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We are sorry to have to announce the death of Lt Comdr. Grogan R.N. in August 2005 aged 84 years old. We extend our sympathies to his family.
On the 24th November the Barham, the Alexandria was ordered to sea. I was Midshipman of the Watch in Harbour - that means I was assistant to the Officer of the Watch and at that time I was in charge of seeing that the ship's post was delivered to the Fleet Mail Office.
The boat had come alongside, the post sacks loaded and the boat had just left the gangway when a chap came running up with an extra bag of letters. I called out "Hey Postie! catch this" and lobbed it down to him. I was given a sound blasting by Lt Woodcock, for hazarding her Majesty's Mail which technically I had - but I had absorbed the "can do" mentality of the Navy and had thought "you never know..we don't expect to sink but..."
On the 25th of November about 4 in the afternoon I was in the Starboard six inch guns control room with Lt Hill of the Royal Marines and Midshipman Hickling scanning the horizon with our binoculars when we heard three, large thumps. I thought the 15" guns must have gone off, but then realised no one was in the 15" control room as we weren't expecting surface action.
The ship started listing starboard right away and we realised we had been torpedoed. After a very short while Lt Hill rang the Bridge telephone (in those days there was direct telephone from the control positions to ghe Bridge where you literally had to crank the handle to the deck below and he said "permission to fall out Sir?" "Yes!"
Hill, Hickling and myself scrambled down the superstructure - which was neccessary as the normal route of descent was impossible with the ship listing so hard, and past the flag deck where I met Midshipman Sladen. Hed come down from the plot (a place where they kept a plot of the ships movements)
We had to scramble down to the upper deck as best we could holding onto ropes and whatever was available. By the time we got there it was pretty obvious it was going to sink and I wondered briefly if they could get a Destroyer alongside to get the men off but I quickly realised it was too late for that.
Midshipman McNeil, RNVR a nice chap and a buddy, said "Come along Grogny it's time we were off - take your shoes off". I saw Lt Comdr Cobham cutting down some floats and there were a lot of men in the water already so I reluctanctly took off rather a good pair of shoes and we scrambled odwn on our backsides to the glacis, a kind of platform half way down the side of the ship which was horizontal by now.
We then had to slither down the area between the glacis and the bilge keel which was covered in barnacles which cut into our arms, legs and backsides. I realised I would have to get into the water aware the ship would sink and we would be sucked down with it. It was suddenly every man for himself, at 20, life seems very precious. I took a header off the bilge keel as far out as I could point myself not to hit the main keel and it was the greatest height I had ever dived (about 10 feet!).
I was not a very good swimmer, no good at doing crawl for long distances but I did that for a while and then turned onto my back and swam backstroke looking back at the ship. Then I saw an orange flash. My first thought was "it must be the 4 inch magazine going up"
I was then sucked underwater with force and swirled around until I thought I couldn't hold my breath any longer. Luckily as I was just about to take a breath, I shot to the surface. I could see some men were dead in the water, completely motionless. I looked all around me and where Barham had been, there ws a huge cloud of smoke and a lot of debris and survivors.
I swam about a bit and saw a pice of lower boom. some called out to me "you'll never keep a grip on that" because the whole sea and all of us and the debris seemed to be covered in oil. I did hang onto it, and by 5.30 began to be a bit concerned that we would not be picked up before nightfall. I don't remember the sea being cold, the Med is still warm in November.
The Destroyer Nizam came to our aid and sent out a motorcutter which would hold about 25 men maximum in calm sea. We were hauled on board and hoisted up on the deck of Nizam. We were moved to the mess deck. A lot of the men were vomiting as they had swallowed so much oil. Midshipman Greenlees who I had known at Dartmouth came foward and saw underneath the thick oil of my jacket a Midshipmans white tab.
Officers were supposed to be separated from the men so he directed me to go elsewhre. He told me to take off my jacket and that he would get some pullovers. He made to throw my jacket into the sea but I said "hang on! let me remove my wallet!" I did. It had some Egyptian money in and my Dinars - I still have that wallet to this day.
We set off slowly for Alexandria, a days journey. The next morning we were ordered to muster on deck for a very sad committal to the deep, Ordinary Seaman Glen, a South African had died overnight. I never forget that the South Africans came to our aid in two world wars, when they needn't have done so and I am not sure how much that fact is realised.
After the sinking, we were taken to a Depot Ship HMS Resource to the sick bays we had our wounds dressedasked not to tell anyone about what had happened and given 3 to four weeks ship leave (from the barnacles) and were then asked if we had anywhere to stay, those who didn't (including me) were given a place at a guest house "Villa Rosa".
After a few nights I went to stay with the Shepherds, an English family who had befriended me. Someone asked why had so many bandages on my legs. I was not supposed to tell anyone. I told Mr. Shepherd, "Barnacles" and he understood immediately and said "It's alright, you don't have to say any more. I know what's happened. Make yourself at home here".
Luckily I was able to let my parents know I was well fairly soon after. They would have been completely devastated if I had been lost.
I was very very lucky to survive. I often think I must have been in just the right place when the ship exploded because a lot of the men who had swum further out were killed by falling debris after the explosion, I was just the right distance from the ship to be perhaps too close for that and yet far enough away to survive the explosion."
| last updated:
13 July 2013