- McIntosh, Ian, Sub-Lieutenant, RN
- Biographies and personal histories, WWII operations, History - WW2
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- September 2008 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
After the varied and particular activities of the first two days, we settled down to a quieter routine. Frank West, usually assisted by David Purdy, concentrated his efforts on issuing the rations fairly – particularly difficult in the case of water of which we were all too short, when some made repeated attempts to secure a second ration. Frank administered what first aid he could, kept a diary and worried (excessively, I thought) about noise and behaviour. He was also, as were other teams of us, kept busy with the baling.
During the long and slow passage to Brazil each day had its own individual quality and events. Generally, at daybreak, Bill and I went through the boat checking its state and renewing rigging and rope-work as needed. We also checked our men. The Sikhs and some of the Goanese and Madrasees ‘buried’ a few of their dead but all the rest left them lying in the bilges. It was our self-imposed task on these occasions to commit the bodies to the deep. The first death occurred when one of the Lascars became delirious and jumped or fell overboard. On a dark night with a fresh breeze blowing and with a unwieldy boat it was futile to attempt a rescue. All men were warned of the dangers of drinking seawater, even diluted, but some took no notice.
Bill, Chippy, Lyons and I handled most of the sailing, though we eventually persuaded Lyons to ‘retire’ as he was very liable to ‘luff up’. Out of choice, I tended to remain at the helm for long periods because the others were prone to luffing up. Whenever this occurred, it was always necessary to get an oar out on the starboard bow to heave the boat round to port, pick up the wind and get her sailing again. With increasing weakness and in the heat, this became most burdensome. A partially inflated Mae West lifejacket provided a most welcome air cushion between the slatted seats of the boat and one’s increasingly protruding bones.
Bill and I dealt with all the rigging renewal, assisted by David Purdy if a third but unskilled hand was needed. The navigation was shared between Bill Lyons and myself using a ‘chart’ that I had sketched on a scrap of paper. On this were recorded the latitudes and longitudes recalled by Bill. The noon Dead Reckoning and subsequent estimate of latitude and longitude and its recording was my task. This was done on a second scrap of paper. The ‘chart’ survived the events that followed our eventual arrival in Brazil, though much to my regret, all the records of noon positions did not.
On Sundays I was prevailed upon to act as a Minister and conduct a form of Anglican Matins with hymns, all gathered from our memories. This provided some comfort and was popular.
One day a large pod of frolicking young whales on our port bow persuaded me to alter course sharply to starboard since a collision with one of them would have had catastrophic consequences for us. In the end they cleared us by about a mile, though this was more probably due to their movement than ours.
Evenings, weather permitting, provided the peace for reflection. One evening I persuaded the Sikhs to sing. One man led with a chant and the rest joined in as a chorus. I never knew whether it was secular or religious but it was soothingly beautiful. On many occasions, not shared with others, I found myself in awe of the beauty of the world; of the sea and sky; of the emerging stars building to their full glory. It was a strange trance-like state in which I felt a great love for all mankind. Nights, too, provided the solitude to reflect. In these moments I found myself thinking of my family in Australia and, more particularly, of a beautiful blonde girl, Elizabeth, who I had met while on leave prior to sailing in Britannia. These thoughts provided me with the empowering determination to survive and drove all my efforts. Never once did I doubt that I would survive.
I was to learn later that Elizabeth, alarmed at the lack of news, had got her mother to write, on 13th April, to request news. On the 16th she received a letter from the Offices of the War Cabinet with the following: