Albert Leslie Burt
Au Revoir England
By Leading Airman A.L. Burt
Breaths there a man with a soul so dead,
Who never to himself hath said,
This my own, my native land.
That native land look so dear and divine in the Spring sunshine, and so tough and determined by blackout, with stars gleaming in the water between the ships and the shore. Before we sailed we have plenty of time for thought, sentimental thought.
That green Isle symbolises our determination to get the job over as quickly as possible and return.
What a delightful childhood I spent there, frolicking in the coloured meadows, chasing harmless insects and generally acting the English goat, with green fields and a doubtful sky as back ground.
Though to begin to wander to dwell on the meaning of everything - one man sacrificing the careers of millions. But the mood changes; the depth of our feeling allows only sentimental thoughts.
Who wouldn’t feel a pang as we view the green busy shore, knowing that soon we shall be leaving this “jewel” behind, thousands of miles behind. It will be a long arduous time, some of us will only retain the fond memory of that symbol of the Free World.
Tubby hangs over the ships rail, dry eyed and silent - in mind he is with his adoring wife and curly headed baby boy. It was short embarkation leave; he had been married only twelve months. Further along an old salt spits over the side and remarks gruffly, very gruffly, to his old pal that one more parting from the old lady won’t make any difference anyway. And next to him to him a twenty year old air gunner, newly passed out from his training, kids himself that he wanted to go overseas anyway and dreams of adventures ahead. The middle aged awkward but brusque soldier wanders how long it will be before he has his next pint in the good old ‘Rose and Thistle’, ‘Boy what tales I’ll spin when I get back, be more pints than thou floating around!’.
The only soul unmoved by such ‘petty’ sentimentality is the ship’s cat as he makes his way aft to go about his own business. But even he pauses to give a sympathetic rub to the legs of a dreaming commando.
Mercifully we creep out at two a.m. the next morning and are so spared the pang at parting with our ‘birth rights’.
Grey waters disappear: England far behind now - somewhere beyond that bright star, somewhere along that moonlit track on the water.
Yes, that is our purpose our sustenance in privations to come; the return journey.
The rail is crowded again the next morning. God, what a rendering, but what a motive ! We pitch and toss across the heaving swell, driven inexorably by high powered British turbines, sweeping us away. We linger seeing nothing but the horizon, the tossing watery wastes and the lonely watery wastes of separated souls.
Then below deck for a game of Tombola, a drink of good ale and a chat with the old chums, makes a man feel good; kills that sentimentality. Yet nobody really believes that.
But it serves more than its purpose. Minds are kept away from submarines, mines and enemy air attack. Next morning sea sickness takes over the good work.
(Supplied by Arline Bond)
SS Khedivial Ismail
In the early afternoon of Saturday 12th February 1944, a Japanese B1 type submarine I-27, commanded by Lt-Cdr Toshiaki Fukumura, attacked the convoy in the ‘One and a Half Degree Channel’, south-west of the Maldives near co-ordinates 01°25'N 72°22'E. .
The Khedive Ismail was carrying 1,511 personnel including 178 crew, 996 officers and men of the East African Artillery's 301st Field Regiment, 271 Royal Navy personnel, and a detachment of 19 Wrens. Also on board were 53 nursing sisters accompanied by one matron, and 9 members of the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry.
The submarine sank the Khedive Ismail with two torpedoes. The Japanese Commander Fukumura had a history of machine-gunning survivors of ships she had sunk, including the Liberty ship SS Sambridge and the Fort Mumford.
There were many survivors in the sea and the Japanese submarine hid beneath them and the flotsam. HMS Paladin lowered boats over the side to begin rescuing survivors but HMS Petard released depth charges in an attempt to sink the submarine.
On Petard’s third run, her depth charges forced I-27 to the surface. Paladin rammed the submarine, causing herself considerable damage. A torpedo from Petard finally destroyed the I-27.
No fewer than 1,297 people, including 77 women, lost their lives in the two minutes it took for the Khedive Ismail to sink. Only 208 men and 6 women survived. The sinking was the third worst Allied shipping disaster of World War II and the single worst loss of female service personnel in the history of the Commonwealth of Nations. Many of those who perished did so from the depth charges released from HMS Petard.
Son of William Henry and Rachel Burt, of Pleck, Walsall
Bay 5, Panel 2.
Further information on the Sinking at:-