The Captain of the Rohilla was David Landles Neilson, who was born at Tranent, East Lothian, in 1864. He joined the crew of a sailing ship as a cabin boy, obtained his Second Mate’s certificate at the age of eighteen, qualified as a Master Mariner at thirty four and had spent nearly forty of his fifty years at sea.
His entire career had been spent with British India Steam Navigation Company and he was given the command of Rohilla when she was built.
As a naval reservist he too was liable for immediate call up at the outbreak of war, and when the Admiralty requisitioned the ship he and his senior officers, who were also reservists, remained in post.
The past three months, working Rohilla as a hospital ship, had been mainly a period of training. Apart from Prince Albert and Gunner Nicholson – the solitary patient on a hospital ship with 239 beds – there had been little use made of the facilities. The short voyages to and from the Orkneys were not likely to tax a crew used to the Karachi run.
Now the ship was really going into action for the very first time. It was period of anxiety. Conditions were very different from any they had previously encountered. All navigation lights and aids were turned off. There were minefields, submarines and mines scattered by the enemy. The Captain had never sailed the North Sea before.
Copyright © Ken Wilson 1981