- McDonald, I.H., Captain, RAN (Ret)
- Biographies and personal histories, WWII operations
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- June 1991 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
As the smoke pall drifted away I was able to see, as far as one can see from the surface of the ocean, the extent of the area of desolation which surrounded me. It was hard to tell whether the numerous oil-covered objects were survivors or pieces of debris, but after a quarter of an hour or so a couple of objects near me turned out to be one of our Midshipmen (I believe he had been one of the handful of survivors when the BISMARCK sank the HOOD), and a very distressed Engine room Chief or P.O.
The midshipman and I calmed down the Chief and then settled down to thinking about being rescued. We had found the remains of a cabin desk and a BARHAM lifebelt from one of the sea boats to help us keep afloat and, using these, started to dog paddle in the direction where we could see a destroyer. After some time we came to a Carley float, to which about six of our shipmates were clinging. The float had been badly damaged and was full of human remains, and the young sailors clinging to it were at a low ebb (as were we!). We could see the destroyer from the Carley float, but our hopes were receding as darkness was closing in.
I told the occupants of the Carley float that I was the Flag Lieutenant, and to be patient as there was a destroyer nearby looking for us. I urged them to yell for help and wave their arms in the air to attract attention. That kept their minds off their troubles for a little while, and seemed to pay off, because soon afterwards a whaler from HOTSPUR arrived and picked us all up.
As we came onboard, an Air Raid Warning was broadcast throughout the ship, but I didn’t bat an eyelid, as I had learned, in a couple of years in the ‘Med Fleet’ that enemy aircraft only went for the big ones – the battleships and cruisers – and left the ‘chicken feed’ (destroyers) alone. The warning was a false alarm!
I was taken to the Wardroom Officers’ Mess and invited to “relax” on the drowned rat – but we both had a kick left in us. When we had settled down and exchanged our greetings, I brought forth from the overalls, which I always wore at sea, my brandy flask (full) – a present from my wife, Patricia – and P-W and I both had a good swig to celebrate our reunion and survival on the occasion – sombre though it was. It gave me infinite pleasure to give my wonderful boss and leader of almost two years, a drink in return for the great hospitality I had experienced in the ‘Cuddys’ of his flagships whilst I had been on his personal staff. It was just as well that I had been able to unscrew the ‘Tit’ of his lifejacket!
Those of us in the Wardroom settled down for the night on the way back to Alexandria, and although it wasn’t comfortable on the Wardroom deck with the ship doing about twenty five knots, no-one had any complaints. We were all up next morning to see our return to Alexandria. Ras el Tin lighthouse at the entrance to the harbour had never looked so good.
Our adventure was almost over, and I suppose most of us were returning to daily life with few, if any, possessions in the world. I had my brandy flask, my Chief Cadet Captain’s cigarette case from the R.A.N. College (I always carried this empty), and myself – and hopes for the future. Nothing else in the world.
After entering Alexandria, HOTSPUR berthed alongside WOOLWICH, the flagship of Rear Admiral (Destroyers) and all the ‘remnants’ were offloaded.
I was taken care of by the Flag Lieutenant to R.A. (D), my friend Freddy Dunlop, who had me well bathed (God there was some oil fuel in my hair, etc!) cleared me with the Sick Bay, lent me a good Saville Row suit of clothes and accessories, and sent me off to the `Villa Rosie’ – a wonderful recuperation mansion in Alexandria.
And so ended a most exciting weekend!
Of the 1300 or so who sailed in BARHAM on 24 November, 862 were lost.
- S.G.O.: Squadron Gunnery Officer;
- S.O.O.: Squadron Operations Officer;
- S.N. O.: Squadron Navigation Officer;
- S. W.O.: Squadron Wireless Officer.