Saved by HMS Wallflower and radar
29 August 1942
Three days and three nights passed without us seeing anything on the horizon. Which wasn’t that far since our little boats hardly stuck out of water giving us a very short horizon. But then, after three days, we saw a grey spot that was slowly coming closer. It turned out to be a British corvette with the beautiful name of ‘Wallflower’. Coming closer we identified ourselves, but the first question the British Captain asked was: ‘Are there any wounded?’
Assistent Engineer Adriaan Kik
HMS Wallflower is one of the escort vessels of convoy ON(S)124. She’s positioned as the most outward corvette and her new radar gives out a faint signal (echo). To faint to be a ship. Maybe a glitch in the system, a large wave or wreckage but it could also be the conning tower of a submarine. Her captain asks the commander on the destroyer HMS Hurricane permission to investigate the ‘echo’. He grants it.
The ‘echo’ turns out not to be a submarine, not a glitch and not even metal. It’s Abbekerks wooden lifeboats. Significantly further away than the effective reach of 13 miles of these Type 271 radar sets, but the good weather and the calm sea provide for a small miracle. Some time later they can see the lifeboats with the naked eye. Asdic and radio operator Terry from the Wallflower immortalizes this moment with his photo camera. (Special thanks to his son Roy Terry for providing me with these really incredible pictures!)
We then were hauled aboard by the crew. Everything that could be used was taken out of our lifeboats while the boats themselves were destroyed by gunfire. The ‘Wallflower’ was escorting a convoy from England to Halifax but was thrown off course and fortuitously, with the aid of its radar, had chanced upon our two small boats. We certainly had been incredibly lucky.
Assistent engineer Adriaan Kik
Third mate Visser and gunner MacNab also remember this moment very well. Especially the destruction of the lifeboats. That was necessary (because they could not take them along) to prevent new rescue attempts for empty lifeboats and also to prevent the Germans from finding them and ascertaining from which ship they came. But it’s an emotional moment.
A very painfull moment followed when the commander [of the Wallflower] ordered our lifeboats, to which we owed our lives, to be destroyed.
Third mate Jacob Visser
The anti aircraft gun destroyed both lifeboats in seconds. I remember looking at it with tears in my eyes. I was not the only one.
Gunner Walter MacNab
With an extra 62 men the number of crewmen of the small corvette is almost doubled. The Abbekerk crew is stowed away all over the – now filled to the brim – little ship. But to the Wallflower crew the rescue of so many people will be one of their best memories of the war. Asdic and radio operator Tom Shuttleworth would later make a painting of the moment as featured at the top of this article.