|K e n s m e n : 4 3 r d B o m b G r o u p (H), 5 t h A A F|
|A point of interest that
displayed how ill-prepared the United States was for war, some 2000
recruits came aboard in civilian clothes as newly-drafted men. They
were quartered in the lowest deck and received basic training during
the voyage. Their life aboard the Queen Mary was much worse than all of
the other groups. Besides getting training, they also were issued
complete uniforms and equipment.
The next day, our First Sergeant assigned 22 men to a very large Aussie civilian-crewman. He escorted all down to the area where we would be working for him. We tried to get some information as to where we were going, but he would not fall for any of the questions. We did get to see outside for a while. We stood in an opening on the dock side while he told of our duties. It was primarily kitchen police (dreaded KP)! He made one mistake: he did not take names at this time and after we were dismissed, I was one of the smart guys that decided not to be on his detail. Big mistake!
About noon we set sail. After clearing the harbor it appeared as if we were headed north, but this was an apparent distraction for after dark we headed due south. The submarine activity on the east coast was very heavy at this time!
We were on a British ship sailing under the British flag. The British are well-known for the vast differences in their treatment of officers and enlisted men. This became apparent at meal time. The enlisted mess hall was on C Deck in the Grand Salon. It was arranged to seat several thousand men. My bench type table had 22 men assigned and the food for all 22 was served in a large metal pan. It was like slopping the hogs! The food was not very good. The British do have a very good bread and jam; this became my primary diet. The officers mess was quite different; four men to a table with cushioned chairs, white tablecloths, napkins and silverware! Their food was far superior and served by the food service staff. The food was outstanding, as I found out, for some of the Aussie's KP crew would sneak large trays of leftovers to their stupid buddies! Now you understand why I said "big mistake."
Generally our course was due south with zig-zagging for evasion purposes. The Mary proceeded solo due to her speed. The only time we encountered other ships for escort was when we were approaching a stop. The first stop was off the Florida coast on our sixth day at sea. There was much activity, tankers were off loading fuel and supplies. A very large barge delivered citrus fruit. All the time we were at a standstill, a flying boat was circling and several US Navy ships (sub-chasers and destroyers) were keeping watch over us. I finally got a chance to use the port hole at my bunk along with many of the men on board. I saw hammerhead sharks, flying fish and many other sea creatures. My bunk stayed full of people all day. Flying fish were interesting for they would break out of a wave and sail for a very long distances before entering the water again.
This activity required about two days and we were once again on the way. At first it was south and later east when we encountered airplanes and sighted land off in the distance. I assume that it was Cuba and the planes were from one of our air bases there.