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Swimming for Survival

Heroes Remember

Swimming for Survival

When I got up to the surface it was still night time, it was midnight. I had to strip, I had already got my shoes and socks off on the way down but I had to strip and then I could see a fire in the distance which was the Tobruk harbour fires. So I started swimming towards the fires and of course I had swam in the lakes many times but I very quickly ran out of strength and stopped swimming and sort of tried to get myself adjusted and set and then when I kind of got settled and looked there were no more fires, it was black all around, all you could see, of course, was the horizon and I sort of thought well what do I do? And then I thought hell I’m a navigator, this is another exercise in navigation. I know I want to go south because the mid and the coast, I want to go to the coast, I want to basically swim south. So I looked up at the sky and I had done astro navigation before in the flight so I had found the pole star and then I lined myself up with the pole star so my feet were pointing to the pole star and my head was pointing away from the pole star. Then I’d roll over and then I would swim. And I’d swim until I felt that I couldn’t swim anymore and then I’d roll over again and I’d line myself up again. I must have drowned two or three times. I mean I found myself sinking, you just stop acting, you just stop moving and the thing was the water was salty because I had swam only in lake water as a boy and that was offensive and the moment I tasted the salt water that spurred me on. I kind of woke up again, fought my way back up to the surface and then I’d line myself up again and then I would swim some more. I think I swam on my back, I swam on my side, I swam on my stomach, I did everything. And I swam through jelly fish, you know, and I watched the phosphorescence in the water as I stroked my hands through the water. It was just, you know, an endless sort of thing. And then I sort of felt I could hear something and I thought, hmm, is that the coast? Can I hear the surf? And I thought, well if it’s surf, I might not make it, so I thought, well, but it didn’t make any difference, I just kept swimming anyway. And finally I sort of realized that it had to be the shore somewhere and then I felt I was on my, basically I was on my hands and knees at that point. So I crawled the rest of the way, got out of the water, into the sand and there were some rocks and I sort of flopped down behind the rocks and I just passed out. And I didn’t wake up until the sun got in my face so the shadow of the rock had cleared me for a while and then the sun was high enough then it hit me in the face and I woke up with the sun in my face and I kind of had to take a second or two to think where I was, what was this all about. And there were flies buzzing around me and I thought what the hell and then I remembered this business about my crotch and, of course, there was blood around and then the flies were bothering me and that sort of thing. But again, your mind takes over and I wouldn’t even feel what had happened, I wouldn’t even touch myself to find out what had happened because I felt that if I had castrated myself I’d quit, I’d just pack it up.

After crashing at sea, Mr. Watts continues to detail the events of his survival and how his navigation abilities led him to shore.

Jack Watts

Jack Vincent Watts was born on November 10, 1920, and was raised in Hamilton, Ontario, where he enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force on July 2, 1940. He flew on Royal Air Force squadrons throughout his wartime service, serving with squadrons 10, 462, 109 and 105. He finished the war as a squadron leader and received the Distinguished Service Order (DSO), the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) and Bar. He retired as a brigadier-general in 1975. On his return to Canada after the war, he played in the Canadian Football League with the Hamilton Tigers and the Wildcats. He moved to Ottawa for his service career, and resided there with his war bride, Norma Zelia, formerly of Coventry, England.

Meta Data
Veterans Affairs Canada
June 1, 2012
Person Interviewed:
Jack Watts
War, Conflict or Mission:
Second World War
Air Force
Bomber Command

Copyright / Permission to Reproduce

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