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15 October 2014
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The Hospital Ship Parris

by Helen Lewis

Contributed by 
Helen Lewis
People in story: 
Stephen Lewis
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Contributed on: 
15 June 2004

From 16th Jan 1940 to the day the Paris was sunk 2nd June 1940 my late husband Stephen Lewis served aboard her along with many other brave souls.
Like so many survivors of any war Stephen seldom spoke of his experiences but over the years I was able to build a picture of the ships exploits through those who served with him along with the information he would divulge on occasions.Stephen volunteered in Nov 1939 and enlisted into the R.A.M.C.then posted to Depot. 5thDec 1939 from where he joined the hospital ship Paris.
Paris sailed into and out of Calais and Dieppe bringing back to th UK many wounded from both sides. Also serving on board were the wonderful Alexander Sisters who volunteered at the out break of war.Along with civilian crew members.The RAMC C.O. was one Captain J.Thompson.
The Paris had two sister ships Brighton and The Maid of Kent.Ironicaly both these vessels were sunk on the same day 21st May 1940, one in open water and the latter in Dieppe harbour. It is worth remembering that Hospital ships were supposedly immune from attack.
During the May retreat Paris was the only ship to enter Calais which she did on five occasions.The crew went ashore to search for wounded and then acted as stretcher bearers to bring them aboard to relative safety.
On one of these occasions the CO was informed that a train carrying wounded had been abandoned by its French train driver half a mile from the station.Knowing that Steve had worked on the railway back home the CO asked if he fancied getting the train down to the station.After walking down the line, the train and all the wounded aboard were at the station post haste.From there the crew transported the wounded aboard the Paris.
On the 29th May the Paris evacuated 740 patients.It was whilst helping the casualties aboard that Steve was saved from serious injury by his mouth organ which was mangled by a piece of shrapnel.The mouth organ was always carried in the long pocket located at the right thigh.
On the 2nd June 1940 the Paris set off on her sixth trip into Dunkirk. It was at the start of the trip that the Bosun told Steve that they would not be coming back this time. When asked why, the Bosun replied "Listen to the rigging whining and there are no sea birds following us"
How right the Bosun was proved to be.A few miles from Dunkirk the Paris, painted white with huge red crosses down her sides,was unmercifully bombed by German stukers (so much for the Geneva Convention).The first bomb was a direct hit on the engine room killing the 1st Engineer.Down came the stukers again(Steve could see them laughing in their cockpit)machine guns blazing, this time hitting the fifteen year old cabin boy who was to die in Steve's arms.This experience was to haunt Steve for the rest of his life.
The crew managed to get the life boats into the water but another bomb hit the boat containing the nurses throwing them into the sea.They were quickly pulled aboard another life boat to safety.Sister Seeley was badley injured in the arm, so bad was the injury that Steve's emergency dressing could barely cover the wound.
The survivors of this barbaric attack on a defenceless hospital ship were eventualy picked up by a tug boat returning to England.
Captain J Thompson went on to serve on the St David and was honoured with the George Cross. Sister Seeley received the Royal Red Cross from the King.
What happened to Steve? Posted to the Orkney Islands and then on to North Africa but that is another story...
There are no winners in war!

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