Here I am with some of my shipmates in Algiers after the sinking. Left
to right are Vic Smith, G Hall, myself and ?
When I now compare the photographs of the happy-go-lucky lads in Bermuda to this one I can see what those last few months had done to us - we had lost our boyish grins to be replaced by hollow weary smiles. We would never be the same again.
I still have memories that, after all these years, are too painful to share.
We were under strict orders not to tell anyone about the sinking, and were given an airmail letter to write home saying that we had transferred to a new ship - HMS Hannibal. I was granted survivor's leave home as I had spent so much time in the Mediterranean and the Far East. Some of the new lads were not so lucky, and were immediately drafted to other ships - I never saw them again. At least one shipmate was drafted to the Eskimo and was sadly killed aboard her only a few months later. We left for the UK on Wednesday March 24, 1943 aboard a troop ship.
I must still have been suffering from shock as I was very nervous on this journey - the ship was very slow - a sitting target. The men from Lightning spent most of the time on the upper deck - in case they had to abandon ship again in a hurry. On one occasion, a German spotter plane flew close to our ship (presumably radioing our position to his base) much to our surprise, the Naval gunner onboard didn't even bother to fire at it. I can tell you, he got a good ear bashing from us.
The troopship landed in Greenock, and I returned to Chatham depot for two weeks survivors' leave - after being kitted out with a navy uniform that was ten times my size. I believe that one of the Lightning survivors later joined HMS Savage with me, although I cannot now remember his name.
News of the sinking was not released in the UK for some time. Luckily, my brother Tommy heard of it first in the shipyard where he worked - the workers who had built the Lightning were very upset. Tommy asked his wife to visit my mother in case she heard of the sinking (they did not know whether I had survived at that time). When Tommy's wife arrived at my home, my mother said that she had just received an airmail letter from me saying that I was well and had transferred to a new ship (HMS Hannibal). Tommy's wife then realised that it was safe to tell mum that the Lightning had in fact been sunk. Not long after that I arrived home on leave.
Mum's blue eyed boy was back from the war - for a while.