MESS DECK 7 LOWER by Peter Rolls

In 1950, I finished my National Service in Singapore (22063457 Clerk RAOC III).  Someone had given me a diary for Christmas and I kept a record of the journey home.

This extract – word-for-word, dot-for-dot – covers my first five days on the troopship Devonshire.  Together with 1,500 others, I was ‘Blighty-bound’, but there is no philosophising here; nothing of the brave new world.  Life at the time apparently had other priorities.

Reading this 62 years later, I travel in time and nod to my younger self.  Is it all true?  More or less, we think.


9 Mar 9 months Singapore.  

Up 6.30.  Handed bedding in to QM.  9.30 Moved off to dock – arr. 10.00  Mess Deck 7 Lower.  Mess 117 (12 men) Stagg, Short, Marrow, Scorger, Stock & 6 RMPs (inc a Cpl) Mess Orderly for today.  Lunch horrible.  Met Parker, Ruby, Calder! Pike!! Coggan! Sailed at 5.00 (much rejoicing) Horrible headache.  Tea – grim.  Tea, biscuits, 4d (English money at last) Read etc.  Bed 9.00  Wrestled with hammock.  Fair night’s sleep (only fell down once) – cramped though.  Mess Orderly every 5 days.

10  Malacca Straits 100E 255 miles (19 hrs) 13.9 knots.

Up 5.50.  Vast queues for wash house.  Land on starboard, last sight of Malaya.  Breakfast Shredded Wheat! Milk! Bread, butter! (also fish).  Ship’s inspection.  Harebrained Troop deck officer.  Shaving soap 6d.  Ginger beer 12.30 7d.  Sweets 10d 2 photos of Devonshire 1/-6d deposit on ‘Confidential Agent‘  Lent Smith 2/6  Handed in Pay Book.  Headache persevering.  Saw porposies, flying fish.  Film Show ‘Illegal Entry’. Clocks back 1/2 hour.

11  N.Sumatra 95E 314m (1006 to Colombo)

Up 5.50.  Land on port – Sumatra. – passed Pula Brasse at approx 2.00.  Malacca and Bengal Passages 3-4.00 – lost sight of land.  Read etc  Excruciating boredom.  Ginger beer 7d  Leigh borrowed 2/-  Pay due Monday.  Sea very calm all day.  Most picturesque islands – vast mountains – well above clouds  Smith pb 2/6  Clocks back 1/2 hour

12 Sun  Indian Ocean 89E 350m (C’bo 685) 14.5 knots

Up 6.00 Bacon & egg for breakfast.  No inspection.  Large kit bag in hold.  Very calm all day.  Bought ‘Andrews’ 1/-  Card 1-4  Played cards all afternoon.  S borr 10.  Wrote letter home  S pb 12/6 – all sq.

13  Indian Ocean 84E 354 m! (Cbo 302)

Up 6.00  PT at 10.00 – complete shambles – no-one turned up.  Signed leave passes for C’bo.  Sweets 10d  Choc 5d  Drew pay £1  H pb 5/-  Ice cream 3d  Gave in 15/- for conversion to Rs  Speed very promising, if this keeps up we shall dock on 3rd.


We arrived in Liverpool late on April 5 and were demobilised in Aldershot the next day.  I think they were keen to see the back of us.  The diary ends:

Paid £5.30  Special train at 7.00, W’loo 8.15  Baker St 9.08  Aylesbury 9.40 ‘Leader’ magazine, ‘Punch‘ 1/-  Tube 4d  Telephone 8d


Reading these entries now, it is as though I am just back from a lost world.

Lost, but not forgotten.

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