by Digby Morton
I joined the RFA Wave Prince while docked in Barry, South Wales, in November 1951. There were two deck apprentices, “Hammy” and myself. Captain Henry Colbourne was in command.
We sailed for the Caribbean to load various petroleum products for the Korean War. We loaded in Curacao. We went through the Panama Canal which I found amazing. What I would think of the new canal, I can only wonder. We called at Honolulu on the outward passage.
HMS Ocean RASING with RFA Wave Prince
A couple of days out of Honolulu, we encountered the tail end of a typhoon with huge threatening swells. At first all seemed well; the vessel digging her prow deeply into the waves but rising again unharmed. But this routine was shattered by a monster wave: The force of the deluge of water bent the forecastle railings and made the gun turret lean over.
Some hours later, Captain Colborne realised that his ship was not responding normally to the swells. The bow was extremely sluggish in rising. He suspected damage, but the weather conditions were so severe it was impossible to send anyone forward to assess the problem. So he decided to return to Honolulu for repairs. With great difficulty we turned in the enormous swells.
On arrival in Hawaii, we discharged part of the cargo to lighten the ship enough to enter drydock. (It was the first time in drydock that I didn’t have to go ashore to use the toilet facilities. The Americans came along and welded pipes to our scuppers.) The cause of the ship-handling problem in the typhoon was soon discovered; the dry cargo hold just aft of the chain locker had been flooded, adding considerable deadweight forward and causing the ship to become down by the head!
The reason for the flooding was found to be a lack of watertight integrity between the chain locker and the adjacent dry cargo hold. The chain locker had flooded overflowing into the dry cargo hold. It is hard to believe, but the angle brackets connecting the transverse bulkhead to the ship’s sides did not reach the top on each side.
After the repairs and a brief shore leave, we resumed our passage to Korea via Sasebo, Japan, which would become our home base. From there, we sailed to Te Chong Do a small Island just south of the 38th parallel on the west coast of Korea.
While stationed there, we became friendly with American army personnel by doing favours to them by lending them 16mm cine films. In appreciation, they invited several of the ship’s company to dinner at their hilltop base. At this remote location we were not expecting anything lavish; maybe bully beef and biscuits. Much to our surprise, it was a very enjoyable full meal topped off with ice cream! The ice cream was a luxury for us. A merry time was had by all.
On the climb up the mountain, we got a glimpse of the primitive lifestyle of the native islanders.