U-series. The story of a gunner injured in Libya. Part 2

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Tono kōrero mai

Part 2 of 2
The second half of a story told by Corporal Robert (Bobbie) Loughnan about "Sparks", a gunner operator in a New Zealand Divisional Cavalry tank, who was injured in a battle in Libya.
The first half of the story covers his experiences during a battle near Sidi Rezegh in which he is badly wounded in both hands and taken to a hospital in Tobruk. The second half covers his evacuation to a ship bound for Alexandria, which is then sunk by a torpedo.
[The story told by Corporal Loughnan is in fact autobiographical, and was his entry in a competition held by the 2NZEF to find the best written “eye witness account”. He originally called his story “A Simple Country Lad”. The New Zealand Mobile Broadcasting Unit in Egypt felt his account of his experiences was outstanding and invited him to record it.
Bobbie Loughnan was evacuated to a ship the ‘S.S. Chakdina’, which was torpedoed on 5 December 1941, drowning 80 of the 120 New Zealand wounded on board. Part two of his story continues with the tale of how he survived the sinking. Bobbie Loughnan was originally a law clerk but his love for the outdoor life saw him become a shepherd in Canterbury, before joining up. He survived the war and was author of the official war history of the Divisional Cavalry, published in 1963.]
Bobbie Loughnan continues his story with his evacuation from the overcrowded hospital in Tobruk. He meets up with a friend “Stewart” [Morven William Stewart, Military Service no.14355] on the wharf. He warns that the rest of the story is “a description of the punishment a human body can take and yet keep going, and still produce the resistance for just a little more.”
They embark on a ship, a former British India ship converted to carry prisoners. [S.S. Chakdina] No hospital ship was available. Prisoners of war were being transported as well as Allied wounded. He meets up with ‘Fred' [2nd Lt. Frederick Duncan Rutherford, Military Service no.11749] who is the brother of his friend ‘Ivan’ [2nd Lt. Ivan Rutherford, Military Service no.12429] who was killed at Sidi Rezegh. He is forced to tell him that his brother was killed a week earlier , saying he died "doing a rotten job, willingly.” Fred was also later killed. [Killed on active service 5 Dec. 1941]
He falls asleep and wakes as the ship’s air-raid alarm is sounding. His friend Stewart realises the ship has been hit and is sinking and removes Bobbie's boots for him and helps him up onto the deck. They become separated but both jump overboard. Loughnan recounts the thoughts that went through his mind as he jumped, hoping his injured hands wouldn’t get damaged further. He watches the ship turn almost perpendicular with its bow up in the air as it sinks.
He swims away from the ship on his back and comes across two deckhands, a Cockney and an Irishman, who could not swim, but were floating clinging to a barrel, singing “Roll out the Barrel.” The water was warm and he felt confident the Navy would find them. Eventually, a British destroyer [H.M.S. Farndale] appears and he joins other survivors swimming towards it. He is nearly crushed between a life-boat and the ship and almost drowned when a panicked man climbs over the top of him. As he cannot use his hands, he can’t climb aboard via a cargo net. A British sailor pulls him up onto a life boat as an enemy plane attacks the destroyer.
He finally manages to jump to a cargo net hanging from the destroyer and hangs on with his teeth and toes until he is pulled aboard. Bobbie Loughnan then describes his anguished mental state when a simple ship’s whistle sends him into a panic attack, and during several further air raids while on board, he hallucinates he is being attacked. In the sick bay he finds his friend Stewart again. Eventually they reach port [Alexandria] and he is transferred to a hospital where he is delighted to hear a nurse with a New Zealand accent.

This item is part of a collection of recordings made by the Mobile Broadcasting Units, which travelled overseas with New Zealand forces between 1940-1945. They recorded New Zealanders' experiences of war and messages to their families and friends, which were sent back home to be played on a weekly radio programme.

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Year 1942

Reference number 16894

Media type AUDIO

Collection Sound Collection

Credits RNZ Collection
Loughnan, R. J. M., 1916-, Speaker/Kaikōrero, New Zealand. Army. Expeditionary Force, 2nd

Duration 00:24:04

Date 17 Sep 1942

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