Hospital Ship Centaur
Personal Stories, Collection, Heraldry, Technology, Second World War, Hospital Ship Centaur
Many of the survivors had little or no clothing after the ship sank. One, NX33029 Driver George McGrath, was in his underwear, which he lost when he leapt overboard and was left wearing only this watch when he made his way to a life raft. He later managed to cover himself with a Red Cross pennant he found among the debris.
The hands are missing from the watch, but you can still make out the rust stains where the hands were located - they stopped at 4.10 [am] - when the ship sank. McGrath was a member of the Australian Army Service Corps, who was attached to the 2/12th Field Ambulance. He was one of only three men to survive from the AASC.
This flare handle was collected by NX97247 Private Fred Chidgey. He was woken by the explosions from the torpedo and after grabbing his life jacket, made for the deck with a cabin mate. The deck was already knee deep in water. The rafts closest to Chidgey were on fire and he could not easily get to the others, so he jumped overboard. He swam as far as he could from the ship, and managed to get on a raft holding other survivors.
Items from a medical kit used by the only surviving Doctor, QX6475 Lieutenant Colonel Leslie MacDonald Outridge are also held in the collection. Outridge was also woken by the explosions. His life jacket, and the walls of his cabin caught fire. He tried to get to the deck, but was forced back by the flames. He made a second attempt to get through to the deck, which by now was covered in water. Water rushed down the companion way and filled the compartment where Outridge was located. He hit his head on the beams, but managed to find a pocket of air and made his way up to the deck. He got caught in some ropes, but managed to escape. Outridge boarded a loose raft and luckily a medical kit surfaced alongside him. He was assisted in tending the wounded by NFX76584 Sister Ellen Savage, the only Nurse to survive the sinking.
Interestingly, Outridge did not save any of the items from the medical kit. Instead he collected a small piece of the life raft he survived on (below) as a souvenir.
Some of the medical equipment he used was instead collected by the Centaur's Chief Butcher, Francis Thomas 'Frank' Reid.
Reid was awake when the Centaur was torpedoed, as he had to get ready for work in the Butcher's Shop. Luckily his cabin was near the deck, and after the explosion he went up with his cabin mates. Reid had been unable to locate his life jacket before he went on deck, so while the other men tried to release a life raft, he returned to his cabin to look again. He located his jacket on the floor, while crawling on his hands and knees in the dark (sometimes the cabin was illuminated by the flames from the explosion) before returning to the deck. The men could not release the raft, so Reid jumped overboard with the Second Butcher, Frank Davidson. They managed to make their way to the main group of survivors, which eventually included McGrath, Chidgey, and Outridge. Reid's cabin mates also survived the sinking.
Of the 332 people on board, only 64 survived.