- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Bill Poynor, Cecil Juniper
- Location of story:
- HMS Sikh
- Background to story:
- Royal Navy
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 05 October 2005
We swam away from the ship. The first thing we got hold of was a small rum barrel, empty unfortunately. It was rather awkward to grip nothing you could get hold off and turned over and over in the water, so we thought we'd have to get away from this. And then I saw two carley floats which were about thirty yards away, with about the same distance in between them. These floats consisted of a copper tubing about eighteen inch diameter and curved round to form an oval doughnut about nine foot long and five foot across, with a net slung underneath it. Men were sitting astride this tube and paddling away. These held about twelve altogether and they both looked pretty full. Cecil and I, incidentally were about the last to leave the ship. I remember, just before we went over the side, the officer who was opening the flooding valves, told us to "get the hell off the ship!" He was rather rude, I thought. Seeing the state of things, I said to Cecil, "Look, you go to that raft on the right, and I'll go in that one on the left, and see if we can find some space". As we parted company and started swimming to our rafts, a shell landed right between us. That was an escape. The explosion sent up a huge column of water. Shrapnel splattered all round me, just inches from my face, none of it hit me, I don't know why; still my lucky day! I thought "Poor Cecil". I was sure he'd caught it. When I reached my float, after blowing up my Mae West a couple of times, .... [ejh22]I managed to squeeze into a place on the float and started paddling. Shortly afterwards, I realised that my side of the raft was slowly sinking, with the water creeping up my chest. It had obviously been holed by shrapnel. By this time, I had very bad cramp, so I looked round to see what I could do. I saw two chaps swimming along, and for some reason they were towing a long narrow plank, so as they were heading for another net float on which I could see the chief engineer and quite a few of my mates, I thought "Right, as I can't swim for cramp, I could cadge a lift!". So as they passed close by I slid off and grabbed the end of the plank. They didn't seem to notice me and eventually we came to the chief's raft. There was no room on it for me, but there was a round ship's life belt lying on it. So I pulled it off and sat in that and put my feet on the raft and asked the chief to give my legs a massage. They had gone a funny shape because of the cramp. I happened to look back at the float I had just left, just in time to see it get a direct hit. Men and debris were blown sky high. That was another miss for me.
When I first went into the water, I remember looking back at the ship and being surprised at the punishment she had taken. There had been a lot more hits than I had thought. There was hardly a square foot that didn't have a hole in it. It seemed a miracle that so many had survived. Even then, I reckoned that with all the marines that perished, a good hundred must have been killed.
All this time, the shore batteries were still pounding away and shells were falling all around us and on to the ship as well. By now, the ship was starting to settle in the water as the sea gradually claimed her. This was an extremely sad moment for all of us. One gets very attached to one's ship in wartime. After all, she had been our home and our protector. We felt we were losing a very dear friend.
One terrible sight, just before she slid under the waves, was of a lad in the fo'c'sle, who had obviously survived the explosion there trying to get out of a port hole. Now these are very small on a destroyer. He managed to get his head and one shoulder and arm out but couldn't get any further. He was calling and waving frantically, but nothing could be done for him.
The ship gradually turned on its port side, then its stern sank, the bows rose high in the air. She just seemed to stand vertical for a moment and then started going down slowly at first and then gained speed until she was gone, leaving behind a mass of disturbed water which gradually subsided. Mixed with our sadness however, was relief, for shortly afterwards, the guns stopped. All was still and quiet. Then men started calling across the water to mates. They could now see around them and could at last make themselves heard. We thought we were now safe and knew we would be prisoners very soon, but before this happened, one last thing occurred. Two aircraft appeared and made two or three runs over us, firing machine guns. We weren't expecting this. I don't know how many were hit, but thank God they didn't come over us. I remember thinking at this time, that death had been all round us and seemed to be following me wherever I went and never quite catching me up. If only the good die young, then who do I thank for making me a sinner?
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