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Letter from Campbell Buchanan

Read a letter written by Leading Signalman Campbell Buchanan during World War Two in which he includes several of his diary entries.


Will you please keep this letter as I may just happen to lose the Diary I am making.

Still at Sea.

June 11th.

To All at Home,

Dear Mum & Dad,

Just a few lines to give you an outline of the trip. In my other letters I have given you a fair outline but by the time you get this letter I will be in England as in this one I will give you all the dope including the names of the places we have been to so as you can see from a map. And show the kids. ‘Well Mum,  Here Goes.”

We left Auckland on May 1st for Wellington. We had a very exciting trip. All the way down the line we were met by well wishers who wished us goodbye and good luck. We arrived in Wellington on the following day May 2nd, Thursday at 4 a.m.

On arrival in Wellington, the train ran us along side our ship the Aquitania which we boarded immediately. I am in an eight berth cabin, we have our own private bathroom and private conveniences. The Aquitania is a huge ship, the fifth biggest in the world and is the only four funnelled ship afloat at the present time. She has a length of 901 feet and is 46,000 tons, she draws 45 feet of water. Our cabin is a first class De Luxe Cabin. The other seven men in my cabin are Reg Crawford, Doug Scott, Jim Crowe, Jack Kennedy, Ian Kennedy, Ian Doull and Bill Arthur. They are all real good chaps, and so we are all a happy family.

In the morning after breakfast we were all mustered for boat stations. About 10.30 a.m. the Governor General, Viscount Galway, circled the ship in a launch from the H.M.S. Leander. He was cheered by all hands on the ship, especially by the Maoris who sang songs and done Haka’s. The Governor General waved us farewell.

We sailed out of Wellington harbour at 11 o’clock, with the Aquitania leadingthe convoy, followed by Empress of Japan and Empress of Britain. The convoy were escorted by H.M.A.S. Australia and H.M.S. Leander.

Early in the afternoon we sighted Andes carrying the South Island troops. The Andes was escorted by H.M.A.S. Canberra. The convoy then joined up. We joined up into two columns, the first column – Canberra, Empress of Britain, (the commodore) and Andes. In the second column the Australia, Aquitania, and Empress of Japan. The Leander steamed between the two columns. The ships looked just like this.

1                      Canberra                                           1                      Australia

Emp of Britain                                   1                                              1                                  Aquitania

Andes                                                1                                              1                                  Emp of Japan

1 Leander

The food is excellent on board and our quarters are very comfortable. This ship at sea is as steady as a rock.


Sunday May 5th.

We were just off the coast of Australia. Just off Melbourne. I was on watch and looking through a telescope I could make out the faint outline of two ships. As we drew closer these specks became a large ship in fact a great monster. It was the Queen Mary. The Queen Mary is carrying troops from Australia. She looks a marvellous sight. The Queen Mary is 1,018 ft long and is 84,000 tons and draws about fifty foot of water. She looks really a great sight. When the Queen Mary joined us she was escorted by H.M.A.S. Hobart. The convoy formed up again with Queen Mary and Hobart. Just like this:-


1                      Canberra                                                         1                    Australia

1          E. of Britain                       1              Queen Mary

1          Andes                                          1                            Aquitania

1                            Emp of Japan

1          Leander                                                1                   Hobart


Today we had another treat to see Aussie aeroplanes flying overhead. These planes circled around for many hours. The weather today is very fine. The sea is as flat as a mill pond.

About the middle of the afternoon another ship joined the Empress of Canada also carrying Aussie troops. At 3.30 we were just of Wilsons Prometory which is the most southerly point of Australia. On our side we could see Tasmania. The Empress of Canada took up her station astern of Andes. And the convoy looked like this:-


1                Australia                                                                       1                  Canberra

1          Em of Britain                              1                             Queen Mary

1          Andes                                                     1                       Aquitania

1          Em of Canada                                       1                             Em of Japan                           1                            Leander                                                              1                 Hobart

May 7th

This morning is still fine and the sea is very flat. We still have planes flying over head. Just about 10 o’clock another ship joined us, the Muritania also carrying Aussie troops. The Muritania is the sister ship to the Lucatania, and is a pretty big ship.

We have been at sea from N.Z. now for 5 days and are now heading for Freemantle which is on the west coast of Australia.

Friday May 10th

This morning I had the watch from 8 a.m. till 12 noon. I got a great thrill when I went on the bridge to see the ships all doing a speed of 23 knots. Our usual speed is 19 knots. About 8.30 a.m. the H.M.A.S. Adelaide came out from Freemantle and joined us, and at 9.30 a.m. the H.M.A.S. Swan and Garra. The Swan and Garra are the two Australian escort vessels.

We sighted land about 10 o’clock and entered Freemantle harbour. It was a great sight to see the ships all in single line ahead proceeding into harbour. At Freemantle all ships with the exception of Queen Mary and Aquitania were at anchor and refuelled and got a fresh supply of food and water. The Australia passed us about 2 o’clock. When she went past the boys all cheered and the Aussies exchanged them. The airforce planes still circled over our heads and several times they would fly down close to the waterand go wizzing past us from the height of the Aquitania’s  decks we could look down on the planes.

Saturday May 11th

After breakfast today we got changed into our best suits ready for going ashore. At 8.45 a.m. we were all loaded into a small mine sweeper and taken ashore. We arrived ashore in Freemantle at 10 o’clock and immediately caught a bus up to Perth, as Freemantle is just a small place like Port from Dunedin. In this case Perth is the Dunedin. It is only a matter of about three quarters of an hour by bus from Freemantle to Perth.

We had a pretty good time there, as I have said in my other letter so I will not bother describing it again. In Perth I sent you a telegram, I hope you got it. We returned to the wharves at 9.30 p.m. and the mine sweeper took us back to the Aquitania. And so endith our trip to Australia.

Sunday May 12th

The weather today is just as fine as usual.

At 12 o’clock I had just gone on watch, as the convoy was weighing anchor to leave Freemantle. The ships went out in single line, with Empress of Britain leading followed by Queen Mary, Mauritania, Aquitania, Andes, Empress of Japan and Empress of Canada. We had five warships with us when we left. After about 10 hours cruising from Freemantle, two of the ships left us and we were left with the ships as before. Just the same as we left N.Z. and in the same formation.

We are now headed for Colombo, and then for Suez.

May 14th

Today the weather has taken a change and it is pretty cold. About five o’clock today we had a very bad mishap as one of the men on board the Empress of Japan fell overboard. When the Signal was hoisted, the Leander who was about five miles ahead, turned immediately and came racing back at a great  speed of about 30 knots. She just flew past us, and looked a great sight to see her going flat out and kicking out a great spray. This man unfortunately was not saved. We had a great experience today to see the flying fish. They looked really a great sight. These flying fish are about 9 inches long but we have seen some pretty big ones. They are a silver colour and glide through the air for about 50 yards then land in the water with a splash.

May 17th

Today we had another mishap as another man fell overboard, this time from the Canada. This man was saved.

May 18th

Today we are now in the real hot climate getting near the line, on our way to Colombo. Everything is going well when all of a sudden the whole convoy changes course and turns right around and instead of heading for Colombo we are heading for Capetown. What for no one knows. The signal was made by the Canberra and that’s all we know. Today we were supplied with gas masks and tin helmets.

May 20th

Today at 4 o’clock we were all mustered on the boat deck, to cheer the Canberra as she came past. The Canberra is on her way back to Australia. The Leander left us a couple of days ago. Just as the Canberra left another cruiser joined us. The Shropshire, one of the Mediterranian ships exactly the same class and type and size as the Australia.

Sunday May 26th

Day break found us formed in single line again for going into Capetown Harbour. As we dropped anchor we could see the faint outline of the Capetown table mountain. The table mountain looked really a great sight with a blanket of white cloud just hanging over the top of the table. This cloud is known as the tablecloth. Capetown is a queer looking place, in the back ground it is all mountains and the city looks as if it is just stuck on the side of the mountain.

All the ships but Queen Mary and Acquitania berthed.

May 28th

At 3 a.m. the Shropshire, Queen Mary and Acquitania left Capetown and went back around the coast to Simonstown. So as they could refuel and provisions. On arrival at Simnonstown we met another Med cruiser the Cumberland. It was from Simonstown that we got leave, and had all our fun in lorries and buses while going to Capetown.

Friday May 31st

At 8 o’clock the ships all weighed anchor and left Simonstown, also the Cumberland who is now one of our escorts.

We had been under way about 6 hours when we could see on the horizon the outline of the rest of the convoy coming from Capetown. The ships all joined up late in the afternoon. The Empress of Japan is not with us now as she has burst a boiler and cannot maintain the speed of the convoy. All her troops have been transferred to the other ships. About 6 p.m. the Australia left us.

Saturday June 1st

The weather is now getting terribly hot as we are nearing the equator. Our course is now heading us for Sierra Leone, which is about three quarters the way up the African coast, and is just 8 deg north of the line.

These are the temperatures for our days in the tropics.

May 2nd at noon 84.5 deg

May 4th at noon 83.4 deg

May 5th at noon 91.2 deg

May 6th at noon 97.3 deg

May 8th at noon 94 deg

May 9th at noon 98.5 deg

May 10th at noon 99.2 deg

May 11th at noon 91.3 deg

All the temperatures were taken in the shade.

We had quite a lot of fun in Sierra Leone with the natives. We did not go ashore. The boys were throwing  money and the natives were diving for it.

Saturday June 8th

Another day of heat. It is something damnable.

At 10 o’clock the Aquitania  weighed anchor and proceded out of the harbour with the full tide.

Just at 6 p.m. I was going on watch. I could see the rest of the convoy coming out of the harbour. At 6.30 p.m. the ships joined up again and proceeded on their way.

June 9th

The following morning I went up on deck. I saw to see a great sight to see an aircraft carrier the Hermes. The Hermes was in harbour in Sierra Leone. She is also one of the Med aircraft carriers, carrying forty eight bombers. These planes fly over the ship all day, they carry eight bombs each and look as if they could do a lot of damage.

Sierra Leone is a great place for shipping. I have never seen so many ships in one harbour at a time in all my life. There were only about 70 ships there. All these ships are very big all about 13,000 tons. This place Sierra Leone is also a Naval contraband station and is also an army station.

In the morning, 40 of the merchant ships left the harbour and formed up in a convoy formation, and they looked really a great sight.

We had a great time in Sierra Leone with the natives. They would bring fruit out in their canoes and the boys were buying it off them.

We left Sierra Leone on June 8th and were at sea for 6 days.

On the 14th we picked up another escort of 9 destroyers, 1 aircraft carrier and the H.M.S. Hood so with the 3 cruisers we had before we have plenty of protection.

June 15th.

The weather today is pretty cold as we have a damp fog hanging over us. At 10.30 this morning I was just strolling along the deck when I saw a mad rush to the ships side. On arrival at the rail I saw a great heap of wreckage and sorry to say that it is the wreckage of the Sussex. The Sussex is the N.Z. Shipping Co. ship. All that remains is bits of wood and part of her decking and cargo.

At 1.30 this afternoon we saw another ship this time an oil tanker she was on fire. She had stopped a bomb from a plane.

At 2 o’clock today we had a tight squeeze ourselves as a torpedo shot between our ship and the ship ahead. The shot was fired at one of our cruisers and missed, at least they saw it coming and dodged it. And so it missed. It was a great sight to see our guns crew go into action. When they were all at action stations, one of the Petty Officers brought out a roll of toilet paper and gave all the guns crew a piece. ‘I think they would need it” So now we know what a torpedo looks like. “Says Me”

And again at 3.50 p.m. we had another torpedo thrown at us but still they missed. This time it was fired at one of the cruisers.

At 6 o’clock the Queen Mary dropped a depth charge which exploded under us and damn near blew the bottom out of our ship. We were just lucky that the charge was not set for any depth or else we would have gone up in bits. ‘But why worry, because we didn’t”.

At  9.50 p.m. that night we had another one of these darn torpedoes chucked at us but still they missed. ‘Bad shooting, don’t you think”.

Well after all this fun we still have our chins up out of the water. In fact well clear of the water line, so keep your chins up.

June 16th

Well today at 6.30 a.m. and all was peace and quiet. At about 9 a.m. we got the first glimpse of the Irish Coast and on the other side of us was Scotland. As we steamed up the coast we are drawing near to the Clyde. At  about 11 a.m. we entered the Clyde and so on to Grennoch.

All the ships were formed into one long line and proceeded in to the Basin.

And so Mum my wish has come true. The one about going to Grennoch and seeing them all over here.

The day we arrived here I got a letter from Grannie and she is just waiting to see me. She said that she wished you were all here so that she could see us all.

At five o’clock we were all loaded into a big tug and were taken ashore. That is all the naval draft. On arrival ashore we got on the train and went straight to our barracks. I am at the Chatham Naval Barracks. There is 60 of us N.Z. Draft here. The rest are at Portsmouth or Devonport.


We have been told that there is no Air Mail for N.Z. now so I will have to send all my mail by boat.

Well Mum that is the whole trip in a nut shell.

I don’t think there is anything more to say about the trip. Well just now I don’t think of any but if I do I will say in my next letter.