George Field and HMS Audacity, 1941 (pt2)
continuing from PtI…
“You couldn’t really swim, but I had to get as far away from the ship before she actually went under because if you’re sucked down you’re sucked so far your lungs burst and you come to the surface and that’s it. So I got as far as I could away from her. The oilskin I’d put on definitely saved my life. I’d buttoned it, it had storm-proof cuffs and came right down to my feet so that when I went into the water the water went up inside it and my body heated it to a certain extent. Well, the weather was ten below at that time and that’s what killed most of them.
I began to think there was something in religion after all and I prayed to God, not verbally, but in my mind, to save my life. And I had all sorts of strange thoughts… why should God save the life of a nobody like me? Then after about three hours the weather started getting up and you’re drawn up by the waves and when the top of the wave breaks it hits you and it pushes all the breath out of your body, then you slide back down the back of the wave again and you’re picked up again.
Then all of a sudden this fellow got hold of me and got my neck in the crook of his arm. And through sheer panic a fellow in the water would hang on to anything, and the power that they can find by panic in their muscles can literally choke you to death. And I couldn’t get at him to push him off and I realized that unless he would let go I was doomed, I was going to die with him. So I pulled myself under the water as best I could and he’d let go to get to the surface and when he came to and he’s in front of me I punched him and kicked him off. I’m not proud of the fact, but I had to fight for my life… and he just floated away. Then I was washed against this other fellow and he tried to hold on to my shoulder, and I’m trying to punch and fight him off, and he gradually worked down the oilskin coat I had on and he pulled one shoe off, but I punched him off.
By this time I’d really had it – my eyes were almost closing with the burning of the fuel oil that was in the water and I’d taken fuel oil down my lungs. And I dropped off, believe it or not, and when I came to I was vomiting because of the fuel oil I’d taken down. I really thought I was finished.
But I saw this light — only a tiny little pinprick – and as I was washed further and further towards it I realized it was a corvette. And she was in the troughs of these big waves. And I realized I had a chance of being saved and I shouted out, ‘Don’t leave me, don’t leave me’. Anyway, as I got nearer she was lifted by the waves – and I’m down in a trough and I could see all the underneath side of her, then she’d drop down in a trough and I’m lifted up by a wave and I could look right down on top of her deck. Then I realized as I was washed nearer unless I got to her when she was level with me, if I went underneath she’d come down on top of me, and I really panicked then. But fortunately the wave pushed me against her side and she had a scrambling net and I dug my arm into it and I just hung there. I was just finished. And the chief officer pulled me on deck and I laid on the deck. And I heard the steward saying ‘He must be the last one sir’. Then when I came to they put rum in my mouth and it made me vomit immediately. And it took me twelve hours to thaw out.”
Note: The British escort aircraft carrier HMS Audacity (D10), was originally Norddeutscher Lloyd cargo ship Hannover from Bremen, captured by the Royal Navy in 1939. Conversion was completed in time for commissioning on 20 June 1941. She was renamed HMS Audacity on 30 July 1941. On the 21st December 1941 she was torpedoed and sunk some 500 miles west of Cape Finisterre near Portugal by three torpedoes from German submarine U-751 under Kptlt. Gerhard Bigalk whilst on the convoy HG 76. Her survivors were picked up by the convoy´s escorts. More info
From Called to the Sea published to accompany the 1997 tv doco series.