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Bells Ringing "Action Stations"
….. the threat from the Jerries did not prevent some of us, in Arctic seas for the first time, from being initiated in the Order of the Bluenose. The initiation was a bit different from the ceremony of greeting King Neptune when crossing the Equator: a feature was that each new " Bluenose" was presented with a coloured certificate duly signed by " Neptunus Rex, Ruler of the Raging Main" and his consort "Aurora Borealis, Queen of His Majesty's Northern Provinces."
Our convoy altered course and
steamed due east through a sea a‑glitter with floe‑ice. Not long
afterwards we reached a position near
Between forty and fifty Jerries came racing in from all directions …. that filled the Arctic sky with the thunder of high‑powered engines. It was the Fourth of July. A ship on the Empire Tide's port quarter erupted like a volcano and disappeared …. . Two or three others began to lose way, then listed and settled deeply from the impacts of bombs and the deadly "fish."
Fragments of ice from the shattered floes spattered our decks. Warships and merchantmen combined to fill the sky with the fury of high‑explosives, and the rain of steel made you thankful for a tin "battle bowler," inadequate protection though it was.
For handling and fighting his ship that day, Captain Frank Willis Harvey, master of the Empire Tide, was awarded the D.S.O. ….. Chief Engineer Hughes and Second Engineer Griffith remained in the engine‑room, ensuring the utmost possible speed under conditions of great stress. They, too, earned decorations ….
A Shout in the Din of Gunfire
thought to myself. "This is about as hot as the party we had on the
…. Everyone seemed to have a job on his hand just then except me. So….I managed to bounce up …to the isolated platform to look after him. The victim …. one of the few R.N. ratings borne in the Empire Tide for gunnery duties…. had caught "a proper fourpennyone" in the thigh.
…. I managed to hoist this matelot across my back… and carry him down the ladders …. and …. got him below…
Our ship had no doctor ….. I decided something else must be done smartly, or he would soon be slipping his cables. ….. I summoned the pantryman and a few others of the First Aid party, and made ready to do a spot of surgery ….. I was happily unaware from my amateurish examination of what the emergency operation entailed. What knowledge I had of surgery and medicine was of the elementary order, but I had confidence in myself ‑ although unwarranted ‑ and, was not lacking in the "bedside manner."
"There's nothing to worry about, son," I assured the patient. "I'll soon fix you up all right….. His lurid remarks betokened pain and resentment when I probed the gaping wound in his thigh and the ship lurched to the concussion of a bursting bomb …... I remarked: ‑You've picked up a bit of metal in this leg of yours, that's all. I’ll winkle it out in two shakes of a cod's tail.
….. It …. shook me to find a srnall‑calibre unexploded shell from an Oerlikon gun embedded in the chap's thigh! The thing had to be extracted and the wound properly dressed …. there were no anaesthetics in the medicine chest and our surgical instruments were the sort of things you might expect to find in a carpenter's tool‑box…..having dug the live shell out, I put sixteen stitches in the wound while the luckless victim alternately gritted his teeth and bellowed pungent opinions of the proceedings. I gave a sigh of relief.
“Like taking a tooth out," I murmured.
“Here, son ‑ put this tot of rum down the hatch. You're the best patient I've had on his voyage.” It did not seem necessary to add that he was also the first! And he was not the last.
aerial attack on
With Toes and Fingers Gangrenous
…. Things were bad enough in the Med when your ship was scuppered, but if you took to the boats or went overboard in these icy seas your ordeal was a sight worse and chance of survival considerably less.
…. our captain decided to make for temporary haven at Novava Zemlya…. which, if you look at a map, rears up like a disturbed caterpillar from the north Russian coast. On the way, we picked up 148 survivors from lifeboats adrift ‑ men suffering from exposure and frost‑bitten hands and feet. This rescue work provided me with plenty to do …. a job occupying twenty‑four hours a day looking after these “orphans of the storm.”
we had gained shelter, radio signals were made. These brought a plane …
from the mainland, and a Russian lady doctor took charge of the
casualties, and a few of the severely wounded were flown to
Many of the others were in bad shape, but had to be left in my care…. some had landed on another island before being rescued, and had built fires and toasted their toes. The safe method in a below zero climate is to rub snow on partly frozen extremities, and the result of their mistake was that toes and fingers became gangrenous and needed drastic treatment
“Object on the starboard bow, sir!” ….. On closer inspection they proved to be the foremast and stern of a sinking ship and three lifeboats manned by survivors.
Another "object" …. drew near the boats ….. a U‑boat. Our captain altered course and ordered “Full ahead” on the engines, … No one would have taken a crack at that U‑boat with more zest than Captain Harvey, but all our ammo had been expended …..
…. the wreck sank slowly, and the U‑boat made off. “We're going to pick those blokes up!" I heard someone remark. …. no attack was made. The crew of the torpedoed ship were got aboard, some of them suffering from frostbite due to immersion in the icy water before being hauled into the boats. So I received more patients for my shipboard "hospital."
….our captain decided to make
a wide sweep of the area in case other hapless crews were adrift, and the
search resulted in the rescue of survivors from two other torpedoed
vessels. From this and other warnings, there appeared to be small hope of
the Empire Tide making a lone voyage to
the time, some 2,000 British and Allied seamen ‑ survivors from aircraft
and U‑boat attack ‑ were housed in the Intourist
Club, a huge logwood building surmounted by the Union Jack and Soviet
flag. Our arrival with munitions and supplies was greeted cordially by
Russian officials, but there were no wild demonstrations of welcome by the
people. After our ship had made a call at Molotov, a new port about forty