Albert McGrath, St. John's, Newfoundland, shortly after enlistment in the Royal Navy, 1944.Albert McGrath
Albert McGrath's medals (left to right): 1939-45 Star; Atlantic Star; Italy Star; Newfoundland Volunteer Service Medal; War Medal (1939-45).Albert McGrath
Albert McGrath, St. John's, Newfoundland, August 10, 2010.Historica Canada
"There was no word given to abandon ship because the captain himself was blown off the ship."
And I had an older brother in the navy, the Royal Navy, so I said I’d join the [His Majesty’s] Rescue Tug [Section] Service. On the rescue tugs, [it was] like convoy duty and they usually brought up the rear behind the convoy. And if the ship got slowed down or anything wrong with it, or crippled, you could go on up and latch onto it as quickly as possible. The less delay, of course, the better. We’d just heave the tow line if there was anyone onboard, and they’d take the heaving line, and put on our tow line; and they’d hitch on that way, then we’d tow the ship.
Now, if the ship was vacant, which often times they were, it would have been abandoned, but it was still afloat, one of our or two, or three of our crew would get put aboard; and then we’d fix up the tow line, and so on. So we’d stay onboard the ship then, the ones being towed, usually two or three men, unless we had to stop for, get lunch. And then the ship would send back the lifeboat with two or three people who would take our job, and we’d go back aboard, you know.
The Gulf of Genoa in the Mediterranean. We were going in from Livorno, or Leghorn [Italy], from there to Genoa, on the way to get a, to tow a ship. They say it was an enemy mine, but God knows who dropped the mine there. We were going through what was said to be a swept line [cleared area] where the minesweepers had been, had swept any mines that were supposedly there. But that’s one they didn’t get, I guess.
When the [HMS] Athlete [rescue tug] sank, I was below deck and I got lifted up, and my head hit the underneath, the overhead. I fell back. I hurt my head and my back; and the right leg, you see, was missing. I put down my hands and sure enough, it was there. I could feel it with my hands, but the leg had no feeling. I couldn’t feel my hands, but my hands could feel the leg, so I knew the leg was there. But it’s funny, I got up the gangway, the stairway that went up to the deck, and got on it and I thought it was funny. I looked down at my leg several times, and thought, that’s funny, the leg is missing, and it’s there, you know. It was the strangest feeling.
But then there was danger of the ship sinking quickly, so all hands abandoned anyway. There was no word given to abandon ship because the captain himself was blown off the ship. There was probably engine problems when it [the mine] went up… and the ship started to go down right fast; and so I got to where I figured would be an advantage point to have less swimming to do, to get away from the tide going into the ship. And I got to where I could see where the tide was going into, filling up the hold, you know; and I got away from that as far as I could. I didn’t want to stay on too long because I might get trapped. So I got ahead to a point as far as I could over onto the starboard side because it was taking water on the port side. And I jumped there as far as I could; and swam as fast as I could to get out of that suction around the ship. And I made it alright, but it was the only time I was a bit concerned that I’d survive the mine [explosion], but get sucked [back] in to it [the ship].
When I got aboard, I couldn’t even walk. I thought I wouldn’t be able to. But then they got me down to the cabin down below and I lay down down there. I wasn’t able to get down by myself.