Sunday, 8 August 2010

The Andalucia Star: a survivor's tale, part 3

My previous posting expressed my gratitude to Michael (Miguel) Webb. He'd sent me his his father Gordon's eyewitness account of the German U-Boat attack that sank the Andalucia Star

Below, the second part of Gordon F. Webb's letter to his parents (Michael's grandparents) of 1 November 1942, recalls how survivors bobbed around in lifeboats after the Atlantic Ocean had swallowed the sinking Andalucia off the West African coast. They didn't yet know HMS Petunia was coming to their rescue.

Gordon Webb wrote:

"We began rowing and tried to contact other lifeboats. We came across a raft with five men. As the boat was full, we towed the raft.

"Later we saw another lifeboat, Number 2, which was oarless, having capsized. So, the men in the raft were transferred to that boat, leaving only the boats carpenter on the raft as he was near dying. 

"We came across another raft with four men who were also transferred to the towed boat.

"Having swallowed a lot of water, I was sick, but felt better after it. Nearly everybody was sick, either with the movement or the salt water.

"When dawn broke, six of the lifeboats were within sight of each other so we made a rendezvous, and having distributed the passengers better  among the boats we set a course for land, about 200 miles away to the E.N.E.

"The day turned out overcast and it rained almost all day, being very fresh for the tropics. We all set sail except boat Number 2 (who had lost all the equipment), which we towed. The wind was SW, so we were fortunate as it took us toward land.

"Our boat was moderately cheerful and almost all the passengers and crew co-operated, but it was hard to sleep and very uncomfortable to sit in one position the whole time.

"Nothing was sighted all day, but we were reasonably certain that the following day something would turn up, so there was no anxiety. I took turn at the tiller from 1930 to 2130 and then slept well till 2.30. 

"I was quite enjoying the adventure by then as it was very much like sailing on the River Plate, only that the boat was rather crowded. At 3.45 whilst talking to the man at the tiller he sighted a shadow that turned out to be our rescuers HMS Petunia. We werent long at being picked up and made comfortable on the Petunia in the traditional Navy fashion.

"After searching for a few hours the remaining boats were picked up and to everyones relief there was a minimal loss of lives - 4 people, 2 from boat Number 2 that capsized. Chips who died on the raft with heart trouble, and Hayes, a volunteer.

"We arrived at Freetown at 2030 on Thursday with no clothes except the rags we stood in. Some lost money and documents. The work of the authorities here has been stupendous, and we are being looked after very well." 


(My grandfather Leslie Coleman, a ship's chief steward, sailed frequently on the Andalucia Star before World War II. He was saddened by the loss of three crew members and a passenger and the sinking of one his favourite ships).

Paul Coleman, London, August 2010

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