- Contributed by
- Norman Date
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 06 December 2003
Have you ever thought of anyone you would like to have a word with, someone famous perhaps or someone from your schooldays?. Well I would pick the most wonderful man, who I consider that I have ever met. Sadly I do not know his name; all that I know is that he is buried in the Naval Cemetery in Murmansk, North Russia. We met in a lifeboat, in the Barents Sea 120 miles north of Russia, in the winter of 1942, when my ship the “Induna” that had picked him up was sunk, and it finished four days later when we sighted land and were picked up by a Russian boat. It was then that he said these words to me, “We made it Kid”, but sadly this wonderful man died the next day, and found his last resting-place in Murmansk.
We had been adrift for four days in the lifeboat, after the submarine U376 had torpedoed the SS Induna on the 30th March 1942. This man was not a crewmember of the Induna but was aboard the “Ballot” when she was sunk, and you could say that they were very unfortunate in “being in the wrong place at the wrong time”. The SS Ballot had sailed from New York to Iceland and from there had joined convoy PQ13 bound for Murmansk.
The long-range German planes found the ships and homed in on the Destroyers for an attack, this was beaten off by the cruiser HMS Trinidad, but then the JU88 and high level Focke Wolfes attacked with bombs. The SS Ballot suffered some very near misses from a dive bomber attack and lost steam which caused her to drop astern of the convoy, a lifeboat was lowered with sixteen men aboard and they were picked up by the Whaler “ Silja” which was herself on passage to be turned over to the Russians, she was one of three that had been sent, one was sunk and the other turned over in the ice. A few ships went North to get near the ice, but the SS Induna got stuck and while the other ships sailed on, the “Silja” stayed and as she was a small ship with limited room, the men from the “Ballot” walked over the ice onto the “Induna”. The “Silja” then ran out of fuel so the “Induna” took her in tow but at about 10 pm the tow broke and the two ships parted.
The next morning at about 7.30 am the “Induna” was torpedoed in the number five hold right under a load of aviation spirit and the explosion turned the deck into a burning mess. We were sent to boat stations and a few people started to run through the fire, whilst some on the stern jumped into the sea and away from the flames. The last man was one of those rescued from the “Ballot” and he had no shoes on so his feet were ripped open by the cargo of barbed wire which we were also carrying, and he was leaving bloody footprints as he made his way to the lifeboat station, the Mate then lowered the boat to deck level and myself with some others were ordered into the boat, this was when we saw this man coming towards us, his hair was burnt off and his face and hands were badly burnt, as his jacket and trousers were also burning we rolled him into the boat and beat out the flames.
The boat was lowered into the sea and as we rowed away another torpedo smashed into the ship, which then sank with all the men who were still aboard. We were in the lifeboat for four days in terrible weather, after all it was winter in the arctic and we were in the Barents Sea. The burnt man had few clothes and he sat in the boat with the seas breaking over him and we covered him with a blanket and a spare coat, the other six in the boat were of no help, so the gunner and myself did all of the baling. We tried to talk to this man but the poor soul could hardly talk, but I did get out of him that he came from America. The seas broke over him and a coat of ice formed on him which got thicker as time went by, but never once did he moan but just sat quietly and all that he ever asked for was the occasional cigarette, which I would light for him and put it into his mouth, he would then try to move his head when I should take it out, and that was all that he asked for, a few times a day he would say “ gunner, can I have a cigarette”?
This went on for the four days that we were adrift, and then at dusk on the fourth day we sighted land, when we told him he asked “gunners will you please turn the boat so that I can see it”, and this we did, his next words were “put an oar into my hands and I can rock my body to help”, at this time his hands were twice as thick as they should be, with his fingers drawn and bent with the cold, all black with knuckles burst and covered with scabs, and still he wanted to help!
Then we saw the rescue boats and were picked up, as I was pulled aboard I saw a Russian sailor down in the lifeboat looking at him and a rope being passed down, I do not know how they got him out of the lifeboat as I was taken to the bridge. The next time that I saw him was after one of the females in the Russian crew called to me, she was having difficulty with the cabin boy, a seventeen year old lad called Anderson, who was frozen bent double, and having cut his jacket off I saw that he was black to the waist, when she saw this the Russian said to leave him.
After a few tots of vodka I was taken to see the burnt man, who put out his hand to me and said as best he could “WE MADE IT KID”, words that I will never forget from a man who was now suffering from both burns and terrible frostbite. The next day we arrived in Murmansk and were put into the Russian Hospital, were I went to sleep and when I woke up I was told that the cabin boy had died and later that the American had also died from his injuries. Who was he? I will never know for certain but there is a grave in Murmansk to an unknown sailor from the “Ballot”, a man who died with dignity, a man who anyone can be proud to say “I met that man”. His family can also be proud of him, but the sad part is that no one in America knows anything about him.
“If Blood was the price
We had to pay for our freedom
Then the Merchant Ship Sailors
Paid it in full”
From: Norman Date / Hon Secretary/ Merchant Navy Association Bristol UK
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