RMS Scythia


70-odd years ago, having just trudged for three months around the Isle of Man I completed the Officer Cadet training unit,166 O.C.T.U. in Douglas and became a Flying  Officer at the age of  twenty- six . I initially chose the air force as I wanted to go for flying crew, but my ambitions were thwarted when a medical examination at Cardiff gave my heart a grade 2 rating, probably due to the exhausting rugby match I’d just played the day before. In 1942 I was told that my squadron was going away, but we were not told where. We were sent to Liverpool, then Glasgow, kitted out and sailed on the RMS Scythia, a Cunard Liner, requisitioned as a troop and supply ship, out into the Atlantic. This was part of Churchill’s Operation Torch, the invasion of North Africa by the Americans and British. I thought we were bound for South Africa but half way across the Atlantic we turned into the Mediterranean and headed towards Algeria. On the night of 23 November 1942 the Scythia, a nineteen thousand tonner, was struck by an aerial torpedo. I was on the other side of the ship; I felt the force of the explosion but didn’t really know what was going on. Five men were killed, out of a total of four thousand odd. We limped into the harbour and disembarked at Algiers from where we, with many missing their full kit, marched up from the quay to barracks called Hussein Dey.

I only lost my camp bed but kept the metal matchbox from the Scythia, which I still have.

Ironically, later in the war my medical grade 2 rating was overturned by an Italian prisoner doctor I met in Dubrovnik who put me under his new diagnostic machine and informed me I had the finest heart and lungs he’d ever seen.

Although I was a passenger on many different aircraft I never did learn to fly.

It probably saved my life anyway.

John Vivian Hayes
Tatoi, Africa, Mount Parnes
Tingley Bone
Altamura, nr Foggia