Editor’s note: Dad’s troop ship, the USS Monticello AP 61, was the former Italian luxury liner, Conte Grande. It was seized by the Brazilians, sold to the US, and refitted at Navy shipyard in Philadelphia.
1-18-43: Took 8 mile hike. Drank beer in PX in evening. Practice roster order in barracks at 6 PM. Go to 2nd show.
1-19-43: Board train around noon. Eat lunch on train just before we reach destination. Sandwiches all thrown together in orange crate. Boarded boat about 5 o’clock. Go down to bottom deck (F.1) Cavalry outfit down here with us.
1-20-43: Set sail at approximately 8AM. It is rather stuffy and warm down here. The beds are in tiers of four. Not much room for equipment.
1-21-43: Rather warm and uncomfortable. Had our first alarm drill. Start going up on deck for fresh air for two hours.
1-22-43: Getting a little warmer. Slight feeling of seasickness. Set time back 1 hour.
1-23-43: Getting warmer, file out for everything. Reveille at 6. Going on deck twice a day (8-10) (12:30-2:00). Target practice with AA guns at balloon. Shoot 3 inch guns a few times. Quite a spectacle. Go on deck again evening just about dark because of heat below. See moon rise (beautiful sight to behold) among floating clouds.
1-24-43: Very hot below, even noticeably so on upper deck. Very uncomfortable because of inefficient ventilation. Getting rather weak. Start taking salt tablets. Reading story while on deck. Pleasant pastime. Finished reading “Good Earth” (Very good book) started Sherlock Holmes. Interesting.
1-25-43: Unbearably hot, nearing equator. A person is covered with sweat all the time. Feel better after taking plenty of salt. Have lost quite a bit of weight. Haven’t bothered to shave for about 4 days. Shortage of water except for fresh sea water. Appetite tremendous. Only 2 meals per day. Drinking water hard to get. Had alert alarm. From below heard guns fired. Some uneasiness below, but believed to be only practice. Feel quite refreshed after being up on deck after dark. Initiate polliwogs.
1-26-43: Not quite so hot in quarters today. Sky overcast. Finish initiating polliwogs. Father Neptune in procession. Everyone very hungry before supper. Still letting my beard grow. Going to see how long before they tell me to shave. Really look ragged. Feeling a lot better today. Wrote 2 V-mail letters. Cross equator at 4:38. Reason for initiation of polliwogs. Looking forward to good night’s sleep as haven’t napped much today. Am now ready for chow–anyway my appetite is.
Crossing the equator
My correspondence lately has been nil, due to circumstances beyond our control. I’ll sure be glad to hear from home again. My last letter from you was mailed on the 12th. If I remember right, I answered it.
I suppose that the weather there is nice and cold about now. I sure would like to be in some snow right now. I just remembered that I didn’t answer your last letter since I opened and saw the clippings. It reminded me of old days to read the items about the girls and people I used to run around with. Who is L. D. Stone of Chesterfield?
Yes, I received the pictures that you sent. They didn’t turn out as good as I expected. It was rather cloudy and late that evening for them to turn out right. They brought back pleasant memories. I’m glad you had a telephone put in. In case there is any need I can reach you easy. What’s your number? Same as the old one? Please send me all the addresses of the boys that you know of . Write me V-mail.
Editor’s note: I’m including entries from Fred Bratton’s diary–(prefaced with a triple asterisk ***). My brother interviewed Dad’s Army buddy shortly after Dad passed away in October, 1995. Fred graciously allowed his diary entries to be copied. His thoughts are presented uncensored–as written.
Fred Bratton (left) and Dad before shipping out
***January 4, 1943
***Turned in all extra equipment at San Luis Obispo, California. Laid around all day with full equipment, ready at a moment’s notice all night to leave for the train. Left San Luis Obispo by train at 8:30 for unknown destination, rode all night, arrived at Camp Anza, a new Army camp a few miles from Riverside, California. While here we had a number of shots, we marched, drilled for a short toughening period, got a few new clothes and two new pairs of shoes. Had my two teeth filled, which put me in first class shape. We stayed in Anza until Jan. 19th when we again boarded train for Los Angeles. I was guard on the train in my coach. Arrived in Los Angeles dock about five, and was one of the first groups to board ship , and we went to the bottom to F-1 deck, a very hot hole. it took the rest of the afternoon to load the ship with soldiers and supplies. We are in very crowded department with canvas beds in decks four men high. About all the beds were filled, the remainder were loaded with barracks bags and other excess equipment. We sailed out in the blue Pacific about 8 AM Jan 20th. We have a large Cavalry outfit bunking with us. It’s getting rather warm now, and we have our breakfast before we sailed in one of two large mess halls. It’s cafeteria style, and very poor food, and after we have sailed for about an hour we were brought on deck for an hour’s airing. We are led in groups everywhere by an officer (except latrine and washroom), and everywhere we go on the ship except while in dock we have to wear life jackets, which only adds to our discomfort. I’m feeling fine for a short time, but finally catch one of the worst colds I ever contracted, which took two weeks to get rid of.
***The sickness was severe colds, sore throats, and ailments from the tremendous heat that we had to endure. There are so many aboard that we are only fed twice a day which makes us very unhappy and hungry. We have breakfast about seven, and then chow about 6:30, the breakfast is so light that we get weak before our next meal. As there are so many of us, we are fed by compartments, so for a while most of us got in the habit of getting in another line and eating twice, until finally it was halted by giving out meal tickets. Our company has been free from most details aboard, a few of the fellows had KP once, but since we had the worst living quarters we got out of KP. We do have a sweeping and latrine detail. What few magazines aboard have been read and exchanged so much that nothing now remains. We have absolutely nothing to do but lie in our bunks and sleep or read, but it’s been so hot to do either. Since our first day aboard, gambling has taken up most of the pastime, we have had one shot so far.
***This week a large number of us became violently sick at once from eating spoiled food, and it took some real doctoring, and lots of castor oil, and cascara to fix us up after about three days of it. Since then the medical doctors really got busy and our food has been lots better since.
***The first week out, all hands were called to battle stations so every sailor ran to his post. Large red balloons were released and about thirty minutes of target practice took place, there were tracer shells in the machine guns so you could see your marksmanship, which turned out to be very good. Since then, at least once a day, a fire or battle drill takes place. By Jan. 24 it really turned for the worse for us. More heat and more sickness. Our quarters were checked, and the officers said that there was sufficient air and moisture to sustain life, that really made us mad, enough to get desperate.
***V-mail envelopes were given out, but it was mostly practicing to write until we could get to a port for mailing. By Jan. 25 we were nearing equator and getting warmer, so we were issued salt tablets which helped us from getting very weak, but still our hungry stomachs kept on. We have fresh water in the wash rooms certain hours of the day, and it crowds the rooms so much, we go almost a week without shaving, drinking water is good, sometimes cold, and rationed very closely. Measles broke out on board, so careless drinking at the water fountain was stopped, no one can get a drink without their canteen, but the measles were soon under control, then we had a few cases of crabs or bugs, break out among the boys.
***Several times alarms have been given to man your battle stations while we were below, the officers close all doors and a feeling of uneasiness comes over us, especially the Negroes become quite frantic. Sailors about ship are very young, but do their jobs well. We find out we are headed for New Zealand. We cross the equator Jan 26th and a great celebration is given aboard for all fellows among the sailors that have never crossed the equator before. They are called pollywogs and are initiated.
2-3-43: Set time back one hour and moved up one day, so it is now the 4th.
2-5-43: Weather has been getting cooler the past few days. Have been able to eat yesterday and today. Had good breakfast this morning (boiled eggs, pineapple, and cereal). Supper tonight consisted of chili beans & rice & potatoes. Set time back another hour which makes 7 hours difference in here and home. It is very windy on deck.
Wellington, New Zealand
2-6-43: Landed in port. Troops got off ship for three hours and hiked through town. Interesting sites after spending 16 days on boat. People very friendly. Ship taking on supplies.
2-7-43: Sunday: Got up at 5 and took fresh water shower and shaved. Took hike again. Saw lots of sailors and soldiers. Got a three pence. Wore sun tans while off ship. Ate some N. Z. ice cream and cheese. Cheese very good.
2-8-43: Went on sick call with sinus cold. Pulled out of harbor about 10:30 this morn. Weather getting colder. Bought half box of candy bars (12 bars).
2-9-43: Cooler weather. British plane following us. Still see land.
2-10-43: Weather const. cool. More comfortable below deck. Tobacco and candy impossible to get. On 15th sight another British plane. On 16th Light cruiser or destroyer leads us.
I suppose that you have received my last letter by this time. I’ll sure be glad when I can get my mail again. It has been a month now since I’ve gotten mail. I suppose when I do get it, there’ll be quite a bunch of it. I’m sorry that conditions are such that I cannot write more often.
We crossed the equator January 26th. I cannot tell you what I’m doing or where I am, but I’m alive and healthy. I often dream of some good old home cooked meals.
One of the favorite pastimes of us farm boys is to talk about the farm. I don’t think there is a one of us that wouldn’t like to be back in the harness again.
I have been playing checkers quite a bit with the boys. I’ve improved my game quite a bit so I’ll be ready to challenge you to a game when I get home again. One of the fellows here had a small checker board that has pegs instead of checkers.
Well, I spent another birthday in the army and it was spent rather quietly.
The news is encouraging here of late. I have hopes of this war being over by the end of this year and we come home again. I thing that a large part of the army will remain overseas after the war. I believe that the farmers will be among the first to be released.
I feel pretty sure that there is going to be a loud cry for good supplies before this war is over. They already predict a shortage for 1943.
I hope everything is going OK back there.
Write whenever you can.
***It was 4:38 PM when we crossed the equator and ever since then we have been retarding (Moving back) our time one hour. There is ten hours difference between here and California time. We have cooler weather after crossing and get in a few good night’s sleep. Again on Feb 3rd our watch is retarded one hour. Also we are moved up one day, so it’s now Feb 4th. Our meals get a little better. Then on Feb 6th we land in the port of Wellington, New Zealand, up to this part of the trip we gave had no escort, except for a couple of days away from the States. It’s great excitement for us to get a glimpse at land, it’s a beautiful sight. Then all of us dress in sun tans to go ashore for four hours. The 7,000 men except those on detail line up in columns of four, and marched through the streets, we are cheered by everyone, we are not allowed to break out of ranks, but we exchange coins, food and treats are brought out to us. The fruit is delicious, quite a difference in their ice cream and candy as sugar is a problem over here, too. All nurses and officers get six-hour leaves, and do we envy them. Beer and soft drinks are brought out to us. Wellington, of course is British, the people are very nice and friendly.
***The town is quite large, built up on steep hillsides, that is just the residential section. Most of the city buildings are braced up with scaffolding. It looked like it might have been bombed, but we found out they had a severe earthquake in 1941. Most of the automobiles are on the midget style, but are American made. All are right hand drives, and as gasoline is another problem many cars and trucks have charcoal burners built on them, all very interesting, lots of the cars are old models, that we ourselves have discarded years ago. We stayed in port two days, long enough to take on oil, also fruit and other food supplies.
***It had taken us 16 days to come from Los Angeles to Wellington, New Zealand.
***Each Sunday we spent on board, they had church services on top deck. Protestant, then Catholic. There were three Protestant and two Catholic priests with us. Mass lasted all day Sunday and every morning through the week. While we were in New Zealand several ships came in and then left again. One ship came in and stayed as long as we were in port. It was a large one stack liner made into a hospital ship painted white with a red cross on the stack, it was loaded with wounded, that did their bit for their country, they filed off in all kinds of disfiguring shapes. We left New Zealand on Feb. 7 at 10:30 AM. The weather got somewhat cooler for a day or so, we were followed for a while by a British plane, then on Feb 10 a light cruiser leads us into dangerous water. The cruiser is Dutch.
2-17-43: Pull into Fremantle, A. about 11. Get off boat for a couple of hours. Grass in park reminds me of home during dry season in August. See several teams of good horses. People friendly toward soldiers.
2-18-43: Get off boat again early today. Unable to obtain anything to eat. Some of the fellows swim during break. Stayed up on deck all afternoon and saw British and Dutch ships come into harbor. Came back on deck after supper.
2-19-43: Got off boat about 4 PM.
2-20-43: Left port about 11 AM accompanied by two ships. Going almost due west.
2-21-43: Playing a lot of pinochle. Set time back again. Just 12 hours difference in time between here and home. When it is midnight here it is noon at home. I seldom go to sleep at night before midnight. Wake up around 7:30.
2-22-43: Dysentery has broken out. Feel OK so far. Started giving out meal tickets for supper tonight because of so many persons eating more than once. We got more to eat and fed quicker since.
2-23-43: Caught dysentery myself not so bad as some of the fellows.
2-24-43: Weather warm. Food isn’t so good. Ocean is rather smooth.
I suppose that you are wondering where I am by now. I wish that I could tell you. Maybe I’ll be able to tell you before long.
At this time I’m allowed to write only one letter. I’ll have to write Dorothy later. (censored paragraph)
Our reserve supply of tobacco is about gone. I suppose we’ll have to quit smoking until we get hold of some.
Money has no value as we have nothing to spend it on. I’m hanging on to mine. Some of the fellows are gambling with theirs.
I hope everything is going OK back home.
Australian/British War Propaganda Poster
***Then on Feb. 17, we pull into Fremantle, Australia, the harbor for Perth ten miles inland. A very large city. We leave the boat for a couple of hours, hiking through the town, cars are the same as in Wellington, saw several beautiful teams of horses drawing wagons also a beautiful seashore and beach. People very curious and friendly, give us candy and drinks. Large part of people are women and many children, there are a few Aussies on leave about town. Town has streetcar line, with old cars that are extinct in our cities. During rest period near sea a large group of the boys take a swim, nest day we also leave the boat for a hike, one fellow brings us bushels of grapes and we exchange more coins. After getting back to ship we see an unusual sight. Several liners enter harbor with soldiers, we recognize as Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth, Aquitania, a four stack vessel, and the New Amsterdam. There are several other cruisers, destroyers, a few submarines, and a crippled liner with a torpedo hole in her side large enough to drive a truck in. The harbor is also full of small boats, and tugs. Left Fremantle about 11 AM Feb 20 exactly one month from the time we left Los Angeles. We leave with two more ships, A cruiser with plane and a destroyer, leaving the other transports behind, we enter the Indian Ocean. All along the way we have seen flying fish, porpoises, one whale, millions of sea gulls,and a strange form of sea life called Portuguese men-of-war. We are getting almost due west and after a few days out, the sea gets rough.
***On Feb. 28 we cross equator for the second time. We are headed for Colombo, Ceylon, and from there some part of India, where we will go farther inland to set up camp, at this point there is 13 1/2 hours difference in time between here and home.
2-28-43: Crossed equator second time. Getting close to Ceylon. Very hot tonight.
3-1-43: Breakfast no good, 2 pieces of wiener and eggs, bread and butter. Already hungry before 11 o’clock. Do not eat again until 6:30–changed escorts this morning as we passed Ceylon. Not many more days to go we hope. there is 13 1/2 hours difference in time between here and home. Finished reading the mystery novel, “The Door” by Marcy Roberts Rhinehart last night.
3-2-43: Breakfast poor and supper poor last night (wieners and sauerkraut). Sighted land and natives in sail boats. Peculiar looking with 2 sails. Could see land far in the distance for a moment in the morning. Quite a few sail boats around on the horizon. Spent a very hot, uncomfortable night last night. Expect to dock tomorrow. Had plenty to eat for supper. Cake all gone before we got there.
3-3-43: Pulled into Bombay [Mumbai] about 1 o’clock. Dropped anchor in harbor. Rather hot here during day. Sun beats right down. Light breakfast but good supper. Officers and nurses go on passes. We’re expecting them tomorrow. End of 43 day voyage. Longest trip undertaken by transport alone. Approximately 15,000 mile voyage.
***Today is March 1st our 40th day of this terrible voyage and I”ve never been the least seasick.
***It only took a few days on deck and a little conversation with the sailors to find out about our ship. It is a huge 28,000 ton liner that had been refitted for a troop ship. There are about 8,000 troops along and a crew of officers and men of 1,200. The ship itself is painted gray, it has two huge stacks, a number of 50 caliber machine guns all over the ship, and several three-inch guns, and other guns of heavier caliber. The ship is one of the largest troop transports the army and navy have, it was built in Trieste, Italy and christened Conte Grande in 1928. It was one of Italy’s prize liners. Mussolini used her to transport troops to Ethiopia in that war a few years back. It was in Brazil at the starting of the war, she and her crew were interned, later Brazil turned her over to the United States in a trade agreement. Since then she has been refitted, overhauled, and has been named the USS Monticello. Our personnel on board consists of Negro engineers, cavalry, medical attachment including nurses, and Ordnance. The E and F compartments are the worst on the ship, the ventilation is very poor, as well as the electric lights,in a very short time the greatest number of soldiers on sick call were on the lower decks E & F.
***Our food is practically all dehydrated, and the taste is strange and not good. We are almost always hungry an hour after each two meals. One fellow has gone AWOL while in New Zealand. Has been picked up and placed in a squad leaving for Guadalcanal. Each night there is black out all over the ship where light might get through, one officer is arrested for lighting a match on deck, eight nurses are placed under arrest the same night for appearing on deck with white blouses after lights out. The passage ways and decks are guarded all through the ship with marines and military police. All local talent has been put together, and several shows were given to us up on top deck. On this date, March 2nd, we have been on our way 41 very tiresome hot days, we have failed to stop at Ceylon[Sri Lanka] and we are not cruising along the coast of India, expecting to land for good in a few days, the entire ship will be unloaded at one port. We are all under a terrible strain wanting to hear from home, we feel as though it’s one big dream, and have been cut completely off from the rest of the world. There has been a great shortage of candy and cigarettes, and something will have to be done in a few days. Here is an idea how much food is needed and the cost. In one evening meal a few nights ago over 2,300 one pound cans of salmon were opened, and one week’s food expense was between $2,300 to $2,600, that’s just an example.
***Today, March 2, within sight of land we are met by a great number of dugouts and a light craft of black natives, very friendly, and a few saluting us.
Editor’s note: I am indebted to Fred for his detailed insights. They were sober reminders of war-time realities–both good and bad. Their circuitious voyage was taken for good reason–to avoid enemy hot spots. Military and society were segregated–wording was left as written.