By Gordon W. Stead
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Extra resources for A Leaf upon the Sea: A Small Ship in the Mediterranean, 1941-1943
The lands in all directions were at best unfriendly. The dockyard labour was mainly Spanish. The workers were not allowed to live in Gib and came and went across the line each day, no doubt leaking information to the German consul and the source of the occasional acts of sabotage. On a visit to the frontier town of La Linea to see a bull-fight in our obviously British "civvies" — flannels and tweed jackets — the populace accepted us but we got suspicious glares from the Guardia Civile. This reaction may have been set off by an incident a week or two before when a bull threw a matador and our fiery, red-headed Pete Thomas, Sub-lieutenant RNR, with true British sporting instincts, shouted "viva el toro," which upset all the aficionados within earshot.
They were hard chine — V-bottom — boats, and were faster but less weatherly and with quite limited range. Nonetheless, the few that were built gave splendid service as cross-Channel minelayers. I am not aware that any 2nd Flotilla was ever organized. Boats of the 3rd had one special fitting at that time, long-range fuel ranks, arrayed around the upper deck to give them the reach to go abroad. This system was not always followed with later foreign-going boats, but we kept the tanks — cluttering our decks — until it was clear we would go no further than the Mediterranean.
Ships of all shapes and sizes, MLs among them, were under way and crowding out through the entrance and streaming down the bay, their signal lamps blinking as they took messages from the tower. Something serious was afoot. I checked in 36 A Leaf Upon the Sea at our operations room and offered to re-ammunition, get launched and follow, to be told there was no time. 126 was to be out of it. Meanwhile, one of our more colourful characters, big and breezy Bill Rankin in ML 134, in peacetime a salesman for Tootal Ties, was on G for George patrol to the westwards in the straits.