John (Jackie) Angus Mackie and wife Jess, upon their engagement.
by Alison MacRae
The headline read: "Sailor rescued from torpedo attack gets torpedoed on the rescue ship."
Wow, what story that must be I thought to myself. How do I find out more about this sailor?
Well it just so happens this sailor was born in the Isle of Lewis, was not related to me but my cousin Doreen. I contacted Doreen, and she informed me that the sailor was John Angus Mackie.
As a favour to me Doreen contacted her cousin, John's daughter Ellen, now living in New Zealand. I then got the story from Ellen herself along with paper clippings she sent on the story.
I am forever grateful that Ellen gave me so much information on her father. This is such an incredible story. After reading what John had endured during WWII, I just knew I had to write about this.
People should know that not only did he survive, he did not wallow in it, he just took it in stride as though it happened all the time. Yes, John, it was a big deal, you were just too modest and it is about time your story was told.
John Angus Mackie was born in Stornoway in the Isle of Lewis, in 1919. He was known as Jackie and not John the rest of his life. His mum was Christina MacMillan who married John Mackie in 1915 in Stornoway, and the maternal grandparents were Angus MacMillan and Isabella MacLean.
They moved to Port Glasgow in 1923, so Jackie did not really have much of a memory of the Isle of Lewis, however, family members were still living there so the family kept in touch with each other.
When the war broke out Jackie had been doing an apprenticeship in the shipyards and like a lot of young men at the time, could not wait for his call-up papers. Jackie proudly joined the Merchant Navy.
So I give you Jackie Angus Mackie the story of his survival of the two torpedoes.
Jackie joined the Merchant Navy in 1940. He was a marine fitter apprentice at James Lamont & Co Ltd shipyards, in Port Glasgow and wanted to continue with his apprenticeship. On board the Merchant Navy ships he could do that. A lot of the young lads at the time did the same thing that was why they joined the Merchant Navy for the same reason, to continue their education while fighting for their country.
The first ship Jackie was assigned to was called the Errington Court. He started in July 1940. He signed up on this ship for one year, then he signed on with MV Cressington Court in April 19, 1941, he must have liked this ship as he was signed on for another year and was now an Assistant Engineer. This ship was classified as a Motor Merchant, it is a ship that carries cargo. So this type of ship would be in conveys with escorts to get to their destinations during the WWII.
Then on 19 August 1942, his ship was on route from Philadelphia to Trinidad when it was every sailor's nightmare. The ship was torpedoed by the German U-boat 510. It was unescorted from its convoy TR1N1, northeast of Belim, Brazil.
Jackie was now 23 year of age. There were 44 hands on board. The Master of the ship and seven crew members died. There were 36 survivors crammed into one lifeboat adrift in the ocean for 23 days.
John and the other survivors could only sit and sleep with their knees up to their faces. As you would expect, rations began to dwindle. John Selkirk Gardner, the Chief Officer decided to do some fishing so they could eat. Catching a young shark with his hands, he pulled it on board where the crew went wild and put an end to its existence by stabbing it with their knives. The menu then was a raw shark, not very nice under ordinary circumstances, but these were not normal circumstances, and it was very welcomed when you do not know where your next meal is coming from.
I wonder if Jackie ever ate shark again. Cooked or raw?
The part of being adrift at sea for so long had a happy ending. (It brought back memories for me of what I had written about my cousin and his crew members that were in a lifeboat after a torpedo attack unfortunately for them they were never seen again, That story is in the Celtic Guide Magazine under Lost At Sea.)
How many others were there who survived torpedo attacks, drifting on the high seas in lifeboats never to be seen again. I shudder thinking of it. These were the lucky ones to get picked up by the Dutch Motor Tanker, a ship tanker usually with a diesel engine and a tanker for ferrying liquids. Very Flammable.
In total there were 36 survivors who experienced this ordeal. I was able to get the names of the sailors and where there nationality that were on board. Out of the crew of 44, one was from Ireland, one was a New Zealander and the third was from Denmark, the rest were British.
The oldest crew member was 53 years and the youngest was 17. Both did not survive the first torpedo attack.
On 10 September, the 26 crew members and 10 gunners were picked up by the Dutch ship Woensdrecht. Little did they know of the carnage that was looming.
Two days after being rescued, exactly 44 hours, the Woensdrecht was torpedoed by U-Boat 515. One of the survivors from the Cressington Court was killed by debris from the explosion.
The U-boat 515 surfaced near the stopped ship and the gunners opened fire with the stern gun and forced it to dive immediately. The 38 crew members and the remaining survivors of the Cressington Court had to abandon the ship and went in lifeboats. It makes me wonder what the original 35 survivors were thinking this time as they went into the lifeboats.
They were luckier this time as they were picked up the following night by two American patrol vessels. The tanker had broke in two, the stern sank. The forepart was towed to Trinidad where she was declared a total loss and later scrapped, and the survivors were taken to Port of Spain, Trinidad. The Seaman's Sailing club lodged then for three weeks.
Ellen is not sure but she believes they were taken to New York then returned to Britain to be given another command post on a ship.
During the torpedo attacks, Jackie's eardrum was damaged. This resulted in his discharge unfit for services on 14 August 1943.
In November 1943, Jackie married the love of his life, Jessie McKechnie and always told Jess that he had only eyes for her since they first met at the dance hall. He then went back to the shipyards in Port Glasgow working.
In 1961 Jackie decided a better life for his family as now they had two daughters and a son. Likely lots of discussions on this, as they emigrated to Australia. That did not last long as within months they had moved to New Zealand where he worked as a marine fitter in one of the shipbuilding yards in Auckland.
He loved this country. He spent his spare time doing his cryptic passwords, and football (soccer) and of course horse racing, that was a given.
Another sad part of this story John died in 1972; he was only 53 years of age. Way too young.
Jess died in 2006, never re-married, as Jackie was the love of her life. It also shows me what a wonderful lady Jackie saw in Jess; she would have had to be strong to continue living in a country without relatives and bringing up the three children by herself. My hat also goes off to that wonderful lady that Jackie called Jess, his wife.
I also would like to add this from Ellen, his youngest daughter, it is her tribute to her Dad.
"My Dad Jackie was a gentleman and a great father. I was 17 when he died and he was the first person close to me that had died. It is a very sad thing to lose a parent so young, and he had such a lot to live for. He never really talked about his experience in the war but I recall the torpedo incident as I used it for a project when I was in high school. I 'interviewed' him and dragged the story out of him. He had a very dry sense of humour and I can still remember how he used to say something as a joe and put his tongue in his cheek to stop smiling. He caught a few people out. He was a real family man, not a drinker but he liked a flutter on the horses."
Ellen would also like to re-connect with family members and her email is email@example.com.
I know that feeling of wanting to find relatives, as I am still trying to myself.
At left is Jackie and wife, Jess. At right is John (Jackie) Angus Mackie