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Date: 19 June 1915


The Torpedoed Falaba.

"Ever seen a German submarine?" I felt a tap on the shoulder and heard the query at the same moment. "Because, if not, look slippy," said my awakener as he disappeared out of the door of the saloon of the s.s. Falaba, in which I had been dosing about midday on March 28th. You may be sure I was with him in a tick.

* * * *

There was no doubt about it, there she was about a quarter of a mile away so far as I could guess, flying a white flag with a double eagle on it. I never saw her fly any other flag. We turned at right-angles and made what I suppose was some kind of an attempt to get away from her, but it was the effort of an overfed pug to avoid being caught and bowled over by a frolicsome terrier. My friend and I went aft and watched her. It was a curious sensation, and I could not help feeling what I imagine a bird feels when confronted by a snake about to breakfast. The submarine looked like some snake slithering along after us, and was very obviously overtaking us hand over hand. She sent up some kind of a rocket, and we soon hove to. I suppose that, was the signal for us to stop. With the waves dashing over her bows—a good sea was running— she came level with us at a distance of not more than about 150 yards. I don't think many of us thought she was coming to enable her officers to lunch with us, but any who had doubts on that score were speedily enlightened when she megaphoned : "You have ten minutes in which to clear out; you have ——— aboard and I am going to sink you." I have heard the voice of authority through a megaphone at Henley and wished myself on land, and for the moment I regretted having booked a passage on this very slowgoing boat.
So far there had not been the slightest panic, and I noticed none even when it was certain that we were in for a wetting. Men were fastening on life-belts: there were, I believe, only a few women on board, and immediately I saw that boats were
being lowered. One boat, with its load, seemed to go end-on into the sea. I watched someone calmly taking photographs all this time and then found myself, rather than went, in a boat with over thirty others, and was lowered on to the water. It was not a lifeboat.

* * * *

I have omitted to sate that the submarine circled right round us before giving the order. She was a splendid boat, quite fifty yards in length and with no visible number.

* * * *

Well, we started rowing away, our boat rapidly filling with water through a hole in the bottom, and had pulled more than fifty yards away from the ship when she was hit plump by a torpedo that blew her up, and with her a boat at the same time. This happened within the ten minutes limit.

The men on the submarine were watching all the time, but I saw no laughing and heard no jeers.

* * * *

The Falaba disappeared from view in less than no time; I had no idea such a sudden disappearance was possible. As for us, we were soon baling for our lives, and you would have laughed to see hale and hearty men baling away with their bowler hats. Some of the men got hysterical, and as they were doing nothing I could not help shouting: "Use your hats, and if you can't do anything else, drink it," but it didn't much matter what anyone said.

* * * *

Well, the boat didn't last long, less than half an hour I should say, and we were soon all in the sea. About eight or ten of us managed to hook on to the keel of the overturned boat, and the sight of men and boys dropping off one by one from exhaustion, to be drowned, is one I shall never forget. Once I thought I was poing, but managed somehow to grip harder and so stayed a little longer until at last I, too, let go, and in a way fell over backwards into the water.

* * * *

Whether I did so or not I am not sure, because at that moment a man, who was only semi-conscious flung his arms round my neck from behind, and I thought that this was the beginning of the end. But as he had been so friendly I thought I might as well return the compliment, and so managed to squirm round and put my arms about him. And thus we and our life-belts supported each other, and no doubt kept each other warm. During the next terrible period of nearly two hours we bobbled up and down in the see, which was still running high. After a time my unknown friend became quite unconscious, but alive and during the next hour I had ample time for reflection. Was there anything in my past life I did not think about? I wonder, I had no fear, somehow or other, of my companion dying and dragging me down. Familiarly with his grip and proximity made me reckon somehow that, lifeless, he would be less dangerous. I am sure I did not think at the time that the two life-belts were playing such an important part in keeping us afloat. It is a strange thing to lie floating about like a bit of seaweed in the
arms of, and grasping what was really very little else than, a corpse, but I have read that war makes strange bed-fellows.

* * * *

After what must have been over an hour of this extraordinary adventure I felt for the first time a feeling of laisser aller. What could be the good of drifting about like this? Why not let go and have done with it? I was becoming thoroughly exhausted; there was not a vestige or a craft in sight; it was not very warm and was extremely wet, while, if I did get sighted and picked up, what guarantee was there that my friend with the megaphone would not come along with his disturbing orders and explosive habits?

* * * *

Then, you will laugh, a weird thought flashed across me and, I am convinced, nerved me for the final struggle that saved me. I pictured a couple or my pals meeting by chance in Piccadilly, and one saying to the other: "Sad about poor old Brown, s'-pose
you saw he was lost with the Falaba? Let's go to the Palace, shall we, this evening?" And I said to myself, "No. I'm d——d if they'll say that," and I had another so[li]d try.

Still the floating went on, and I at last sighted a hull. But that's not a bit of good if the folk on board don't sight you, and so I saw her shape grow smaller by degrees and hideously less—and the bobbing went on monotonously.

* * * *

It was about this time that the dead body of a man floated by me. It was fully dressed, white collar, coloured tie neatly tied, with a bowler hat jammed hard down on the forehead.

Then, at last, the hull of a trawler hove in sight, and, well , here I am, and you most be almost as tired of me as I was when I was dumped down on her deck with my companion alongside me. He lived still, but died very shortly after.

'The Torpedoed Falaba.' The Wingham Chronicle and Manning River Observer. 19 June 1915. 4.

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