- Taylor, R.A. CPO, RN
- Biographies and personal histories, History - WW2, History - Between the wars
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- March 1984 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
A goat track existed there on each side and at this point there were about 100 or more Chinese waiting for us to throw lines to them to give us a pull or to place wires around boulders so that we could use the winch. The only apparel these people wore was a large straw hat so we saw quite a few oddities. For a period we drifted across the river, still at maximum speed. All of a sudden a bubble appeared which denoted broken water. The pilot aligned the bows to it and we shot over, much to the dismay of the Chinese who were hoping for payment.
Later on in the afternoon we struck engine trouble. The LP piston became red hot and tore all the packing out. We could not stop, so a 44-gallon drum of soft soap and olive oil was mixed up and sprayed upon it continuously. Fortunately we made the anchorage. With both anchors down and all cable out we came to rest, but despite all our efforts the force of the current kept the propellers turning. Our final recourse was to put the engine in an astern position and use steam. You can imagine what a hot night we had effecting repairs. The next day we reached Wanshein, stopped overnight and sailed early in the morning for the last leg and tied up at a large floating pontoon. During the evening we received a signal stating that a large body of water was coming down.
The river at Chungking is nearly a mile wide and in 24 hours the river rose 96 feet. It was fascinating to watch whole streets disappear and 556,000 souls were swept away. During our stay the political situation became stabilised and we returned to Ichang.
What took us 3 days to cover going up we did in 10 hours on the return, using high engine speed to maintain steerage way, and in Windbox Gorge we were virtually flying. The awesome power of nature was fascinating.
Travelling from port to port inoculations were very frequent. After this rest period we sailed down river to Wuhu where the Japanese had a huge iron ore deposit which they worked day and night, as we all know for what purpose.
It was our intention to return up river but that night a freighter dragged its anchor and crashed into our bows, the damage sustained making it necessary for us to seek repairs in Shanghai. This made us most joyful, but was short lived. The Japanese alleged that two of their servicemen were killed in the International Settlement, and in a few days the river was filled with cruisers and destroyers from Britain, USA and Japan. This show of force eased the situation a bit, and on completion of our repairs we sailed back up river, where I was relieved in Hankow, sailing back to Hong Kong and England.
During the course of my journeys up and down the river, I always found the Chinese most helpful, due I feel sure to their abject poverty which was pitiful to see. It was common to see babies born, and when it was a girl just tossed over the side. Often we had to drive these sampans away from our ship’s side. They collected around the Gash chute, which hung over the stern, with nets to catch every little bit of offal, and if one capsized the current speedily sucked it under. Our Chinese messboy fell over the side one day, and despite our search we did not sight him.
On returning to England in late 1937, after a short period I got itchy feet and volunteered for another Far East commission and I embarked on a troopship to join HMS Eagle at Hong Kong. Before we had time to visit the Chinese sea ports the war broke out which necessitated me playing with Hitler and Mussolini for 6 years in the Indian Ocean, the Mediterranean and South Atlantic, but that is another episode of my intensely interesting travel.
Finally with the war over, I returned to England in 1946. With all the complexities of demobilisation, I became quite frustrated and volunteered to be sent as far away as possible. My wishes were granted, and I sailed away to Hong Kong. Little did I know that it would take me 3 years to get there. Under that little wizened Prime Minister, Clement Attlee, the Royal Navy, as regards deployment and manning levels, changed week by week. 1 found myself up the Persian Gulf, India, Burma and Malaya. By that time Maeti Sung was virtually in command of China, forcing Chang Kai Shek to Formosa. Between these warring factors the Royal Navy maintained the law of Territorial Waters, 3 mile limit, and for weeks we sat outside of Shanghai protecting all types of shipping who were willing to run the blockade up to Shanghai where the cargoes, especially oil, fetched astronomical prices. On Christmas morning 1949 a large Canadian ship made us a signal. ‘With the fog descending I intend to run the blockade.’ Our signal was ‘Go at your own peril, good luck’. Before she had hardly travelled a mile she collected 2 4-inch shells, wrecked the galley and damaged her steering so she went aground and signalled for help. She must have weighed well over 10,000 tons. We steamed to her, put both anchors down and went astern to pick up her wires. With increasing revolutions and pulling on the cable by the anchor winch we finally got her off. She was lucky.