Monday, October 29, 2012

Dad’s Navy Days: “Passing the Needles” (3)

In 1942, as my father sailed toward the Isle of Wight and Southampton, his ship was attacked by eight German JU 88s.  “When the Klaxon went everybody hit the deck and tried to dress,” he writes, “and being the largest ship, we knew we were in for it.”

While scrambling to find his socks and sweater, father might have thought back to the words told him by one of the ship’s crew a day or two earlier. “I wish we weren’t going on this ship, matey,” said the crew member, and when father asked why he was told, “‘cause we got a bloody basinful last time!”

In his memoirs father adds, “we got our basinful this time too.” (pg. 18, “DAD, WELL DONE”)

He also writes the following:

     I got my socks on, put my sweater on backwards and got the suspenders on my pants caught on the oil valves. I was hurrying like hell and nearly strangled myself - scared to death. They needed an extra gunner so L. Campbell of London, Ontario (later to die of wounds suffered at Dieppe) said, “Let me at him.” 

     The bombs came - and close. They really bounced us around. The gun crew on the foc’sle of the ship was knocked clear off the gun by the concussion and fell but were only bruised. 

     The attack was short and sweet but it seemed an eternity. A near miss had buckled our plates and we lost all our drinking water. I ventured out on deck immediately and picked up bomb shrapnel as big as your fist. I noticed the deck was covered with mud from the sea bottom. I kept the shrapnel as a souvenir along with many other items I had but, alas, they were all lost in Egypt.

     We arrived at Cowe [sic] the next day with everyone happy to be alive and still shaking. It indeed had been a basinful. Incidentally, two German 88s were shot down. Norm Mitchison of Niagara Falls was credited with two planes shot down during the course of the war; one at Dieppe and one at Sicily. Both were low flying bombers. His weapon was a strip Lewis .303. (pg. 19 - 20, “DAD, WELL DONE”)

Having read father’s story carefully I wouldn’t be surprised if somewhere in the Niagara Falls area there is a member of the Mitchison family with a replica of ‘a strip Lewis .303’ hanging over a fireplace.  

[“Details from the Cunard Line print from Norwich train station”]

["The Needles are pieces of chalk cliff, Isle of Wight"]

And having read father’s story knowing he would pass The Needles on his way to the safety of Cowe (a Polish destroyer was stationed there at the time father was upon the Ennerdale) I would not be at all surprised about two things concerning the print father gave me many years ago that now sits upon my mantelpiece. 

More to follow.

[Photos by GH]


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