The Short (and Curly) Tale of the Submariner Pig

“…and pigs can fly…”

Everyone is aware of the phrase “and pigs can fly” or its many variants to denote a general scepticism about the possibility or one venture or another. Surely. Well, if not, here is a quick example.

Person A: “That nice Mr Cameron (substitute Obama, Putin, Hollande, Howard or whichever leader’s name is relevant) is going to cut taxes, end poverty, create employment and generally make this a better world in which we can all live in peace and harmony.”

Person B: “Yeah, right, and pigs can fly.”

You get the drift. Person B doesn’t believe any of this and thinks it is very likely to be the last thing ever to happen in the world, along with pigs finding their wings.

Funny thing is you never hear people say “and pigs can swim”.

Person A: “No shadow of a doubt, Tottenham Hotspur are going to win the Premiership title this year.”

Person B: “Yeah, right, and pigs can swim.”

It doesn’t work, does it. It just ain’t right.

“…no really, pigs can swim…”

There is, of course, a very reasonable explanation for the collapse of the incredulation (new word, live with it); that being, that pigs can indeed swim (although Spurs supporters please be aware this is in no way suggesting that the phrase “and pigs can fly” might not be used to qualify your championship hopes).

Now, I am not going to be foolish enough to claim to have seen pigs swimming with my own eyes. I was, however, fascinated while re-reading my father’s memoirs to stumble across a short account of an incident during the Second World War which included a pig and a submarine.

My father Tony Spender was the captain of HMS Sirdar.

On taking charge of Sirdar in November 1943, he and his crew had a fortunate escape when the submarine made an unexpected dive and got stuck in the mud on the seabed.

They escaped by the skin of their teeth and after operations off Norway, set sail for the Pacific on March 15, 1944.

HMS Sirdar: searching for pigs?

While based in Trincomalee – now Colombo – Sirdar engaged a number of enemy vessels, mainly Japanese

According to the excellent website, quoting Sirdar’s log, on July 18, she went on the attack.

“1814 hours – Surfaced in position 07°50’N, 98°35’E and opened fire from 1000 yards on a junk of about 100 tons. The third round hit. The crew meanwhile abandoned ship in their sampan. After 30 rounds had been fired the junk sank. Two more survivors were seen to be floating in the wreckage. These were picked up as well as a pig that was swimming towards the submarine.”

The entry questions the fate of the pig; “most likely it made a good meal,” it suggests rather forlornly.*

As it turns out, the incident was odd enough for my father to have given it passing mention, enough perhaps to clear up the mystery of saving the swimming pig’s bacon, and so I leave the rest of the tale to him.

“On another occasion we had a confrontation with an escorted convoy. We pulled two survivors out of the sea but the escorts were heading our way belching smoke. It was no time to dawdle. But in the fading twilight the coxswain espied another body in the water. He was insistent that we must rescue it…To our consternation the body turned out to be a pig. A PIG.

“I was all for letting it take its chances but not so the crew. So we put a girth around its belly and lowered it down the conning tower on a heaving line.

The crew of HMS Sirdar adopted the pig but it abandoned ship before they could get it back to port

“Down below nobody had an inkling of what was going on above. All was tense in the subdued red lighting, hands on the controls ready to dive on the instant. But they were startled by the shock which descended on them. The line broke and the pig plummeted down to the control room deck screeching blue murder. It had shrapnel wounds on its backside which gave the coxswain some practice in first aid sewing.

“The crew made a great fuss of the pig. Sailors always love a pet and it cheered them to tweak the pig’s ear before going on watch. My murmur of good fresh pork on the next patrol was not popular.

“Howeward bound with Trinco in sight the sailors took it on deck to spruce it up, ready for entering harbour. But it gave a weird squeal, jumped over the side and vanished in the sea.”

And so the pig, rescued from a sinking junk, a harbinger of good fortune and a morale boost for all on the homeward trip, chose not to remain with His Majesty’s Royal Navy but, perhaps suspecting that the carving knives were indeed sharpening, dived instead into the silken blue of the Indian Ocean; a case perhaps of preferring the Briny to the brine.

* Since this blog was posted, has altered its entry to expunge the suggestion that the crew of the Sirdar stuck the pig on a spit and served it up for Sunday roast.

©Barney Spender 2013