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Sound: the sinking of the Limerick, 1943

Audio file

Hear Allan Wyllie recall the sinking of the Limerick in 1943.

Born in Gisborne in 1921, Allan Wyllie went to sea in 1938 as a bellboy on the Union Steam Ship Company (USSCo) liner Awatea. In 1940 he joined the Union freighter MV Limerick as a steward and made several trips to North America and the Middle East. In April 1943, the Limerick was torpedoed by the Japanese submarine I-177 off the New South Wales coast. Two of the crew were lost, and Allan was rescued after spending 10 hours on a raft. He later served on other USSCo ships, and after the war he became a chief steward on the Cook Strait ferries.


Well, there was a beautiful moonlit night that night, and so I went – I was sharing with a mate a two-berth cabin, my mate was in there – so when I went to go to bed, I said, 'I don't like the look of tonight.' He said, 'Get into bed you windy bastard!' So I did, and when I heard 'bang' in the [early] morning, I jumped out of bed and lost my pyjama pants, and when I looked for my pants on the settee there, they weren't there, my trousers. My mate had jumped out and grabbed them, and he had them on. So I went out, and a joker said to me, 'Get back inside and get some strides on!' So I went to go in, but all the bulbs had got blown out, the lights in the passageway, and I walked in glass. So I thought, no way. So I went out. Anyhow, when the corvette picked me up the next day, a sailor gave me a pair of shorts. That's the shorts I've got on there [in the photograph above], you can see there, that's the ones the sailor gave me.

Did you grab your life jacket on the way out?

Yeah, that's the life jacket I've got there [in the photograph], see, it's like a waistcoat. My mate's got his life jacket rolled up there. He was the second cook, [Len] Malmo. My hands are wrapped up there. My little mate, Andy Gilligan, he was hanging over the side, and he said, 'Come on sport, you'd better jump.' He said, 'The screw's still going around.' One screw, we had twin engines, you see, one propeller was still going around – so I said, 'All right'. So I got on the rope, and I see him drop off, and I went down and I held on too hard, so I never realised [about rope burn] until later on.

Three survivors of the Limerick sinking

Allan Wyllie (left), wearing navy shorts and with bandages on his rope-burned hands, stands with other Limerick survivors in Brisbane after their rescue.


Image: Allan Wyllie collection

How to cite this page

Sound: the sinking of the Limerick, 1943, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated