Tales of a "Vindi Boy", Part One:
Karachi Rescue



Welcome to the homepage of former British Merchant Navy Sailor, Dennis M. Crosby. In May 1944, at the age of sixteen, Dennis became a "Vindi Boy" when he began his merchant seaman studies aboard the well-known British training ship, the TS Vindicatrix.

TS Vindicatrix
This photo of TS Vindicatrix is from Gloucester Docks and the Sharpness Canal: Past and Present . To visit the site's Vindicatrix page, Please Click Here.

In the following story, Dennis writes about his experiences aboard the SS Samlorian, his first ship after graduation from "Vindi". Like all the other British merchant ships which were given the prefix "SAM", Samlorian was an American-built Liberty Ship which had been transferred to Britain. The "A.B." mentioned in Dennis' story stands for "Able-Seaman", and is the next level up from an "Ordinary Seaman" or "O.S.". A Third Mate is a Third Officer. "Newfie" was a nickname for someone from Newfoundland, a British colony which became part of Canada in 1949. The Anglo-Indian Fourteenth Army fought a gruelling and costly campaign against the Japanese in the jungles of Burma (now Myanmar). (Please Click Here for Map). The city of Karachi which was a vital sea-port and supply center for the Fourteenth Army, is now in Pakistan. The cities of Bombay and Calcutta are now known as Mumbai and Kolkata, respectively, and the country of Malaya has been renamed Malaysia. (Please Click Here for Map). Dennis begins his Homepage with a FOREWORD in which he tells the intriguing story of just how he became a Merchant Seaman.


by Dennis M. Crosby

Dennis M. Crosby
Dennis M. Crosby
It may be of interest to you to know the reason why I chose to become a Merchant Seaman at the tender age of 16 years. I was born and lived in Northern Manchester, in a suburb named Higher Blackley. I finished school at the age of 14 yrs and my first employment was as an Office Boy, working in the office of the Chief Engineer of all of A.V.Roe who were at that time building the twin engine Manchester bomber, which later developed into the Lancaster bomber. After approximately 6 months, I became bored with my work and decided to become an Apprentice Electrician, working for a Company in Rochdale, Lancashire. One day in February 1944, I met a former class mate, Garnet Bostock -- his birthday was just 6 days prior to my own. At the time of our meeting, he was wearing a uniform and when I asked, he told me that he was a Steward on a Merchant ship and had just returned from his second trip aboard a tanker, the s/s Athel Duke. He informed me that he had attended a 10 week course at T.S. Vindicatrix in Gloustershire. I obtained the address of this establishment from him and wrote away for the necessary application forms. Prior to this time. I had wanted to join the Royal Navy as a Boy Seaman, which entailed signing for a 20 year stint. My Parents would not entertain even the thought of such. I then one day noticed in the daily newspaper that the British army were forming a new Regiment, the Mechanical & Electrical Engineers. They had a scheme whereby they would accept young men of 16 years as apprentices. Upon my expressing my desire to join, once again my Parents would not even consider my joining. Needless to say, this lack of understanding brought about a considerable amount of animosity between myself and my Parents.

Upon reflection today, wonder why they did not simply paddle my backside! I must have brought about a certain amount of unhappiness to my Parents at that time. Naturally, as their eldest Son, they not only were concerned for my wellbeing but had no desire to see their Son go off to war, well before he was required to do so! However, wanting to become an active part of the war, I began to achieve my aims by sulking! I would come home each day from my work, but only speak if I was spoken to. I showed my respect to my Parents but it was very obvious that I was not very happy. Finally, my Grandmother, who had lost her only Son in the First Great War, told my Parents, "If he is so unhappy, then let him go!" After some time, they finally agreed! I had in the meantime made application to perhaps be accepted as a Junior Engineer, however was turned down because my Electrical experience was not enough to satisfy the requirements. After applying for the necessary forms which my Parents finally signed, I was accepted into the Sea School, T.S. Vindicatrix.

I departed Manchester by rail on the morning of 8th May 1944, finally arriving at Sharpness docks at 5 pm. A bus awaited us at the station and approximately 80 to 100 young boys were driven to the Vindicatrix camp. After all of the necessary paperwork, we were housed into several newly built huts, perhaps 25 to a hut. We were all strangers and I made friends with a young fellow who had arrived from London where he had been driving a taxi. We were informed that we had three days to accept our new mode of life. If we did not wish to continue, we could just quit and go home again. However, after 3 days, this option was no longer in effect. My new found friend decided after three days that nothing was up to his expectation, and so he quit!! To be perfectly honest, I too found conditions not to be up to my expectations. However, there was absolutely no way that I could quit and return to my home after being such a pain in the backside and causing so much misery to my parents to obtain my wishes. It was simply a case of "Grin and bear it"! After a month of living in the huts and marching each morning down to where the ship, Vindicatrix was moored, our intake was eventually moved onto the vessel itself.

Vindicatrix was an old hulk, from days of yore and devoid entirely of any forms of comfort. The bed deck was formed of probably 100 to 150 bunks, the two classes of trainees being Catering (Stewards, Galleyboys) and Deck (Junior Ordinary Seaman, Deck Boys). I being in the Deck Dept was formed into one of the watches. I particularly remember being wakened at 3:45 am by the light of an oil-lamp for my 4-8 watch. The fellow who woke me placed the lamp upon the deck to allow me to dress. When I looked, the whole deck was absolutely alive with thousands of cockroaches! Upon me arriving at my post by the gangway, I looked across to Sharpness docks to find it to be completely empty!! The evening before, it had been crammed with vessels. Later, about 6am, the radio announced that D-day had arrived! All of those ships had left to become a part of the Invasion. Twenty days later I became 17 years of age and at the end of June finished my course at the Vindicatrix and returned to my home in Manchester. In spite of my Parents trying so very hard to prevent me entering into the war, it was very obvious that they were extremely proud also.


by Dennis M. Crosby

Dennis Crosby, age 16
Dennis M. Crosby, age 16

My first ship after leaving T.S. Vindicatrix, was a brand new Liberty ship, the Samlorian, which I joined in Manchester in July 1944. After sailing in convoys to many different places we were in Karachi, India for the third time in April 1945. We had then been away for eight months. My friend on the ship was Stuart, also from Manchester. We had been in the same intake on the "Vindi".

This particular evening, we went ashore to see a movie. While walking through the dock gate to return to the ship later, the cook and one of the A.B.s were also returning from a night drinking. They were both pretty tipsy and arguing with each other. As we neared the berth where the ship was tied up, the cook suddenly pushed the A.B. -- a "Newfie" -- and he fell off the dock and into the water. The cook stood there in stitches laughing, but the poor fellow in the water was spluttering and thrashing. He went under the water twice and it appeared that he was going to drown. I was eighteen years at the time -- nobody else appeared to be considering helping this guy and so I jumped in and grabbed a hold of him.

By this time a crowd of Indian dock workers appeared on the quay and threw a line to me.
Map of North Indian Ocean
The Newfie was probably fifty to sixty pounds heavier than I and it was quite difficult to keep him afloat. Eventually they lowered a cargo hook from one of the cranes and I attempted to put my arms around the Newfie and lock them onto the cargo hook, but when the crane lifted us both out of the water, I just could not hold his weight. We tried several times without any success and so I took the rope and tied it around him, hooking it onto the cargo hook. This worked, and we were both taken out of the water. Would you believe it, this guy never even thanked me the next morning! The Third Mate who was on watch at the time, gave me a pat on the back.

After Karachi, our next port was Bombay, where we spent a week offloading various wartime cargo. On the Sunday, my shipmate Stuart and I decided to make our way to a place named Breach Candy, where there was a large
Dennis in his Pith Helmet
Dennis wearing his pith helmet. The photo was taken at Calcutta in September 1944.
swimming pool set amongst palm trees and was a favourite with troops stationed in Bombay. On our arrival there we began to disrobe, placing our clothes on the benches provided underneath the palm trees. I had recently purchased a sun hat (pith helmet} and for some unknown reason, had not yet removed it. Whilst undressing, there suddenly was a loud rustling sound and my next recollection was me lying on the ground with a large crowd of people around me! It appeared that as I undressed, one of the palm branches had broken off the trunk and fallen down with the thick end which connects to the trunk hitting me squarely upon the head, completely stunning me. Had I already removed the sun hat, who knows how badly I would have been injured? Needless to say, I immediately lost my enthusiasm for entering the swimming pool for that day and suffered a painful headache instead.

The following day, the ship sailed bound for Calcutta, about a 10 day journey away. After about 5 days I began suffering from very severe ear aches, perhaps related to the palm frond incident -- I never did find out. Upon arrival in Calcutta I was sent to the University Hospital there to have my ear examined and was given a penicillin injection, this being a fairly new drug at the time. After being given the injection, I was instructed to go and sit quietly in a waiting room for 10 minutes before departing. My Friend Stuart was waiting for me across the street outside and I considered myself to be O.K. to leave. Wrong! As I walked across the busy street, I suddenly blacked out and the next I knew was that a crowd of jabbering Indian people were all gathered around me. However, nobody offered to help me up from the ground! I managed to rise and stagger across the street to Stuart. Thinking back now, many years later, I expect that I was thought to be perhaps intoxicated? Who knows?

After discharging in Calcutta, we sailed to the port of Mormugao, Goa which at that period of time was a Portugese Territory in India. The interesting thing about Mormugao was that lying in the centre of the harbour were three
Dennis, Stuart and Henry aboard the Samlorian
Three good mates aboard SS Samlorian Left to Right: Dennis, Stuart and Henry.
German merchant ships. They had been in harbour at the outbreak of war in 1939 and with Goa being a neutral country, they had stayed there seeking sanctuary. In 1943 a German U-boat had been very active in the Bay of Bengal sinking many allied merchant vessels and the British authorities had concluded that information was being transmitted from one of the interned vessels directly to the U-boat. A scheme was devised for a party of elderly ex servicemen to sail from Calcutta and destroy the ships, or at least put them out of action -- which they apparently managed successfully. A book was later written about the incident, titled "The Calcutta Light Cavalry" and much later still, a movie titled "Sea Wolves" with Gregory Peck and Roger Moore. When we were there this incident had occured about a year previously, but the three vessels were resting on the floor of the harbour and it would have been interesting to have boarded them. However, at this time, we were not aware of the reason for their being there, thinking that maybe they had scuttled themselves.

During our time at Mormugao, maybe a week, it was my turn to be Night Watchman, 7pm-7am.
Dennis' friend Henry Dennis' friend Henry
This was kind of like being the ship's policeman, checking anyone coming on board and checking mooring lines. It was a lonely job with not too much to do, but one was required to stay alert and move about the ship. I remember one evening sitting on the cargo hatch -- it was hot and I suddenly felt something crawling up my back. When I jumped off onto the deck, I realized that there were hundreds of very large beetles crawling all over the place. When I looked over the side of the ship down onto the quay, I saw that the whole dockside was alive with all of these creatures, thousands of them! Later, towards midnight, the crew who had gone ashore, returned in several taxis. What a sight to see! They were mostly intoxicated and had been in a fight in some saloon. The police had been summoned and most of the crew had been severely beaten with bamboo poles. They certainly were a sorry looking lot! The Chief Steward had both arms in splints, likewise the Cook. Several men had bandages wound around their heads and arms. Seeing the plight of these men made my job of Night Watchman very much more appealing, believe me.

After sailing from Mormagoa, we sailed South to the island of Mauritius, and the city of Port Louis.
Map of South Indian Ocean
We had a full cargo of gunny sacks, Mauritius being a large exporter of sugar. Altogether we remained there for a month. One Sunday morning, a party of elderly ladies came to our ship with a bus,loaded a party of us from the ship and took us to the other side of the island to a place named "The Blue Lagoon". This was one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen in my whole life! Its long stretch of beautiful white sand fringed with waving palm trees and a gentle surf was absolute paradise. I often cast my mind back to that day and wonder if it is still there today in its magnificence, or is there perhaps now a large modern day hotel catering to the whims of vacationers?

Our cargo was destined for Durban, South Africa, perhaps a week's sailing from Mauritius. Durban was a really beautiful port and our stay there was a wonderful experience before loading and heading North to a port in Sudan.
Dennis and Stuart in Rickshaw 
at Durban Stuart and Dennis at Durban enjoying a ride in a Zulu rickshaw.
and then it was once more back again to Bombay with the intention of fitting out the vessel in preparation for the upcoming invasion of Japanese occupied territories. By then, the war in Europe had finished, but there seemed to be no end in sight for the war with Japan. We set off with the very first convoy destined for enemy-occupied Malaya, but during this time, fortunately, Japan surrendered and the war finally came to an end.

With the war over, we next sailed to Madras where it was my turn to become Night Watchman again. We were loading cargo for Singapore when at about 3:00 am I became quite ill with stomach pains. The next day a doctor was brought on board to examine me and he decided that I should be taken into the hospital. So I was "Paid Off" and the ship sailed without me -- this after I had been on board her for sixteen months!

While I was in hospital, in the next bed to mine, was a young ship's apprentice. He had fallen into the water in Karachi and had been attacked by jellyfish. Several fingers on one of his hands
Cunard Liner 
SS  Scythia
This photo from Neil McCart's Atlantic Liners of the Cunard Line From 1884 to the Present Day, published by Patrick Stephens in 1990, shows the Cunard Line's 19,730-ton Scythia as she looked in "Admiralty Grey". After her war service ended, Scythia brought over 11,000 European refugees to Canada.
had been amputated and his hand was completely deformed from the jellyfish bites. His story really gave me cause to think about my own adventure at Karachi -- what if there had been jellyfish in the water when I jumped in for the Newfie?? I might have been sorry for the rest of my life!! After spending sixteen days in that hospital, I was collected by the ship's agent and placed upon a train which took three days to cross from Madras to Bombay. I was then placed upon a troopship SCYTHIA which was returning the Fourteenth Army guys home. We arrived in Liverpool on the 19th of December 1945. The Samlorian eventually arrived back in the U.K. in March 1946.


Tales of a "Vindi Boy" is continued in Part Two: Ghost Ship


Dennis' pages are maintained by Maureen Venzi and they are part of the Allied Merchant Navy of WWII website.