LIFE OF THE TRACKER
Story of the escort carrier HMS Tracker 1943-1945




CHAPTER 15            WESTWARD HO!
 
 

       Westward Ho!

       After each part of the ship had enjoyed five day's leave, we found ourselves in Glasgow
       bidding farewell to many old faithfuls who had sailed with us since Portland Days. A
       Much depleted ship's company, still under Captain Huntley and Commander Collett, took
       the ship to New York, enjoying a magnificent Sports Festival on the way in the new
       empty hangar. Leaving Greenock on Dec 8th 1944, we reached New York in time for
       Christmas shopping and the enjoyment of the festivities in that hospitable city. Our very
       last hours in New York were the very last hours of 1944, and the end of the first week of
       1945 saw us negotiating the Panama Canal for the second time- in the wrong direction.
       On January 17th we steamed into San Diego, California. After a voyage of 6,490 miles,
       we had reached the starting point of our next phase of work. Officials of the American
       Red Cross were on the jetty to meet us, and during the next week, thanks to them and
       to the United States Arm Forces Institute, we stacked up with books "comforts", and
       enough educational equipment to take advantage of the presence of the Ship's Company
       of Officers and men able and willing to launch the "Tracker Evening School", offering
       courses in vocational, commercial, and "school" subjects. At times this was one of the
       hottest schools under the White Ensign! The vigour of the "Tracker" personnel seemed
       unimpaired by the heat of the southern latitudes , and our voyage north had been marked
       by a Deck Hockey Contest which attained such thrilling climaxes that it was a hardship
       to be on watch during the "Dogs". Everyone from the Captain to A.B.Tracker, gathered
       on the line to watch the titanic struggles. The latter rating joined us at Glasgow, and
       endured all the ups and downs of our travels, giving the Captain in his lonely eminence
       the companionship that only a good dog can give.

       We enjoyed a week at San Diego, followed by five days at San Pedro, port of Los
       Angeles. We made friends in both places, but especially at "Pedro", where a strong
       body of former emigrants are focussed in the Lancashire, Yorkshire and Scots Club. It is
       strange how whenever Jolly Jack shows himself, up springs some Bonny Scots to do
       him the honours and make him feel at home. There were visits to Hollywood, interviews
       with film stars, including Gracie Fields, who warmly welcomed the "Tracker" men, visits
       by film stars to the "Tracker"- Alan Mowbray was a popular figure, and epoch- making
       football match against the pride of the West Coast. We lost 1-2, but our performance
       made a great impression. Our diminutive star winger, John Dick of Glasgow, was the
       toast of Hollywood.

       Over the LINE.
       By January 29th they had buckled aircraft into position in every corner of the hangar and
       flight deck, and crammed passengers into the Squadron's sleeping place. So we began
       our career in the carrier transport service. Our first stop was always Pearl Harbour. Our
       arrivals and departure at and from Honolulu always received musical honours... "Aloha", "
       There'll always be an England", "Anchors Aweigh". From romantic Hawaii, our voyages
       lay out to the various rear bases of the far flung Pacific War. We became used to big
       distances, for Pearl Harbour itself lies 2,300 miles from the coast. That's where you
       really start.

       "Alone , alone, all alone, Alone on a wide wide sea"... Our experience was very like that
       of the Ancient Mariner. Days and Days passed with never another sign of humanity. We
       "Crossed the Line" with appropriate ceremony on February 17th, and boast some very
       handsome Line Certificates, thanks to the trouble taken by P.O. Writer Shields {of
       Chingford] and his helpers. The Date Line was crossed so often that we never raised an
       eyebrow when the day after Tuesday was Tuesday or Thursday according! Clocks were
       forever being advanced or retarded, and the only sure thing seemed to be to think in
       terms of Greenwich Time. This had the advantage of reminding you what time it was at
       home - always a sentimentally satisfying thought. We got as far a 13 hours behind home
       time, or, as a flick of the Navigator's lordly pen made it, 11 hours in front. News of home
       was pumped out by the W/T Office thanks to the powerful Overseas transmission of the
       B.B.C.. What fine clear cut broadcasts these were too! All honours both to the planners
       and broadcasters of those programmes- the Number One Morale Men and Women.
       Scientific sub-bathing transformed the ship's company into a bevy of Bronzed Heroes.
       Camp beds were issued on loan to make sleeping in the heat more endurable. When the
       aircraft had been disembarked, the hangar was the favourite sleeping place. it looked like
       a vast hospital ward..

       On this voyage, we found ourselves in the Admiralty Isles and New Guinea in mid
       February, and back in San Diego on March 20th. It was a round trip of two months and
       13,424 miles.

       On "All Fools Day" we began Job No.2, which took us to Guam and Saipan in the
       Mariana Islands. News reached us of the sudden death of President Roosevelt. We had
       a number of U.S.passengers aboard at the time,and held an Allied Memorial Service,
       which was quite impressive. With intense excitement we followed the accumulating
       Victory news from Europe, culminating in the V-E celebrations on 8th May. Our own V-E
       celebrations were a flight deck Sports Meeting, a Mess Deck Thanksgiving Service, a
       Bottle of Beer, and a Victory Dinner{ with Souvenir Menu provided by S/A Dan Kelso [of
       Glasgow] and the Canteen Committee on our arrival in harbour. On May 11th we were
       back on the West Coast with another 13,020 miles to our credit. There was a pleasant
       interlude for engine-room repairs in San Diego, with a spell in the dry dock for a bottom
       scrape. Weekend leave gave opportunity for another pilgrimage to Hollywood. The third
       trip was a modest affair, out to the Marshals and back- a mere 10,000 miles from June
       12th to July 8th.

       { Editorial 2002
        There is an original Crossing the Line Certificate as referred to on this page on view in
        Sittingbourne.]
 

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