'Pleasure, with pain for leaven'
We had not been long aboard the second raft, maybe two or three hours, when the man sitting on my left began to mumble something to me, he was a tea planter who was returning to India. I spoke to him and he raised his voice, "My glasses, where are my glasses?" I turned to the Naval Lt, "He has lost his glasses, did he have them with him?" The Naval Lt said he did not know. I turned to the tea planter and said, "Have you looked in your pockets?" He went through his pockets, "They're not there," he then fell silent for a while and we settled back into our routine of hanging on.
After a short lapse of time the old chap began again, "My glasses, I can't see without my glasses!!" We were all I think a little indifferent to the older man's need for the spectacles. Our hopes were set on rescue and not on the apparent minor needs of life.
At that time I too failed to realise that a blind man is dependent and that a newly blind man is terribly dependent. He began again, "I must find them." I attempted to console him a little, I cannot remember the words I used but I have no doubt that they were as puerile as he considered them. The Naval Lt, who was a Medical Officer, said, "It's no use, he has been taking his topee off and carrying it before you came." I then realised more fully that the old man had been exposed to the rough and tumble of the sea for as long as me, and youth was on my side. Again there was silence and suddenly the planter made up his mind, "They're in my cabin, I remember," and he slipped over the side of the raft, I grabbed him, the MO said, "It's no use, he's going." The old chap climbed back on the raft, I reached his topee out of the water and handed it back to him, "It's all wet," he said, and his petulance increased, he carried on mumbling about the stewards aboard ship, the ship now below us.
Then came his moment of decision, over he went again, I grabbed for him but the MO caught my arm, "Let him go, once they make their minds up, it's no use." The planter struck out, swimming wildly, God knows where he believed he was heading. The raft spun its eternal crazy orbit, and when I looked again he was gone.
We all sat shocked at this first loss and I felt a sense of shock at the MO's acceptance of the madness of a fellow human being. Later I was to realise that it was impossible to restrain any man who wanted to go out. The tea planter's topee bobbed on the waves some distance from the raft, I wished to God that it too would vanish, it was a grim reminder that we were in peril of being whittled away one by one.
I broke the silence, "I wished I had a cigarette," the MO turned to me, "Any matches," and he pulled from his pocket a sodden packet of "Three Castle" cigarettes. We surveyed them in apathetic silence and the MO with half a laugh tossed them into the sea. Again in silence we watched them soak up the sea and sink.
"Are you married?" the MO asked me, I told him that I had married about three months before and I wondered how Vera would react if she did not hear from me soon. The MO told me that he had been married just a fortnight and from his pocket he drew a photograph of a lovely blonde girl. I said, "She is worth going back to." "I shall not see her again," he answered and with the words he tore up the picture and tossed the scraps over the side. I resented this acceptance of defeat and thought of Vera, I considered how unfair it would be to leave a young widow in wartime Britain. To leave a single girl was, to my way of thinking, a reasonable thing, but not to leave a young bride to fend for herself. It may have been an egotistical idea that only I could care for her. Whatever the reason it was a sheet anchor in the days that were to come.
The day limped on, the seas seemed a little rougher, the waves broke against the raft and broke against us, the salt spray splashed into my eyes, I religiously spat away the salt water that trickled into my mouth. Our uniforms were drenched, our skins were soaked, we were one with the sea and the salt. The raft was rather heavy laden and the waves met us with good measure. The night crept up to us and we started into the tunnel of the night. We rolled and jostled against each other and were indifferent to the buffeting.
As the night settled in, the waves seemed to abate a little and we rolled a little less. The raft had no steerage on her and the seas played with us like a dog with a bone. The lessening of the waves gave us a better chance to look around, the skies had cleared and the stars were bright, before us the sea lay a dark heaving mass. I cannot recall how many times during that night we imagined we saw lights in the distance. We shouted, but to no avail, we had no signal lights to flash, we could only call, and listen, and hope.
Maybe we deluded ourselves, or were there indeed ships that passed us by? We never knew then and we were never to find out. There were moments when I dozed and woke rapidly to clutch the sides of the raft. Sleep was to prove a traitor to many of us, but we were tiring, no food, no water and the fear of drinking salt water made us hate the sea.
Though the sea was a little easier it still rolled heavily on us, I would often start with a blow from a wave striking me on the back and the spray wash over my shoulders. I would pass a hand over my face to wipe off the salt water, but eventually I tired of it, the seas in my face were interminable and my face grew sore. We saw lights again and again, we shouted and again no hope, no reply. So the night dragged on, pitch and toss and the never ending slap of the waves. When dawn came I do not remember – was I asleep and suddenly awoke to find the light, or did it come in quick surprise and I awake?
I looked around, there we were, still supported on our salt sealed world, near me was one of the DEMS ratings, I looked for the other one, the eldest of the two, I could not see him, I thought that we had altered our positions on the raft during the night, and turning to the chap near me I asked him, "Where's your mate?" I was brought wide awake when he replied, "He went over in the night." I sat and thought of this, I had heard no cry, there had been no turmoil on the raft, how had he gone and why?
I realised later that we had been adrift for some time, and without a meal or drink, it was reasonable that the older men suffered most. Weakness crept upon us and we had nothing to combat the constant strain on our strength. The sun grew hotter, and the day entered into its stride.