- Auten, Harold, VC, Lieutenant Commander, RN
- WWI operations
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- March 1997 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
At about 3 am Commander Blackwood realised that it was useless trying to find the raft, and even if he did so, he could do nothing for those on it. He therefore set a course towards the nearest land, and by pulling and sailing, finally made the S.W. corner of Ireland towards dusk the next day. When they were closing upon the land they encountered a steamer that took them on board and landed them at an Irish port the next day.
The second boat, which Commander Blackwood had sent away, was also picked up the next evening by a patrol vessel and the crew landed. The local authorities were at once informed about the raft, which had last been seen from the Commander’s boat at midnight on the day the “Stonecrop” sank. Every available craft was sent out to search for the missing members of the crew, but the wind had increased and the sea had sprung up, and it was very difficult to see anything so low-lying in the water as a raft.
After a search of two days, the raft and all hands on it were given up as lost, but she was not.
On losing sight of Commander Blackwood’s boat at midnight on the day that the ‘Stonecrop’ sank, there were on the raft three officers and twenty men. Their total supplies consisted of three gallons of water and one tin of biscuits.
When dawn broke the next day there was nothing in sight. Lieutenant Smiles rigged up an oar as a mast, with a piece of canvas about four feet square as a sail. The wind was then blowing from the north-west. Towards night it freshened considerably and the sea started to get up. About 10pm a heavy sea broke over the raft and washed everybody into the water. When, after some difficulty, they were got on board again and the roll called, it was found that all were there, but that one bottle of water and the tin of biscuits had been washed overboard. Thus they were left entirely without food, with only one and a half gallons of water. Of this Lieutenant Smiles took personal charge, and informed the party that he would have to put them on a very small ration. At the same time he warned all against the effects of drinking sea water.
The morning of the third day broke, a morning of desolation and despair. There was no food and only a tablespoon of water for each man during the twenty-four hours. Before noon one man died, and his body had to be cast overboard.
Later in the day a destroyer was sighted, evidently one of those searching for the raft. Everybody stood up, shouting and waving their arms, but the destroyer failed to see them, and they had the anguish of watching her disappear in the distance.
Towards the evening another man died. Then followed a dreary night. All were wet to the skin, miserable, hungry and thirsty. Still Lieutenant Smiles continued cheerful and strove to encourage those about him.
On the morning of the fourth day the wind backed to the S.W., and Lieutenant Smiles again set sail with a piece of canvas, and all hung out their coats in order to make as much up towards the land as possible, and try to get into the track of shipping. Another searching destroyer was sighted, but she also passed out of sight without having seen the raft, and once more black disapointment gripped hold of them. Later in the day Lieutenant Smiles sighted what he took to be a light cruiser, but she was five miles away and could not possibly have seen the raft low down upon the water.
During the fourth day three more men died, two having gone mad and thrown themselves into the sea. They had evidently disregarded the warning not to drink the sea water.
On the morning of the fifth day the wind and sea moderated, and the raft was able to make good progress towards the land. No vessel was sighted, although a good lookout was kept. Before nightfall one officer and six men had died from exhaustion and madness. During the day the fresh water, which had been so carefully preserved and served out by Lieutenant Smiles, gave out, leaving them with neither food nor water. About 10pm on this evening they sighted one of the lighthouses on the S.W. coast of Ireland, but all were too exhausted even to raise a cheer. During the night another man died.