Have you ever seen the 1954 Lerner and Lowe musical “Brigadoon” starring Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse where a small Scotish village appears only once and for one day only every hundred years? The story involves two American tourists who stumble upon Brigadoon, a mysterious Scottish village that appears for only one day every hundred years.
(Oh do get on with it, Ed). So where, you might well ask, is this story going, so pull up a chair and buy me a drink and a tale to you I’ll tell of… I told you to get on with it, Ed.).
As you know I am always on the lookout for new photographs of RFAs for the website and the Archive, well a couple of weeks ago I was driving over the moors in the borders and on my way to, well that does not matter. It was a foul night what with fog, mist snow and other conditions similarly restricting visibility. Being a sensible sort of chap I was blowing one prologed blast on my horn (religiously) every two minutes in a seamanlike manner, as one does to indicate that I was underway and making way, when, and out of the blue, the mist cleared and there before me was a small shop selling photographs of ships and right in the middle of the window, sticking out like the appendages on a bulldog was a photograph of one of the most elusive ship every to grace the Bridgecard. RFA Wave Goodbye.
Launched on the Tees in 1946 this little known ship was a fairly standard Wave Boat, she is seen in this photograph leaving the Tyne following an extensive refit involving the installation of thermostatically controlled heating coils in the centre tanks. These were installed as part of a top secret tasking following the liberation of Antwerp and on the specific orders of no less a personage than Winston Churchill himself to transport bulk Belgian Chocolate across the pond to the ever growing consumeritis of the Americans.
Operation Hershey Bar was part of a cunning plan and part of the German war reparations to repay the generosity of US forces for all the chocolate bars, chewing gum, Lucky Strikes and nylon stockings they disbursed to gratefull Brits in a time of severe wartime austerity. (It is said that the nylon stockings did result in a number of lucky strikes but we may not be talking about the same thing here.).
Wave Goodbye set out from the Tyne, gingerly avoiding the North Sea minefields (you only needed to look at NEMEDRI to see the extent of them) and after the 42 mile journey up the Schelde to Antwerp, loaded 5,000 tones of the finest Belgian chocolate, Chocolate, Dark and White. She sailed the day after and after an uneventful trip down the southern North Sea and English Channel, headed out across the Atlantic from the Bishop Rock towards the Ambrose Lighthouse.
All proceeded as anticipated until on the seventh day out she was spotted by a rogue German UBoat whose Captain had not received news of the German Surrender. Naturally with the war over Wave Goodbye was not in darken ship mode and and because the mission was so secret she was unaccompanied. The result of that encounter was inevitable given the unfortunate combination of events and Wave Goodbye was torpedoed and sunk with all hands. Tragedy no less.
To this day as the cargo of chocolate seeps from the tanks, thousands of fathoms down in mid Atlantic the denizens of the deep feed on it. The RSPCA, has for many years, raised concerns about overweight cod and haddock with acute dental caries entering the food chain and indoctrinating our fish and chip loving nation of the delights of “Cadbury Cod”.
So since the tragedy of her sinking RFA Wave Goodbye has been like a nautical Brigadoon, a latterday Drakes Drum, “Take my drum to Devon and hang it by the wall and call me when your powders getting low” etc. She hovers, or is it lurks, in the nether world awaiting the call to come to our aid, “And if the Dons sight Devon, I’ll quit the port of heaven”….(final warning ED) and given what is happening to the RFA it’s about bloody time she GOT ON WITH IT.
So, having made my purchase I headed on my way, the mists swirled behind me and the small shop was no longer to be seen in my rear view mirror. I continued for a few more miles until it became too dangerous to continue. Seeing a small farmhouse, or was it a croft, being a townie I don’t know the niceties in difference between a farmouse and a croft. Anyway I pulled into the farmyard or croftyard ( I have told you already to get on with it, stop dragging it out Ed), knocked on the door which after a few moments and rattling of chains and slamming of bolts was answered by a very old farmer with a very young and nubile wife at his side. I explained my predicament and he agreed I could stay the night, but perhaps we should continue the story another time. Other than to say that on my way home, just a couple of days later, there was no sign of either the farm or the little ship’s photographic shop.
Pat Thompson 1 April 2013