by Captain W. E. Johns



III.                   ALF ROBINSON  (Pages 33 – 42)


“The castaway was given a little while to eat the best meal the aircraft could provide, and at the same time recover from the shock of his rescue”.  The crew of the other aircraft come over by dinghy to hear the man’s story.  The man is English and his name is Alf Robinson from Wapping.  He is eighteen years old.  (The illustrator Stead, must not have read that, as he appears much older in the illustration on the book cover where he is balding and bearded!).  He was a deck hand on a 1,400 ton ship named the Kittiwake, sailing from Cape Town to Hobart, Tasmania.  “The date was some time in January, from which it was worked out that Robinson had been on Possession Island for eleven months”.  Six days out the ship developed engine trouble and then drifted south.  Around midnight there was a horrible scraping crash and Robinson was knocked down, by the time he picked himself up he was neck deep in water.  “I reckon the poor old Kittiwake must’ve tore her bottom clean off on a lump of ice” surmised Robinson sadly.  He could hear the skipper shouting every man for himself and he didn’t think there was time for any boats to get away.  He found a boat hanging by the stern and slashed the rope with his knife and the boat landed in the water the right way up.  “Lucky!  Not arf I wasn’t,” declared Robinson.  “You see,” he added naively, “I can’t swim a blooming stroke”.  (“Lucky!  Not ‘arf I wasn’t,” declared Robinson.  “You see,” he added naively, “I can’t swim a blooming stroke” is the illustration opposite page 30).  The ship sank and without oars he floated in the boat for three days and nights before it hit a rock and sank.  Robinson scrambled out onto the rock and found himself at the bottom of a cliff, but he was able to climb to the top.  He found a notice board painted with the words “Food Depot in Cave One Mile East.  Cairn marks Spot.  H.M.S. Pelican, 1899”.  Robinson made the cave his home even though the food was pretty rotten but “there was paraffin, matches, fish’ooks and lines and medicines”.  There was also “fags and tobacco”.  Seeing other islands in the distance, Robinson hoped other shipmates had made it to safety as well.  Robinson continued with his story, saying that after about four or five months he saw a submarine at his island and running towards it, he slipped and fell, striking his head and knocking himself unconscious and injuring his ankle.  When he came round, the submarine had gone and he found another man on the island, called Willy, a German who could speak English.  Willy was dying with consumption and six weeks later, he did in fact die.  Robinson says his shipmates put Willy ashore from the submarine and left him to die as they didn’t want to catch his disease.  They left him some food and told him they would be back for him later, when he was better, although Willy knew that wasn’t true.  The submarine was a Russian one, not a German one.  Willy had served on Hitler’s U-boats during the Second World War and afterwards was well paid to work on a Russian submarine.  Willy had told Robinson that they were on a secret mission, stopping at two or three islands, including ones at the tip of South America.  People who were not part of the sub’s regular crew were always the ones to go ashore.  The submarine was refuelled by a Russian whaler at Hog Island, where they now are.  When Willy got sick, he was initially put in the sick bay, then put ashore for “fresh air”.  Ginger asks “What I don’t understand is this.  Why didn’t they leave him here on Hog Island?  Why take him over to Possession?”  No one has the answer to that.  “They had a reason, you may be sure of that,” said Biggles.  Biggles says they need to get back and he might have to go back to London to report in person what they have learned.