- Mountbatten, Lord Louis, Earl of Burma
- Ship histories and stories
- None noted.
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- March 1978 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
I went round with a notebook and pencil, which I borrowed to get particulars of the more severely wounded and to find out which of their families they wanted me to send messages to say that they had been saved.
I found that my leading steward, Kamenzuli, had been killed and my petty officer steward, Micallef, had been injured and badly burned. I was particularly sad about this, for they were the only two of the original Maltese retinue who had volunteered to stay with the ship when the remainder were released on our not going to the Mediterranean.
I had a word with the flotilla engineer officer, Commander Mike Evans. He had been in the engine-room when we turned over. In accordance with my standing orders no one had moved at all until he gave the order to try to get out. By this time the ship was upside down and they had to jump down feet first through the water to the two little circular engine-room hatches. Somehow or other several of them managed to escape by this method, but their experience must have been a great deal worse than ours on the bridge.
When I finished going round the men I went back to the bridge. The attack was still going one. I sat in the captain’s chair on the starboard side of the bridge and watched with admiration the way that Aubrey managed to dodge the bombs. Of course these were shallow dive bombers and not the steep-dive bombers, and so it was much easier, but even so there were a horrible lot of near misses. I counted over 80 near misses, some of them so close that everybody on the bridge was drenched with the spray. The guns’ crew had been augmented by some of the best gunnery ratings from the Kelly and the Kashmir, which helped to fight off the bombers.
Finally they gave up the attempt and so we steamed on through the night. At dawn we ran out of fuel, but the Protector was sent out to meet us and give us some more fuel.
As we entered Alexandria Harbour everyone who could still walk crowded out on to the upper decks. There must have been between four and five hundred crowding every inch.
The Mediterranean Fleet, which had only got back shortly before us from the battle, were moored close together in harbour. All the ships’ companies cleared lower deck and gave us a heartwarming cheer as we steamed past.
I went ashore in the first boat that was sent for us to report to the Commander-in-Chief. At the landing stage I was met by the cheery, grinning face of our nephew Phillip, who had come to meet me. He roared with laughter on seeing me and when I asked him what was up he said, ‘You have no idea how funny you look. You look like a nigger minstrel!’ I had forgotten how completely smothered we all were in oil fuel. The Commander-in-Chief, Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham, sent a car to collect me and put me up in his own house and lent me some clothes. I enquired about the famous suitcase which would now be so handy, but it never turned up. Later enquiries showed that the Royal Air Force had been too clever by half.
A printed label with my name and the Broadlands address on it was still attached to the suitcase, so, disregarding Admiral Ford’s orders to take it to Alexandria, they flew it straight back to England, where it arrived but was not much use. So I had to go, like everybody else, to buy some ready-made clothing.
That evening the surviving officers of the Kelly had a dinner party at the club. We had been a very happy mess and now nine were missing and only eight of us were present. And yet the evening was a tremendous success. We reminisced about the happy times of the commission. We talked in turn about each of those who were absent in terms of warm friendship and affection.
It was rather as though they were just temporarily away and not gone for good.
The next day came the painful business of saying goodbye to the survivors of the ship’s company. Those who were not wounded were being drafted to other ships to carry on with the battle. I made them one of my little speeches but without any jokes, and when the moment came to shake hands with each of them it was almost more than I could bear.
I somehow felt this really was the last of the Kelly, for while the ship’s company were gathered together her spirit appeared to survive. Yet I couldn’t help feeling her spirit would survive because we had all loved the ship so much and were such a happy band of brothers. I have never known a ship with such a tremendously high ship’s spirit and I don’t suppose I ever will again.