History & Learning

Convoys Remembered

John Turvill

Merchant Navy

Information and photo by John Turvill. Edited Leona Thomas.

John joined the Merchant Navy in March 1941 as a deck apprentice and stayed at sea until 1955 with various companies, working his way up as 2nd Mate, 1st Mate and then gaining his Master Foreign-going Certificates by 1953.

After losing the SS Nailsea Meadow through torpedoing off the South African coast in May 1943, John was back home by August. In London he joined the SS Fort Hall, a Canadian government cargo ship on loan to the UK government, in September/October 1943.

Says John: ‘There were four apprentices all together. We sailed to Hull where we loaded a full cargo of military equipment, bound we knew not where, and it was only when we were issued with heavy duty clothing for inside and outside use, we thought we must be going to Russia on an Arctic convoy.’

The Fort Hall was appointed Commodore Ship for their first trip to Russia on JW55A in November 1943.

‘We boys, aged nineteen and twenty, were on lookout watches and when on standby, we were engaged in removing the ice which formed on handrails, decks and deck machinery with a flexible steam hose and hammers. It was a pretty cold operation that had to be done throughout the trip once we had got into the heavy and bad weather.’

‘Immediately on anchoring in Kola inlet, four destroyers of the Fleet escort were alongside us opening up the No. 2 and 4 hatches and dragging or carrying sections of depth charges for their return trip back to UK. I think we were the one convoy ahead of the one that lured out the Scharnhorst from the North Cape for combat over Christmas and Boxing Day 1943.’

John returned to the UK on convoy RA56 (with the Vice Commodore on board), then did a further two trips to Russia and back on convoys (JW58 and RA59) on SS Fort Hall.

Click to expand photos