Kurylowicz - 316 Squadron - account:
“With the engine working flat out, the situation was now fully in hand and the FWs soon disappeared. I reached the French coast somewhere between Le Havre and Cherbourg, very satisfied with myself. ‘Very successful bit of privateering!’ I remarked. ‘Only get back to base now - nothing to it - and with what a photo! Never seen a picture of a Jerry falling to bits at such short range.
“I’d just reported by R/T that I’d destroyed a FW and was returning when the engine suddenly stalled. My hair tried to stand on end: the fuel gauge showed zero. There I was still over French waters, nearly a hundred miles from England.
Right: F/Lt L. Kuryllowicz. behind him, facing camera, is F/O Gora also a 316th pilot.
“The thought of turning back was rejected as soon as it came. No oflag for me! Not after all I’d gone through to join the Air Force. I contacted my controller, gave him the gen. and told him I intended to make for England and walk out if necessary. ‘Ops’ gave my position. I had been at 25,000 feet and, gliding along, was now about halfway across the Channel. ‘Ops.’ fixed my bearings and advised me to bale out when at grade five. That moment came all too soon; I told them I was walking out; they told me I wasn’t far from England and that the wait wouldn’t be long. I started to roll the crate over on its back. I was half out with the control column already out of reach when the kite returned to position and then dived sharply. I tried in vain to break away until, finally, my foot rested on something hard and I pushed myself out. The chute opened up and I looked round: no land in sight. I looked down: the toe-caps of my new boots had got scraped - I was furious. As I descended I tried to inflate my Mae West, but only half - succeeded, because the gas cylinder was nearly u/s; I hit the drink and was dragged under before I released the harness but after a few moments I emerged. The chute cupola was swaying about limply on the surface and before I could get away a huge wave threw it over me. I struggled desperately to get out of the clinging stuff as the waves dashed over me; just as I reached the open my foot caught in the lines and the now sinking chute began to drag me under. But I at last got away.
“My under inflated Mae West was nearly useless and I could keep afloat only by striking out with my arms. The waves kept on swamping me and slapping my face and I swallowed loads of salt water. I hunted for the dinghy-cylinder but time after time had to interrupt the search whenever I sank: finally I found it, but before I could find the valve, had to let go because I was sinking again. I swam on, choking and coughing, so tired out that every movement was an enormous, heart-breaking effort.
“Dusk began to fall. Around me 10-foot walls of water. Then I saw two Typhoons pass low overhead. They were perhaps looking for me, but of course could not see my head in the rough water - and it was dark. Despondency came over me and for a moment I thought of giving in. I shook it off, however, and again tried to inflate the dinghy but again couldn’t turn the gas on. I went under and had quite a job to get back to the surface. Stifling, coughing, vomiting, I was on my beam-ends when I saw a sea-gull hovering over me; she inclined her head, looked at me askance, screeched and flew off; probably she had seen more than one tragedy of this kind. That thought was the last straw; this is the end - this is how World War No 2 ends for me - the papers will report tomorrow:
‘One fighter pilot did not return’. A very curt, cold epitaph. I prayed: … and forgive us our trespasses, as we . . .‘ but I could not think of anyone who had trespassed against me and broke off. I thought of Lydia and said: ‘Well, little girl, this is where you become a widow!’
“That livened me up and I decided to carry on. I floated on my back and coughed up some water. The dinghy was dragging me down; I thought of jettisoning it but decided once more to try and inflate it. To my delight the gas cylinder valve worked this time and the dinghy assumed its proper shape. I laid my head on it, rested and gathered strength to clamber in it. This was done by slow stages; half in, half in the water; lying on my chest with my legs sticking out; then I turned over and finally sat up. Although I rested a long time between each operation, my head was swimming and I felt very ill. Sea-sickness racked me time after time. I trembled with cold and my teeth clattered away like castanets.
“I again began to feel optimistic, however. Getting into the dinghy was an enormous step forward. I fastened the apron, drew on the hood, and tried to warm my hands. ‘All I have to do,’ I told myself, ‘is to wait until morning. They’ll come along then and rescue me—they know where I am.’ True, a regular gale was blowing me away from England, and this was mildly disturbing. But they’d be sure to find me if they took the trouble.
“This more cheerful mood did not last long. The sea got rougher and stormier. The waves reared up ever higher, until an especially big one crashed down upon me. The dinghy was upset and there I was, under the surface, held upside down by the aprons, frantically struggling to get out and raging against the irony of fate, which placed me in this undignified position. After all I had gone through, with rescue certain the next morning! In the end, with my lungs bursting, I forced the apron back, slewed around and stuck my head out of the water. A few deep breaths and I got under again to free my legs. Finally I succeeded. After a long rest I righted the dinghy and again pulled myself in little by little.
“No more apron for me! I decided, and fastened myself to the dinghy with a long line. There was far less trouble thereafter during the seven successive times I turned turtle that night, although I was getting weaker and weaker. The torch wouldn’t work - a great shock, as I had counted on its light being spotted in the dark, better than the dinghy by day. I dozed off when morning came, still confidently expecting rescue. It didn’t come that morning nor that day, nor, of course, the next night. It was galling to see aircraft passing over me and not spotting me. I took off my collar and wrote my last message - wanted to leave some trace as I had very little hope of surviving.
“I started off: ‘Did not want to be taken prisoner. Baled out in Channel on Sunday. It is Tuesday today. Have been afloat for two days already. Can see many aircraft. Torch doesn’t work.’
“On Wednesday I added: ‘Can see land on the horizon. Am afraid will be blown away.’
Thursday I finished off: ‘Can see land
but very far away. Many aircraft overhead
but I’m not seen. Can see four ships.