Victor Decloux recalls his last trip
on the Westbank Park in 1945
edited for the web by Laval
I was indeed on the Westbank when it attempted to become a land mobile...
It wasn't a particularly pleasant experience although at one time...I didn't think the ship would survive the storm. It was like a cork in a bottle. The whole Pacific was in an uproar. Hurricanes, typhoons...many Liberty ships broke in half - Distress calls 'SOS' all over the place,,.
As you know the Canadian Merchant Navy ended up the war with the 3rd largest Merchant Marine in the World. That put a very great demand on the supply of deck and radio officers during the war...
( ndlr: hundreds of those 10,000 tonne dwt ships were built in Canada during World War II, on both coasts. )
My last voyage wasn't a very nice story...Because of the demand for deck officers and due to the shortage, we ended up with a first mate who had obtained his Master's ticket in sail in 1916 in Australia. He was a mean bugger to the crew and so, when the ship was ready to leave Newport in Wales and after the lines were cast off, the crew refused to pull them in or participate in the running of the ship...When we got back to Canada, they were charged with mutiny and some served jail sentences...
However, there was a worse problem; because of the strike, the ship had left the UK without ballast and was riding real high on the water, this did not serve her very well when we hit the mountainous seas coming up the coast of Central America and Mexico. We were in trouble from the time we came out of the Panama Canal . Eventually the winds blew the ship ashore..
I was in the radio room on the 8 to 12 watch (pm), , the ship's wheel was hard to port and the ship was drifting to starboard and towards the shore. When I went off-watch at 12, the seas were so high and the wind so strong, I couldn't sleep in my bunk, I had to wedge myself between my settee and the bulkhead with my mattress.
At 1:30 in the morning the alarm bells rang, we had gone up on the rocks and tore the bottom out of the ship, we were about 100 yards from shore getting pounded something fierce. The waves were ferocious.
S.C. Heal, the man who wrote an history of the Westbank Park was my cabin-mate and 3rd Radio officer. He now lives in California. >>
More information on the Park ships can be viewed on the web
Also, Valour at Sea - Canada's Merchant Navy on the Veterans Affairs Canada website
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