Whoops! Got a bit carried away there.
Seriously though, a casual reference in an earlier post to a dramatic bathing incident involving my grandfather has lead to demands from my extensive fan base (OK, one person) for more information. So here goes …
On the afternoon of 8th August 1915, my grandfather was taking a bath on board the merchant cruiser HMS India, which was stationed just off the Norwegian coast where it was tasked with intercepting ships supplying iron ore to Germany.
At 5:40 pm, torpedo tracks were sighted and the alarm was sounded. Before the development of underwater detection technologies, submarines were the sea-monsters of the industrial age: patrolling freely and attacking at will. Many British sailors of this period suffered from “sub-itis” – a terror of being attacked by submarines – and would often sleep on deck rather than risk sudden death at the hands of an undetected U boat.
My grandfather, however, was a professional sailor with 12 years’ service in the Royal Navy behind him and, in the finest traditions of the service, kept his head and finished his bath. After drying himself and getting dressed, he headed to the lifeboats, pausing only to collect an axe.
Although the lifeboats were quickly manned and lowered, they remained connected by rope to the rapidly sinking ship. Each time the movement of the ship tightened the connecting rope, my grandfather swung at it with his axe and in this way eventually cut the rope, enabling crew to row clear. Other boats remained attached and were crushed or sunk.
Transcripts of Admiralty records suggest that around 120 men were lost and between 138 and 189 survived (including those who jumped into the sea or went down with the ship and made their way back to the surface). The survivors were taken to nearby ports and then interned in (neutral) Norway for the rest of the War.
Some war stories are repeated many times; as far as I know, my grandfather only told the story of the sinking of the India once – it was simply too painful to bear repetition.
Photos: (Links added 23/07/2015)
Some interesting photos related to HMS India
https://www.flickr.com/photos/134512439@N08/ (includes many taken in and around the internment camp (with thanks to D Callaghan)