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

17. Ralph the Italian and off to Bombay

A few miles across the valley from the hotel was a curious looking hill, quite large with surmounted bare cones at the top, whilst the rest of it was heavily wooded. I asked the landlady if it was possible to climb it and she assured me that it was.

The whole distance was about five miles - my compatriot was not tempted but the lady provided me with a packet of sandwiches and so I set off. Halfway there a wood was passed at the bottom of which was a large lake surrounded by a path, which I decided to take. On leaving the shelter of the wood I saw a marvellous group of Crowned Cranes which took off with groaning cries - beautiful!

Just before passing into the wood on the hill I noticed a large homestead, but saw no one about and soon afterwards I arrived at the top where I had a wonderful view of the surrounding countryside. The top was covered with low scrubby bushes and what my hostess had told me turned out to be true - that the hilltop was regularly covered with frost, and today, at this time of the year, was to prove no exception.

After eating my "bait" I walked down the hill and decided to call at the house to see if I could get a drink of water. After waiting some time and hearing sundry mutterings and scufflings the door was opened by a woman. "Yes?", she demanded.

I explained my wants but she still seemed hesitant, until I told her that I was staying at the hotel across the valley and was a sailor at the R.N. At this she pushed past me and shouted, "It's all right he's a British sailor" and to my extreme embarrassment turned around and kissed me on the cheek!

An astonishing sight greeted me as about ten men suddenly appeared from the surrounding scenery, mostly armed with rifles. She then explained that I had been taken for an escaped Italian P.O.W. and their instructions had been to shoot me on sight if I made a false move. They all, including some blacks, came up and introduced themselves with many sheepish smiles and then she gave me an enormous meal. Drink was not short either - none of them had seen a sailor before and they were fascinated by my tales of North Atlantic gales and convoys.

In the end, as the afternoon was wearing thin, I was asked how I had ended up out there and I told them about the Prince and the Repulse. They seemed to be stunned and shortly afterwards, amidst many invitations to come and stay, a lift was arranged and I was back at the hotel, but I told no one about what had happened.

A few days later I was on my way back to Mombassa, enjoying the long train journey and the hospitalities of the Nairobi ladies before steaming across the bridge to the barracks. Of course the lads wanted to know how I'd got on and particularly how Jock's suit had managed - I think they were a little chuffed it had gone so well.

Life seemed to have settled down when suddenly one morning I was told that I had a draft. It was to be one of the D's of the D and C class Cruisers, due for Bombay where she was to be dry-docked. These were seven-inch gun cruisers, more or less confined to the Indian Ocean, the only part of the world that held seven-inch ammo.

That afternoon we were all taken down to Kilindini harbour where we were marched aboard. These "D" cruisers were built well before the fourteen/eighteen war and they showed it. This one was crowded and dirty, but I would say that it was almost impossible to operate under the conditions in which they sailed. This one was so crowded that I slept on the Boat Deck under the stars whilst the messing was done in shifts. I never approached the Bridge and was, as far as I know, never asked for.

A long queue of ratings formed once a day outside the washroom, under control of a Jaunty and only open for a quarter of an hour per day during which it was jam-packed with men - try washing yourself with your arms tight against your waist and then imagine what it was like to shave! I never went down below to the mess decks but spent all my time on the upper decks. She had three Seven Twos and a number of A/A guns but how she could have fought with that rabble on board I hate to think. However, I managed to eat and sleep and strike up a few friendships before at long last the long voyage was over - Bombay was in sight.

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