Saturday, 1 November 2014

Sergeant Thomas Fraser Munro’s 1942 Diary

George Munro was born at Oldshoremore, Eddrachillis in 1875. He was a policeman at Leith, Edinburgh after being in the Black Watch Regiment, serving in India and Boer War. While in South Africa George had had his bagpipes silver mounted and they have passed down through the family as an heirloom. George married Angusina Fraser who was born in Achlyness (both George and Angusina went to Achlyness School). Angusina moved to Edinburgh to be near George. Their son Thomas Fraser Munro was born in Edinburgh plus three other children. Eventually George and Angusina decided that the families future lay in New Zealand. George went out there while Angusina took her children home to Achleyness to await word from George that they could sail to their new home. Finally, in 1912, Angusina and her young family left Scotland for New Zealand and her husband. 
During the Second World War young Thomas, who had previously been a publican in New Zealand, joined the Forces - claiming to be older than he was - and eventually found himself on leave in Britain when he was able to visit his Fraser relations at Achlyness. It is known that he received a Fraser family history during this trip but sadly this has never been seen. The family guessed that the ship that carried that mail home was torpedoed as so many were. What the family do have is Tom’s war time diary which gives a great description of his short wartime life.

Picture above shows the young Tom with his father George in the 1920s. 
March 1942
Sun 8th - Left Lyttleton (New Zealand) on board the Warwick Castle at 7 P.M. Seas rough -great sea-boat.
Sun & Mon 15th &16th - Topees issued (a pith hat or helmet. e.g. photo of Tom’s father George Munro, wearing one in Sth Africa – The Black Watch Regiment 1901)
Thursday 19th - Hot as hell, sharks, flying fish about, and schools of porpoises.
Monday 23rd - Hotter than hell - crossed the equator at 3a.m. Saw our first ship to-day. Fired three shots at target 3 miles astern – great shooting. Hope to see Panama tomorrow.
Tues 24th - Arrived Balboa. Stayed outside while American officials came aboard no leave granted. Saw lots of American planes & flying boats. Other ships anchored in close to us. Had to pass through a boom, past the mango swamps. The place was bristling with guns, balloons and troops. Anchored to a buoy just off the wharf. Patriotic N.Z. gave us 3 American dollars each.
Wed 25th - Left early for trip through the canal. The locks were great pieces of engineering. We were lifted through 2 sets of locks the Pedro Miguel and the? Locks. We then passed through the Calebsa Cut for miles, with jungle and military encampments and balloons along the canal. We saw crocodiles lying on the banks as we steamed through the Gatun Locks, and then onto Cristobal. Got shore leave at 4pm, very hot. Cristobal and Colon are separated by an imaginary line up the main street. One side of the street is American and the other side is Panamanian Republic; Police can’t chase you over the road.
Thursday 26th - Woke up at midday and are out at sea again. Submarine watches on all the time. Must sleep in our clothes – ship travelling at full speed now as we are in the submarine infested waters, 15 ships sunk in last week. Sleeping on deck owing to the heat below. In the Caribbean Sea zigzagging all the time – hot as hell day and night – sighted nothing.
Friday 27th - Still racing up the Caribbean Sea.
Saturday 28th - Sighted 7 ships and 1 cruiser. Sea getting rougher. Suddenly reversed course to dodge sub – ahead.
Sunday 29th - Weather getting colder. Passed 6 miles off Miami, and had a good view of the skyscrapers. Passed 3 miles of Palm Beach and saw motor-cars on the beach. Passed 23 ships, one nearly submerged, which had been torpedoed – 3 aeroplanes - had a church parade this morning. Sea getting rougher tonight. Got an SOS from ship, which we had passed previously. It was torpedoed at sunset. Torpedo passed just astern.
APRIL 1942
Thursday 2nd - Landed in Halifax at 10.30a.m. Snow right down to sea level. Passed dozens of ships &… and aeroplanes. Saw torpedoed tanker beached, the stern on one side of the harbour and the fore part, still burning, on the other side of the harbour. The oil had then been burning for a fortnight.
Thursday 9th - no leave - Took 1500 troops aboard, comprising R.A.F., Canadians, Czechoslovakians (pilots...)
Friday 10th - Pulled out from wharf at 10 a.m. Convoys going out. Pulled out from stream at 1pm. We followed the American cruiser “Philadelphia” out and the “Bamfora” 12000 tons, followed us and then three American troopships escorted each side by corvette and torpedo boats. One corvette picked up a submarine just outside and dropped these depth charges quite near us. Ship shook hard. Perfect day, sea calm Cruises had six aircraft flying around and four Catalinas escorted us until dark. Picked up eight destroyers, four on each side and cruises between us, and a large American troopship. The three Americans, I think are bound for Iceland with Yankee troops. The seaplanes landed at 6.30pm and were lifted aboard the Cruises. “The “Bamfora” and our boat are the only two for England, so we will probably speed up after we lose the others.
Saturday 11th - We had a submarine alarm and the destroyers dropped six depth charges. Some of the Canadians have never seen the sea and are very sick. Some have never even heard of N.Z. The sea is getting rougher and now with rain and mist. Two British destroyers are leading the convoy.
Sunday 12th - Sea very rough. Ships going right under the waves. “Bamfora” right behind us. Another destroyer turned up this morning – making nine now and 1 Cruiser. Don’t like the Canadians or R.A.F., our lads prefer the Americans. The destroyers having a rough time in the sea. Continually changing course.
Monday 13th - Still rough and convoys steaming at 12 knots but doing 14 with strong gale behind us, Going up the coast of Greenland. Sleet showers and very cold – ships all rolling heavily. Still have a beautiful cold.
Tuesday 14th - Weather improving and getting warmer. Passed a large convoy of about 40 ships on horizon. At 5 P.M. destroyers detected submarine. Destroyers racing about all over the place. Several depth charges dropped. Good fun.
Saturday 18th - Clear and cold. Sighted Scotland at 8am on the port side and Ireland on the starboard side. Passed Islay Craig at 12am (2 Blackburn Bothas) Passed Rothesay, Dunoon, Ayr etc. Passed Submarine P.43 on the Clyde, 2 minelayers. Saw Sunderlanders and Catalinas. Yank destroyer passed us going up, and the lads gave them 3 cheers, as they left us. Arrived off Gourock and berthed, about 30 ships and aircraft carriers and warships all around us. The “Bamfora” pulled up alongside us. Been once around the world. Weather calm but cold, snow on the hill tops. Balloon barrage on barges. (Protection from dive bombing)
Sunday 19th - Left Warwick Castle (the ship) at 10.30 am. Left Gourock for Bournemouth at 12.30pm. Greenock was heavily “blitzed” and we saw lots of damage. Passed Port of Glasgow, Motherwell. Passed into England at 4.20pm. – Skipton 15min, Leeds 15 min – saw bomb damage & canals with barges. Leicester 15 min. Had meals served to us on the train, and they were quiet good. Supper at 9 with coffee was good.
Monday 20th - Woke at 5.30am. Train 30 minutes behind us was bombed and machine-gunned. Had invitation from Lady Francis Ryder to afternoon tea. (Lady Francis Ryder’s Colonial Hospitality Movement. A scheme for helping lads from the Colonies.)
Tuesday 21st - Had a look around the shops at Boscombe (alerts) Coupons are required for some articles, but quite a lot of stuff is not rationed yet. And food is fairly plentiful. Girl of 18 killed by bombs today. More alerts tonight and can hear Nazi’s overhead. Saw lots of Spitfires, Hurricanes, and Sunderlands Halifax & Wellingtons about on way to France.
Thursday 23rd - We expect leave on Wednesday and intend to go up to Scotland. Weather good. Went out to Christchurch and some quaint old Inns and church 900 years old. – very nice little place. Bought suitcase 25/6. More alerts.
Saturday 25th - Cold wind. Had Anzac Day parade with Australians.
Sunday 26th - Went to Southampton. Saw miles of bombed buildings. The Supermarine Vickers’ Factory was bombed and 200 girls killed. Miles of balloons about. Streets very clean and tidy. Had air raid alarm and the A.A. guns were firing above us. Most people have an Anderson shelter.
Monday 27th - got issued with flying gear, gas masks etc, tin hat rubber boots and clothing.
Wednesday 29th - Left Bournemouth on 2.20pm for Southampton. Stayed night at Dolphin Hotel. Saw extensive bomb damage.
Thursday 30th - Left Southampton for London. Arrived at Waterloo Station, one of the F.A.P.Y. Officers took us round to see the sights. Went to N.Z. House in the Strand. Took taxi and dumped bag at Euston Station. Took tube ride to various parts, and eventually got out at Knightsbridge and went up to Hyde Park. Took bus to Euston Station and caught the 7.30pm train to Inverness.
MAY 1942
Friday 1st - Woke up at Perth and had a cup of tea. Ground white with frost and cold. Through Blair Athol, and past Kingussie down into Inverness. Had a shave there at 11.30am and caught the train for Lairg at 12.5pm. Met a Mr A R McLeod from Lochinver. Passed Beauly, Dingwell, Evanton where there were lots of bombers and flying boats, onto Invergordon. Had lunch on the train on the dining car. Good beer Worthington India Pale Ale. There was thousands of Canadian forestry troops (cut trees for timber) in this area. Went onto Tain and saw Dornoch across the water. Went up through Bonar Bridge to Lairg 2.45pm. No bus to Scourie until the next day, so stayed that night with a Mrs J Murray, half way between the station and the village. The River Shin flowed past the house. Her daughter Peggy drove us down on side of river to Bonar Bridge and back. Had a beer at B.Rs. and at the Sutherland Arm Hotel in Lairg. Daylight till 11P.M. Loch Shin looked a great sight in the evening. Perfect weather for the first day of summer. Got free meal tickets from Mail driver
Saturday 2nd - Woke up at 10am, had bacon & eggs for breakfast. Perfect day again. Between roads Mr Murray took me up to Lairg in cart had a couple at the Sutherland Arms Hotel. Had dinner and caught the Scourie bus outside the P.O. Had a beer at the Querscaig Inn. Passed Ben Stack, Ben Arkle, Laxford on to Scourie. Travelled with an Alastair Munro from Tarbut (sailor). Met Neil McLeod had a couple at the Scourie Hotel. Met his sister Agnes (feed) and his father & mother. Met Mr & Mrs McLeod (Simons parents) at their house. Went to Neil’s place at Badcall. Have to see Hugh Fraser tomorrow. Had a look at the peat-cutting bogs. Saw several deer on the way up. The roads are good to Laxford, bitumen nearly all the way. An old chap from Lairg, Charlie Morrison, was going up there to take the church service. The houses are all stone, about 2ft thick walls.
Sunday 3rd - Had breakfast in bed (bacon & eggs) got up about 12. Had a look through the disused canning factory near Neil’s place. Went up in the afternoon to see Hugh Fraser, and got all the family history. Saw the powder-horn used by Simon Fraser in 1724. Went home about 9.30pm. Daylight up here until about 11.30pm.
Monday 4th - Left Neil’s place at 8am for Lairg. Had a good trip down. Passed lots of deer quite close to the bus (20 yds away). Arrived Lairg at 10.30am. Mr Murray met me with the cart. Had lunch at his place and then caught the 12.15 to Inverness. He promised to send out some heather to N.Z. Arrived at Inverness at 2.45 PM and changed for Aberdeen. Left Inverness at 3.30pm. Passed good farming country all the way down. Arrived Aberdeen 7.30PM and stayed at the Bridge Hotel. Mr Noble had arranged accommodation for me, but he is out. Slept well (as usual)
And so Tom returned to the south of England and went on flight training.
While with the Operational Training Unit, on the night of 10th September,1942, Sergeant Munro took part in a bombing attack on Bremen. The aircraft crashed near Halesworth, Suffolk, all its crew being killed. At the time the Group Captain of the RAF Station Bassingbourne, Royston, Herts wrote to Tom's mother as follows:
"Tom was pilot of an aircraft which took part in air operations against Germany that night (10 September 1942). There was no information as to what happened between the time they left here at 9pm and the terrible news of their crash at 11.50pm near the village of Chedirton, Suffolk. It can only be surmised that they encountered the enemy on their outward journey and were forced to return and crashed soon after crossing the Suffolk coast". He was buried with full military honours on the 15th September 1942 in Ipswich Borough Cemetery, Ipswich, Sect. C, Division 31. Space 35". The crew of the aircraft contained one other New Zealander, Sergeant J.T.Stanley, No 41553, of Christchurch who was navigator and is buried alongside Tom. Tom had 308 hours as a pilot.
Halesworth is 40 KM north of Ipswich and it is assumed Chedirton was a village near there.
Tom qualified for:
The 1939-45 Star, The Aircrew Europe Star and The Defence Medal
Tom's name is recorded in the Roll of Honour, in the Scottish National War Memorial at Edinburgh Castle. The West Wall of the National War memorial is devoted to the Flying Services.
The inscription reads
I bare you on eagles' wings and brought you unto myself
(Exodus, xix 4)
below the badge of the Royal Air Force it reads....
In memory of Scots of all ranks of the Royal Naval Air Service,
Royal Flying Corps, Royal Air Force and of those air forces
from every part of the British Empire who gave their lives
in winning victory for their King and Country
In a book in memory of Scots of all ranks, there is the following entry
MUNRO, Thomas Fraser, 415005, Sgt. b Edinburgh,
United Kingdom.10/09/42. 11 OTU
Tom was a champion piper, along with his father George Munro winning many awards. Tom's bagpipes were his father George's. He played them in the Black Watch in South Africa and Scotland. They were Henderson bagpipes made of African Blackwood mounted with silver in South Africa for 22 Pounds when he bought them. Tom's son George played the same bagpipes at St. Andrews College in Christchurch and in the Temuka Pipe Band, in South Canterbury.
Sadly Tom's brother, Iain, who was born in New Zealand, also lost his life in the same war. Two sons left for war - none returned.
Many thanks to George and Ann Munro, New Zealand for allowing us all to read the above diary.
For further information on this family please contact George & Ann.

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