GEOFF STOT

THEY’LL SHOOT YOU IF YOU’RE IN THE WATER

The pointer moves to FULL CHARGE. We load two sleeves and, up top, the gun fires.

The ship is getting knocked about a lot with explosions. It’s hard to keep your footing but you can’t go dropping shells. We don’t know how many are on us but by the sound of it we’re outnumbered.

The ship is turning, or tipping, I’m not sure – then there’s another explosion and the main electricity is off. Just the emergency lights now. The pointer tells us to keep loading the gun so we keep loading it.

A louder explosion makes the walls and floor rattle.

The pointer turns to FLOOD. It’s what you dread seeing four decks down.

The PO shouts come on lads and we open up the blast doors and start climbing up. The ship is definitely tipping, to port, and it makes the going difficult. Up on the quarterdeck we see some of the crew in the water swimming for it. We’re being shelled like mad and someone shouts they’ll shoot you if you’re in the water but there isn’t much choice. I take off my shoes and gas mask and jump off.

I swim some distance until I find a Carley float. By the time I reach it our ship is underwater.

I hold on to the rope and watch as the Japanese cruisers come towards us.

They’re marching us down this long tarmac road, hundreds of us. We’re still wet from the water. A few of the fellas only have their underpants on like me and it’s cold. All of us are barefoot. It isn’t pleasant walking. We try to get onto the grass but the guards help us back on the road with their rifle butts.

Cleaning today. I don’t know how many times we can clean the same dockyard but they make us do it all the same. Got a baseball bat handy if you don’t. I stick with the lads and we get on with it. Some of the fellas working with us don’t look good – very thin and pale. There’s a lot of disease going round.

Didn’t get my head down fast enough so I got the baseball bat treatment. Right on my lower back.

Can’t sleep.

A huge flash in the distance. It looks like an ammunition dump or electrical works being hit. We all stop work to look at it, even the guards too. Can’t have been more than two miles away.

The chap next to me said it must’ve happened in the dock across the water. Nagasaki, it’s called.

The guards have all left. Of course we go straight for their office – break the door and rush in. Up on a wall is a group photo of us. We take it down and tear off a slice for ourselves.

And then on the floor, on the way out, I spot this pink hanky. Looks like it’s for a Japanese lady. I find a pen in the desk and I hand it out to the lads to sign it – anybody who wants to.

By the time it comes back I’ve got names from Holland, Australia, America, all over the place.

Us lot, the survivors.

IT WAS OUR SPIRIT THAT KEPT US ALIVE, I THINK.