- Downes, A.M., Captain
- Biographies and personal histories, Ship histories and stories, History - WW2, Book reviews, Biographies
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- September 2002 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
Title: We Seemed to Get There
Author: Captain Herbert W. Bolles, MN
Ever wondered what the Merchant Navy did, both in War and Peace? This is a truly superb book – an autobiography – to tell you all about it.
Herb – as he is known to his many friends – has told his story straightforwardly, accurately, with great warmth and the greatest sense of humour – there seems to be an anecdote on every page. Yet, although he never served in the Navy, he has made a point of reporting every wartime Merchant ship sinking in Australian waters and the loss of every Australian MN ship through enemy action.
Herb grew up in Perth and signed his indentures in Townsville in March 1942. His story of life as an apprentice in AUSN makes hilarious reading – especially the tale of mangoes in the chain locker! Working around the Indian and Australian coasts in those days has given him plenty of stories to tell. Of course, throughout the War, Navy and other Service personnel were often carried and it seems that our own Otto Becher was quite a lad on board the SS Tanda. By the end of the war, Herb’s ship was sailing in the British Pacific Fleet train. He is quite capable of telling stories borrowed (but always acknowledged) from other ships, and I love the story of the Oriana transiting a crucial section of the Barrier Reef, whose Captain ordered the bridge cleared of passengers, this being efficiently done by the Master-at Arms and his minions. He then found that he had no Pilot – that worthy meanwhile “…fighting for his life” against a very determined female ‘policeman’ twice his size, at the after end of the boat deck.
By the end of the war, Herb had passed his exams and was a Deck Officer. A few more years full of fascinating memories passed, sailing in many parts of the world in B.I. and W.A. State Shipping ships and taking leave in the foothills of the Himalayas, Sri Lanka, etc. He eventually rose to Master in the AUSTASIA Line in 1960, and in 1963 he reached that pinnacle longed for by many Master Mariners and became a Sydney Sea Pilot. More wonderful stories. Herb became a very well known and highly respected pilot, finally retiring in 1984. He remains a prominent and very popular member of several ex-MN organisations.
In case this review leaves the impression that the book is a lightweight effort, this is far from the case. This reviewer had a not dissimilar career in the merchant navy (but also in the RN and RAN) and I know or knew most of the ships, the ports, and very many of the seafarers and friends mentioned in this book. It is a true and honest story of a typical sea career in the Merchant Navy, but told with such verve and humour that it is almost impossible to put down.
Very highly recommended.