Torpedoed From Above
By Lucy Anne Desert (née Cockeram)

In March 1943 I was one of 14 WREN's who boarded the Windsor Castle at Gourock along with 3,000 troops and 13 padres. We had regular boat drill during the day and were in the Med., having passed Tangiers and their lovely inviting lights at night. One night a large bang woke me up and the ship juddered. As the alarm sounded I realised the engines had stopped and shouted "this is for real."

At my station I was helped into the boat before it was lowered. It was a good job I had grabbed my tin hat because men were coming down the ropes with their boots on. Others had very little clothing and some were jumping into the water in the nuddy. It was all so unreal I felt I must be dreaming.

The men had difficulty getting the boat away from the ship and tension mounted as someone said "as it goes down we will be dragged under too!" A padre stood up and a lot of language he used to encourage the men to work harder was new to me.

The moon showed the nightmare scene of boats with some 80 people in each and rafts bobbing up and down on high waves with a destroyer going round calling over the tannoy "look out for depth charges" and for a few moments no one spoke, it was eerie. (We found out later it was an aerial torpedo).

Much later HMS Whaddon (Lt. Cdr. J. B. Palmer, R.N.) and another destroyer arrived to take us on board. Ladies first, I stood on the side of the boat, with help, and on the crest of a wave grabbed the camouflage netting (sic) and started climbing up what seemed as high as a house, I felt so weak and very much alone but eventually reached the top and arms were pulling me over. A voice said "Good God it's a woman" and another voice said "its Tom Cockeram's sister from our street." I was quickly whisked out of the way and given a stiff drink and soon others arrived. We found it so warm we preferred to go up on deck and sit with a backrest and legs stretched out to the rails.

Toast and marmalade, jacket potatoes, hard boiled eggs, in fact any food they had was passed around and we were glad to be alive, and began to enjoy the trip. Over the tannoy we were warned not to move all at once no matter what happened because the ship was packed like sardines and was top heavy.

Dawn came and went and at last we arrived in Algiers and a WREN officer came to collect us. What a bedraggled bunch we looked in our tin hats, creased pyjamas and slippers. The order was called out "March smartly girls" and we teenagers grinned and giggled. On terra firma, life was almost back to normal again.

Where are you now? We did promise to reunite after the war. Probably weddings and children took over our lives but we should meet up now before it is too late.
Lucy Anne Desert (née Cockeram)
(known as Annie in the WRNS)
Courtesy of Tom Cockeram

The group of WRENS who survived the sinking of Windsor Castle, Lucy Cockeram is seen in the front row, third from the left.

I am sorry to report that Lucy Cockeram (Windsor Castle survivor) died on 24 December 2014.

Page published Jan. 22, 2015