Some of the men I saw in the water and on Carley floats were in a terrible state; three men stay in my mind to this day. They were on one of the floats and as I swam by, I could see the horrible extents of their injuries. None of them had one piece of unburned flesh on their bodies and were all in a semi-conscious state, their bodies being covered in deep flesh wounds, which were bleeding severely. I swam over to another raft, which was quite full, but the men made room so as I could support my weight and have some semblance of a rest. Soon afterwards the destroyer Electra came over to us, it was quite hard work to get up the nets on the ships side, but the crew was fantastic and I never saw anyone still alive, left behind.


Once onboard, space was at a premium; there wasn’t one spare inch of room, either up top or below deck. It was only a short while afterwards that we came across the three lads I’d seen earlier with the horrific burns. It must have been a terrible job for the crew of the ship, actually getting the lads onboard. I don’t see how they could have been handled in any way without adding to their already severe injuries. A short while after being brought onboard, they all mercifully passed away. It upset me terribly to watch these events unfold and be unable to help, but their passing, was a relief to all of us who watched the terrible agony they’d gone through.


Shortly after this heart-wrenching sight, we were jolted to our senses, an aircraft warning was broadcast. It really was a frightening situation, as we had nowhere to run or hide. Some of our lads went to help the Electra’s AA crews. In the end they were told to stand down, I never found out if it had been a false alarm or there actually were further planes coming to attack the already sunken ships. After this scare I found a small space and tried to rest.


The fuel oil on the surface of the water was causing terrible problems for men waiting to be rescued. Ian Hay explains how he felt at this time.


After I’d been in the sea for some time, I could see some of the badly injured men beginning to lose consciousness. There wasn’t a lot we could do for them, if we did manage to wake them up, it would only be for a few moments, then they’d drift off again. It was vital to keep them awake, because swallowing the fuel oil was life threatening. If the oil didn’t make them start convulsing, then in no time at all we’d lose them. I began to realise that I was becoming exhausted, never being a strong swimmer the circumstances I was now in compounded this fact even further. Gradually I became aware that I was beginning to swallow oil, at first it was making me cough most of it back up. However, as time wore on I wasn’t aware of it having any effect on me; its obvious with some degree of hindsight, that I was beginning to lose my faculties.


Thankfully, some of the lads around me must have been aware of this, they kept me talking and made me concentrate, I can honestly say that I wasn’t aware of seeing the destroyer that picked me up, although I have some small recollections, of being helped onboard. It didn’t take me long to come around. The first memory I have, is tasting something a lot nicer than the oil I’d been swallowing whilst in the water. I was being force fed with neat rum. This had the effect of reacting with the oil I’d swallowed, making me vomit extremely violently thus emptying my stomach of its contents, a thing which more than likely saved my life.


In the midst of all the suffering in the surrounding waters, Reg Woods saw one face that made him smile.


The carnage around the area I was swimming in was terrible, men where in all kinds of distress. However, as I was free of injury I knew that I’d have to try and help some of them. One man close by, was in quite a lot of difficulty and as I’d managed to find one of Repulse’s lifebelts, I swam over to give it to him. On approaching, he spoke to me, I immediately realised he was a scouser. However, there were a lot of us on the ship and I didn’t know all of them. But I knew this one right enough; it was John Dykes. I was overjoyed to see him alive and free of injuries. I put the belt around him and started to swim, he was behind in tow, doing a paddle, we soon got sight of the skipper’s barge and decided to make for it.


Once we’d made it to the boat a lot of other men began heading for us; it was quite a large barge so we were able to help a lot of men out of the water. One man who we managed to rescue was the war correspondent for the Daily Express, O.D. Gallagher. To this day, John plays hell about giving a hand to get him onboard, as he must have weighed about 18 stone. He was so grateful for my helping him that he gave me his watch. To this day I keep it in a drawer at home; it still keeps perfect time.


After our bout of weight lifting, we saw a sight that gladdened our hearts. In the midst of all this misery, waiting his turn to be picked up was our skipper Captain Tennant. He was with the ship’s Padre, who apart from a nasty bump on his head, seemed to be ok. Some of the lads helped them onboard, the skipper responded by thanking us for rescuing them. Even with the great defeat we had just been dealt, I couldn’t have been prouder of him. He had no wish to be given any special treatment and just spoke quietly enquiring about the condition of the injured lads. It wasn’t long after this that we could see the Australian destroyer Vampire coming over to pick us up. We’d only been onboard a short while, when the call went up that the Prince of Wales was sinking. It upset me to see this, because as stated at the beginning of my story, I was one of the first people to work on her. The ultra modern hull with all of its underwater protection systems had finally prolonged her agony, as she took far longer to sink than the older designed Repulse. Which in effect meant, she received even more punishment, because the Japanese wouldn’t leave the scene until they knew she was beyond saving. After this sight I went down below to get some food and rest. The crew on the destroyer were fantastic and anything they had that could help our situation they freely gave.


Derek Jones has sad memories of trying to save one of his shipmates, whilst waiting for the destroyer Electra to pick him up.


The group of lads I ended up with came across a Carley float, but it was too full for any of us to be able to get on. Although it had ropes round the sides of it so this at least offered some small comfort, also a raft would be more easily recognised than bobbing heads in the sea, which would obviously mean a faster rescue. I still remember the next incident as though it were yesterday; one of the lads I’d been with since entering the water saw a body floating a short distance from our raft. At first we thought he was dead, but on closer examination we could see he was moving. We brought him over to the raft, and it took a while to make some room for him. Eventually we managed to accomplish this, but his injuries were truly terrible mainly through burns. I think the most upsetting part of this, was when realising he wasn’t going to survive. I can’t even say truthfully if he managed to stay with us until we were picked up. But I do know that he never made it to Singapore. Its sometimes easier to deal with massive loss of life in the midst of action, as opposed to seeing one person die in your close proximity; subsequently I’ve never forgotten him.


Once onboard Electra I seemed to go into some kind of shock syndrome, the whole of the deck was full of dead and dying men, I couldn’t cope. They sent me down below to try and rest but it didn’t take long till I was running round looking for a stoker friend of mine. I was desperate to see if he’d made it, the irony of this is that nowadays time has played its trick with my memory and I am only able to recollect his Christian name, which was Ray. He lived close to me and we became good mates, having some great runs ashore together. Some time later, with great reluctance I accepted the fact that he must have died.


Author’s Note:


In the course of interviewing Derek, I was able to inform him that his mate’s name was Ray Kent. He lived in Wrexham North Wales. In the local graveyard (not 100 yards from where this book was written) there is a memorial headstone for Ray. Derek plans to visit this in the near future.


I went back down below and one of the destroyer’s crew gave me some rum, which seemed to calm me down for a while, until I saw another lad from Repulse screaming in agony because of his terrible burns. I couldn’t stand to watch this and went off again, but this time some of the lads must have been keeping an eye on me, as I didn’t seem to get far till one of them asked if I’d eaten anything since coming aboard. I told him ‘no’ so he took me to the Galley. Once there, he gave me some more rum, I still remember what he gave me to eat; it was a tin of peaches. I ate a few and then tried to go on another walkabout, he was having none of it, and got me to lie down covering me with a blanket. I honestly don’t remember much else, as I’m sure I must have dropped off almost immediately. My next recollection is waking up as we entered the naval base at Singapore. This brought to an end, the most eventful and horrific day of my young life.


Reg Woods has one more recollection of his meeting with the reporter OD Gallagher.


Once we boarded Electra, O.D. had to be taken below for immediate treatment, he’d obviously swallowed a tremendous amount of oil and unless it was purged from him, he’d die. They must have worked wonders, as it didn’t seem long before he was on his feet again. He came over asking if there was anything he could do for me. I told him ‘Yes,’ could he inform my wife and family back home that I was ok. To his everlasting credit and in the midst of such a huge story of international interest, he kept his word. Where other families had agonising waits to find out the fate of their loved ones, mine knew in a matter of days that I was fine. We arrived in Singapore at around midnight; the cruiser Exeter was alongside, thankfully I had some mates onboard her. One of them carried me off the ship and across the cinders, as I had no shoes on my feet. After this we ended up at the best place to be after a day of the sorts we’d all endured. Right next to the rum tub!




After the obligatory tot of rum, all survivors were sent to their allotted dormitories. This short chapter captures the main events of the following day that have remained sharpest in the memories of the storytellers.


Ian Hay:


Without doubt the strongest memory I have is of disembarking Electra; I got to the foot of the gangplank and the first man I saw was a Repulse shipmate, Walter Farqhar. He was an electrician and as there was an acute shortage of these men in Singapore, he’d been left behind when we sailed. I have never seen anyone look so happy, when he saw Michael and myself on the quayside. I was desperately tired and Walter took me to the showers in an attempt to try and get some of the oil off me before I turned in. It was a waste of time as the more he scrubbed, the further it seemed to go into my skin. After a while he gave up and let me get to my bunk. I immediately fell into a deep sleep.


John Dykes:


I remember back to all those years ago and honestly think the strongest memory I have, once docked, was that I had hardly any clothes on, in particular, no trousers. I recollect to feeling somewhat embarrassed over this. But I wasn’t on my own, most of us had nothing to wear and this was to remain the case for a lot of men from the ships for many days to come.


Reg Woods:


It was some time after docking when I returned from the shower room, whilst sitting on my bed, talking to another Repulse man Bob Hewlett, a group of Australian sailors came into the dorm. They asked was there a man called “Woods” in here. I piped up “I am”. They then asked, “Have you an uncle in the Australian Navy?” I said. “I have an uncle in Australia”. They finished by saying, “Come with us”. I didn’t know what to expect.  We went to the canteen and low and behold who did I see sitting at a table, but my father’s brother. He was overjoyed to see me alive and well. The rest of the evening was spent talking of things back home and getting drunk. After all I had been through in the last 14 hours I don’t think this is a bad memory to keep.


Derek Jones:


I have a couple of strong recollections, the first is being so totally exhausted that when I got to my allocated bunk, I found it had no mattress, but I wouldn’t leave it to try and find one in case someone else claimed it. I slept on the wires all night and don’t remember stirring once. The second was in the morning after breakfast. I joined with a group of lads I usually knocked around with. We began to get upset on realising that some of our mates hadn’t been as fortunate as us, and hadn’t survived the sinking. I felt in my pocket and found my cigarette case, I opened it up, but the water had ruined the contents, I noticed a ½ crown under the sodden tobacco. This cheered me up somewhat, and I went down to the canteen spending the lot on a couple of packets of cigarettes. No one had any money and we were all dying for a smoke. I came back and shared them out between us. They are still the best smokes I ever had.


Ted Matthews:


I’ve been asked a number of times about the day after the sinking, and can best describe my feelings as, we all knew Repulse had gone, but only the ship. The other half of her (the crew) were still all together, looking after each other. So to me, it wasn’t as traumatic as some outsiders might think. It was upsetting to realise you had lost some great mates, but this made me more aware of how lucky I was to be in the company of the lads around me.


It wasn’t until the following day on the parade ground that I realised things were about to change forever. I can’t remember the whole sequence of events all these years later, but the one speech that has stayed in my mind forever was by our skipper Captain Tennant. I can still see him talking to us in his quiet, unobtrusive manner, when out of the blue, he asked for the name of the boy seaman who saved his life.


Evidently it seemed that as the skipper dived into the water, he was caught by the ship’s superstructure, which was dragging him under. The young lad, whose name I can’t remember dived under him, pulling him clear. Once he’d obtained his name, he called the boy up and thanked him in front of the remainder of our crew. He finished his speech by telling us that as he was the highest-ranking officer to survive, he had no alternative, but to return to Britain to give an account of the sinking to an inquiry board. Adding that he was going to try his best to get both ships’ crews home as soon as possible, with this statement he left. He was the finest officer I ever met and I later found out the Admiralty complimented him on his actions taken during the battle. Thankfully, he made it through the war, later rising to the rank of Admiral. He certainly deserved this reward.


John Garner:


I remember with great affection the hospitality we received from the lads off the cruiser Exeter, they waited on us hand and foot all night. In fact, they even let me get drunk on their rum. I had got off our ship without a scratch on my entire body and yet I’d only been ashore a short while, when I fell down an irrigation trench, cutting my arm open. I also remember, with great pride, the final speech our skipper made to us. I sadly would never see his equal again.


In contrast, it was extremely upsetting the manner in which, Admiral Layton addressed us, saying “He no longer wished to hear talk of survivors as now we’d all be employed in the defence of Singapore”. To me it highlighted the vast difference between our old skipper and the men we’d now serve under.


Ian Hay has one other small recollection of this day of speeches made mainly by men who had no intention of being in Singapore when the fighting started.


It wasn’t long after we’d been dispersed from the parade ground, and the tone and manner of Admiral Layton’s speech dejected everyone. Shortly afterwards the familiar voice of our great Premier Winston Churchill came over the radio. Although I can’t fully remember the exact words, his speech was along the lines of. ‘We will bring these gallant men home and give them ships they can be proud to sail in’. Alas this was just a lie. In reality none of us were going home; the fact was some of us would never return.