Mr. Chris Tyrer
I sailed with Orient Line for 10 years as Asst.Purser and Deputy Purser leaving them in 1948 to get married and find a shore job. The ship I spent most time in was Orion. I also sailed in Orama for a very short time, joining her in Scapa temporarily and sailing to Firth of Forth where she was messed around, with constantly changing orders before finally loading troops and sailing for Norway. My replacement arrived the day before she sailed. Orama was kept sailing up and down the Norwegian coast until low on fuel. She then had a rendezvouswith a tanker and the Aircraft Carrier Glorious. Unfortunately Scharnhorst and Gneisenau turned up with the inevitable result. Orama's crew spent virtually the whole war in POW camp.
After a spell in the Orient Line's Office, helping clean up the mess of advanced passenger bookings and Agents commissions in enemy and occupied territory my next ship was Oronsay. I joined her just in time to sail for St Nazaire. This was at the time of Dunkirk and the mission was to evacuate troops and nationals. Lancastria was also in St. Nazaire on the same job, and was sunk by dive-bombers with heavy loss of life. Oronsay was also hit, but was able to navigate and steer from the aft steering flat. On return, Oronsay was sent to the Clyde for repairs and I rejoined Orion.
I sailed in Orion until about mid 1943 when I was sent as Liaison Officer to the Dutch vessel Johan van Oldenbarnevelt, which was being operated on behalf of the Ministry of Shipping by the Orient Line. I stayed with the J.v.O until the end of the war when I returned to Orion which was about to sail taking Australian Troops for repatriation. Unfortunately only one day out she was forced to return to Southampton with a cracked turbine. This was probably a relic of the night when her engines were put into emergency full astern in an endeavour to get out of the way of HMS Revenge. which had had a steering failure while in convoy.
Orion was laid up for repair, and I was sent to join the German ship Pretoria. During the war Pretoria served as an accommodation ship for U-boats. Pretoria was renamed 'Empire Doon' and was being converted on the Tyne to a permanent peacetime troopship. She was an experimentally engined ship, using small but very high-pressure boilers. The German engineers had been with Pretoria from before commissioning and always had trouble. It was not surprising that our engineers had problems with the unfamiliar setup. After several exciting incidents we finally broke down in the tail end of a gale, and had to be salvaged by the Admiralty tug Bustler and towed into Falmouth. Later she was towed around the coast and put on a swivel half a mile off the Southend Pier. Subsequently she was re-engined and renamed Empire Orwell.
From Empire Doon I went to Orontes then to Ormonde before returning to Empire Doon for three months as part of a caretaker crew. In February 1947 I went back to Orion for her first two post war passenger voyages. Ormonde was then refitted for peacetime voyages, and I was sent to her to help with the necessary re-organisation. I did several voyages in Ormonde and was then scheduled to transfer to the new Orcades for that ship's maiden voyage. However, I was now engaged to be married, and having experienced what were in effect two maiden voyages in quick succession, I decided this was the time to leave the sea.
I no longer have the originals but I do have a few photos scanned into my computer, they are:
Orion, sailing under the Sydney harbour bridge.
Orion, in Port Said
Orion, postcard photo.
Orion, Two photos of damage to bow after collision with Revenge. Taken in Cape Town where the forepeak was filled with concrete to enable the voyage to Port Tewfik to be completed. Later we took on troops in India and Colombo for Singapore. We arrived in Singapore shortly before Pearl Harbour and it is not generally known the Singapore was bombed at the same time as Pearl Harbour. We were in dry dock and had to shoot out the dock floodlights as the only person with a key to the metal door guarding the switchboard was at a party on the other side of the island. We were there until the Japanese were approaching the Causeway, at which time we took on board women and children for evacuation and ran the gauntlet unescorted for Australia.
Ormonde. postcard photo
Orontes, postcard photo,
If you feel there is any information I may have that would be useful to you I should be happy to do my best
I will endeavour to send a couple of photos Of the damage
to Orion following a collision with the battleship HMS Revenge.
Orion left Avonmouth on 6th Aug 1941 carrying just over 5000 troops
bound for Port Tewfik, as reinforcements for the war in the desert..
Off Freetown the convoy reached an alter course time on the zig zag
pattern being sailed. Fortunately, the Second Mate (Underwood?)
happened to be watching Revenge, sailing on our Port beam. and
noticed that she was slow in altering course. Suddenly he realised
Revenge was maintaining a collision course. He immediately ordered
'hard a starboard, full astern emergency double ring'. It was too
late to avoid the collision entirely, but did succeed in allowing
Revenge cross ahead of our bow. This meant that Orion rode up on the
battleship's torpedo blisters, crumpling Orion's bow which then
crashed down on Revenge's deck. ( I believe over the officer's
But for the Second Mate's prompt action Revenge would have hit Orion
with her ram bow, which would certainly have gone clean through
Orion. By the time of the collision the Captain (Captain Arthur Lewis
Owens RD RNR) had reached the bridge and ordered Orion 'Slow ahead'
thus keeping the two vessel's locked together while the damage was
assessed. In Orion it was found that the collision bulkhead was
holding and this was further shored up. Eventually Orion went astern
and slid off Revenge.
The convoy continued to Capetown where Orion's forepeak was filled
with concrete, enabling her to continue with the convoy to Port
Tewfik. Revenge went into the Naval dockyard at Simonstown where she
was laid up for six months or so.
After disembarking troops at Port Tewfik Orion embarked POWs
and took them to Karachi. From Karachi we called at Bombay and
Colombo, collecting troops that were being scraped together to defend
We arrived Singapore 3rd ot 4th December and went into dry
dock at Keppel harbour for repair. On 7th December Singapore was
first bombed by the Japanese (At about the same time as Pearl
Harbour). During her stay in dry dock a fire broke out in No 2 Hold
(Cause unknown ? sabotage) and was contained with some difficulty.
Left Singapore as soon as repairs completed, evacuating women and
children by which time the Japanese were approaching the Causeway.
The only male who came on board was a Paymaster Captain Gibbs RN who
was, I believe, carrying sensitive Naval documents being sent out of
Singapore for safety.
Orion sailed unescorted. Our destinatio was Australia and the only
bad moment, apart from the chaos on board, was when a 'plane,
possibly Japanese, sighted us before flying off. We landed everyone,
except Paymaster Gibbs, in Australia and embarked a Captain Gibbons,
retiring Captain of the Aquitania who had left that ship, for reasons
of age, in Sydney.
From Sydney via New Zealand to Panama, skirting the Antarctic pack
ice and dodging icebergs to avoid Japanese submarines. From Panama to
Bermuda. There we were given two rather ancient destroyers as escort,
as U-boats were now concentrating on the east coast of America.
Leaving Bermuda we ran straight into the middle of a hurricane and
had to reduce speed as the destroyers were in trouble. One of these
destroyers sank and the other turned back for Bermuda. This enabled
us to make slightly better speed.
We then received a radio message diverting us to Halifax. This came
from the Navy Office in New York. Somehow this message was not
registered in the UK. In Halifax we embarked Canadian Troops and took
them to Glasgow arriving there on 11th March 1942. In Glasgow we were
greeted by the Orient Line's manager there, who enquired, indignantly
it seemed, 'Where the hell have you been? We thought you had been
sunk!' Apparentely, due to the confusion about our diversion to
Halifax, it was thought we had either been torpedoed or had succumbed
to the hurricane.
So ended a voyage full of incident