'Grief, with a glass that ran'
Snowshoe and I were still straddling our baulks of timber and with one hand were hanging on to the hand lines of the raft. It was roughly the size of a medium sized kitchen table, the normal raft carried by merchantmen during the war, small but buoyant, not designed to carry more than one or two men and to allow a few more to hang on to the hand ropes until picked up, we were to hang on for a long, long time.
In fact interminable hours, our fingers chafed between the ropes and the side of the raft, our knees banged against the sides, the timbers on which we sat rolled from beneath us, we bobbed and flopped into the sea and struggled our again. This, times beyond number, for all the day and the hours of the day. There were no excitements of the day, no gay parties to break the fierce need to keep afloat, no small jokes to give us a laugh, only the scramble to once more keep ones head above water.
Day drew on and dusk came to give us herald of the night. The nights were to be the culminating terror of our time adrift. We had no eyes in the darkness to foresee a possible overturn of the raft, no pre-cognisance of an impending wave. We prayed for rest, but rest we dare not, one moment's lack of concentration and we were in the sea. We were in the sea at all times, but the great fear was to be in the sea alone. Out of touch with a fellow being and above all, out of touch of the raft. Time held no import, the hours dragged on, we often saw what we believed to be the lights of ships and we cried out in the night, unheard, unseen. That which we thought to be lights was no more than the phosphorescence breaking on the waves, it would break against the raft and trickle down into the immeasurable depths in warm welcome.
Down and down we so grimly hanging on, I am sure that we were not always mistaken, but who in darkness could be sure? Who would hear the cries of night at sea and the sea so proud? That which the sea has, the sea holds, and the sea held us. The seas threw us, one against the other, so that one man became the burden of another. The salt taste was on our lips, yet we did not think to drink and so we bobbed and scrambled in the waves and at long last came the day, a thin streak of gold along the horizon, and so soon after the power of the sun.
Surely now would come rescue, we tried to imagine how far away from land we were, we hoped to work how soon a destroyer of our Royal Navy would get to us. All in vain, the Navy had other tasks and we were not service personnel. We had joined the Navy to take the risks of the Navy and the Navy knew us not.
The strains of the night had weakened us and there now arose a little bickering as to who could take a turn on the raft. Snowshoe and I clung to our timber baulks all night; I suggested that we all used our shoelaces etc. to tie the timbers to the raft. It was a puerile suggestion, but to me it was a gesture to solidify our little world. It seemed to me that the night had had a lowering effect on the Senior Naval Officer, Lt Commander Selby, he became a little querulous and complained that he was slipping off the raft.
The dawn drew on to day and the sun grew hotter, it was perhaps midday or a little earlier that we sighted another raft, we must have been close to each other all night and had possibly been answering each other's signals. The waves would lift us up so that we saw the waste before us, in another second we would be in the trough and hidden from sight. We played this macabre game of hide and seek for a time and then realised that it was indeed a raft. We paddled towards her, then suddenly the will to combine our rafts seemed to dwindle. At this time Snowshoe lost the lifebelt that he had acquired. He turned and swam after it, I called after him, "Snowshoe, let it go!!" he called back to us and disappeared. There was no sign of why he went so quickly, one moment he was there and in an instant he was gone.
It was within moments of this incident that one of the Officers on the raft and I swam to the other raft, which had drawn closer, we clambered aboard. The new raft seemed to me to be part of the side of a wooden hut. The Naval Lt and I found a seat, there was a little more room on this raft, no one spoke on our advent aboard the new craft, the present occupants were concentrating on maintaining their seats, for now the waves seemed a little stronger. I attempted to see for myself how many there were aboard, as I remember they were as follows: a man in mufti (a tea planter), a Naval Lt (teacher), M Mynott (telegraphist RN), a DEMS Rating RN (young man), another DEMS Rating RN (an older man), "Ginger" (an FAA Rating from Coventry), Lt Drysdale (surgeon), a Naval Lt (name unknown) and me.
When I looked about me again the raft that I had left was drifting far away.