- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Lewis Williams from Tondu, near Bridgend in South Wales
- Location of story:
- Alexandria and Malta, HMS Kipling
- Background to story:
- Royal Navy
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 15 September 2005
Incidentally, about this time another naval action took place which didn't involve me but which saddened my heart for a very long time.
I must go back to the Sultan Hisar where I met and became friends with a stoker named Lewis Williams from Tondu, near Bridgend in South Wales. After turning over the Sultan Hisar to the Turkish Navy, we parted when I joined the Sikh and Lewis joined another destroyer, HMS Kipling. Each time we came back to port, the destroyers would anchor at buoys in the harbour and when we had each finished our duties, we would both go up onto the fo'c'sle of our ships and signal across to each other. We got very little pay in those days and we had set signals for various questions and answers. First we would point to the shore and if we both did the same, that meant we had enough for a beer each. If one of shook his head or spread out his arms, that meant he was broke, so the other one would wave towards the shore again. That meant he had enough money to buy the other a drink. So we would eventually meet on the quayside and make our way to the Navy club.
Sometimes, on my own, I would go along to Stanley Bay for a swim. It was along the coast and took about ten minutes in a "Garry" (a horse drawn carriage). There was a nice lagoon there which was only about three feet deep with a smooth, sandy bottom and always calm. Lewis couldn't swim and try as I did, he would never come along with me: I stressed on him the importance of learning to swim but it made no difference so when the following action took place, I remembered with sorrow his refusal to let me help him to swim.
My ship, the Sikh, was in the middle of a boiler clean in Alexandria, when we heard that the Jarvis, Jackal and Kipling had been dive-bombed on their way back from Malta after taking a convoy there. Two of the destroyers had been sunk and the remaining one was making its way back to our base. We didn't know which one. We then got orders to close the boilers up and raise steam as fast as possible to go to this destroyer's aid. I don't need to tell you that I worked like a Trojan to get the ship ready. I was in a desperate state, striving to keep my emotions and thoughts in check. In record time we had steam up and left port and after about a day's steaming at full speed we met a destroyer coming back. It seemed ages before we learned which one it was and then we were told it was the Jarvis. I was stunned. She had picked up some survivors but also a lot of bodies and on our way back to port, she was slipping bodies over the side. When we reached Alex, I spent days going around looking at lots of bodies and asking countless questions from anyone involved in the action but all to no avail. He was gone; I knew that now. But how I could only hope it had been quick. I could also only hope it wasn't drowning. I was numbed. I felt I had lost part of myself. One meets many people in one's life but very few become really close friends.
He was an only child. He was nineteen and I was twenty-one. Just a great pal. Some time later, I heard that a bomb had hit the engine room whilst he was on watch there. So he was killed by blast, or superheated steam or shrapnel. Either way it was instantaneous for which I thanked God.
© Copyright of content contributed to this Archive rests with the author. Find out how you can use this.