By Christobel Mattingley
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Four days later David’s group embarked on SS Umgeni. Would they head west? North? Or east? Were they bound for the Middle East? Or New Guinea? Or Britain? David was hoping with all his heart that Britain would be their destination. indd 41 2/4/07 3:16:01 PM Battle Order 204 (2) D Dog Battle Order 204 was a rushed effort. The men were disappointed that they were given an ordinary breakfast instead of the normal flying meal of bacon and eggs. As was usual under such conditions, aircrew assisted with the exacting task of bombing up.
For some it would be their last time. For some it would be their only time. indd 44 2/4/07 3:16:04 PM 3 Slow Boat to Britain SS Umgeni was a handsome five-year-old 7000-ton merchant ship with passenger accommodation, much more comfortable than a regular troopship, and David shared a first-class cabin with two others. A good sailor, he was untroubled by typical Bass Strait weather, which laid other men low and sent soup, glasses and cutlery to the floor. Speculation about destination ended. They were heading east.
All the young men in Air Force blue, already so far from home, burst into laughter. Umgeni was delayed for almost four weeks in three ports because waterside workers refused to handle frozen lamb in wet conditions. ’ the airmen joked. But it gave them plenty of opportunities to enjoy renowned Kiwi hospitality and to explore. Eager to experience Maori culture, arriving at Waitara, a traditional village and ancient pa, on the occasion of a great gathering, David was moved that the Australians were welcomed as guests of honour, greeted in the languages of the elders.