23 Oct 1941
ESCAPE FROM SHARK
BIRMINGHAM SAILOR RESCUED FROM SEA
ADRIFT ON RAFT
With the marks of a shark bite scarring his leg, a Birmingham man who shared the five-day ordeal of ship survivors adrift in the Atlantic, has brought home from the sea his own moving story of British courage and endurance.
From the brink of death, 24-year old Fitter Alfred Warren, of the Fleet Air Arm, has come home to his young wife at 62, Clarence Road Erdington, in time to celebrate the first anniversary of his wedding.
For five days and four nights he floated on a flimsy raft while one by one six of his exhausted comrades were washed away. When only one other man was left, clinging feebly to the raft, a Spanish rescue ship at last hove into sight. Hope flickered anew, but fate had not yet finished with Alfred Warren. As he dipped his leg into the sea to paddle the raft one of the sharks keeping sinister vigil suddenly flashed closer, and sank its teeth into his calf. Looking down in horror at the monstrous snout, with frenzied strength Warren kicked his foot free from the shark’s mouth before his leg was snapped but not before the muscle in his calf had been severed by the clashing teeth.
With typical Nazi inhumanity, the enemy raider wasted no time in saving survivors after shelling Warren’s ship, but steamed off at speed, leaving hundreds of men and women, scattered over the face of the sea, some crowding into the overloaded lifeboats, others struggling in the water or clinging to crazy rafts or bits of driftwood.
“The raider chased us for more than two hours,” Air Fitter Warren told a “Mail” reporter. “Half our boats were holed by gunfire. When the skipper gave the order to abandon ship I went overboard and managed to get on the raft with Second Lieutenant Cox, whose story has already been told in the “Mail.” It is true that this raft was not much bigger than the top of a table. It kept overturning hundreds of times.
“On the second day, with a few others, I managed to get on to another raft, hardly bigger than a door, which was probably part of a shed. There were eight of us altogether, and our weight kept the raft under water. Sharks kept trailing us all the time. We were tormented by hunger and thirst and blazing heat. One man, a tea planter, went mad with the exposure.
In State of Coma
“When we were picked up there was only one man, a naval telegraphist, left with me. All the others, including one man from Coventry, a lieutenant medical officer, and a naval sub-lieutenant, were lost one by one.
“We lost track of time. Often we were in a state of coma. On the fifth day we both had the hallucination that we were on part of the deck of a ship. To our fevered imagination it seemed that people in evening dress kept coming on deck, bringing drinks which they offered to us.
“I spent 10 weeks in hospital. Gangrene set in, but the surgeon at Tenerife saved my leg. At present I can just manage to walk. Now that I’m home on leave for three weeks I’m going to take life very quietly.”