Torpedoes At Night Were His Initiation

By Patrick Murphy
Times Colonist staff


Jack Cockrell's war started drifting in a leaking lifeboat off the coast of Ireland.

He had enlisted in the army artillery and ended up as an officer in the tank corps, but his initiation to the war was at sea.

In April 1941, Cockrell left Halifax aboard the troop transport Nerissa.

About 80 kilometres off the coast of Ireland, Cockrell finished his bridge watch and went below to await arrival the next day in Britain.

"The fish hit exactly at 10:30 at night." He said. "I know because I came off the bridge watch at 10 o'clock. I was thinking we were safe and I went and had a shower and then I said to myself, "Whatever you do, keep your clothes on."

"I was lying on my bunk having a cigarette and the next thing I knew I woke up on deck with water running around my ass."

The crew and troops scrambled for the lifeboats as the German submarine fired two more torpedoes into the ship.

Cockrell and others, pushed a lifeboat over the side as the last torpedo hit. The lifeboat was holed, but 21 men go aboard.

"It floated all night," he said. "In the morning there were 11 of us left."

Just 35 of the 94 troops survived. They were picked up by HMS Veteran and taken to Londonderry. Theirs was the only Canadian troop ship sunk.

"It was a great way to age overnight, spending 12 hours in water to our waists."

Times Colonist Wednesday, August 8, 2001