- Whitehouse, John
- Biographies and personal histories, Ship histories and stories, WWII operations
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- September 2006 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
Mr. Topping was now in a spot of bother. He had to find Redmill, and then he had to find us, at a time when everybody’s radar was more or less useless, because of sea echoes and spume. It was with some relief on the part of all hands when his first command was sighted about a cable’s length on the beam, with the Doctor, Surgeon Lieutenant Hargreaves RNVR, safely aboard.
Topping and his gallant lads managed to get the whaler under the falls with some difficulty, and then with even greater difficulty, managed to hook on. Far from being home and dry – to use a totally inappropriate phrase – things got really serious. Trying to hoist a whaler which is full of water whilst rolling violently is asking for trouble, which is exactly what they got. The whaler’s steadying chains were pulled out and the boat overturned. B gun’s crew were well versed in naval lore, which advises ‘one hand for the ship and one for yourself’, so by this time they were securely attached to the lifelines. Unfortunately, the Doctor was not. He had both hands firmly attached to his little black bag, and went straight overboard.
A new factor – time – was now entering the equation. It had been calculated that a shadowing U-boat needed about three minutes to get to grips with a straggler, but if the doctor was to be rescued, stop we must. The First Lieutenant allocated the Doctor those three minutes, but that was all, and he gave the Kriegsmarine the best of it by turning on the 10-inch signal projector.
At this stage, the scene on Byron’s port waist could well have been misunderstood. It was full of people with individual, but precise ideas of what the next move should be. There were people throwing heaving lines, men heaving scrambling nets, and Able Seaman Eddie Chandler wielding a truly lethal grappling iron. Those actually on the iron deck were soaked to the waist, and those down the scrambling net were soaked to the eyebrows. Others were shouting ‘Put that light out!’
The Doctor was never more than ten or fifteen yards away from the ship’s side and eventually he came within grabbing distance of those hanging from the scrambling nets. He was heaved inboard, stiff as a board, alive but unconscious, so we laid him out in the passageway outside the galley, because we couldn’t bend him round corners. Understandably, there was no great enthusiasm to try to find another doctor from some other ship out on the screen, so the Senior Officer of the escort ordered us to make a beeline for the Faeroes.
It was now time for the First Lieutenant and the LSBA to consult the Manual again, and this time they did find a crumb of comfort – two, in fact. Firstly they were told to monitor the Captain’s temperature every four hours, as a rise in temperature would signal that the appendix had burst, and that he needed to be cleaned out in very short order, and secondly, that a dose of Sulphonamide would reduce the inflammation. It gave the correct dosage, which Repard and Stockwell tripled on the premise that an operation by a couple of amateurs like them would almost certainly kill the Captain, but an overdose of Sulphonamide might not.
The Doctor, when eventually conscious, pronounced the Captain to be, in order of importance, out of immediate danger (very lucky) and well enough to give the Faeroes a miss, avoid Scarpa, and return in reasonably good order to Belfast (civilisation).
Testimonials – Saving Life at Sea
There the story ends – or it would have done, had it not caught the imagination of Captain (D), Belfast, who passed it on to C-in-C Western Approaches, who informed the Royal Humane Society. They awarded a Testimonial to each of those who had actually laid hands on the Doctor during his recovery from the sea – Sub Lieutenant Hall, Petty Officer Nettleton and Petty Officer Kingsley.