One Man's Story

One Man's Story

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Lieutenant Cyril Lovitt  R.N.V.R. was torpedoed near Murmansk on 29th April 1945 while serving on H.M.S.Goodall, the last Royal Navy warship to be lost in the European theatre of operations during World War ll.

He was transferred to Mearnskirk Hospital in late May, one of 33,790 service personnel who were treated in the hospital between 1940 and 1946. Now living in Western Australia he has kindly written this account of his experience.

 


Cyril’s Story

oms2To begin at the beginning, H.M.S. Goodall was a destroyer escort built at Boston in America and one of those handed over to the British Navy under the lend lease arrangement. There were 76 of them and we called them frigates of the Captain Class.

Through 1944 and the early part of 1945, we were part of the Liverpool Escort Force on convoy duty in the North Atlantic. In April 1945 we joined Escort Group 19 and were sent as a support group to the convoy JW 66, the last Russian bound convoy of WW II bound for Murmansk where we arrived on 25 April 1945.  We sailed as escort to the Convoy RA 66 on 29 April 1945.

It was unreal because by that time the war in Europe was virtually over. Hitler committed suicide on 30 April and the war in Europe ended on 7 May.

We were warned that there were seventeen U boats off the Kola Inlet waiting for us. We were unlucky because as we sailed out ahead of the main convoy with the task of clearing up the U boats we were attacked and torpedoes hit us in the bows and blew off the forepart of the ship back as far as the mast. At action stations there were a large number of officers and men on the bridge: only two of us survived.  As Gunnery Control Officer I was stationed on a wooden platform at the back of the bridge and was catapulted to the after deck and sustained a fractured pelvis.

oms3A very brave Corvette, H.M.S. Honeysuckle, nudged his bows into our stern and I was hauled across from the Goodall. I was very lucky because I did not go into the sea. Had I done so I would not be writing this.  Of the crew of about 140 only 38 survived.

Together with about a dozen shipmates, I spent a few weeks in an auxiliary hospital in Vaenga, near Murmansk.  The picture below is taken in the sick bay of HMS Queen en route back to Glasgow. I’m the one in the bed on the right:

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I was transferred to Glasgow in Convoy arriving late in May and was taken to Mearnskirk Hospital. I remember feeling a great relief to be in a pleasant, bright and cheerful ward on land. All the nurses were so pleasant and cheerful, even the Matron was bright and pleasant although she kept the nurses fully occupied.  I remember she even had them cleaning the windows. I was told that they had been warned to expect a severely injured patient, but I must admit I did not feel anything other than relief at being so tenderly cared for.

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There was considerable concern about my feet which were apparently very dirty.  I suppose this was not very surprising because I had been looked after by seasoned SBAs for the past month and they were more concerned with treating my wounds than washing my feet . I remember one tall nurse from the Highlands expressed some disappointment when she first saw me standing up, thinking that I was much taller than I am.

I owe a great debt of gratitude to an Orthopaedic Surgeon who manipulated my right hip. When I was first injured my right leg was 4 inches shorter than the left.  Although this had been largely corrected and I  had travelled to Scotland in a Thomas Splint, the surgeon explained that I could never raise my leg sufficiently to ride a bicycle so my hip was duly manipulated and I finished up with plaster boots held apart by a metal bar. The nurses I remember were invited to gather round and inspect this handiwork.

Another member of staff I remember with gratitude was a very pleasant young physiotherapist.  She was a lovely fair haired girl with freckles and she had the job of getting me to walk again. After about a month lying on my back the muscles in my right leg had wasted very considerably.  She was so patient and had me walking, I am sure in record time.  She was very anxious that I should do some constructive work and taught me to make a belt of macrame using twine. I made two in fact and my wife still has them both. Then she had the idea that some of the men, my shipmates, could learn from my "expertise" and also make belts.  I am not sure whether they did or not, but they did come into the ward to watch me at work.

oms7Some of my ward mates took me into Glasgow in a wheel chair for a drink at one of the pubs or maybe it wasn't Glasgow but somewhere close by. (Ed. note : We think this would be the Malletsheugh Inn, “the local” for the soldiers and sailors at Mearnskirk)

There was a young Fleet Air Arm pilot whose surname  was Crawford  who was a member of the Crawford's Biscuit family. He had osteomyelitis and was put  to bed in a whole body plaster cast every night.  He made good progress because before the end of that summer we were playing tenikoits on the lovely lawn outside the ward.  It was a good summer and we were allowed to have our beds in the sun.  We had only a sort of nightshirt to wear so when we took that off we were naked and I remember the nurses would tell us to pull up the sheet and make ourselves "respectable ".

There was also a WREN who managed the slops.  She seemed to take quite an interest in me offering to get me a new cap as mine had been lost with all the rest of my gear when the Goodall went down.  We had a mild flirtation.

oms8I had visits from the *Captain’s family looking for some crumb of comfort which I was unable to provide. I know he was alive on what was left of the bridge but he was trapped under a mass of metalwork.

They offered to move me to a hospital nearer my home in North London but, perhaps rather selfishly, I declined. I was far too happy where I was.

I left Mearnskirk in July or August of 1945 to resume what was left of my naval career, finishing my service at H.M.S. Royal Arthur in Wiltshire.

*Lt Cdr. James Vaudalle Fulton R.N.V.R, a native of Greenock.

 

Cyril Lovitt
Western Australia
2009

 

 


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