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 fom 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.australiansatwar.gov.au/stories/stories_war=W2_id=248.html

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

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

www.benson-village.co.uk/gallery/1721571

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 Sturgeon who commanded Dad's lifeboat and the other servicemen interned in Tenerife. I have tried to make amends by adding:

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

Commander Sturgeon

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!

Things We Wish We Knew

Colin Bower
2 April 2019

Links to:
Britannia Index

 
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