Incident at Saddle Bay, Jost Van Dyke, 1943

During World War II, a German submarine torpedoed and sank a British ship in the Atlantic Ocean. Some twenty-six survivors boarded a lifeboat and after 21 days at sea, landed at Jost Van Dyke in the British Virgin Islands. Two had during the ordeal and their bodies were thrown into the sea. Their lifeboat had approached Saddle Bay on the northwest coast of Jost Van Dyke during the night. It was winter and the ground seas were creating large breaking waves along the rocky and treacherous north shore of the island. Their boat crashed onto the shore and several were injured, but no one was killed.

The men then made the difficult ascent up the steep hill to the high ground where islanders were preparing a field. The islanders fed them and brought them down the other side of the hill to White Bay and then on to the main settlement at Great Harbour where they were able to make a radio call to Tortola. The Queen’s representative on Tortola sent a rescue party and the men were returned to England.

The rescue at Saddle Bay as told by Olivia Callwood:

“We had some men working, up over yonder, up over White Bay. That’s another level place too; up White Bay Hill. We had some men working. We was planting potatoes. I went that morning to carry tea. You know you used to make tea, and make johnny cake from afternoon and get everything prepared, you make your pans of coffee and you’re gone.

Just as the men sit down, we look, we see some men coming up and we couldn’t believe it. White men! Staggering through the grass falling down, and we want to know what kind of thing is this? We want to know what these people get away from. Everybody stop now. They throwing out their coffee and the men, they kept coming closer. Those people came up and they start to give us the story. We ask them who they is and where they come from. And they was so glad to get the warm coffee! And then they told us how they came from under the cloud up yonder north.

They torpedo the ship, and they get in the lifeboat; and they don’t know where to go. They don’t know where they going.

What happen now, it was noon, my husband went over yonder in the ground to burn up the grass for the next morning to get the big potato rows; And those people was yonder under the cloud, and they saw the fire. So they said ‘as well we are nearing some land’, but they don’t know what land it is.

Boy, I tell you what pitiful bad those fellows looked. They had to pull (row) from the time the ship get torpedo, and they take to the lifeboats. Some went that way and some went the other way. Those what came by us, they had dead ones. They couldn’t make it, they just dropped them off the boat, threw them overboard.

They had nothing warm to eat, and for many days they was pulling from yonder coming. More then a week. Boy that morning we had to give them that tea and the johnny cake, whatever we had to use, and we had to give it to the poor people. And they was so glad!

Now I heard they come up from Saddle Bay. You know Saddle Bay was a grass place, nothing but grass. And those people came from Saddle Bay through all that grass, and they get right up on the level where we was, and we wanted to know how they get there. They tell us they saw the fire in the afternoon, the light from the burning grass while they was yonder under the cloud, and they told us they saw the smoke glowing. When the sun went down and darkness came they see the light and they steer for that smoke, and they keep coming until they get to Saddle Bay. It was rough that day, and there was ground sea, their boat got mashed up coming in.

We couldn’t work now! The work couldn’t go on! We had to leave now, and we had to try and get these people someplace and make reports.

Lord we couldn’t stop them from drinking so many coconuts! When they get down to White Bay and they see coconut trees and the coconuts, and we give them some and they could not stop drinking them.

And their hands! Oh Lord! They tell us they were pulling from the time they get into that lifeboat. And we bring them here to Great Harbour and get them fixed up.”

Rescue Saddle Bay told by Etien Chinnery to Ivan Chinnery

“That was 1943. That was the same year I went to the army. There was a lifeboat that came in over on the northwest of this island at a place we call Saddle Bay. At that time your father-in-law (Ivan Chinnery’s father-in-law and Olivia Callwood’s husband) had some men working over in the pasture. The men from the wreck were coming up the hill and they heard the voices of the men up there working.

When they met, they questioned these men and found out that these men were from a shipwreck. The men take leave of their work and bring the people down to Great Harbour. There were eight of them that had come up the hill, but they had left some men with the boat. So they take a boat from Great Harbour and went around to get the others. Then they took all of them over to Tortola where the government took care of them and brought them back to where they belonged.”

BVI Beacon, Thursday, 23 November 2006

After more than 60 years, a sailor who was shipwrecked on Jost Van Dyke returned to the island to say “thank you” to residents who helped him survive.

The Jost Van Dyke community turned out in numbers on Nov. 16 to welcome back Bernard King, who was shipwrecked on the island in 1943. Mr. King was 17 when his lifeboat drifted ashore on the north-western coast of Jost Van Dyke after spending 20 days at sea. Mr. King and 15 other sailors were rescued by island residents who gave them food, drink, clothing and shelter.”

Being here brings back old memories from 63 years ago,” Mr. King told residents at a welcome ceremony at the Methodist Church grounds. “I do appreciate all your kindness. I wish it had not been so long for me to come back.”

Mr. King was one of 70 sailors aboard the UK’s Navy ship The HMS Rhexenor, when it was torpedoed on February 3, 1943 by a German submarine in the Atlantic Ocean. The Rhexenor was 1,200 miles from the West Indies, and the crew divided into four 20-foot wooden sailing lifeboats. On February 23, 1943, Mr. King’s lifeboat landed at Saddle Bay on Jost Van Dyke.

Following Wednesday’s welcome ceremony, Mr. King and his wife, Francis, visited 85-year-old Francisco Chinnery in Little Harbour, who was among the party who met the British sailors when they arrived tired, hungry and parched on Jost Van Dyke.

Wednesday’s ceremony was organised jointly by the Jost Van Dyke District Office and the Governor’s Office.

St. John and Virgin Islands News

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One thought on “Incident at Saddle Bay, Jost Van Dyke, 1943”

  1. Very interesting story! Glad someone was able to make it back to say Thank You.
    As always Gerald, thanks for posting. 🙂

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