Friday, 2 February 2018

Sinking of the Aragon

RMS Aragon, 1908 [Wikimedia]

Saturday 2nd February 1918: Warrant Officer J. Watson of the Royal Engineers, an Old Boy of Bedford Modern School was on board the troop ship Aragon when it was torpedoed and sunk outside the harbour at Alexandria on 30th December. On 1st January he wrote a letter to his father at Bedford describing his experiences that day:

“Sent you a cable yesterday saying that I had arrived safely, but it is after swimming for my life, and I had lost everything I possessed except the clothes I stood in. I never thought I should tramp roads without boots on, but I did last Sunday. The scenes I have just gone through have been awful and most heart-rending. We were torpedoed in sight of our destination, and after those thousands of miles safely. I thank God I am safe with a whole skin. I was twice torpedoed, first on the transport close to which I stood, and again on the destroyer which I mounted to the deck.[1]  After the destroyer was torpedoed I waited a bit, and then dived over the heads of a large number of fellows already struggling in the sea. I thank God for my powers of swimming, which I think saved my life. I swam 100 to 150 yards with all my clothes on except boots, but it seemed like three or four miles. I selected a trawler, and managed to arrive in an exhausted condition, but recovered after a time, and gave a hand to help the trawler men, who were hauling the poor chaps in, but some of them did not survive.”

Source: Bedfordshire Standard, 8th February 1918

[1] Many of the Aragon’s passengers were rescued by the escort destroyer HMS Attack, which was itself torpedoed. Of 2700 men and women aboard Aragon, 610 were lost, including the ship’s captain and twenty five men on their way to reinforce the 5th Battalion of the Bedfordshire Regiment. 

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