Sunday, 11 January 2015

Bedford Man Survives Wreck of HMS Formidable

HMS Formidable (Wikimedia)

Monday 11th January 1915: A Bedford man was the last man to leave HMS Formidable before she sank off Portland Bill after being hit by two torpedoes in the early hours of New Year’s Day.[1] Alfred Joseph John Hart, the son of a railway porter at Bedford, joined the Navy four years ago aged 17 and was serving on Formidable as an officers’ steward. He has described how he survived the wreck:

“I was in my bunk when I was awakened by the dull boom of an explosion on the starboard side of the boat. I rushed on deck at once, and heard the order given for the boats to be got out. This was no easy task, for the vessel had listed considerably, and a heavy sea was running.”

“The boats were got away, and the occupants told to keep away from the ship for a time. The order was then given, ‘Every man for himself,’ and the crew were told to get pieces of wood or anything they could cling to when the vessel sank. All the boats had left the ship when the crew of one cried ‘Room for one more!’ Two of us tossed for it, and the other chap won, but he said ‘You have got parents; I haven’t. Go on, jump for it.’ I had to swim for it.”

“As the boats drew away we could see the crew striking matches to light their cigarettes and pipes. A piano had been pulled up on deck, and ragtime was being played to keep up the spirits of the men. There were about 60 of us in the boat I was in. The sea was very rough, and the cold was awful. The waves washed over us repeatedly and nearly swamped the boat, and we were constantly baling it out with boots or anything that would hold water. The coxswain was a good sort and did his best to cheer us up, and the men sang at times.”

“After a while we found ten of the crew were dead. Seven more died when in sight of land, and these were buried at Lyme Regis. I was unconscious when we landed, but  they told me afterwards that we touched shore between 12 and 1. We had been in the boat all day, nearly 20 hours.”

Source: Luton News, 14th January 1915

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