This is an account of my war time experiences aboard the destroyer HMS Lightning
during World War Two. The facts are as I and my shipmates now remember them
and I believe that they are as technically correct as possible. It is now
many years since the events took place and my memory is fading, as are my
few remaining photographs of the time.
During the years that have elapsed since I left Lightning at the bottom
of the Mediterranean I have talked little about her to anyone, not even
my closest family. For a long while my Navy life was a 'closed book' and
so I had forgotten many of the precise details of the events that took place.
I owe this work to my son Eric who convinced me that it should be written
and has spent many hours talking to me and my shipmates and searching through
many libraries to gather the information that I can now include here.
I have written this story not because Lightning or her crew were unique
amongst destroyers of that era, although to her crew she was special, but
because the work that she did and the hardships and dangers that we endured,
together with other similar ships, were never fully realised by the people
of the time and I believe that they should now be described for all to see
There are countless well written and researched books detailing Naval actions
of the last great war and in most of them the roles of the capital ships
are accurately chronicled. However, to their everlasting shame a common
phrase throughout is "... supported by several escorting destroyers".
Lightning was one of those 'supporting destroyers' and this is her tale.
I apologise in advance for omitting ship's names where I just cannot find
out who they were.
Aboard, we were a bunch of young men, most under twenty years old, brought
up in the great depression of the 1930s, who had seen little of the outside
world. We grew up on Lightning , became men and saw the world. To some we
may have appeared rough and ready - we had to be - life was tough in war
time for lads who mostly had never been away from home. We lived life to
the full when we could - and that was not often. Death was all around us
but it was something that happened to other ships and other crews - perhaps
we were too young to contemplate our fate - perhaps this was just as well.
We had none of the modern benefits of counselling after a traumatic event
(and we experienced our fair share) - we just had to shrug it off somehow
and carry on. Possibly as a result of this some of my shipmates have suffered
nervous problems ever since. Letters from home were often many months late
and home leave was a rarity, many matelots going two or three years before
seeing their families again.
In all, Lightning sailed a distance equivalent to five times around the
world and lived for just six hundred and seventy two days.
Before reading my account you must first realise how closely we felt and
still feel about our ship. To a man, we all loved our ship. To us she was
everything - wherever we were she was a little piece of England made with
the hopes and aspirations of free men fighting against a dark tyranny. She
was our home, our mother and our sweetheart. We saw her freshly commissioned,
at war fighting for her life in stormy seas and against the enemy, and finally
My story describes many acts of true heroism and courage - again unrecorded,
until now, and I dedicate it to the memory of a proud ship and the many
good shipmates who gave their young lives for God, King and Country - let
them never be forgotten.
George "Geordie" Gilroy