The Grand Tour: Fife and Beyond

Ramblings of an inveterate cyclist

My ship had been in a supporting roll of the French at kereves Dere in Morto Bay. That big old battleship seemed so indestructible, like a steel overcoat rapped around us, I was on looked duty, staring out at the action on shore, such a surreal sight, like watching a play, the exploding shells throwing earth and water high into the air, men dieing, surly it would end soon, then the actors would come forward, form a line across the stage and take their bow. The Turkish destroyer torpedo-boat Muavent-I-Miliet, sprung unseen from a low lying fog bank close too shore, like a leopard might from the long savannah grasses onto her unsuspecting pray, she sent three torpedoes crashing from her decks fanning out they speed towards the Goliath. As soon as the first torpedo hit our ship I knew that it was curtains for the old lady; she listed badly to starboard. All hell was set free in those first few minutes, the noise on board deafening. I scrambled up the steep raked deck to the port rail to join the midshipmen, who had already gathered there, some still in their pyjamas.

“Boat ahoy! Boat Ahoy!” they cried out. Below decks the crashing sound became intense as all that was not fastened down began to shift as the list grow greater. Men screamed as they were pined against the bulkhead, flesh ripped open and bones crushed. The Goliath now near twenty degrees to starboard. I remember how she stopped for just a moment, as if for one last breath before taking the plunge. The voice of one of the officers rang out clear as divisions. “Keep calm men, be British!” Then the ship started to heel rapidly. Where the courage came from I know not, the dark sea was a long way down, thirty feet or more. Without another thought I throw himself out overboard. The ice-cold air rushed past me as I fell towards the water, then in an instant it had disappeared. Goliath, was rolling fast now her bottom rising up out of the sea towards me, then the pain as first my legs then my face smashed against the side of the ship flipping me over, helter skelter, I was now sliding down her slimy bottom, landing with such force that the impact of it drove the air from my lungs leaving me raked with pain. Sheer panic griped my body as I clawed at the water, time had no meaning now, only that after what seemed like an eternity I did break the surface and gulped noisily at that sweet, oily, salt sea air.

Goliath had gone, it was quiet now the only sound the voices of other swimmer’s but even they seemed far away. I tried to swim towards the place I last saw the Cornwallis, but was driven completely in the opposite direction by the speed of the current, swept along now like a paper boat in a fast flowing river. Treading water had become tiresome as the cold seeped through my body I knew I would die, yet felt no willingness to fight, reconciled to my fate I awaited the relieve of the saline water that would soothingly take me in her embrace.

Caught in the searching beam of HMS Lord Nelson and unceremoniously dragged on board one of her boat, the pain returned. The riveted plates of the ship’s side had ripped a large chunk of flesh from my face my right cheek hung open to the bone, my arm hanging limply by my side and felt nothing of my legs. That was too be the end of my war, as it would be for the five hundred and seventy of my shipmates who did not escape, so swift was the sinking of the Goliath.

I was coming home no longer the boy that had run free as a young puppy might upon a grassy field for the first time. I now felt alien amongst these familiar streets. I had found myself back in civilian life, with no idea what I would do with the rest of my life; there had been little point in planning a future amides a backdrop of war and little or no time at the abruptness of its ending, still I was fortunate, for many their war would last a lifetime and for many wives, a torn and troubled stranger would enter her bed.

Did you really beleive them when they told you the cause,

Did you really believe that this war would end wars?

To be continued – Tomorrow Jimmy on the Rum-Running.

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