Cape Town Castle Kit Bag

Kitbags are often marked up by the owners with their names, number and details of where they are deployed and their troop ships. These markings lift an interesting item into something far more personal. In this case we have a standard wartime RAF kitbag with two blue stripes:

The kitbag was made in 1942 and the letters HMP 12 indicates that it was produced at one of ‘His Majesty’s Prisons’:

A set of metal eyelets are set into the neck of the kit bag to allow a kit bag lock to be threaded through:

It is, however, the markings that are of most interest. The original owner was a Corporal Richmond:

The opposite side of the kitbag gives the name of his ship, the Cape Town Castle:

Cape Town Castle was built in 1937 and was requisitioned as a troop ship in World War II. over the course of the conflict she carried around 164,000 troops. One RAF serviceman sailed in the Capetown Castle:

We embarked on the Capetown Castle, our small billet was on the main deck, right at the stern, it was like a large square box with about forty bunk beds one above the other, our box was very useful on many occasions and for many reasons, right in front of our box was a large light gun, thankfully it was only used in practice. After claiming our beds and unloading our kit we were free to wander. I had paled up with a fellow Jimmy Cooper, he came from a travelling family from the fairgrounds, he never knew where he was born and neither did anyone else ! Jimmy had four red balls which he used to produce and make disappear at anytime or one red ball or two, three or four at anytime. We strolled out onto the deck onto the portside. Leaning on the rail looking at Liverpool, the Royal Marine Band was playing in their full regalia, they looked wonderful in the white pith helmets and lovely uniforms not like everyone else in drab khaki. Jimmy was feeling very sorrowful and I had a lump in my throat, we just stood there and waved goodbye to the band and Liverpool and the Liver Building. We headed north towards Scotland to pick up with the convoy and our escort, although we never ever saw anyone only a smokestack on the horizon. We were near the Scottish border and about two — three miles from the coast when Black (the artist) was released from his cell and came over to the rail where we were standing he was on Jim’s side about six feet away, he wasn’t dressed very well just shoes socks trousers and shirt – we had a few words in general, he then proceeded to remove his shoes and socks and then he climbed over the rail and the next thing he dived off the side of the ship. He made a beautiful dive so I should imagine he was a good swimmer. To say we were surprised was an understatement — surprised, aghast we just didn’t believe it — the shouts of man overboard was heard and shouted all over the ship. The Capetown Castle just kept going, we heard that the ship had telephoned the shore, Black was swimming strongly as we lost sight of him. So he kept his word that he would not go abroad.

The shops and canteen had opened their doors so we were able to spend some money. There was a free issue to the service of cigarettes they were called V’s — V for victory, they were terrible, most service people gave them away — I mention this for what to come ? There was a cigarette on board the ships called Cape Too Cairo they were in boxes of 50 they were about one shilling and sixpence for 50, everyone was buying one to two hundred, they were the worst cigarettes that I ever smoked — were we conned !

Our party of 33 was allocated a table for forty. Two of us had to be meal orderlies, dinner time we all went to the galley, food was very good, tea time most of us went to tea mostly for a cup of tea, supper was free for all. The nineteenth of November, I was one of the mess orderlies for the week, nine bods turned up for breakfast porridge and eggs and bacon with toast, this was general, the food was great double of everything, I was very lucky that I wasn’t sick throughout the voyage. I never forgot I had deviled kidneys for breakfast they were fabulous. One fellow of our party name of Tich Woods he was ill, sea sick from the 19th till we got to the end of the journey, he used to be able to get to the ships rails but after about a week at sea he never stirred from his bunk bed. There were a lot of fellows seasick but all they got was a tablet. After the first week as meal orderly I was free of duties, so I decided to get a job, I became batman to four Airforce Officers, I had to clean their shoes and buttons morning and evening and I was free of all other duties, the doctors came in very useful later. I never became tired of watching the porpoise swimming across the bow (front) of our ship, very fascinating. We awoke one morning and we realised there was not any movement and then we realised that it was very hot !.

Our first stop since leaving Liverpool. We were in West Africa the town was Freetown. After breakfast the bum-boats came out to trade their wares, which was mainly fruit and sandals, they threw ropes to us with a basket attach and their wears in it, they shouted the price of things and that was how the deal was done. How very honest. We sailed that night. It was hot, the swimming pool was opened, very queer experience, one moment one was in seven feet of water and the next you were standing on the bottom of the pool, this was because of the motion of the ship and the swell. On the way to South Africa it was almost incident free except for one and that was to be me, I dislocated my left arm at the elbow, the lower part of my arm came out of its socket, and twisted half way round, I was put in the sick bay and my arm was put in a wire cage so I could not move it at all.

We arrived at Durban, South Africa on the 22nd December 1941. I was the first person off the ship and taken to hospital for x-ray, everything was alright so I was able to return to normal duty.

On 23rd December I transhipped with the rest of the odds and sods from the Capetown Castle to the Arangi, which was a smaller ship and less tonnage.

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