Veteran Stories:
Jim Lewis

Navy

  • Photo of the BIMS 186 Minesweeper, 1943.

    Jim Lewis
  • Group shot on the Minesweeper, 1943. Mr. Lewis is pictured second to the right.

    Jim Lewis
  • Crew on board a Minesweeper, Mr. Lewis is standing on the left with tall boots on, 1943.

    Jim Lewis
  • Contemporary family photo.

    Jim Lewis
  • Boots that Mr. Lewis wore throughout the war.

    Jim Lewis
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"we got him over the side and went and got him in over the boat and got him set down and said a few words but we knew he was a German airman."

Transcript

And one night we [HMS BYMS 2186, a Royal Navy minesweeper]were out there, we could hear the raids going on ashore, the air raids going on and guns going off as we were out in the Thames [Estuary] there. And about an hour after, we heard somebody singing in the water, shouting out in the water, outside. And I said to the skipper I said, that could be one of our airmen, I said, something like that you know, it was pretty dark, I couldn’t see nothing, it was nighttime. And I said, what about giving me that small boat there and I take another fellow with me. No, he said, I can’t do that, he said, no, you know. And I said, why not? (I got his picture there somewhere out in the …) And I said, give me another ship and he said no - because I was used to small boats, eh - and I said, it could be one of our airmen, I said, or a decoy, you know. And he himmed and hemmed and he said, alright. And then got her [the small boat] so I could take her. So I took the small boat, took another fellow with me, I forget his name now, I know his hometown was a place called Ipswich [England]. And he gave me the boat and said it might take a while. And then we rowed on and we could hear the voice, like you know, you couldn’t see and it was dark as pitch and hold on, hear the voice coming, coming, coming, coming, and he said, is it getting near, I said nearer all the time. And we spied him just off from the boat and his head sticking up through a parachute it looked like at that time. I said there he is there, and I said, I’ll take the two oars and I said, I’ll back the boat into him, stern on, so he can put him in over the stern. If you take him in over the side, you’ll turn her over, cause it’s only a small littleboat. Okay, he says, we got him over the side and went and got him in over the boat and got him set down and said a few words but we knew he was a German airman. And now, we didn’t know where to, couldn’t see nothing, and there’s a big tide that runs down the Thames, you might have heard of the Thames. And I heard the bell buoy ringing, ding dong you know, going like that, the bell buoy ringing in the Thames, you know, marker buoy it was. I said, now we row into that nice and tie onto that until daylight in the morning. Okay. And after daylight came, in daylight, we see a ship so far away from us, I said, then we row into that ship there – big boat she was - and you, I said, you go aboard now, I said, and see the, see someone aboard ship and get a message sent ashore now for the shore base there about us and picked up on the Thames. And our skipper there, he was going cracked on, like they tells me, walking back and forth on deck, probably what they done. Because I was, at that time, only a seaman [the lowest naval rank]. And anyway, finally, he went around, well the message came and went up, went to shore base and about an hour and a half or two hours, out comes the boat and picked us up. And then we went back then to the port then to Sheerness [Kent, England] and when he [the German airman] went aboard, looked down the mess deck and there was another German down there. Well, there’s some stories. I said, where’d he come from? He said, now, he was drifting along by the boat, they were anchored down in the Thames. And he was drifting along beside the boat and they had a life raft, lifejacket there, with a string on it, and they threw it out and he grabbed it and they pulled him ashore, pulled him in the boat. Anyway, got him aboard and when we got back to the base, then we reported all that and then the lads came out and picked up the two Germans and brought them ashore. Now, one of them had the Iron Cross, the German Iron Cross [German military decoration]. I said, now, I must take that, I says, you know. And then we got into that. I went aboard: they came out: any personal belongings belonging to the Germans had to be returned. So that’s what frightened me, me and other people [laughs]. But I would have liked to kept that up you know because it would have been nice knowing that those Germans, that was that that we picked up. That was in 1942.
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