Rescued from North African Internment Camp - Burnley Boys Home after great ordeal



Rescued from North African Internment Camp - Burnley Boys Home after great ordeal


Account of release of two Burnely men (Ordinay Seaman G Taylor and Marine C Latham) amongst French North Africa nternees freed by American Forces. Both had been aboard HMS Manchester which was torpedoed in Mediterranean on August 13th. Tells of battle on convoy, incarceration in "Beau Geste" fort and conditions. Notes others released including Sergeant Observer J Douglas Hudson arrived home.




One newspaper cutting


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RELEASED from interment in French North Africa by the recent invasion by American and British forces, several local men have arrived home this week and been joyfully welcomed by their families.
Among them are Marine George Latham, 40, Travis-street, Burnley, and Ordinary Seaman George Taylor 30, Grasmere-street.
Both were on board H.M. Cruiser “Manchester”, which was torpedoed in the Mediterranean on August 13th, while escorting a Malta convoy. The crew most of whom were uninjured, reached the North African coast, and were interned in a combatants’ camp in the Sahara, where for three months they suffered privations from overcrowding, bad sanitation and insufficient food.
Marine Latham reached home yesterday wearing a pair of shorts, a shirt and an Army greatcoat. O.S. Taylor arrived in Burnley on Wednesday, in good time to celebrate his 20th birthday yesterday.
In interviews with an “Express” reporter, both men paid sincere tribute to the work of the Red Cross, though the parcels were generally rifled before the men got them.
“We would all have been invalids but for the parcels”, said O.S. Taylor. Though their homes are only a few minutes’ walk apart, the men had never met until they were informed in letters from home that they were in the same camp.
Fully recovered from his double ordeal of the Mediterranean convoy battle and later the terrible conditions prevailing in the internment camp at Laghouat, O.S. Taylor told an “Express’ reporter his amazing story.
“The Manchester’ was part of the escort for a big convoy for Malta,” he said, “and we had a terrible fight in the Mediterranean. I was on desk loading our gun for most of the time and I had a marvellous view of everything, including the sinking of the aircraft carrier ‘Eagle,’ which went down in about 15 minutes.
“We were attacked by ‘planes from about dinner-time one day until dusk, and had some remarkable escapes. We gave as good as we got though, and a lot of ‘planes were shot down. We got some sleep that night, but a dawn it all began again. Bombers, dive-bombers and torpedo-carrying ‘planes of all kinds came over. and there were sub-marines about too. One actually surfaced quite near, and we opened up on her. I believe we hit her too.
“In the Straits of Pantelleria the E-boats attacked us. We sank several by gunfire, but one of them got us with a torpedo, and we got orders to abandon ship. We were only about five miles from the shore then. I got into a Carley float, and just as dawn broke we were spotted by a French ship which took us in tow.
“We were jolly glad to get on dry land,” continued O.S. Taylor. “The local population received us in a friendly way and gave us fruit. We thought our troubles were over. Then we were all collected together and put on the train and spent about a week travelling across Tunisia and Algeria. Finally we got to a terminus of some kind and were transferred to motor ‘buses for the last stage of the journey to Laghouat, which is well inside the Sahara.
The actual camp is like the fort in ‘Beau Geste’ more of a fortified town than anything. It was already crowded when we arrived. The crew of the ‘Havoc’ were there and a lot of R.A.F. chaps too. Some of them had been there two years, ever since France capitulated.
“Conditions generally were terrible. We slept 48 in a room designed for 24 native troops. There was a water supply only a short time each day, and the heat and the flies make life unbearable. It was a good job we had our surgeon-commander and a few sick berth fellows with us, as there was a lot of illness of various kinds. Two fellows died during the three months we were there. We couldn’t keep clean, for one thing, as we had no soap.
“The grub was terrible, mostly macaroni and a kind of bread which tasted as bad as it looked. Our sardine ration worked out at one sardine per man every 10 days. We were given wine to drink, potent stuff it was too, but not very pleasant to the taste.
“Things got gradually worse, and for eight weeks there were no cigarettes at all. Previously we had missed a lot of cigarettes altogether. Finally we mutinied and refused to parade for counting. This had the desired effect, and there was some improvement afterwards.”
“We had to amuse ourselves as best we could during the day,” said O.S. Taylor. “A ‘university’ was started, and I attended for mathematics and English. There were also some splendid lectures by various officers, particularly by one who served in the French Foreign Legion. Some of the fellows also got up a pantomime, which was as good as anything I have ever seen.”
Describing the scene when the news of the invasion came through on the wireless, O.S. Taylor said that it was on a Sunday morning when they heard a sudden yell from a group of lads who were listening to the wireless. When it was finally established that the news was authentic, everyone went mad and there was “some fun with the guards.” Red Cross parcels appeared, and there was general rejoicing. On the following Thursday they were all sent to Algiers and put on board a liner. reaching Scotland with incident. Everyone was granted a month’s leave, which is expected to be extended over Christmas.
Marine Latham, who had been torpedoed previously, and spent 9 1/2 hours on a raft before a small French vessel picked them up, was formerly employed at Ormerod Whitaker’s Oak Bank Mill. He joined the Royal Marines three years ago as a musician. He is well-known in local dance band circles as a trumpeter.
Whilst on active service he was attached to the fire control squad, and when the order to abandon ship was given he assisted in the work of lowering rafts and boats before jumping overboard, and with another member of the crew clambering aboard a spare raft.
As a souvenir of his adventure he has brought home a knife he made out of a piece of his iron bed. This was to cut the bread with which they were issue in Laghouat.
Marine Latham has been granted six weeks’ leave, four for overseas service and two for survivors’ leave.
Sergt. Observer J. Douglas Hudson, whose parents live at 191, Halifax road, Nelson, has also arrived home after spending two years in a Moroccan prison camp.
Able Seaman Arthur Turner (24), 137, Waids House-road, Nelson, another internee in Morocco, is expected home shortly. He has been torpedoed on three occasions.
Junior Third Officer Ellis (21), so of Mr. and Mrs. John Ellis, 15, Meredith-street, Nelson, was interned on October 23rd in Morocco, but his parents have had no communication from him since.
Another local man who it is hoped will arrive home shortly is Mr. W H. Clemence, 18, Wood-street, Brierfield of the Merchant Navy. Before being called up he was employed in a mill at Harle Syke.
News is awaited of Flight Sergt. Observer John Walsh, one of the three serving sons of Mr. and Mrs. Walsh, 14, Brockenhurst-street, Burnley, Flight Sergt. Walsh was interned at Mediouna, near Casablanca, after his Beaufigher of Coastal Command was shot down. According to one report, internees from Mediouna were taken on board United States vessels, but no further details have been forthcoming.





“Rescued from North African Internment Camp - Burnley Boys Home after great ordeal,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed December 1, 2023,

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