Dodging U-Boats En Route To Paradise

While in Trinidad, James’s father became the head of the Salvation Army and Governor Sir Bede Clifford’s defence adviser. James began his studies at Queen’s Royal College and stayed there for three years, before his family’s return to England in 1944. At 81 years old, James Gilman is writing his memoirs. Recently he contacted the T&T Guardian with the chapter of his memoirs, recalling his journey to Trinidad and the time he spent there.

His three years in Trinidad were the happiest of his life, he wrote in his autobiography. In 1993, he organised an international Youth Conference in Wales and he requested three delegates to be invited, just to say thank you to their island for housing him and his family.

The 81-year-old, hopes to one day be able to travel to Trinidad again, as he recently found out that his house in Charlotte Street, where he, his sister, his mother and his father lived, is still there, according to the Salvation Army. He also wrote about his best friend at the time, who was also in Trinidad and who is now a retired headmaster living in Scotland. After all these years, the two friends are still in touch with each other, the Guardian Media reports.

On October 13, 1941, James and his family departed from the west coast of England to Dunoon where they joined a convoy leaving from Scotland, to begin their journey escorted by Royal Navy destroyers. One of them was an aircraft carrier, transporting 5,000 Fleet Air Arm members for their training in Canada.

During a radio broadcast from Berlin, British traitor Lord Haw Haw ‘warned’ that all five A-class ships from Blue Star Line were to be sank. The Avila Star, the ship James and his family were aboard, travelling to Trinidad, was to be one of them. The year before the Andorra Star, part of the same line, was torpedoed and sank, taking the lives of 700 people.

After James and his family arrived to their final destination and the Avila Star headed back to Britain, it was torpedoed and sank, taking the lives of many other people.

He remembered being on the ship and seeing German U-boats preparing to attack. ‘It would first raise its periscope—a metal tube with a glass lens at the end—above the surface of the sea,’ he wrote.

Young James seemed to enjoy being surrounded by constant action; he couldn’t say the same about his sister Joan, who was purely terrified of everything that was going on.

“We felt like Dorothy arriving over the rainbow in Oz,” wrote James.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE