The Black Pit
by Gordon Mumford
Pacific Northwest Writers Conference 1994: Honorable Mention, Adult Non-fiction.
SeaWaves (an online naval publication) "2003 Book of the Year" Award winner.
The Black Pit ... and Beyond covers Gordon's experiences on the Scottish Heather (torpedoed in the Battle of the Atlantic, 1942), on the Empire Harmony in the Mediterranean during the North African and Italian campaigns (1943/44), as well as on the Empire Path (sunk in the Battle of the Scheldt, 1944).
This book convincingly describes a young man's experiences as he encounters the realities of the war at sea. Still trying to come to terms with the death of his father, his childhood experiences at the hands of the nuns, and his need to distance himself from his domineering mother, young Gordon copes with seasickness as well as the constant threat of torpedoes and mines.
The book opens in December 1942, and Gordon Mumford, age 17 and a Merchant Navy radio officer, is aboard SS Scottish Heather in convoy ONS 154 . They are sailing into the infamous "black pit," an area in the Atlantic Ocean (between Iceland and the Azores) where German U-boats operated without fear of air attacks.
Gordon also grapples with his memories as he tries to come to terms with the death of his father, his eccentric mother, and abusive childhood experiences at the hands of the nuns and brothers. The torpedoing of the tanker Scottish Heather in this convoy is but one of the chilling experiences he faced.
His next ship was the Empire Harmony, a heavy-duty lift ship involved in the Italian and North African campaigns (1943/44). This ship's role was to unload war material from other merchant ships onto the badly damaged docks, ranging from Malta, to Tripoli and Naples. Then, in November 1944, while the war raged less than fifty miles away, he was on the Empire Path, a ship carrying military supplies for the Battle of the Scheldt. After four weeks unloading in port, the ship left Antwerp on December 24 to return to England, but was blown in half by a mine in the Scheldt Estuary.
ISBN: 1894263197 | 148 pages | $19.95 CDN [currency conversion]
Also available as UK Special offer. Applies only to purchases sent to the UK and paid in £ Sterling (GBP)
Pacific Northwest Writers Conference 1994: Honorable Mention, Adult Non-fiction
"Mumford's memoir is an excellent contribution to the literature of the naval war."
Review in Canadian Military History, by Cathy Tersch.
"While reading the SCOTTISH HEATHER tale I couldn't put it down, it's by far the best Merchant Navy account that I've seen in a long while."
Captain Gerald Morgan (CMNVA).
"I have just finished your book and I must salute you. It is COMPELLING."
Captain Alan Shard, FNI, Master Mariner.
"You write with real style, and, more importantly, with sincerity. I am happy to congratulate you on not only having a great story, but also the means to tell it."
Gary MacGregor (VNVA).
"It is a fascinating personal account; but one that also provides an excellent insight into what war actually means for the ordinary participant... Highly recommended."
Review in CM (Canadian Materials) by A.D. Gregor.
"Gordon Mumford is a very talented writer. While all his ships were British flag, his story is compelling and well worth reading to any lover of history and the sea."
Review in American Merchant Marine (usmm.org)
"Highly recommended."~ 2003 Book of the Year.
Review in SeaWaves Online Naval Magazine
"This will be a good addition to secondary school library collections."
Book Review in BCTLA Bookmark
"More than anything, Mumford's books are honest - they tell things the way they were.
Review in New Westminster Royal City Record.
The explosion shatters my cabin, precipitating me from a deep, drugged sleep to a state of bewildered consciousness. My mind is befuddled; it cannot comprehend the ear-splitting roar and blast. Debris and dust fill the air, raining down on my body in the bunk. A heavy weight pins me down. My hands, trapped beneath the entangling sheets and blankets, fight instinctively to get free.
I awaken to a nightmare and shake my head in panic, but the ringing in my ears will not stop. There is a strong pungent odour of explosives. My body is forced against the side of the bunk as the ship heels over to port. Realization comes to my sleep-clogged brain: this is real; it's not a dream. My heart pounds and my stomach muscles tighten involuntarily. We've been torpedoed!
Everything is happening in slow motion. The ship is shuddering, listing hard over. I've got to get out. She may go at any moment! Panic galvanizes my body and my throat tightens with fear as I struggle to free myself. I can't see! The cabin is dark because the explosion has killed the lights. I can hear the screech of tearing, twisting metal and the roar of rushing water; it terrifies me. The tanks must be ruptured!
My heart is racing as despair surges through my body. In desperation, I pull my hands free of the blankets and touch jagged splintered wood and a smooth metal knob. It's the cabin door, blown on top of me by the force of the explosion. It falls with a crash as I push it off and tumble out of the bunk. The roll of the ship has stabilized; she's not going over. Disoriented and barefoot, my head aching with fever, I scramble in the darkness, heedless of the rubble. The horror of the sea pouring into the bowels of the ship and the thought of drowning here in my cabin excludes all other thoughts as I concentrate on survival.