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Part 2: As the clouds gather ...
From the diary of Lt Colin G.W. Donald RN, 1928 - 39

After Osborne and the Royal Navy College at Dartmouth he had spent most of his Midshipman's seatime in the battleship HMS
Malaya before joining HMS Venomous during its refit at Chatham in 1926 as Sub Lt Colin G.W. Donald RN. When he left in March 1928 he wrote in his Diary that "I am sorry to leave destroyers and more so to leave such a good ship as the Venomous".

As the clouds gathered over Europe he led an interesting and varied career and met and married his wife, the daughter of a former Captain in the Imperial Russian Navy who had subsequently become a principal tenor at the Mariinsky Opera. Her mother had been a protégé of Rimskiy Korsakov and  a Professor of Singing at the St Petersburg Conservatoire. Frank Donald picks up the story from when his father joined the battleship HMS Barham in June 1928 as Lt Colin G.W.
Donald RN.

June 1928 - April 1930
HMS Barham

My father was soon back at sea in the battleship Barham as a watchkeeper, on the bridge at sea and on the quarterdeck in harbour, but not before he had visited PO Langford’s mother.

In August 1929 he was back at Haifa, where the Mediterranean Fleet had been deployed to cope with unrest among the Arabs and to protect the Jewish population. From the institution of the British Mandate in 1922 the relationship between Jews and Arabs had been relatively peaceful. However in late 1928 a new phase of violence began with minor disputes between Jews and Arabs about the right of Jews to pray at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. These arguments led to an outbreak of Arab violence the following August and on Friday 23rd Arab mobs attacked Jews in Jerusalem, Jaffa and other parts of the country. The Jews in Hebron had been massacred. Pending the arrival of the Army from Egypt, the First Battle Squadron landed a Naval Battalion to preserve order in the Haifa area.

My father landed with a platoon and was deployed to protect the Jewish colony of Zichron Jacob, about 10 miles from Haifa. He and his men carried out frequent patrols, armed to the teeth in requisitioned lorries, and fully restored Jewish confidence. He established excellent relations with the local Police Chief, Inspector Kramer, and the Arab constables. Mr Kramer was tactful enough to take a week off sick with dysentery leaving my father in command. Mrs Kramer was from Edinburgh, complete with a Morningside accent. After two weeks they were relieved by a platoon of the Green Howards and returned to the Barham. This time my father did manage to get to Jerusalem.

The naval detachment at Zichron Jacob, Haifa, with Lt Colin Donald and Inspector Kramer, 1929Lt Col;in Donald RN and Inspector Kramer, the Cief of Police at Zichron Jacob near Haifa, Palestine, 1929
Left: the mixed force of ratings from HMS Barham and local police who kept the peace between Arabs and Jews at Zirchon Jacob near Haifa
Right: Lt Colin G.W. Donald RN and the local police Chief, Inspector Kramer

Courtesy of Frank Donald

GHQ Zichron Jacob (letter home)
29th August 1929

I am up here in a small Jewish village in command of 16 men and God (or rather Jehovah) knows how many Jews. The village is between Haifa and Jaffa and about four miles inland. I am guarding a Jewish Orphanage in the main and intimidating the Arab villages generally! I dash round the country at all hours of the day and night in a lorry (I have seven at my disposal) and at night it is most exciting as one never knows what will happen.  The Jews are in a tragic state of terror and I and the Police Inspector have to spend hours explaining that they can sleep quite safely in their houses and need not crowd into about two houses under awful conditions of stench.

I spent Tuesday night at Athlit guarding the railway station and a big salt works, and was kept up all night with terrible (and quite unfounded) rumours.  I came on here yesterday and am billeted in a school which is quite cool and comfortable. We have running water, which is a great blessing as I have had my clothes on for 48 hours and my boots for 36. In this hot country I beat Lazarus hollow! I am now quite Prussian and demand what I want, tin mugs, frying pans, clocks, beer and anything. It is most amusing.  I went yesterday to Hedna, a village about 14 miles away where they have the wind up properly. On the way the Inspector and I called on a Bedouin chief and had coffee in his tent. Most romantic!

I am quite happy (though the mosquitoes and flies are a trouble) and may be here about a fortnight. I won’t write anymore now as I have had only four hours’ sleep in the last 48 and I have three patrols a day, including one from 9 pm to 3 am every night. You should see me in my tin hat and with a loaded revolver and “backed by armed men”.

On 1 September my father visited a number of Arab villages with the Police Inspector, including the large village of Ixim with about 600 inhabitants, half of whom were “of an age to make trouble”. All appeared to be quiet and the Inspector had a talk with the principal landowner. “I was told by the Inspector that Fuad Effendi Mahdi is an influential person and is reliable. In today’s conversation he assured us that at present all is quiet among the villagers and will see that this state of affairs continues; he is however suppressing gossip and rumours.”

Ixim was four miles from the small Jewish colony of Bat Slomo with 30 inhabitants.  While Bat Slomo could be reached from Zichron in 12 minutes by car there was no telephone. The village was visited twice nightly by patrols and my father arranged with the Inspector to have two or three mounted Policemen in the vicinity. A system of torch signals was later arranged.

Zichron Jacob (letter home)
3rd September

I am now in a position to let you know how I am getting on and I assure you it is well. In the next war I shall be Director-General of Billetting (or it will be a great loss to the Army!). We have been here for a week and though there is plenty of work to be done I am thoroughly enjoying myself.

We go out on patrol by car, with loaded rifles and bristling with revolvers, at about 11 am and come back at 1 pm; again at 5 pm till about 7.30 pm, and from 9 pm till 3 am, so we do quite a lot of sea time! We go round to about six villages and cheer up the inhabitants. The difference in morale of the villagers since we arrived is most noticeable. At first they were in a pitiable state of terror and used to blather to me in Yiddish (which is really German) about pogroms and such things. They never went to bed till about 4 am, standing about in the streets all night. They were so short of sleep that their nerves had become quite raw and any rumour was believed as Gospel truth. I used to laugh at them and tell them not to be so silly but to go to bed and now they are taking my advice.

We are lucky here in having no mixed villages – Arabs and Jews being quite separate. It is in the big towns that the trouble occurs. Hebron was an awful shambles but even that could have been avoided had the Police instructions been carried out. There were very few Police there and there were then no troops to assist them, but they did wonderful work. The Arabs went up and down the streets chanting “kill the Jews” and the Police watched them and made the Jews remain in their houses. One day as the Arab crowd was passing two Jewish boys thought they would wait till the crowd had passed and then try and escape. Quite against orders they rushed out and the tail of the crowd saw them. That started the killing, and though the Police were in the crowd shooting down Arabs as fast as they could there were not enough of them. Arab boys ran round pointing to the houses and saying “Jews live here” and they were scuppered in heaps. The Rabbi of the village, with his wife, son and one daughter were done in. The situation is now much better and I think that the riot in Safed was only a flash in the pan. I consider that the country is now quiet, but we shall be unable to evacuate for some time yet.

There is a small village near here called Bat Slomo which has been crying out for troops. I vetoed this and told OC Troops at Haifa that it was quite unnecessary and gave orders that the place was not to be evacuated  as it is an incentive to the Bedouins to come in and rob. I have arranged, however, to sleep there for a couple of nights with two men, not really because I consider it essential but because I have billeted myself on a family with a very handsome daughter who can speak English!!  “Brutal and licentious soldiery”, what?

The Police here are a magnificent body of men and I get on with the Inspector and his wife splendidly. They do everything for me, feed me, etc, and Mrs Kramer is a Jewess who comes from Edinburgh. To hear her say “Do you speak any languages forbye English and Gairman?” would bring tears of envy to the eyes of “the Animal” (his younger sister with whom he was allegedly planning a Scottish vernacular dictionary). It is very funny. I am on the best of terms with all the constables and say “Good Morning” to them in Arabic, which they think a great jest. 

Yesterday I went and drank coffee with the head man of a big Arab village. It is very romantic reclining on cushions while a man bows before you and gives you coffee and cigarettes. I did the same thing the other day with a Bedouin chief, Hassan Mansour, and sat in his tent and yarned with him. I feel a kind of second Lawrence particularly as I wear a Kefieh and Egal, or Arab headdress. It is much better than a helmet. The picture of Lawrence in “Revolt in the Desert” will show you my headgear. I must stop now.  Today I am going to try my hand at “tent-pegging” with the Police.”

Incitement of the Arab population was a matter of concern. A Haifa Area General order relayed information received from a reliable source: “Inflammatory circulars printed on red paper in Arabic are being distributed. This circular calls upon Arabs to revolt against the Government and states that the Jews are still wearing uniform and are armed with rifles.”

The situation at Zichron Jacob remained quiet, but there were some mundane concerns: “The Committee of the village have on various occasions given presents of eggs and beer to the OC for the men. I would be glad to know if this is in order. The local doctor has also attended to two cases, one of boils and the other a cut hand.”

On 6th September Bat Slomo was again attracting attention:

“Patrols carried out in the usual places and all quiet except at Bat Slomo where there was considerable disquiet owing to the story of one man seeing a mounted Arab riding round the colony. I investigated this and could find no one who had seen the man in question. As no car had been provided I sent one to them for the night and a Policeman was sent to steady the nerves of the driver. As I expected all was quiet this morning.”

As in contemporary counterinsurgency operations, civilian casualties and avoidance of bad PR was a matter of concern.  The Acting District Commissioner Haifa agonised:

“I have this day accompanied the Officer Commanding the Troops on a visit to the Hospitals of Haifa in which the wounded are accommodated. In our conversation with the wounded it became apparent that certain injuries had been caused owing to a failure of the Public to halt when called upon to do so by a patrol or sentry.

In order to avoid further unnecessary injuries in this connection, the public is earnestly requested to take notice and to warn the illiterate classes that whenever challenged by a patrol or sentry they must at once halt and stand still until the patrol or sentry is satisfied of their intentions. In no case, when challenged, should they run away, as such action is bound to arouse the suspicions of those responsible for those responsible for the maintenance of order.”

While Officer Commanding Troops, Haifa Area observed on 7th September:

“There have been cases of accidental wounding of women in other districts during raids. Such incidents have a very detrimental effect, not only upon the inhabitants of PALESTINE, but also upon the JEWISH and MOSLEM population all over the world and cause serious embarrassment to the Civil Government. So far as is humanly possible fire is not to be opened until the target has been definitely established as being a legitimate one ...... and even then the fire must be strictly controlled.”

A later Haifa General Order directed that “Under no circumstances is any man to enter the house of a Moslem unless ordered to do so by a Superior Officer at the request of a Police Officer.” My father innocently enquired if this applied “to the Guest houses of Villages when the OC Troops is calling on the Mughtar”.

As well as District Officers the British Mandate had brought with it the standard colonial social structure –“The Sports Club Jerusalem wish all Officers of HM Forces in Palestine to consider themselves Honorary Members of their club. The Club is situated in the Greek Colony.”

Around Zichron Jacob there were some false alarms and a suspected case of intimidation. 

7th September

“Two scares have occurred in this area during the last twenty four hours, both of which proved to be unnecessary. Two blood stained sacks found at the cross roads Benyamin-Givet Adda-Zichron proved to belong to a young Jew called Samsonoff who had bled his horse for sunstroke, and the report that Five Arabs were riding round Zichron was disproved by Police and Naval patrols and native trackers.”
 8th September

“Routine patrols have been carried out in this area and all is quiet. A Mr Schlesinger of Kirkur rang up this morning and said that his Arab servant was afraid to come into the colony. He has been informed that if there is any case of intimidation by the Jews the matter will be dealt with by the Police, and no further complaints have been received.”

Zichron Jacob (letter home)
9th September

“Things here are very quiet at the moment and I wander round my area, about 40 square miles, by car, being equally pleasant to Jew and Arab. I have just, within the last ten minutes been attacked in the street by the Mughtar of Ain Ghusal, one Khalid, who is rather a friend of mine, begging me to come and have lunch with him. I have so far managed to escape this function in the district but the time will come, I fear me. To be presented with a partially chewed sheep’s eye may be a mark of great honour, but in the words of Jorrocks, “I prefer to chew me own meat”.

I am on the best of terms with all the Police here and now know enough Arabic to pass the time of day with them. To hear me say “Marhaba, Muhassim Cassim, Khiv el Ghal”, or however you spell it, stamps me as a descendent of the Prophet (which through the marriage of one of our remote crusading ancestors we are supposed to be!)  Much to their amazement I know all their names, Zwi Bahur, Yussuf Rezkala, Mohammed T’har and all the rest. They really are a magnificent body of men.

I am having the greatest fun tent pegging, but as none of the horses have been properly exercised in the last three weeks you can imagine they are devils to hold and my left hand is nearly raw.

I am now Senior Officer of detached posts, and I went down to Khudera this morning to take over another district from the Green Howards and to settle in a new party. It was the greatest fun. I introduced Thomas, the new OC No 9 post to the Committee, and spoke my very best German, which has been the greatest boon to me in this country. I am rather a pal of the Jews down there and they begged me to come back again, so you can see I am strictly impartial.

I think I had better pack up now as I have my daily diary report to write before dinner, and then I am going to spend the night at Bat Slomo.”

Naval involvement began to run down on 10th September, and there was a cordial exchange of letters between my father and the Manager of the Salt Works at Athlit, where a Naval contingent was still deployed:

I have been directed by the Officer Commanding Troops, Haifa Area, to thank you on his behalf, and also on behalf of my men, for the great efforts you have made for the comfort of the troops at Athlit. From what I have seen and heard I do not think that your kindness could have been surpassed in any way and I am sure that all the men who have been stationed there will remember their stay at Athlit with pleasure..........

Dear Mr Donald,
Many thanks for your nice note of yesterday’s date. We actually feel ashamed of so much praise, when we simply considered that we could scarcely show enough attention to the kind men who came to our rescue when danger was most pressing. We too shall always remember you and your men as the instrument of Providence and hope and pray that we may meet any of you in life again.....

However there were still some happenings. On 11th September my father reported that: ”Two aeroplanes from Ramleh landed at el Faradeis at 0815 this morning and left about 0945. I spoke to the pilots and was informed that they were inspecting the country for suitable landing places. It is reported that three camels and one donkey w”ere stolen from Kh Khusieh last night.

And on 12th September

“At about 1800, near Givat Adda, a Jew came and reported to the patrol that a Bedouin shepherd had just thrown a stone at him and had hit his horse, wounding it above the eye. He pointed out a man who was running away as the attacker, and said that three other Bedouins had been present. Mounted Corporal Zwi Behor followed the man on horseback, and PO Adcock, who was in charge of the patrol, strung his section out across country to prevent the man doubling back. When the Cpl came up with him he picked up a large stone and prepared to throw it, so PO Adcock loaded his rifle. The man then gave himself up and is now in custody. The remaining three Bedouins were brought in by a Police patrol early this morning. It is regretted that when unloading PO Adcock lost one round of .303 ammunition, and although a thorough search was made in the lorry no trace of it could be found.” A search for arms was carried out by the Police in the encampment of the arrested Bedouin but nothing was found.

There was one final thank you letter, to the Chairman of the Committee of Zichron Jacob ” On the departure of the troops under my command from Zichron Jacob I should like to take this opportunity to thank you  on behalf of the Officer Commanding Troops, Haifa Area, my men and myself for the kindness you have showed to us during our stay. The efforts of the Committee to make us comfortable could not have been surpassed and I am sure we shall all have very happy memories of our time in Zichron.”]

HMS Barham, Larnaca (letter home)
24 September

We got orders on the 11th to leave Z., being relieved by a half platoon of the Green Howards and two 12th Lancers armoured cars. I did not give this information out till the night of the 12th, which was really very lucky as I found out afterwards  that the Jews were going to give us a ceremonial send off with speeches, and I am never at my best when making “a few remarks” in German.

It was really most amusing, especially as I did ex officio Police Inspector for a week when Kramer was sick! On one occasion I was walking down the village street and I saw an Arab rushing towards me from about 40 yards away. I thought he was going to knife me, and was looking for a suitable place to hide when I recognised my friend Khalid, the head man of Ain Raisal. He begged me to come and lunch with him at his village but sad to say it could not be managed.

We left on the 13th with many regrets and were onboard by about 10 pm (unscathed apart from the loss of a hammock in transit). We all had our photographs taken and all that sort of thing. On the 14th I took a car to Athlit, where I was first stationed, and called on the Salt Company for beer and macaroons. They bemoaned the fact that the sailors were gone and said that they did not like the Police nearly so much. Actually the Police were far more use as I don’t think any of my chaps could have hit anything with a rifle! Still they had a great reputation which was the main thing. I do not know what will happen in Palestine, but they will certainly have to keep troops there for a long time. It was only by the mercy of God that the Bedouins did not rise and drive us into the sea and murder all the Jews. 1500 of them got from Beersheba to Ramleh without being seen and then were luckily dispersed. We wouldn’t have stood a chance against them.

The Barham Landing Party appear to have carried out their task admirably, keeping the peace while maintaining good relations with both communities, or at any rate their leaders. They were fortunate that they were only deployed for two weeks, and that they did not have to face a major assault from the Bedouin. As we now know communal relations in Palestine, and the situation of British forces, continued to deteriorate until the end of the Mandate in May 1948.

HMS Barham, at sea (letter home)
7th October

“Take my advice and do not go to Jerusalem, or if you do you must not go as a Christian on a pilgrimage. You really will be bitterly disappointed. I think I know what I am talking about as you and I have the same tastes and I was really very disillusioned. If you want to see lovely sunsets over the Trans-Jordanian deserts or a magnificent Eastern building like the Haram-al-Sherif you may go by all means, but as for the Holy Places – give me Tewkesbury or Plymtree all the time.

You really have no idea of the feeling of physical and mental discomfort it gives one to see the Holy Places which are, traditionally, in nearly every case mind you, the most Holy spots in our religion. Take the Church of the Holy Sepulchre for example – To begin with it is not even clean. To go on with, the people who come there to worship may not do that in peace. I had the greatest difficulty in preventing our guide from hustling an old Frenchman, who was saying his prayers before the site of the Cross, out of the way so that we might see. The thing that impressed me most was the Moslem guard, a relic of Salah-ha-din’s promise that he would keep a guard of Saracens on the Holy Places.

We certainly have not improved much since the Crusaders. In those days things had some meaning. Think of the last sight of the True Cross after the Franks were beaten under Guy de Lusignan and Raymond of Tiberias at the Horns of Hattin in July 1189 – carried away by the Saracens with a Templar nailed to it. Then although many were fired by the thought of temporal power, they had really only one end in view, and that was to take the Holy Places from the Infidel. Now the one idea of the Christian Churches is to take a bit more for themselves.

You may say that even if all this is true and the best things are as bad as I say, it is the places that matter, and that one should not allow such things to enter one’s mind. That is quite true, but I am afraid that in my case it was quite impossible, although I did pray against the surroundings. Go to Nazareth if you want to go to the Holy Land, but do steer clear of Jerusalem. It will only make you sad. The most impressive thing that I saw was the place there they stoned St Stephen. It was a small and quite deserted courtyard, and I felt I really knew where the young man called Saul stood.”

July 1930 – January 1933
HMS Versatile

HMS  VersatileWelcome aboard - HMS Versatile at Riga, 1931
Left: HMS Versatile    Right: Riga, Open to Visitors
Courtesy of Frank Donald

In those days the “sea/shore ratio” had not been invented and after leaving Barham in April 1930 he joined Versatile in the Atlantic Fleet and Home Fleet in July. In 1931 the flotilla had a three week cruise in the Baltic, including a visit to Riga where he met my mother on 10 June. For some reason he had taken to keeping his diary in a not very effective simple substitution cipher, probably because he had caught the sailor servants reading it. At the time she was engaged to an English refrigeration engineer who my father described as a most awful young bounder.

January – June 1930
German studies

My father had long wanted to qualify as a German Interpreter and spent the first six months of 1933 on study leave in Germany, qualifying in June.

August 1933 – July 1935
HMS Milford

My father  was then appointed as First Lieutenant of the sloop HMS Milford, on the Africa Station. There were two events of particular note. The CinC Africa Station was Admiral Evans, who had been the second in command of Scott’s polar expedition. In March 1934 the ship took the Admiral south to Bouvet Island, which while not inside the Antarctic Circle was covered by glaciers. The Island had recently been claimed as part of the Norwegian Empire, and the Milford took a supply of envelopes and Norwegian stamps and a “Bouvet Island” rubber stamp. The covers are still listed in the Stanley Gibbons Catalogue.

HMS MIlford off Bouvet Island, 1933Colin Donald in oilskins on deck of HMS Milford, Bouvet Island, 1933
Left: HMS Milford off Bouvet Island
Right: In wet weather gear with Bouvet Island in distance

Courtesy of Frank Donald

There was a severe southerly gale and there was concern that the ship might run out of fuel. At one stage she reversed course but the gale then moderated and they were able to reach Bouvet Island though it was too rough to land:


At last I can snatch a moment to sit down and write to you. We are now safely back from Bouvet Island and are in the throes of preparing for the Admirals inspection which happens tomorrow week. This is an awful curse as we have much to do otherwise but we can only hope that his being pleased with the ship during the cruise may make him very kindly disposed towards us. We had a most memorable trip and are all very keen to go again next year if we can.

We sailed from Capetown on the 15th February and ran into bad weather at once. The sea got steadily worse and after about four days of incessant gales we began to get quite worried about our fuel consumption. On the fifth day we decided that the loss of distance due to the gales would make it impossible for us to reach Bouvet Island and get home again so we very reluctantly turned and started for home. Luckily the wind changed and we turned once again, finally reaching Bouvet Island on the 8th Day.

It was a great moment when we thought that we were the first King’s ship to reach the island – the attempt 140 years ago having failed – and we are only the thirteenth ship that has touched at the place since its discovery in 1739. It is the most lonely place on Earth as there is literally nothing within a thousand miles and the whole place is just one big volcano covered by a glacier. Nothing lives there but the seal and the penguin but we could not land on account of the surf and so missed the seeing a penguin rookery at close quarters.

We steamed round the island and on the far side found an iceberg 300 foot high, which some kind fairy at put there to thrill us. This, like the glacier ice was a most exquisite shade of greenish-blue and was beautiful to look at. I managed to shoot some seabirds for the Capetown Museum and then we departed. Next year we hope to come again and in addition to revisiting Bouvet Island we hope to get within the Antarctic Circle and do a survey of the almost unknown Enderby Island and name places after ourselves!

We had a very different trip back. The swell was fairly large but the sun shone and we felt warm.

Somewhat unfairly the Milford’s Admiral’s  Inspection was due a week after the return to Simonstown, but they passed with flying colours.


The cleanliness of the ship, which is my only real interest at the moment, is perhaps more obvious to skilled eye but I think most people would merely call her damned dirty. However if they don’t muck us about to much in the interval things may do alright.


At last – and a very long last, I have a chance to write to you. Actually I have had the time before, after all it does not take very long actually to write, but I have been so tired that I have not had the energy. The last fortnight has been so abominably strenuous  but thank God it is now over and has been well worth it. Although our Inspection Report is not yet out I think there is no doubt that we did exceptionally well. Of course there may be some small “back-handers” for individual things, but in the main the Commander-in-Chief was very pleased indeed. Of course he had a fortnight of us on the Bouvet Island trip and found out fairly well how things went in the ship. In consequence of this he said that he would not give us a very comprehensive inspection. Heaven preserve us from a severe inspection by him!

He was onboard from 9.30 am until 5.00 pm and during that time we did a full-calibre shoot, landed a platoon to demolish the Capetown water supply and all sorts of minor things. He was very pleased with all this and made very complementary remarks about the cleanliness of the ship and the appearance of the troops. Various other members of the Staff were also most polite and the Guns of the “Carlisle” went back onboard and said that he had never seen such clean messdecks in any ship. The troops really worked magnificently, often up to 10.00 pm quite voluntarily, and so I am really very pleased.

Hard on the heels of that came our dance, and we had to concentrate on making the ship really “tiddley” for that We had 122 people onboard and feared too much crowd, but everyone enjoyed themselves thoroughly and the Commander of the “Dorsetshire” was very complimentary on the ship. I made the Quartermaster pipe the numbers of the dances and this was quite a new departure, and had the success of a novelty. Then came a big combined landing operation which is underway at this very moment, but all my hands are ashore and I can do no more at present.

The German Cruiser Emden visited Cape Town for Christmas 1934 and New Year 1935. My father got the dream appointment of liaison officer and spent eleven days on board. One task was helping the Emden’s Adjutant to prepare a broadcast in English on the previous Cruiser Emden (sunk by HMAS Sydney), coach him on the pronunciation, and conduct him while on air (cf Lionel Logue and King George VI in the film “The King’s Speech”).

Kreutzer Emden

My dream has come true. I am living onboard a German ship as Verbindungsoffizier. As you will see from my writing I have no time and an awful pen and I will write properly after Jan. 2nd.

Things are going very well but I am terribly busy and rushed. They are a very nice lot.


At long last I have a moment to write to you and give you some account of all my adventures between 21st December and 2nd January. Since then nothing has happened, or if it has I have failed to notice it as I am “restlos kaput”.  It is extraordinary how completely one cracks after a really strenuous time – one day completely keyed up and ready for anything and then, as soon as the incentive is removed, collapsing. That is how I feel now, tired to death and bored, tho’ I do not doubt that a few more nights’ sleep will restore me to normal once again.

I will begin at the very start and try to give you some idea of everything in diary form.  The Emden arrived on the 21st and I went up to meet her as Officer-of-the-Guard. Owing to fog she was late in arriving and I hardly had time to get down to Simonstown and report to the Admiral before Fregattenkapitan Doenitz arrived down to pay his call. I was there as interpreter but didn’t have to do much as he spoke fair English. The Admiral asked if he wanted a Verbindungsoffizier and he said that he would so I rushed back onboard and lunched and packed in an hour and then drove up to Capetown. The whole town was full of Christmas traffic and I managed to bump Pat Ryland’s car into a lorry and demolished a headlight! Not very serious damage I grant you, but very exasperating when one is in a hurry and it is very hot. However I managed to arrange to get it repaired and arrived in good time before the Admiral paid his return call.

The rest of the day was fairly peaceful and I turned in early, little knowing that this would be about the last time in 1934.

On the 22nd the Officers of the Squadron came up from Simonstown to call and I spent most of the day arranging about sending a man up to Swakopmund on leave, looking up trains and generally making myself useful. In the evening there was a dance at the German Club, which I attended, and strangely enough met some people whom I had last known in East London. Oberleutnant  Huebner, who became my particular friend, and I missed our lift back and were just preparing to walk when suddenly we saw a car standing by the side of the road, in which two people were having a very strenuous “petting-party”. Without a minute’s hesitation H went up and opened the door and said in German “So sorry to keep you waiting. Very many thanks for offering us a lift.” The two amorists were so flabbergasted that they meekly complied. H carried on an animated conversation on the drive while I giggled weakly in the back seat.

Sunday produced little except a tea  party onboard and was fairly quiet as all public offices were shut and I could not do much ringing up.

Christmas Eve was most strenuous. First of all I had to take eighteen officers and cadets down to Simonstown to call on the Squadron. The taxis were late and so we missed our train, which made me nearly burst with rage as I had everything beautifully taped off. However I was so short with the taxi company that they took us down to Simonstown for nothing and it was much more pleasant to go in that way and they had a nice drive. We came back and I was just going to have my lunch when I was dragged away to the Bachelors’ Christmas-tree, where we sang songs, drank Bowle (spiced wine) and gave each other presents. I got very nice picture of the ship as my share of the spoils. Then more arranging things at the telephone and then Christmas Service at 6.30 pm.

The Quarterdeck looked lovely with an enormous Christmas-tree all lit up and the whole ship’s company singing “Stille Nacht”. We then went round the Messdecks and wished everyone “frohliches Fest”, and I must say that everything was beautifully decorated. Then we had dinner in the Mess and then we returned to the Messdecks where they kept it up, drinking and singing, until 6.00 am on Christmas morning. Personally I went to bed about 1.00 am as I was very tired. On Christmas eve they brewed 850 litres of Punch onboard and Heaven knows how much beer and wine were drunk and yet they all remained remarkably sober. The singing of course was magnificent and I am full of German songs.

Christmas day was very strenuous as I had heaps of organising to do in connection with the Emden being open to visitors; arranging about gangways with the Harbour Board and drawing up plans with the Police for the regulation of traffic. In the evening I went to a party organised by some very rich Germans, from which I finally returned to bed at 6.30 am. Boxing Day I spent taking some of the officers racing.

On the 27th I spent the morning at the telephone and at the Station, getting back the money for the tickets not used on the 24th and then accompanied the Captain on a motor trip round the Penninsular, finally ending up at Klein Constantia for a cocktail-party.  Actually it was the nicest one I have ever attended. The house is a charming old Dutch one and we drank Bowle on the lawn in marvellous sunlight with flowerbeds all round us in amazing colours, purple Bougainvillia, Cannas and God knows what. I had rather an amusing time there as a woman came up to me and said very slowly “I suppose you understand English if I speak very slowly”. I replied in suitably halting English. Soon after this she heard me talking English to someone and said “But how do you speak such good English?” to which I replied “Probably because my mother is English and my father Scotch”. Stupid woman, she was very annoyed! In the evening I took some officers ashore to dance at the local night-club, having mobilised some young women of my acquaintance at two hours notice, which I think was a fine effort on their part.

On Friday I had awful scenes with the telephone people as they moved the ship – the Harbour people I mean – and the telephone people took four hours to connect us up again. As I had an enormous amount to do that day before going to a Garden Party you can imagine how pleased I was! The Garden Party was most picturesque as the garden was lovely and the uniforms and dresses looked very nice. In the middle I had to rush away and commandeer a telephone to make arrangements about a German officer broadcasting about the exploits of the old Emden and in the evening I went and dined at High Constantia with two officers.

Saturday morning I spent helping the Adjutant with his Broadcast, first licking it into shape and then typing hurriedly while he changed to go out to an official lunch. Then in the afternoon there was a party onboard for about a thousand people, after which I had to rush off to the Broadcasting studio where, hermetically sealed in a very hot box I helped Godl with his broadcast. To get the right punctuation I conducted his speech as if he was an orchestra. Then, without any dinner, straight to the City Hall for a concert, followed by a reception and then onto the German Club to dance.

Sunday I attended an official lunch given by the Captain and then Huebner and I were picked up by my East London friends and went up the Mountain, afterwards going back to dinner with them. Monday was spent chiefly in arranging about pilots, tugs and customs clearances for the ship’s departure and in the afternoon we had another dansant (Bordfest) followed by a party at the German Club for New Year. I got a girl called Jean Glennie invited and she was thrilled with the whole thing as she was an enormous success. Her sister who had got off with one of the Watchkeepers could not come, much to their mutual disappointment. We were all supposed to go and bathe afterwards but by 3.00 am I had had enough so we went home. Unfortunately I got a second wind when I go onboard and joined up with a singing party in the Wardroom until 4.30 pm!

On New Year’s day I went racing with four officers under my wing and then we dined at High Constantia. Before racing I lunched with the Captain and he gave me his photograph and a cigarette case with the Emden arms. On the 2nd I packed and saw the ship out of harbour at 3.30 pm, worn out and sad, but richer by a most interesting and happy experience. They were all so nice and just like our own best type of NO.*  Now I must stop or this will not go for sixpence (air mail). .....This week has no news except SLEEP. 

*However a certain amount of Nazification had occurred as there as “Heil Hitler” was to be heard and there were Nazi salutes during the singing of the Deutschland and Horst Wessel Lieds.

Doenitz, enscribed and signed photograph presented to Lt Colin G.W. Donald, 1935

The Captain of the Emden, Fregattenkapitan Doenitz, gave my father a signed photograph of himself (now in the Imperial War Museum).

The inscription reads:

"Lieutenant Donald in memory of his time as Liaison Officer on the Emden with sincere thanks, Cape Town, 2.1.1935. Doenitz, Commander, Cruiser Emden."

September 1935 - November 1936

Navigation School and RN Staff College

My father spent his leave in Germany, studying hard and doing advance reading for the Staff College and then attended a course at the Navigation School at Portsmouth.  The Navy was in turmoil, in preparation for a possible war with Italy over Mussolini’s African adventures. Two destroyer flotillas had been brought out of reserve, and a friend of his had been called back after five days of honeymoon to man one of the ships. He hunted regularly and in a letter home noted his disgust at falling on his head and ruining a top hat.

Colin Donald mounted on horse for huntingColin G.W. Donald playing polo
Left: hunting in 1935-6 while at Naval Staff College or at Navigation School in 1935-6
Right: Playing Polo, probably in Bermuda

Courtesy of Frank Donald

He attended the Staff College at Greenwich from January to November 1936. In August he attended the Berlin Olympics with his younger sister Barbara and they then went on a canoe trip down the Danube to Vienna, with an extension to Budapest by bus. The excursion was written up in an article for “The Pelican”, the Staff college magazine.

“Our first impression on arriving at Cologne was the almost complete absence of anyone in the black or brown uniforms of the N.S.D.A.P. Everywhere the field-grey of the Army was to be seen, but except on official occasions, as at the opening of the Games when the S.A lined the streets the black and brown uniforms of the “political soldiers” were conspicuous by their absence. Perhaps some Government order had been issued to allay the suspicions of any visitor who might think that there was any military significance in the S.A or S.S.

Berlin during the games became an international city, and an abominably overcrowded one at that. The shops were full and looked most prosperous and food was cheap. I heard however that this was merely to impress visitors, that there had been strict rationing before and that is was expected that the same restrictions would follow the Games. Twenty-five million eggs had been collected to feed Berlin and its visitors. As one of the Olympic weightlifters ate twenty-five every morning, the number was probably not excessive.

No pains had been spared in the decorations of the city. The houses literally bristled with flags and were hung with festoons of what were probably meant to be laurel wreaths. Such is the influence of the Cinema, however, that we thought it was spinach and concluded that “Popeye the Sailor” was going to perform great feats of strength at the Games. In Unter Den Linden red fluted pillars were erected about five yards apart. On each pillar was a medallion with a picture of some German town, framed in spinach. Some of the pictures were very attractive, but the decorations did not make up for the loss of the beautiful lime trees which used to line this street and from which it got its name. They were, unfortunately, removed when the underground railway was extended. Looking at the decorations was the chief pastime in Berlin, but it made progress painfully slow. The average time from the Brandenburger Tor to the Friedrichstrasse – about the same distance from Piccadilly to Dover Street – was fifteen minutes on foot and twenty by car.

The opening day of the Games was wet, but nothing could damp the ardour of the crowds, who had assembled along the streets to watch the notables go by. Everyone was cheered as soon as he was recognized, though I think the greatest reception was accorded to fourteen empty cars, which followed each other in the middle of the procession, presumably in case of accidents. At all events they took the fancy of the crowd. Last of all, preceded by his yellow standard and surrounded by his bodyguard, came Herr Hitler. His reception was enthusiastic, but not as tumultuous as I had expected. Perhaps the crowd had already cheered itself hoarse.

[The “the greatest reception accorded to fourteen empty cars” outdoing that given to Hitler and his colleagues could have been due to Berlin being a notoriously left wing city, symbolized by “Berlin Steak”, brown on the outside and red in the middle FD]

The Games themselves were very interesting and we were lucky enough to see most of the star performers, including Owens, who pulverized his field in every event; Miss Stephens, described as “The fastest woman in the world”; and Woodruff, whose running in the 400 metres compared fairly favourably with the Staff College Quarter-miler. The crowd was, on the whole, very fair and sporting, though there were times when a certain amount of racial feeling was evident.

While in Berlin I had the interesting experience of being asked to spend the night at Juterborg and dine with the General commanding there. Juterborg corresponds to Lark Hill, but is not so cold, and batteries stationed in Northern Germany come there to do their firings. The whole camp is being expanded at present to try to cope with the great increase in the army.

We left Berlin with many regrets and had a very pleasant journey to Passau where we collected our boat and put it together. Put like that it sounds very simple, but it took us some time before we could find places for all the many complicated bits that we had unpacked. However, after a time we succeeded, and having launched our canoe, stepped very gingerly into it and set off.

[In 2002 Aunt Barbara wrote “we were somewhat embarrassed to note that all the other people got their canoes together in about half-an-hour, and it took us the whole morning. Your father said kindly “if anything untoward happens I will save the boat, as I only have one of that – but I have got another sister at home”.]

Of our adventures during the trip down the Danube there is not much to tell. At Stein we took our boat to bits and packed it away, which was even more difficult job than assembling it. [In Vienna] we attended a Mass in the Kapuzinerkirche, in honour of the late Emperors Franz Josef and Karl. Everyone was in uniform and it gave us an impression of what pre-war Vienna must have been like. The Mass was said on the anniversary of the old Emperor’s birthday and this, in former times, was the date on which Cadets passing out of the Military College were given their commissions…..

Our chief reason for going to Budapest was to see the famous procession on 20th August. On this day the sacred hand of St Stephen is carried through the streets from the Chapel in the Royal Palace to the Coronation Church, where a High Mass is celebrated. At the head of the procession rode a detachment of mounted police in full uniform; they were followed by street cleaners with dust-pans and brushes. This struck us as being more practical than artistic. After them came delegations of the various War Associations. Then there was a short wait while the veterans formed up outside the Church and then, the sun shining on their magnificent mediaeval uniforms, the first detachment of the Royal Guards came into sight. Close behind them came the high dignitaries of the Church, the Metropolitan of Hungary, the Papal Nuncio and the Cardinal, all in their full panoply and escorted by train-bearers and pages. Next came another detachment of the Royal Guards as escort for the relic, which in its jewelled casket was borne on the shoulders of priests in gold-embroidered vestments. Sad to say, most of the British and American onlookers were too busy with their cameras to remove their hats as the relic was carried past.

St Stephen's Day Procession
The St Stephen’s Day Procession, Budapest, the 20 August 1936

Courtesy of Frank Donald

Immediately behind the relic walked the Regent in his Admiral’s uniform, and behind him the three Archdukes, followed by a large group of Magyar notables in their national costume. The majority wore wine-red velvet Dolmans trimmed with fur, and their Attilas were of all the colours imaginable. In this colourful assembly one young man stood out, his Attila being of sky-blue and silver brocade. After the nobles came the peasants, drawn from all parts of Hungary, and wearing the particular dress for their own districts. The women, in their white aprons and brightly coloured skirts and bodices, made a fine splash of colour as they crossed the sunlit square in front of the Church. After the procession had passed we went into the Church and found the Mass most impressive. The singing was magnificent, the solo parts being taken by singers from the State Opera.

After the Mass the procession returned to the Palace and we found the streets blocked by cordons of police. It was now after mid-day and as we had left our hotel before 07.00 we were very tired and wanted our lunch. We had a letter from the Chief of Police, sent with our complementary tickets, as we thought we would try the effect of his signature on his minions. Discipline must be very good in the Budapest Police, because at the mere sight of the signature the police let us through any cordon and along any street. Later we had the letter translated: It said that, as we had complementary tickets, we were not entitled to any refreshments.

My mother visited London in the summer and they resumed their acquaintanceship. They were married on 19 December 1936, before sailing for Bermuda where he was to be Staff Officer Operations to CinC America and West Indies Station.

Wedding Day

My Parents’ Wedding

The wedding presents were all packed up, and mostly stayed in their boxes until my wife and I found them in the 1960’s, still padded with Berlin Olympics newspapers. There was a lot of art deco with at least three blue mirror covered cigarette boxes.

18 December 1936 – April 1939

HMS York

HMS YorkSerrgei Erenov with my parents
Left: HMS York    Right: Serge Evreinov with my parents
Courtesy of Frank Donald

The station Flagship was the cruiser HMS York.  Every year the ship went on a cruise, during which it was deemed more economical to ship my mother back to the family home in Stirling. My parents did manage an extensive tour of the USA and Canada, and she was able to meet her Russian half brother Serge for the first time since 1917. After the Russian Civil war he had settled first in Harbin (China) and ultimately in Connecticut. When he entered the USA in 1925 he was supposed to be en route to Paris so he had not dared leave the USA until he could legalise his position by becoming a citizen.

July 1939 – September 1939
HMS Iron Duke

My father was appointed as a boys’ training officer. The ship was deployed from Portsmouth to Scapa Flow where the ship sustained a near miss during a German air raid. On 24 September he managed to get home to Stirling at the same time as his brother-in-law Captain Alex Finlaison (Cameronians) and the whole family were photographed together for the last time. (My grandfather took the picture and I was present in utero).

My father had been working on a German - English Naval Dictionary and discovered that Lord Louis Mountbatten was working on an English-French version (possibly including German as well). They decided to join forces but the outbreak of war put an end to the work, and the Admiralty did not produce their own dictionary until 1942. My father’s manuscript was deposited in the Mountbatten Archive in 1976.

The Donald  family at home together on the 23 September 1939 for the last time
The family gather together for the last time on the  23 September 1939 three weeks after the war began
From left: Barbara Donald (sister), Colin Donald, Kyra Donald, Alex Finlaison (brother in law), Monica Finlaison (sister)
Angela Finlaison (neice), Rosamund Finlaison (neice) and Gertrude Donald (mother)

Courtesy of Frank Donald

In November 1939 Lt Cdr Colin G.W. Donald RN was appointed as CO of the V & W destroyer, HMS Vimy, based at Harwich.
Able Seaman Don Harris joined the ship from hospital after surviving the sinking of the Royal Oak at Scapa Flow and left a graphic account of events in May 1940.

Read how the life of this young naval officer ended at Boulogne on the 23 May 1940.

The story of HMS Venomous is told by Bob Moore and Captain John Rodgaard USN (Ret) in
A Hard Fought Ship
  Buy the new hardback edition online for £35 post free in the UK
Take a look at the Contents Page and List of Illustrations

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