DTMag Fall 2018

“What I really wanted was to be out on the sea. But I knew I wouldn’t get the opportunity unless I orchestrated something.” When Harry stumbled upon an ad for the Maritime School of Wireless in nearby South Shields, he knew he’d found his answer. “In peace time, every ship was required to have a radio officer,” he explains. “Once the war started, three operators were needed. I figured I’d be called up soon anyway, so I asked my father for permission to enroll.” Seventeen year old Harry found the six-month training course challenging. “You had to be able to reliably send and receive 125 characters a minute on a Morse key in order to get your certificate,” Harry recalls. By the spring of ‘42, Harry was anxiously awaiting his first set of orders. He didn’t have to wait long. Within five days of graduating, he reported to the S.S. Bargrove where he was given the overnight watch (midnight to 4:00 a.m.). “We were sailing as part of a 42-ship convoy, bound for Spain, Portugal and Gibraltar,” he recalls. “The second night, we lost a ship by sea mine.” The scene was horrific: boilers bursting, ammunition exploding, men in the water. “We weren’t permitted to stop so we had to plow right through them,” he continues. By the end of that first voyage, Harry’s convoy had lost seven ships. The experience

left him shaken to say the least. Unfortunately, his next assignment was worse. Much worse, in fact. “The S.S. Domine was an old tramp ship far past her shelf life,” he writes. “However in wartime, any ship that could float, had an engine and could steer was considered fit for duty.” Destined for the Cape of Good Hope, South Africa, the ship was

on, waiting for a message. The only thing to arrive, however, was a German torpedo. “There was a gigantic explosion and a deafening sound. I woke up outside the cabin with an intense pain in my shoulder. When I got back to the radio room, I discovered everything had been blown apart. There was nothing I could do. Sending an S.O.S. message was impossible.” Even worse, the ship was now taking on water. Not knowing what else to do, Harry secured the codebooks in a metal box and stepped into the Atlantic. “I had to swim on my back because of my shoulder,” he recalls. “But I made it out to a raft and somehow managed to hang on.” Joining him on the raft were six others from the original crew of 30 men. “We were a sorry bunch,” he writes. “A broken arm, a man blinded, one bleeding from mouth and chest. One too bloody to recognize.” Then about 100 feet away, a GermanU-boat surfaced.The captain, using a megaphone, called out toward them: “What ship?Where bound? What cargo? Officer present?” Terrified, Harry and company said nothing. “I thought we were going to be machine gunned,” he recalls. After a few moments, the black behemoth sank back below the water, leaving Harry and friends to fend for themselves. The next six days were a blur of scorching sun, salty surf and sheer misery. Harry watched as

sluggish from the outset. “We were part of a 52-ship convoy with orders to proceed at five knots,” Harry explains. “But the engine could barely handle four knots. We kept falling behind until finally, we were on our own. Three days after that, the engine died. We drifted all day.” While engineers tried in vain to resolve the problem, Harry sat in the wireless room, headphones


Fall 2018 to Sportswood v2.indd 10

2018-11-09 10:25 AM

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