Herbert O'Hara diary and account of Atlantic crossing in 1941



Herbert O'Hara diary and account of Atlantic crossing in 1941


Lambeth notebook with daily diary covering 25 to 30 June 1941 during journey from Iceland towards Canada on HMS Ranpura. Followed by account crossing from Greenock, Scotland to Iceland on ship Royal Ulsterman, stopover in Iceland, journey on HMS Ranpura to Halifax, Canada. Ends with journey via Toronto, Detroit to Lakeland.




Temporal Coverage



Notebook with 15 handwritten paages


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The Lambeth Exercise Book
3 pence

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[centred] S.S. Ranpura [/centred]
Wednesday 25-6-41
Informed midday that was, with the [one indecipherable word] of Wilde’s[?] Own[?], on the posting list for tonight (116). There was great rejoicing in the camp at the thought of leaving Helgafell and its washing in a mountain stream, its mad CO and its’ Maconichies.

We went out to Rejavack[?] [Reykjavik] in army lorries with a rain storm beating down on us all the way. A tender took us out to a large one funneled[sic] boat that lay in the harbour, and boarded her about 8.30 p.m. After quite a decent meal and a stroll over the ship went to bed on a mattress instead of just plain boards or a devil made hammock like the Royal Ulsterman, or the tent boards at Winslow. It did not require any persuasion to sleep.

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On High Seas.
The ship left at 03.30 hours so I am told, but we didn’t wake till we were well at sea. The sea was perfectly calm and we all settled down to enjoy our journey. Apart from a lonely cargo boat passed in the morning we never saw any other boats until we joined the convoy we were to escort at 1600 hrs.

Gained some information about our boat seems she had two other sister ships Rawlopindi[?] and Rajputna[?] both of which are now in Davy Jones locker.

Took a book out of the ships[sic] library – “the Three Englishmen” by G. Frankan[?], for there seems little to do except eat sleep and stroll around the decks. We had our usual boat drill in the morning.

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On High Seas.

The convoy still with us, but the weather very misty early morning. Skies cleared after 7 and the RAF attended morning prayers with the ships[sic] company.

It amused me the way we were supposed to be the escort vessel to the convoy, but from the way the convoy bunched around us they seemed to be escorting us.

In the evening attended a cinema show – a whole 5c. admission and saw “Stanley & Dr. Livingstone”. I hadn’t seen it before and quite enjoyed a talkie after an interval of nearly a month.

Took a book out of the library but it proved a bit too “Yankee” for my English mind.

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Still on High Seas.

Sea slightly choppy but doesn’t effect[sic] our 16,000 tonnes like it would the 3,450[?] “Royal Ulsterman”.

Took out Hugh Walpoles[sic] “Man with Red Hair” – don’t like his style. Spent the evening in the recreation room trying hard to concentrate [deleted] one indecipherable word [/deleted] on Hugh W. in between intervals of listening to people vamping the piano & watching table tennis. Rather surprised the member of Sub lieuts who favour the men’s recreation room to their own mess, wonder if they like the atmosphere, or is it because they want to get away from our charming RAF officers who are accompanying us.

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As today was Sunday we went to church service. The Padre was a lieut-commander who conducted the service as if he was checking the [deleted] ships company [/deleted] various dials of the engine room. The Commander (or [one indecipherable word] as the RN call them) read the Sermon.

Read Spanish Pistol by A.C. Macdonald and other short stories – quite good.

Still going a steady 9 knots – keeping pace with the slowest ship in the convoy – with luck should be in port on Thursday or Friday next week.

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Mid Atlantic

Actually had an inspection by the wing commander who brightly told me to sew up the split under the arm in my jacket when my [one indecipherable word] was way down in the luggage room.

A petty officer told us that we were now in the region of icebergs & may be lucky enough to see one – I hope so – but not too near.

Read A. G. Macdonalds [sic] England their England – easily one of the funniest books have read for quite a while.

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At this point got tired of waiting as nothing fresh seemed to happen so decided to make a brief précis of the journey and save putting dittos after each entry.

After this will write various impressions of things that struck me as might be of interest to the folks at home.

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From Greenock, Scotland to Hellgafell Iceland and thence to Halifax, Canada took just over a fortnight, but what a fortnight.

The short 3 day trip to Iceland in the 8500 ton Royal Ulsterman was hardly a comfortable one since 600 men were packed like the proverbial sardines in a can, amongst kit and luggage in the hold. Whenever any of the troops speak of the boat they always call it the “Altmark” after the famous German prison ship. Apart from an evening’s fatigue peeling “spuds” the voyage was free from toil or trouble and hence at moments became deadly monotonous.

If at Scarborough I had been told that I was shortly going to spend any of my fore[?] score and ten in Iceland

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I would have regarded the informer as a harmless lunatic, but he would have been truthful for we did. The transit camp was 12 miles from Reykjavik, the town of any size on the island. As we were only there for a few days, I will not digress too much about it, other than make a note so that I will never forget (as if I could) going down the hillside to wash in a mountain stream, or the C.O. who was crazy especially as regards liking to see washing hanging up, and the eternal tinned maconichies[?] The principal item of interest to me was the time I bathed in the hot springs at [deleted] All [deleted] Alafoss – without paying.

We left Iceland without regret in the auxilary[sic] cruiser H.M.S. Ranpura, late S.S. Ranpura a P&O [deleted] boat [/deleted] lines of the Indian Ocean. Her two sister ships

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also converted from luxury cruising liners to the “half caste” merchant cruisers [which] are now several fathoms deep in a watery and rather dilapidated condition.

Instead of a crazy C.O. & captain as we have been so used to we had a crazy commander who was always preceeeded[sic] by a sailor with a bugle & followed by his dog Dusty, with the master-at-arms bringing up the rear.

We were alleged escort to a convoy of 42 ships, but who in reality were escorting us. Conditions on board were quite good and we were left [deleted] abs [/deleted] absolutely alone to our own devices with no part of the ship barred[?] to us as on the “Royal Ulsterman” where we were treated like lepers.

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The sea was beautifully calm – as calm as the Serpentine and the weather also was superb. That fact coupled with the decent food [symbol] made the journey though long and drawnout [sic] quite enjoyable.

We disembarked Halifax N.S. about 1700[?] hours and left on a Canadian National train for Toronto.

It is little wonder that Novia [sic] Scotia was christened thus for from the countryside we passed through by train it reminded me very much of the Scottish countryside.
Canada is a grand country populated by some grand people and I am looking forward to seeing a lot of it and them.

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We arrived at Toronto and had breakfast – a really sumptuous affair – in the oak lounge of the Toronto Station, after that we reluctantly arose from the table and left for the Canadian [one indecipherable word] Pool. We were billeted in what was once was the principal building of the Canadian National Exhibition, and we actually slept where in more peaceful times was the sheep pen! After filling in numerous forms we left full of enthusiasm for a certain Lincoln Flying School in Lakeland Florida. What hopes we had, and we were as keen as a March wind and as fresh as as[sic] a mushroom at dawn.

Everything on the journey to Detroit seemed slow we rushed thro’ the town of London Stratford[?], but the stations wouldn’t pass quick enough we were Southward Bound at last. We crossed via the train ferry to Detroit from Windsor and now we were in the land of film stars and oil[?] kings, gansters[sic] and hamburgers! We stopped for a short while at some large cities but never had time to “look them over”. After what [inserted] I thought[?] [/inserted] was a lifetime [two deleted letters] actually two nights on the trains. I say trains because we had 3 [one indecipherable word] of railroads we arrived at 5.30 in the morning to a very quite[sic] town – Lakeland.

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Airmens Documents

Form 48 [one indecipherable word] History.
Envelope containing all particulars with label giving list of contents – Medical category, Inoculations, vaccinations, Dental Treatment, Spectacles & Surgical Appliances & Blood Group.

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The A.F. Act is divided into four parts
i Discipline
ii Enlistment
iii Billetting [sic] & [one indecipherable word] of [one indecipherable word]
iv General Provisions.

If can be proved that you allowed prisoner wilfully to escape can get penal servitude.



Herbert O'Hara, “Herbert O'Hara diary and account of Atlantic crossing in 1941,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 20, 2024, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/3585.

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