I was privileged to be allowed to read a piece of an electricians writings of what he recalled of the raid on the Bismark. He was a Chief serving on the Exeter. It told of him being 'dogged' into his compartment whilst the attack took place. He described how the buklhead bowed after a shell struck. How his exit above him was blocked as the deck above was awash in fuel and ablaze. His thoughts about not surviving.
A great story, and a well deserved celebration. Those of my generation will have served with many like Bert, heard their stories and gained great respect for them. I once served with Ted Briggs, one of the three survivors of the Hood, when he had been commissioned and was doing OOW duties at Mercury. He didn't say much (to me) about his experiences which I wasn't aware of at the time, but came across as a really nice bloke, full of consideration for others, regardless of rank or rating.
When I was drafted, pre-commissioning, to Bulwark in '54, my travelling companion and subsequent room mate in Belfast was a three badge killick steward. I sat alongside him watching "The war at sea" on television, and the film showed the sinking of HMS Barham. When she turned turtle and stayed for a brief period as just an upturned hull on the surface of the Med, he took a sharp intake of breath and then wept quietly. He had been, at the time, on the after end of HMS Warspite when the film was taken.
As a young lad then, you just accepted these things and didn't ask questions, but I wish I had.
A while ago I was telephoned by a stranger about a genealogical matter. As he went through his data he suddenly said 'Belay that'. He ended up telling me how he escaped from the Fittleton when she sank, including how in his confusion he was swimming along the hull in the wrong direction until he realised he had to follow the bubbles upwards. And how the stoker who was with him got out, but drowned.
It's only this year that a cousin of my father's, now aged 92, told me how the Lawford got sunk on D-Day. Many years ago we met him and his family on a beach in Devon and he had scar tissue all over his back. But one mustn't ask.
My uncle (92) was in the Merchant Navy during the war and only very recently has begun to tell us of what he did as a radio officer. He had two ships torpedoed underneath him, but the story that sticks in my mind was very soon after D Day he was on an ammunition ship that was docked at an improvised jetty - I suppose before the Mulberry Harbours were set up. There was a German tank on a headland that was firing shells at them, but very badly, thank Heaven. As unloading the ammunition began a shell from the tank finally hit the ship, but as luck would have it it struck in just about the only place where there wasn't any explosives. But it holed the ship which settled gently onto the sea floor, only about ten feet lower. My uncle thought that discretion was the better part of valour at this point and just walked off the deck onto the jetty.
All the guys that serve under hostile conditions have my greatest respect.