ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

A Sailor's Account of the Shipwreck of the 'Aube'

Updated on October 17, 2012
Jack Duncan (x)
Jack Duncan (x)

The Shipwreck

'Being of an adventurous spirit, I had joined the French armed vessel 'Aube' and proceeded to sea when the German sea wolves were out for prey, and life at sea had become very dangerous. The only stranger and non-French sailor on the ship, I was known as the "Australienne".

It was not the first time I had been a crew member of a ship, other than British. A sailor is a sailor under any flag. But this was war time, and there had to be a constant alert. A strict lookout was kept always. Whether night or day, fore, aft, and amidships, we were on alert. We had to be on the lookout for enemy ships, mines and particularly submarines. Every man had his allotted station to go to when the alarm sounded. There was always this uncertainty.

We cruised along the French coasts, in and out of the Mediterranean to Gibraltar and Marseilles and to ports in Colonial Africa. Algiers and Bizerta were favourite spots when we were around North Africa.

One sunny day, off the Portuguese coast, we saw action. With all hands on deck we were caught up in a three hour battle that ended with us sinking the enemy. I was at the wheel when the enemy was first sighted steaming up on our port quarter. At eight bells (8 o'clock), I was relieved of my duty and went below. I had just finished breakfast when the order was shouted "poste des combats" (battle stations). In a moment, men were rushing, stern faced, to their posts. And then - here it came. I had heard the sound before the scream of a shell over the starboard bow. Immediately after, there was another over us, this one splashing a few feet away. They were getting our range.

Why, I wondered, didn't we return the fire? The reason, I found out, was they were waiting for the flag. Hurrah, the 'tricolour', waving in the breeze. 'Liberty, Equality, Fraternity'. On target - fire! Radie france, in reply to a message sent to Paris, 'The eyes of France are on you', and so the battle roared on.

The gunners on board had a cozy mess-room of their own. I was always welcome to sit down and share a bottle of wine with them, and to join them in their fun ashore.

Down the alleyways of the 'Aube' we would often greet one another as we rolled on our way. The engine room staff and the firemen would yell out, 'Hi Australee, come on in.'

The officers too were keen to learn English. So when I was on the bridge or at the helm, the language lesson would begin with question and answer - both nautical and otherwise, and all with good-humoured banter.

Around the fo'castle the men were often reading, and yarning in the watch below. Most, if not all had had long service at sea. Some had served for years on sailing ships. One of my watch mates had rounded the dangerous Cape Horn on fourteen occasions, aloft shortening sails in hurricane winds and mountainous seas. I had experienced that myself on one occasion.

For every Sunday at sea we were allowed two days shore leave. Many friends were made in the old cities of Bordeaux and St. Nazaire. The seamen had their favourite haunts in all ports and in our own way, we thoroughly enjoyed life.

On this last voyage we had bunkered at one of the Bristol Channel ports, and as usual we had put to sea under sealed orders by dark of night, with all lights blacked out.


The Storm

It was wild enough in the Bristol Channel. When we rounded the 'Bull Light', with our foghorn blaring, on the North Western point of Devon, we encountered the full force of the gale. We were tossing about in the Irish Sea. I thought we were rather close inshore. The crew were on the deck in oilskins and sea boots - standing by should anything untoward happen.

Although the Quarter Master had the helm hard over, it proved to be too late. The terrific wind against the hull added to the quick and fast seas. We were hurled onto the rocks at Hartland Point. We were the seventh ship to be wrecked on that headland.

This happened at one o'clock in the morning. Our siren was sounding, but could barely be heard above the roar of the elements. It was very cold and drizzling. In the darkness of the storm we were tossed against the rocks which gave us more cause to fear than anything else.

As we struck, the watch below came scrambling up the stairs clutching their life jackets. They supposed we had hit a mine or had been torpedoed.

Early in the morning a farmer happened to spot us and in no time the cliff top was crowded with people. To us, on board the ship, they looked like tiny ants in the distance.

The crew was busy, however, and did just as the seamen did 2000 years ago when the ship in which St. Paul was a passenger was wrecked on the Island of Malta. We let down two anchors astern and hauled tight. This eased the motion of the ship to some degree, although we could do nothing forward.

We were awash, the seas rolling over us fore and aft. By and by we could see a figure climb a little way down the cliff and commence to wag semaphore flags. We could only just discern him and his flags. They appeared like two little white dots. The people on the cliff must have thought we were a British ship. I was the only seamen on board who spoke English and the Captain called for me. We got two flags from the locker and signalled back. The vessel, by this time, was lurching badly and the seas were rolling aboard.

The message came that they would shoot a line for us to make fast and to then, one by one go up by breeches buoy. 'No! No! No!' said the Captain. "Tell them we want the life boat.'

There was a life boat at Clovelly which was three miles to the north. This was launched, manned by volunteer seamen and fishermen.

After what we thought was a long time, the life boat could be seen heading our way. It seemed so slow. One moment it appeared like a cork on top of a wave, then it would be lost from view in a trough, then up it popped again.

The life boat stood off in the heavy seas. I was handed a megaphone. When the life boat came around to leeward, I roared out for them to come and take us off. The life boat manoeuvred around to windward so that we could hear them. Their Captain shouted, 'If we come any closer we shall be smashed up.' For a couple of hours they tossed around and then abandoned us and steered off home.

With our backs to the wind, we gazed over the wild waste, wet and helpless ... but not totally without hope. There was nothing to do but hang on and wait for the chance to get off in our own boats. This we did the following day when there was some abatement in the weather.

Some accidents did occur, but fortunately there were no fatalities. Some seamen were nearly washed overboard but managed to be saved by their mates who grabbed them from falling in the icy water. A steel block fell and gouged my head, cutting through my seaman's cap. My head felt as if it had been split in half, and like most head wounds, there was considerable bleeding. I was held fast while the Chief Officer put a tight bandage on my head. Later, when I was in hospital, the Matron asked who had bandaged me. 'I couldn't have done better myself,' she said.

Once away from the wreck, with little freeboard in the crowded boats, we seemed dangerously close to the heaving waters after the high deck of the 'Aube'. The chorus of a song I had sung many times in 'Seamen's Bethels' around the world kept ringing in my mind -

'Pull for the shore sailor, pull for the shore. Heed not the rolling wave but bend to the oar. Safe in the life boat sailor, cling to self no more. Leave poor old stranded wreck and pull for the shore.'

Some of the crew were billeted at Ilfracombe until such time as they could be sent home to France. One by one the good-byes were said. The Second Officer invited me to come with him and his family to Madagascar where he was to make his home and from there take command of a new ship.

After convalescing for some time in England, I decided to sign on with a British freighter and so was off to sea again.'

This account of the wreck of the 'Aube' was told to me by 'Jack' Duncan (my Grandfather) when he was recording some of his memories, a few years before he died, in 1976.

Copyright Marion Drury (c) 2012

All rights reserved


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)