Joining The Dorelian at Swansea

On 17th May 1940 Alister's indentures to the Donaldson Brothers & Black Limited were agreed and signed.  He travelled down to Swansea to join his first ship, the Dorelian which was under repair at Swansea. On 20th May he signed on.

The Dorelian was a general cargo steel steam ship, built in 1923 of 6,431g. It was powered by coal fired boilers driving a 4 cylinder steam engine. It was certified to carry 73 crew, there were three apprentices, but Alister was 5 years younger than the other two and was the only person under 18.

I do not own a picture of the Dorelian but you can see it on this Clyde Built Ships page.

This is Alister's own memory of joining the ship.

The ship was berthed at the coal tips loading bunkers, so it was not a shinning start. We were a coal burner with about 14 firemen on board feeding the boilers about 30 T/day. They worked 3 shifts of 8 and came out the stoke hole in need of a bath. Coal was loaded down coal shoots up to 1,000 tons.

I sailed on my first voyage on the SS Dorelian on 25th May 1940 bound to Montreal. The war was already 9 months old so we carried a 4” gun on the poop, I was made sight setter because of my height 6’ 2 ½ “ and told to hold both sights tightly when we fired and keep my mouth open.

We mainly kept bridge watches as part of the time we were in convoy and had to watch the Commodore’s ship for signals. 

The trade was Montreal to Avonmouth and Swansea. In port we kept gangway watch for security. The air raid sirens went off sometimes twice a day but seldom did we see a plane.  In Avonmouth one night a large piece of shrapnel fell alongside the gangway but caused no damage.

On the 26th May Britain started to evacuate its remaining forces from mainland Europe. Now Britain depended on the few men of the RAF to defend the country and the Merchant Navy to bring essential food and supplies. The Merchant Navy was protected as best they could by the Royal Navy and Air Force.

The capture of the French Atlantic coast line enabled the Germans to greatly increase the pressure on British shipping in the Atlantic. Almost immediately the Germans would have U boat bases along the Atlantic coast in France as well as the North Sea. And now it was summer with better weather and long days.
On the 26th May at 7am, as the Dunkirk evacuation started the Dorelian, captained by Duncan Macqueen, sailed from Swansea to join convoy OB-156 bound for Montreal.

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