by John H Marsh
|THE LINER SURVIVORS' CAMP|
The airmen awoke, stiff and sore, after a restless night. The
sandstorm was still blowing. The continual rocking of the aircraft
during the night had settled the wheels several inches deeper in the
After eating sparingly of their rations, they decided to go to the survivors' camp and try and get help to dig the plane out of the sand. First, however, they wrote three messages in the sand with the aid of a stick, for any aircraft that might come over. They wrote them in huge letters on the sheltered side of a sand dune near the aircraft. The first message was: "Advise wives"; the second: "Water"; and the third: "Generator u/s" (unserviceable).
The walk to the camp was heavy going and took three-quarters-of-an-hour. They found the survivors sheltering from the sand behind the sails of the lifeboat. Hardly any of them could walk owing to blistered and swollen feet, or through general weakness due to exposure and lack of wholesome food. All were suffering from eye trouble in varying degrees. The youngest baby, 13 months old Sidney Palmer, was in the worst condition. Dr. Labib said that he feared that unless conditions improved the baby would be totally blind in another two days.
Sunburn had blistered practically everybody's face and cracked their swollen lips. One of the young women who was seven months pregnant was in a pitiable condition. One of the men was delirious, with a temperature of 105 degrees, and the young lad whose mind had become affected the previous night was still behaving queerly, though he was no longer violent.
Though most of the people were listless and despondent, there were two of the women whose example was doing much to keep up morale. Mrs. Taylor and Annabel were determined not to let circumstances get them down. They continued to give attention to their appearance and never showed themselves "in public" in the mornings without first having tidied their hair, straightened out the creases in their frocks, and made what use they could of their vanity boxes. The others chivvied them endlessly, and called them "The Parisian Twins," but the term was one of affection and not of derision. Their cheerfulness and calm acceptance of their circumstances was one of the factors that prevented some of the other women from giving way to complete despair in face of their privations and disappointments.
It was apparent to the airmen that they could expect little
help from the survivors, in their present condition, in getting their
plane into the air again. They therefore abandoned the project for
the present and instead watched the Nerine make another attempt
to float food and water to them. While she lay at anchor during
the night her crew had been constructing another raft out of dan
cans and staves. On this they lashed a case of biscuits, two cases
of bully beef, and five elliptical floats filled with fresh water. When
all was ready the minesweeper weighed anchor and again steamed
some distance down the coast. Then, carefully feeling her way
towards the beach until she was in 30 feet of water, she dropped
the raft overboard. The current took it and began to carry it northward
up the coast, as it had done the others. A search was then
made on board the minesweeper for any other watertight container
that would float. Nine more elliptical floats were found. They
were opened up and food was put into three of them and fresh
water into the others. In order to leave sufficient buoyancy for
them to float, they were not filled to the top. They were then
sealed again and thrown overboard.
The men refreshed themselves from them and then searched
around for anything else that would be of use. Fortunately they
found two or three five-gallon tins of fresh water, which they were
able to carry back with them. They also picked up some of the
packages of biscuits and bully beef. The best treasure of all, however,
was the canvas that was wrapped round some of the rafts.
They took all they could find, for it would provide at least some
of the protection from the elements that they so badly needed.
Loaded with all they could carry, they made their way slowly back
to camp. They arrived exhausted, but their joyous reception did
much to make them overlook their weariness.
None of these animals was ever seen by the castaways. They seemed to hide themselves among the sand dunes by day, and to reconnoitre the camp by night. During the first few days the castaways had seen no other living thing except occasional seagulls, but now bird life seemed to have learned of their presence and the curious came to inspect. First tiny sandpeckers appeared on the beach, criss-crossing the sands with their dainty little footprints. Then came black-and-white crows, more seagulls, and once even a swallow.
Copyright Michael Marsh(2020)
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