Saturday, October 14, 2006

Excerpts from the diary of Private Douglas Charles Nicholls
Royal Army Medical Corps 1st Nov 1939 - 30th July 1946
Whilst serving on the Hospital Ship "ABA"
(including his eye witness account during the 'Battle for Crete'

M.V.ABA (built 1918

ABA converted to hospital ship Sept. 1939

18th April 1941 (Fri) He writes of "a heavy swell"

19th April 1941 (Sat) "Calmer. Sighted land"

20th April 1941 (Sun) "Arrived at Piraes (Greece) 9am. Air raids all day."

21st April 1941 (Mon) "Arrive at Suda Bay (Crete) at 9am. Air raid bombs dropped."
German plane flies over the ship at approx. 200ft."

Suda Bay (Crete)

26th April 1941 (Sat) "Arrive at Haifa, went ashore"

(He writes of receiving letters, newspapers and a card from home. Numerous entries in the Diary of writing home - a good morale booster). He also writes of going to the cinema, seeing such films “I stole a Million” “The General Died at Dawn” and “The Great Dictator”!!

1st May 1941 (Thur). “Stood by for orders”

2nd May 1941 (Fri). “Left Haifa”

4th May 1941 (Sun). “Sighted Crete”

5th May 1941 (Mon) “Arrive Suda Bay, then continue on to Canea (Khania) - pick up 630 patients.

Canea (Khania) Crete

7th May 1941 (Wed) “Arrived at Alexandria (Egypt) 12 noon. Unloaded. Went ashore".

8th May 1941 (Thur) “Left at 2 pm”

9th May 1941 (Fri) “Arrived Haifa 6pm. Went ashore”

10th May 1941 (Sat) “Gangway Piquet” (a card game?)

12th May 1941 (Mon) “Charged for not going in water. 10 days CB 10 days pay"
(CB not sure what this means (confined to barracks?) – as a non- swimmer, I can understand why he might not wish to ‘go in the water’!!)

14th May 1941 (Wed) “Sunderland flying boat flies around”

16th May 1941 (Fri) “Arrived at Suda Bay, continued to Canea (Khania) on Crete arrived at 10 am. Air raid just before we left 5.30 pm. Left at 6 pm 605 patients”

Ward E2 on the ABA

Forward Operating Theatre on ABA

17th May 1941 (Sat) “Attacked by dive bomber at 1.45 pm. 8 bombs dropped. No damage. Another Dornier flies around at 4.30 pm. Send SOS am being attacked by enemy aircraft. Navy arrives at 5.30 pm. 1 AA ship and 5 destroyers 8 Junkers 87 attack, ships struck by bomb shrapnel 6 injured, barrage drives them off”.

18th May 1941 (Sun) “One of the injured dies and is buried at sea”

19th May 1941 (Mon) “Arrive at Haifa. Unloaded 350 patients”.

20th May 1941 (Tue) “Completed unloading. Air raid alarm at 5.30am. All clear at 5.45 am. No bombs dropped. Received air mail card from home”
(home being England, the mail was posted on 27th April and under the circumstances – that did’nt seem to have taken very long)

21st May 1941 (Wed) “Stayed on board. Repairs to ship” and the next day – still carrying out repairs.

22nd May 1941 (Thur) Attack on the ABA reported in the Egyptian Mail Newspaper. HMS Coventry one of several ships to go to their aid

HMS Coventry

23rd May 1941 (Fri) “Repairs carry on. Painting the ship”

25th May 1941 (Sun) “Played the organ at the morning service, later the choir went on the HMS Kirriemoor and gave a service”.

4th June 1941 (Wed) “Air raid warning at 9.45 am”.

9th June 1941 (Mon) He writes of going ashore, Haifa, climbing Mt. Carmel and of a submarine caught in the harbour.

10th June 1941 (Tue) “Air raids from 1 am to 4 am. 3 planes shot down. Recon plane shot down at 6.45 pm” (Air raids followed the next day 11th with a “peaceful night" on the 12th June"

16th June 1941 (Mon) “Left Haifa approx 6 pm” (the next day arriving at Port Said 12 noon)

24th June 1941 (Tue) “RAMBI IV comes up the canal (Suez) and captured” (Italian Hospital Ship)

Italian Hospital Ship RAMBI IV

30th June (Mon) “Gangway and Night Guard”

4th July 1941 (Fri) “Went ashore. Saw ‘Fast Company’. 1st anniversary of our departure from England”.

5th July 1941 (Sat) “Two alerts at night”

11th July 1941 (Fri) “Went ashore. Had a BSA Gold Star out in the afternoon”

12th July 1941 (Sat) “Air raids from 1 am to 4.50 am. Bombs dropped.(Air raids the following night too.)

20th July 1941 (Sun) “HMS Somersetshire arrives at Port Said.”

21st July 1941 (Mon) “Went on the Somersetshire”

22nd July 1941 (Tue) “Air raid warnings 3.20 am. All clear 5.20 am. Left for Suez at 10 am. Arr. Ismalia 3 pm dropped anchor in the Great Bitter Lakes”

The above diary entries are short and I expect written in a hurry. Life on a Hospital Ship was an extremely busy life caring for patients needs etc. and also could be dangerous as contrary to conventions and ‘rules’ Hospital ships were often attacked.

My father was an extremely modest man and talked very little of his duties aboard ship. I share this extract from his Diary, his photographs and other related items to honour his memory.


1919 - 1966 R.I.P.