A couple of weeks later he sent a letter to his cousin in Australia where he tells about his nightmare and also his loss of memory that resulted of this misadventure.
He was a crewmember of the “Darino”, a small Merchant ship sunk on the 19th November 1939, a couple of hours after steaming out from Oporto, in Portugal.
The U-boat U-41, commanded by Gustav-Adolf Mugler, made several attacks before hitting the ship that took 16 of the 27 sailors with her into the bottom of the sea, including the commander William James Ethelbert Colgan.
Alan’s letter was published on February3, 1940 in “The Australian Women’s Weekly”…
MY Dear Cousin Dorothy,
This is about to be the hardest letter I've ever written in my life.
You see, it's like this everyone tells me that I've been to Australia and have therefore seen you, Uncle Mick and Auntie Tone, but the tragedy is that I can't remember anything about it at all.
I've lost a portion of my memory, and if all I have heard from other people about my trip to Australia is true, then I've lost the best portion of my life.
Anyway, I'll begin by thanking you very much indeed for the letter and Christmas wishes, and will now in turn hope that you all have the happiest of Christmases and the merriest of New Years.
You mention in your letter that I sent you a brooch. Mother has also talked about it, but I'm afraid I can't even remember what it looked like, or sending it.
The war has come home to me with a nasty experience.
My ship the Darino was torpedoed three weeks today at 3 o'clock on a pitch black Sunday morning returning from Oporto in Portugal to Liverpool (19th November). We were 300 miles from the nearest land (Cape Finisterre) and more or less in the Bay of Biscay.
The submarine gave us no warning. There were 27 of the crew altogether, but only ll of us survived.
The torpedo hit by No. 3 hatch on the after end of the ship, practically blowing us in two. We were only a little ship of 800 tons. The after mast broke off, and smashed the wireless room to pieces, just missing me.
I had been asleep when the torpedo hit us, so was only in pyjamas.
We had two lifeboats, but they were smashed to atoms.
I had to fight my way out of my cabin as the sandbags on the top had trapped me in.
The dynamo must have been blown up, as all this was happening in the pitch darkness.
I managed to pick up my Jacket coat, but could not find a life-jacket. I rushed round to the wireless room, but it was a hopeless wreck, and the screams of the poor fellows trapped below were sending me crazy.
All this was happening in three minutes because the next second I was washed clean overboard and down. My watch, which I've still got, stopped exactly at 3, and the torpedo hit us at three minutes to the hour.
Suddenly out of the water a big black shape rose. I thought it was the poor Darino coming up owing to the boilers bursting, but it was the U-boat. I had forgotten all about it.
At first I thought they were going to machine-gun us in the water, but instead they shouted to us to swim towards them as quickly as possible and they would save us.
So they took us on board, but I don't remember much of that as I was nearly unconscious. Anyway, the Germans treated us very well, wrapped us in blankets, and slept on the iron deck so that we could have their bunks.
When we counted up there were only ll of us. The captain and my pal, the third mate, were killed, and the engineers, too, all of them, and the cook, steward, cabin boy, and firemen also, making a total of 16 dead.
The chief mate and second mate were saved.
The commander of the submarine asked us three officers to dine with him, and they gave us exceptionally good food, fresh butter, too.
About ll a.m. the submarine dived and the Germans took action stations; it was a British convoy passing over us!
Any second we expected to be blown up by depth charges, as our own men above would not know there were survivors in the submarine.
Thank God the destroyers did not hear us with their listening gear, or I would not be writing this now. But, believe me, we were absolutely terrified, and I'm not ashamed to admit it.
Eventually we were transferred to a neutral ship named Caterina Gerolimich, an Italian one.
The Germans gave us each two packets of cigarettes, and they also gave me a pair of trousers.
The Italians treated us wonderfully, too.
We had a nightmare of a journey to Dover on the Italian ship, as she had no charts of the mined area and she wandered in and out of minefields. We expected to go sky-high at any minute.
So here I am, pretty well intact except for a slight shell-shock, loss of memory, and a slightly damaged hip.
I can't sleep very well, and daren't shave myself, so please will you excuse my writing as I'm not very steady about the hands.
To know more about other shipwreked click HERE
To know more about the Darino click HERE