I Was There! - We Weathered A Gale in Open Boats

The War Illustrated, Volume 1, No. 14, Page 445, December 16, 1939.

When the British steamer "Arlington Court" was torpedoed in the Atlantic, twenty-two of the crew were in an open boat for four days and seven others for six days before being picked up. Their stories, as printed below, were issued by the Press Association and "Daily Telegraph".

Twenty-two survivors of the 5,000-ton "Arlington Court" were landed at an Irish port on November 21, after a terrible ordeal in an Atlantic gale. All showed the effects of their ordeal; their feet, legs and hands were terribly swollen. There were two stretcher cases.

Second-Officer Claude Boothby stated that, as he was talking to the radio operator on Thursday afternoon (November 16), and saying that it would be almost impossible for a submarine to attack them in such a heavy sea, there was a terrific explosion which sent pieces of the hatch into the air. Their radio was wrecked, preventing their sending out messages.

"After the first explosion", said Mr. Boothby, "Third Engineer McKissock ran below to the engine room and shut off steam to prevent the possibility of the revolving propeller striking us. Captain Hurst received injuries to his chest getting into the lifeboat.

"We had to roll away as the ship was drifting down upon us and throughout the night we rowed continually to keep the boat's head to the wind and prevent being swamped. Our provisions consisted of sea biscuits, a few tins of condensed milk and bully beef and fresh water. Our daily ration was two biscuits and two dippers of water about a glassful together."

Several vessels were sighted. Flares were lit, but the lifeboat, tossing about in the huge waves, was not seen. A chance of rescue seemed hopeless.

On Friday morning they hoisted sail and set a course for Land's End, more than 300 miles away. They had covered about 180 miles when picked up by the "Algenib".

Before the rescuing vessel reached them the exhausted survivors saw the chief engineer H. Pearson, aged 60 die from exposure. He was unable to stand the change of the heat of the engine-room to the bitter cold of the open boat. Pearson was buried at sea.

Seven more members of the crew of the "Arlington Court", rescued exhausted after drifting in an open boat in the Atlantic for six days, were landed at a South Coast town on November 24. Four were taken to hospital suffering from frost-bite and exposure.

George Partridge, who was in charge of the boat from which the men were rescued, said that after the steamer was torpedoed and sunk they waited near the spot, thinking an S O S must have been sent out. After waiting 28 hours they hoisted sail and set off, hoping to strike a Channel port.

"There were only two barrels of water in the boat", he said. "One was ruined by sea-water, the other was only half full. I rationed the men to half a glass a day.

"Our only provisions were biscuits, which we had to break with an axe, and condensed milk. We had no rockets and no means of making a smoke screen.

"It was extremely cold at night, and some of us had only our underclothes. We had four blankets, but they were soon soaked. Waves broke over the boat, and two of the boys were bailing constantly.

"Our plight was becoming desperate, water was running low, and we could only touch it with our lips.

"On the fifth day we sighted a British ship which was standing by. I tried to light a flare of crude oil, but it was no use. Matches were running short. At seven on the morning of the sixth day we were picked up by the Norwegian motor-vessel "Spinanger".

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