket as 3rd R.O. from Kingston-Upon-Hull Technical College. His color blindness didn’t matter since the Aldiss Lamp (see discussion below under “Communications”) was a white light. There were no eligibility requirements at the technical college—anyone could enroll as long as he paid the fees. During the six months he was there his parents supported him. During later training to upgrade his certification he supported himself.

To get his first ticket as a 3rd Class Radio Operator took six months and involved gaining a very basic knowledge of radio. He had to be able to read Morse code at a rate of 20 words per minute. To advance to Radio Officer First Class required the ability to handle 25 wpm and more experience in repairing radio equipment.

Before the war a “special certificate” for a radio operator, which is what he had, was applicable only to service on trawlers. But once the war was underway, in order to expedite the training and recruitment of radio operators, anyone holding that certificate became eligible for mainline ships as 2nd or 3rd RO.

After Bill left the Lisbeth, he went back to Kingston-Upon-Hull for his certificate as a 2nd RO. He followed that with 1st class certification, which made him eligible to take charge of a radio station on a passenger ship, such as those of Alfred Holt & Co. and Union-Castle Mail Steamship Company Limited. Such work was much more involved. Upon sailing he might have 400 telegrams to send out. He also produced a daily newspaper for the passengers based on news reports that he picked up. (He recalls receiving the message that Count Bernadette, the first Secretary General of the U.N., had been assassinated. An hour later another message came saying—erroneously—that Bernadette was “undead.”) (Bill said that mail boats had a contract to carry post mail, such as from Southampton to Cape Town, and had to do it in a certain amount of time. Union-Castle left on a Friday afternoon and arrived in Cape Town a fortnight later, doing this every week both ways. No other company had ships of the speed and calibre to be able to do that.)

IV. Prior Voyages, Length of Voyages

Bill left home at 16 in the summer of 1941. By the time he was 16½, at the end of 1941, he had his radio officer’s ticket. His first experiences as a radio officer were aboard fishing trawlers on the North Sea. That type of ship requires only one RO. A trawler is not the ideal type of ship on which to get your sea legs. It tips, rolls, and corkscrews! He spent the next year and a half on trawlers.

A. The Lisbeth – His First Merchant Ship

The Lisbeth was the first merchant ship on which Bill served. He was 18 when he boarded her at Immingham, the port for Grimsby (North Lincolnshire), on the other side of the river Humber from the city of Hull, in 1943. Grimsby originated as a fishing port, and Immingham became an extension of it. Immingham is not a very big port but it had the advantage of its proximity to the Yorkshire coal pits. When Bill boarded the Lisbeth it was in middle of loading its cargo of coal. Captain Apeland was already the Master when Bill joined the crew.  (For pictures of the Lisbeth and of Captain Apeland as well as a complete crew list, click here.)

According to the record of the Lisbeth’s voyages provided by the Norwegian National Archives, the ship was based in Grimsby (actually probably Immingham) from July 15 to Sept. 20, 1943, when it sailed for Lisbon, Gibraltar, Almeria (Spain), Gibraltar, and back home. [The voyage via Lisbon to Seville didn’t come until December.] En route to Lisbon, the voyage record shows that it passed “Spurn Hd” (at the mouth of the Humber River) on Sept. 21, “Nth.St.Abbs Hd” (on the North Sea coast east of Edinburgh) on Sept. 22, arrived at and then left “Methil Rds” (on the north side of the Firth of Forth opposite Edinburgh) on Sep. 23, and departed Oban (on the west coast of Scotland near Fort William) on Sep. 27. It appears to have skirted the northern end of Scotland in order to join the convoy at Oban/Fort William. Bill recalls that there they joined a convoy to Bristol east of Cardiff, where they transferred to a convoy for West Africa.

When the convoy came opposite Lisbon, the Lisbeth broke off and proceeded on to Lisbon by itself. It was quite common for a convoy to drop off ships at different points. The next entry on the voyage record of the Lisbeth shows it arriving at Lisbon on Oct. 7, 1943.

On that same voyage they went on to Almeria, Spain, where they picked up a cargo of iron ore, with stops at Gibraltar before and after. The loading of the ore involved using a moving conveyor belt, which got the job done in only 12 hours. They were in Almeria only a short time and he didn’t go ashore.

The Lisbeth was a tramp. These ships were fairly small and went anywhere. (The Britain’s Merchant Navy book gives examples of them as having gross tonnage of 4,719 or even 10,000. The Lisbeth was 2,731 gross tonnage, according to the ship’s plan from the Bergen Maritime Museum. Gross weight probably includes the coal used for fuel and the water, according to Bill. The Lisbeth could carry up to 10,000 tons cargo, he said.) A tramp had no definite run. Some of the ships Bill served on, e.g., those of the Alfred Holt & Co. (the Blue Funnel Line), had a definite run, e.g., to Australia or the Far East. But a tramp never knew where it was going. For example, it might sail Liverpool to New York. In New York it would learn that it was to go to South America next. There the agents would send it to on to South Africa. It would meander all over the place. In the case of the Lisbeth, on Bill’s first voyage, the agents had a contract to deliver coal to Lisbon.

Note the comparison in Britain’s Merchant Navy, p. 33, of the sizes of the merchant fleets at the beginning of WWII:

British Empire 20,000,000 tons

USA 11,900,000

Japan 4,210,000

Norway 4,000,000

Germany 3,680,000

Italy 3,050,000

France 2,990,000

Usually a merchant sailor signed on for a single voyage. (The captain probably had a more permanent position as the representative of the owners.) Then you waited until you got back to your port of origin, such as Liverpool or Southampton. During the war there was a pool of names at each port of origin of available merchant seamen into which a sailor’s name was placed. He would check in with the pool, receive instructions that he could sign on a particular voyage, and be asked if he would be available. (During peacetime the procedure was different. You worked for a particular company and they looked after you.)

According to the Lisbeth’s return voyage record, it arrived in “Barrow” on Nov. 6, 1943, two weeks after leaving Gibraltar. Bill refers to it as Barrow-in-Furness, where the ship discharged its cargo. Barrow is located on the east coast of England north of Blackpool, which is north of Liverpool. What he remembers in particular about Barrow was their system of producing a smokescreen in the event of an air raid. The streets were lined with barrels filled with Hessian cloth (a type used in making cloth sacks) which had been soaked in oil. When the cloth was ignited, the smoke from the barrels produced an awful oily stink. There was oil everywhere.

The Lisbeth proceeded to Glasgow on Nov. 10 and remained there until Dec. 2. Bill thinks that that would have been enough time for him to go home for a family visit. Travel was not easy in Great Britain during that time–train schedules were disrupted, lines bombed, etc. At the end of some voyages it just wasn’t possible.

V. The Lisbeth – Insignia, Color, Structure

According to Roger W. Jordan’s, The World’s Merchant Fleets, Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 1999, p. 318, ships of Knut Knutsen OAS, were painted as follows: “Funnel: Black with two red bands. Hull: Black or black with wide band, red boot-topping.” [“Boot-topping” is defined as a distinctive band of paint covering the area between the water lines of a ship when fully loaded and when unloaded.] The ship’s plan from the Bergen Maritime Museum also shows a large K on a dark background on the funnel. However, according to Bill, there was no K on the funnel of the Lisbeth and there were no distinctive company colors. During the war all the merchant ships were painted grey. Even a ship’s funnel was grey. Before the war merchant ships probably were painted in their company colors. (In the case of the Blue Funnel line, on which Bill served, at one time, way back when, its ships were painted with any paint the 1st Mate happened to have. But one of them enhanced the whiteness of his white paint by adding a cube of Rickets Blue. That resulted in a company formula of one gallon of white paint plus one cube of Rickets Blue. At the time Japan surrendered, Bill was on a Dutch ship at Galveston. The 1st Mate decided to go back to the traditional colors but got the colors all wrong and got into trouble with the company. That was the first time Bill saw a ship in something approximating the original colors.)

The Lisbeth did not display any Knutsen Co. flag or any Nortraship flag. The Norwegian flag was hoisted only when in port or if, while at sea, it was asked to identify itself. Ordinarily at sea it did not display any Norwegian flag. There was no carved figure on the prow of the ship. The name “Lisbeth,” in raised letters, appeared on both sides of the prow and on the stern. Bill thinks that the port of origin (Haugesund) appeared below the ship’s name on the stern.

On the enlarged copy of the photo of the Lisbeth from the book by Leif Bjørkelund and E.H. Kongshavn, Våre Gamle Skip, the following features of it are identified:

a. Forepeak (foredeck). It is the counterpart of the poopdeck in the stern.

b. Well deck.

c. Location of Oerlikon AA guns at either end of the flying bridge.

d. Lower bridge and front part of the boat deck.

e. Wheelhouse of the flying bridge in front and the chart room in the back. (The ship was steered from the wheelhouse and navigation was done here. The chart room was separate from the wheelhouse but directly accessible to it.)

f. Compass where the Navigator would take sightings of landmarks on shore. There was no connection between this compass and the one in the wheelhouse.

g. The dark lines running along the top of the bridge on either side of the wheelhouse are the dodgers, canvas screens erected to protect persons on watch from wind, flying spray, etc. You looked through the canvass.

h. Flying bridge.

i. Captain’s day cabin at the far corner where he napped. Radio shack at the near corner. Two portholes, one for each room, are visible.

j. Outside ladder up to the bridge (there was no inside access).

k. Salon, where the party for British expatriates probably was held in Seville on Jan. 7, 1944. The three portholes visible in the photo are to the salon. Two more, one on each end, of cabins are out of sight.

l. Walkway in front of the salon.

m. Lifeboats.

n. Davits for lifeboat.

o. Galley was located inside.

p. Midship.

q. Freeing port for water to run off the deck.

r. 1st Mate’s cabin (hidden behind vertical object). The captain’s cabin would have been at the far left corner.

VI. Bill’s Second Voyage: Lisbon, Seville, & Gibraltar

Bill’s second voyage was the one to Lisbon, Seville, and Gibraltar during which he met Tom Applewhite. He boarded the ship in Glasgow, where it probably loaded a cargo of coal for Lisbon. According to the ship’s voyage record, it had been in Glasgow from Nov. 10 to Dec. 2. The ship would have been waiting for an opportunity to join a convoy moving south.

According to the record of the Lisbeth’s voyages and correspondence from the Norwegian National Archives, on Nov. 10, 1943 it left “Tail of Bank” and arrived at Glasgow by Nov. 11, where it remained for repairs until Dec. 2. On Dec. 3 she sailed to Gourock, west of Glasgow on the River Clyde. The record of voyages refers to it having anchored at Clyde anchorage, and left for Lisbon on Dec. 8, arriving there on Dec. 22. It left Lisbon for Seville on Dec. 31. Bill explained that “Tail of Bank” is where two lochs, Loch Long and Loch Gail, come together at the Clyde. “Tail of Bank” is a wide stretch of the Clyde opposite Greenock where convoys formed. Gourock, mentioned above, is a smaller town just west of Greenock. A contemporary map shows the Port of Glasgow at Greenock. Bill doesn’t know the origin of the name “Tail of Bank.”

When loading coal for use as fuel, the coal would arrive at the port in RR wagons. An entire wagon would be picked up and dumped into a hopper. Conveyor belts would move the coal to the respective coal chute and it would pour down into the correct coalbunker. When loading coal as a cargo, it was moved in the same manner except that it was poured directly into the cargo holds. To unload it, the port had a device called a “grabber” equipped with twin buckets that would open and close together, grabbing a quantity of coal. Stevedores working in the hold would shovel the coal together in the center, making it possible for the “grabs” to seize a quantity of coal.

When they left England all they knew was that they were carrying a cargo of coal for Lisbon. It was not until after they arrived in Portugal that they learned they would go on to Seville. As in Bill’s first voyage on the Lisbeth, again they were part of a convoy and split off as they approached Lisbon.

Their cargo of coal was for use by the Portuguese. The UK had good relations with Portugal during the war. The two countries had concluded a peace treaty some 300-400 years prior, lasting longer than that of any other countries. After the coal was unloaded and before they proceeded to Seville, the cargo holds were cleaned out by a Portuguese shore gang using hoses. Pumps would pump the water out or they would let it run into the bilges and then pump the bilges. A ship of that vintage had bilges and they had to be able to pump them out. In bad weather they would fill up, so every so often you would see water spurting out of the sides of the ship because pumping was underway.

The voyage from Lisbon to Seville was via “light ship,” i.e., no ballast was needed because conditions were so calm, unlike the North Atlantic.

VII. Arrival at Bonanza, Guadalquivir, and River Pilot

With one exception, Bill has no specific memories of their arrival at Bonanza at the mouth of the Guadalquivir River. But he does know that there would have been a perfunctory visit to the Lisbeth by Spanish authorities. They would have been provided a copy of the crew list but wouldn’t have bothered to check it against the actual members of the crew. In addition, since the ship had no cargo at that point, there would not have been any inspection of the ship. Bill does remember seeing the river pilot come aboard, probably late in the evening.

The river pilot, who is employed by the port authority, would arrive in a boat flying a “P” flag, for “port authority,” and a national flag. The captain would give permission for him to come aboard. In fact, the captain would be expecting him and would want guidance on navigating the river. Sometimes it would be the 1st Mate who would welcome the pilot on board. Pilots usually are respected and welcomed on board, although on one occasion Bill remembers a pilot arriving drunk. (Bill recalled a voyage to Bombay on the Hoogly River (a branch of the Ganges). The pilot arrived carrying his golf clubs and tennis rackets. Not able to haul them up the rope ladder, he called up asking for help, saying, “I’m the pilot! I can’t get up the ladder.” The captain, not answering, went over to the other side of the ship and spat. When the man called out again, saying, “I’m the pilot,” the captain replied, “I don’t give a damn if you’re Pontius Pilate, it’s the only ladder I’ve got!”)

On a small ship like the Lisbeth, the pilot would come on board via the rope ladder up to one of the well decks (see Bill’s reference to the fore deck and the after deck above), which are not very far from the water. The bosun and a couple of crewmen were in charge of lowering the rope ladder. When not in use probably it was lashed to the gunwales. On a bigger ship they would lower a gangway and the pilot would walk up.

Although he can’t recall specifically what navigational aids there were on the Guadalquivir River, he is certain there were some. There certainly were lights at the entrance to the river and buoys to identify the shallow areas. Whether there were any radio beacons then, he is not sure. (The present day map of the river issued by the Seville Port Authority shows radio beacons at seven locations, including one at Bonanza and three at Seville.) It is quite a wide river. It might have been wide enough for two ships to pass each other, but it would have depended on how shallow it was at that point.

He doesn’t recall any specific landmarks along the Guadalquivir or at its mouth, such as a lighthouse. [According to the present day Seville Port Authority map, there is a lighthouse (faro) just upriver of Bonanza and another at Chipiona, the last Spanish town the Lisbeth passed as it left the Guadalquivir en route to Gibraltar. In between Bonanza and Chipiona is the city of Sanlucar de Barrameda.)

VIII. Conditions in Seville

The five days he spent at the port of Seville (Jan. 3-7, 1944) was the only time Bill was ever in the city. In addition, it was only his second voyage, so his memories are quite vivid.

Bill spent only one day on shore leave in Seville. He hated the place because of the conditions there. There were starving children begging for food. Kitchen scraps, potato peelings, and food not eaten, which normally would have been thrown over the stern, were tossed over the side of the ship by the crew to the children, who scooped it up. Especially in a country with as rich a culture as Spain, it was revolting to Bill to see children so debased.

In the city near the docks he saw three or four statues originally built on four leg-like supports, so that the statues were eight to ten feet up in the air. The spaces beneath the statues between the supports were boarded up with scraps of metal, such as corrugated tin from the roofs of shacks or sheets of metal that had advertising plastered on them. People were living in the spaces under the statues. He was told that thirty thousand homeless people were living in the orange groves using bits of canvas tied between trees for shelter.

Girls as young as 10 or 12 were prostituting themselves on the quayside for anything to eat. (One of the seamen on the Lisbeth was put off at a Gibraltar for medical attention due to a severe case of gonorrhea, probably picked up while they were in Lisbon.) There was no ship policy or company policy to discourage crewmen from using prostitutes.

While he was in a bar in Seville two of the Guardia Civil, with their funny hats and strutting gait, entered. There were a couple of Norwegian sailors at the bar and one of them laughed, whether it was at their funny hats or something else he didn’t know. The policemen beat the seamen with their truncheons, tearing off the ear of one of them. That discouraged Bill and the other men from the Lisbeth from spending any more time in Seville, and they returned to the ship.

IX. Loading the Lisbeth with Oranges

The cargo loaded in Seville consisted of Seville oranges destined for Hartley’s, the marmalade producer, in Liverpool. They were very bitter, so much so that you couldn’t eat them, and were used only to make marmalade. They arrived by truck from the orange groves in three-foot-long crates constructed of wood slats, each crate consisting of two compartments, about 15 in. square each. The weight of a crate was such that two men were needed to handle it, so loading oranges was slow, requiring a lot of manhandling. They were loaded by hand onto pallets on the dock, which were then were lifted by the ship’s derricks from the quay into one of the four cargo hatches. Four ropes secured a cluster of up to 12 crates to a pallet. There were eight derricks, two to each of the four hatches, one on each side. (According to the 1922 ship’s plan, a derrick could lift three tons.) One derrick would lift the pallet from the dock and transfer it in mid-air to the other derrick, which would lower the pallet into the hold. Each derrick had two steam winches with a crewman and crane driver on each winch. A derrick was hinged at one end and had a shackle (wheels through which a rope passed) at the other end. It was attached at the hinged end to a mast built into the ship. There were two masts, one with its derricks serving hatches #1 and #2 for hold #1 on the fore deck, and the other serving hatches #3 and #4 for hold #2 on the after deck.

The Lisbeth carried only oranges on this trip, filling both cargo holds. Spanish stevedores took them off the pallets and loaded them into the holds under the supervision of the 1st Mate, who was responsible for loading and unloading and the stability of the ship. These duties are traditional in all navies.

Because it was necessary for the stevedores to stack the orange crates in the hold, Bill estimates that the work took two to three days, taking up most of the time the Lisbeth was in Seville from Jan. 3-7. (On a voyage to Japan he remembers their ship being loaded with bales of wool. The Japanese dockworkers lay on their backs in a line and moved the bales on the soles of their feet, conveyor-belt style. The Japanese loaded a cargo in two days that took a fortnight to unload in Liverpool! Bill didn’t have a very high opinion of Liverpool dockworkers in those days. He mentioned the joke, “A Liverpool dock worker could crawl under a snake while wearing a top hat!” A dockworker depended on his hook, a tool with a hook at one end and a crosspiece, for moving cargo. They were lost when these were taken away from them, such as when moving fragile cargo.)

Because oranges are light by comparison to some cargoes, even with both holds filled, the ship was barely down to the Plimsoll line. (Wool was the favorite cargo; iron ore was at the other extreme. If torpedoed, sinking speed had to do with how full the holds were. If they were full, the ship did not fill with water quickly and the crew had more time to escape.)

Tom and the other airmen would have had no difficulty seeing the cargo of oranges. The tendency was to leave the hatches open, since this was sunny Spain. In case of rain, the crew would pull canvas covers over the hatch openings. The airmen would not have seen the cargo from the DEMS quarters of the gun crews (see more about DEMS on p. 22); there was no access to the hold from the DEMS section, which was sealed off from the cargo holds. For one thing, the DEMS men needed protection from shifting cargo. (DEMS stood for Defensively Equipped Merchant Ships and referred to the gun crew drawn from the Royal Navy and the British Army.)

When the Lisbeth arrived in Liverpool on Jan. 24, 1944, British customs officials would have boarded it to see if any crewmember had brought contraband, and there would be a cursory inspection of the cargo. In addition, the immigration people would want a copy of the crew list. Bill does not recall these events or the unloading of the oranges in Liverpool because he went on leave to see his family.

X. Captain Einar Apeland

Captain Apeland led a very isolated life, keeping to himself. He ate by himself, which was characteristic of Norwegian captains, unlike the British. (The other officers on the Lisbeth had a mess of their own.) Apeland was very quiet and very efficient. He was a solemn man, and not very communicative. Bill’s other captains were much more approachable, but this may have been because of Apeland’s hesitancy speaking English or because Bill was such a junior officer. Apeland probably regarded the RO’s as a pain in the neck; they wouldn’t have been needed in peacetime.

Capt. Apeland’s English was “reasonable, not too bad. He was reasonably easy to understand, but had a strong accent.”

Apeland was very careful about saving money for the ship owners. Otherwise the food might have been better. He also acted as his own purser. Norwegian ships had a different setup than British. (Apeland’s notebook has several entries referring to wages he advanced to various members of the crew.)

Bill and the rest of the crew did not know of Capt. Apeland’s experiences of being torpedoed and going down with his ship the SS Kongshaug on July 9, 1942.

The Statement of Sea Service for Capt. Apeland from the Norwegian National Archives shows him serving as Master of the Lisbeth from Nov. 23, 1943 to Apr. 8, 1944 and again from Nov. 29, 1944 to Feb. 5, 1945. In between he served as the Master for the Lysaker V, which delivered gasoline to France as part of the Normandy landings. Bill doesn’t know why Apeland left the Lisbeth and came back later.

Often captains had two cabins, one he could retire to when it was unlikely he would be called, and another for naps when he needed to be close to the action. The 1922 ship’s plans for the Lisbeth from Bergen show both of Captain Apeland’s cabins. Next to the salon on the starboard side were his regular quarters, complete with foldout bed and separate private bath in the room next to it. The “kaptein’s kontor,” literally the captain’s office but referred to by Bill as his “day room,” was on the boat deck next to the radio room. (Bill pointed out that Apeland’s bed in his regular quarters was fore and aft, i.e., aligned with the axis of the ship, which is preferable because you can bend you knees and brace yourself against the roll of the ship, producing a better night’s sleep. The couch in the day room, which was at right angles to the ship’s axis, would not have been as comfortable.

XI. Contacts Between Captain and Consulates

Bill wasn’t aware of the captain having any contacts with the consular officials and wasn’t aware of them coming on board, although they may have.

XII. The Party and the MacAndrews Co.

A ship’s agent would be someone from the company that owns the ship or from a company like the MacAndrews Co., (which, judging from the notations in Capt. Apeland’s notebook, was the agent for the Lisbeth when it was in Seville). Larger ports might have several ships’ agents.

Bill doesn’t remember anything about the MacAndrews Co. being involved in a party on board the Lisbeth in Seville, or the party, for that matter. The policy would have been to keep to a minimum the number of people who knew what was going on, even the holding of a party. He doesn’t recall anyone like “Manolo, the Fat One,” who worked for the British consulate in Seville. The one tall man he remembers is Arvid Kragstad, the second radio operator.

He was never informed of the party. No other parties were ever held and there never was any recognition of the captain’s birthday by the crew.

The MacAndrews Company, however, was a well-known company. My mentioning the name immediately brought back memories. All ships had agents in port. MacAndrews was a reliable agent. It wasn’t until Bill was sailing on the ship of the Alfred Holt & Co., and had purser duties as well as being radio operator, that he had any dealings with the MacAndrews Co. He recalls working on the loading and unloading of the ship he was on and handling bills of lading from the MacAndrews Co. It was his responsibility to see to it that the goods were delivered. When Bill refers to the “agent” coming on board the ship, it would be the agent of the MacAndrews Co. or an agent of a similar company.

Since the ship’s agent, in this case the MacAndrews Co., would have been in charge of purchasing provisions for the Lisbeth on behalf of the Steward (see discussion below about the Steward), it makes sense that the MacAndrews Co. would have provided the drinks for the party as well.

XIII. Spanish Guards

There was always a Spanish soldier on guard at the top of the gangplank. One in particular Bill remembers. He was “a simple soul, a family man with children, very friendly and willing to try to converse.” Bill would try his Spanish on him and the guard would try to learn English. “He was an easy-going bloke.” In one instance, they were able to trick him into looking elsewhere when some of the crew were smuggling something or someone aboard—a woman, Bill thinks. He can’t remember the guard’s name, but the crew had several nicknames for him; he was the subject of several snide remarks.

The Spanish guards were Spanish Army guards, not Guardia Civil police or any other service. The guards were present, in shifts, for 24-hours a day. Occasionally there might be more than one guard, but that was more by accident than design—the guards might be chatting with each other. The guard was not particularly efficient. He was slack about checking papers. He didn’t have a crew list, and the crewmen wandered on and off the ship as they liked. He just seemed to stand there and do nothing. The guards were an irresponsible lot. They were scruffy and untidy in their dress.

The guard would sit in a chair much of the time or he might get up and wander about and stretch his legs. He recalls the guard drinking; the only “list” he had was caused by alcohol. Nevertheless, they were fairly circumspect about their drinking, using a glass or a flask. [It seems that when the party was held it would have been easy to provide the guard on duty with a bottle of wine to divert his attention from the arriving guests.]

Bill doesn’t recall whether there were additional guards on the dock or whether they had a guard shack or barracks on the dock. Unlike some harbors he sailed to which had fenced-in docks, the one in Seville was an open type of dock. The crewmen just wandered off and into town.

XIV. Preparations for Sailing

The following steps were taken in preparation for sailing:

1. While in Seville, the Lisbeth took on water. This was done in every port because a lot of water was required for the steam engines. Canvas fire hoses were connected to a standpipe on the quay to replenish the ship’s water supply. The water for the steam engine, drinking, and bathing all came from the same source, but the drinking water used by the crew probably was filtered. Otherwise it might have tasted brackish. There was no desalination plant on the Lisbeth. The only use made of salt water on the ship was for flushing toilets. If there had been any showering in salt water, the crew would have used salt-water soap, and Bill is certain there was none on the Lisbeth. (This means, then, that what was unique about the showers that Tom and the other airmen took after emerging from the ship’s propeller shaft compartment was not that they were showering in fresh water—everyone in the crew did that–but that they were allowed to use the captain’s shower. The 1922 plan of the ship shows that the captain’s bathroom was entered from the corridor outside the captain’s cabin, so the crew probably saw the airmen coming and going while using the it.)

(When Bill was serving on ships owned by the Alfred Holt & Co., and the ship was in Liverpool, it would always go to the city of Birkenhead on the opposite side of the Mersey River for softer water, so that less “lime scale” would collect in the engines. Birkenhead is on a strip of land known as Wirral between the Mersey and Dee Rivers. A person who wanted to get across the Mersey from Birkenhead to Liverpool had to use either the Mersey tunnel or the ferry. “Liverpool Roads” is the mouth of the Mersey.)

2. While in Seville, Bill says the Lisbeth certainly would have taken on potatoes, fresh vegetables, fresh bread, and milk. There was not much refrigeration available, so the rest of the time their milk was made with powered milk, even when he served on one of the Union-Castle ships. Bill said that the Steward would have ordered supplies through the ship’s agent, who were responsible for “victualing.” The Steward simply wouldn’t have had the knowledge of where to go, etc. to make the purchases. The MacAndrews Co. probably did this for the Lisbeth while it was in Seville.

3. The derricks were lowered into a half-moon cradle, located several feet above the deck and equipped with a hinged top, and clamped in tight. Otherwise, when the ship was underway, they would be swinging about, a dangerous situation, especially on a ship such as the Lisbeth because the fore deck and the after deck often were awash.

4. Hatches were battened down. The openings of the holds were built up with 12-18 in. of steel creating a coving. Across the opening of each hold a steel girder would be fitted into the coving parallel to the axis of the ship. (The girder was removable when clear access to the hold was needed.) Boards 2-3” thick, 9-12” wide, and 10-15’ long were fitted end-to-end on the girder covering the entire space. Since the well decks, the two lower decks where the cargo hatches were located, often were awash, the boards had to be pretty substantial to keep the water out and to allow the crew to walk on them. The boards were then covered with canvas, with wedges jammed in every 9 inches to one foot apart to hold the canvas down. When the well deck was awash and water came over the top of the canvas, if the pegs weren’t put in properly, waves could rip off the canvas, displacing the boards, filling the hold, and sinking the ship. But Norwegians were good sailors and wouldn’t fail to do it properly.

5. The anchor was stowed. Sometimes, while in port, the anchor was not fully stowed even though not in use. Or it might be used to supplement the ship being tied up to the dock. (Note the position of the anchor on the enlarged photo of the Lisbeth from the Bjørkelund and Kongshavn book.)

6. The 2nd Mate, as Navigation Officer, made sure that he had all the charts he would need.

7. After arriving in Seville the firemen may have “drawn the fires,” i.e., removed the “clinker” from the coal in the boilers. Bituminous coal, otherwise known as “soft coal,” was used on the Lisbeth to heat its boilers. Such coal is defined as containing “volatile hydrocarbons and tarry matter, and burns with a yellow, smoky flame.” Bill recalls it producing lumps of molten debris, known as “clinker.” Every four hours, corresponding with the change of watches, the firemen would pull a lot of the fire out of the boiler in order to get at the clinker and remove it from the firebox. He isn’t sure what they did with it—perhaps it was tossed overboard. If the ship was sailing when this was done, the speed dropped. Normally the fire was kept burning brightly in order to keep the pressure up.

8. When it came time to get the pressure up in the boiler that had not been in service while they were in Seville, the firemen pulled hot cinders from the operational boiler and used them to start the fire in the unused boiler.

9. Port fees, if not paid earlier, would have been paid before the Lisbeth sailed. According to Carlos Formby, the current honorary British consul in the city, Seville’s port fees are high, and Capt. Apeland may have deliberately moved the Lisbeth to Bonanza in order to avoid paying any more than necessary.

10. Any final messages from the British or Norwegian consulates or the MacAndrews Co. would have been delivered. There may have been one from Gibraltar instructing Capt. Apeland that he should not arrive there before Jan. 11th because the convoy was not slated to depart until the 12th. Such a message may have prompted his decision to move the ship to Bonanza and wait there.

11. When the Lisbeth proceeded to move away from the quay, the 1st Mate was on duty on the forepeak and the 2nd Mate on the stern. Both were in charge of what went on under the instructions of the captain and the pilot. When docking, because of the captain’s vantage point on the bridge giving him a better view of the ship, he might see that they needed to tie up tighter at one end or the other, and he would lean forward and give instructions to the Mate.

Spanish authorities did not search the Lisbeth before it left Seville.

12. Note that during my interview with retired Capt. Wulff, he said that even while in port a jacking gear would have kept the propeller moving but very slowly in order to keep it lubricated. Bill wasn’t aware of this, but said it would have to be almost imperceptible because even slight rotation would provide a lot of thrust.

Because the Guadalquivir was a wide, navigable river, Bill believes the Lisbeth managed to leave its berth without the help of a tug. He has no recollection of the ship having to go through a lock.

XV. Voyage from Seville to Gibraltar

Even though their cargo was for Hartley’s in Liverpool, Bill explained that they could not sail for Liverpool directly. Instead, they had to go by way of Gibraltar because it was a convoy-routing place. There they and other ships would assemble in order to be escorted by Royal Navy warships to the UK. More likely than not, the Lisbeth had to wait until the convoy was ready in Gibraltar and it could join it. Bill first thought the three-day delay from Jan. 7-10 was at the port in Seville until they finally left for Gibraltar, but later agreed it could have been at Bonanza at the mouth of the Guadalquivir River.

A. Fuel for the Ship

He doesn’t recall the Lisbeth taking on any fuel between the UK and Gibraltar and back, only water. It was not all that long a journey, maybe 1000 miles, so there was no need to refuel.

B. Ship Security

Bill thinks there were other ships in port in Seville at the time he was there on the Lisbeth but he has no idea what nationality they were. Bristow’s book, The Game of Moles, spoke of German and British cargo ships being anchored side-by-side in Seville (p. 95), creating all sorts of opportunities for German sabotage. However, that appears to have been back in October 1942 and a lot had changed by the beginning of 1944. Bill did not see any German ships while they were in the port of Seville, and he thinks that the British Navy probably would not have allowed them anywhere near Spain in any event. He doesn’t recall any security measures taken in Seville to protect the ship, but that would have been the duty of the Mates.

C. Port of Bonanza

Bill didn’t remember where Bonanza was when I first asked him about it. The “Lisbeth” may very well have gone there, he said, but he can’t remember. He feels they probably anchored there but he had no recollection of the Lisbeth tying up at a dock. So it seems more likely that the ship anchored in the river. The river pilot certainly would have left the Lisbeth when they reached Bonanza.

D. Cadiz

They kept close to shore en route to Gibraltar, so the airmen might have been able to see Cadiz, particularly if the Lisbeth passed it at night because of the city lights. However, at night Bill usually was on watch or in bed, so most likely he wouldn’t have noticed it himself.

En route to Gibraltar he does not recall there being any other ships with them. They were on their own, just as they had been from Lisbon to Seville.

E. British Frigate

He has no recollection of the Lisbeth being stopped and boarded by a British warship, as Tom and Stan remember, but he might have been asleep in his bunk at the time. For that matter, he doesn’t remember the boarding of any ship on which he served during the war. His best guess is that the boarding of the Lisbeth en route to Gibraltar was to verify that she was what she said she was. Germans ships sometimes would come out of Brest and, hugging the coast, try to make their way into the Mediterranean.

F. U-Boat Attacks

Bill thought that another ship 100-150 miles ahead of them on the voyage from Seville to Gibraltar was torpedoed and sunk. They could not stop for survivors even if it had been close enough. To do so would have made them a sitting duck. Besides, rescue was for others to do. He thought that the ship most likely was going to North Africa. The reason he was aware of the sinking, but not Tom and Stan, was because of the “radio signals flying about.” He doesn’t recall the ship’s name or anything about it. He thought it “probably was sliding down the coast by itself, just like the Lisbeth.” They had done the same from Lisbon to Seville, without any convoy.

The radio signals about the U-boat attack did not occur while he was on watch. Instead, he read about them in the log afterwards. This would be consistent with them being signals about the attack at 0034 hours on Jan. 11, 1944, when the Lisbeth was still en route to Gibraltar, by U 380 reported in Jürgen Rohrwer’s Axis Submarine Successes of World War Two, p. 253. That involved an attack on a small eastbound convoy where a destroyer was the target of an attack by a Gnat acoustic homing torpedo.

G. Convoy Formation

Convoys would congregate at specific places like the “Tail of the Bank,” or Fort William in Scotland, or Liverpool Roads on the Mersey. Convoys tended to be in the North or South Atlantic. Once he sailed from Grimsby (see discussion on p. 5) all around Scotland to the west coast of Scotland for a convoy formation in a nice big loch. He remembers sitting in the stern of the ship enjoying the scenery. It was perfectly calm and absolutely beautiful. But by 4 p.m., when the convoy left, they were in a full gale.

Crewmen often had to work 12-15 hours straight, especially if in a convoy. During a convoy, you could never get more than 3½ hrs. of sleep. Doing that for 15 days while crossing the Atlantic “was destroying.”

XVI. Contact Between Crew, DEMS, and Airmen

Bill can’t recall when he became aware of the airmen being on the ship. His feeling is that he learned of it from the DEMS people. The airmen probably came up through the DEMS quarters. The DEMS people were self-contained, quarters having been built for them in the cargo hold—probably the #2 hold–where they had their own mess. Access was by some internal stairway. The DEMS ratings all ate and slept on the same level. Bunks were a communal arrangement, with some differentiation between the mess and the sleeping area. The airmen may have eaten with the DEMS people.

DEMS personnel wore either Royal Navy or British Army uniforms. A 50-50 split was maintained between the two. The ship’s crew list from the Norwegian National Archives refers to each of them as a “DEMS rating,” i.e., each had a DEMS classification. No officers were among them, not even petty officers, according to Bill. The highest rank would have been a corporal. They were all a pleasant bunch and did their job reasonably well, he said.

Bill thinks it is possible that the five airmen slept in the DEMS quarters. Since the guns were manned around the clock by DEMS men, some bunks would have been unoccupied at night. It was common to share a bunk, with men alternating in their use of it.

Bill was emphatic that none of the English-speaking members of the crew would have been housed with the DEMS personnel.

“We were quite impressed that these people [the airmen] had escaped and that we had had some small part of it; we admired them,” Bill said of the five Allied airmen. He couldn’t recall much of their stories, but he did understand then that the first part of their escapes differed.

As to why the airmen were first put in the compartment next to the boiler, Bill thinks it was because it was simply more convenient. The boiler room was 20-30 ft. higher in the ship. Going further down to the coal bunker to hide them in the propeller shaft compartment required negotiating more stairs and steps and opening the hatch to the shaft compartment. It was just an unthinking decision. The DEMS personnel would not have decided where to hide the airmen. Rather, it probably would have been decided by a consultation between Captain Apeland and the 1st Mate, Jens Aksdal. Bill only has vague memories of Aksdal. [This decision might have been made when Apeland thought they would be proceeding immediately to Gibraltar, and there was no need to find a long-term hiding place for the airmen.]

While they were in port at Seville, the ship needed power, so one of the boilers was kept operating, providing steam to generate electrical power. Bill thinks there would have been a donkey engine (any sort of subsidiary engine) in the engine room to drive the dynamo. In addition, all the winches used for moving cargo were worked by steam. That left one boiler unused until it was time for the ship to sail. It makes sense to Bill that the airmen would have been hidden temporarily in a compartment next to the unused boiler and then moved when it had to be fired up. “You want to keep them alive, not cook them!” he said.

Bill had no idea when the airmen were let up on deck. But the mouth of the Guadalquivir River was so wide that it might have seemed to them that they were out to sea when they were still at the mouth. In any event, the airmen would not have been let out of the propeller shaft compartment until the river pilot had left.

An entry in Captain Apeland’s notebook for Jan. 10, 1944 shows the ship as leaving Bonanza at 3:15 p.m. Conceivably Apeland could have felt it was safe to let the airmen up on deck before they got underway since the ship’s pilot would have been long gone (most likely he left the night of Jan. 7) and it would seem unlikely that there would have been any reason for the Spanish authorities to board the ship as late as Jan. 10. If the airmen were released from the ship’s propeller shaft compartment the morning of Jan. 10, between 8 a.m. to 12 noon Bill says he would have been on duty in the radio shack and probably would not have seen Tom until the afternoon (and Tom would have had time to use Apeland’s shower, maybe have lunch, and imbibe the captain’s liquor). Even though the ship was not going anywhere while it was at anchor in the river, the radio shack would have been manned. Bill would have been back on duty in the radio shack again at 8 that evening.

At first Bill could not specifically remember talking with Tom. But then he remembered having some conversation with him in the DEMS mess room. This was the place to congregate because they all spoke English there, while Norwegian was the preferred language in the other messes. He also might have spoken with Tom near the radio shack at a favorite spot on the ship for sitting and talking. The ship’s plan for the Lisbeth shows the ship’s funnel just around the corner from the radio shack on the other side of the coal chute.) Attached all the way around the bottom of the funnel was a flange, which formed a ledge just the right height and depth for sitting. You could find a place on it out of the wind and warm your back against the funnel. You also had a good view, since the boat deck was nearly the highest point on the ship.

Bill thinks it very likely that he would have invited Tom up to the radio shack in the evening of Jan. 10 when he was back on duty. They were a friendly crowd, and anyone speaking English with an inquisitive mind would have been invited up to see it.

Tom’s recollection of using the captain’s shower rings true to Bill. Tom recalled that the crew was very impressed that the airmen were allowed to use the captain’s shower. With the entrance to the captain’s bathroom located in the corridor at the foot of the stairs going up to the boatdeck, the crew probably could have seem them entering and leaving it.

Bill does not remember talking with Stan Munns. Stan spoke of standing in the prow of the ship to see where they were going. But, according to Bill, the best view is from the middle of the ship. Even the lookouts were on the bridge or the foremast. (There was no crow’s nest on the ship.)

Bill does not remember exchanging photos with Tom.

XVII. Gibraltar

A. Mining of Ships

Bill recalls British Navy divers routinely checking ships for limpet mines. The divers were their security. When the Lisbeth arrived at Gibraltar this had to have happened. “We were very grateful to see the Royal Navy divers; they were always welcome.” [Here Bill’s memory matches what Tom recalls.]

At Gibraltar there were 20-30 ships with their backs broken by limpet mines that enemy scuba divers had placed on their keels. The British used anti-personnel depth charges dropped into the sea from boats every 10 minutes to stop enemy scuba divers. They went off with a bang. You would hear them going off day and night. They would concuss a diver from quite a long way. But they were mainly used at night because the enemy scuba divers worked under cover of darkness. He thinks the story of a torpedo being attached to freighter as a time bomb, as described in one book, was an exaggeration. [However, the copy of a report I just received from the Public Record Office on Italian sabotage of merchant ships at Gibraltar includes a photo—see attached copy—of a bilge-keel bomb designed so that “as soon as the ship begins to move, the timing device goes into action, and is set to detonate the bomb after so many revolutions of the vanes.”]

At the time they sailed from Seville to Gibraltar, Bill was not aware that the Germans were planting time bombs on ships carrying oranges to the UK.

B. Contact with Authorities in Gibraltar

Most likely the shipping company agent in Gibraltar would have been expecting the Lisbeth’s arrival, having been advised by telegraph from Seville that the ship was en route to Gibraltar and its likely ETA. In addition, the agent would be in touch with the Admiralty or the port authority about ship arrivals. (There must have been some observation point on Gibraltar from which the British had a good view of the entire port and could identify arriving ships.) If the Lisbeth were expected as part of a convoy, the agent would inquire if the Lisbeth was among the arriving ships and, if so, would know that she would be anchored among them. Once the agent knew that the Lisbeth had arrived, he would come out by launch to the ship to discuss with the Master what it needed in the way of stores, “the funny looking blokes” who needed to be dropped off, and other matters. Arrangements for disembarking the airmen probably were handled this way rather than by signaling by Aldiss lamp, which too many other people, including the Spanish, could observe. [The same PRO report mentioned above contains a photo of the HQs of the director of espionage and ship-watching for the Italian military mission in Algeciras, which commanded a good view of the Commercial Anchorage and of the North Mole and Coaling Arm at Gibraltar.]

Bill said it is unlikely that the Lisbeth would have gone alongside one of the moles (breakwaters) at Gibraltar. Very few ships would do this since there was little need to.

C. Departure of the Airmen

Bill did not witness the goodbye ceremony where Tom gave a little speech to Captain Apeland thanking him for helping the airmen. He thinks it might have been in the captain’s quarters or the lounge (salon).

According to Bill, the Lisbeth most likely simply dropped anchor in the Bay of Algeciras, rather than tying up to one of Gibraltar’s moles (breakwaters used for anchorage), with the airmen leaving the ship via a launch sent from the port.

The entry in Capt. Apeland’s notebook on 11 Jan. 1944, “x 1730,” indicating departure from Gibraltar at that hour, probably reflected the ship moving a couple of miles from where it initially dropped anchor in the Bay of Algeciras to its allocated space in the convoy, according to Bill.

D. Business and Shore Leave in Gibraltar

Typically there was no shore leave in Gibraltar, and that included their time there Jan. 11-12, 1944 after they dropped off the airmen. “You were there only to collect into a convoy,” Bill said. (On one occasion, when he was serving on a different ship, they had some cargo to discharge at Gibraltar. He took shore leave and had his first beer in months. The pub he went to charged one shilling for a two-pint jug, but required that the customer provide his own container. Bill brought his, had it filled three times, and became horribly drunk. During the war, on these voyages, you never knew if you were going to make it home alive, so you got drunk while on shore leave.)

When forming into a convoy at some port, the captain and senior radio officer would go ashore. The captain would get verbal instructions on the convoy plus written instructions, which were to be opened later. The #1 RO would be issued a decoding manual for that convoy. This undoubtedly would have happened at Gibraltar on Jan. 11, 1944, probably after seeing off the five airmen.

Once, after Bill had become the #1 RO, he went ashore at Greenock, near Glasgow, to receive the decoding manual. Before he could return to the ship, the weather turned so bad that the launch that was to take him out to it was unable to make the trip. Having to stay overnight at a hotel, he put his shoes out in the hallway to be cleaned, only to find the next morning that they had been stolen. Shoes and clothing were rationed during the war. Although when he was assigned to the Lisbeth he was given coupons to buy the necessary clothes and shoes for serving at sea, he didn’t have any shoe coupons that time in Greenock. Unable to buy replacement shoes, he had to buy a new pair of Wellington boots instead. He had extra shoes on the ship but he needed something to wear in the meantime.

There would not be any announcements to the crew about how the convoy would be organized and proceed.

Bill said he never understood the logic of why ships in a convoy were placed as they were. He does remember that if there were any Greek ships, they were placed on the outer edge. Greek sailors were such poor gunners that this was done to prevent them from accidentally firing on the other ships. According to the Britain’s Merchant Navy book (p. 107), position in the convoy was based on tonnage and destination. Bill says it would make sense to put the ships with the biggest tonnage in the center of the convoy because they would represent the biggest loss if sunk.

XVIII. Communications

Messages regarding where the ship was to go to next, etc. would have gone through the consul or the agent in the port, rather than being transmitted by radio. Radio communications were kept to a minimum to avoid letting the Germans know where the ship was or where it was going because the Germans could beam in on the messages. For the same reason, crewmen did not have personal radios. Not only could such radios receive signals, they could also emit them. (After the war they did have personal radios. Bill remembers his Hallicrafters short wave radio, an American radio that was in advance of its time. The Internet has several websites devoted to Hallicrafters, e.g.,

They did get messages while at sea but there weren’t any on the voyage from Seville to Gibraltar. There was one later regarding a slight alteration of their course, directing that they go farther out to sea off the coast of France. Typically this would occur when passing Brest, a German naval base on the coast of France. Folke-Wulff Condors had a long range, would keep out of gunfire range of the British ships, and radio back the convoy’s position. Later in the war the British converted merchant ships into mini-aircraft carriers with a flight deck capable of handling six or seven aircraft. These would be used to attack any such German planes.

They never received messages directly from Nortraship.

An Aldiss lamp would be used by one of the Radio Officers to send Morse code messages from the bridge of the “Lisbeth” to other ships. As 3rd R.O., Bill regularly used the lamp. Since the radio operators were trained in Morse code, it made sense for them to operate the Aldiss lamp.

There was no loudspeaker used to listen for radio messages. The radio operator had to use the earphones. Nevertheless, most messages came through only at specific times. Also, you could put the earphones up on your temple and still hear an incoming message, making it easier to carry on a conversation with someone between messages.

The radio operator relied on two decoding books. The Master Book stayed the same for the whole year, but a different coding book supplemented it for each voyage, since they had to assume that the Master Book had fallen into German hands. At the beginning of the code was a sequence of letters that told you which system of coding to use. The procedure followed was to subtract (1) the numbers transmitted to you from (2) the numbers in the convoy book, producing (3) a third set of numbers. Those numbers were compared with (4) the numbers in the Master Book in order to produce the message. The numbers spelled out individual letters. The convoy coding book also had certain numbers that indicated the end of a word. In addition, certain four-letter numbers represented an entire phrase or sentence, e.g., “You are to proceed ….”

Even when the Lisbeth split off from the convoy to proceed to Lisbon, the convoy coding book would have remained useful. The ship could still receive a message that would be applicable to it if, for some reason, one was sent. The powers that be would know where they were and where they were going. However, there would not have been any transmissions from the convoy. (Later on Bill was served on the commodore’s ship. Even there they did not send messages.) So there was no way to have contacted the Lisbeth when it was sailing alone. But it was only hours to get to Lisbon.

Although Bill can’t recall the arrangement on the Lisbeth, there probably were instructions on destroying the codebooks. There probably was a leaded locker in the radio room used to store the books, which could be dumped over the side of the ship and would sink immediately. He remembers this was the case on some other ships on which he served. (Note that the web site dealing with the sinking of the Rangitane says, “Such code books were always stored in a weighted bag with holes so that it could be thrown overboard in an emergency.)

Bill has no recollection of delivering messages to Capt. Apeland in his office (day room) or personal cabin, though he could have, particularly the former since it was next to the radio room, with the doors to both rooms opening onto the same short corridor. If a message came in and one of the other Radio Officers was on duty, Bill would have learned about it later because there was a log of all in-coming messages. There was no log for out-going messages since they didn’t send any, having to maintain radio silence.

The only messages received were in code for security reasons. The majority picked up was for the commodore’s ship, the organizer of the convoy, which, in turn, would relay them to the other ships via Aldiss lamps. Even if Bill heard such messages, he wouldn’t have been able to decode them. Later he served on a commodore’s ship and on Blue Funnel Co. ships, which had better radio equipment. The Lisbeth could not have served as a commodore’s ship because she lacked accommodations for the commodore’s staff and the type of radio needed to handle the heavy traffic in messages.

A typical type of message sent by Aldiss lamp would have been notification that at a certain time the convoy would make a particular change of course. Another message would have been that there was the possibility of a submarine attack. Or there could be a message that the ships in the convoy were to take different positions for gunnery practice, with the ships that were planning to participate in the gunnery practice moving to the outside of the convoy. On one occasion, when his ship (not the Lisbeth) was coming from the Tail of Bank on the Clyde, its stern swung, colliding with the protruding gunnery port of an aircraft carrier. The impact demolished the latrines on his ship. But fortunately, it was 5 a.m. and no one was in them. Using its Aldiss lamp, the aircraft carrier signaled them, “If you do that again, I’ll scream!”

Typically, Bill would receive Aldiss lamp messages and relay them to other ships behind his ship in the convoy. The head ship in each column would get messages to relay to the ships behind it. But sometimes an entire column could read the Aldiss lamp message from the lead ship.

Sometimes weather conditions made it impossible to see the ship in front of you. Under those conditions they would use fog buoys, consisting of a piece of wood with a funnel on it, dragged 50 yards behind the ship by cable. The funnel would grab water and shoot it up 10-15 ft. In fog you might not be able to see the prior ship but you could follow the buoy. The fog buoy was used only in convoys.

The Lisbeth’s radio shack was about 10 ft. square with two separate radio transmitters. The one they regularly used was a valve transmitter, which ran off the main power system of the ship. It was also more powerful and could send international signals. However, it broadcast only on a narrow band of frequencies, e.g., 20 megacycles. The other was a spark transmitter, which was for emergency use only, ran off batteries, and transmitted on a wider band, e.g., 15-25 megacycles, making it easier to pick up. Because it operated on medium wave, it would drown out everything else; “it had a very coarse bark!” But, at the same time, it had a shorter range, only 100-150 miles. It was a very basic piece of equipment. Back then it was compulsory because of its use as an emergency transmitter.

In addition to the two transmitters, there were two receivers. One was always tuned to distress signals, while the other was set to signals you were expecting on certain wavelengths. Bill confirmed what was stated in the website, that the radio operator listened for scheduled messages sent to convoys and independent ships from Portishead and Rugby Radio on the HF band. Bill said that Portishead, which no longer is used, was known as GPU. Rugby Radio, which he recalls had a nice grating sound, is still used. (He has two clocks in his home set to the Rugby signal. When the UK switches to daylight savings time or standard time, he enjoys watching the clocks automatically move an hour.) The website is correct in that the rest of the time they listened for calls on the 500 k/cs (600 metres) MF band.

Bill can’t recall if his headphones would have picked up transmissions from both receivers at the same time. However, on some ships, if something came in on the emergency band, a little light came on to alert the radio officer, as well as there being the noise of the transmission. Later, of course, when the ships switched to loudspeakers, he would have been able to hear two transmissions simultaneously.

The only other equipment in the radio shack was the Morse code key. There was no audio equipment, and you could only use Morse code.

The only things mounted or posted on the walls of the radio shack were the schedules of when messages would be coming in, if any did, and a clock set to Greenwich mean time (GMT). Everything they did was logged to GMT. The 1922 ship’s plan shows what Bill called a settee, which he remembers was comfortable to sit on. But the earphones’ cord didn’t extend far enough for to do that while on duty. The earphones were uncomfortable. By the time Bill signed up on a new ship after leaving the Lisbeth he had bought a new pair that were lighter and more to his liking. After the war, headphones were replaced with loudspeakers.

Bill remembers the radio shack as totally enclosed; there were no portholes, so you couldn’t see out of it. It was designed to minimize distractions. (The 1922 ship’s plan and the photo of the Lisbeth from the Bjørkelund and Kongshavn book appear to show a porthole looking toward the bow. Was it kept covered to avoid distractions?) Bill remembers the door opening out onto the deck and, if the weather permitted, you could leave it open. But to avoid distractions, it was kept shut. (The 1922 ship’s plan shows the door opening onto a corridor just in from the opening of the corridor onto the deck.) Only if Bill had specifically invited Tom into the radio shack would he have come in. [Could the radio shack have been located at a different spot in 1944?]

As 3rd R.O., Bill’s duties were the same as the two other RO’s. The distinction was that he had only started going to sea. His certificate did not yet qualify him for R.O. #1, only for #2 or #3. The #1 RO was the best paid of the three. After six months at sea, Bill went back for three-month’s training to get a certificate as a #1 RO, but that wasn’t until well after he met Tom Applewhite.

When they were in port, the radio officers had no watches. All communications came from the agents [or consular officials, presumably]. However, on British ships Bill had other duties while in port. Since he didn’t have to stand watch, he acted as purser. On another occasion he developed plans for removing the cargo.

One consequence of being the #3 RO was that he pulled the less desirable watches, usually 8 p.m. to 12 midnight and 8 a.m. to 12 noon. Also, if visible signals were coming from another ship, it was he who had to read them, even if he wasn’t on watch. This meant that he could be on duty for quite some time. The #1 RO traditionally was responsible for 12 midnight to 4 a.m. and 12 noon to 4 p.m. The #2 RO had 4-8 p.m. and 4-8 a.m.

Bill was not familiar with the signal flags used by the Lisbeth because they were the responsibility of the navigator. Each flag meant one letter, but in combination with others they created sentences. (Bill recalled that Lord Admiral Horatio Nelson used only six flags at the Battle of Trafalgar to say, “England expects that every man will do his duty.”)

The Lisbeth would not have flown any flags unless she wanted to say something. However, Bill did recall that a blue flag, known as the “Blue Peter,” meant they were about to sail, something they would not have used during the war because they would not have wanted to advertise that they were leaving.

Within the ship there was no intercom system for summoning Bill to duties when he was off watch. Instead, someone would be sent to fetch him.

When on duty in the radio shack, there were times when it was difficult to stay awake. Nevertheless, Bill managed never to fall asleep while on duty. One technique he used was to let the smoke run up his cigarette into his eyes (everyone smoked in those days). Once he did fall asleep. It was while on an Atlantic convoy and it was terribly cold. He had been on duty four hours on, then four hours off, and even the four hours off would be interrupted. He went to sleep standing up and walked into a metal stanchion on the bridge. That woke him up!

XIX. Ship’s Crew

A. Mixed Nationalities

Bill said that the presence of some British among the crew was partly just the normal result of attrition among the original complement of Norwegian sailors, since there weren’t always enough available to fill out an entire crew; no more were coming from Norway to fill vacancies. But having British sailors in the crew also served a security function by keeping the Norwegian sailors from going back to Norway. Understandably, the Norwegian sailors had an antipathy for the war and simply wanted to go home and see what was going on. All they had had in the way of news from home was official bulletins that didn’t tell the full story. The British had not experienced what the Norwegians had gone through with the German invasion. There definitely was a policy of putting a nucleus of British on the ships to keep the Norwegians from going home. From Immingham, England they could have gotten home overnight. There was the risk that there might be an element among the Norwegian sailors who would want to take off for Norway and might force the others to go as well.

According to the Lisbeth’s Crew List provided by the Norwegian National Archives, the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Mates were all Norwegian. The Boatswains consisted of seven Norwegians and two British. The three Engineers, the Donkeyman, and the two Greasers were Norwegian. The Firemen were split, four Norwegians and two Latvians. The Trimmers were both British. The Steward and Chief Cook were Norwegian and the Second Cook, Saloon Boy, and Mess Boy British. As military personnel, the seven DEMS Ratings were all British.

It was not unusual to have such a cosmopolitan crew. When Bill sailed on the Laocoon, the crew included 180 Chinese and 26 white officers. It was on that ship that he developed his love of Chinese food.

B. DEMS – Military Personnel on the Ship

See discussion above on p. 22.

C. Crew Quarters

Bill remembered sharing a cabin with Arvid Kragstad, the Norwegian 2nd R.O. He first thought that the cabin was “above deck (presumably on the boat deck),” where cabins were added before the war for passengers, such as the wives and children of Scandinavian captains. Since these cabins don’t show up on the 1922 ship’s plans he thought they probably were added on the Lisbeth after 1922, specifically for passengers or the added personnel caused by the war. Before the war a ship that size probably didn’t even have a radio on board, much less a 24-hour radio watch. Later, however, he thought he was wrong about his cabin’s location and that it probably was on the next deck down.

D. Duties of the Crew

1. The Mates

a. 1st Mate (Jens Aksdal, 38, Haugesund, Norway)

He was responsible for the entire crew, overseeing what they did and the allocation of their work, and the loading and unloading and the stability of the ship. He did this through the bosun and the carpenter. (See also below under the duties of the Carpenter.) Bill said that the officers usually were appointed by the executive of the company owning the ship—and presumably Nortraship during the war—but that they probably would allow the captain to exercise a veto over their choices. With both the 1st and 2nd Mates coming from Haugesund, it seems likely that Capt. Apeland knew them. In fact, they may have served with him for quite some time.

b. 2nd Mate (Roald Larsen, 27, Haugesund, Norway)

The 2nd Mate was the Navigation Officer and always took a position check at 12 noon. He was responsible for laying the directions on the chart to be used by the ship in reaching reach its destination.

c. 3rd Mate (Olav Angel, 23, Tromso, Norway)

He was the “dogsbody,” who operated under the instructions of the 1st Mate or 2nd Mate. His watch coincided with that of the captain, who was responsible for overseeing the 3rd Mate’s watch. The website contains definitions for the term, including the following: “a ‘gofer,’ from 1920s nautical slang.” “In the Royal Navy, a dogsbody was a junior midshipman, the one who presumably got to clean out the bilge tank.” Sea Slang of the Twentieth Century (1950) by Wilfred Granville: “A Cadet or Junior Midshipman; any very junior officer in the Royal or Merchant Navy. Of little importance to anyone but himself. We are all dogsbodies once in our Service career.”

The hours of the Mates were as follows:

1st Mate – 4 p.m.-8 p.m., 4 a.m.-8 a.m.

2nd Mate – 12 noon-4 p.m., 12 midnight-4 a.m., and duties as navigator

3rd Mate – 8 a.m.-12 noon, 8 p.m. – 12 midnight

Note that there was no use of bells to signal the time while Bill was on the Lisbeth because of the risk of their being heard by the enemy. Even when in use, they could not necessarily be heard throughout the ship. They were rung on the bridge and could be heard only if you were in the vicinity. They were used more for tradition than necessity, and their use was resumed after the war.

2. The Engineers

a. First Engineer (Joachim Kvinge, 55, Bergen, Norway)

Generally speaking he did not do a watch. He had overall responsibility for the ship’s mechanical workings.

b. Second Engineer (Johan Gulliksen, 32, Porsgrunn, Nor.)

He was responsible for a watch and for the auxiliary engines, i.e., those that produced electricity. Since there was no electrician, he was responsible for everything electrical. (On a ship with a refrigerated cargo, because the cargo had to be kept within 2-3 degrees of some specific temperature, an electrician would have been included in the crew. Too much would have been at stake not to.)

c. Third Engineer (Olav Kaasa, 29, Tonsberg, Norway)

He was the dogsbody.

There was a tendency for the engineers to stick together and to keep to themselves. There was a definite line of demarcation between them and the rest of the crew. The deck officers (the Mates) were very dependent on the engineers to propel the ship. Sometimes there was antipathy between the engineers and the deck officers.

3. Boatswain (Bosun) (Odd Hansen, 27, Tjolling, Norway)

The Bosun was a petty officer and responsible for the crew and relayed orders. He was the “foreman,” in charge of the able bodied seamen. The First Mate would design a work plan and the Bosun would see to it being executed. (It was compulsory to have a bosun and a carpenter. On one Alfred Holt & Co. ship on which Bill served, except for the bosun and carpenter, the entire crew were apprentices, all from good schools, destined to become officers. But they had to have a bosun and a carpenter who had come up through the ranks.)

4. Donkeyman (Johannes Johannesen, 42, Tromso, Norway)

He was the winch driver and operated a crane or a winch. Under the instructions of the 1st Mate, he would lift the anchor. The ship might also use port workers to operate the cranes.

5. Greaser (Leif Jorgensen, 25, & Rolf Reuterdahl, 40, Norway

Anything that moved had to be constantly oiled. The greaser walked around with an oil can.

6. Firemen (six men–four Norwegians and two Latvians)

They shoveled coal into the boilers but they had no responsibility for them.

7. Trimmer (Leif Gaupseth, 24, Norg., Armond O’Connor, 30, UK

The Lisbeth was a coal-burning ship, with the coal stored in small compartments in different parts of the ship. The trimmers would shovel the coal from a coal storage compartment onto a wheelbarrow, trundle it to the firemen at the boiler, and dump the contents on the floor. The firemen would shovel the coal from the floor or directly from the wheelbarrows into the boilers.

The Lisbeth never carried grain during the three voyages when Bill served on it, but when a ship’s cargo was grain, the trimmer would put boards in place to keep the grain from shifting and causing the ship to list.

8. Carpenter

Every day the carpenter would go around with a plumb line to take soundings, i.e., measure the depth of water, of the ballast tanks. He would provide the figures for each tank to the 1st Mate, who would decide which tanks required pumping and pass that on to the Engineer. (The crew roster for the Lisbeth does not show a Carpenter. Who performed these duties? Bill doesn’t know. When he served on British ships and acted as purser, he signed on the crew and knew who did what. He can’t be sure in the case of a Norwegian ship who had the duties of carpenter.)

9. Radio Operators (#1RO – Jimmy Tai, 23; #2 RO – Arvid Kragstad, 29; and #3 RO – Bill Bettinson, 18.

The 1st Radio Officer was Ambrose (Jimmy) Tai. Bill remembers him well and liked him. Bill was only 18 in 1943, so Jimmy, who was five years older, was “worldly,” in the good sense of the word, and Bill learned a lot from him. Jimmy was Chinese from Hong Kong (the crew list gives his place of birth as North Borneo), spoke English well, and had married an English girl from Birmingham whose father was a police inspector. Jimmy had been sending her money. When Bill and Jimmy Tai both left the Lisbeth, Jimmy needed some money, so Bill loaned him £25. Bill didn’t hear from him for years, but six or seven years later he ran into Jimmy coming out of a restaurant in Singapore and immediately recognized him. Jimmy promptly paid him back. Bill thinks Jimmy had been having marital problems, but he avoided broaching the subject in Singapore. Both were in a hurry, so they didn’t have time to have a drink together. They intended to meet again but never did. Jimmy did not mention that he survived the torpedoing of his ship in 1945.

Bill was also friendly with the 2nd R.O., Arvid Kragstad, with whom he shared a cabin. Kragstad was an awkward man because he was so big, and he was very quiet. (For more on Kragstad, see also pp. 15, 34, 49.)

10. Able Bodied Seamen

There were eight Able Bodied Seamen, two British and the rest Norwegian, ranging in age from 19 to 29.

Bill has not had any contact with any of the other crewmembers.

XX. Food on Board the “Lisbeth”

Bill has no idea what type of sandwiches might have been made by the cook for the airmen while they were in the propeller shaft compartment. He does recall that the food was terrible, which he blames on three things:

(1) An inexperienced 18-year-old cook and a 16-year-old galley boy (saloon boy), who had loud arguments with each other, prepared it. On the journey from England to Lisbon, before proceeding to Seville, Bill recalls having to use the toilet frequently, which he blamed on the food. In addition to cooking the meals, the cook had to bake bread. The resulting bread was so heavy and soggy that the crew joked that a single loaf required two men to carry it. Bill remembers that when they arrived in Lisbon on the way to Seville they ordered some decent bread from the city. He recalls the big wicker baskets that arrived on board the ship full of delicious bread.

(2) A policy of frugality in the operations of the ship. See below for the instance of the Steward criticizing the man on the inefficiency of how he was peeling potatoes. This policy carried over to food generally. Bill remembered another captain known as “One-egg Turner” who insisted that one egg was sufficient for breakfast. Typically the crew could have as many eggs and as much bacon as they wished.

(3) In many places the Steward made his money on what he could save on food. He had an allocation of money for the purchase of food for the crew, and what he didn’t spend, he kept. It was up to him how frugally he could feed the crew. The Steward managed all the catering. He bought the food and doled it out to the cook.

Unlike the British civilian population during the war, there was no rationing of food on Royal Navy or British merchant ships. Even some British ships had bad food. It wasn’t limited to Norwegian ships.

The 2nd Chief Cook, Rosslyne Haderup was Welsh, and a man, notwithstanding his first name. No woman would have been serving as a cook.

Bill was certain that Captain Apeland got a better quality of food than the crew. The Steward cooked for the captain, so the captain did not have the same food as the rest of the men. The captain ate his meals in the lounge, not in his cabin. He also might have used the lounge to consult with his officers. But Bill never went into it.

In the case of the messes in the bow and stern of the ship and the DEMS mess, members of the crew would fetch the food using containers supplied by the ship. A lot of the crew ate in the galley way next to the galley instead of in their own messes, especially if the weather was bad. Standing up in the galley way they would wolf it down. It was not unusual to have two to three feet of water on deck and even over the hatch cowlings because of the waves. Bill ate in the officers’ mess, which was just down the corridor from the galley.

Merchant seamen did not get the same privileges as members of the Royal Navy but at least there was no limit on the amount of food they got.

A. Man Peeling Potatoes

Tom Applewhite told the anecdote that while on the Lisbeth he noticed a crewman peeling potatoes very slowly. When he asked why this was, someone told him it was because the man had syphilis, causing Tom to pass up the potatoes at dinner. It turns out this was a joke. The man peeling was not diseased. He peeled potatoes with a knife instead of a potato peeler. The chief Steward saw him doing that and said he should use a potato peeler because it was more efficient. The man replied that he was left-handed, and using a potato peeler required pushing away instead of toward him, so a knife was preferable, though slower. (My wife, Charlotte, says that in those days the potato peelers were not designed as they are now for right- or left-handed people, but only for the right- handers.) So Tom unnecessarily missed out on potatoes at that meal! Someone was putting him on! Bill was not the one who told the joke; back then he barely knew what syphilis was. “I was too innocent in those days!”

XXI. Defensive Measures and Armament

A. Armament

Bill recalls that the Lisbeth had the following:

Four-Inch Gun

A 4-inch gun was mounted on the stern of the “Lisbeth.” (There wouldn’t have been room for it in the bow because of the way it narrowed and because of anchor cables, etc. that would have been in the way. There was more room in the stern.) The 4-inch gun was never fired in anger while Bill was on the Lisbeth. In fact, Bill never saw it fired at all. It may not have had enough shells for practice firing. Designed to be manned by a five-man gun crew, it was built in 1911, and may have seen service in WWI. Bill wondered where it was kept between wars. The Lisbeth was reinforced to accommodate it with the installation of a gun platform with stanchions going down into the ship. See, for example, the illustrations of guns on pp. 75, 94, and 155 of Britain’s Merchant Navy.

Oerlikon Anti-Aircraft Guns

There were two Oerlikon automatic anti-aircraft guns, one at each end of the flying bridge, which could be angled down to aim at submarines. There was a protective framework around each Oerlikon to prevent the gunners from accidentally hitting the ship. Since they were using explosive shells, this was particularly important. But toward the sea the guns could be aimed to fire at subs. The 22-mm shells (the same size as were used in Spitfire cannons) were loaded into round, spring-loaded magazines clipped on top of the gun. These were drums measuring 15-18” across, each drum holding 100 shells. The crewman would push the shells into a magazine until it was full. Each Oerlikon had a half-dozen magazines. An Oerlikon required a three-man crew, one filing and delivering the drums, one changing them as they were emptied, and one firing the gun. The Oerlikon was a very efficient gun made in Sweden. The guns were tested periodically. During convoy duty ships had gunnery practice, usually with the Oerlikon guns. Jamming of the Oerlikon guns was very seldom. In his experience it happened only once, which was during practice, but never in an operational situation. The gun crew wore no helmets or other protection. (According to one website, the Oerlikon used 20-mm shells, although Bill remembers it as being 22 mm, had an effective rate of fire of 250-320 rounds per minute, a range of 5700 m., and reached an altitude of 3500 m.)

The majority of the crew was housed above deck but the DEMS men were below deck in some of the cargo space. They had no other responsibilities than the guns. When on duty they were on lookout for trouble. The Oerlikon guns were manned around the clock, with the DEMS crew standing watches just like the sailors.

As mentioned above, Oerlikon anti-aircraft guns were on either end of the flying bridge. The wing of the bridge went to the edge of the ship and protruded over the edge, providing an unimpeded view fore and aft. (Tom and the other airmen—and anyone else who had no need to be there—would not have been permitted on the bridge, which helps explain why he has no memory of seeing the AA guns.) The bridge was the navigational center and the highest point in the structure of the ship. (The radio shack was one deck lower.) Bill thinks that, as part of its wartime modifications, the Lisbeth’s bridge was extended on either end by half the diameter of the circle in which the Oerlikon revolved. The photo of the Lisbeth in the Bjørkelund and Kongshavn book may be misleading for our purposes by not showing the flying bridge sticking out farther on each end because it was taken in peacetime.

Gunnery Practice

Prior to his signing on the Lisbeth, Bill had completed a gunnery course, consisting of two parts: (1) There was simulated firing practice in a dome in the city of Hull. Pictures were projected on the inside of the dome simulating attacking aircraft. The apparatus even had bars to prevent them from accidentally shooting the ship’s funnel or other parts of the ship. (2) Live practice firing took place at Spurn Point north of Hull where the Humber River flows into the North Sea using a drogue pulled behind an airplane as the target. He recalls some Greek sailors fired instead at the plane pulling the drogue. The pilot made a hasty departure.

All the merchant ship crewmembers had gunnery practice in case the DEMS men were killed or disabled and because the number of DEMS men was four short of the number of gun crewmen needed. Bill said that the 4-in. gun required five men and each of the two Oerlikon AA guns had three, for a total of 11. But, if the Lisbeth’s crew list from the Norwegian National Archives is correct, there were only seven DEMS ratings on the Lisbeth. One possible explanation Bill suggested is that if the 4-in. gun was in use for a surface battle with a U-boat, the Oerlikons might not have been in use, depending on the distance of the sub, freeing up some of the DEMS ratings.

Hotchkiss Machine-Guns

There were two Hotchkiss Machine-Guns. These were belt-driven, using a sort of canvas webbing belt, which held the bullets, rather than steel. The Hotchkiss was temperamental and would jam unless the belt was stowed correctly in a concertina fashion. Its ammunition was probably larger than the standard .303 caliber British rifle bullet. When in use, the guns were mounted on the rear part of the boat deck. Unlike the Oerlikons, they were not permanently mounted, but there was a mounting for them when needed. When not in use they were stored, probably in waterproof sealed metal containers on deck where they would be when needed. Two people would lift one out of its locker and slap it on its pedestal. And two were required to operate it. Bill never fired one.

B. Degaussing

The Lisbeth was degaussed, or demagnetized. Before they sailed from Grimsby, they had to test the degaussing gear. Its effect was to convert the ship from metal to wood as far as magnetic mines were concerned. A thick, electrified cable ran all the way around the ship just below the outer edge of the deck. Ships were regularly tested at testing grounds by sailing them over some type of underwater testing device. Most ships in existence by then were degaussed. The current that was run through the degaussing cable was activated by switches on the bridge. (See the illustration on p. 100-101 of Britain’s Merchant Navy.)

Mines were impact, magnetic, and acoustic. Degaussing would not prevent explosion of an impact or acoustic mine. But a magnetic mine, even one exploding some distance from a ship, could do a lot of damage. (Recently a WWI mine—yes, WWI!—washed up on the beach near where Bill lives.) (See illustrations of mines on pp. 98-101 of Britain’s Merchant Navy.)

C. Barrage Balloons

Tom Applewhite remembered seeing a rocket-shaped balloon on the end of a cable on the Lisbeth. Bill said that he had seen barrage balloons on ships at anchor and when in proximity to Europe but didn’t recall any on a ship on which he sailed. Unlike a child’s balloon, a barrage balloon had a long, tapered shape with a tail and fins at the rear and would have been facing into the wind. They were intended to stop dive-bombers but weren’t very effective. Most likely they were attached mid-ships. They gave a ship’s crew more confidence than was justified.

Bill thought that a barrage balloon would only be used when a ship was stationary. The backward pull would have been too much on a ship if it was in motion, and it might have been destabilizing. A possibility is that Tom saw it on a ship at Gibraltar. [However, see the diagrams on pp. 80-82 and 96-97 of the Britain’s Merchant Navy book, which suggest that barrage balloons were used in convoys, and some of the photos in the Heglund book which appear to show them in use in convoys.]

[With the Italians mining ships at Gibraltar, were they also attacking individual ships sailing there, making barrage balloons something that ships would want to use while there? Bill felt that at the time of the Lisbeth’s voyages, there would not have been any Axis planes that would have had the range to reach the shipping lanes approaching Gibraltar, not even the Folke-Wulff Condors. Axis resistance in North Africa had ended in May of 1943, so there would have been no bases there. In September an armistice had been signed with the Badoglio regime in Italy but Mussolini was rescued by German forces and proclaimed the establishment of a Republican Fascist Party in alliance with the German Army of occupation and Allied troops were stuck south of Cassino.]

D. Paravanes

These were very cumbersome. Intended to deflect a torpedo or explode it before it got to the ship, it was a floating device attached to the ship by cable and dragged about 50 yards from the ship. They weren’t used much, and he never sailed on a ship equipped with them. Typically they were used by ships sailing alone, not in convoys.

E. Water-tight doors

Ships are split into compartments called holds. Access from one hold to the next is by way of watertight doors, which, when shut, prevent water from getting through. During cleaning of the holds, the doors will be open, but before going to sea, the doors will be closed and secured by clamps and sealed with a rubber seal or a protruding metal rim. In the case of the Lisbeth, when Bill was asked about it, the thought that there may have been watertight doors between the boiler room and the coalbunker.

The illustration on p. 213 of the Britain’s Merchant Navy book shows a watertight door with one item labeled, “hand gear shaft to deck above.” It was an extended spindle that allowed the opening and closing of the door from the deck above. The Lisbeth did not have a sliding door like the one in the photo. Rather, it had clamps that could be screwed tight.

At the beginning of the war, the Blue Funnel Line had 365 ships. During the course of the war it had bought a number of “SAM” boats built in the US. These were pre-fabricated, delivered to the port in sections, and welded together in five days. They had four great holds, with two sections each, to carry tanks, jeeps, armament, etc. After the war these holds were too big for normal use. Bill recalls going to Hong Kong to have one such ship modified. Over the course of three months the shipyard split the holds, added watertight doors, lockers, etc. But these ships were still uncomfortable for sailors. The best arrangement for sleeping is comfortable fore-and-aft bunks, wide enough to bend your knees to brace yourself against the ship’s rolling, but not too wide. The Americans built their ships with beds that were too big, which was not good if the ship was rolling.

On the Lisbeth, up near the funnel, were two wheels like steering wheels, but horizontal rather then vertical, on extended spindles. If there was a fire in the engine room making it impossible to get to the engines to turn them off, the wheels allowed the crew to shut off the steam to the engine so that the ship would come to a halt. This was needed in order to launch the lifeboats safely.

F. Reinforcement against attack

There was some extra steel plating around the radio shack to provide protection from enemy attack. Bill can’t recall any reinforcement on the Lisbeth’s bridge, although there was on some other ships on which he served.

G. Attacks on Bill’s Ships

Twice, while in convoys to Malta, his ship was attacked by German aircraft. The first time this happened dive bombers attacked using an early version of a flying bomb. It would swoop up to its apogee and then swoop down much like a pigeon. The crew could anticipate the bomb’s trajectory, aim the Oerlikons at the apogee, and shoot the bombs down. Later in the war the bombs would come straight in.

At times, in case of attack, there were not enough DEMS men to man the guns, only enough to maintain them, and the crew had to pitch in. This is why all the crew had completed the gunnery course. Because Bill was off duty at the time of the attack involving the flying bomb, and because there weren’t enough DEMS men, he had the opportunity to fire one of the Oerlikon guns. On another run to Malta, his ship, the Laocoon, was attacked but the planes were driven off without inflicting any casualties. The only damage to the ship was to a storage area of lockers containing cables. During such attacks they were frightened but there was a sort of fatalism about it; you did what you had to do.

XXII. Conditions on the “Lisbeth”

In port they would shut down the generators at night as an economy measure, with the lights going out at 11 p.m. The Norwegians did this but not the British.

There was no liquor on Norwegian ships, unlike the British. As far as he was concerned the Lisbeth was “dry.” He thinks that Norwegian law prohibited booze on ships. (American merchant ships during the war also were dry. But on British ships you could buy booze.) You could get horribly drunk on shore, but the crewmen respected their interdependence at sea; there was very little drunkenness on board ship. On a subsequent Norwegian ship one of the crewmen—a pugnacious type—came back with booze. The 3rd Mate went to sort things out. The crewman picked up the 3rd Mate and dumped him on the stove!

On the ships of the British Alfred Holt & Co. (the Blue Funnel Line) he could buy a bottle of gin for 3 shillings, 6 pence, or about 75 U.S. cents.

Bill never saw the inside of the captain’s liquor cabinet. He could see how Tom would have had a hangover from Apeland’s crème d’cacao if he wasn’t used to it.

Because of the risk of being spotted by a German submarine, while at sea at night there were no ship’s lights at all. In addition, even cigarette smoking was discouraged—you were “dissuaded” from smoking, especially lighting up on deck. The lights in the cabins were bed lights. Light from inside the cabins was prevented from being seen by the Germans by two means: (1) the portholes had “deadlights,” metal covers on the inside to keep light from going out and water from coming in, and (2) the passageways had two curtains near each other, each with a gap for passage but opposite to the gap in the other curtain.

Asked if the crew sang sea chanteys, Bill said no. These might have been used in days gone by, but he never heard any. They had disappeared by the time he went to sea. (An exception might be a drunken sailor returning from time ashore.)

Wages were paid in British pounds. But if they were in a foreign port, a member of the crew could draw on his wages in the currency of the country, e.g., escudos in Portugal, pesetas in Spain, etc. (One summer in New York Bill picked up from the ship’s agent a briefcase containing $30,000 in wages for the crew. As he boarded the Staten Island Ferry, he was puzzled by how all the other passengers rushed to get on board. It soon became apparent—they were all seeking shade from the sun. He was left stranded out on the deck in the blazing sun and passed out as the ferry sailed under the shadow of the Statue of Liberty. Fortunately, when he came to, the briefcase and the money were still intact.

XXIII. Carley Floats and Lifeboats

Bill doesn’t recall any lifeboat drills on the Lisbeth. He remembers that it had two “Carley floats” in addition to the lifeboats. The floats, a wartime measure, were on a sliding frame attached to the mast and would float off the ship if it were sunk. All they required was to have a pin knocked off. They looked like modern inflatable boats but weren’t inflated. They were permanent floats. (According to, a Carley float, named after Horace Carley, an American who developed it in the late 19th century, “would resist a cruel battering against the side of a vessel, being made of a sturdy copper core covered with cork and canvas. Each of its thirty-five compartments were air and watertight. And unlike lifeboats of the period with pneumatic tubes inside, it wouldn’t puncture.”) (The photo on p. 201 of Britain’s Merchant Navy showing the loading of bales of cotton has a Carley float in the background, according to Bill. Note the cables supporting it that go up at an angle to the mast.)

The photo of the Lisbeth from the book by Leif Bjørkelund and E.H. Kongshavn, Våre Gamle Skip, shows davits on the bridge. They were a crane-like device for supporting, raising, or lowering boats by means of ropes on three-wheel pulleys. You would lift the railing out of the way and discard it, then swing the lifeboats out on the davits. The rope used to lower the boat was wound twice around a bollard to control the descent of the boat. (A bollard is defined as a thick post on a ship or wharf used for securing ropes and hawsers. Bollards on a ship or quayside were used for tying up the ship.) The drawing on p. 217 of Britain’s Merchant Navy shows “gravity davits” and “quadrant davits.” Bill said that neither type is the same as what was used on the Lisbeth (they are too modern), although the quadrant was the closest.

The lifeboats were the responsibility of the 3rd Mate on most ships, though Bill is not certain if that was the case on the Lisbeth.

When first asked, Bill had no recollection of the contents of any of the Lisbeth’s lifeboats. Most likely, he thought, it would have been pemmican (defined as “a food made chiefly from beef, dried fruit, and suet, used as emergency rations,” while suet is defined as “the hard fatty tissues around the kidneys of cattle and sheep used in cooking and making tallow”), water, biscuits, and a first aid box.

But later we went over the illustration of a lifeboat on p. 224 of Britain’s Merchant Navy and the notations of its of supplies and equipment. Although he never went into one of the lifeboats, he felt that the following supplies or equipment would have been included on Lisbeth’s lifeboats:

(1) Pemmican

(2) Water tank

(3) Oars

(4) Rowlocks

(5) Flares

(6) Lift hook

(7) Tiller

(8) Rudder

(9) Canvas hood

(10) Sea anchor

(11) Ropes (a hawser is a heavy rope for mooring or towing)

(12) Shrouds, used to keep water out of the boat by heightening the gunwale.

(13) Malted milk tablets

(14) Compass

(15) Hand pump, or possibly just a bucket

(16) Grab lines

(17) Locker containing blankets, red flares, first aid, lantern, oil, matches, signal torch, and drinking vessels.

(18) Smoke signals, possibly orange

Not included would have been the following:

(1) Sails

(2) Rubber bumper

(3) Wireless receiving set. (On the Lisbeth there was no way to charge the batteries of the set.)

(4) Kapok-filled bouyancy chambers (although these could have been later additions)

Bill thinks the lifeboats were the originals from 1922.

The 1922 ship’s plans for the Lisbeth appear to show four boats, two lifeboats and two other types. Bill said that usually there would be just enough lifeboats to hold the crew, and that it would be unusual to have lifeboats of different sizes. But because of the additional wartime crew, the Carley floats were added. There was no motorized launch on the Lisbeth. According to Alf Apeland, the boat labeled as “sjægte” is a rowboat.

XXIV. Uniforms, Forms of Respect

Bill wore a British uniform, while Capt. Apeland’s was Norwegian.

In the British merchant service you had company buttons and a company cap badge as part of your uniform, while the Norwegian merchant navy had a standard merchant navy hat badge.

Insignia would vary from company to company, especially the hat badge, but sometimes even the buttons and sleeve braids. On the P&O Line, the officers wore all insignia of rank on the shoulder, not on the sleeves.

Bill said that the illustrations on p. 63 of Britain’s Merchant Navy accurately depict the sleeve braids for radio officers: 3rd RO – one wavy line, 2nd RO – two wavy lines, and 1st RO – two wavy lines connected by a diamond with wavy lines. Bill also confirmed the different insignia of the Royal Naval Reserve (twisted, or plaited, brands) and the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (undulating braids). He told the joke about the three services: The Royal Navy were gentlemen trying to become sailors; the Royal Naval Reserve were sailors trying to become gentlemen; and the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve were neither.

There was no saluting in the merchant navy. You would say “Sir” to the captain but not to anyone else. There was no use of “aye, aye.”

XXV. Crew Recreation

Cards were a common way for the crew to entertain themselves. When Bill was on a British ship he played bridge for a time but there were so many arguments that he quit it. He was new to the game.

A common game on ships was “bezique,” a game resembling pinochle, played with 64 cards.” There were also games of ‘”drafts,” or checkers. See, for example, the illustration on p. 194 of Britain’s Merchant Navy.

There were a lot of arguments. The crew had differing ideas on how things should be done.

Bill spent a lot of his time with his two compatriots, Jimmy Tai and Arvid Kragstad. Jimmy was intelligent, a raconteur, and taught Bill a lot about the Far East. From Arvid, Bill learned a lot about Norway. But Arvid was taciturn; he wouldn’t say two words when one would do.

XXVI. Medical Treatment

Tramps, whatever their nationality, never carried doctors. Bill never even heard of anyone on ship having any medical expertise or even having taken a course in first aid. Once, while on the Lisbeth, when he had a severe cold, he asked the 1st Mate, Jens Aksdal, for something to treat it. Jens gave him camphorated oil—normally rubbed on your chest—and told him to drink it with water. “It pretty well cured my cold!” Bill never sought any more medical help.

But the Blue Funnel Line, owned by the Alfred Holt & Co., had ship’s doctors. It was a very caring company. Of course, its medical policies were exceptional due to the strict quarantine requirements imposed by Japan before the war. When you arrived in Japan, the ship had to certify that it was clear of disease and submit urine and feces samples for each member of the crew. This was no longer a requirement after the war, but the Blue Funnel Line continued to provide the medical services of doctors to its crews.

XXVII. Navigation

The bridge was like a “T,” but inverted. The “top” of the “T” was the bridge. The “vertical” part of the “T” was the wheelhouse from which they steered the ship. Behind the wheelhouse was the chartroom with the maps.

The Lisbeth’s bridge was quite simple. She was the typical tramp, containing only the bare essentials. Unlike the drawing on p. 175 from the book Britain’s Merchant Navy, which shows a wheelhouse with eight windows, the 1922 ship’s plan and the photo of the Lisbeth from the Bjørkelund and Kongshavn book show only three. Even though they probably were equipped with wipers, in stormy weather, there would have been no satisfactory way to see out. The men on watch would have had to step to one side or the other of the flying bridge and peer out through the dodgers, the canvas screens on the wings of the bridge used to protect them from the wind and spray. The dodgers were sealed to the bridge; there was no opening at the top or bottom. Note also that the wheelhouse was part of the flying bridge, not at a higher level even though the Bjørkelund and Kongshavn book photo makes it appear so.

Bill examined the drawing of a bridge on p. 175 of the Britain’s Merchant Navy book and said the Lisbeth would have had the following equipment:

a. (#1) Local time clock

b. (#2) Greenwich time clock

c. (#6) Voice pipes – used to communicate with the engine room

d. (#10) Docking telegraph with positions for slow, medium, fast, forward, and reverse. As the deck officer moved it back and forth, it rang a bell down below in the engine room. He would leave it set in the desired position. For anything requiring more precision than these settings, he would use the voice pipes. If arriving at or leaving port, the docking telegraph would be operated by the captain or the 3rd Mate because they would be on the bridge. It would be operated on the instructions of the pilot. The captain might give the 3rd Mate authority to operate it under the pilot’s instructions.

e. (#12) Magnetic compass. The stand for the compass, called a binnacle, was made of wood or nonmagnetic metal. There were two weights, one on each side, that could be slid in and out to compensate for the ship’s magnetism. Bill thinks that the adjustment would have been made just before the beginning of the voyage since the ship would be tied up in port and they would know the direction in which the ship was pointing.

The steersman would direct the ship by the compass. The course would be set by the officer of the watch. From time to time the officer would confirm that the ship was on course by checking the compass. Because the seaman who was steering had to be able to see at night, no lights could be in his line of vision. Even light from the compass had to be blocked by a canopy. To view the compass the steersman or the officer of the watch peered through a little porthole in the canopy. There was no connection between the compass in the wheelhouse and the compass on the top of the wheelhouse.

f. (#13) Rudder indicator (on most ships).

g. (#14) Hand steering. The seaman doing the steering stood on the duckboard shown in the drawing. Another, bigger, emergency manual steering wheel was on the stern of the Lisbeth for use in steering if the regular mechanical steering system broke down. It required two strong men to operate it because it was directly connected to the rudder.

h. See below for a discussion of the echometer.

i. Bill said that an Able Bodied seaman would serve as lookout, standing next to the compass on the top of the wheelhouse. (There was no such thing as a crow’s next by then.) Especially during wartime they would put someone at the highest solid point on the ship as lookout. There was some type of outside access to the top of the wheelhouse—probably a vertical ladder with handholds on each side.

It would not have had the other equipment shown:

a. (#3) Clear view screens, a device which you spin to clear the windows.

b. (#4) Revolution indicators.

c. (#5) Course recorder.

d. (#7) Telephone. Bill thinks it unlikely that there was a telephone on the Lisbeth since there were the voice pipes.

e. (#8) Heating radiator.

f. (#9) Port engine-room telegraph. Not needed since the Lisbeth was only a single-screw vessel, i.e., it had only one propeller.

g. (#11) Gyro steering repeater. There was no gyro compass.

h. (#15) Automatic helmsman.

i. (#16) Starboard engine-room telegraph. Not needed since the Lisbeth was only a single-screw vessel, i.e., had only one propeller.

j. (#17) Chart table. The flying bridge was too small for a chart table. They would have had to step back into the chart room behind the wheelhouse to examine the charts.

A seaman always steered the ship, that is, a seaman is always on the wheel. An officer never would be on the wheel. The Master or the officer in charge would tell him, for example, “Steer 2.0 [a compass point].” The seaman acted on the instructions of the officers. (The bow of the ship yaws back and forth at sea, so the compass tends to move about.)

The river pilot acts only in an advisory capacity. The Master has complete command and responsibility for the ship.

Once the Lisbeth had a near collision with another ship, the result of language confusion between Capt. Apeland and the pilot. The pilot was giving directions in English. Capt. Apeland was repeating them in Norwegian to the seaman. The words starboard (right) and larboard (port, or left) sounded the same in Norwegian and the pilot questioned which it was that Apeland had said to the seaman. While they were sorting that out the seaman was momentarily uncertain in which direction to steer.

Navigation of ships was always based on local time. To determine their location, the Navigation Officer used the sextant to take the angle of the sun and would work out their position by trigonometry. This was always done at noon, local time. (All the other operations of the ship, except for the Radio Officers who used GMT, also were on local time. When the Lisbeth left Seville, even that would have been local time. (Gibraltar operated on GMT.) So what time did the Lisbeth leave Seville on Jan. 7? The log says 1500 hrs., or 3 p.m., as does Captain Apeland’s notebook. But was that 3 p.m. local time or were the two entries referring to GMT and the local time was actually 4 p.m.? If it were at 4 p.m., that would have allowed that much more time on Jan. 7 for Tom and the others to arrive from Madrid and that much more time for the partygoers to imbibe.

When approaching land, because of the added risks, the watches would be doubled. The 3rd Mate and the Captain would be paired, as would the 1st and 2nd Mates.

On the bridge of some of Bill’s ships, but not on the Lisbeth, there would have been a direction finder, which was operated by the three radio officers, although it was part of the chart room equipment. It could turn through 360 degrees, and assisted the navigator in determining their location. It wasn’t particularly accurate, unlike present-day equipment. It would pick up signals from lighthouses, buoys, etc. but these were poor for direction-finding. A signal from one source might be at 40 degrees and another at 110 degrees. Where the signals intersected supposedly was the ship’s location. The direction finder consisted of a loop ring; as you turned it around, the louder the signal became. But once the ring was in line with the signal, there was no sound. You could move the loop even 3 to 5 degrees and still hear nothing. This meant that you had a 3 to 5 degree error. At 50 miles from the source of the signal your supposed location might be a mile from the ship’s true location and you might end up on the rocks. The further the ship was from the source of the signal, the greater the error. The direction finder was only a very rough guide. The Britain’s Merchant Navy book has an illustration on p. 179. If the Lisbeth had had one, it would have been shown on the 1922 ship’s plan as being in the chart room. Direction finders came into use in the 1930’s and most captains and Mates were brought up without them. They were to be found on more sophisticated ships than the Lisbeth.

The echometer, located on the bridge, was used to determine the depth of water under the ship and the nature of the seabed (see p. 163, Britain’s Merchant Navy). It was maintained by the RO’s but used by the navigation officers. It sent a signal and they waited for the rebound. As described in BMN (p. 163), an electrically controlled hammer would strike a diaphragm in the transmitter. The impulses would pass to the seabed, return to the receiver, and be recorded on the bridge.

XXVIII. Third and Last Voyage on the Lisbeth; Other Memories of the War

Bill served on the Lisbeth for one more voyage after the voyage to Seville. The voyage record for the Lisbeth from the Norwegian National Archives shows that it left Cardiff for Lisbon on Feb. 10, 1944, going by way of Milford Haven on Feb. 11. They arrived in Lisbon on Feb. 25, left for Gibraltar on March 7, arriving there on March 9. The next entry shows them arriving at Almeria on Mar. 12 and leaving there a day later for Gibraltar. They were in Gibraltar from Mar. 14-22, leaving for Workington on the west coast of Scotland, arriving there April 4. He left the ship at Barry, Wales, near Cardiff, in April or May (the voyage record has the ship passing Barry on April 9, May 3 or 4, and May 14 before stopping at Cardiff for five days from May 15-19. When Bill left the Lisbeth, it was because the ship was undergoing repairs to its engine there and the crew would not be needed for some time. Typically at the end of every other voyage the tubes that carried the water of a steam engine had to be completely replaced because they “got bunged up with scaling.” It took three to four weeks, even a month, for such routine maintenance. Less frequently there was a complete overhaul.

Next he signed on another Norwegian ship, this one going to Quebec. When that was taken out of service for motor repairs, he signed on a tanker going from New York to Northern Ireland. After that he signed on a ship of the Alfred Holt & Co. Two of the companies he worked for both during and after the war were Alfred Holt & Co., which owned the Blue Funnel Line, and Union-Castle. Both companies’ ships were mainly passenger ships. A favorite voyage of his was to South Africa—a fortnight down, a fortnight there, a fortnight back, and then home on leave.

Bill recalls going from England to America to pick up a ship. His trip was on the Queen Mary, which had been stripped for use as a troop carrier. It had 5000 tons of armament, which, in rough weather, would cause the ship to roll over to an even more extreme angle than normal and then shudder as it rolled back. He had the feeling the ship would never make it back. It carried 42 Oerlikons and a 6” gun for armament.

Bill recalled that on a voyage from Halifax, Nova Scotia to Liverpool, an American ship had been right behind them while crossing the Atlantic. Finally, the Americans signaled his ship and asked, “You are going to Hull, aren’t you?” He replied, “No, we’re going to Liverpool!” The American ship was relying on getting to its destination by following his ship, and was going to the wrong coast of England! Bill didn’t think very highly of their seamanship. American captains got the formal training, he said, but lacked the experience of the British.

The Blue Funnel line had 12 ships flying the Dutch flag even though they belonged to Blue Funnel, which was British. The reason for this was that The Netherlands only allowed “Dutch” ships to trade in the Dutch East Indies. So Blue Funnel created a Dutch subsidiary. On the day Japan capitulated, Bill joined such a ship. It had Dutch officers and a Chinese crew.

XXIX. Written Records of Bill’s Service at Sea

Bill did not keep a diary nor write letters home about his experience. Cameras were not common then, so he took no photos of the ship or his shipmates.

XXX. Medals for His WWII Service

According to the National Archives of the UK, Bill received:

– 1939-1945 Star (both medal and ribbon)

– Atlantic Star – (both medal and ribbon)

– War Medal (medal was issued)

Of his medals, he said they were “just standard service medals, doled out like rations. They are still in the box they came in.”

XXXI. Bill’s Career After Leaving the Sea

He worked his way up from RO #3 on merchant ships like the Lisbeth to RO #1 on passenger ships. But he couldn’t go any further in this career. He wasn’t married and didn’t intend to marry until he was better established financially. So in 1951, at age 28, Bill “came ashore”, after ten years at sea, and never went back. He returned to the farm, which he had left at 16, but they treated him as if he was still 16. When he asked what he would be paid, they said, “What pay? We don’t pay family.” And if he wanted to go out in the evening they wanted to know when he would be back. Since his brother was the eldest and likely to inherit the farm, Bill saw no future in it, especially after having been independent for 12 years.

His brother-in-law, a veterinary surgeon, knew that Crooks Laboratories was looking for representatives, and suggested to Bill that he go into the pharmaceutical line of work. Using his brother-in-law as a reference, Bill got the job. First he was only seeing veterinary surgeons in a large area in order to sell them drugs. Next he became area manager, followed by sales manager, then marketing manager for the whole company. Crooks was taken over by a combination of Guinness Brewing and Phillips Electronics. Crooks Labs had specialized in vitamins, Phillips had developed synthetic vitamin D, and Guinness’ business of brewing involved chemistry, which got it into antibiotics. Crooks also made a lot other products, such as skin lotions, which were sold over the counter. Ultimately, Crooks sold out to Boots, the biggest chain of chemists in the UK. After 20 years in the pharmaceutical business, Bill had just negotiated a three-year contract with Crooks when it merged with Guinness and Phillips. He had the choice of continuing with them under the new contract or having them buy out the contract. He chose the latter.

With the proceeds he bought a caravan park (trailer park), the Kessingland Beach Caravan Park, outside Lowestoft (northeast of London on the North Sea coast), which he operated for ten years. But the weather there was bad for his son’s health. John was asthmatic, and if he cut the grass, he had a bad reaction and had to go to bed. So Bill sold the caravan park in 1980 and used the money to go into the garage business. A fire had gutted an old garage. He and John, who had been trained as a mechanic, tore down the remains and built an entirely new garage, doing all the work themselves except for the bricklaying. They operated it for 20 years. Then they bought another one in North Yorkshire.

XXXII. Reflections on His Time at Sea

Going to sea is quite extraordinary. People don’t realize what it is like. But it is not that you “see the world.” Mainly what you see is ocean. Even so, he hasn’t looked back. He has had no interest even in being a member of a merchant seamen’s association.

XXXIII. Current Activities

Bill is a Freemason and secretary of four Masonic groups, the Blue Lodge, the Lodge and Chapter, the Knights Templar, and the Red Cross of Constantine, which keeps him very busy.

XXXIV. Family

Bill’s first marriage was to Rachel Kinsey, whom he met in the street in front of a shop in Nantwich, southeast of Liverpool. After being introduced by a mutual friend who was accompanying him, Rachel invited Bill to a party to which she was going. Their wedding, in 1952, had to be put off for a week because it would have coincided with the coronation of Queen Elizabeth. Rachel was a lovely girl. They had three children, a daughter, Helen, and two sons, John and Robert, all of them successful. But Rachel died suddenly in 1983. She was only 56. They had gone out to lunch, she fell ill, a doctor recommended that she go to the hospital, and suddenly she was gone. Bill was devastated and didn’t think he could continue living. He was alone for six or seven years, then met his present wife, Jacqueline, who is 27 years younger, and they married. She is a real hard worker and runs their business. They live in Lowestoft on the North Sea coast, southeast of the city or Norwick and south of Great Yarmouth.

Bill’s daughter Helen and her husband run a small restaurant in a resort at Lyme Regis in Dorset. They work like Trojans during the summer and rest up in the winter months. Bill’s eldest son, John, has a trailer park in North Yorkshire. His youngest son, Robert, was born with cerebral palsy, but not too severe a case. He works as a gardener for Lord Somerleyton about six miles from where Bill lives.

Books cited:

Bjørkelund, Leif M. and E.H. Kongshavn, Våre Gamle Skip, Haugesund: Lokalhistorisk stiftelse, 1996.

Bristow, Desmond, A Game of Moles, London: Little, Brown, and Co., 1993.

Hegland, Jon Rustung, Nortraships Flåte, Oslo: Dreyers Forslag, 1976.

Hurd, Sir Archibald, Britain’s Merchant Navy, London: Odhams Press Ltd., n.d. (probably 1942 or 1943).

Jordan, Roger W., The World’s Merchant Fleets 1939, the Particulars and Wartime Fates of 6,000 Ships, Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 1999.

Rohwer, Jürgen, Axis Submarine Successes of World War Two, London: Greenhill Books, 1999.

One response to “Interview with Laurence W. “Bill” Bettinson, 3rd Radio Officer on the “Lisbeth”

  1. Bill “grandpa” passed away on the 23 December 2013, with his wife Jacqui, son John and John’s wife Di, at his bedside. He will be greatly missed.

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