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Leading Signalman Bert Wade

Discussion in 'Britain at Sea!' started by Jim, Aug 22, 2010.

  1. Jim

    Jim Active Member

    Sep 1, 2006
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    via War44
    Leading Signalman Bert Wade joined the Navy as a scout and took over from regular Navy staff who had been allocated to commodores of convoy. It was on PQ17 that his luck ran out.


    “I was on the bridge, fortunately, when the torpedo hit us. I'd just come on watch about an hour before, and it was about 6 o'clock in the morning. The torpedo hit the after end, where the men were accommodated, the gunners, naval personnel who were on the ship. The lifeboats had moved away on one side, because the ship couldn't stop, the engines special stopping valves were all jammed and she was travelling at about 8 knots, sitting down at the stern. Two of us managed to get off on the port side in a small boat, which was lowered by the gunnery officer. As he lowered it down, he let go of the rope and the thing hit the water and filled up. We slid down and managed to get in. I fell in the water alongside the boat, but my friend pulled me in. The other signalman jumped over from the deck. He'd managed to get out from below where he was trapped but he was covered in smoke and tar. In his hurry to get over the edge, he'd caught his legs and thighs on the hooks of the rails-but fortunately the blood froze.

    Then the submarine came up and came alongside us, filming all the time. The captain ordered us to join the other boat, which looked to us to be about a mile away. There was an argument about who was captain and who the people in uniform were. They settled it by taking the army cipher chap off the boat. He went in the submarine and we didn't see him again. The Captain, who was sitting in ordinary clothes, everyone said had gone down with the ship. We scrambled aboard two boats, about 60 of us, and we were there five and a half to six days. The Arctic is unbelievable. In the cold, there was the rumbling of icebergs the colour is unbelievable and, to a young bloke of my age, fascinating. You didn't think about where you were or what the problems were. When I went into the water, I had a big overcoat on, which was drenched. The people who had been in the water, in waterproof suits, which were supposed to be the essence of survival were worst off. There were two stokers in these suits, and they weren't too well at all.

    They used to row an hour on and two hours off, but no one was quite sure where they were rowing to. The corvette picked us up on what was, more or less, my 21st birthday. In the open boat there was water collected from what was left from each of three boats. Most of the water was mucky stuff, but there was pemmican and biscuits. They rationed us to two ounces of water every eight hours. I remember it now, there were 30 people sitting in a boat, passing a beaker down to the other end with two ounces of water and passing the same beaker back through the boat. It was unbelievable. Everybody tips it up on the way back and it's ages before it comes out with the next two ounces. I made up my mind never to be thirsty or wanting again.

    Sir Alfred Dudley Pickman Rogers Pound: 1st Sea Lord until 1943. ​


    I don't remember as a 20 year old, being very cold or very tired, I think it was excitement more than anything. The chap alongside me kept on about what it was like to die, and in trying to make him change his mind I obviously managed to change mine. Most of them were quite happy. Two or three of them died because as soon as you got very cold, there was no way of recovery. You had to try sitting on people to recover them. We held a church service for two or three of them, and there were two boats together trying to sing 'Abide with me'. It still sends shivers down my spine if I hear it now. It was a young kid of about 18, a wireless operator who had died, and the captain decided to have this service. We couldn't clothe the bodies; they went over as they were.

    Rowing, I suppose, took most of the time, and a lot of them didn't want to sleep they thought if they went to sleep they wouldn't wake up. Captain Wharton had the idea that if you rubbed some whale oil on to your feet, it protected you against frostbite. But we only proved then that it was the wrong thing to do. I took my left shoe off and couldn't get it back on again. Frostbite made it swell up like a sprain, and you find you're walking on a lump. When we went into Archangel the reception from the Russians was more or less negligible. We hadn't brought them anything, and they didn't want to know.
  2. Jaap Vermeer MDE

    Jaap Vermeer MDE Active Member

    Dec 8, 2017
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    Admiralty War Diary

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  3. Caren Radcliffe

    Caren Radcliffe New Member

    Mar 18, 2018
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    Are you related to Bert?
    He wrote to me years ago because they were in the lifeboat together,
    Could you please get in touch,
    Kind regards,

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