Monthly Archives: October 2014

Convoy SL125 – 72nd Anniversary of its destruction and the successful landings of Operation Torch

On 22nd October 1942 over 350 ships sailed for the north-western African coast from Allied ports with what was the commencement of Operation Torch – The Allied invasion of North Africa. This operation was regarded to be a “dress rehearsal” for the eventual landings in France and therefore immensely important as it was the beginning of the turning point of the war.

The concern was for the ships to get through unmolested by the destructive forces of Germany’s Wolfpack U-boat fleet.

Thirty seven ships left the port of Freetown in Sierra Leone on 16th October 1942 making up convoy SL125 bound for Liverpool, England. Most were in ballast [not carrying any cargo] amongst them the Anglo-Maersk. As they approached the Canary Islands on 25th October 1942 the convoy was intercepted by eight U-boats of the Wolfpack Streitaxt consisting of U-134, U-203, U-409, U-509, U-510, U-572, U-604, and U-659.

The Anglo-Maersk was first attacked by U-509 and finished off by the U-604. From the night of the 25th through to 31st October twelve ships were sunk and a further seven damaged totalling 126,755 tons.

It is generally believed Allied sources deliberately leaked vital details of convoy SL125 to Axis forces in order to draw the U-boats away from the Straits of Gibraltar and the North African coast which was to be the designated landing site for Operation Torch.

It does seem too much of a coincidence that 350 ships of immense importance to the Allied war effort managed to sail unmolested in one of the most treacherous sea routes of the Atlantic, whilst 37 ships of no importance at all are practically annihilated by all U-boats that would normally patrol the straits of Gibraltar?

My own personal interest in this event stems back to the early 1990’s when I was approached by a friend to write a book about his uncle* who served as a communications officer aboard the Anglo-Maersk from 1940 -1941. Having started the research and eventual writing of the book SMITHY’S WAR I developed an immense interest of the entire conflict of World War II…

Of a total of 55,882 Allied merchant crewmen between 1939 and 1945, 25,864 died as a direct result of Axis naval and air forces.

Those who survived are barely remembered…

Leslie George Smith*, who was born in Sydney, Australia on 14th May 1908, was one such survivor. Serving as a communications officer aboard the 12,000 ton Danish oil tanker Anglo-Maersk, under British Flag from May 1940, his experiences reflecting the dangers of working on fairly unprotected merchant ships during wartime are quite moving, and are included in his own words within the pages of the book named SMITHY’S WAR.

SMITHY’S WAR traces what happened to the other merchant ships Leslie mentions in his text. It also includes the final hours of the Anglo-Maersk taken from the Logbook of the German U-boat U-604 which was responsible for the sinking of the tanker when it formed part of convoy SL.125.

The book looks at the chase and final destruction of the U-604 at the hands of the US Navy and US Navy aircraft.

SMITHY’S WAR has been structured chronologically and includes events that were happening around the world during the time Leslie was at sea and up until the end of that horrendous conflict known as World War II.

 Smithy's War Final

To commemorate the 72nd Anniversary of the demise of Convoy SL125 and the success of the Operation Torch landings I have decided to reduce the price of my book by 75% from now until the end of October 2014.

The promotional price is now only US$1.75

The link for the book is:

You will need to type in the Coupon Code: FS49U before you complete the purchase

Happy Reading!!

RLB – Tomewriter


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London – Travel Log 26

Even though I grew up in London and although I have been familiar with most of the City’s sights, I have not really ever seen it through the eyes of a tourist.

When I was young my dad made sure to take us to all the famous landmarks such as Nelson’s Column to be dive-bombed by pigeons [see photo below], and to visit places like the Tower of London, Windsor Castle, Henley-on-Thames to watch the Regatta, and of course to have fun at the fairs on Hampstead Heath – just to name a few.

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My uncle Marcel, Me, my elder sister – Lesley, Dad and pigeons!! – 1957

Of course it’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy seeing all these things as I’m sure I did: particularly places like Madame Tussaud’s, the Planetarium, all of the museums in South Kensington – especially the Natural History museum.

It wasn’t just my dad who took me to see places of interest, my various schools had field trips here and there – such as the Imperial War Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum; and in later years as one began to appreciate the arts I began to visit the various art galleries, theatres, and the Royal Albert Hall.

London is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It is steeped in history [my favourite subject] and no matter which way you turn there is always something of interest.

It will always be very dear to my heart.

I love its parks, especially Hampstead Heath and around Kenwood House, Highgate, and Golders Hill Park – they are places of happy memories. I love its waterways, not just the Thames; but also its canals – particularly around Camden Lock.

And more happy memories at its various markets, such as Chapel Street, Notting Hill, Petty Coat Lane, and of course Camden.

Enjoying a pizza or ice cream at Marine Ices at Chalk Farm [ when I was in primary school the owner’s son was in my year and many a time was spent there, even as young adults we would continue to support the café with our custom. And as young adults my friends and I would frequent the various pubs whether they offered rock bands or not. Some of our favourite haunts would include in Hampstead – The Spaniards Inn, The Bull and Bush, The Flask in Highgate, the Rising Sun in Mill Hill – until we got barred for being too rowdy, and many more I can’t even remember…

…For the last twenty-six years I have been living in Sydney and though the times I have returned to Europe on holidays during that time it has always been to catch up with family and friends.

This year however I decided I would spend at least one day visiting the city as a tourist. Having told my younger sister, Terry, my plans [as I was to be staying with her and her husband, Rudy, during my visit] long before I departed Australia she arranged that part of my tour would include a visit to Buckingham Palace.

Early on the morning of Friday 26th September 2014 Terry and I walked to Totteridge tube station and joined peak hour commuters on a trip to Green Park. It was an experience I had forgotten – as I used to be one of those commuters some forty years ago when I used to commute to Southwark to my first job at Conoco UK. It wasn’t a bad experience, as the tube trains in the capital are fast-moving and plentiful – every 4 minutes or so [unlike Sydney]. When we alighted at Green Park our first stop was for a coffee and pastry at a Pret a Manger café. We then walked across the park until we reached Buckingham Palace.

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We entered the State Rooms and began our extremely well-organized tour. Having only seen the palace from outside so many times, I never dreamed I would be able to visit its interior. And although one is limited to the State Rooms and the garden only, the experience was well worth it. Then of course, one had to visit the souvenir shop… Needlesstosay I did not walk out empty-handed [all I can say is Thank God for MasterCard].


When we left the Palace we walked to Victoria underground station for the next stop on our tour – Tower Hill. For in commemoration of the 100th Anniversary of World War One there is one of the most spectacular exhibitions ever seen around the entire moat of the Tower of London. Some 900,000 ceramic poppies are being installed – each representing a fallen soldier from that conflict. Each poppy was lovingly created and is being installed by an army of volunteers. It truly is a sight one will never forget.

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One of the things I have never done is walk across Tower Bridge. I have driven over it many times but never on foot; so as this was a day of doing things I hadn’t done before over the bridge we went. Half way across I stopped to take a snap of London’s tallest building – The Shard; below it the Thames and HMS Belfast added to its splendour.


Although overcast it didn’t rain – save for a light drizzle which didn’t dampen our resolve to carry on with our sightseeing. Our destination was to be St. Paul’s Cathedral as this was yet another landmark I had only ever seen from outside. Once across the bridge to the southern shore of the river we leisurely walked along the embankment taking in the sights. The view of Tower Bridge and the Tower of London were fabulous.

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From here we walked past the Hay’s Galleria where at its centre is a structure which looks as though it could have been created by Jules Verne:

Then through a few back streets to emerge at Southwark Cathedral and across the road a beautiful replica of Sir Francis Drake’s Golden Hind and around the corner the Globe Theatre came into view.

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By about now my legs were beginning to kill me and I couldn’t wait to reach our goal, but we still had to cross the Millennium Bridge. Half way across it I stopped. Apart from trying to catch my breath it was nice to view the river downstream to see the sights we had passed on our way thus far and photograph it. Nearby an artist was quietly creating some astounding little masterpieces of artwork depicting iconic London land marks. I was unable to resist a gorgeous painting of Big Ben [see below]. Having parted with £10 I was more than pleased with my purchase. So I then took a snap of the painter with the Tate Modern Art Gallery in the distance – it seemed apt. The building once housed the former Bankside Power Station.

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It was time to move on as we were due to meet my brother-in-law, Rudy and my sister’s friend, Anita for lunch at St. Paul’s Cathedral. After an overcast morning it was amazing to turn around and see the Cathedral bathed in sunshine – it was as though some divine authority was making a point of highlighting this wondrous religious institution.


When I was told by Terry we were meeting them for lunch at a shopping mall my heart sank. It had been a glorious day so far, but the prospect of eating at a food hall surrounded by hundreds of people and perhaps noisy kids did not appeal. It was not to be. When we entered the One New Change shopping mall Anita directed us to a lift taking us to the roof and the Madison Restaurant café & bar. The views were breath-taking and the food was second-to-none.

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We dined in comfort and amusing conversation until it was time to get started again. Of course we had to view some of the wares the shops and stalls the centre had on offer. Rudy found some delightful custard tarts and though he purchased four – one for each of us – we were too full from our meal so we declined, much to his delight as he tucked into the rest with gusto.

As we emerged back into daylight we headed for the Cathedral and Anita, who is a Blue Badge Tourist Guide [Blue Badge Tourist Guides are the official, professional tourist guides of the United Kingdom. They are recognized by tourist authorities throughout the United Kingdom and by Visit Britain as Britain’s official tourist guides] directed me to the best position to take a photo of St. Paul’s Cathedral. You can’t get better than this…


Once inside the building there was no need of the electronic tour guide as Anita pointed out all the best features with passion and first class knowledge. As much as I would have liked to have visited the Whispering Gallery my legs and stamina [lack of] voted against the climb. Instead, whilst Anita and Rudy took to the 500+ steps, Terry and I descended to the crypt where the café was located and waited for our intrepid adventurers, whilst sharing a pot of tea and some delightful pastries.

RLB – Tomewriter

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Valbonne, south of France – Travel Log 25

I had heard so much of Valbonne from a friend who had visited it earlier this year. He was catching up with friends who own the Auberge Provencale. I thought, as I was staying with my mum and sister not too far away at Golfe Juan-Vallauris, that I too should go and take a look at the place and see what all the fuss was about.

A food and craft market is held there every Friday, so my sister and I set off on that particular day to have a browse and kill a few hours.

Ironically at the time I hadn’t realised the Auberge Provencale was the place my friend was referring to and as I snapped away with my camera the restaurant came into frame [it’s the building furthest in shot behind the orange building:


We didn’t visit as we only stopped for a coffee in the square, but in the spirit of friendship I’m adding their website herewith: Trip Advisor gives it a four star rating and it does look nice so perhaps on another visit we might make a point of going there for a meal.


Valbonne is a small town that is located about 14km from Antibes and about the same distance from Cannes. As with most of the towns in this part of France they are all quite old dating back to the times of ancient Greece and Rome. Valbonne was occupied by both civilisations.

The market and local shops are quite diverse and some good quality products are on sale. Whilst my sister checked out and purchased a variety of olives, cheeses and other delicacies I had a look at clothing. However not finding anything for me, I did end up purchasing a beautiful pashmina scarf for my wife [she did love it].

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After walking around for a couple of hours it was time to head back to Golfe Juan. We took the same route back as coming along the D3, D35, and D135 skirting the town of Mougins before heading back through Vallauris. The route is extremely picturesque through some beautiful high-forested areas and as you approach the south the glistening Mediterranean comes into view from behind the tree line beckoning you to it.

RLB – Tomewriter


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Malta – the Island of the Knights of St. John: Travel Log 24 To me, personally, Malta is a land where my family originated from; where as children our parents used to take me and my two sisters on holiday to visit our paternal grandmother and other relatives. It is the land of my ancestors who have resided here for the last five hundred years. I recently returned to Malta after a thirty-two year absence to mostly see the island again – refresh my memory of various parts of the island and conduct some research for my next novel “Out of the Darkness”. But it was also important for me to meet up with family members whom I hadn’t seen for many years, and to meet new relatives either through marriage and/or birth. It was a wonderful experience. From knowing Malta prior to the 1980s to where it is today, one can say the island has come of age. Gone has the innocence associated with a sleepy touristic destination where beaches lay tranquil with only a few tourists who know their whereabouts? The Malta of 1982 as I remember it was a place where everything moved at a slower pace and never crowded. Where going to the beach at Mellieha meant a lazy drive along the coast road from Sliema. Today Malta is vibrant, a bustling country where the population now boasts some four hundred thousand people. Where the skyline has changed to include numerous residential apartments, commercial developments, and hotels, and cars seem to choke the roadways.

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My recent visit was with my mother and elder sister. We stayed at the Cavalieri Art Hotel in St. Julians. This 4 star hotel is not so centrally located and there is a bit of a walk to the main road. The hotel does not have car park facilities and is further disadvantaged by a marine development being constructed across the street. We were fortunate to have rooms overlooking the bay and were therefore not inconvenienced by noise emanating from the construction site. The hotel facilities were adequate. The pool was beautiful and mum and I took full advantage of it on a daily basis, apart from the day when the pool was overrun by numerous rowdy kids celebrating a children’s party. Actually, this was one of the main annoyances of our stay. The hotel seemed to place more of an emphasis on private functions and events rather than concern themselves to the needs of their hotel guests. During our week-long stay there were two weddings and two birthday parties which closed down parts of the hotel to guests. Although the hotel does have a wing which provides convention facilities which would be adequate to hold such functions in ample comfort and style, management saw one wedding shut down the bar facility to guests for that particular evening; and for the other wedding, the entire swimming pool area was set as off-limits from early afternoon until the following morning.

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Another annoyance was the lack of Wi-Fi frequency reception. Although the hotel claimed availability of free Wi-Fi in their reception area, I for one was unable to obtain any signal and for an entire week I was unable to access my emails, etc. [I was not too happy]. A word about their house-keeping: Although the rooms were cleaned daily and the beds made by late morning there seemed to be a lack of understanding by the cleaners to replace the towels. Each day one found the towels had been taken away but new ones not left; and it became a pain in the neck to have to phone down to reception on a regular basis to request towels for the room. My final word on this hotel: it was nice, but I wouldn’t want to recommend it unless management change its policy regarding private functions, improves their Wi-Fi capabilities, and ensures staff members are trained to a level one would expect from a prestigious hotel.

Moving on… I was determined to visit Valletta’s St. John’s Cathedral where two of my ancestors are buried. I took a bus from St. Julians bus interchange at a cost of €1.50 for an Adult Daily Pass which I thought excellent value for money. It wasn’t a long trip even though it was during “peak” time and I had soon reached my destination. My ancestors were brothers in blood and in vocation: Knights Emmanuel and Giuseppe Borg lived in the late Eighteenth Century. They were chaplains of justice and are buried in tomb number 267 at the entrance to the Sacristy. I stopped and offered them a small prayer.

Tomb 267 Emmanuele + Guiseppe Borg

[Image courtesy of St John’s Website ]

It is not permitted to take photos inside as needlesstosay the authorities would like you to buy their guide books, but I would encourage you to click on the above link as the Cathedral’s floor, walls and ceilings are quite spectacular – better still visit it in person, and whatever religion you are you will feel compelled to pray to your God so captivating is the scenery about you.

On the subject of Knights I would add at this point that my father’s elder brother, Edwin was honoured for his numerous years of service to Malta and invested by HRH Queen Elizabeth a Knight of St. John a few years before his death. Edwin H W Borg died on 19th October 1991 aged 72. His shield and I expect as genealogy allows now passes on to his son, my cousin Adrian, is shown below:

Uncle Edwin's [now Adrian's] Shield

It’s a beautiful thing and makes me very proud of my relative. In days of old I expect I would have been entitled to bear a similar shield although it would need to have a slight variance to it. Uncle Edwin once recounted the story [or should I say rumour] of how our family came to being in Malta. It was due to “shields” which led two brothers who residing in eastern Spain during the early 16th century to fight a duel which was to see the demise of one brother and the exile of the other. It was this tale which inspired my novel The Sword and the Rose and I shall always be grateful to Uncle Edwin for igniting my imagination and allowing me to write the novel so many years later. Valletta I didn’t think changed that much. Apart from the entrance to the City which I felt pointless and perhaps an insult to the original architect of the city Gerolamo Cassar:


The structure looked as though it was still being built and as you enter the city a meaningless bronze of a three-legged horse greets you.

However these distractions are soon forgotten as you wander about the City’s streets and taken in the glorious old buildings, narrow streets filled with shops of every variety, sit for a coffee at the famous Café Cordina which my mother loves so much she includes it in her novel “A Tangled Web” [currently available as an e-book on Amazon and due to be released in paperback early next year. You can access the link to this on her blog: ].


Actually Mum’s book was released two days before we arrived in Malta and I had arranged with the main newspaper the Times of Malta to run an ad [see bottom right hand corner of page]. I then bought the paper and gave it to Mum she was well pleased. The story is set in Malta which was quite apt for the ad and us being there:


Best of all, in my opinion anyway, is the Upper Barracca Gardens where the views across the Grand Harbour take your breath away and the gardens themselves offer respite from the day’s heat amidst its shaded foliage, fountains, and café.

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The City was also viewed from the water when the previous day my mum, sister and I took a pleasure harbour cruise out of Sliema. I arranged it through the hotel and although it appeared well-organized it turned out to be another small annoyance. Supreme Cruises arranged to collect us from our hotel [and promised to bring us back] and delivered us to the waiting boat for our cruise at 10.30am. On arrival we were told the boat had broken down and we were obliged to await the return of their other vessel:

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When the small Luzzu arrived everyone tried to rush on board so eager were we to get away – it finally set sail at 11.45am [Better late than never]. Our captain/guide however could have done with some training in how to conduct a proper narrative of the sights shown. There seemed to be a preference to views on the right and a constant repetition of the same phrases to the point that it was becoming quite grating on one’s nerves. Our narrator also gave us the impression the trip was some sort of political propaganda when he insisted on taking us to every one of the numerous dry docks dotted around the Grand Harbour to tell us how wonderfully the Government had been in ensuring they remained in operation. Not all was wasted and whilst ignoring most of his banter I was able to enjoy the views on offer. Here are but a few:

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When we returned to Sliema an hour or so later we were told the shuttle bus would be ready to return us to our hotel at 5pm. Disgusted and not wanting to hang around doing nothing for hours in the oppressive heat just to accommodate the tour operator we took the local bus back to Spinola Bay, St. Julians and were then obliged to walk to the hotel from the main road. Not that my sister or I minded the walk, but for our 90-year-old mother the trek in 30+*C heat was no easy task. We made our way directly to the bar for some refreshing drinks and a couple of pizzas.

We returned to Sliema on a different day as both my mother and sister were determined to do some shopping. For a small town, Sliema is well stocked with retail outlets including some British favourites such as BHS and Marks & Spencer. Of the latter we were told there are four stores on the island – there was a large branch at Valletta. The Plaza Shopping Centre is located in Bisazza Street off the Sliema Marina and boasts some 40 retail outlets including Miss Selfridge, Toni & Guy Hairdressing, Mothercare, to name but a few. The Point is Malta’s newest and largest shopping mall. It is located on the Tigne Point peninsula where it stretches over three levels of fully air-conditioned shopping heaven. Here’s the link for you to enjoy:

I left the two women to lose themselves in M&S whilst I went off to do some souvenir shopping and have a coffee with some unusual companions…


The rest of our stay consisted of meeting up with family and on this note I just would like to say “Thanks” to all of them for their generosity and companionship; in particular to my cousin Wilfred who made a special effort to leave his place of employ in Abu Dhabi to be in Malta at the same time as me and offer his time to drive me to various places, including Malta’s largest cemetery. I know this is not the sort of destination many tourists would want to visit, but for me it has been a long-time desire to pay my respects to my grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins who were so very dear to me. The site is massive yet somehow quite peaceful and some of the structures most impressive such as the war memorial, chapel, and various bronze statues:

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On a lighter note we also visited the picturesque fishing village of Marsaxlokk with its colourful boats, lively market and numerous waterside restaurants; one of which we sat at to enjoy a sumptuous meal in the company of cousins.

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On the day prior to our departure, I visited my cousin Clare, a talented artist who has her studio/gallery at Tigne Point in Sliema. I had seen most of her works when she displays them on Facebook; however I was determined to see them in the “flesh”. I wasn’t disappointed – they truly are magnificent works:

Afterwards she invited me to her apartment in the company of her husband Joe, and her brother Wilfred. We sat on their terrace enjoying coffee, each other’s company and the wonderful views of Sliema:

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Very early the following day we left Malta and returned to the Cote d’Azur where my holiday was to continue with mum and sister for a further two weeks…

RLB – Tomewriter


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