Victor Marhallsay RAC

VICTOR MARSHALLSAY RAC Story kindly supplied by Ken Chambers

“It was in the early hours of the morning when we were hit, and I must have been completely asleep inasmuch I never heard the explosion. The first thing I remember were people rushing about shouting, and my sleeping quarters being in complete darkness – eventually the alarm bell sounded and the emergency lights came on. It was then that my sleep sodden mind grasped the fact that there was something up, so grabbing my socks and gym shoes (we went to bed nearly fully clothed at such times) I rushed up three flights of deck and upon reaching the top, proceeded to my allotted boat station. However, blocking the way were 30 or 40 nurses who were lining up to their boat station, but they moved back when requested. so I could move through – those girls were marvellous Having reached my boat station I found the lifeboat had already been launched; by now it was daylight and an announcement from the bridge told us the ship was in no immediate danger of sinking, even though it was listing quite bit to the port side.

Two small incidents still stick in my mind. There were two American reporters, one saying to the other “Boy! is this some scoop.” The other was of a paratrooper writh’ing on the deck in agony, two of his mates were trying to help him, one of whom told me he was suffering from chronic arthritis.

Soon after this, I realised I had left my pistol on my bunk bed (a pistol was the personal arms for all tank crews, irrespective of rank) so I immediately went down the three flights of deck to recover it. Arriving back on the top deck, I heard that breakfast was being served and could be collected from the ship’s galley; this involved getting into a queue which wandered backwards and forwards through four decks, and when I did eventually arrive at the serving point I was given one pickled herring and a chunk of ships bread which, needless to say, was more than welcome.

At about mid-day, we were numbered into batches, mine being number two, and ordered to go to the stern where a destroyer, H.M.S. Pathfinder, was moored alongside. Ropes had been secured to our ship’s railings in order we could slide down on to the destroyer’s deck, and as I went down I felt a blast of hot air; upon looking up I saw the Strathallan’s funnel acting like a gigantic blow-torch, and it was only then I realised she was on fire. After landing safely on the destroyer I was ordered to her stern, and found one of our paratroopers sitting on a depth charge, smoking. He was soon ordered off by a naval rating, whose action station this happened to be, as apparently the “Asdic” had recorded a “ping”.

This proved to be a false alarm and the destroyer patrolled backwards and forwards a few hundred yards from the Strathallan which now seemed ablaze from stem to stern. Added to this conflagration were explosions of small arms ammunition and the occasional soaring into the air, of what I thought to be signal rockets. Eventually our ship ceased patrolling and we were told she was taking us to the nearest port, Oran, then we were ordered below deck, but just before going below I looked astern and saw, on the horizon, a pall of smoke – my last sight, and obviously the end of the Strathallan.”