We arrived eventually at what I thought would be a hospital, it later transpired that it was Dr Tomas Seraldo's private clinic. I was unloaded from the ambulance and, feet first, carried upstairs. There was another stretcher ahead of us and this was the one that carried Lt Cox, who was in a bad way.
The stairs were narrow and not designed for stretchers; as I was carried up, the tightness of the bend brought the man at the foot of the stretcher jammed between the handles of the stretcher facing me. The toes of my damaged leg pressed against his face and the carrier at the head of the stretcher pushed forward. The pressure on my leg was unbearable and I let out a hearty groan. The poor innocent chap at my feet apologised profusely in Spanish, I think he would have belted the other one if circumstances had permitted.
We came to a small side room, with a clean and comfortable bed and all the appearances of a private room in a clinic. I was put to bed, then the Spanish Army stretcher bearers, with true Spanish courtesy, wished me well. I settled back and hoped to sleep, but this was not a night for sleeping. There came in to see me a very charming Red Cross nurse, Mary Golding, it was she who had spoken to me on the quay. "Would you like a drink," she asked, I nodded, she brought me a glass of orange juice. "The Doctor will be in soon to see you." Then in came a stout middle-aged Spanish nurse, she was introduced as Maria.
There was much bustling about in the passage-way outside as the Doctor went from room to room checking our lads. At last he came in to me, a handsome middle-aged, polished man with a presence. Maria drew back the sheets to expose my leg. Dr Tomas Seraldo said, "I am sorry lad, I shall have to have a look at it." I knew that he had a job to do and the sooner he started the better. Maria stood by the bed holding my leg and Mary stood by the instrument trolley. At the foot of the bed was another woman who I was later to know as Mrs Golding, Mary's mother.
Dr Seraldo cut through the discoloured bandages and peeled them off. I was watching his face and I did not care for what I saw there. He gave me a quick look, "I shall have to open it," he said. There could be no argument, no debate, Dr Tomas was stating as kindly as possible that an unpleasant job had to be done.
I was not surprised; the leg had been feeling a little queer in my waking moments. Mary handed Dr Tomas a pair of forceps, one by one he removed the stitches that the surgeon of the Cabo de Hornos had put in. I felt them come out but it was not very painful, the pain came when the torn muscle was turned back.
When the leg had first been sewn up, there must have been some small particles of uniform cloth and bone splinters in there. The probing and scraping seemed to go on for a long time but all things have an ending, at last the Doctor started bandaging the leg. I had been waiting for him to stitch the muscle again, this was not to be. Dr Seraldo did not wish to subject me to too much exploration in one night and to stitch the wound would only seal in any poisons.
The Doctor bade me goodnight and I again looked forward to a rest. It was a vain hope, the excitements of the day and probing of the leg had awakened me beyond an easy rest. I lay back into the pillows and slowly the aches came and all my aching joints forbade me rest.
I think that up to the present time I had been too busy trying to live to have much time for pain, now that I was being cared for all my muscles and bones gave way to comfort and the reaction set in.
There was a bell-push at the top of my bed and when the pain of lying in one position was too much, I would start the long fight to inch my way up the bed to ring for help. Maria was a grand nurse; never in all those long nights did I ring that bell in vain. She could not speak a word of English, but would by signs inquire which way I wished to be turned. So a little rest and then the performance to be repeated. Sometimes I would ring for a drink of water, the second time I asked for water, Maria pointed to the carafe which stood on the locker, "Aqua," she cried, I repeated after her, "Aqua." She gave a big smile, "Si, si, aqua," I never referred to it as water from then on.
It was a long night and though it seemed that I did not sleep I must have dropped off at times. Sometimes I awoke to find Maria at my bedside, maybe I had cried out or perhaps she had come to see if I was alright.
I know that I had a fear of lying down and going to sleep, it was through falling asleep and drowning that we had lost so many of our lads.
The light of day gave me to wonder what new was to come to me. With morning, Mary Golding arrived, she busied herself giving me a fresh supply of water, washed my hands and face, then visited Lt Sangster who was also in the clinic; also there was Ltd Cox who was on the first raft when Snowshoe and I got to it.
Later on in the morning I heard Dr Tomas arrive, he came in to see me. "How are you this morning?" I had to respond to his confident air of efficiency, "I'm OK, Sir." "Splendid, I will be back to have a look at that leg soon."
It was not long before Mary came in pushing the instrument trolley, I was to learn to hate the sight of that trolley before many days had passed.
The Doctor then came in and once more began to search my leg for bad flesh. As I was gaining in health so my awareness of pain increased, nevertheless the probing ended and my leg was bandaged once more.
After the Doctor had gone, Mary had a little time to give me a few details of where I was and in whose care.
The Cabo de Hornos had brought all the survivors she had picked up to Santa Cruz, the main port on the island of Tenerife. Dr Tomas Seraldo was a man of authority on the island and was also General Franco's personal surgeon.
There was also on the island a large English colony and the boys and I were not to lack for all that our compatriots could provide. Due to the fact that we were at war and Spain was a neutral nation, only our civilian survivors were allowed leave the island, which they did on the next passenger ship. Those of us who were in the armed forces were provisionally interned, but our internment was to be an easy one, we were to be allowed the freedom of the town, but permission had to be given to leave its confines.
Following on my little chat with Mary I was happy to have a few visitors, George Nixon and his pal Frank, these two lads were to visit me regularly and we became firm friends. George and Frank gave me details of what our chaps were doing, Commander Spurgeon RN was the senior naval officer in charge, and Lt Cox RN was second in command of our survivors. There were quite a number of them and they had been split into two parties, one half were boarded at Spragg's Hotel, run by Mr and Mrs Spragg, both of whom I was to meet later. The other survivors were at the Pino de Oro Hotel (Hotel of the Golden Pine).
My visitors left and I took the opportunity to rest for a while. As lunchtime approached I had my big thrill of the day, Mary came in to say that the Doctor had given permission for me to have chicken broth and a little chicken meat for my mid day meal; this was an epicurean feast indeed. Up to this time I had only been allowed water, orange juice and more water. The broth was delicious and when Mary asked if I wanted more I was amazed that my stomach would only take one serving.
I dozed off again, Mary came in as I awoke and asked me if her family might visit me, I gladly assented, I owed much to the kindness of Mary and her mother.
I had the opportunity to see Mary as a member of a family. Mr Golding was of medium height and very pleasant, being a man he soon got down to the essentials. "How are you fixed for cigarettes, do you want anything to read, is there anything I can do?" he asked. I was not yet in a fit condition for smoking but I said I would like a book to read at odd moments. I next chatted to Peter, the son of the Golding family, a schoolboy of a mature and responsible nature. Mr Golding, an Englishman who was the representative of British companies in Spain and the Canary Islands, had married a Belgian girl of good family. Mary and Peter had inherited from their parents: charm, intelligence and a liking for their fellow humans, they were a close and happy family.