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Canadian’s WWII Horror | Destruction of the Athabaskan

It was now about 4:30am 29th April, 1944. I looked over the side of the Athabaskan at that cold uninviting water of the English Channel by now covered with thick, dirty, fuel oil.

My first thought was “Gee, I can’t jump into that”, but when I turned around and looked at the burning ship, which was beginning to settle to her watery grave, I suddenly decided, “Hell, I can’t stay here neither”.

Stuart Kettles, author - Survivor of Athabaskan
Stuart Kettles, author – Survivor of Athabaskan

There was no shock when you hit the water, but it wasn’t very doggone long until we soon realized that it was no Turkish Bath.

I swam to where George and Glen were and it was quite a wet reunion. However, it certainly didn’t lack any enthusiasm.

A short time after, George said “Roll me over on my back and hold me there ’till I see if I can get this damn light going”. The light he was referred to was attached to a small hat which was part of a new type of life jackets we had just recently been issued.

His only remark was “Well I’ll be doggoned, the darn thing works”. We got a laugh out of this, in spite of the grim situation we were in.

Athabaskan Saved?

We suddenly spotted a ghost like form approaching us from out of the false dawn. There were cries of…

“Good old HAIDA!”

Our sister ship had come to pick up what survivors she could.

Haida Battleship in WWII - Now docked in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Haida Battleship in WWII – Now docked in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

I started to swim to the directed place. Had just about 12 more feet to go when the HAIDA threw her engines into reverse. The force of the water from her propellers washed me away from her side out about a quarter mile from the bow.

I now found myself entirely alone, and my legs and arms were growing numb as the minutes passed. The tide which was going out at the time, came in long slow rolling waves.

This caused a very nice sensation, like rocking a child to sleep in a cradle. It wasn’t very long before this motion began to make me very sleepy.

There were none of the other lads around to talk to to help stay awake. I felt myself going to sleep, and knowing I couldn’t stay awake much longer.

Pulled up the head rest on my life jacket, quite prepared to take what laid ahead of me. Even though I should fall asleep, which is exactly what happened.

The next time I saw the welcome rays of sun was quite different. I lay on a wooden table naked as the day I was born, shivering from the cold immersion.

I asked where we were, the answer “On a German Destroyer”

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