Ralph Stobart Robson, signalman, life in the British Royal Navy World War Two, sinking of Prince of Wales and the Repulse, Singapore
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  1. Chatham to Gourock
  2. The Messman Discovered
  3. Life on Board
  4. Crossing the Line
  5. The Sinkings
  6. H.M.S. Sultan
  7. The Signal Office
  8. Left to Our Own Resources
  9. Colombo
  10. Drafted to Mombassa
  11. Eine Kleine Nachtmusik
  12. Sharks, Lobsters and Going Dutch
  13. Askari Skirmishes and Tea Making
  14. Tramp Steamer
  15. Molo
  16. Deer Hunting
  17. Ralph the Italian and off to Bombay
  18. Arrival in Bombay
  19. Vultures and Buffalos
  20. Poona
  21. Swimming Motorcycles and Monsoon Storms
  22. The Royal Corps of Signals
  23. 'Trixie' Vaughan Lewis and Drowning Men
  24. On Leave in the Himalayas

    Ralph as a telegram boy before the war

12 - Sharks, Lobsters and Going Dutch

During my off-duty periods I wandered all over the island and the neighbouring shores to the north and south. There were beautiful white sands with the usual reefs offshore.

Mombassa itself consisted of one straggling main street and not much else. However, scattered amongst the palms, wild fruit trees and other vegetation were beautiful houses.

One of my joys was swimming, and in Kilindini Harbour I found one of the best places for swimming ever. I had been told that it was free of sharks because of the actions of the guard boats which patrolled the harbour dropping miniature depth charges at measured intervals and at odd times.

Every time I was off watch I went down to the harbour to swim off a forty-foot pier used for landing small motor boats and sailing craft. This facility was no longer being used.

The depth of the water was controlled by the tides and it was marvellous to dive and swim scattering the schools of pike and other fishes. Eventually we were covering most of the nearer parts of the basin and climbing on to the mooring buoy.

One item of joy was a huge tanker that had been fished in the engine room and was moored to one of the buoys. A leader was dangling overboard and provided easy access. I should say that I was accompanied on these excursions by another rating. We had discovered that it was possible to remove part of the bridge railing and run along the bridge and dive overboard - Great fun!

0ne day we saw that there was a new vessel moored. I discovered that it was a Dutch Tug, "Thames", a vessel I had last seen in the North Atlantic. She was towing the front half of a merchant ship which had been torpedoed and which had broken off at the rear of the bridge. We had approached her to ask if she wanted any assistance. She said "no" but would we report her position. Now here she was off the African Coast.

There were some men standing around her stern. As we approached they hailed us in English and asked if we would like a cup of coffee. When we replied "yes" they motioned us to a boarding ladder. As we swam towards the ladder my mate said, "I've never drunk that". I said, " Drink it, and smile". A good chinwag was held. They told me that the ship they had rescued had been towed into Iceland and after she had been made properly seaworthy was now sailing again as they had seen and spoken to her. She had been towed to Glasgow and had been fitted with a new aft-end.

They had noticed the little canvas bags that we wore around our waists and asked what they were. We took them off and opened them to show pieces of bread and butter. They smiled hugely and the mate said "Throw them to the birds. You will get a proper meal today". We certainly did. Those Dutchmen certainly knew how to eat.

During the conversation I accidentally mentioned that I had been on board the Prince of Wales and was sunk on the Repulse. I had never mentioned the subject since leaving Singapore, mostly I think because the little yellow men had bested us. The Dutchmen were intensely interested and questioned me closely. My friend was just as amazed as he knew nothing either. Eventually, after saying our goodbyes, we dived off the tug and swam ashore.

Two days later after a short swim we walked down past the can buoys on our way to walk along the shore. To our horror we saw swimming past the shadow of the buoy the shapes of what were undoubtedly two sharks. As the nearest house was the Naval Signal Station on the headland above us we ran up the slope. Bursting into the Station we gabbled out our tale. The Yeoman in charge got on to the blower and instigated what was to turn out to be a great hue and cry.

We slowly walked down and along the beautiful beach. Here we were to encounter what was to be the second shock of the day. I noticed a movement amongst the rocks. Bending down I saw a largish member of the lobster family. I could see that this was one of the nipperless ones. Without thinking I bent down and hauled him out of the water before either he or I could react. It was a beauty - more than a foot long.

As I stood there admiring it (my mate wouldn't touch it) a native suddenly appeared. He made a gesture which indicated that he would love to have it. Thinking of his starving wife and family I handed it over. In a flash he tore off the lower part of the carapace and commenced to eat the wriggling body - my mate was nearly sick. The native was all smiles and salaams - the wander along the beach was terminated.

A few weeks before, I had been wandering down the main street in Mombassa when I had noticed a store sign advertising the dispatch of food parcels to the U.K. When I entered the shop it turned out the owner came from a district north of Bombay and that his family owned two shops, with another one in Nairobi. He was a nice little fellow and he sat me down to coffee and biscuits, and I saw him one more time before leaving Mombassa.

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