As the clouds gather ...
From the diary of Lt Colin G.W. Donald RN, 1928 - 39
After Osborne and the Royal Navy College at Dartmouth he had spent most of his Midshipman's seatime in the battleship HMS Malaya before joining HMS Venomous
during its refit at Chatham in 1926 as Sub Lt Colin G.W. Donald RN.
When he left in March 1928 he wrote in his Diary that "I am sorry to
leave destroyers and more so to leave such a good ship as the Venomous".
the clouds gathered over Europe he led an interesting and varied career
and met and married his wife, the daughter of a former Captain in the
Imperial Russian Navy who had subsequently become a principal tenor at
the Mariinsky Opera. Her mother had been a protégé of Rimskiy Korsakov
and a Professor of Singing at the St Petersburg Conservatoire.
Frank Donald picks up the story from when his father joined the
battleship HMS Barham in June 1928 as Lt Colin G.W. Donald RN.
June 1928 - April 1930 HMS Barham
My father was soon back at sea in the battleship Barham as a
watchkeeper, on the bridge at sea and on the quarterdeck in harbour,
but not before he had visited PO Langford’s mother.
In August 1929 he was back at Haifa, where the Mediterranean Fleet had
been deployed to cope with unrest among the Arabs and to protect the
Jewish population. From the institution of the British Mandate in 1922
the relationship between Jews and Arabs had been relatively peaceful.
However in late 1928 a new phase of violence began with minor disputes
between Jews and Arabs about the right of Jews to pray at the Western
Wall in Jerusalem. These arguments led to an outbreak of Arab violence
the following August and on Friday 23rd Arab mobs attacked Jews in
Jerusalem, Jaffa and other parts of the country. The Jews in Hebron had
been massacred. Pending the arrival of the Army from Egypt, the First
Battle Squadron landed a Naval Battalion to preserve order in the Haifa
My father landed with a platoon and was
deployed to protect the Jewish colony of Zichron Jacob, about 10 miles
from Haifa. He and his men carried out frequent patrols, armed to the
teeth in requisitioned lorries, and fully restored Jewish confidence.
He established excellent relations with the local Police Chief,
Inspector Kramer, and the Arab constables. Mr Kramer was tactful enough
to take a week off sick with dysentery leaving my father in command.
Mrs Kramer was from Edinburgh, complete with a Morningside accent.
After two weeks they were relieved by a platoon of the Green Howards
and returned to the Barham. This time my father did manage to get to
Left: the mixed force of ratings from HMS Barham and local police who kept the peace between Arabs and Jews at Zirchon Jacob near Haifa
Right: Lt Colin G.W. Donald RN and the local police Chief, Inspector Kramer Courtesy of Frank Donald
GHQ Zichron Jacob (letter home) 29th August 1929
am up here in a small Jewish village in command of 16 men and God (or
rather Jehovah) knows how many Jews. The village is between Haifa and
Jaffa and about four miles inland. I am guarding a Jewish Orphanage in
the main and intimidating the Arab villages generally! I dash round the
country at all hours of the day and night in a lorry (I have seven at
my disposal) and at night it is most exciting as one never knows what
will happen. The Jews are in a tragic state of terror and I and
the Police Inspector have to spend hours explaining that they can sleep
quite safely in their houses and need not crowd into about two houses
under awful conditions of stench.
I spent Tuesday night at Athlit
guarding the railway station and a big salt works, and was kept up all
night with terrible (and quite unfounded) rumours. I came on here
yesterday and am billeted in a school which is quite cool and
comfortable. We have running water, which is a great blessing as I have
had my clothes on for 48 hours and my boots for 36. In this hot country
I beat Lazarus hollow! I am now quite Prussian and demand what I want,
tin mugs, frying pans, clocks, beer and anything. It is most
amusing. I went yesterday to Hedna, a village about 14 miles away
where they have the wind up properly. On the way the Inspector and I
called on a Bedouin chief and had coffee in his tent. Most romantic!
I am quite happy (though the
mosquitoes and flies are a trouble) and may be here about a fortnight.
I won’t write anymore now as I have had only four hours’ sleep in the
last 48 and I have three patrols a day, including one from 9 pm to 3 am
every night. You should see me in my tin hat and with a loaded revolver
and “backed by armed men”.
On 1 September my father visited a number of Arab villages with the
Police Inspector, including the large village of Ixim with about 600
inhabitants, half of whom were “of an age to make trouble”. All
appeared to be quiet and the Inspector had a talk with the principal
landowner. “I was told by the Inspector that Fuad Effendi Mahdi is an
influential person and is reliable. In today’s conversation he assured
us that at present all is quiet among the villagers and will see that
this state of affairs continues; he is however suppressing gossip and
Ixim was four miles from the small Jewish colony of Bat Slomo with 30
inhabitants. While Bat Slomo could be reached from Zichron in 12
minutes by car there was no telephone. The village was visited twice
nightly by patrols and my father arranged with the Inspector to have
two or three mounted Policemen in the vicinity. A system of torch
signals was later arranged.
Zichron Jacob (letter home) 3rd September
I am now in a position to
let you know how I am getting on and I assure you it is well. In the
next war I shall be Director-General of Billetting (or it will be a
great loss to the Army!). We have been here for a week and though there
is plenty of work to be done I am thoroughly enjoying myself.
We go out on patrol by car, with
loaded rifles and bristling with revolvers, at about 11 am and come
back at 1 pm; again at 5 pm till about 7.30 pm, and from 9 pm till 3
am, so we do quite a lot of sea time! We go round to about six villages
and cheer up the inhabitants. The difference in morale of the villagers
since we arrived is most noticeable. At first they were in a pitiable
state of terror and used to blather to me in Yiddish (which is really
German) about pogroms and such things. They never went to bed till
about 4 am, standing about in the streets all night. They were so short
of sleep that their nerves had become quite raw and any rumour was
believed as Gospel truth. I used to laugh at them and tell them not to
be so silly but to go to bed and now they are taking my advice.
We are lucky here in having no
mixed villages – Arabs and Jews being quite separate. It is in the big
towns that the trouble occurs. Hebron was an awful shambles but even
that could have been avoided had the Police instructions been carried
out. There were very few Police there and there were then no troops to
assist them, but they did wonderful work. The Arabs went up and down
the streets chanting “kill the Jews” and the Police watched them and
made the Jews remain in their houses. One day as the Arab crowd was
passing two Jewish boys thought they would wait till the crowd had
passed and then try and escape. Quite against orders they rushed out
and the tail of the crowd saw them. That started the killing, and
though the Police were in the crowd shooting down Arabs as fast as they
could there were not enough of them. Arab boys ran round pointing to
the houses and saying “Jews live here” and they were scuppered in
heaps. The Rabbi of the village, with his wife, son and one daughter
were done in. The situation is now much better and I think that the
riot in Safed was only a flash in the pan. I consider that the country
is now quiet, but we shall be unable to evacuate for some time yet.
There is a small village near
here called Bat Slomo which has been crying out for troops. I vetoed
this and told OC Troops at Haifa that it was quite unnecessary and gave
orders that the place was not to be evacuated as it is an
incentive to the Bedouins to come in and rob. I have arranged, however,
to sleep there for a couple of nights with two men, not really because
I consider it essential but because I have billeted myself on a family
with a very handsome daughter who can speak English!! “Brutal and
licentious soldiery”, what?
The Police here are a magnificent
body of men and I get on with the Inspector and his wife splendidly.
They do everything for me, feed me, etc, and Mrs Kramer is a Jewess who
comes from Edinburgh. To hear her say “Do you speak any languages
forbye English and Gairman?” would bring tears of envy to the eyes of
“the Animal” (his younger sister with whom he was allegedly planning a
Scottish vernacular dictionary). It is very funny. I am on the best of
terms with all the constables and say “Good Morning” to them in Arabic,
which they think a great jest.
Yesterday I went and drank coffee
with the head man of a big Arab village. It is very romantic reclining
on cushions while a man bows before you and gives you coffee and
cigarettes. I did the same thing the other day with a Bedouin chief,
Hassan Mansour, and sat in his tent and yarned with him. I feel a kind
of second Lawrence particularly as I wear a Kefieh and Egal, or Arab
headdress. It is much better than a helmet. The picture of Lawrence in
“Revolt in the Desert” will show you my headgear. I must stop
now. Today I am going to try my hand at “tent-pegging” with the
Incitement of the Arab population was a matter of concern. A Haifa Area
General order relayed information received from a reliable source:
“Inflammatory circulars printed on red paper in Arabic are being
distributed. This circular calls upon Arabs to revolt against the
Government and states that the Jews are still wearing uniform and are
armed with rifles.”
The situation at Zichron Jacob remained quiet, but there were some
mundane concerns: “The Committee of the village have on various
occasions given presents of eggs and beer to the OC for the men. I
would be glad to know if this is in order. The local doctor has also
attended to two cases, one of boils and the other a cut hand.”
On 6th September Bat Slomo was again attracting attention:
carried out in the usual places and all quiet except at Bat Slomo where
there was considerable disquiet owing to the story of one man seeing a
mounted Arab riding round the colony. I investigated this and could
find no one who had seen the man in question. As no car had been
provided I sent one to them for the night and a Policeman was sent to
steady the nerves of the driver. As I expected all was quiet this
As in contemporary counterinsurgency operations, civilian casualties
and avoidance of bad PR was a matter of concern. The Acting
District Commissioner Haifa agonised:
have this day accompanied the Officer Commanding the Troops on a visit
to the Hospitals of Haifa in which the wounded are accommodated. In our
conversation with the wounded it became apparent that certain injuries
had been caused owing to a failure of the Public to halt when called
upon to do so by a patrol or sentry.
In order to avoid further
unnecessary injuries in this connection, the public is earnestly
requested to take notice and to warn the illiterate classes that
whenever challenged by a patrol or sentry they must at once halt and
stand still until the patrol or sentry is satisfied of their
intentions. In no case, when challenged, should they run away, as such
action is bound to arouse the suspicions of those responsible for those
responsible for the maintenance of order.”
While Officer Commanding Troops, Haifa Area observed on 7th September:
have been cases of accidental wounding of women in other districts
during raids. Such incidents have a very detrimental effect, not only
upon the inhabitants of PALESTINE, but also upon the JEWISH and MOSLEM
population all over the world and cause serious embarrassment to the
Civil Government. So far as is humanly possible fire is not to be
opened until the target has been definitely established as being a
legitimate one ...... and even then the fire must be strictly
A later Haifa General Order
directed that “Under no circumstances is any man to enter the house of
a Moslem unless ordered to do so by a Superior Officer at the request
of a Police Officer.” My father innocently enquired if this applied “to
the Guest houses of Villages when the OC Troops is calling on the
As well as District Officers the
British Mandate had brought with it the standard colonial social
structure –“The Sports Club Jerusalem wish all Officers of HM Forces in
Palestine to consider themselves Honorary Members of their club. The
Club is situated in the Greek Colony.”
Around Zichron Jacob there were some false alarms and a suspected case of intimidation.
scares have occurred in this area during the last twenty four hours,
both of which proved to be unnecessary. Two blood stained sacks found
at the cross roads Benyamin-Givet Adda-Zichron proved to belong to a
young Jew called Samsonoff who had bled his horse for sunstroke, and
the report that Five Arabs were riding round Zichron was disproved by
Police and Naval patrols and native trackers.”
patrols have been carried out in this area and all is quiet. A Mr
Schlesinger of Kirkur rang up this morning and said that his Arab
servant was afraid to come into the colony. He has been informed that
if there is any case of intimidation by the Jews the matter will be
dealt with by the Police, and no further complaints have been received.”
Zichron Jacob (letter home) 9th September
“Things here are very
quiet at the moment and I wander round my area, about 40 square miles,
by car, being equally pleasant to Jew and Arab. I have just, within the
last ten minutes been attacked in the street by the Mughtar of Ain
Ghusal, one Khalid, who is rather a friend of mine, begging me to come
and have lunch with him. I have so far managed to escape this function
in the district but the time will come, I fear me. To be presented with
a partially chewed sheep’s eye may be a mark of great honour, but in
the words of Jorrocks, “I prefer to chew me own meat”.
I am on the best of terms with
all the Police here and now know enough Arabic to pass the time of day
with them. To hear me say “Marhaba, Muhassim Cassim, Khiv el Ghal”, or
however you spell it, stamps me as a descendent of the Prophet (which
through the marriage of one of our remote crusading ancestors we are
supposed to be!) Much to their amazement I know all their names,
Zwi Bahur, Yussuf Rezkala, Mohammed T’har and all the rest. They really
are a magnificent body of men.
I am having the greatest fun tent
pegging, but as none of the horses have been properly exercised in the
last three weeks you can imagine they are devils to hold and my left
hand is nearly raw.
I am now Senior Officer of
detached posts, and I went down to Khudera this morning to take over
another district from the Green Howards and to settle in a new party.
It was the greatest fun. I introduced Thomas, the new OC No 9 post to
the Committee, and spoke my very best German, which has been the
greatest boon to me in this country. I am rather a pal of the Jews down
there and they begged me to come back again, so you can see I am
I think I had better pack up now
as I have my daily diary report to write before dinner, and then I am
going to spend the night at Bat Slomo.”
Naval involvement began to run down on 10th September, and there was a
cordial exchange of letters between my father and the Manager of the
Salt Works at Athlit, where a Naval contingent was still deployed:
I have been directed by the
Officer Commanding Troops, Haifa Area, to thank you on his behalf, and
also on behalf of my men, for the great efforts you have made for the
comfort of the troops at Athlit. From what I have seen and heard I do
not think that your kindness could have been surpassed in any way and I
am sure that all the men who have been stationed there will remember
their stay at Athlit with pleasure..........
Dear Mr Donald,
Many thanks for your nice note of
yesterday’s date. We actually feel ashamed of so much praise, when we
simply considered that we could scarcely show enough attention to the
kind men who came to our rescue when danger was most pressing. We too
shall always remember you and your men as the instrument of Providence
and hope and pray that we may meet any of you in life again.....
However there were still some
happenings. On 11th September my father reported that: ”Two aeroplanes
from Ramleh landed at el Faradeis at 0815 this morning and left about
0945. I spoke to the pilots and was informed that they were inspecting
the country for suitable landing places. It is reported that three
camels and one donkey w”ere stolen from Kh Khusieh last night.
And on 12th September
about 1800, near Givat Adda, a Jew came and reported to the patrol that
a Bedouin shepherd had just thrown a stone at him and had hit his
horse, wounding it above the eye. He pointed out a man who was running
away as the attacker, and said that three other Bedouins had been
present. Mounted Corporal Zwi Behor followed the man on horseback, and
PO Adcock, who was in charge of the patrol, strung his section out
across country to prevent the man doubling back. When the Cpl came up
with him he picked up a large stone and prepared to throw it, so PO
Adcock loaded his rifle. The man then gave himself up and is now in
custody. The remaining three Bedouins were brought in by a Police
patrol early this morning. It is regretted that when unloading PO
Adcock lost one round of .303 ammunition, and although a thorough
search was made in the lorry no trace of it could be found.” A search
for arms was carried out by the Police in the encampment of the
arrested Bedouin but nothing was found.
There was one final thank you
letter, to the Chairman of the Committee of Zichron Jacob ” On the
departure of the troops under my command from Zichron Jacob I should
like to take this opportunity to thank you on behalf of the
Officer Commanding Troops, Haifa Area, my men and myself for the
kindness you have showed to us during our stay. The efforts of the
Committee to make us comfortable could not have been surpassed and I am
sure we shall all have very happy memories of our time in Zichron.”]
HMS Barham, Larnaca (letter home) 24 September
We got orders on the 11th to
leave Z., being relieved by a half platoon of the Green Howards and two
12th Lancers armoured cars. I did not give this information out till
the night of the 12th, which was really very lucky as I found out
afterwards that the Jews were going to give us a ceremonial send
off with speeches, and I am never at my best when making “a few
remarks” in German.
It was really most amusing,
especially as I did ex officio Police Inspector for a week when Kramer
was sick! On one occasion I was walking down the village street and I
saw an Arab rushing towards me from about 40 yards away. I thought he
was going to knife me, and was looking for a suitable place to hide
when I recognised my friend Khalid, the head man of Ain Raisal. He
begged me to come and lunch with him at his village but sad to say it
could not be managed.
We left on the 13th with many
regrets and were onboard by about 10 pm (unscathed apart from the loss
of a hammock in transit). We all had our photographs taken and all that
sort of thing. On the 14th I took a car to Athlit, where I was first
stationed, and called on the Salt Company for beer and macaroons. They
bemoaned the fact that the sailors were gone and said that they did not
like the Police nearly so much. Actually the Police were far more use
as I don’t think any of my chaps could have hit anything with a rifle!
Still they had a great reputation which was the main thing. I do not
know what will happen in Palestine, but they will certainly have to
keep troops there for a long time. It was only by the mercy of God that
the Bedouins did not rise and drive us into the sea and murder all the
Jews. 1500 of them got from Beersheba to Ramleh without being seen and
then were luckily dispersed. We wouldn’t have stood a chance against
The Barham Landing Party appear to have carried out their task
admirably, keeping the peace while maintaining good relations with both
communities, or at any rate their leaders. They were fortunate that
they were only deployed for two weeks, and that they did not have to
face a major assault from the Bedouin. As we now know communal
relations in Palestine, and the situation of British forces, continued
to deteriorate until the end of the Mandate in May 1948.
HMS Barham, at sea (letter home) 7th October
“Take my advice and do not go to
Jerusalem, or if you do you must not go as a Christian on a pilgrimage.
You really will be bitterly disappointed. I think I know what I am
talking about as you and I have the same tastes and I was really very
disillusioned. If you want to see lovely sunsets over the
Trans-Jordanian deserts or a magnificent Eastern building like the
Haram-al-Sherif you may go by all means, but as for the Holy Places –
give me Tewkesbury or Plymtree all the time.
You really have no idea of the
feeling of physical and mental discomfort it gives one to see the Holy
Places which are, traditionally, in nearly every case mind you, the
most Holy spots in our religion. Take the Church of the Holy Sepulchre
for example – To begin with it is not even clean. To go on with, the
people who come there to worship may not do that in peace. I had the
greatest difficulty in preventing our guide from hustling an old
Frenchman, who was saying his prayers before the site of the Cross, out
of the way so that we might see. The thing that impressed me most was
the Moslem guard, a relic of Salah-ha-din’s promise that he would keep
a guard of Saracens on the Holy Places.
We certainly have not improved
much since the Crusaders. In those days things had some meaning. Think
of the last sight of the True Cross after the Franks were beaten under
Guy de Lusignan and Raymond of Tiberias at the Horns of Hattin in July
1189 – carried away by the Saracens with a Templar nailed to it. Then
although many were fired by the thought of temporal power, they had
really only one end in view, and that was to take the Holy Places from
the Infidel. Now the one idea of the Christian Churches is to take a
bit more for themselves.
You may say that even if all this
is true and the best things are as bad as I say, it is the places that
matter, and that one should not allow such things to enter one’s mind.
That is quite true, but I am afraid that in my case it was quite
impossible, although I did pray against the surroundings. Go to
Nazareth if you want to go to the Holy Land, but do steer clear of
Jerusalem. It will only make you sad. The most impressive thing that I
saw was the place there they stoned St Stephen. It was a small and
quite deserted courtyard, and I felt I really knew where the young man
called Saul stood.”
July 1930 – January 1933 HMS Versatile
Left: HMS Versatile Right: Riga, Open to Visitors Courtesy of Frank Donald
In those days the “sea/shore ratio” had not been invented and after
leaving Barham in April 1930 he joined Versatile in the Atlantic Fleet
and Home Fleet in July. In 1931 the flotilla had a three week cruise in
the Baltic, including a visit to Riga where he met my mother on 10
June. For some reason he had taken to keeping his diary in a not very
effective simple substitution cipher, probably because he had caught
the sailor servants reading it. At the time she was engaged to an
English refrigeration engineer who my father described as a most awful
January – June 1930 German studies
My father had long wanted to qualify as a German Interpreter and spent
the first six months of 1933 on study leave in Germany, qualifying in
August 1933 – July 1935 HMS Milford
My father was then appointed as First Lieutenant of the sloop HMS
Milford, on the Africa Station. There were two events of particular
note. The CinC Africa Station was Admiral Evans, who had been the
second in command of Scott’s polar expedition. In March 1934 the ship
took the Admiral south to Bouvet Island, which while not inside the
Antarctic Circle was covered by glaciers. The Island had recently been
claimed as part of the Norwegian Empire, and the Milford took a supply
of envelopes and Norwegian stamps and a “Bouvet Island” rubber stamp.
The covers are still listed in the Stanley Gibbons Catalogue.
Left: HMS Milford off Bouvet Island
Right: In wet weather gear with Bouvet Island in distance Courtesy of Frank Donald
There was a severe southerly gale and there was concern that the ship
might run out of fuel. At one stage she reversed course but the gale
then moderated and they were able to reach Bouvet Island though it was
too rough to land:
At last I can snatch a moment to
sit down and write to you. We are now safely back from Bouvet Island
and are in the throes of preparing for the Admirals inspection which
happens tomorrow week. This is an awful curse as we have much to do
otherwise but we can only hope that his being pleased with the ship
during the cruise may make him very kindly disposed towards us. We had
a most memorable trip and are all very keen to go again next year if we
We sailed from Capetown on the
15th February and ran into bad weather at once. The sea got steadily
worse and after about four days of incessant gales we began to get
quite worried about our fuel consumption. On the fifth day we decided
that the loss of distance due to the gales would make it impossible for
us to reach Bouvet Island and get home again so we very reluctantly
turned and started for home. Luckily the wind changed and we turned
once again, finally reaching Bouvet Island on the 8th Day.
It was a great moment when we
thought that we were the first King’s ship to reach the island – the
attempt 140 years ago having failed – and we are only the thirteenth
ship that has touched at the place since its discovery in 1739. It is
the most lonely place on Earth as there is literally nothing within a
thousand miles and the whole place is just one big volcano covered by a
glacier. Nothing lives there but the seal and the penguin but we could
not land on account of the surf and so missed the seeing a penguin
rookery at close quarters.
We steamed round the island and
on the far side found an iceberg 300 foot high, which some kind fairy
at put there to thrill us. This, like the glacier ice was a most
exquisite shade of greenish-blue and was beautiful to look at. I
managed to shoot some seabirds for the Capetown Museum and then we
departed. Next year we hope to come again and in addition to revisiting
Bouvet Island we hope to get within the Antarctic Circle and do a
survey of the almost unknown Enderby Island and name places after
We had a very different trip back. The swell was fairly large but the sun shone and we felt warm.
Somewhat unfairly the Milford’s Admiral’s
Inspection was due a week after the return to Simonstown, but they
passed with flying colours.
The cleanliness of the ship,
which is my only real interest at the moment, is perhaps more obvious
to skilled eye but I think most people would merely call her damned
dirty. However if they don’t muck us about to much in the interval
things may do alright.
At last – and a very long last, I
have a chance to write to you. Actually I have had the time before,
after all it does not take very long actually to write, but I have been
so tired that I have not had the energy. The last fortnight has been so
abominably strenuous but thank God it is now over and has been
well worth it. Although our Inspection Report is not yet out I think
there is no doubt that we did exceptionally well. Of course there may
be some small “back-handers” for individual things, but in the main the
Commander-in-Chief was very pleased indeed. Of course he had a
fortnight of us on the Bouvet Island trip and found out fairly well how
things went in the ship. In consequence of this he said that he would
not give us a very comprehensive inspection. Heaven preserve us from a
severe inspection by him!
He was onboard from 9.30 am until
5.00 pm and during that time we did a full-calibre shoot, landed a
platoon to demolish the Capetown water supply and all sorts of minor
things. He was very pleased with all this and made very complementary
remarks about the cleanliness of the ship and the appearance of the
troops. Various other members of the Staff were also most polite and
the Guns of the “Carlisle” went back onboard and said that he had never
seen such clean messdecks in any ship. The troops really worked
magnificently, often up to 10.00 pm quite voluntarily, and so I am
really very pleased.
Hard on the heels of that came our dance, and we had to concentrate on
making the ship really “tiddley” for that We had 122 people onboard and
feared too much crowd, but everyone enjoyed themselves thoroughly and
the Commander of the “Dorsetshire” was very complimentary on the ship.
I made the Quartermaster pipe the numbers of the dances and this was
quite a new departure, and had the success of a novelty. Then came a
big combined landing operation which is underway at this very moment,
but all my hands are ashore and I can do no more at present.
The German Cruiser Emden visited Cape Town for Christmas 1934 and New Year 1935. My father got
the dream appointment of liaison officer and spent eleven days on
board. One task was helping the Emden’s Adjutant to prepare a broadcast
in English on the previous Cruiser Emden (sunk by HMAS Sydney),
coach him on the pronunciation, and conduct him while on air (cf Lionel
Logue and King George VI in the film “The King’s Speech”).
Kreutzer Emden Capetown 23.12.34
My dream has come true. I am
living onboard a German ship as Verbindungsoffizier. As you will see
from my writing I have no time and an awful pen and I will write
properly after Jan. 2nd.
Things are going very well but I am terribly busy and rushed. They are a very nice lot.
At long last I have a moment to
write to you and give you some account of all my adventures between
21st December and 2nd January. Since then nothing has happened, or if
it has I have failed to notice it as I am “restlos kaput”. It is
extraordinary how completely one cracks after a really strenuous time –
one day completely keyed up and ready for anything and then, as soon as
the incentive is removed, collapsing. That is how I feel now, tired to
death and bored, tho’ I do not doubt that a few more nights’ sleep will
restore me to normal once again.
I will begin at the very start
and try to give you some idea of everything in diary form. The
Emden arrived on the 21st and I went up to meet her as
Officer-of-the-Guard. Owing to fog she was late in arriving and I
hardly had time to get down to Simonstown and report to the Admiral
before Fregattenkapitan Doenitz arrived down to pay his call. I was
there as interpreter but didn’t have to do much as he spoke fair
English. The Admiral asked if he wanted a Verbindungsoffizier and he
said that he would so I rushed back onboard and lunched and packed in
an hour and then drove up to Capetown. The whole town was full of
Christmas traffic and I managed to bump Pat Ryland’s car into a lorry
and demolished a headlight! Not very serious damage I grant you, but
very exasperating when one is in a hurry and it is very hot. However I
managed to arrange to get it repaired and arrived in good time before
the Admiral paid his return call.
The rest of the day was fairly peaceful and I turned in early, little knowing that this would be about the last time in 1934.
On the 22nd the Officers of the
Squadron came up from Simonstown to call and I spent most of the day
arranging about sending a man up to Swakopmund on leave, looking up
trains and generally making myself useful. In the evening there was a
dance at the German Club, which I attended, and strangely enough met
some people whom I had last known in East London. Oberleutnant
Huebner, who became my particular friend, and I missed our lift back
and were just preparing to walk when suddenly we saw a car standing by
the side of the road, in which two people were having a very strenuous
“petting-party”. Without a minute’s hesitation H went up and opened the
door and said in German “So sorry to keep you waiting. Very many thanks
for offering us a lift.” The two amorists were so flabbergasted that
they meekly complied. H carried on an animated conversation on the
drive while I giggled weakly in the back seat.
Sunday produced little except a
tea party onboard and was fairly quiet as all public offices were
shut and I could not do much ringing up.
Christmas Eve was most strenuous.
First of all I had to take eighteen officers and cadets down to
Simonstown to call on the Squadron. The taxis were late and so we
missed our train, which made me nearly burst with rage as I had
everything beautifully taped off. However I was so short with the taxi
company that they took us down to Simonstown for nothing and it was
much more pleasant to go in that way and they had a nice drive. We came
back and I was just going to have my lunch when I was dragged away to
the Bachelors’ Christmas-tree, where we sang songs, drank Bowle (spiced
wine) and gave each other presents. I got very nice picture of the ship
as my share of the spoils. Then more arranging things at the telephone
and then Christmas Service at 6.30 pm.
The Quarterdeck looked lovely
with an enormous Christmas-tree all lit up and the whole ship’s company
singing “Stille Nacht”. We then went round the Messdecks and wished
everyone “frohliches Fest”, and I must say that everything was
beautifully decorated. Then we had dinner in the Mess and then we
returned to the Messdecks where they kept it up, drinking and singing,
until 6.00 am on Christmas morning. Personally I went to bed about 1.00
am as I was very tired. On Christmas eve they brewed 850 litres of
Punch onboard and Heaven knows how much beer and wine were drunk and
yet they all remained remarkably sober. The singing of course was
magnificent and I am full of German songs.
Christmas day was very strenuous
as I had heaps of organising to do in connection with the Emden being
open to visitors; arranging about gangways with the Harbour Board and
drawing up plans with the Police for the regulation of traffic. In the
evening I went to a party organised by some very rich Germans, from
which I finally returned to bed at 6.30 am. Boxing Day I spent taking
some of the officers racing.
On the 27th I spent the morning
at the telephone and at the Station, getting back the money for the
tickets not used on the 24th and then accompanied the Captain on a
motor trip round the Penninsular, finally ending up at Klein Constantia
for a cocktail-party. Actually it was the nicest one I have ever
attended. The house is a charming old Dutch one and we drank Bowle on
the lawn in marvellous sunlight with flowerbeds all round us in amazing
colours, purple Bougainvillia, Cannas and God knows what. I had rather
an amusing time there as a woman came up to me and said very slowly “I
suppose you understand English if I speak very slowly”. I replied in
suitably halting English. Soon after this she heard me talking English
to someone and said “But how do you speak such good English?” to which
I replied “Probably because my mother is English and my father Scotch”.
Stupid woman, she was very annoyed! In the evening I took some officers
ashore to dance at the local night-club, having mobilised some young
women of my acquaintance at two hours notice, which I think was a fine
effort on their part.
On Friday I had awful scenes with
the telephone people as they moved the ship – the Harbour people I mean
– and the telephone people took four hours to connect us up again. As I
had an enormous amount to do that day before going to a Garden Party
you can imagine how pleased I was! The Garden Party was most
picturesque as the garden was lovely and the uniforms and dresses
looked very nice. In the middle I had to rush away and commandeer a
telephone to make arrangements about a German officer broadcasting
about the exploits of the old Emden and in the evening I went and dined
at High Constantia with two officers.
Saturday morning I spent helping
the Adjutant with his Broadcast, first licking it into shape and then
typing hurriedly while he changed to go out to an official lunch. Then
in the afternoon there was a party onboard for about a thousand people,
after which I had to rush off to the Broadcasting studio where,
hermetically sealed in a very hot box I helped Godl with his broadcast.
To get the right punctuation I conducted his speech as if he was an
orchestra. Then, without any dinner, straight to the City Hall for a
concert, followed by a reception and then onto the German Club to dance.
Sunday I attended an official
lunch given by the Captain and then Huebner and I were picked up by my
East London friends and went up the Mountain, afterwards going back to
dinner with them. Monday was spent chiefly in arranging about pilots,
tugs and customs clearances for the ship’s departure and in the
afternoon we had another dansant (Bordfest) followed by a party at the
German Club for New Year. I got a girl called Jean Glennie invited and
she was thrilled with the whole thing as she was an enormous success.
Her sister who had got off with one of the Watchkeepers could not come,
much to their mutual disappointment. We were all supposed to go and
bathe afterwards but by 3.00 am I had had enough so we went home.
Unfortunately I got a second wind when I go onboard and joined up with
a singing party in the Wardroom until 4.30 pm!
On New Year’s day I went racing
with four officers under my wing and then we dined at High Constantia.
Before racing I lunched with the Captain and he gave me his photograph
and a cigarette case with the Emden arms. On the 2nd I packed and saw
the ship out of harbour at 3.30 pm, worn out and sad, but richer by a
most interesting and happy experience. They were all so nice and just
like our own best type of NO.* Now I must stop or this will not
go for sixpence (air mail). .....This week has no news except
*However a certain
amount of Nazification had occurred as there as “Heil Hitler” was to be
heard and there were Nazi salutes during the singing of the Deutschland
and Horst Wessel Lieds.
The Captain of the Emden, Fregattenkapitan Doenitz, gave my
father a signed photograph of himself (now in the Imperial War Museum).
The inscription reads:
"Lieutenant Donald in memory of his time as Liaison Officer on the Emden with sincere thanks, Cape Town, 2.1.1935. Doenitz, Commander, Cruiser Emden."
September 1935 - November 1936 Navigation School and RN Staff College
My father spent his leave in Germany, studying hard and doing advance
reading for the Staff College and then attended a course at the
Navigation School at Portsmouth. The Navy was in turmoil, in
preparation for a possible war with Italy over Mussolini’s African
adventures. Two destroyer flotillas had been brought out of reserve,
and a friend of his had been called back after five days of honeymoon
to man one of the ships. He hunted regularly and in a letter home noted
his disgust at falling on his head and ruining a top hat.
Left: hunting in 1935-6 while at Naval Staff College or at Navigation School in 1935-6
Right: Playing Polo, probably in Bermuda Courtesy of Frank Donald
He attended the Staff College at Greenwich from January to November
1936. In August he attended the Berlin Olympics with his younger sister
Barbara and they then went on a canoe trip down the Danube to Vienna,
with an extension to Budapest by bus. The excursion was written up in an article for “The Pelican”, the Staff college magazine.
first impression on arriving at Cologne was the almost complete absence
of anyone in the black or brown uniforms of the N.S.D.A.P. Everywhere
the field-grey of the Army was to be seen, but except on official
occasions, as at the opening of the Games when the S.A lined the
streets the black and brown uniforms of the “political soldiers” were
conspicuous by their absence. Perhaps some Government order had been
issued to allay the suspicions of any visitor who might think that
there was any military significance in the S.A or S.S.
Berlin during the games became an
international city, and an abominably overcrowded one at that. The
shops were full and looked most prosperous and food was cheap. I heard
however that this was merely to impress visitors, that there had been
strict rationing before and that is was expected that the same
restrictions would follow the Games. Twenty-five million eggs had been
collected to feed Berlin and its visitors. As one of the Olympic
weightlifters ate twenty-five every morning, the number was probably
No pains had been spared in the
decorations of the city. The houses literally bristled with flags and
were hung with festoons of what were probably meant to be laurel
wreaths. Such is the influence of the Cinema, however, that we thought
it was spinach and concluded that “Popeye the Sailor” was going to
perform great feats of strength at the Games. In Unter Den Linden red
fluted pillars were erected about five yards apart. On each pillar was
a medallion with a picture of some German town, framed in spinach. Some
of the pictures were very attractive, but the decorations did not make
up for the loss of the beautiful lime trees which used to line this
street and from which it got its name. They were, unfortunately,
removed when the underground railway was extended. Looking at the
decorations was the chief pastime in Berlin, but it made progress
painfully slow. The average time from the Brandenburger Tor to the
Friedrichstrasse – about the same distance from Piccadilly to Dover
Street – was fifteen minutes on foot and twenty by car.
The opening day of the Games was
wet, but nothing could damp the ardour of the crowds, who had assembled
along the streets to watch the notables go by. Everyone was cheered as
soon as he was recognized, though I think the greatest reception was
accorded to fourteen empty cars, which followed each other in the
middle of the procession, presumably in case of accidents. At all
events they took the fancy of the crowd. Last of all, preceded by his
yellow standard and surrounded by his bodyguard, came Herr Hitler. His
reception was enthusiastic, but not as tumultuous as I had expected.
Perhaps the crowd had already cheered itself hoarse.
[The “the greatest reception
accorded to fourteen empty cars” outdoing that given to Hitler and his
colleagues could have been due to Berlin being a notoriously left wing
city, symbolized by “Berlin Steak”, brown on the outside and red in the
The Games themselves were very
interesting and we were lucky enough to see most of the star
performers, including Owens, who pulverized his field in every event;
Miss Stephens, described as “The fastest woman in the world”; and
Woodruff, whose running in the 400 metres compared fairly favourably
with the Staff College Quarter-miler. The crowd was, on the whole, very
fair and sporting, though there were times when a certain amount of
racial feeling was evident.
While in Berlin I had the
interesting experience of being asked to spend the night at Juterborg
and dine with the General commanding there. Juterborg corresponds to
Lark Hill, but is not so cold, and batteries stationed in Northern
Germany come there to do their firings. The whole camp is being
expanded at present to try to cope with the great increase in the army.
We left Berlin with many regrets
and had a very pleasant journey to Passau where we collected our boat
and put it together. Put like that it sounds very simple, but it took
us some time before we could find places for all the many complicated
bits that we had unpacked. However, after a time we succeeded, and
having launched our canoe, stepped very gingerly into it and set off.
[In 2002 Aunt Barbara wrote “we
were somewhat embarrassed to note that all the other people got their
canoes together in about half-an-hour, and it took us the whole
morning. Your father said kindly “if anything untoward happens I will
save the boat, as I only have one of that – but I have got another
sister at home”.]
Of our adventures during the trip
down the Danube there is not much to tell. At Stein we took our boat to
bits and packed it away, which was even more difficult job than
assembling it. [In Vienna] we attended a Mass in the Kapuzinerkirche,
in honour of the late Emperors Franz Josef and Karl. Everyone was in
uniform and it gave us an impression of what pre-war Vienna must have
been like. The Mass was said on the anniversary of the old Emperor’s
birthday and this, in former times, was the date on which Cadets
passing out of the Military College were given their commissions…..
Our chief reason for going to
Budapest was to see the famous procession on 20th August. On this day
the sacred hand of St Stephen is carried through the streets from the
Chapel in the Royal Palace to the Coronation Church, where a High Mass
is celebrated. At the head of the procession rode a detachment of
mounted police in full uniform; they were followed by street cleaners
with dust-pans and brushes. This struck us as being more practical than
artistic. After them came delegations of the various War Associations.
Then there was a short wait while the veterans formed up outside the
Church and then, the sun shining on their magnificent mediaeval
uniforms, the first detachment of the Royal Guards came into sight.
Close behind them came the high dignitaries of the Church, the
Metropolitan of Hungary, the Papal Nuncio and the Cardinal, all in
their full panoply and escorted by train-bearers and pages. Next came
another detachment of the Royal Guards as escort for the relic, which
in its jewelled casket was borne on the shoulders of priests in
gold-embroidered vestments. Sad to say, most of the British and
American onlookers were too busy with their cameras to remove their
hats as the relic was carried past.
The St Stephen’s Day Procession, Budapest, the 20 August 1936 Courtesy of Frank Donald
behind the relic walked the Regent in his Admiral’s uniform, and behind
him the three Archdukes, followed by a large group of Magyar notables
in their national costume. The majority wore wine-red velvet Dolmans
trimmed with fur, and their Attilas were of all the colours imaginable.
In this colourful assembly one young man stood out, his Attila being of
sky-blue and silver brocade. After the nobles came the peasants, drawn
from all parts of Hungary, and wearing the particular dress for their
own districts. The women, in their white aprons and brightly coloured
skirts and bodices, made a fine splash of colour as they crossed the
sunlit square in front of the Church. After the procession had passed
we went into the Church and found the Mass most impressive. The singing
was magnificent, the solo parts being taken by singers from the State
After the Mass the procession
returned to the Palace and we found the streets blocked by cordons of
police. It was now after mid-day and as we had left our hotel before
07.00 we were very tired and wanted our lunch. We had a letter from the
Chief of Police, sent with our complementary tickets, as we thought we
would try the effect of his signature on his minions. Discipline must
be very good in the Budapest Police, because at the mere sight of the
signature the police let us through any cordon and along any street.
Later we had the letter translated: It said that, as we had
complementary tickets, we were not entitled to any refreshments.
My mother visited London in the
summer and they resumed their acquaintanceship. They were married on 19
December 1936, before sailing for Bermuda where he was to be Staff
Officer Operations to CinC America and West Indies Station.
My Parents’ Wedding
The wedding presents were all packed up, and mostly stayed in their
boxes until my wife and I found them in the 1960’s, still padded with
Berlin Olympics newspapers. There was a lot of art deco with at least
three blue mirror covered cigarette boxes.
18 December 1936 – April 1939 HMS York
Left: HMS York Right: Serge Evreinov with my parents Courtesy of Frank Donald
The station Flagship was the cruiser HMS York. Every year the
ship went on a cruise, during which it was deemed more economical to
ship my mother back to the family home in Stirling. My parents did
manage an extensive tour of the USA and Canada, and she was able to
meet her Russian half brother Serge for the first time since 1917.
After the Russian Civil war he had settled first in Harbin (China) and
ultimately in Connecticut. When he entered the USA in 1925 he was
supposed to be en route to Paris so he had not dared leave the USA
until he could legalise his position by becoming a citizen.
July 1939 – September 1939 HMS Iron Duke
My father was appointed as a boys’ training officer. The ship was
deployed from Portsmouth to Scapa Flow where the ship sustained a near
miss during a German air raid. On 24 September he managed to get home
to Stirling at the same time as his brother-in-law Captain Alex
Finlaison (Cameronians) and the whole family were photographed together
for the last time. (My grandfather took the picture and I was present
My father had been working on a German - English Naval Dictionary and
discovered that Lord Louis Mountbatten was working on an English-French
version (possibly including German as well). They decided to join
forces but the outbreak of war put an end to the work, and the
Admiralty did not produce their own dictionary until 1942. My father’s
manuscript was deposited in the Mountbatten Archive in 1976.
The family gather together for the last time on the 23 September 1939 three weeks after the war began
From left: Barbara Donald (sister), Colin Donald, Kyra Donald, Alex Finlaison (brother in law), Monica Finlaison (sister)
Angela Finlaison (neice), Rosamund Finlaison (neice) and Gertrude Donald (mother) Courtesy of Frank Donald
In November 1939 Lt Cdr Colin G.W. Donald RN was appointed as CO of the V & W destroyer, HMS Vimy, based at Harwich.
Able Seaman Don Harris joined the ship from hospital after surviving the sinking of the Royal Oak at Scapa Flow and left a graphic account of events in May 1940. Read how the life of this young naval officer ended at Boulogne on the 23 May 1940.