The Bower & Collier Family History

Research by Colin Bower

Sinking of the SS Britannia in 1941

Progress Report

Progress Made in 2004

Visit to Newspaper Library (part of British Library), Colindale

I was able to order in advance two 1941 national newspapers on microfilm and was able to obtain copies of cuttings about the sinking of the s.s. Britannia to show my father, which he found fascinating

Visit to Guildhall Library, City of London

Ships in the Two Convoys

My father would have liked to know the other ships in the convoys from the UK and on his return. I was given the convoy number for the return trip on the Empress of Japan, by the Guildhall but there did not appear to be any other information available.

Lloyds Lists

The Guildhall hold Lloyds List and other records covering shipping movements in World War II (including the sinking of the ss Britannia) which are very interesting. I ordered access to:

Voyage Record Cards 1941

Convoy sailing from Liverpool bound for Bombay

Convoy sailing from Gibraltar bound for the Clyde

War Loss Records 1941

This was a summary of information provided by the Admiralty and Lloyds List including the position of the Britannia when it was sunk and two ships who picked up survivors. My father was shocked at the number of crew and passengers who were lost.

Progress Made in 2005

Looking through my father's bookcase I found a book: The Secret Raiders by David Woodward, that I do not remember seeing before and have extracted some of the content:

Progress Made in 2006

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Progress Made in 2007

On a visit to the Public Record Office in Kew, I was able to inspect:

Update following visits to Kew and Guildhall

Progress 2008

Other Researchers

A correspondent recently told me that there were other web-sites about the sinking of the S S Britannia (on which my father was a passenger) in 1941, including some about the Goan crew.

Remarkably the web sites contained details of 4 or 5 people who signed a menu on which my father obtained the signatures of most of the survivors picked up by the Cabo de Hornos, including 4 people who were picked up from a raft.

One item that was particularly poignant was an account of another passenger who was picked up by the Cabo de Hornos and may have been in the same lifeboat as my Dad:

Sinking of the Britannia - Other Web-sites

Researcher in Goa

I was delighted that a journalist in Goa, who had collated extensive research into his web site, had been advised of my web site:

http://www.misquita.in/britannia/index.html

He was able to show the son of another survivor, picked up by the Cabo de Hornos, my father's account of the sinking of the SS Britannia including the menu which his father had signed:

The menu (i.e. the inside pages) on which my father obtained the signatures of nearly all the survivors picked up by the Cabo de Hornos

The journalist in Goa plans to write a book about the Britannia and may use some of the material that Dad and I put together.

Progress 2009

I was contacted by the grandson of one of the survivors of the sinking of the Britannia in 1941, who remarkably survived two sinkings. The survivor was in the Navy and signed my father's menu on the Cabo de Hornos. As a naval man he was interned in Tenerife, whilst my father went to Gibraltar and then a ship home.

Progress 2010

Lifeboat Number 7

A correspondent made contact to tell me that, some time after the sinking of the SS Britannia in 1941, the Yorkshire Post published extracts from the book: Lifeboat Number 7 by Commander West and my correspondent's grandmother had written to the paper to say that her nephew died in the lifeboat.

Tenerife

After Dad was rescued by the Cabo de Hornos, the ship made its way to Tenerife where any members of the armed forces were interned for a while.

On a second visit to Tenerife in 2010, Chris and I made our way (from the South to the North of the Island) to Santa Cruz where the ship may have been berthed.

On the seafront at Santa Cruz with the commercial port in the background

Progress 2011

Alf Warren

I was contacted by a correspondent who was the son of Alf Warren  another survivor of the sinking of the SS Britannia in 1941.

His father was the survivor picked up by the Cabo de Hornos who had been 5 days on a raft and was bitten by a shark.

I remember my father talking about this survivor. His son has begun to construct a web-site:

www.SSBritannia.org.uk

Spencer Mynott

Another survivor from the raft was Spencer Mynott who signed my father's menu (Column Six):

Father's Menu signed by the survivors picked up by the Cabo de Hornos

Remarkably I was contacted by Spencer Mynott's son who told me that his father had an account of his survial published in the Sunday Pictorial in 1960 and met up with Alf Warren:

Ten Little Sailor Boys - A Story of Survival by Spencer Mynott

I was able to put Alf Warren's son in contact with Spencer Mynott's son!

Launching of SS Britannia

A correspondent advised me of a Pathe News report on the launching of the SS Britannia in 1925:

http://www.britishpathe.com/record.php?id=24147

Amazing!

Progress 2012

Links to Other Websites

A correspondent made contact to tell me that his grandfather had been on the ill-fated SS Britannia and survived. His grandfather made the journey to South America. My correspondent drew my attention to some interesting websites:

www.bbc.co.uk/ahistoryoftheworld/objects/sIf-T5zlS8S7oxmHgLr5EQ

- using a "dipper" on the Britannia to obtain fresh water from a water vessel onboard the lifeboat

www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2010/mar/13/family-life-your-stories

- the story of Hugh who unfortunately didn't survive the taxing journey to Brazil by Lifeboat No 7

Others on board the SS Britannia

A descendant of a sailor who died on the Britannia made contact. The sailor's name is on the Plymouth Naval Memorial.

I was very pleased that a descendant of Lt A H Rowlandson made contact as my father made reference to him in his story:

"…….I learnt later that Lieut. Rowlandson was picked up off a raft by the Cabo de Hornos a Spanish vessel, and he and a French Baroness who was a passenger, persuaded the captain to continue searching. On Saturday 29 March, we saw the Cabo de Hornos lit up (which was OK as Spain had stayed independent) and put up a flare that was spotted by a lookout. We rowed towards the ship, which in turn made for our original position!"

"……I have always been grateful to Commander S.Spurgeon R.A.N. (as he was then) who kept us motivated in our lifeboat, the Captain and crew of the Cabo de Hornos who searched for and looked after us and Lieut. A.H. Rowlandson R.N. (his rank in 1941) and the French Baroness Des Pres who persuaded the Captain to carry out the searches. I painted a picture of the Cabo de Hornos which still has pride of place in my hall."

Progress 2012/4

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Progress 2015

I continue to receive enquiries from descendants of passengers and crew of the SS Btiannia sunk in 1941; some survived but sadly some did not.

Another remarkable enquiry was from the grandson of merchant seaman Donald MacDonald. Not only was Donald one of the survivors who signed my father's menu but stayed in the same hotel in Gibraltar as my father, waiting for a ship to take him back home.

Progress 2016/7

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Progress 2018

Survivor's Account by Donald Brown RN

A correspondent, who contacted me in 2009, made contact again.

He had written up the background of his grandfather Donald Brown, who survived the sinking of the SS Britannia in 1941.

He also sent me a long and detailed account of the sinking by his grandfather.

I edited both documents and made them available in this website:

This is an extraordinary story and includes:

- Donald Brown taking part in the evacuation of troops from the Dunkirk beaches in 1940
- surviving the sinking of two vessels
- picked up from the Britannia's lifeboat by the same ship that rescued my father
- not reaching a third naval vessel which was also sunk
- serving with Prince Philip
- being mentioned in dispatches in the Korean war

Survival by Donald Brown RN

Progress 2019

In 1941 after the SS Brtiannia was sunk, my father was rescued from a lifeboat by the vessel Cabo de Hornos.

The vessel first called at Santa Cruz on Tenerife, where forces personnel were interned, before going onto Cadiz.

We had been to Santa Cruz before but on 12 January we sailed into the port on the cruise liner Balmoral on my 75th birthday!

It was so memorable and poignant to dock there and walk along the front at Santa Cruz, which had seen major development since our previous visit and more was underway.

Celebrating my 75th Birthday on the Balmoral

The new concert hall alongside an old fort on the sea front at Santa Cruz, Tenerife

Contact with Daughter of Another Survivor - Dr Das Gupta

Once again an extraordinary contact!

The daughter of Dr Das Gupta made contact. Dr Das Gupta was in the lifeboat with my father and survived to sign my father's menu. Dad had written Dr Das Gupta's name and address in his tiny 1941 Diary and I was able to send his daughter a copy of the relevant page.

It inspired me to type up the contents of the 1941 Diary and pocket book that were amongst Dad's memorabilia.

Dad's Memorabilia

Dad recorded meeting up with the Doctor in Gibraltar and I sent a copy of the relevant page to his daughter.

Dr Das Gupta's Account

Dr Das Gupta's daughter sent me an extract from her father's account of his survival and return to India:

Dr. Das Gupta's Account

Amazing to receive another interesting angle on the rescue, after all these years.

The Missing Page

Dr Das Gupta's daughter sent me 2 pages that her father had kept. One bears the name and adress address of the Baroness Des Pres, which appears to be a hotel in Perpignan.

The other page is half of a different Cabo de Hornos menu signed by survivors. Even without the missing page, this is quite a find and I have summarised my findings in a separate page:

The Missing Page

You begin to wonder how many menus were signed by the survivors and whether any others have survived.

Service Personnel interned on Tenerife

I had not really studied what happend to Commander Spurgeon who commanded Dad's lifeboat and the other servicemen interned in Tenerife. I have tried to make amends by adding:

- a brief mention of Commmader Spurgeon
- an account by Jack Arkinstall and
- links to fuller details of Commander Spurgeon's distinguished career and Alfred Warren's full account.

Commander Spurgeon

Account by Jack Arkinstall to the BBC

Links to Other Websites

After reading through some of these accounts again, one of the most striking thoughts is that this was probably a scheduled voyage by the Cabo de Hornos returning to Spain and which only passed the area when scheduled to do so!

One of the other rescue ships was going the other way and took the survivors to Montevideo!

Progress 2020

Review of Website

I thought that I would review the contents of this research project and found that there were some gaps:

Examples

The book, German Raiders of World War II was not listed as part of Dad's memorabilia which came my way

There was not an article on the Thor itself.

There were inconsistencies in reports on the number of crew and passengers on the Britannia and how many survived.

Actions taken and planned

I typed a short initial report on the Thor:

The Thor

and decided that some time I would type up:

- Lt. Commander West's account & Lt Rowlandson's account (see below) -both in the book Lifeboat Number Seven and

- the relevant entry about the Thor in the book, German Raiders of World War II (see below).

Also I would read through all the paperwork and:
- list the various accounts of the numbers of people on the Britannia and how many survived.
- collate all the different references to the people onboard the Britannia (see below)

Changes Made

During the review I made the following changes:

- I changed the order of the "Other Websites" page

- I added to the Other Websites:

- an extract from an account by Dave Mathieson on the voyage made by Lifeboat No 7
- the extraordinary story of the Britannia's ship's surgeon Nancy Miller
- a link to Memorials to 127 people, mostly crew, who did not survive the sinking

- I added some more books to the list of Dad's memorabilia

- I added an article about the German surface raider Thor

- Changing the list of signatures of Dad's Menu from J. Wheater to J. Leach, as J. Wheater was in Lifeboat No 7

- Changing the list of passengers to 281

Out of the Blue

It is extraordinary that I still get the occasional enquiry and/or information from new contacts, after all these years.

When I updated the "Other Websites" page, I said that apart from the amazing photo of the survivors in Lifeboat No 5 and the extraordinary story of Nancy Miller, the ship's doctor, I had not been able to obtain many references to the survivors of Lifeboat No 5.

"Other Websites"

This was to change quickly when the son of one of the survivors brought my attention to an account of his father's experience that had been placed in the main SS Britannia website:

Thomas Caldwell's account

In his account Thomas Caldwell lists the 65 occupants of Lifeboat No. 5 by category but not their names. He says that 63 survived as against 51 previously provided.

He noted that one of the destroyers in the escort from Liverpool was American.

Lifeboat No 5

The survivors of Lifeboat No 5 were picked up by the Bachi on 26th March the day after the sinking.

They were later transfered to the Anchor Line ship Cilicia and taken to Freetown, thus avoiding internment in the Canaries like some other survivors.

Photo Album

I updated the contents of the Photo Album

Photo Album

Leslie Duck

Leslie Duck's son contacted me to point out that I had listed his father as "D. Luck (?)" instead of L. F. Duck, in Column 1 of the Cabo de Hornos menu.

It appears that his father was in the same lifeboat (No 3) as my father and also rescued by the Cabo de Hornos.

Leslie Duck was in the Royal Navy from October 1940 - 1946 and his port division was Chatham.

When the Cabo de Hornos went to Santa Cruz, Tenerife with the survivors, Leslie Duck, like other services personnel, was interned for 6 months.

Website: ssbritannia.org

I added links to the Personal Stories and Press Reports in the main ssbritannia.org website including the graphic story of survival on a raft written from 2nd Lt Cox's notes:

Rescue from a raft per 2nd Lt. Cox

Names Index

I completed a list of the names mentioned so far in this website and othe websites linked:

Names Index

There are a number of other indexes to be discovered.

Account of "Other Survivors" including an account by Lt. Rowlandson in the book, Lifeboat Number Seven

I did something that I have wanted to do for a long time and typed some extracts from the chapter "Other Survivors" which includes an account by Lt. Rowlandson.

Account by Lt. Rowlandson and "Other Survivors"

It is very valuable information but it does throw up 2 mysteries:

1. In Lt Rowlandson's Account

The Cabo de Hornos rescued seven people in Lieutenant A.D. Hunteer's waterlogged boat but I have not been able to trace his signature on the Cabo de Hornos menu (but see below).

From Lt.Commander West's account, that follows, it appears that this was Lifeboat Number Ten.

I would love to know the names of the other six survivors. (see below)

In Lt. Commander West's Account which follows

Lifeboat Number Three under Commander Spurgeon picked up Fourth Officer W. Leitch and two Naval officers, who had left Britannia in a small dingy.

They had joined a water-logged lifeboat in which were Captain Collie, the Chief Officer, Second Officer, Purser and Third Wireless Operator together with a number of others.

From Lt. Rowlandson's account, this lifeboat appears to have been Lifeboat Number Four.

There appears to be some confusion over what happened to the occupants of Lifeboat Number Four.

W. Leitch signed the Cabo de Hornos menu but we know from a list of  Memorials that, for example the Captain and the Chief Officer did not survive.

Memorials

It would be good to get some clarification about what happened to the occupants of Lifeboat Number Four.

SS Raranga

At present I don't know much about the survivors in the lifeboat that were rescued by SS Raranga and taken to Montevideo

Anthony Griffin

On searching the internet, I did find an entry for Anthony Griffin, Officer, R.N. who was sailing to Cape Town on the Britannia but rescued by the Raranga.

Some of the Britannia's survivors went on to have illustrious Naval careers like William MacVicar who went from Third Officer to Senior Captain and Ian McIntosh who became Vice Admiral Sir Ian Stewart McIntosh. Though none more than Anthony Griffin who became Admiral Sir Anthony Templer Frederick Griffith Griffin who ran the Navy! (Controller of the Navy 1971-1975)

A Voyage Around My Mother

Eleanor Stewart has published a paperback, A Voyage Around My Mother (2016), about her mother Mrs Mary Stewart another survivor of the sinking.

Reading the preview on the internet, I could not find the number of her lifeboat (there were about 56 occupants), so I  ordered a copy of the book!

Even in the preview, a number of other people in the lifeboat are named:

Ted Boddle
Mrs Harrison
Second Officer Lt. Frank Parker
Miss Phelps, a nurse and
The Quartermaster, not named

There were also some Goanese Stewards in the lifeboat.

(A quick look at the book reveals that the survivors were picked up by the SS Raranga and taken to Montevideo but the Lifeboat Number is not given)

Tower Hill Monument, London

I keep finding more websites that provide more information and sometimes a great deal. One such has references to a number of stewardesses who did not survive the sinking:

Janet F. Todd, Chief Stewardess (age 51)
Mary Bernadine Hind (age 30)
Annie Seatter (age 48) and
Sarah Struthers (age 48)

Memorial to Janet Todd

Their names also appear on the Tower Hill Monument to members of the Merchant Navy on the Britannia who died without a grave.

I must admit I had not heard of the Monument before and have typed up some information including the panel that has a list of 30 people on the Britannia who did not survive the sinking.

Tower Hill Monument

Memorials

Earlier in the year, I added a link to a website that has a link to a detailed list of 127 people who did not survive the sinking and did not have a known grave:

Memorials

I decided that it would be useful to have a simpler list in my website:

Extracts of details of 127 people who have no known grave

Tony Sangster, R.N

One of the names in Dad's Cabo de Hornos menu, that was difficult to read, was that of Anthony d'Evelyn Trevor Sangster (which I had read as Sangsta Ad'ET)

Fortunately, there is a reference to him on the internet:

Tony Sangster, R.N.

Tony Sangster was en route to Bombay. It appears that he was in Lifeboat Number 10, which the above website says had 52 occupants of which just 9 were picked up after 5 days by the Cabo de Hornos (In Lt Rowlandson's account 7 people were rescued).

Tony Sangster wrote a 180 page memoir of his service in the Royal Navy. It would be interesting to read his account of the sinking.

Casualty Lists of the Royal Navy and Dominion Navies, World War II

I came across a website: naval-history.net which had Casualty Lists of the Royal Navy and Dominion Navies, World War II:

Full details of casualties in website: naval-history.net

Under the date 25 March 1941, there is a list of casualties for "Britannia, steamship"

I have extracted a list with some of the detail that might be useful to researchers:

list extracted from website: naval-history.net

Fuller details are given in website: naval-history.net

Jean McClure Millar - Roll of honour for Civilian Dead World War II

Another website lists civilian Jean Millar, who did not survive the sinking:

Jean McClure Millar

Lifeboat Number Seven - Account by Lieut. Commander Frank West M.B.E.

I completed my look at the book, Lifeboat Number Seven by typing up some extracts about the convoy and the fate of the lifeboats:

Extracts from the book, Lifeboat Number Seven

I did not attempt a summary of the lifeboat's arduous journey to Brazil. There are various accounts available though Frank West's is the most detailed because he kept a log throughout and consulted with other survivors afterwards to produce a remarkable account.

German Raiders of World War II

I cannot remember a year like this one where I have continued to work on a project through the Summer.   Iin October with Covid restictions in place and the onset of Autumn weather, I turned my attention to another of the major sources, the book by August Karl Muggenthaler which includes information about the German raider, Thor.

The book was first published in 1978 and an editioin was among my father's memorabilia. The author cast his net wide to put together an account of the sinking of a passenger ship, albeit with a lot of forces personnel aboard.

The content about the Britannia is written from both the German and British points of viuew. He attempts to deal with the decision taken by the Captain of the Thor to pick up just one survivor.

The book is very useful in that I feel that I can come to a conclusion on:

- the ships in the convoy from Liverpool
- what happened to each lifeboat
- how many passengers& crew survived the sinking

I have typed up some extracts leaving out some of the upsetting and grisly detail:

Extracts from the book, German Raiders of World War II

There are a few names only mentioned in the section of the book about the Britannia but I have added them to the Names Index:

Names mentioned in the book, German Raiders of World War II

After all these years, for the first time I have come to the shocking and dreadful conclusion that approx 300 of the approx 500 passengers & crew did not survive the sinking. Taking all the different accounts of the carnage and chaos on the Britannia on 24 March 1941 into account, approx 200 did not make it to the lifeboats and approx 100 did not survive on a raft or in an overcrowded lifeboat on meagre rations (particularly in Lifeboat No. 7 and Lifeboat No. 10)

A sober conclusion.

Other Entries on the Internet

I am sure that there are still many websites to discover. Three examples are:

1. The War Dead of North Down & Ards

Entry for William James Canavan, who was a barber on the Britannia

2. Entry in London Gazette 16 December 1941

In the Supplement, there are 4 Commendations:

"His Majesty has also been graciously pleased.... to approve the following Awards:

For courage and fortitude when SS Britannia was sunk by an Enemy Raider in Mid-Atlantic:

Commendation (Posthumous)

Lieutenant Frank Mosford Lyons, R.N.R.

Commendation

Commander Stanley Herbert King Spurgeon; D.S.O., Royal Australian Navy

Lieutenant Arthur Haddon Rowlandson, Royal Navy

Lieutenant Richard Joseph Tadhunter, R.N.R.

Mr. William Frederick Morgan Davies, Warrant Shipwright, Royal Navy

Sister Phyllis Lucy Shipton, Q.A.R.N.N.S."

Beyond the Call of Duty

In his book, Brian Crabb has listed a full list of awards etc:

Beyond the Call of Duty

3. Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Their website lists 54 Civilian War Dead which I have extracted the names into an alphabetical list:

Civilian War Dead

Lifeboat No. 10

I put 2 and 2 toghether and have now the names of 3 of the 7 survivors from Lifeboat No. 10 and all 3 signed Dad's Cabo de Hornos menu:

Lt Richard Joseph Tadhunter, R.N. (see Note below)
Tony Sangster, R.N.
David Brown, R.N.

Lt. Tadhunter received a Commendatioin like another lifeboat commander Commander Spurgeon

Ian McIntosh and William MacVicar, who commanded Lifeboat No. 7 received MBEs.

In his account, Donald Brown said that he should have been in charge of Lifeboat No. 8 but he joined Lifeboat No. 10. Like Lt. Rowlandson, his own lifeboat got away before he could get in it.

According to this account, Lifeboat No. 10 took in the occupants of another lifeboat that was waterlogged.

NB Previously I had picked up that the commander of Lifeboat No. 10 was A.D. Hunter

A Voyage Around My Mother

I read the enjoyable book written by survivor Mary Stewart's daughter, which includes Mary's account of the sinking and the jouney to Montevideo by the Raranga, that picked up the survivors from the lifeboat, number still unknown:

A Voyage Around My Mother

Final Countdown

This year, I have made a concerted effort to develop the information in the website.

I decided to have a final stab at trying to reconcile the offical figures of 122 Crew Lost and 127 Passengers Lost:

Crew of the Britannia that were lost

Sources give the number of crew lost as 122, which I have wanted to prove.

I came across a list on the website, Ancestry, with 121 names including Mary Bernadine Hind, Supernumerary Stewardess and Steward Salvadore Carneiro . (There is a pencil note that there is one name on the list that was a passenger).

The list has been badly transcribed so I have not typed it up.

I have been able to reconcile the list to the list of 127 Memorials:

that I had obtained previously.

The reconciliation is 127 less 8 people (including 2 Priests) who were not crew plus Mary Hind and Salvadore Carneiro, equals 121.

So I am happy to accept the figure of 121 or 122.

Passengers Lost

Somewhere there is the calculation of 127 passengers who were lost.

I have the list of 54 who died:

and another with 69 services personnel (mainly Navy) who died:

There may be a few more individuals to identify but currently the total I have is:

54 Civilians
69 Services Personnel
2 Priests
125 Total

So I am happy to accept the figure of 125 or 127 and move on!

Progress 2021

Right at the tailend of 2020, I was contacted by 2 correspondents and the correspondence was completed in early 2021:

1. I was able to provide further information on a passenger, who sadly did not survive the sinking, to his nephew.

2. Incredibly some 80 years after the event, I was sent a copy of a magazine article, written by a survivor, Lt F.J. (Bill) Lansley (who appears to have been in the same lifeboat as Dad and signed Dad's Cabo de Hornos menu), by his son.

Account by Bill Lansley

80 Years since the Sinking of the SS Britannia

It is 80 years since the SS Britannia was sunk by a German surface raider on 25 March 1941.

Goan Journalist Melvyn Misquita marked the anniversary by publishing a poignant summary of what happened and the aftermath:

Summary of the attack & the aftermath

Things We Wish We Knew

Colin Bower
25 March 2021

Link to:
Britannia - Main Index

 
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