The Marines’ Tale

Liverpool’s company was allowed ashore on the sparsely populated island of Diego Garcia on the 24th May 1939. When recalled in the evening two marines were missing. A search party the following morning failed to bring them back. Some weeks later, Manchester arrived at Diego Garcia and the two men gave themselves up. The Captain of Manchester did not hand out the severity of punishment which Liverpool’s Major of the Marines would himself have chosen, and the Major was was forced to contain his anger when they were eventually returned to the ship.

The marines who jumped ship at Diego Garcia (on Empire Day!) were Bill Bishop and Dennis Turnbull. Young men, rebelling against discipline, they had planned to sail by native canoe to Borneo (some 4,000 miles away!), there to seek work as stevedores. Filling shirts with cigarettes, chocolates and sweets (plus a mouth organ), they went ashore with a handful of liberty-men. They hid up in dense clumps of palms till nightfall, and at 1700 heard the liberty boat returning to the ship. Sleeping on the seaward side of the island, they were safe from Liverpool’s twin searchlights which swept the shores of the lagoon during the night. Disturbed first by a huge land crab, and then by a wild pig, they slept until morning, when they were wakened by the clamour and expletives of a marine search party led by three-badge Lofty Harman.
The renegades climbed two tall palm trees to hide. Unsuccessful, the search party returned to the ship and, at 0700, ‘Hands fall in for leaving Harbour’ was sounded off.That same day, Bishop and Turnbull caught, slaughtered and roast a wild pig, and scrounged water from an isolated native hut. Later, an afternoon nap was disturbed by the arrival of a gang of hideously attired natives.They had been sent by Monsieur Charlemange, manager of the copra plantation (cum magistrate, cum everything). He turned out to be the epitome of Shakespeare’s Falstaff, of massive girth and complete with flowing white beard and hair. Charlemange reported that Captain Read had feared that they had drowned, but had sent their kit ashore nevertheless. Later, this was to be an asset in bargaining with the natives.

A small hut with corrugated roof was allocated to the two marines. It was complete with beds, mosquito nets, and a native woman (‘Daisy’) to attend to housework and dhobeying. Further refinement ame when two donkeys were caught, and bridles made from shirts. Each morning, curious but shy dusky maidens from the copra yards would file into the hut - and giggle! They lived well, with turtle steaks and eggs every day, together with port, sherry, and Pall Mall cigarettes from the Frenchman. After a number of weeks, Charlemagne informed them that H.M.S. Manchester would be arriving the following day. Turnbull was for hiding, but eventually it was decided to give themselves up.
So, in style, they were rowed to the ship by the natives in their one and only ceremonial canoe. At first, the Commander on the quarterdeck thought no more of a native boat coming to sell artifacts, until he discovered the identity of the passengers. He then ordered them to take an Izal bath! Two days later, they were arraigned before the Captain, to whom they spun a yarn about being lost in the jungle. Charlemagne, suitably briefed, backed up their story. Punishment was lenient - 14 days No. 11 - but it took nearly a year to repay the cost of an entirely new set of kit.

In October, they rejoined Liverpool at Bombay. For effect, they seated themselves on a bollard, and were investing a few annas in a pedicure as the ship drew alongside. They were greeted by loud cheers, but were soon to find themselves before Major of the Marines, Patrick William O’Hara Phibbs. Punishment having already been dealt, he was far from amused, despite the unfortunate effect of drawing his lips back from mah jong size teeth to give the semblance of a smile.

Diego Garcia 2006,