I was in the PO's mess at the time the first torpedo hit. All the lights went out but fortunately I happened to have a
torch in my pocket. Chief Petty Officers and Petty Officers came running from everywhere and as I had a torch I led them
up to the flight deck where in such an event we had been told to muster.
Realising that the mess decks below might still contain trapped men, we lifted back the hatch cover of the vertical hatch down through which the gold had been lowered. Sure enough within the compartment we could see men swimming around in oil and water. My mate ran to fetch ropes and ladders but while he was away several of the men below managed to get into the shaft which was only two feet square.
Within the trunking there were no ridges or ledges to provide a hold but in desperation those men somehow managed to come up through by working their knees and back against the sides. Eventually the hatch was sealed. There were several men down there but they were dead anyway.
'It was just like being in a bad car crash. All the lights went out and we were left in darkness - in a blackness
that defied description. Amid the deafening roar of scalding steam erupting from burst pipes, thick fuel oil spurted
in all directions from a dozen or more fractures enveloping us in its filthy black slime. In trying to breath we
were swallowing the stuff. In the blackness, trying to feel our way we kept losing direction. Our one hope was to find
the ladder and by clearing the lockers I eventually managed to find it. But I had a man with a broken leg hanging
around my neck and as I tried to climb the ladder he was slipping from me. The ladder was also covered in oil and I
couldn't get a proper grip. I managed to hold him to me, pulling him up and out towards a glimmer of light coming
from a gangway somewhere high above. I could hear them screaming down below, 'Help me - help me'.
By this time, my eyes were getting used to the darkness and I went down again. At the bottom of the ladder they were fighting to get up, I managed to grab one man and it turned out to be a pal of mine. Coate din the black oil however you couldn't tell one man from another. By this time I had to get out because my lungs were bursting with the smell and having swallowed some I was vomiting. After a few minutes I went down to the hatch again to see if I could do anything, only to discover that the heavy cover had fallen down with the listing and had jammed shut. I got some help but although we tried, we couldn't move it. They were still screaming when we left.
I remember hearing the hoarse cries of one man in particular. He was from our mess, a real tough guy and a bully; everyone was afraid of him, he made life a misery. he had no regard for men, no respect for God. But at that moment, facing eternity, he became a gibbering infant, screaming and crying for the Lord to help him. he died with the rest down there.
But we had to go as the listing was increasing. We went up on deck and found that one of the minesweepers had come along side and was already taking the wounded and passengers aboard. While we waited our turn, we huddled together behind the hangar out of the freezing wind. We were all in pretty bad shape and I went across to the wardroom to find a cloth to wipe the oil from our eyes. There was a door open near the wardroom leading into the Major of Marines' cabin. On the bed lay a clean white sheet and pulling it away I ripped it up for some of the others to have a piece each. My shoes at that time were squelching with oil and seeing a pair of tapered shoes sticking out under the bunk, I grabbed them and put them on and wore them all the time I was in Russia. I went back to wipe my pal's eyes and the back of his neck and as I did so the flesh came off with the oil. He must have caught the full force of one of the steam bursts.
'There were eight of us in the lower compartment when the torpedo hit. The deck plating above us, yielding under
the pressure of the explosion jammed the hatch cover. In charge of us was a long-term petty officer who treated us
with contempt. He despised us not only because we were young and inexperienced but principally because we were
'hostilities only'. We all shouted and battered at the hatch but no one heard us.
Eventually, by exerting all our combined strength against the cover, we managed to move it open just wide enough to allow the petty officer to force his body through the gap and slide out. We were all very young and very frightened and the tension was terrible. We waited there in the dark for an hour assuring ourselves that the PO would soon be bringing help. But still no-one came. We tried the telephone but could get no reply. After what seemed an eternity the phone actually rang. It was from damage control.
The voice said - 'We didn't know you were down there - we thought you were all out. we saw the petty officer who came barging up the ladder and when we asked, "Is everybody out?", he replied "Yes". As a result we locked the upper hatch cover on the deck above'.
Very soon a Damage Control party arrived and forced the cover and in moments we were free. You can imagine how we felt. If fact if we could have found that PO at the time, I think we would have half killed him. By his deliberate neglect we could have all died.'