- Contributed by
- People in story:
- George Male, Johnny Harbor.
- Location of story:
- Iceland, Simons Town, Casablanca, Gibraltar, Scotland
- Background to story:
- Royal Navy
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 15 August 2005
This story has been added the website by CSV Volunteer Olivia Davey on behalf of the author George Male who understands the site’s terms and conditions.
April 1941, I was suddenly sent on draft to report to HMS DRAKE Devonport. After several days I was given a rail warrant and 2 meal vouchers, 2 shillings each and was told to report to St Enochs Hotel, Glasgow on my own. In the big office I shouted “Anybody know where HMS HECLA is?” “No chief” came the answer so I was sent to GREENOCH and put aboard the Royal Ulsterman a small ferry which used to run between Scotland and Northern Ireland. Three days later we arrived unescorted at Vaalfiord Iceland which was a wartime Naval Base. Amongst the ships there was HMS HECLA. Instead of sending me to it the ship refuelled and took me to Reykjavik where I was put ashore and spent my only night in a hammock in a stinking fish factory taken over for accommodation. Awful. Next day I was put aboard a little boat and was sent 40 miles around to pick up the Hecla. There were 2 doctors and the senior one laughed when he saw me. He said ”I have been sending signals to Admiralty for 5 months to send us a surgical specialist and they’ve sent you! Well you won’t be here more than three weeks”. No specialist came and I was still aboard when she sank 2 years later.
In March 1942 we came back to the Clyde. Did a refit and on the 15th of April sailed in a huge convoy out into the Atlantic. Exactly a month later we were off the Cape of Good Hope. I was on the upper deck after tea when there was a bang and a lot of water came up. We’d hit a torpedo. We had 24 killed and nearly 200 injured but we managed to get into Simons town having lost 72 torpedoes and 200 depth charges out of the holes. We had 6 months there while they put a new bottom on the ship. We then sailed back up the Atlantic and at 11 at night I was in my cot in the sick bay when there was an explosion. 2 stokers managed to get up from the boiler room before it was screwed down. They were badly burned and we spent an hour attending to them. We gave them a shot of morphine and sent them to the upper deck to await instruction. We had been hit by 2 torpedos and then an hour later 2 more. I never heard “Abandon Ship” but I found myself in the wardroom with a junior doctor and a mid shipman. We went through the mess decks to see if there was anyone who couldn’t get off and then came back to the wardroom. The ship was keeling to port. It was black and the junior doctor said “Male I’ve sat here many a night at dinner dying for a pee and unable to have one until the captain gave permission. Well I’m having one now!” and the three of us made sure we didn’t pollute the ocean, said good-bye and went over the side. I went up the starboard rail, I could almost walk down the side it was so far keeling over. The rope ended and I let go and found myself back in the ship. I’d gone into a hole made by the torpedo. I was a good swimmer and there was a destroyer HMS MARNE standing by to pick up survivors. I was swimming towards her and amongst others in the water I saw the Master at Arms (Johnny Harbor) he was standing upright in the water with his hands on the reading desk of the ships lectern with his feet on the cross bar at the bottom. What are you doing I said? He said “If I’m going to heaven boy I’m going in style”. I got near the Marne. There was a swish in the water beside me. It was a torpeo which blew the stern off the Marne. It was like being hit in the stomach by a board, really unpleasant. She had a pattern of depth charges set. They were thrown of and exploded around us and her ammunition went off. I decided to look for something else. The next day still in the water on a Carley Raft together with 400 odd I was picked up by another destroyer HMS VENOMOUS and taken to Casablanca where the Americans were marvellous to us.
I have still got the watch I was wearing, full of fuel.
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