Hear Les Watson talk about the food and accommodation aboard the Raranga.
Les was born in Dunedin in 1922. Unable to join the armed forces because of a sports injury, he signed on the Shaw Savill & Albion cargo liner Raranga as a steward in 1942. On his first trip to Britain, the ship crossed the North Atlantic as part of convoy SC121, battling huge seas and frequent U-boat attacks. Les later served on the Liberty ship Samavon, the big troopship Ile de France and a number of other vessels.
My meals were quite good; I ate what the officers ate. Because I did the officers' mess and the 'old man' [captain]. So I had pretty good food. But there was some terrible food went to the crew. They used to, on the Raranga, when they used to come out after their watch, they looked like skeleton wrecks – the [firemen and] trimmers. Back-to-back they were, shovelling into fires either side. And they were just bones. Shocking conditions, but they survived. And yet the same ship was one of the few that maintained its speed across the Atlantic in all weathers, [even compared] to the modern ones. It was still more seaworthy.
Where was your accommodation?
Mine was aft. The seamen were for'ard, and the firemen and that. We were aft with the galley staff. And actually speaking, in the Atlantic the waves come over and flooded our cabin, and I was on the top bunk. And I always remember this to this day, I am sitting there, and there was no way I was going to get out and paddle in the water, if the ship was sinking I was staying in the top bunk!
Les Watson in his deck steward's uniform aboard the Ceramic (II) in 1948