'Remembrance fallen from heaven'
As the day advanced the sun dried us out a little, the morning warmth was always welcome; it was the full heat of noon we hated.
It was on this day that I first really noticed the sharks swimming around us, I had noticed two at least as the Lt and I swam to our present raft. At that time the possibility of being attacked by them had not entered my mind. I had, up to now, been too busy trying to live to consider the possibility of death.
One of the Naval Officers broke into my reflections, "I don't think there's much chance of being picked up." None of us, not even he really wished to believe the statement. One of the chaps said, "We got out a message before we had it!!" We fell to debating how long it would take a destroyer to get to us. We calculated speeds and distances and fell silent when someone asked, "Where are we?" That was the crux of the matter, we did not know where we were, did the Navy know, did anyone know? It was strange on reflection that after we lost a man, we that were left gathered a little closer, spoke to one another. It was I think an attempt to maintain a wall against the encircling death that awaited us.
We sat again for long hours and baked in the fierce direct rays of the omnipotent sun. The MO suddenly said, "I'm going to have a dip," and he slid over the side, still hanging on to the side of the raft. He must have been a powerful man, for within a few moments after splashing about in the water, he clambered aboard again. He sat next to me again and seemed refreshed by his dip. "I don't think I'll go in again," he said, and dipped his cap over the side and bathed his head in the salt water. I had no doubt that the action was cooling but I had tasted enough salt to last me a long time.
We had no distractions to break the day into sections, there was no pause, no half beat in the repetitive passing of the hours. If there was a watch among us then I never saw it, never heard its measure questioned. Everything we wore was salt impregnated, corroded with the action of the water. We had just two marks of the movement of the world about us, there was the night, the cold heaving mass of night, and there was day, the blinding, heaving day.
Another peculiar thing about our time on the raft was that no one complained of sea sickness, mal de mer, it was apparently a sickness of the comfortable ship. The urgency of life had no time for the pettiness of assumed complaint.
Distant struggling clouds often formed the pattern of smoke and we called out, not once or twice, but with every drift of sky born mist we had to hope. Once or twice I saw what appeared to be a man standing upright on a raft, I shouted and the others looked, they did not see anything. The raft spun about and in turning I saw this piece of flotsam again, "There it is," I exclaimed. It was the MO who killed my hopes that I had spotted something, "There's nothing out there," he was looking at me as he spoke and I saw in his eyes the thought that I was partly deranged.
I fell silent and scanned the water again and there it was, but I held my tongue, to be mad is one thing, that the others should think so was unbearable. It may have been a bit of wreckage with some upright fixed to it, or even as I thought a man hoping to see some fellow humans, who knows? The sea has the answer.
It would be impossible to convey the unutterable boredom that wrapped us round, we all suffered the same discomfort, the same hopes, similar fears, what had we to communicate, there was nothing new under the sun. We were not new, old we were, old as time, for our time seemed close. We lived every salt-soaked, sun-drenched second; time was forever and death the only apparent release.
It was the MO again who broke the silence, "We shall be dried out without something to drink." We pondered on this, "It's the bladder that goes and then you pass blood instead of water." I remembered then that sometime before I had passed water and because of the conditions I had not bothered to undo any buttons, I was terrified to look down, I was afraid that I might see bloodstains. I was more fortunate than I realised, being almost three parts immersed in water our skins acted as a slow filter and we absorbed a certain amount of fluid, this I think kept us going for so long. My skin was to suffer later for the duty it had served as a third kidney.
The day drew on, the MO went into the sea again and again attempted to climb aboard, I tugged at his arm and he sprawled on to the raft. He was obviously weakening and I feared he was losing control.
Twilight began to fall on us and the night called us on.
The coolness of the night was like a blow to our sun heated bodies, we shivered each time a wave struck us full on. Sometime during the darkness I was awakened out of a nightmare depth by the feel of a claw-like grip on my arm. The MO was in the sea again and trying to get aboard, I struggled to help him; he managed to get on and stayed still for a while. Then, "The water's grand," he said, "Coming in?" I refuted the idea, "I'm going for another dip," he almost shouted and in he went. Someone said, "He's been drinking salt water." Meanwhile the MO had swum round the raft and was trying to get on the other side. Someone must have helped him for soon he was telling us all how good it was to have a swim.
How often during the night he went over the side and disturbed us all getting back on again, God alone knows. I must have been awakened from my dozing on many more occasions by his clutching at my arm, I had to help him or he would have had me over. I turned to the others, "Give me a hand," a voice from the darkness said, "Let him go." Suddenly the swimmer turned and clutched his way round the raft, "Have a drink chaps, it's lovely," there was a pause, "I'm off to England, I'll tell them where you are," and away he swam into the night. I thought that across the waters there came one cry in the darkness and then all was still.
Was he terribly mad or horribly sure? Who knows what he saw that called to him from his half remembered dreams. I believe there came to us all in turn a little sleep and a small forgetting, an escape from the actualities of wakefulness. They were happy breaks, I was back in pleasant surroundings among those I loved and those that loved me. It was peculiar how on wakening, it was being on the raft that was a dream and the dreams reality.
'We see things, and dream things
And plan while we're sleeping,
We wander forever,
And dream as we go.'
Those of us that were left were weakening rapidly, our fine strength had left us, the spark of life was draining from us. Our brains were dimming, as in a dotage we crept back to remembered things. I must have dozed off more often this night for I seem to remember waking suddenly whenever the raft lurched. I do not remember any excitement at the hope of ship's lights, hope had died a little with each man that had gone out.
We went on through the darkness, more tired, more sore, less hopeful. Where once we sat, we now slumped. It was an effort to lift a head, any movement was painful, we did not move, we did not speak.
The first light of day brought but another threat and no promise of cure. I looked around the raft as best I could and found that one more of us had gone, a Naval Lt, one of the quiet ones amongst us. No one had seen him go, no one had heard a sound, perhaps asleep, he had rolled off the raft, or we were all asleep and he the only one awake, had decided to leave this raft of the half dead. There were now but four of us, a young Naval Lt Teacher, Mynott, Ginger and me.