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15 October 2014
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by Renfrewshire Libraries

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Contributed by 
Renfrewshire Libraries
People in story: 
James and Isobel Gold
Location of story: 
The Bristol Channel
Background to story: 
Royal Navy
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
21 January 2006

This is my husband, James Gold

This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Jan Kilgariff of Renfrewshire Libraries on behalf of Isobel Gold and has been added to the site with her permission. The author fully understands the site’s terms and conditions.

This story is of my husband, Jim, when his ship, the destroyer H.M.S. Warwick, was torpedoed and sunk off Trevose Head, Cornwall, in February 1943. It is interesting that the BBC put out a request for any survivors and family of the deceased to contact a surviving officer. Jim did this and we became friendly with the BBC Archivist for the Warwick. A Memorial service was arranged in Padstow, unfortunately Jim was not able to attend through ill health, but services are still held every February in remembrance of their comrades. Through contact being made with survivors and families, The Sunderland Flying Boat crew who were flying past and alerted the rescue services and also with the Captain of the submarine that sunk them, a reunion was organised, all thanks to the BBC request.

This is his first hand account:

I am probably the only survivor who can give his complete experiences on Warwick in this story. As an eleventh hour replacement for a rating who had gone astray, I was sent up to join the ship in Ardrossan and had barely stepped on board when we were under way back to Plymouth.

Being brand new, I was in contact most with the Buffer and the Gunner’s Mate but managed a Radar watch on the way to familiarise myself with the set, which was new to me. On arrival at Plymouth, the “natives” as usual were ashore as quick as we could tie up but before we had time to settle down we were on our way again minus “natives” on a sub hunt with two “S” boats ‘Saladin’ and ‘Scimitar’ in the Bristol Channel. We were not on station very long when we had Asdic trouble and the ship had to slow down while repairs were carried out, at this stage we were very much a sitting duck. An enquiry was heard later as to why a listening watch, which should have heard the torpedoes running, was not kept but I do not remember hearing the result. We were down in the mess preparing for dinner, the rum ration was being dished out aft when there was a terrific explosion which seemed more felt than heard, all the lights went out and the mess table with all the crockery dropped on my legs. By the time I sorted the debris out and got to the hatch ladder everyone else seemed to have beat me to it and realising I had no lifebelt with me went back to look for it. When I got back to the ladder it was clear though at an awkward angle so I climbed up and made my way aft to the upper deck passing the canteen manager on the way who was going back to his office safe for some papers or something. I arrived on the upper deck on the starboard side beside the Gunner’s Mate and the first thing I saw was the stern of a destroyer apparently down by the head, almost alongside us. I assumed it was one of the other two and asked the GM who it was to be told in no uncertain manner it was us and realised the complete stern from aft of the 25 pounder was torn off by a torpedo in our after magazine. Although my body was completely numbed, my brain and everything else seemed to be functioning and I began to take in the fact that the boats were on fire and quite a few hands were already in the water to the annoyance of the Buffer. Whether the order to “Abandon Ship” was given or not was all irrelevant as just then she rolled to port and abandoned us shooting me through the space left where the forward funnel had originally been. As I landed in the sea by the mast I became entangled in a wire rope and at much the same time someone with no lifebelt grabbed onto me but as I was being pulled under with the ship I managed to push off my fellow traveller hoping he would find a better insurance risk. I seemed to spend hours under water trying to free myself when suddenly I was aware of brilliant lights all around me and as my head broke the surface I realised it had been shafts of sunlight in the bubbles I was creating. When I looked around I was surrounded by debris, bodies, oil which was ablaze in places, and deciding this was no place for me started swimming my way through. The burning oil was the biggest hazard as when to swam into a clear lane you had no guarantee there was a way out but the bodies were the most upsetting and I remember on in particular which I automatically Identified as the buffer but could not explain why as he was face down. By now our partners were on the hunt and dropping depth charges, which were another hazard as the concussion was like someone kicking you in the stomach but in any event turned out, to be harmless though at the time I made a few uncomplimentary remarks. Eventually I arrived at a Carley Float and although it was pretty crowded they managed to squeeze me in. It was all pretty miserable and uncomfortable but when I took in the fact that the person beside me, who turned out to be Bill Clay had a mass of raw flesh for a head all things slipped into perspective and survival was all that mattered. By now the R.A.F were flying over dropping rafts and eventually one of the fishing fleet we had been operating amongst pulled up alongside our float. We were smartly brought aboard the appropriately named “Lady Luck” shoved down below with towels and dry clothing to clean up and thaw out. Shortly after this the skipper joined us and I felt quite flattered when he enquired if the new bloke had made it as if he was responsible for my change of fortune.

When we climbed ashore at Padstow the whole village seemed there waiting for us and we were whisked off in a bus to the R.N.A.S. On the way we were issued with emergency clothing, which we changed into after having a hot bath and at this stage I discovered I had no jersey. Thinking there had been a mistake I went to the supply store where I was informed it was just my bad luck and found out having lost everything is no insurance against thieving. My faith in humanity was slightly restored by a Wren who insisted that I borrow hers till we were leaving in the morning. Strangely I cannot recall us being fed but we went to a memorial service then headed for the canteen where we were told the drinks were on the house but after one pint I was violently sick and went back to our hut where most of the lads seemed to be anyway. In the morning we were bussed back to barracks where we were messed about in general prior to going on leave.

From the newspaper cuttings there are facts that puzzle me — where did I find the third destroyer “Saladin” — why no mention of Asdic failure — if the ship went down in three minutes how did I do so much in such a short time — how was Bill Clay picked up alone when we were all with him packed like sardines. The memory of Bill has been with me all those years and I think the most important part of all this is knowing he has come out of it reasonably well.

When I saw the TV programme on the Welsh lad from the Falklands, in comparison he was relatively unharmed and I thought of the suffering Bill must have tolerated. My problem now is what happened to the lad I pushed off in the water, if he survived did he realise I was trying to help him or if not in hindsight could I have saved him.

As a longstanding emotional part of my life this has been more difficult than I could have imagined and I believe I could have filled a book with minute details I left out. Most of this has been locked up for over forty years, maybe it is time for it to come out but I could never get through a lump in my throat when I thought of all the really young lads we lost that day, the ball is in your court now, you have got to the bottom of the barrel, the “Jonas” has spoken.

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