People say they’ve had a bad day, but Peter Carpenter can tell them about being at a low point.
He’s been in the freezing sea, his ear drums burst as a result of the explosion when the ship he was on was torpedoed.
Still half asleep – the attack came at five o’clock in the morning – Peter dragged himself up the wire ladder to make his way on to the deck, only to find the ship going under, tilting at around 70 degrees.
Dressed only in his pants, he simply walked off the deck and into the sea.
Within minutes he found a beam to cling to, and waited for an hour-and-a-half before rescue came. Even then his frozen fingers had to scramble up nets to get to safety.
“You hate everything and everybody,” says Peter, of Spalding, looking back at that experience in 1945 when he was in the Merchant Navy. “You’re the lowest of the low. They pull you out of the water and you are smothered in oil.”
Peter is 87 but the events of that day are still vivid in his mind, as is much of his service during ten years in the Merchant Navy criss-crossing the seas of the world as he transported everything from car parts and machinery to wool and lead.
He was young when he was torpedoed, with half the ship’s crew lost, and says he regarded it all as “an adventure”.
He says: “When you talk about the war, life was nothing. That’s why our attitude is, we just don’t care, here today and gone tomorrow.”
However, Peter’s courage and the vital – often unrecognised – work he and other seamen did in transporting equipment to help the war effort has been recognised more recently.
Peter was presented with a VE Medallion by members of the Boston & South Lincs Branch of the Merchant Navy Association from its chairman Roy Glencross, who says it was “to express our appreciation for their dedication during the war”.
Similar medals also went to members Ken Wilkinson, from Boston, and RAF man Gerry Lewis from Spalding, who belongs to the branch because he “absolutely loves ships”.
At the same presentation Peter was finally given a 1939-45 service medal, something he never bothered to claim for himself, so the branch did it for him.
Peter joined the Merchant Navy at 15 as a deck boy aboard SS Jim. During his time in what was eventually recognised by Churchill as ‘the fourth service’, Peter went on to become a junior ordinary seaman, senior ordinary seaman and ended up as Quartermaster.
Peter, who has children and grandchildren, says: “I was honoured to get the medal, and honoured to think that I was thought of.”