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RAY MORTON'S HOMEPAGE, Part Two:

"Believe It, Or Not"

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Continued from Part One


"BELIEVE IT, OR NOT"

by Ray Morton

As an 18 year old crew member of S.S. Ohio, I was sailing towards Malta in August 1942 in the now famous "Operation Pedestal". Having been brought up in a God-fearing family, I had taken to sea with me a pocket-sized copy of the Bible, presented to me In 1939 for "good attendance" at Sunday School. On the fly-leaf was a label recording the name of the Parish, my name with the reason for giving the book to me, the year, the signature of the Vicar and in small print at the bottom the name of a Bible and Tract Society, and its address.

Following a hectic few days of argument with the enemy, I took an unscheduled
Gibraltar

Photo Source: World Book Encyclopedia 1972 edition.
bath in the Med late in the afternoon of Wednesday, 12th August, accompanied by Mario Guidoutti and two DEMS gunners. All four of us were duly picked up by a Hunt Class Destroyer, HMS Bicester, (L34) and duly put ashore in Gibraltar a few days later. As I walked on to the dock in Gibraltar, a guy in bell bottoms came over to me and said "Aren't you Jack Morton's lad?" On hearing my puzzled "Yeah?" he said "Have a beer with your old man in the Crown and Thistle on Saturday afternoons when I'm home!"

In the meantime the folks at home had received the standard telegram saying "Regret to Inform you your son is missing at sea and must be pronounced killed by enemy action" . On the following Sunday evening after the BBC's 9 o'clock news, in a program called Postscript, an Admiral of the Fleet had told the glowing story of Operation Pedestal. This didn't do much for the folks who already believed they had a dead son, but it convinced them their dead son was now a dead hero.

The following day, Monday, another telegram arrived from their Lordships at the Admiralty saying "Following last night's broadcast, can now advise you your son safe and alive. Under no circumstances should you attempt to contact him." That last sentence caused more problems than it solved. The old folks were even more worried. Has he had his head blown off? Will he ever walk again? Maybe he has lost his arms! Forty-eight hours later their questions were answered when the folks received a letter from Father's old drinking mate in Gibraltar telling them where I was and that apart from being half drunk on navy rum, I was in reasonably good condition.

A little over a month later, a few days after I had arrived home in the luxury of a DBS (Distressed British Sailor), the local Vicar came to the door, held out what appeared to be my Bible and said, "I've just come to return this". Where the hell had this come from? The last time I had seen it was in my cabin on Ohio! Inside the book was a letter, written by the finder, to the Bible and Tract Society asking them to contact the Vicar and for him to return the book to my bereaved parents. But let the finder tell the story. Here is his letter:



"Avonmouth, 21st Sept. 1942.

Please try and contact the Vicar.

Dear Mr Haworth,

Just a brief line in explanation, concerning the finding of the Bible, and also the book by Mr Lionel Fletcher, which was presented to Raymond Morton. My own particular ship (names herewith omitted) being lost during "operations", in the recent Malta Convoy, we were fortunately rescued by one of the escorting destroyers. Two days later we undertook the dangerous task of towing the disabled tanker Ohio, a unit of the Eagle Oil Co into Malta. We arrived safely, thanks to the mercies, and over-ruling guidance of "God", after 2 days and nights of intense enemy air attacks.

Late one afternoon, I went on board the tanker, to have a look at the damage, by enemy bombs, which had literally reduced the crew's quarters to a shambles. Searching among the debris for odds and ends, such as a piece of soap to wash with, or an old pair of trousers, to replace our dirty ones which we had damaged during rescue work, 1 picked up the Bible and book in the cabin evidently occupied by "Raymond". 1 had lost my own Bible so 1 kept this copy till such times as I could purchase a new one. Thinking that the boy's parents would be interested to know the circumstances in which the books were recovered, 1 am writing you to ask you if you would kindly forward the books on to them, together with this letter. If you contact them, a reply would most gratefully be awaited at my New Zealand home address, vis: Mr. C. F. Cliffe, 67 High Street, "Carterton", Wairarapa, N.Z.

P.S. We were not 500 yards away from the Ohio when the vessel received the first attack and direct hit by torpedo at 6pm. 1 would describe just what happened, but the Censor may object to such procedure. I'm sure that the lad's parents would treasure the books, apart from the extraordinary circumstances in which they were recovered. Do please try and contact them at all costs and my prayers will follow your efforts that "God" will direct you along the right paths. As far as 1 could ascertain "Raymond Morton" was a "Deck Boy" on the tanker Ohio. The master of the ship lives at the following address:

Captain Dudley Mason
Cleveland Terrace
"Westward-Ho"
, Devon.

This later address may help you to trace the lad's movements. My word "shall not return unto me void" we are told and I believe it wholeheartedly.

Yours most humbly, rejoicing in salvation through the Grace of God.

Able Seaman C. F. Cliffe, N.Z."

I tried every avenue I could think of to contact the writer of the letter without success. It would seem he did not have the luck I had. Truth is stranger than fiction. I am not superstitious -- sailors aren't, are they? I still have the book and the letter and I make sure they go with me every time I move.

THE END
WRITTEN BY:
Ray Morton
July 1999





EPILOGUE


Like his Ohio shipmate Mario Guidoutti, Ray Morton also settled Queensland, Australia, after the war. Sadly, Mario passed away on August 27th, 1999.

In September 2002 the 60th Anniversary Reunion of "Operation Pedestal" was held in Malta. At first Ray did not think that he would be able to attend the Reunion, but then Bill Davis of the Vindicatrix Queensland Association took up his cause. After Ted Richardson of the Stella Maris seafarers society heard of Ray's predicament, Ted arranged for the Stella Maris society to sponsor him!

Ray Morton 
and mates in front of 
SS <i>Ohio's</i>
bell at the 2002 Malta Reunion


Left to Right, this photo shows Ohio survivors Allan Shaw and Ray Morton standing in front of the SS Ohio's bell with Victor Gilson. The revered bell was brought to Malta from London especially for the Reunion. Thank you to Victor Gilson for this photo.


In 2004, Ray contributed to the recording which Allan Shaw made for the Imperial War Museums. To listen to Allan's oral history, please click here. Ray also contributed his memories of "Operation Pedestal" to the book At All Costs by American author Sam Moses. In June 2014, the Brisbane "Vindi Boys" of the Vindacatrix Queensland Association celebrated Ray's 90th birthday with him. Ray passed away a short time later on September 29, 2014. To see the lovely photo of Ray on the association's "Crossed the Bar" page, please click here.

Ship Line

TO RETURN to My Memories of "Operation Pedestal" please Click Here.


To read more on our site about "Operation Pedestal", please go to Gordon Sollor's story about the SS Marvia, My Last Wartime Voyage. Although Ray and Gordon did not meet until 2001, they then discovered that they had an acquaintance in common -- Horace Thacker, Ohio's Bosun at the time of "Operation Pedestal". Horace was one of the courageous men who boarded the crippled tanker for the last leg of her incredible voyage to Malta. Gordon met Horace in 1949 when they both worked at a steelworks in South Wales.





To go to "Allied Merchant Navy's" TABLE of CONTENTS Please Click Here.


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There are many websites devoted to "Operation Pedestal". For a few of our suggestions, please visit our Links Pages. To read the letters of the Malta Anniversary Reunion Co-ordinator, Simon Cusens, Please Click Here.




Ray's pages are maintained by Maureen Venzi and are part of The Allied Merchant Navy of WWII website.