Diary of Neil Ralph Blunden RNZAF

New Zealand to UK via Canada

29th April 1941 to 6th June 1941

Tuesday 29th April 1941
Final shore leave up to 1300 hrs.
Wrote final letters and purchased few oddments. Ship sailed approx 1510 hrs - waved cheerio to father.
Visibility at sea about 2 miles. News of a hurricane ahead - whoopee, says you.
Had a talk by F/Lt Yates on the disadvantages of receiving a commission - and the privileges and responsibility etc. Very disquieting! Atmosphere getting a bit on the sultry side and makes one feel a bit sleepy.

Wednesday 30th April 1941
HMS Achilles a very heartening sight keeping pace alongside about ¾ mile on starboard bow. Sea mist, or fog really, keeps closing in and shutting her from our view. Raining in PM, early, and is still oppressive and hot so expect to run into something soon. Probably call at Suva about Friday.
Have split the airmen up into small groups of approx 16 each with 3 Sgt Pilots and with one of us in charge - 16 of us! Very few of them seasick yet.
Have also been informed that some of us will be lecturing the Australian airmen - damn. They have been sent over with us and have not any instructors with them - great organisation.
Went to pictures, Jan Withers or somebody like that on. Not a bad show but very hot.

Thursday 1st May 1941
Took my section and talked about flying in F.T.S.'s etc. Several periods of signals helped to fill in the time!
We changed into our tropical gear this morning and by the powers we needed them too on account of the sultry heat etc.
Sea fog still about obscuring the sun. No rough weather as yet. Am orderly Officer tomorrow.
Expect to be in Suva about 0800 hours Friday. Will have shore leave and have been told that duties won't interrupt with shore leave. Goody-good. Hot as blazes tonight.

Friday 2nd May 1941
Arrived Suva about 0800 hours. Changed 2 Aussie pound notes into Fijian currency on board ship before going ashore, got about 36/-. Don't like their beer much and climate damn hot.
Native tailors good with tropical gear, i.e. shirts and shorts. Didn't buy any fruit as we get it served in our rooms - cabins I mean! - every day.
Town of Suva is not much to write home about. Natives are definitely not up to the standard of our Maoris. Plenty of Indians on the island too.
Pulled out about 6 P.M. and are heading straight for Vancouver. Boys in bed early and not much trouble after we had located one who hadn't clocked in and we thought that he was missing - damn fool.
Temp at Suva about 84° in shade.

Saturday 3rd May 1941
Still very hot. Getting used to having a 6 or 7 course breakfast luncheon and dinner. Have rigged up a swimming pool aft of the ship - water hot - sea water out of the sea I presume!
Probably cross line tomorrow afternoon. Slept last night on top of bed clad only in pyjama trousers.
Drink gallons of water and orange drinks and still seem behind. Will probably run out of lecture material soon!
Pictures tonight.'The Mother Batchelor'.

Saturday 3rd May 1941
Looks wrong but we have crossed the 180° line. Are now 12 hrs behind G.M.T. instead of 12 hrs in front!
Only lectures in morning today. Treated yesterday as a full day to keep boys occupied! More work for us. Temp a bit hotter today.
Chesterfield cigarettes 7d for 20 N.Z. cash!! Got a few in stock I think as cigs. are short in England.
Sea water seems to be saltier here than in N.Z.
Showed the same picture twice i.e. for two evenings so did not go tonight.
Only seem to put in about 7 hrs sleep a night and it seems sufficient, very little exercise I suppose and the good tucker accounts for it.

Sunday 4th May 1941
No work today thank goodness. Damn hot but not as sticky as yesterday.
Expect to cross the'Line' at 0100 hours tomorrow.
Had one or two games of deck bowls to keep fit and also walked the deck with Des to work up an appetite for dinner.
Pictures tonight'The Housekeeper's Daughter'. Damn hot inside.
Church at 1100 hrs but we couldn't all pack in theatre!
Slept in thin underpants on top of bed last night and by the looks of things will do the same tonight.
Sea very calm and sky cloudy.

Monday 5th May 1941
Crossed line last night i.e. approx 0100 hours this morning. As summer is now almost in full swing in the northern hemisphere we have not yet come to the hottest part of this trip.
Cooler strong breeze blowing with some rain from approx east tonight.
HMS Achilles returned about 0915 hrs and Prince Rupert took over. She is an armed merchant cruiser; 6' guns.
Hope that a storm or something like that blows up to break the monotony of the trip. Probably be in Vancouver about next Wednesday.

Tuesday 6th May 1941
Cooler today with good breeze from easterly direction. A bit more sun today. Need more exercise as am beginning to lose appetite.
I like the heat but dunno if I would for long if I had to work in it.
Getting tired of giving lectures etc! Hate to have it for a permanent job.
Am reading approx a book a day. Good western yarns on board in the Library.
Must start writing some more letters to post from Vancouver to the folks etc.

Wednesday 7th May 1941
Still getting a bit cooler but it is still quite hot! What makes sleeping in cabins at night time worse is that the port holes etc have to be closed and blacked out - war regulations.
Had a bit of a do tonight in cabin 29. Played deck quoits for about ½ hr this afternoon.
Wind still strong from east. Quite sunny at times. Moon nearly full.

Thursday 8th May 1941
Climate getting pleasant now, as is the evenings and most of all sleeping in the cabins. Can use the sheet and bedspread over one.
Quite a sunny day and had little sun bathe. Cannot take much at a time as it is pretty fierce still in this tropical latitude.
Expect to be in Victoria which is 5 hrs from Vancouver early on Wednesday. Whoopee.

Friday 9th May 1941
Atmosphere cooled off considerably last night and we have changed back into blue uniforms again and need them.
Things in general still running well and everyone in excellent spirits.
Lectures for my squad just a farce now. They are airman pilots and have been through E.F.T.S.
Had a good time tonight. Sgt Pilots and Officers - NZ - had a do. Sat with the old Taieri mob and had a jolly good evening. Bob Blakeway as usual got under the weather as did Fred Wallace and Tony Campbell etc.

Saturday 10th May 1941
Got up at 1000 hrs this morning, weather damn cold too. Put jersey on! Not feeling too active. Played bridge with some of the boys i.e. Max Gray, Peter Anderson and Sam Espenade. Went to bed early. Fear a slight cold is coming on.
We are about half a day behind NZ time now. Starting to blow up a bit stronger this evening and sea a bit rougher, i.e. scattered sea.

Sunday 11th May 1941
Had to reduce speed from 19 knots to 12 knots about 0200 hrs as sea getting rougher. Calmed a bit during the day and working up again this evening. Poor old Prince Rupert damn near burying herself and trying to ape a submarine!
About 100 chaps down. Saw good film tonight.
Getting a few spare cigarettes i.e. Chesterfield 7d for 20 and Sweet Caparol 1/8 for 50.
This boat i.e. Awatea rides the seas better at 18 knots but the P. R. cannot make it so that is why we had to reduce speed - we suffer in consequence.

Monday 12th May 1941
Sewing on NZ badges on shoulders, ticklish job and takes time i.e. approx an hour per uniform - damn them why didn't they give them to us earlier so that we could give them to the tailor to sew on! Typical organisation.
Have speeded up to old speed of 18 knots now and that suits our ship the Awatea far better than the poor old Prince Rupert which wallows!
Expect to be in Victoria on Wednesday morning.
Writing all home letters etc!

Tuesday 13th May 1941
Still cloudy and cool. Northerly to easterly wind. Don't go up on deck much these days, too cold and nothing new to see, just sea.
Finished home letters and others and posted same. NZ stamps ok on board ship so used them all up as useless thereafter as is NZ money.
Started packing, early this time for once! Expect to be in Vancouver 7 PM tomorrow.

Wednesday 14th May 1941
Great excitement. Pulled in at Victoria at 1000 hrs and had a parade on wharf and marched nearly into the city and then back again to the ship. Didn't really see the town. Set off again at about 1250 for Vancouver. Finished packing and checking of luggage etc and then watched passage up river from boat deck. Hills down to water's edge covered with bush and trees and scrub.
Steamed under suspension bridge and up to wharf at Vancouver. A big city. Disembarked at about 1800 hrs and were driven straight down to CNR station about 1½ to 2 miles from wharf, i.e. USS Co's wharf. Couldn't really see town.
Train left at 1930 hrs. We are in a standard car, 80 ton job. Train has about 15 cars. Airmen have rotten cars, sleep two together in blankets on boards - no mattress! Seems to be a shortage of usual 2nd class cars, being used for troops etc and in big demand.
Vancouver is a big place and bush with some yellow broom surrounds the town on the hillsides.
Had dinner served in'diner' soon after we left and the attendant made up our beds. These cars are great jobs - trips too short for them in NZ Estimated journey to last approx 6 days to Halifax.
Slept well. Air in car is air conditioned and kept at approx 74°. not much smoke and cinders outside as engine is a diesel job and therefore run on oil.

1 cent
5 cents 1 nickel
10 cents 1 dime
25 cents 1 quarter or 2 bits
50 cents 2 quarters or 4 bits

Thursday 15th May 1941
Was woken up at 0815 hrs and so shaved etc and had breakfast at 0840 hrs.
First stop of note Blue River at 1000 hrs, had a stroll around for 20 mins. Next was Jasper at 1420 hrs where we had a short parade i.e. march up the streets for 15 mins. Stayed ½ hr. Seems to be the mountain resort for moneyed people. Highest point on line is Yellowhead 3717 ft.
Saw good view of Mt Robson 12,972 ft, highest mountain in Canadian Rockies, coming up to Jasper.
Scenery all way up consisted of mountains and trees everywhere. Seems to consist of silver birch, willows - pussy? - and a native pine of Canada i.e. Jack Pine.
Mt Robson was partly obscured by cloud, snow on it as is on some of the other peaks.
Next stop was Edson in late afternoon. Lots of little places and sidings on line miles from anywhere. Must live on the railway.
Next stop Edmonton at 2220 hrs. Left 2320 hrs. Seem to have some difficulty in getting boys back onto train! Dropped about 40 airmen L.A.C.s.
Advanced watches 1 hr at Jasper i.e. from Pacific time to Mountain time.
Climate outside quite mild but cloudy.
Yellowhead 3717 ft is just before Jasper 3470 ft when going from west to east across Canada. Scrub sometimes composed of blackberry trees growing wild.

Friday 16th May 1941
Into prairie land now. Wheat mainly. Does not look very imposing farming land here and methods and layout do not look ultra modern by any means.
Stopped at Saskatoon, quite a fair sized town and modern. Also another fair sized place called Melville - half the size of Saskatoon.
Flat expanse most boring to watch. Not really flat though, really in the formation of very slightly rolling downs and lots of creeks and the like and little swamps.
Stopped at Winnipeg for 1 hour. Pulled in at 2330 hrs. Dick Austin and Harry Fooks and I hired a taxi and saw sights of town - too late to see many people. CPR has biggest railway yards in Canada here. Advances watches another 1 hr - i.e. to Central time.

Saturday 17th May 1941
Out of plains now and into rough stuff again, level really but useless land. Usual bush etc, jack pines, spruce, pussy willows, etc.
Lots of little lakes or tarns and no open spaces at all. Most noticeable thing about bush is that there is no undergrowth. Also no secondary growth when bush has been burnt - just another crop of trees!
Stopped at the following places - Nakina - parade and a little exercise - and a few little sidings.
Using a coal engine now, must have taken them on in Edmonton.
Much sooner see the bush than the flat open expanse.

Sunday 18th May 1941
Still bush etc and lakes. Ottawa, had a small looksee round. Not a bad show, approx 0900 hrs. Was met by Group Captain Islittle and got our long delayed issue of S.D. cap badges.
Good farming land around Ottawa and between there and Montreal where we called in for 1 hr. Pulled in at 1600 hrs.
Montreal is a big place and we only had time to see the slum area around the station. 70% French.
Passed Quebec in the dark on the other side of the St Lawrence River.
Last night on train.

Monday 19th May 1941
Warmish day. Passed through waste land mainly used for paper mill purposes, i.e. bush.
Pulled in at Halifax at 1930 hrs having had tea on train. Usual thing to give carriage steward and mess steward 50 cents each.
Marched ¾ mile to the embarkation station. It has only been up about one week and looks like it. Mud everywhere, after stumbling about we at last found on empty barrack wing and then had a glorious hot shower – first for 5 days since getting off boat.
Trip took exactly 5 days. Passed from Eastern time to Atlantic time.
This Fairview Station has been constructed as an embarkation base and is still being built, no paths etc.

Tuesday 20th May 1941
Woke up and shaved and was out in time for parade at 0830 hrs. Just roll call and off to town. We, Dick Austin and I, had breakfast at 1100 hrs. Out at camp in time for parade again at 1330 hrs. Then into town and had a look around the town and harbour.
Had tea at the Green Lantern where we had breakfast. Dick and I went to the fair. On one or two girdy whirly affairs.
Returned to station at 2200 hrs and heard that we may set sail tomorrow! And maybe not! M.O. inspection at 0900 hrs for us anyway, so that's something.

Wednesday 21st May 1941
Feel rather excited about getting away from Fairview Station. Being on transit of course gives us fist option as all the others here are under the Empire Air Training Scheme and have to wait until they are wanted by R.A.F. and when shipping is available.
After first parade we had M.O. inspection and received identity discs. We packed and then walked off station, taxi to town, and bought a few oddments, 2 shirts, spare soap, toothpaste, and cigarettes and tobacco.
Shirts are 3 dollars each. I lb of tobacco costs $1.80. Back to station by 1230 hrs.
Boarded transport and so on down to wharves. Stepped on launch - bliss - and down to ship which is out in the harbour about 3 pm. Got settled into cabin etc. Called Empire Sailor.
Were not allowed any shore leave tonight! Why I do not know.

Thursday 22nd May 1941
Woke up after good night's sleep and had breakfast at 0815 hrs. This ship is a captured Italian cargo steamer - diesel engine, single engine and screw, of 6000 tons. Was captured off Gibraltar last year. Has 9000 tons of cargo on board! Only 500 tons of cordite and high explosive! Several Chev trucks too.
No shore leave today. Cold day and showers in the morning.
Sailed at 1900 hrs approx with no convoy or protection. Cruises at speed of 15 kts and can do 18 kts. 2 berth cabins and quite comfortable and meals quite good. Breakfast 0815 hrs, dinner 1215 hrs, tea 1700 hrs, supper 2030 hrs.
Were paid when we boarded ship last night - £10 sterling. Temp about 40° to 50° today as was yesterday - felt like it too!

Friday 23rd May 1941
A sea fog closed in this morning and by 1200 hrs they had the fog horn sounding. Still damn cold. Going due eastwards till we get past Newfoundland then we go further northwards.
Halifax is a very cold place and we are pleased to be out of it. Approx 5 theatres in town and suburbs and it is a dry town! There is a club for Officers called'City Club', where 1 beer costs 30 cents! Only had one, too.
Were issued with lifejackets and waterproof torch with a red bulb; called a fairy light, jackets called Mae Wests; this morning and use thereof explained.
Had a nice sleep this afternoon. Foggy off and on and damn cold.
Crew a fine lot, Mercantile Marine.
Got a nice AA gun forward, 40 mm rate of 120 per min clips like Bren. Usual 4" on stern and plenty of machine guns etc. Regular fort!! Whoopee.
2 Hotchkiss on bridge - .303 machine guns.

Saturday 24th May 1941
Still in cold Arctic current and fog thick around us. Vis about 100 yds and fog horn sounding. Sea very calm and no swell to speak of, slight wind.
Nothing much to do. Just read, smoke, play cards, and draughts, and keep out of the cold air outside! Course about NE now.
Heard this afternoon that the battle cruiser HMS Hood of 42,000 tons, speed 32 kts, with a normal complement of 1340 men has been sunk in a naval action with a German naval unit, the largest German battleship the'Bismarck' and'Prince Eugene' off the shores of Greenland.
Fog cleared this afternoon but only so that visibility is about 400 yds.
Each ship now carries a little cargo of TNT and the like so that only a little is lost when a ship goes down.'Bismarck' reported damaged.

Sunday 25th May 1941
Fog still present, vis approx 100 yds and ceiling about 250 ft. Still quite cold. Gentle southerly breeze.
Off bank of Greenland early today but still in Arctic current which coupled with southerly breeze - warm and moisture laden - produces sea fog.
Usual routine of doing nothing. A watch roster was compiled today, two of us on bridge at a time for 2 hrs interval of watch each day. Am on with Pat Towsey from 6 till 8 am - he is my cabin mate.
Closed port holes as for blackout restrictions coupled, with central heating that we couldn't turn off in our cabin, made it very hot in our beds tonight - have to get engineer to fix it up tomorrow.
We are steering a zigzag course now, gets more pronounced later on. Advanced watches 17 mins tonight.

Monday 26th May 1941
Was on watch with Pat from 6 to 8 am. More or less in danger area now. We stand guard beside a mounted machine gun.
Sea fog still quite thick like yesterday - but therefore not necessary to use fog horn.
In danger area now and necessary to sleep with most of one's clothes on. Some of the chaps aren't going to have a bath until in port as it would be just too bad if ship was torpedoed and you had to rush to life boat with next to nothing on! Hard to get clothes on when one is wet too. But perhaps the risk is worth it.
Advanced watches 24 mins tonight.

Tuesday 27th May 1941
Fog quite thick this morning and the atmosphere is cooler. Supposed to be well into danger area now.
On watch this afternoon from 4 to 6 pm. Damn cold too. Wear flying boots and scarf and greatcoat!
Great excitement this morning. Something to the effect that we can assume that the Bismarck has been sunk! Confirmed at the 3 o'clock news bulletin. Enthralling description of the whole action given at 9 o'clock evening news.
We are very relieved and feel quite safe now with all the various R.N. Capital ships in the Atlantic. We weren't a hell of a long way from the chase! Posn at 6 o'clock roughly 56N 33W.
A lot of sparks flying out of the funnel and looks like the 5th of Nov at night! A real giveaway.
Advanced watches 30 mins tonight.

Wednesday 28th May 1941
Clear today as far as fog goes but clouds down as low as 2-3000 ft. Was on watch from 8 to 10 am.
Great excitement in an experimental flight with the kites which will probably be flown from tomorrow onwards to keep the machine-gunning planes away a bit. Very taut steel wire is rather deadly to get caught in a wing or propeller!
This afternoon the weather has taken a turn towards a bit of a storm. Maybe get some big seas later on - maybe?
Sparks out of funnel not so bad so far tonight.
Sleeping now with underclothes on to hasten a possible quick getaway!
Advanced watches 30 mins tonight.

Thursday 29th May 1941
Cold clear day with ceiling approx 1500 ft. Sea has calmed a little and only a swell running now. Real Atlantic rollers without breaking were working up a bit last night - shipped a green one over bows every half hour or so.
On watch from 10 to 12 hrs. Haven't seen anything yet - not even a raft or any timber.
The patrolling Short Sunderlands haven't been sighted yet, not even the ones from Greenland.
Were approx 580 mls west of Ireland at midday today.
Posn in Crete still hangs in the balance.
Advanced watches 1 hr 17 mins to GMT time.

Friday 30th May 1941
Cold and low cloud about 1500-2000 ft. Not much wind. On watch 6-8 AM. Saw nothing except large plank of wood. Fellows on watch saw a Whitley at about 0845.
At 0915 we suddenly saw a submarine about 60 yds on our port bow! Alarm, and we got out of it on a zigzag course and kept going!
At 1000 we altered course to dodge a floating mine, 3rd mate had a few shots at it with Lewis - missed. Then the plane - a Lockheed Hudson which had been signalling to us circled the mine and then went off in the direction of the sub. Another Whitley circled us after dinner.
Saw an outgoing liner at 1640 hrs. Only approx 130 mls from Ireland at that time.
Finished washing some clothes after tea and then ironed lot. In need of it too, as first chance for 4 weeks. Going to sleep in clothes tonight.
Advanced watches 1 hr - ship's time.

Saturday 31st May 1941
Warmer today. Clear and bright sunshine all day.
Alarm early this morning at 0015 hrs. Piled out on deck but it was only a false alarm. A lone plane flew over and kept going so possibly it was one of our own.
First sight of land was the Heb. Isles at approx 0730 hrs - I was asleep. Saw mainland of Scotland at 1130 hrs when we were in North Channel.
Were heading for Glasgow as we had not been told to go elsewhere but at 1545 told to report at Oban so did and about turn and proceeded North.
Atmosphere much warmer here. Very slight wind and sea dead calm. Saw plenty of fishing trawlers and two convoys of cargo boats.
At Oban at 2245 hrs. In bed by then! Advanced watches 1 hr and now at British Summer Time which is 2 hrs ahead of G.M.T.

Sunday 1st June 1941
Warm sunny day. Lay at anchor all day in sheltered reach outside town of Oban with a lot of other cargo ships waiting for convoy escort.
One of about 15 sailed out in the afternoon, about same number left.
Saw one or two P.B.Y's flying boats, station of them here I believe.
Told to be ready to disembark at ½ hrs notice just before dinner! Hadn't packed or anything. Packed in a rush stowing about 1600 cigarettes in kit bag - 400 Craven A off ship.
Then told that we would be taken off at 0900 hrs tomorrow! Bah.
Can see two or three old castles through glasses.
If the sub that we saw conning tower as she came up and before she dived again - had been about 200 yards away instead of 60 she would have turned towards us and fired torpedo! Zig zag course saved us ie. turned into her. 50/50 chance.

Monday 2nd June 1941
Cloudy morning. On shore by 10.30 a.m. Sun shining and beautiful day by 11.00. Arranged kit and luggage then sampled the beer. Good stuff too. Youngers I believe it was. Had lunch and then toured the sights till 4.30 when we reported at station. Train London Midland Scotland line - L.M.S. - pulled out at 4.50 p.m.
Oban is a delightful place. No Wooden buildings to be seen. All solid old stone and clean looking - no factories. Visited an old keep which is about 700 years old; most of it still ok, walls anyway. Then a recent circular stone wall - coliseum with 2-3 layers of window openings.
Train journey not pleasant, no sleepers for us just 1st class seats. Changed at Stirling and had tea there. Damn cold too later on that night.

Tuesday 3rd June 1941
Arrived Euston Terminus Station London at 0915 hrs. Dirty drab looking show but big and efficient.
Bus to Piccadilly Circus and had breakfast at Lyons. Tube to Uxbridge and walked to R.A.F station - ½ mile away. Found quarters and signed papers etc for A.M. so they can get on with the postings to O.T.U's.
Did not go off station.

Wednesday 4th June 1941
Have a stinking cold - first this year by gosh. Expected one sometime during the trip though. Just a tight chest stage and head ache.
Played around here signing papers and getting gas masks etc.
Officers quarters here in R.A.F are definitely inferior to N.Z. L.A.C quarters in N.Z. better than these for us at Uxbridge.
It was cold this morning but it became beautifully sunny this afternoon.
Finished at 1600 hrs and I went to bed - with my bottle of rum which possibly saved my life!

Thursday 5th June 1941
Not a bad sort of day - for district I suppose - cloudy but mildish.
Signed a few more papers and were told to be at Lady Rhyders in Sloane Square at 1630 hrs. Quite a pleasant afternoon tea and chat - will be useful when wanting hosts in the different parts of England when on leave.
Saw a bit of London. Only a burnt out house here and there it seems but haven't seen the bad parts as yet I think. Saw a show at the Windmill - a bit of nudism but nothing much.
Cold cleared a bit but she is going to be a beauty when I start coughing.

Friday 6th June 1941
Went into London to N.Z. House and signed in. Out immediately.
Told at 1230 that 8 of us were going to be trained on Whitleys at No 10 O.T.U. Abingdon. Also that a visit for us had been arranged to Windsor Castle, starting at 2 p.m. Have been posted to Abingdon.
First of all shown over the chapel and had things explained to us. Then a conducted tour of the grounds - bits and pieces there built 13th century!
After a wash etc. we went into the Blue Room of the Prince of Wales House or Wing and met the King and Queen and the two Princesses and their dogs. Very informal, shook hands. Then on to the Duke of Windsor Room and had afternoon tea. Chatted to the King and Queen in person! Rather a privileged honour. About 30 in party, R.C.A.F, R.N.Z.A.F. and 2 R.A.F.
Breezed off at about 1830 hrs - back to reality.

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