I refer to the article HMAS Quickmatch to the Rescue by Max Hayles. I am most grateful to him for revealing that it was Quickmatch which came to the rescue of Lieutenant Neil Strouts, RNVR, the First Lieutenant of HM Submarine Statesman in October 1944. I was the Navigating Officer for the whole of Statesman’s only commission and a good friend of Neil Strouts.
We were on patrol in the Malacca Straits when Neil first complained of stomach ache. He continued his watches for two days until the pain became acute and we diagnosed him with an acute appendix. He took to his bunk curled up in agony. He didn’t even laugh when I suggested that I shave him preparatory to an operation on the Wardroom table. We had no doctor or Sick Berth Attendant on board. Fortunately, we were able to tack on an appeal for help to an Enemy Report and Max Hayles picked up the story from there. As soon as we received the signal to rendezvous with HMAS Quickmatch we proceeded on the surface by night, dived by day to the rendezvous point where, I can confirm, there was an uncomfortable swell.
On surfacing, we took Neil up to the casing wrapped in a Neil Robinson stretcher and waited for the whaler from Quickmatch to come alongside. As Max describes, it was not easy for the boat to hover alongside the ballast tanks in the swell but the crew did a magnificent job. I was on one end of the stretcher and the Coxswain on the other as we decided to launch the patient with a ‘1, 2, 3’ and let go.
None of us on board Statesman had ever served with Australians. We had no idea of the unique skills learned by Surf Lifesavers in small boats and I believe to this day that no other nation could have produced seamen who were able to stand in a whaler and catch a 12 stone parcel. It was awe-inspiring and a great relief to us who had launched our Jimmy across the heaving sea. My admiration for the RAN began on that day and has never waned.
The Captain, Bob Bulkeley, later emigrated to Western Australia. Randle Fielden and Bob Sproule are alive and living in Norfolk and Wales respectively. Sadly, Bob Bulkeley and Neil Strouts will not be attending future reunions.
After the war Neil and his bride Bridget met up with Mary and me in London for a movie in Leicester Square. We were in a long queue when suddenly Neil said ‘Good God, the bloke in front is the doctor who took out my appendix’. It was. None of us saw the movie but we had an excellent lunch.
For the record Statesman is credited with 49 vessels sunk and over 1,200 rounds of ammunition expended.
R. C. H. Mason, AM, OBE.