The date links will take you to a page with maps and/or pictures to give a little context for that day's events.
March 24 - Dawn comes up like slow twilight, - a lazy sunset in reverse. 0900 - To liaison office with time sheet and leave orders for endorsement. Post report. 1030 - To Captain Green's whom I find had already got started a berth for me on British cruiser for Australia about April 9th. There is so little Naval activity at sea about here that he thinks this somewhat precarious run down under, with the Jap held islands to Port, will be fine experience and great chance to draw in British combat ship. I am delighted as I can then see vast naval installations over there, and work East to our Task Forces and then home the shortest way, without retracing. With Captain Green to Commander Curson, R.N. With Curson to "Flags" and thence to Admiral Sir James Somerville, R.N. Pay respects, tell what I would like to do. Back to Commander Curson's office and he gets special passes in for work, for painting. My British passport works magic and all as usual are most kind and helpful. Back to Captain Green and show books and pictures which he likes and dictate letter to Commander Long at his request. 1210 - To liaison Office, post report and make calendar schedule. Rested after lunch, as I am ordered by Captain to go very easy for first day or so in Tropics. Dangerous not to. Natives are weak, lazy and slow. Our officers change tremendously in a few months. All actions seem retarded in this moist heavy and extremely hot air. The nights are breathless, and one pulls one's bed directly under the big ceiling fan - the breeze scarcely penetrates the thick tightly secured mosquito nets. 2100 - Commander Curson arrives at our mess with my special pass for the Port.
March 25th - 0900 - Start writing up this report, Number 8, longhand for dictation 1600. This being Saturday afternoon all hands drive to the beach in bathrobes and trunks. Hot sun. Walk along beach and get motif for sketch of catamarans beached with billowing sails, repeating curbing palms. Watch little black, long-haired bewhiskered fisherman sail tight in through surf. Crude outriggers on which men squat for trim. Two masts athwart the boat hold square , loose-headed sail made fast at their respective heads, sheeted home at clews the sail bellies out and is left set on beach. The hull a big log with two crude bulwarks raised a couple of feet above. A long slot about a foot wide is the hold, in which the fish are dropped. Tarred and sewed together, no treenails. Fishermen's thatched huts deep in the moist shade of thick palm forest, that follows beach as far as eye can see. Swim in surf, water lukewarm splashing hot against you. Surf heavy and takes watching, undertow very strong and dangerous. Surf boards great fun. Only 350 miles north of the Equator. Natives on beach cut fresh pineapple in comes and sell them to us. Messmates say its clean and O.K. but after eating I observe native picking his teeth with same knife. Open cocoanuts for us and we drink refreshing milk. Delhi-belly entirely secured.
March 26 - Sunday. 0600 - Watch lizards running around bath room walls. One falls in cold tub and I help him out. I breakfast early and alone. Little lizard runs across the table, down cloth to my lap, down leg to deck and gives unexpected bird-like love call to another on curtain back of me. Garden full of strange birdcalls. Palm trees have crude cobras painted on trunks, to scare off monkeys from climbing aloft to steal. Our second gardener in loin cloth, his ankles roped together, climbs palms and shakes down nuts. These would fracture a skull and fall with a heavy thud. Man looks just like a monkey up there. 0830 to 1300 writing this report. 1300 - Commander Curson, Royal Navy, calls with this signal from Delhi, "From Supreme Allied Command to CinC, E.F. Confidential Immediate. For Curson from Oldfield. Lt.comdr. Coale, U.S. Navy must not (R) not visit or reproduce King's Pavilion only operational H.Q. permissible." Remembering SAC's aversion to having H.Q. depicted in Delhi, I can readily understand same reason existing here, and am most grateful for this order. Peredeniya is vast and up in the hills 100 miles from here. I should have felt called upon to do something had I not been ordered otherwise, which would have taken much time from my limited stay here. The more pictorial Naval scenes, are the pictures I feel sure my office wants. Fortunately there is no choice. 1330 - Signal from British, 35 American survivors are in port; another good Liberty ship lost in the Ocean . 1400 - The surviving Armed Guard officer, a strong big chap, Ensign Frederick Stehle, Jr. arrives in time for julep before Sunday lunch of curry. He was in the S.S. John A. Poor. We are gay, tell stories and laugh, say nothing except we are glad to have him aboard (He's glad to be) while the mess servants are about. Later we hear that she was in a guarded convoy running light down the coast from Bombay to Cochin. There took valuable cargo of jute, rugs, nuts, etc. Was left to run alone for Persian Gulf and home. Second night our in darkness at 2030 she got two Jap fish. They are terrific. He was in his state-room, grabbed life jacket, tossed coat to a naked man and immediately made way along deck up ladder to radio shack. Paused for a moment to order SOS sent, by radioman who just ran up. Walked short distance forward, climbed ladder to bridge, walked to starboard wing as rails sank under his hands, sucked down 15 feet, popped up and swam back to wreck. From first torpedo to vanishing bridge - one minute. Sank as fast as he climbed ladders upward. Radioman must have gone. Armed Guard 30 - 9 missing. Merchant crew, 18 saved out of 43. Survivors on 3 rafts, March 19, not due until 29th. Allow for overdue, and no ship lane, there was little hope of being picked up. Had cask of water and some raisins. Broke in mail bag and found Christmas present of fruit cake "To John from Mom". Many other presents, none eatable. A "Readers Digest" with article of how to squeeze water from fish read out loud, made them laugh. Swarms of sharks around them drove away fish. On fourth day British merchantman took chance, stopped and picked them up. 7500 - 1730 Writing report. Took hours walk with messmate. This makes sweat pour down face, soak hair, and uniform. Had to hang them up to dry, and bathe. Took walk in dark star-lit night with messmates. See small lights and out of the gloom appear little men trotting between shafts of rickshaws. Pass silently save for a patter of bare feet. Our boys wear long white towels, made into straight ankle length skirts. White mess jacket to serve, bare torso to work. cook wears white steward uniform and shoes. Sweepers short skirt, bare torso. All barefooted.
March 27 - 0900 -1300 Writing as usual in room, no shirt, khaki trousers, slippers. Sit directly beneath fan. All during morning usual loud thunder and sharp burst of shrapnel and A.A. fire. Awful din as plane with sleeve flys around and around. Fighters harsh roar as they pass low over house. See dark bursts against bright sky form window. 1430 - 1800 Writing this report. 1830 Swim in warm sea for exercise. After dinner show all hands books and pictures and have them sign "North Atlantic Patrol".
March 28 - 0900. Writing report until 1330. 1420 to 1600 Car to office. 1630 Pay respects to Colonel Cooper, B.A. 1730 to Royal Colombo Yacht Club with Vice Consul Usher. Go sailing in small knockabout sloop. Harbor packed with over one hundred ships. Norwegian tanker, big and new, with torpedo hole in side you could sail into. Big ship sunk at end of breakwater. Merchant ships, big cruisers, carrier ILLUSTRIOUS. Note sketches. Dine at "Silver Fawn" with Lieutenant Hoskinson and lieutenant Babson and three Wrens. Dancing just possible under many fans. Nightclub like New York.
Just got the word from Captain Green as I turn this in for typing, that the 9th of April seems certain for my joining British cruiser for Australia, in convoy with another and two big merchant ships. Will cross Island to Northwest to Trincomalee, and spend a day or so there sketching the big port, if the British are willing to give another pass, before sailing. Warm regards.
GRIFFITH BAILY COALE
<< 03-28-44 page 2 | to be continued >>