May 18th 1917

Young Dickie Wallace (aged 8 and in Form 1a) has shown me a letter he has just received from his uncle, Sous-Lieut. Noel Sergent (French Artillery), describing how he survived a torpedo attack on his way back to France.

13/5/17 “I left Salonika on Easter Sunday at 5 in the evening on a rotten old barge of 8000 tons, which could only go about 12 miles an hour. We called at Athens and Milos and on April 16th, while we were all having a snooze after lunch, we were torpedoed; we all went up on deck to see what was happening and we were told to put the boats and rafts out as soon as possible, as the ship would go down rapidly. So I went to my raft, which was forward, and found there was no time to spare, so we got her into the water.

In the meanwhile, the ship was sinking rapidly by the bows and when the bows went under, our raft was chucked up on to the deck and we all let go for fear of being crushed against some part, as the raft was bowled over and over by the waves.

I was washed down into the hold of the sinking ship by a big wave and drank and drank and drank, and all became dark round me. I thought it was the end and I remember saying to myself, ‘I’ve wondered how my end would come and this is it.’

In the meantime I did what I could to get to the surface and, as I got a glimmer of light, I made an effort and reached the surface and clutched at some boards that were floating about, and managed to keep up with one of these under each arm till I got my breath…

…The raft, which had presumably been wandering about on the deck, came near me and I gave two or three good strokes between waves and hung on to one of the ropes. But the backside of the old ship seemed to be right over the top of us and we couldn’t get the raft off the deck, as the waves kept shoving us back again…

As luck would have it, the ship sank down gradually, the funnel just missed us and the wash of the ship swept everything off the deck and the ship glided down just in front of us. There was no suction to speak of, so I was helped on to the raft where I was sick twice, and 3½ hours later we were picked up by a French torpedo boat…

There were 45 men drowned, chiefly owing to rough seas, too much clothing and tummy aches – as you know you mustn’t bathe (if you can help it) directly after a meal.

I was seriously handicapped by having on at the time a pair of heavy English football boots, which I had specially had out from England, and also a large artilleryman’s ‘Capote’ (a heavy coat with large cape attached to it).

Thank God I had learnt to swim under water, or you would never have had this letter…

Your loving uncle,

Noles.”

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