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Ken Gibson is in his 70's and lives in Canada. This is his story of escaping the sinking.
"When the first torpedo struck, I was in the ERA's mess. It was tea time, and there was a fair number sitting around the tables. We wondered what the bump could be, nobody seemed to move. With the second bump, and its accompanying shudder, everybody left the mess and made for the forward hatch ladder, and started exiting through the one-man hatch.
Men were also coming up through the lower one-man hatch, so the ladder became very crowded. While waiting at the bottom of the ladder, the ship started to list to port. Considering the number of men in front of me, I decided to try another exit route. I went aft, to an open water-tight door which led to ladders going up through the structure immediately behind 'B' turret.
Climbing the ladders became increasingly difficult as the list continued. The ship was at about 30 degrees as I struggled to get out of the upper door. I vaguely remember crawling and jumping and trying to keep my balance, before I eventually dived off of the side of 'B' turret. On surfacing everything was pitch black.
The ship had exploded while I was submerged. Gradually the black smoke cleared revealing a widely spread slick of bunker oil. The silence was uncanny. The only sign of movement was black heads bobbing amongst the oil covered debris. There was a slow movement by all towards the destroyer, H.M.S. Hotspur.
I joined other survivors around a large cushion, where we rested and gradually pushed out of the oil slick. At about this time the silence was broken by the voice of Vice Admiral Pridham Wippel singing 'There'll always be an England'. He also swam amongst other groups of survivors, giving them words of encouragement. The group I was with managed to climb the scramble nets to the deck of the Hotspur, where we got out of our clothes, and removed as much oil as we could with cotton waste.
After a shower I was given a blanket and a good helping of rum. I hung around the upper deck as survivors were coming aboard, hoping to see a school friend. I heard later that he did not make it. I spent the journey back to Alexandria on the floor of the ERA's mess.
| last updated:
13 July 2013