- 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)
In the early afternoon we grounded some 300 yards from the water’s edge where the water was, for me, thigh deep, but for others a bit deeper. Some of the men were reluctant to leave the boat and I had to throw them overboard. They, finding firm sand under their feet, made their way slowly to the beach. Bill, whose badly poisoned foot prevented him from walking, we carried ashore. Then Frank and I returned to the boat to salvage any useful items. Securing the boat’s painter to a stake driven into the sand we made our way, heavily laden, back to the beach. Those who had first got ashore had found fresh water behind the beach and using dry twigs and sticks together with dried cattle dung, had got a fire going and boiled some water. There all 38 survivors enjoyed the luxury of lying out full-length with no movement to disturb us. As we lay we drank the boiled water, flavoured with some berries that birds had been seen to be eating and therefore assumed not to be poisonous. The fire was kept burning through the night while we listened to the gentle murmur of the waves on the shore, hardly noticing the deep salt water boils that covered our bodies.
At daylight, refreshed by a good night’s rest, one party set about recovering further items from the boat, whilst a second party went in search of shellfish that they had reported on the beach. Frank and I, accompanied by two seemingly strong ratings, set off to explore the land behind the sandhills. Shortly, we sent back the two ratings who were tiring rapidly, leaving Frank and me to continue, hoping to find fruit as well as higher ground from which to see the lie of the land. Fruit was scarce and what appeared to be higher ground proved to be merely taller mangroves. In trying to reach this higher ground, we found ourselves slithering in the thick black mud of the mangrove swamp, sinking sometimes up to our thighs. Much exhausted by this exertion, we decided to make our way slowly back to solid ground. Resting from time to time in the oppressive heat, we headed for the beach and, to ensure that we did not become lost, well to the southeast of the camp, so that we would know which way to turn to reach it. At the beach we found a substantial and deep pool in the sand. There we sat and washed off the sweat, dried mud, and blood from the numerous mosquito bites. Then, to our surprise, we discovered that the water was fresh and we drank our fill. At that moment two small native boys appeared. Smiling, they beckoned us to follow them. Leading us along the beach past the now-abandoned and cleared campsite, we came, about a mile further on, to a small settlement of five or six palm-thatched and walled fishermen’s huts to which the other survivors had already been taken and fed by these kindly people. There seemed to be some twenty or thirty souls, desperately poor and leading a subsistence life on the fish they could catch and the fruits they could gather. Their staple diet, along with fish, was farinha made from the poisonous roots of the manioc plant. These are repeatedly washed and squeezed to remove the poison, carefully dried and ground into a floury meal – a very laborious process. Kindly and generous, they insisted in going out and catching more fresh fish to add to salted shrimps, melons, pawpaws, mangoes and farinha. We found the meal delicious and suffered no ill effects from a most unusual diet following a period of starvation. Although living in the greatest poverty, they gave us their all, even cigarettes for the smokers, some of whom, in their desperation, had been smoking the kapok from life jackets in their pipes. Neither before nor since can I remember such generosity from people with so little to spare.
With the Goanese fluent in Portuguese, we were able to get a message through to the local authorities who, within a few days, arranged for us to be transported to the provincial capital of Sao Luiz. The journey started in the early evening, either because the height of the tide was suitable or because the tidal stream would be of assistance. Since we were to be transported in small dugout canoes I believe the latter to be more likely. We set off in a number of dugouts, each with a crew of paddlers, up a network of creeks and waterways until these became too shallow. We were then transferred to cars and trucks. The cars, carrying the officers, travelled fast through the night and by daybreak we had reached Sao Luiz. Here we were lined up, with profuse apologies, for photographs to identify us since we had entered Brazil by a somewhat uncon-ventional route and without passports! This done, we were taken to the excellent local hospital run by nuns where, after a shower, shave and haircut, our appearance was changed sufficiently to render the identity photographs obsolete!