WW II, a British focus  




Life on a Troopship

A Pictorial History

featuring the photographs of

John Ernest Brown


Compiled by


Glynn Brown.
Life on a Troopship

Until recently the British Army moved large numbers of personnel by Troopship. During the 1930's and 1940's my father, John Ernest BROWN served in the British Army and was on several Troopships.

With photography being his profession and hobby throughout his lifetime he came back with many photographs that featured the life on a Troopship. The following pages chronicle some of his best photographs.

John Ernest BROWN was the second child of Leon Ernest Brown 11/9/1876 - 26/9/1956 and Lucy Freeman 8/12/1885 - 17/5/1972, and was born on the 12th October 1910 at Hastings Sussex.

After he left school he went to work for the largest photographers shop in Hastings known as Gifford Boyd's; we do not know how long he worked there, but photography was his hobby for the rest of his life.

For some reason, perhaps because of the depression, he joined the Army enlisting in the Royal Sussex Regiment at Eastbourne, Sussex on the 26th January 1931 for a period of seven years. His army number is 6397247 and his trade when he enlisted was given as Grocer's Assistant.

Within a year (23rd January 1932) he was in India and spent almost four years there, then on to Egypt (27th October 1935) followed by a stay in Sudan (18th March 1936 to 28th December 1936).

During his time in the army he improved his education and in 1931 passed a Third Class Army Certificate of Education and in 1933 passed a Second Class Army Certificate of Education in the subjects of English, Mathematics, Map Reading and Army & Empire. He also managed to complete a Vocational Training programe in Painting and Decorating. The last two years of his service was spent as a military policeman before he was transferred to the Army Reserve 25th January 1938.

This was short lived as on the 15th June 1939 he was recalled to service and after the Second World War broke out was part of the British Expeditionary Force, eventually being evacuated from the beaches of Dunkirk.

He spent some time in England retraining and he was able to attend his sister-in-law's wedding on the 16th February 1941.

He was then transferred to the 44th Reconnaissance, Royal Armoured Corps. part of Monty's 8th Army, on the 22nd January 1941.

The HMS Somersetshire is believed to be the first Troopship that my father sailed on in January 1932.

Nothing to do and all day to do it in.

It may be coincidence, but the Ship's markings of SX seem to fit nicely with the fact that she was carrying the Royal Sussex Regiment.

Everything was always spick and span on board the Troopships.

Life was always at a leisurely pace back in the 1930's.

Note that one soldier is wearing a pith helmet, common in the Middle East, where this ship is headed for. The other soldier is wearing a forage cap.


With about two thousand troops on board each ship, conditions were very crowded and access to a luxury such as a porthole was very limited.

Life on board the Troopship could be very boring.

Distractions such as a performance by the Regimental Band were always well attended.

Several ships would sail together in a convoy.

Ports were bustling places in the 1930's with the majority of trade being carried out in them. Many ships were still coal burning which left a kind of smog over the port.

It was still common to see sailors manning the long boats.

Through the Suez Canal the Ships would follow in single file.


Troops on the quayside waiting to board their Troopship.

Last minute instructions before boarding the ship.

Note the canvas awnings to protect the troops from the elements.

This is the Troopship "NEVASA"


The troops begin to line up and board the Troopship.

Note the large canvas air-vents to take fresh air below.

Note the canvas awning to keep the hot sun off the troops.

This looks like a Battleship to escort the convoy.