To put this occurrence in context I have to write some technical information. I have discovered that any mention of physics, people’s eyes start to glaze, so I will be brief and as simple as possible. Voltage is what gives electricity impetus to move along wires, across the ether, or, as in my case through the body from the hands to the nearest contact with earth. Current is the measure of the electricity passing, and mostly it is current which kills not voltage, A few years ago Sophie, my wife, who never studied physics, accidentally filled the works of her mixer with tomato soup. She cleaned up the mess, absentmindedly held an aluminium saucepan on the steel drainer and started the mixer again. The mains ran up one arm, down the other, through the pan and the drainer and to earth via the cold water pipe. She was lucky she only had a severe shock. She was receiving somewhere around 230 volts and all the current the mains could supply
It was on my second convoy when I received a rude awakening, a real shock to the system. I was brought from a deep sleep to a set that was as dead as a doornail, not a flicker, not a peep. It was housed right at the bottom of the ship in a small office about ten feet long and six wide. At action stations we were battened down, down there, as part of the system which cut the ship up into watertight compartments to avoid general flooding in the event of being hit. In time you got so used to it, it seemed normal. The set operated mainly at sea level, while we had another in an officer’s cabin mostly used to seek out aircraft. The ship was so crowded even the officers were not immune from their space being shared with some gadgetry and maybe operators on rota.
When I started to test, there were a number of simply translated signs and I soon discovered that a number of resistors had exploded, a feature new to me. These components, part of a circuit which transformed the ship’s voltage to one of six thousand volts, to operate the cathode ray tube and other sensitive bits of the Radar I switched off the power and set about removing the exploded remnants, but I did not get too far. Standing on a steel deck, in ordinary shoes, I touched the wrong end of one of the damaged resistances, and came too at the other end of the office, sitting dazed on the floor, being spoken to as if I was a hospital case in need of assurance. In the instant before I momentarily passed out I remember that every joint, from neck to ankle, felt as if each had been brutally pulled apart at the same time and twanged together again, as if made of elastic like a child’s doll. I was so dazed, I went back to the set and committed the same act all over again with the same result, except, this time, I had the shakes added to the blinding headache and pains in my joints from the second encounter. I sat there and took stock. It was then I realised that some of the components, the huge smoothing-condensers, sort of electrical storage tanks, still held their charge which the resistances were supposed to dissipate. I am sure I had received 6000 volts at least on the first occasion and nearly that the second time, but the current was small enough merely to teach me circumspection, not the rudiments of the harp – I should be so lucky!!.