Sea Travel during War

دوران جنگ میں سمندر کا سفر Translated by: Asiya Alam . Original language: Urdu
Mediterranean Sea

Shaista Suhrawardy Ikramullah


We left for India on 6 January by Viceroy of India.  We were commanded to arrive at ship one day prior to departure, so that the ship can leave whenever appropriate. Due to war, there were lots of problems in getting out of England. We had to sign on thousands of forms. We had to return identity card, elision card and gas masks. One man was standing at the gate of the ship to collect gas masks. Within minutes, he had loads of gas masks.

The ship departed on 6 January at 12. We were informed that there would be a convoy, that is, a war ship would be sent for protection. But after the arrival of our ship, we learnt that it would depart alone because it goes very fast, and one has to go very slow in a convoy. On this ship alone, there were 4 guns of 6 inches each attached.  This was the only means of protection. Before the departure of the ship, the captain gathered all the passengers and gave counsels on what to do in case of drowning of the ship. There were instructions in bold alphabets in every cabin on what bell will ring if there is an airstrike on the ship and where we would have to assemble and what bell will ring if there is a submarine attack and where we would have to assemble. All this was explained well. The tying of lifebelts was explained, and we were commanded to not be without lifebelts for even a second. Mothers had lifebelts of their children with themselves. This was enforced strictly till we reached Gibraltar. Hanging on to lifebelts worn out our shoulders.

There was also blackout in the ship. Porthole, that is, the windows of the cabin were shut. We were not allowed to get to the porch/deck/balcony in the evening so that no one lights a cigarette by accident. They say that a cigarette match is visible in the sea even at seven miles, and from this we can determine that there would be a ship. After Gibraltar, there wasn’t a strong instruction for lifebelts but if you had to go a little far from the cabin, you had to keep it. Porthole was also opened during the day for a few hours. But was consistently closed during the night till Bombay due to which there were lots of difficulties. Till Gibraltar, all cabins that are the norm in ships were closed. But after crossing Gibralter, the spirits of the English started recreation and fun. All the ‘deck games,’ that is games played on the deck started, which kept on happening. Those who have done sea travel know that in every voyage there is a party for children and there is a party for older people in which there is dance. This time as well, the children’s party was done with full pomp and fun. The captain gifted each child a toy. After an elaborate tea, they were given balloons and shown of Mickey Mouse. In the evening, one was not allowed to go to the deck. Therefore the day assigned for dance was when we were at the end of Suez Canal because there was no danger that day. The ship was decorated according to protocol and the dining room and tables were decorated accordingly. The dance went on till midnight. A day before reaching Bombay, the finals of all games were held, and winners were given prizes. The captain thanked all the passengers.

Further Reading

Source: Ismat, Volume 64, Number 6, June 1940, 465.