Cassette Tape From Ralph Pithart
“I will tape the rest for you. My sister made a collection out of newspaper articles from all across the country, some were without a lot of details as it was wartime, a lot of names all listed. I’ll go ahead and tell you what I can. There was an old gentleman steward on board the Nerissa. He had made four, five trips across the Atlantic and had been torpedoed two times. He didn’t survive the Nerissa. I was picked up by the Veteran the next day. The Veteran a destroyer was later sunk. I was transferred to the Kingcup. It was later sunk too. I was taken to Londonderry Ireland Hospital. I stayed there about three days. From there across to England to Liverpool and at that time the Lumber Yard was all in flames it was quite a sight to see. I was sent to one hospital and then on to another neurological hospital. Basingstoke. They kept me there because I had anxiety neurosis. My skin had wrinkles ¾” deep from the eleven hours in the water, and my legs were affected too. I went to a rest home outside Ludlow Castle. It was for officers and Vincent Massey’s wife was in charge. My room partner was a doctor. He never talked he just sat on the bed and played cards all day. He was being sent back for taking dope. He drove me nuts. I never knew until after there was one very young boy dressed in an officers uniform a “pretty boy” he was smoking. I found out later that he was an interrogation officer for the Air Force. I could have said something about him smoking under age but he was over 20. I couldn’t pass examinations so I had to go home to Canada by way of Scotland. There were on board Italian prisoners of war about 15 or 16 years of age on board kind of a cruise ship like the Nerissa. On reaching Canada, I was sent to a hospital in Ontario. I stayed a while and then sent to a hospital in Winnipeg Deerlodge for a long time a medical discharge followed. Surprisingly in Canada the military train would stop out of town and take people off those with lost legs and injuries so that people wouldn’t see these injuries at the regular train stop. These were the critically injured.
Funny incidents when the Nerissa went down – you only go to bed with your shoes off. I had just gone to bed to lay down when they hit us with the first torpedo so I got up put my shoes on took my coat and my haversack, was blocked on the aisle that I would use – went to the other aisle was strewn with all sorts of beer bottles that were discarded just outside the passengers door. But it was amazing that there was no hysteria of any kind and it was just damn amazing. Everybody was so damn calm. I was standing there waiting for my lifeboat, so then I went unconscious. I don’t remember anything and when I woke up later found out it was the second torpedo. When I woke up I was under water under an upturned lifeboat. I still had the coat and the haversack with my mom’s pictures that I wanted to keep. I felt another soldier he was dead and I tried to get up the keel of this upturned boat. I let the haversack go put my head down and somebody pulled me up. Twenty-seven people were on top.
That night there wasn’t a storm but the waves were rolling you back and forward on the upturned boat. One fellow said I’ve got a bottle of lemon juice or was it orange juice in a bottle in my pocket. One would reply keep it for later. Some fellows would fall off and they could grab our leg we could pull them back on. They just disappeared some of them into the waves. They (the Germans) were waiting for us I know that for sure they got some message that we were coming. Towards dawn the Veteran rescued us they put me down in the hold with the dead. Someone noticed that I was moving. Look this one is alive. There were four alive from that lifeboat but they say I was holding on so hard to the keel of the boat unconsciously that they had to pry my hands off. I had sore hands for weeks. They then gave us all a shot of rum.
You don’t realize nothing you feel it’s just part of your life but it is a big shock later. What I collected all through the years letters from Mom, letters from the government, letters from the Prime Minister. There were three sons in the service.
Jim first World War, John army, Fred R.C.A.F. captain; also a sister in the forces too. Dad had been blown up and gassed in world war one. On the Nerissa there were ten American pilots, several doctors, the whole HQ staff of my unit, about thirty ambulances. I can still remember the captain reminding us we’ll be safe as we are landing tomorrow.
At the neurological hospital the doctor was asking can you hear the bombs falling on London. I could hear them but they were so far away that they didn’t mean much. My nerves and anxiety neurosis were quite serious at this time that it was required that I be hospitalized.
At the subway stop in London at nights everybody had a mark where you slept and a narrow trail up to the entrance. It was very pitiful, all the hardship they went through a lot in London.