"BELIEVE IT, OR NOT"
by Ray Morton
As an 18 year old crew member of
I was sailing
towards Malta in August 1942 in the now famous "Operation
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
bath in the Med late in the afternoon
of Wednesday, 12th August, accompanied by
DEMS gunners. All four of
us were duly picked up by a Hunt Class Destroyer,
(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!"
World Book Encyclopedia 1972 edition.
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
an Admiral of the Fleet had told the glowing story of
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
(Distressed British Sailor), the local
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.
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
a unit of the Eagle Oil Co into
Malta. We arrived safely, thanks to the mercies, and
over-ruling guidance of "God", after 2½ 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,
67 High Street, "Carterton",
P.S. We were not 500 yards away from the
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
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
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.
Like his Ohio shipmate
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,
Bill Davis of the
Vindicatrix Queensland Association
took up his cause.
Ted Richardson of the
heard of Ray's
arranged for the Stella Maris society to sponsor him!
Left to Right, this photo shows
Ray Morton standing in
SS Ohio's bell
The revered bell was brought to Malta from
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
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.
TO RETURN to My Memories of "Operation Pedestal" please
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.
There are many websites devoted to
For a few of our suggestions, please visit
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.