Into the Cauldron (continued)



The morning heat gradually built up and I was beginning to feel very weary, with no signs of rescue and a few more hours to wait before our next rations, it was an extremely demoralising time. In the midst of all this gloom, some of the lad's showed tremendous spirit. It was approaching mid-day and all I could do to keep active was to swim round in circles now and again; however these crazy buggers had different ideas. I looked on in amazement as they rolled up some pieces of cloth, (having absolutely no idea what they intended to use them for). Suddenly they started a game of water polo, make no mistake it wasn't a lethargic half-hearted attempt at playing this energetic game. Rather it was a full-blown contest, they were shouting, swearing, cheating, fouling; you name it they did it. I'm sure this game saved many lives because it held our interest and more importantly made everyone laugh. To this day I've no-idea where they got the energy from, their spirit was beyond belief.


It was now early afternoon and we'd been in the water over 24 hours, at this point I began to feel a deep sense of concern for both Parry and myself. To think that we may have to endure another night in the drink was a prospect that I didn't think either of us could endure. For the last 10 hours I'd been at his side and once again he was in a semi-concious state. Every so often I'd attempt to revive him by splashing water in his face. At first this had the desired reaction but as the day drew on it had little or no effect. Also, constantly tending to him had used up my last reserves of strength; I was certain I couldn't hold out for a further night of cold and fear. Miraculously our prayers were soon to be answered.


Although I'm not exactly sure of the time of day, it must have been in the region of 1600 hours when one of the lad's shouted, "Look a plane". A tiny speck was barely visible on the horizon. This was the most worrying time of all. It could easily have been a Jap warplane, sent to finish us off. I have to add that it wouldn't have taken him long to accomplish this act; most of us were totally exhausted and could never have survived a further attack. We had an agonising wait to see whether it was friend or foe. Thankfully after a couple of minutes a further shout went up of, "It's a Stringbag" which was the nick-name given to one of our planes; namely the "Swordfish". Mercifully we were saved, as rescue had to be on its way.

The feeling of elation was incredible; men who only a matter of minutes earlier had been ready to give up the ghost came back to life. Suddenly the plane was overhead; flying low, the pilot waving whilst his observer signalled with a lamp, 'help would soon be with us'. The entire area around our rafts erupted, lad's where shouting and splashing water over each other it was sheer elation. After an hour or so smoke was spotted on the horizon, it could only be the rescue ships. This was greeted with further shouts and cheers; I can't ever remember seeing such happiness.

This euphoria was causing great distress to our skipper and he was having a hard job keeping the crew together. I imagine he was very concerned that some of the lad's in the water may well overdo things and get themselves into difficulties through fatigue. As the warships rapidly approached we could see a cruiser leading them, this turned out to be HMS Enterprise.

In company with her were the destroyers "Paladin" and "Panther" and what a fantastic sight they were. On completing their approach the skipper began to get very anxious as many lad's started to prematurely head for the ships, thankfully I stayed put. You may recall during our early time in the water, the fear of sharks had been uppermost in our thoughts. However during the course of our ordeal they'd never strayed into our close proximity, this was about to change, with terrifying consequences.

Their interest must have been rekindled with all the splashing around that had taken place during the last hour or so. We were now to be ensured that our final memories of 30 hours adrift in the Indian Ocean were ones that would be filled with terror. Despite Captain Agar's orders, three lad's made for the warships, which were now lying a couple of hundred yards away. When about halfway across they disappeared; the sharks had finally struck, the poor beggars had been 50 yds from safety and now after almost one and a half days of sheer hell, one small act of impatience had cost them their lives. It seemed so unjust, however nothing is ever fair in war.

It took about an hour for the ships to pick up all the survivors; the sights at the rescue scene were heart-rending, many bodies could be seen floating face down, beyond saving. After a short while I went down below to get myself cleaned up. On my way to the wash areas I remembered having quite a substantial amount of money in my belt, it was about 30. The reason for this apparent wealth was that I'd been issued with it to buy fresh kit when first joining Dorsetshire, to replace clothing lost when Repulse sank. However I had no intentions of handing it back to the skipper, rather I was going to spend it on my first run ashore.

On taking the money out of my belt, much to my disappointment it was a congealed mess, I went to the Galley and asked the Chef, could he offer any help in saving my nest-egg. He said "don't worry lad get a bath, I'll sort it for you". With that I went down below in an attempt to wash the grime of thirty hours adrift in the Indian Ocean from my body. The crew of the Enterprise were absolutely tremendous and reminded of the Electra's hospitality, a matter of months earlier. I think my strongest recollection is of drinking a cup of tea. It tasted fantastic, even though my lips were burnt and cracked this didn't detract from the moment. Afterwards I went for a bath; this was a painful experience until my skin softened up, as it had been baked like leather. Nevertheless, after 10 minutes or so I relaxed properly. No bath since has ever felt better.

After being issued with some bits and pieces of kit I went back to the Galley, hoping that the Chef may have saved some of my money. On spotting me, he pointed to a stove. There all neatly dried and folded was the previously mushy mess of paper; he'd managed to save every last pound. As a sign of gratitude I offered him a couple of quid; he erupted giving me a right blast by saying; "You silly little bugger you've carried that through all your troubles and now you want to give it away. Get it wrapped up before I lose my temper". Thanking him I left before he did just that. After stowing my wedge I went up top to pay my last respects to the lad's left behind. My head was full of all the death and slaughter I'd been witness to during the last few months. On both Repulse and Dorsetshire I'd met scores of young lad's, most being less than twenty years of age. Now many were dead and the remainder of us would never forget the circumstances of their deaths. To this day I'll never understand people, who through their own depraved greed cause such wars. My feelings will always be with the lad's off both my ships who never returned from the Far East, young men with their lives before them. Now all they can ever be is a memory and a treasured photograph held by their loved ones, what a waste.

I stayed up top for an hour or so, eventually making my way back down to the Galley; you can imagine by my previous statement that I was in quite a sombre mood, though this was soon to be lifted. On entering the Galley I glanced across the room and whom should I see all fit and well with no apparent injuries; none other than my three mates, namely Geordie, Jack and miraculously Parry, the latter having made a fast recovery. We spent the next few hours-drinking tea, smoking like troopers and wondering just when we'd get back home.


A couple of days later we arrived in the Maldives Islands where we stood over the burials of shipmates who'd passed away after being rescued. Their injuries being so severe that the medical staff onboard Enterprise could do nothing for them. Shortly afterwards I was transferred along with many other survivors onto the battleship HMS "Ramillies", leaving soon afterwards destined for Mombassa. It was an uneventful journey lasting several days and once docked we were granted a few days, rest and recuperation.

I was still in company with Geordie and Jack and we spent a fantastic couple of days riding around the surrounding countryside on pushbikes. It didn't take long for me to spend my 30 mind you we had a great time blowing it. As our leave came to an end I'd hoped that my next orders would be to sail directly home; however this didn't happen. We were destined for the previously captured Axis merchant ship "Mendoza" which was to carry us to Durban. This was good news, because if I couldn't get home, this city was the next best place to be.