Welcome to the Orihuela Costa and District Branch of The Royal British Legion
RECOLLECTIONS OF A WW2 HERO
Geoff Matthews is a member of the Orihuela Costa Branch of the Royal British Legion. He recently celebrated his 93rd birthday, with members, family and friends, in Campoverde.
Like many members of the branch Geoff has a tale or two to tell about his military service but one story that stands out above all others is his involvement in the rescue of dozens of survivors from the British merchant Dumfries, that was torpedoed and sunk by German U-boat U-322 south of St.Catherine’s Point, Isle of Wight, on 3rd December 1942.
Geoff was a Petty Officer on the converted trawler HMS Pearl at the time, and as such a particularly important member of the crew.
HMS Pearl was commanded by T/Lt. B.G. Barfoot, RNVR and in December 1942 it was serving as escort to convoy PW-257 between South Wales and it’s home base in Plymouth. All the crew were on deck as no one was allowed below while the convoy sailed through "E boat alley".
Just before 6am, still in pitch darkness, Geoff heard a loud explosion to the stern of HMS Pearl. He turned to see that the Dumfries had been badly hit by a German torpedo, and was listing.
The Pearl could not remain stationery as it would have been a "sitting target" so the skipper told his crew to take on board any survivors they could as quickly as possible, but not dead bodies.
They lowered a small lifeboat, a Carley float, and also trailed a net over the side of the ship.
Geoff and another seaman were in the netting with one foot in the water whilst holding on to the net with the other arm. All the while they were trying to catch the survivors from the Merchant ship Dumfries who were drifting past.
Geoff remembers one man in particular who was extremely difficult to haul aboard as he was wearing a flying suit with the zip completely open, resulting in it being completely waterlogged. All the pair could do was to hold him up against the side of the ship until the Carley float came alongside and hauled him aboard.
The survivor was taken into Geoff’s galley while another survivor from the Dumfries tried to revive him, but unfortunately he died without regaining consciousness. Another man died in the Foc'sle where the sailors lived and slept.
However Geoff and his crewmates managed to rescue 41 crew members, eight gunners and two passengers, while another trawler rescued a further 40. All of the survivors were mostly covered in oil.
Just two hours after the incident HMS Pearl was back in harbour and as it had been covered in oil from the sailors plucked out of the sea the crew members were granted 3 weeks leave while the ship was cleaned up.
As far as Geoff recalls, apart from the two sailors who died, all of the men rescued survived their experience.
Geoff, who is circled in the photo of the ships crew below, said that he was sure that he felt the presence of God during his rescue experience as the sea was normally very stormy at that time of year, but while they were working hard to pick up survivors, the sea was flat and calm.
Petty Officer Geoffrey Matthews (LT/MX 100416) was finally demobbed in 1946.