The Bower & Collier Family History

Research by Colin Bower

Sinking of the SS Britannia 1941

Book, A Voyage Around my Mother
- Published 2016

I bought this enjoyable book about the life of Mary Stewart written by her daughter Eleanor. Mary was picked up by the SS Raranga on 28 March 1941 and reached Montevideo on 6 April, 16 days after the sinkling on 25 March.

In 1941 Mary was travelling on the Britannia en route to India for the company, May & Baker. The book describes Mary's adventures (travelling through Los Angeles and San Fraccisco befoire setting off for Asia seeing some of the large cities in Kobe in Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore and Colombo before reaching Calcutta on 27 June 1941 to meet up with her boss again.

Of the 236 pages in the book, 20 are written about the sinking and a further 20 or so about life in the lifeboat.

I had hoped that the book would give the number of the lifeboat, but it hasn't!

The preview of the book on the internet had already given a list of names, which I have updated:

Ted Boddle, Army Captain
Mrs Harrison & Miss Phelp, Methodist Missionaries
Lt. Frank Parker, 2nd Officer, SS Britannia
Billy, Her Goanese Steward
Captain Robert Starr, SS Raranga
Lady Effie Millington-Drake wife of the British Ambassador, Montevideo

BBC Announcement

The first surprise was a preface to the book in the form of a BBC Announcement about the sinking:

The British Broadcasting Corporation
Broadcasting House, London, W1

"Extract from the News Sunday 15 June 1941 9.00 a.m.

Stories of the fortitude shown by British merchant sailors after their vessels had been sunk by enemy action are told in news agency messages this morning. Twenty-six survivors from the British steamship Britannia have arrived in New York after spending twenty-three days in an open boat. Forty-four of the survivors died after they had taken to the lifeboats. The Britannia was attacked by a raider with 6-inch guns, and her crew of a hundred, with three hundred passengers, crowded into four open boats. One of the boats set course for South America, fifteen hundred miles away, and the men were rationed to an ounce of water and one biscuit each day. The remaining thirty-eight finally beached the boat at a point on the coast of Brazil They were too week to walk. and fell exhausted on the beach. Eventually the British Consul made arrangements for the survivors to be taken to hospital. It is understood that, in all, about two hundred of those on board the Britannia were saved."

So the BBC announcement is concerning Lifeboat No. 7 rather than Mary Stewart's lifeboat giving the following statistics:


Crew 100
Passengers 300
Total 400 of which about 200 were saved

Lifeboat No. 7 that sailed to Brazil

26 Survivors reached New York
44 Died in the lifeboat

In a prologue to the book, the author adds her own summary:


285 were rescued
over 200 perished
485 Total

Other Content of Book

There is other interesting information about the sinking in the book:
- the Britannia had mainly Goanese crew.
- the wording of Captain's announcement over the tannoy
- several boats on the port side had been damaged
- Lifeboat No. 1 was damaged and some people made their way to other lifeboats
- her lifeboat had 56 occupants including Roman Catholic priests
- after launching  3-4 other lifeboats bobbed up and down beside Mary Stewart's lifeboat
- one of the other lifeboat was crowded with nurses (Dr Miller's lifeboat, the occupants of which were rescued by the Bachi)
- Mary saw the Thor pick up the one survivor they rescued

They were rescued on Day 4 (28 March 1941). The Captain of the Raranga said that he could have picked them up the day before but he wanted to make sure that it wasn't a trap.

Colin Bower
26 October 2020

Link to:
Britannia Index

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