'Summer, with flowers that fell'
The human mind is strangely adaptable and will accept as the norm those conditions that attain for a period of time, and being unchangeable for that time, are for that period the normalities of life.
The third day of being adrift I personally came to believe that the world was made of water. I had, over the preceding hours, been so conditioned by my circumstances that the concept that there was dry land was impossible to conceive.
There were the seas and only the seas, land was no more, land had never been. The seas were Gods and the Gods were seas and by the grace of Gods and seas there floated on the waters certain ships, one of which, if we were lucky, or beloved of the Gods, would rescue us.
So far as the eye could see, or the mind imagine, there were seas, that vast expanse of heaving water, it was about you and beneath you, for illimitable depth, for all time, for ever and ever. It was there before the coming of man, and after his going, and there we sat, a minute speck upon a vast and terrifying waste. Hope we had to keep us comfort and hope alone.
The sun was slowly frying our hands that clutched the sides of the raft, I noticed that the backs of my hands were swollen and red raw. The constant immersion in salt water had bleached my fingers and this with the reddened and swollen backs of my hands gave them the appearance of obscene spiders.
This I think was one of the terrifying things that affected all of us, this slow corruption of ourselves that once we had prided in, this small creeping to death. It was this knowledge that led some of the lads to go out, the desire to die clean, not foul with slow corruption.
One of the DEMS ratings, the younger one, wore round his waist a typical army type belt. The DEMS ratings were Naval ratings who manned the guns aboard Defensively Equipped Merchant Ships. This lad had acquired his belt from some army private, it was studded all round with the badges of many British Regiments and deserved admiration. I asked him where he had got it from and he happily gave me verse and chapter of where he had obtained the various badges.
We went on to talk of ourselves; he was a Liverpool man and like me he was in the Navy for the duration of the war only. He was unmarried and up to that time had enjoyed his Navy service. We exchanged a few more details about each other but slowly our talk lapsed into silence, we resumed our scanning of the horizon.
There were moments of oblivion, we were so tired that we had to doze at odd moments. I think that these periods of sleep varied, sometimes just a brief second, perhaps at other times for even minutes, never for long, a long sleep was a treachery to us.
We sat on the raft each with his hopes and we grew weaker, we had no food or water to give us a break in the hours of light and darkness. Those of us that weakness gripped first fell backward off the raft and drowned in the water that flowed over it.
I awoke at some time in the night, I had no recollection of dozing off, and lying beside me on the raft was one of the DEMS ratings, he was muttering and attempting to sit up, I pulled him to a sitting position and sat him between my knees. He had taken in a fair amount of sea water and was retching avidly, an empty stomach has little to reject. He seemed to recover a little and I, realising that I too was weak and could not support him alone, suggested that those of us still responsive sit back to back and support the weaker lads between our knees.
There was full support for this idea, Mynott and I sat back to back, Ginger and the Lt paired off, so we four in the centre held those that were left to us, and the night drew on. We stared into the darkness, the phosphorescence breaking against the raft and giving the illusion of distant lights.
The DEMS rating that I was supporting began to talk, "Do you know where my car is?" he asked, and then receiving no answer went on, "They borrow the bloody thing and never bring it back." There was a pause, he resumed, "I'll give you half an hour to get me a drink, I don't care if it's tea, coffee, beer ..." The list was illimitable and he pursued it to the illimitable end. I hated him for his terrible memory, his unconquered dreams; he spoke of those things that I dared not let my mind dwell on, his tone of voice, his very attitude was horribly, horribly rational.
In that time I saw the picture of the next few minutes, I had no doubt that the half hour would be fairly measured. In the hours of madness only the mad keep faith. There was the time of waiting and then he spoke again, "They've left it on the Green again, I wouldn't mind but they don't even bring the keys back." He turned to look at me for the first time. "I'll take a walk down to the Green," he said, "Don't forget that drink, half an hour." He went forward in one quick lunge and the darkness took him. There was an emptiness between my knees and a movement of my arms that was too late.
I try to remember long after if this was indeed the third night or the fourth, I cannot in all truth say which it was, I do not know. One thing I do know and that is that a man went out to his death. I held him in that last hour; the man, the place, will stay with me for all of my time. Time then did not exist as such, each second was twin to the next, each hour gave us the problem we had faced the previous hour and the sea, Oh God! the heaving, rolling, spinning, turning, skin soaking, lip cracking, eye blinding, soul weakening, body taking sea.
The lack of knowledge of time and place leads to a great boredom, the kind of boredom that leads to death. We had no idea of where we were or what hour or even the day, only the advent of night closed the day, only dawn ended the night. There was no purpose in estimating our rate of travel, for what was our direction, to what coast were we headed, what was our purpose?
To live is nothing, to die is less, but ones life must have a purpose and ones death a reason. Our present way of life was purposeless and those that died did so for no good reason. I believe it was this feeling in the hearts of some of our lads that led them to the end.