Experience of Constable MacPhee
Dear Mother and Dad:–
I suppose you have already heard quite a bit about our experiences in crossing.
We were getting along fine until we got near this side. Just a day or two from making it, I had a feeling that something was going to happen and was sort of uneasy. Slept in the afternoon and got up about 10:20. Had my trousers and boots on. At 10:25 I was in the saloon and a minute later there was a terrific crash and the lights went out. I did not have my lifebelt on. The explosion knocked me down and stunned me, but I knew we had been torpedoed. I got up as quickly as I could and started for the deck. We were down below. I had about twenty-five yards to go. It was pitch dark and the water was rising quickly. I passed right by my room but did not dare go in for my lifebelt or tunic. When I got to the bottom of the stairs the water was up to my knees. Got on deck and another torpedo hit us on the other side destroying some of the lifeboats or breaking the ropes and rendering them useless for lowering. I started for my boat but there were about forty around it, so I started back for the one in the rear and was the second last getting into it. We cut the ropes and by this time the lifeboat did not need to be lowered. The boat itself had gone down far enough to make the lifeboat level with the water. We got out about twenty feet and our boat was filling with water when another torpedo hit the ship. There was a terrific explosion as everything blew up. Some of the debris went up a hundred feet in the air and showered down on us, along with tons of water. Our boat was now full of water and thirty of us in it. We put the plug in the bottom and got her bailed out with a bucket and a mess tin; got the oars out and started rowing to keep the boat headed into the waves so we would not again fill with water. The cries and screams of those left behind was terrible. After the last explosion I fished a lifebelt out of the water and put it on. We were now adrift in the North Atlantic in an open boat. We were much overcrowded and could scarcely move. Spent a night I would not want to go through again. At daylight we heard a plane in the distance and we felt very helpless, not knowing whether it was British or enemy. It proved to be British and we were so glad. It circled low around each of our boats, letting us know that we would not be there much longer. Some hours after, two British destroyers came racing to our rescue and were we glad when we saw them in the distance. They had been going at top speed all night. We had got in an SOS before the boat went down. Our ship went down very fast less than three minutes from the time we were hit. Lucky to be here. I forgot to mention that after we had pulled away from the ship we very nearly came in contact with a floating mine. Many of my friends are gone. Only one of our unit got “it,” slept in my room, was on deck when the ship blew up. Last I saw of him. We landed in Northern Ireland. Never saw such beautiful country, everything is so green. Even more beautiful than the island at its best. Got thawed out there. I never saw more friendly and sympathetic people anywhere. The Dean of Londonderry came to see us and knowing that we had lost everything, gave us (about twenty-five of us) eight shilling apiece-about two dollars in our money. They gave us free cigarettes and did everything possible to make us comfortable. Only two of us, both R.C.M.P., did not go to the hospital. We are now in England. Saw Belfast, Liverpool, and London. We sure think a lot of the British Navy and Air Force. They spotted us first and flew over us directing the destroyers toward us. Two of our gang, R.C.M.P., still in hospital. I will never forget the hospitality of the people of Londonderry. Met many members of the police force, known as the Royal Ulster Constabulary. A Sergeant Galloway took me all through the barracks and introduced me to many of their men. They think a lot of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. I have lost everything I had, handkerchiefs, which by the way are rationed here; my Christmas things and everything. But I am lucky to be here at all. Please don’t worry, anyone as lucky as me, and to go through what I did is too lucky to get hurt on land. We get all our mail in bunches. Would be glad of some cigarettes; they are very dear here. Saw some islanders, Lieutenant Stewart, from Charlottetown; Jack Hallet, who is a lieutenant in the R.C.M.P. Provost Co. Don’t worry about me.
Love to all,
Source: R.C.M.P. Quarterly, Vol. 9 – No. 1, July 1941