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Abandon Ship!

by ejh239

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Archive List > Royal Navy

Contributed by 
ejh239
People in story: 
WG Poynor, Grace O'Shaughnessy (nee Poynor)
Location of story: 
Tobruk
Article ID: 
A6028382
Contributed on: 
05 October 2005

Abandon Ship!

The next time I came up top, I was looking out to the shore. It was daylight now and we had been under fire for over a couple of hours. I could actually see the guns and the men around them, they were that close. Thank God they were such bad shots; it seemed impossible to miss us. Looking out along the deck, I saw a young sub-lieutenant walking towards me, and when he was just about five or six yards away, his head just suddenly disappeared. It was taken off cleanly by a shell, which then passed over the torpedo tubes, which were just below head height. He walked on two or three strides before he collapsed.

The ship kept firing until there was no more ammunition available, not even for the machine guns. So at long last, the skipper gave the order to abandon ship. The enemy had thrown everything at us but even at point blank range, he wasn't able to sink us. In order that the ship shouldn't get into enemy hands, the captain was going to open the flooding valves and scuttle the ship.

Before I went over the side, I went back to my mess deck, to see what I could take with me. I must have been in a strange state of mind, because, first of all I took the cap badge off my cap. I knew they were scarce and very hard to buy in Alexandria, very hard to replace. My mind couldn't have been working properly, because where the hell did I think I was going? Back to barracks? Then I took a packet of twenty cigarettes. I could have taken a sealed tin of fifty from the canteen shop, which had been blown open. I remember looking at them, lying around on the deck. My conscience, even at that time, told me it was stealing and I just didn't touch them! Then I went out on deck, where I met another engineer, .. Cecil Juniper. Taking off my shoes (that was another daft action), I joined him, and slid down the rope into the waters of the Mediterranean. I was just wearing overalls, and a money belt in the pocket of which was a crucifix which Grace had given me when I was last home. Incidentally, all through the action and previous actions, I always put my hand over that pocket, when I could; it gave me a certain amount of comfort. I was wearing the usual Mae West, an inflatable tube round my chest. It had a hole in it. I knew about this long ago, but hadn't bothered about it. Like any one else, I suppose you think, sinking happens to somebody else.

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