George Field and HMS Audacity, 1941

Before conversion to the escort carrier 'Audacity'

After a brief spell in the merchant navy George Field joined the Royal Navy as a Sub-Lieutenant in early 1941, when he was 27. As he tells his story to Steve Humphries he becomes highly animated and emo­tional. George says he still dreams about those on his ship HMS Audacity, when it was torpedoed while returning in convoy from Gibraltar in December 1941…

“I was sat in a chair reading a book and about a quarter to nine at night there-was this fantastic explosion. I knew immediately it was a torpedo. My chair was flung across the room and hit the bulkhead just like a dodgem car. Everybody was fighting to get to their life jackets. But I couldn’t see the point of rushing. I knew that this one torpedo wasn’t going to put her down in seconds so I just sat there in this chair. I undid my reefer jacket and underneath I had my life jacket already on. And I blew up my life jacket.

What had happened, the first torpedo had hit the rudder and so the rudder went over to starboard slightly and the ship, we went round in a great big circle. It took about three-quarters of an hour, and we gradually came back to where the sub was on the surface. And he couldn’t believe his luck! He just sat on the surface and put two more torpedoes into the bow, then two more to follow. I was underneath the flight deck, on the deck below, and I watched these torpe­does coming – and you’re hypnotized by the wake of the torpedoes in the sea… it’s pitch black and all you can see is the phosphorous wake of these torpedoes. And when they hit I just held on to the stanchion and went over with the ship. She went right over to the starboard side, then the other two hit and it blew a quarter of the ship off for’ard. And then thousands of tons started coming for’ard.

Me having been in the merchant navy I knew what a ship will put up with and do, which was more than an awful lot of the young fellows on the ship. They were young lads from farms — never been on a ship before — and not knowing that the ship would go over on the starboard a lot of them drowned then by the ship leaning over. I waited for her to come back and I realized it was time to get over the side. I put my hand on a locker and there was a watch­man’s oilskin and I put it on.

The big problem when I went over the starboard side, there was hundreds of bodies in the sea and you can lose your life landing on those bodies and soyou prayed that you would hit a piece of the sea where there were no bodies. And then as the ship laid over the fighters broke their moorings and they rolled down the ship’s side on to the carley floats. And the screams from those people and the shouting, ‘Save me’, and kids, young lads, crying for their mothers.”

continued in Part II