Jack Drummond Whyte

Taken from his memoirs

Jack was born in Dundee on 1st April 1922 and sadly his mother died aged 31 when he was just a young child. Jack and his father went to live with his Granny in a cramped flat with only two bedrooms. He attended Dudhope Road School and Blairgowrie High School.

When he left school at 14, there were not many jobs, but he managed to get a job working for the National Census.

Some time later, Jack saw an advert in a newspaper stating that the Countess of Airlie was prepared to sponsor boys in poor circumstances who wanted to go to sea. She would pay for their training at the Mercantile Marine School in London. A letter was written and after medical tests, was accepted. Jack jumped at the chance to see the world so thus became a new entrant at the Prince of Wales Hostel for Boys, Limehouse (which was later changed to Sea School).

The first ship Jack was assigned to was The Orion, a Royal Mail Steamer docked at Tilbury. In 1939 he didn't feel he was getting enough experience as an Ordinary Seaman, so he joined the Cunard White Star Line, sailing on the Ausonia for Montreal, Canada.

When he returned to London after just one trip, he signed on the Orion. When he signed off again, he stayed at the Sailors Hostel, Salmon Lane, Stepney, which had special cabins for ex. Prince of Wales boys.

Jack signed on the M.V. Alfred Jones next, bound for West Africa and then the Orion again just as war broke out. At this time Jack received a letter stating that he had been awarded the Top Boy Diploma at the P.W.S.S., signed by the Duke of Kent. He stayed on the Orion until February 1941 at which time he met Flora (our Mother) at a dance in Coupar Angus.

Jack felt he wasn't "doing his bit for his country" and not seeing any action, so he signed on the M.V. Walmer Castle (a rescue ship), taking up position at the back of the convoy. As they skirted the Bay of Biscay, a liner converted into an aircraft carrier joined them. Submarines were all around and then a "Wolf Pack" converged on the convoy. Two ships were torpedoed, one narrowly missing them. They picked up survivors as another ship was hit…

"One minute darkness and the next, out in the sea, red lights on seaman's lifejackets bobbing up and down. The cries for help, the cries from the injured and the sudden star shells lighting up the horrors."

The next day and still reeling from this harrowing experience, Jack spotted a Focke Wolf Condor heading their way. They were struck on the starboard wing of the bridge by the bomb, which exploded in the engine room. They abandoned the burning ship. Some managed to get away on rafts whilst others waited to be picked up (Jack was taken on the sloop, Deptford). The offending Focke Wolf was shot down by the aircraft carrier, but sadly it was decided that the Walmer had to be sunk, as she was a danger.

On return, Jack spent a short leave with his father, half brother and then joined the Empire Kingfisher. They had reached Nova Scotia only to hear a bang in the engine room, which was later rumoured to have been a bomb planted there. They had to abandon ship, ending up at near by Halifax where he signed on a Norwegian ship the Torejal. He finally reached Scotland and took some leave.

Jack went to Glasgow where he met two mates, Jack Hambrook and Sid Bamford at the docks. The Montcalm had docked with the Russian Icebreaker Krasin and Jack wanted to join them. One of the crew had broken his leg and as no one wanted to join the Russian convoys, the captain was astonished when Jack came forward as a replacement. He was on an icebreaker bound for Russia.

High-level bombers and then low flying torpedo bombers from all angles attacked them. There was a shout, "Starboard bow, Jock, torpedo". It missed them.

"We watched with horrid fascination after warning the Mate. Our bow moved to starboard, the helmsman must have been given the order: the torpedo just missed our bow and we watched it carry on to hit the sternpost of the 'Cape Corso', the ship in the lead of the next column. She was loaded with ammunition and drums of fuel.


There was a terrific flash, and in seconds as we watched, the ship seemed to melt away into nothing and disappear. We all dropped to the deck and seconds later a terrific explosion followed, debris started falling, and then the wave of heat hit us…. it was all over in a minute. One ship and crew, the next minute, nothing!! All gone. It was a shattering experience. We were all very quiet, silent".

Two more ships were sunk.

On reaching Murmansk, the ship was to be handed over to the Russian Navy. The pilot came on board and said, "Too small, you should not bring".

After some waiting and much kindness from the poor residents who shared what little they had and themselves waiting for loved ones to return, the convoy arrived which was to take them home. The convoy had suffered much loss, which meant an even longer wait, starving and cold. After waiting and much bombing, they were told that orders had arrived to leave. Unbeknown to them they were taken on a launch across the water to a Russian camp, to be kept in 'protective custody' until ships were allocated. They had to sleep on wooden shelves with no blankets and fed on meagre rations of soup and black sour bread at mid-day. Toilets were cubicles on the jetty facing the camp with no doors and one tap to wash in. This went on for weeks. Eventually, Jack was shipped out on an American Liberty ship with bunks and plenty of food.

Good weather and excellent conditions made them good targets for the enemy, so torpedoing followed, but they were not hit this time. They reached Iceland and transferred to a troop ship and arrived in Glasgow. There had been 171 air attacks at Murmansk during his time there, so on returning, Jack went for a medical check up which showed he was suffering from nerves and painfully thin.

After some leave, he was signed on the Warwick Castle (troop ship) with Commandos on board, they were going to make a landing. They were told that they were taking part in the biggest convoy of the war involving North Africa.

Everything was fine until homeward bound, reaching the Bay of Biscay, they were torpedoed and had to abandon ship. Many were killed.

Jack returned to Glasgow, where a friend suggested that he try the coastal home trade (coal) for a while. He joined the S.S. East Anglian, an ancient collier with all the perils it brought, dodging enemy fire. Jack got fed up with the filth and signed on the Glasgow pool.

The man at the counter saw his M.N. Discharge book and said," Three ships sunk, one after the other and one hit by a torpedo and the Russian run, I think you have earned a break". He was signed on for Canada to pick up a new Liberty boat from Vancouver; joining seven other crews and go as a passenger to New York. They joined the Queen Mary, although stripped of her luxury and the whole journey was a wonderful experience. When they got there, the boat had only just started to be Built which wasn't so bad. He took on a temporary job in a salmon factory.

Eventually he sailed into the Pacific on the Fort Venango, ending up at Cardiff (Wales). The Mate, who had recommended him for the position of Bosun, called Jack to the Master one day and at 22 this was quite an honour. He sailed for the Mediterranean with cargo and P.O.W; he sailed for over a year and when D. Day took place, he sailed home.

He received letters from Flora (our mother) although he had only seen her twice. Jack then signed on the S.S. Stanhope on home trade as the war was ending.  A telegram was sent to Flora asking her to marry him and she agreed. Her brother made the arrangements and Jack turned up on a tram. They hardly knew each other.

Jack went on to join the Cunard White Star, Flora went back to nursing.  V.E. Day came as he made one more trip, joining the Mauritania. Jack was released from the M.N. on 22nd January 1946.

Jack spent 25 years of his career in the fire brigade, at Watford, Luton and Dunstable. After retiring through injury, he joined the Nat. West Bank.

Jack died on the 17th January 2003, after a short illness. He leaves behind his wife Flora, a son, two daughters and three grandchildren.

Ruth Wilson


(His younger daughter)

On behalf of his family

A tribute to Dad from daughter Ruth

Dad was a modest, humble man who was always pleased when things were going well for us or offering help or money when things were difficult. He still worried about us when travelling and was always willing to help complete strangers in need. He spent most of his working life serving his country and serving in the fire brigade, putting the safety of others first and risking his life on many occasions. His life was lived modestly with few possessions, but reading his memoirs showed me he gained a wealth of experience during his long lifetime.

We all miss him and feel immensely proud of him, as we do of all the other brave service people who fought and those who gave up their lives for our future.

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