Margaret Bourke White - a Life Magazine Photographer who was actually on the Strathallan when she was hit by a torpedo.
We have pleasure in publishing the story by the then famous Life Magazine
Photographer which is quite unique, All our stories have been from “amateur” recollections . Now we can read of a professional account of the U562 attack by a magazine employee who was actually there for the purposes of being a War Correspondent/Photographer. There are over 5000 stories of the U562 attack and the aftermath all of them poignant and fascinating.
Contribution by Stephen Graham
Introduction by Life Magazine
Last year Life assigned Miss Bourke-White to the US Air forces as the first woman photographer ever so accredited. She covered the Bomber Command in England (Life Oct 19… 1942), then in December boarded a Troopship bound for North Africa where she arrived just at the turn of the year. She arrived by destroyer, the Troopship having been torpedoed en route, and it is this experience which she tells on these pages with her own photographs.
Margaret Bourke-White Report Verbatim
“The torpedo did not make as loud a crash as expected ,nor did the ship list as much as it does in the movies. But somehow everyone on the sleeping troop transport knew that this was the end of her. Tossed out of my upper bunk, I snapped on the light switch.. The power had gone. I managed to find my flashlight and began a race for my clothes. I remember deciding whether to take the time to put on my belt and tie. I decided in favour of the belt and against the tie. Should I wear my great coat or trench coat. The trench coat was water proof but the greatcoat was warmer. I decided on the greatcoat.
My two Scottish room mates were Nursing Sisters, so called not from any religious convictions but because they belonged to Queen Alexandra’s Military Nursing Reserve Service. Sister Ismay Cooper scrabbled through the bureau drawers for her money and Sister Violet MacMillan pulled on her trousers and tore the curlers out of her hair. Even in the faint flashlight beam I was impressed by the trousers. We had joked about them during the convoy voyage because the nursing sisters…. operating under “Old Battle Axe” their strict Scottish Matron….had been forbidden to wear slacks except for a torpedoing”
Editors Note……Anyone heard of Ismay Cooper or Violet MacMillan…(Scottish Nurses)?
Also the Matron “Old Battleaxe”…… Use our simple contact form to share your story
“When it came to choosing which of my six camera’s I should save I didn’t hesitate a second., for, I had worked that out carefully in advance. Instead of packing my musette bag with extra clothing as instructed ,I had stored in it my Rolleiflex and a emergency film supply, together with one other camera, my favourite Linhof, and the five most valuable of its lenses. I put on my greatcoat, crammed my field cap into my pocket ,slipped my life-belt over my shoulders, my helmet on my head and started up the companionway.
Although it was only three minutes before we were out of our cabin .everything seemed to be in slow motion. Up from the hold of the Transport came two orderly lines of troops ,one filing toward the starboard side ,the other the port side. Instead of going to my boat station Nox on “B” Deck, I raced up to a spot under the Bridge which I had selected beforehand. In case of enemy action I had arranged with the commanding officer to stay on deck and take pictures. As I reached the top flight of steps I was hoping dawn would come so that I could use my camera ,but I came out under a night sky gleaming with moon and stars. “ Just like Jerry to do this at night” I said to myself.
One of the crew came running over to send me to my boat station . But when I explained“ I am the Life Magazine Photographer” the reply was….”J….” X@&$3£ (or something like that.)
However……eventually I had to climb over the ships rail into the boat under the calm direction of “Old Battleaxe” I just had time to fall into my regular place which I had occupied during daily drill. In the Lifeboat I was astonished to find the water up to my hips.
The torpedo splash had flooded the lifeboat on the port side aft. I hugged my camera’s to my chest to keep them dry but as we made our quivering descent columns of water began pouring down on us from lifeboat No xx which was swinging above our heads. Its crew was pulling out plugs to empty the hull before lowering away. On our interminable descent I looked up to see the ships hull rising against cloud banks of pure silver “ If that were sun instead of moonlight on those clouds” I thought “ This would be the perfect sky”
Just then the attention of all of us was caught by a heavy dangling chain which swung cruelly back and forth while we ducked and twisted our heads out of the way. We were in the water at last. The sea which from above had looked so calm ,rose up against us wave after wave and began beating us back against the side of the ship. Our crew strained at the oars. There was so little space left in our crowded that we began singing , bending our bodies in rhythm to give the rowers room to move their arms Just as we had created a margin between ourselves and the big ship ,down came lifeboat No11 with its load of British sisters, Its crew had been unable to replace the plugs properly and it filled to the gunwales.
A couple of dozen sisters were washed over the side. Some of them were carried immediately into their flooded boat on the next wave. Others started swimming towards rafts which were tossed from the upper decks. Helmets were used as bailing buckets.
Editors note………….Mrs Mary Asher of Innellan Dunoon Argyleshire was a nurse on this lifeboat that filled with water. Mrs Asher was the first to write and tell of her experiences.
She is now nearly 90 years of age and although somewhat deaf she is still in reasonable health. The Ed was talking to her husband recently Feb 2003 This article will bring many memories Mrs Asher
We tried to force our way to the swimmers but our rudder broke and we found ourselves drifting. All around nurses were in spasms of sea-sickness.
Towards the stern still trying to free itself was a life boat. The big ship now ,its great bulk in the moonlight was a network of ropes and ladders.”
Editors Note………..The text becomes a little garbled but the essence of Margaret’s story has been encaptured.
We are indebted to Stephen Graham for providing us with the article allowing all to share in a professional story of the aftermath of the U562 torpedo. We look forward to receiving any material from Stephen on Strathallan which we will share with all enthusiasts. Between the forthcoming Reunion and Web Site we hope to bring as comprehensive as possible Strathallan Story.