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Newport's War Dead

formerly Newport, Monmouthshire, UK

 

City of Benares

Additional information below from the Commonwealth War graves Commission website

and also

The Armed Forces Memorial Web site

 

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SS City of Benares

 

 

Captain Heinrich Bleichrodt raises the periscope of his submarine U48 of the German navy and peers out into the darkness of the Atlantic. In the distance he can see the British convoy OB-213 which had left Liverpool on the 13th September 1940 heading on its 2500 mile journey across the north Atlantic to Canada. Captain Bleichrodt already knew which ship was to be his target and was only waiting for the escorting Royal Navy ships to leave during the 10 hours he had been shadowing the convoy. War honours depended on tonnages sunk and not the strategic importance of targets and his target for the night was to be the biggest ship in the convoy leading the middle column, the SS City of Benares cruise liner. On board this liner were 406 persons including the crew, passengers and 90 children being evacuated to Canada by the Children’s Overseas Reception Board (CORB).

U48

 Seeing that the convoy was now unescorted and deemed by the Royal Navy to be out of the war zone and in safe waters, Captain Bleichrodt ordered his crew to prepare for an attack on the convoy. At 23.15 hours he fires two torpedoes at the City of Benares and much to his dismay both missed. The tracks of these torpedoes were not noticed by anyone on the vessels of the convoy and it continued on its way completely unaware and without taking any avoiding action. Again another torpedo is launched and at 00.01 hours on the 18th September 1940 the City of Benares is struck in the stern.

 Mayhem breaks out amongst the passengers and crew with some passengers including some of the children trapped in their cabins by falling timbers and metal. 11 year old Fred Steels suddenly awoke with the noise of the explosion and with glass shattering and heavy wooden planks falling trapping him in his bunk. Another child in the cabin was crying because he had lost his glasses and there was no sound from the third lad. With great effort Fred managed to free himself from the bunk and along with the third boy, now wake, they manage to exit the cabin and make their way to the deck. Fred and one of his cabin mates, Paul Sheering, would end up in lifeboat number 12, they never saw their third cabin mate again. The City of Banares was evacuated within 15 minutes and sank 30 minutes after being hit by the explosion, 253 miles West-Southwest of Rockall.

HMS Hurricane

HMS Hurricane some 400 mile away received a message that the City of Benares had been sunk and was sent to rescue survivors who had been reported in lifeboats. Racing through heavy seas, it was 24 hours by the time HMS Hurricane reached the scene and immediately started taking survivors on board. One lifeboat in the distance was left as it appeared to be empty and from a second ship torpedoed, the SS Marina just after the liner. Little did the captain of the Hurricane realise that this lifeboat, number 12 contained  over 40 people including members of the crew, passengers and six of the children, all boys including Fred Steels and Paul Sheering and it was eight days later that these survivors were rescued after being spotted from the air and picked up by HMS Anthony.  There were in total aboard the City of Benares, 406 persons made up of 215 crew, 191 adult passengers and 90 children. Of these there were only 158 survivors and 77 of the children died this day.

HMS Anthony

 Many towns through out the UK were affected by the loss of the children and Cardiff and Newport were included in these. In Cardiff, the Came family who lived in Earl Street, Grangetown lost their two boys Lewis and James aged 11 and 13 years old and three other Cardiff children also died. Newport suffered many more losses, John Pemberton aged 10 from Queens Hill,  Roger James Poole aged 11 from Allteryn Avenue, brother and sister William and Anita Rees aged 12 and 14 of Caeperllan Road and perhaps one of the most tragic losses if that is any way to describe it, is of the Moss family from Graig Park Circle, Malpas who lost their three daughters, Aileen, Marion and Rita aged 12, 10 and 8 respectively.

John Pemberton

John Pemberton

 Parents in many areas of the UK lost their whole families in minutes as the City of Benares sank. Because of this loss, there were never anymore sailings of evacuees out of the UK and the sinking of the City of Benares featured some years later in the Nuremburg war trials.

 
 

How the South Wales Argus reported it

   

Front page               Story beginning               Story               Tribute to local children               Tribute to local children               Nemes of all the children lost

           Front page                    Story beginning                Story               Tribute 1     Tribute 2    Names of children

Survivors description

How it happened.

 

© Shaun McGuire 2008