The accident on board the Tyndareus
on 6th February 1917
J StJ P BERRYMAN
February 21, 1917
I don’t think I ever gave you a description of what happened the night of the accident. Well, we were all at Mess when the bang went off. I was going to say when the explosion occurred, of course everyone jumped up and grabbed a life belt – somebody started. We were all out and up at our boat stations in about two minutes, and the men were all in their places – my boat was 207, I had 50 men, a couple of Chinamen and one or two of the crew – a huge volume of water was splashed up over the ship, and dead fish are found lying around all over the place. The old ship started going down a bit by the bows, but she did not do any nasty lurching which was a mercy.
There was a fairly big sea running and bright moonlight. We were in sight of land, and there were two ships in sight also. The men behaved simply splendidly, and no one seemed to fuss at all – The boats were got along without any flurry and we all started climbing and clambering down rope ladders – I got down last of my lot, and the boat was pretty full up by that time. I had been twice down to my cabin to get one or two things – I got my revolver and field glasses and the greatest godsend of all, a hundred cigarettes – I also grabbed a letter I had written to you which I posted directly we got here- We pushed off from the ship, some of the boats were already away, and some had even been picked up by one of the ships that was standing by. One was a hospital ship all lighted up with red and green lights and the other belonged to the same line of steamers as our other ship.
Well, started away, and the waves looked very different from the small boat, huge great mountains that seemed to be going to stamp our overcrowded boat any minute, of course there was no chance of rowing as the men were too crowded, and none of them knew much about it, then lots of them were sea sick, and the boat started filling with water, so we had to bail her with helmets and caps. The fellows of the crew we had with us did not seem to know much about it, so I had to take charge, and I knew less.
We got along fine at the start and got near the hospital ship, but unfortunately we got on the wrong side, and it was impossible to get the men up, we pushed off quick or we should have been smashed to pieces. Of course I did not know how to get round to the other side, what can you expect from a comic soldier? I know now how to do it – so we had to let her drift, well she drifted down towards the other ship and again we got on weather side, people shouted and gave directions but I couldn’t work it, so we drifted away again.
Then with the four oars we had out we managed to keep her head to the current, which is what we ought to have done right away, but how was a d—– land lubber to know? and we started to drift towards the ship again, we were about ¾ of a mile away and the men were a bit down, and between you and me and the ink pot I didn’t fancy our chance but we got there. We got round the stern somehow and got alongside and all got aboard safely. We were out for about 4 hours, so some of us were pretty cooked.
The accident happened about 10 minutes to 7, we were away about 7.30 and got on board the other ship about 12. There were still some boats out so we hung around to see what could be done, then we signalled to the hospital ship, and counted the men and found not a single man was missing. We hung around till the next morning and saw our old ship still afloat and a cruiser and another trying to get a rope aboard to tow her. We started back to Capetown and got in about six o’clock and they brought us straight here, so there were no casualties at all. We even saved the dogs.
J.St J.P. Berryman,
25 Middlesex Regt.
Gertrude kept this letter along with Ted’s letter about the sinking of the SS Persia and the cutting from the Cape Argus in a large brown envelope on which she wrote tersely “letters from my shipwrecked sons”.