First printed in the Herald on March 27, 1942.

After having been adrift for 12 days in the Atlantic in an open lifeboat, from which he and eight companions were finally rescued by an American seaplane, William McMillan, 13 Hill Street, Ardrossan, has just returned home, apparently little the worse for his ordeal.

Mr McMillan was one of eight Ardrossan and Saltcoats members of the crew of a tanker which was twice torpedoed and then shelled by a submarine, and the other seven are missing. The missing Ardrossan and Saltcoats men are: David McCubbin, 53 Kilmahew Street, Roderick Brown, 49 Princes Street, Francis McQuade, 174 Glasgow Street, William Brown, 14 Busbie Drive (Ardrossan), Patrick Shields, 18 Old Raise Road, William Docherty, 7 Stanley Road, and Alex McMillan, 20 Parkend Road (Saltcoats).

Out of a total crew of 50, only the nine men picked up by the seaplane are known to have been saved. No news has been heard of the remaining 41.

The ship was torpedoed twice. Though very heavy seas were running, the Nazi submarine surfaced and began to shell heavily the already desperately damaged tanker. The wireless installation was carried away and one of the vessel’s four lifeboats was destroyed.

“In the confusion caused by the shelling and heavy seas,” Mr McMillan stated, “ only six of us were able to get into one lifeboat. Forty one of the crew including the remaining seven Ardrossan and Saltcoats members, got into the other two lifeboats and three others launched a raft, but all of us got clear of the doomed vessel before the mountainous seas finally engulfed her. We were able to drag the three men on the raft – one of whom was the third officer – into our lifeboat.

“The officers, of course knew the exact location where the tanker had sunk and, as the destruction of the wireless had prevented any SOS being sent out, it was decided to lay a course for Bermuda, the nearest landfall. For 15 hours the boats kept together until the storm increased in violence to such an extent that sea anchors had to be dropped. When the visibility improved, all trace of the other two lifeboats had disappeared.

“Gales and high seas continued without interruption for eleven days, “ said Mr McMillan.

“During the whole of that time we remained soaked to the skin as a result of seas constantly breaking over the boat. Had it not been for the fact that the water was not particularly cold, I don’t suppose any of us could have survived. As it was, we were all suffering from exhaustion and saltwater burns. Luckily, until the twelfth day, when a rationing scheme was unanimously adopted, we did not suffer from any real shortage either of food or water. Whenever the wind was favourable we pushed on sail in the hope of reaching Bermuda, but currents carried us off our course and we had frequently to drop the sea anchor.

“On the twelfth day, the wind fell away entirely and further sailing became impossible. With food running low, we cursed what we thought was our wretched luck. Actually, it proved our salvation. Suddenly, in the far distance, we saw a huge seaplane sweep out of her course and head towards us. Had the high seas of the previous eleven days been running, she could never have spotted us as she had done.

“She circled round us three times and we imagined she was taking our bearings so that she could radio some vessel to come to our rescue. Instead to our almost incredulous amazement and delight we saw she was letting down her floats and the pilot made a perfect landing not a hundred yards away.

“Weak as we were, we soon had the oars out and drew the lifeboat alongside the seaplane, which took the whole nine of us on board.”

Subsequently, Mr McMillan explained, they learned that they had been even luckier than they had at first imagined. They were still 100 miles from Bermuda and the seaplane, which had been flying for ten hours, was slightly off her regular patrol course, and was heading direct for Bermuda when the tiny speck tossing in the waves, which proved to be the lifeboat, was seen and the pilot swooped so dramatically to the rescue.

Mr McMillan and the other rescued men were taken to hospital on Bermuda.