Man Overboard by Les Harris, Air Mechanic (L) HMS. Vengeance

"Man overboard". I thought I heard these two words as I climbed down from the cockpit of the Seafire having just completed a between-flight electrical inspection.

A gale-force wind tore at my dufflecoat and the blinding rain made it difficult to see and hear. The aircraft carrier was rocking and rolling as it sped through the booms at Greenock. I listened again, but eventually dismissed the thought and climbed down, taking a short cut through the gun-sponson into the mess. The time was 06.00hrs. and it was pitch black outside. I rid myself of the wet coat and sat with my mess-mates ready to eat breakfast. The tannoy blasted; "Man Overboard: Man the Lifeboat!" I was right: I had heard something on the deck of the carrier, but the next few words, from the lips of a two and a half ringer Officer (regular navy), were shouted much closer to my ear.

"You! Man the Lifeboat!" came the voice from behind. I half turned and realised he was pointing his finger at me and my mates - we weren't seaman as such - we were aircraft maintenance. The only rowing we had ever done was on our local park lake. On board, we had been kept too busy keeping aircraft flying and had not been given time to learn the niceties of hauling a bloody great rowing boat about.

The Officer, to be obeyed all costs, punched the panic button but forgot to mention or instruct us to don life-belts first. We reluctantly ran down the corridor past the Master At Arms' office and climbed out into the storm. Six very frightened young sailors shivering on the wet seats of the boat; not having the slightest idea of what to do next. The tannoy sounded again; "Belay the last pipe: lifeboat men stand down." Those were to remain the nicest words I was ever to hear until, eight years later, a nurse came rushing in to tell me I had a baby son.

We returned to the mess soaked to the skin, cursing the idiot Officer who would surely have drowned the lot of us if that cutter had been dropped into the sea. And the telegrams our loved ones would have received, would not have told the real reason why we had been 'killed in action.'

Later when the skies cleared, we walked past the life boat and realised we had all been facing the wrong way.