Consul General for Norway To Host a Civic Reception In Dumfries

Norwegian Defence Medal Presentation – Mr Ronald Sawyer

Provost of Dumfries Ted Thompson, supported by Mr David Windmill, Honorary Consul General for Norway will host a civic reception at the Municipal Chambers, Buccleuch Street, Dumfries, on Tuesday, 19 January 2016 in recognition of Mr Ronald Sawyer being awarded the Norwegian Defence Medal for serving on the Norwegian merchant ship, the SS Corvus, during the Second World War.

Mr Sawyer, who was born in Croydon, Surrey in 1924 served on the Norwegian Ship the SS Corvus from April 1943 to May 1944 and served through three invasions working on the supply ship for First Army in North Africa and the invasions of Sicily and Italy.

And this is his story:-
“In the spring of 1943 I was a radio officer in the Merchant Navy. I was sent by the pool in London to join Corvus in Surrey Docks, London. We then sailed up the east coast to Oban in Scotland where we joined the largest convoy I was in. We then sailed for Gibraltar from there; we formed a convoy into the Mediterranean to North Africa with supplies and ammunition for the First Army. We then worked the African ports from Oran to Tunis until August of 1943 when we were going on as supply ship to the First Army on the invasion of Sicily having loaded ammunition, Bailey bridges and gasoline at Biserta. The First Army moved quickly through Sicily and crossed the Mesema Straights. They continued to move very fast up the Adriatic Coast of Italy.

We then received orders to go up the Adriatic which meant crossing the bay of Torranto; we were unescorted with orders to continue on the Adriatic until further orders. Having crossed the Bay of Torranto we continued keeping as close as possible to the Albanian coast. When we got more or less level with Bari in Italy our orders were to enter the harbour there but, with so many minefields, the Royal Navy came out to meet us; they had timber launches towing metal paravanes to go in ahead of us on a swept channel; our cargo contained bombs for the Royal Air Force with shells and ammunition on top and fuses under the hatch covers; on top of the hatches we had Bailey Bridges and on the well decks 45 gallon drums of gasoline. When we docked the First Army was there waiting for us.

Having discharged the cargo we left to return to North Africa for another cargo. I had been taking messages in code during the night and then decoded the messages. I learnt that the Italian forces were going to surrender and if we saw any Italian ships or submarines flying a black tenant we were not to open fire on them but escort them to port. I informed the Master of the Corvus who was Captain Behn and the gunlayer. I thought no more of it until about 2 hours later when I looked astern and saw an Italian submarine flying a black pendant. We escorted it to North Africa where the Captain gave me some uniform badges, which I still have, and he told me that during the war they had waited on the Spanish side of the Mediterranean for ships leaving Gibraltar.

We then reloaded in North Africa and became ammunition supply ship for the 8th Army on the west coast of Italy. We were mainly in company with another Norwegian ship, the Torfinn Jarl, and worked that coast mainly up to Naples and Anzio.

1943 came and past and in the summer of 1944 we were to return to the UK; I think the intention was to go on the invasion of Europe.

On the voyage from Gibraltar to the UK we were Command ship of the convoy as we had been many times before; when we reached the Western Approaches we crossed to the St Georges channel and became the first convoy to go up the Irish sea to Liverpool as it had been closed to shipping because so many ships had been sunk by the U-Boats. It then became apparent that the Corvus needed some repairs to be carried out so I went on leave and was then sent by the Merchant Navy pool to join another ship.

I should mention at this time some of the things that happened.

On the day we loaded to go on the invasion of Sicily at Ferryville and Bizerta also loaded were the infantry landing craft; that night we were heavily attacked by Stuka Dive Bombers with screamers on their wings; we lost quite a few tank landing craft but then went onto the invasion (I think the date was August 18th 1943). We were quite short of food that winter but I managed to acquire a motor car and drove across the Catania Plain where I heard there were some Naffi supplies. I managed to get some clothing, shirts etc. for the crew as the weather was getting colder. I also got some chocolate and bottles of whisky and gin for Christmas of 1943; with no refrigerator Christmas consisted of tins of corned beef, salt fish in barrels and what I called fishky balls (like eggs but made of fish that were in store).

Also of interest was the fact we brought out from the port of Bari some injured paras from the fighting with the First Army. When I joined Corvus some of the crew did not speak very good English and had escaped from Norway to Britain by small boats etc. They made me very welcome and one of them gave me a large Norwegian dictionary which I still have.
I had now been sent to another ship and did not return to the UK until the end of December 1945. I always bore in mind to try and find out what happened to Corvus but I had no success for many years. Living in Cornwall earlier this century I found two friends who were divers and I then found out what happened to the Corvus. The ship was in a convoy from Wales up channel and escorted by the Royal Navy when the convoy was attacked by two U-Boats and Corvus was torpedoed and sunk with all hands lost. The Royal Navy sunk both U-Boats with depth charges. The divers in Cornwall have dived down to her and she is lying on the sea bed 20 miles off the Lizard Point in 30 fathoms of water; when she was sunk she broke in half just forward of the bridge and the forward section is now alongside the stern section; the divers brought to the surface the bell from the wheelhouse of Corvus”
Ship History
The SS Corvus was a 1,317 GRT Norwegian Steamship built in Copenhagen in 1920/21 by Kjøbenhavns Flydedok and Skibsværft A/S for the Norwegian passenger ship company Det Bergenske Dampskibsselskab of Bergen. The vessel was 74 metres in length and was first launched on 23 December 1920.

Provost Ted Thompson, Civic Head of Dumfries and Galloway Council, said;

“As an ex-Merchant Navy seaman myself, it is a privilege and honour to be part of this occasion and I look forward to meeting Mr Sawyer and to have the opportunity to hear of his experience during the Second World War on board the SS Corvus”.


Image of SS Corvus from Wikipedia

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