I spent a highly satisfactory fifteen minutes in the Shelter bookshop in Stockbridge just over a week ago, and came away with some finds, which included Doris Hawkins’s Atlantic Torpedo. The book’s sub-title is ‘the record of 27 days in an open boat, following a U-boat sinking’.
Once I’d read the slim volume (41 pages of text), I embarked on what @Dave_Lifelines (of Lifelines Research) might justifiably describe as “fanciful hogwash”. On this blog, and on my various War Memorial blogs, I’ve gone down this alleyway many times, as in this post ‘A very dear, polite, old South African regular’ but I am, perhaps, most proud of having identified the ‘Laura’ in the tattoo of a soldier on the Ham War Memorial. A case of unrequited love, alas—for ‘his’ Laura was to become the war widow of another soldier on that memorial.
With Atlantic Torpedo, I was less ambitious. I decided to follow up the bare details provided by Doris Hawkins—the individual’s surname, plus role—to find out a little more about that particular lifeboat’s passengers., using simply the CWGC database. By providing their full names and details below, I hope that relatives of the people identified below may discover this post and learn that this book provides a first-hand account of the lifeboat’s voyage.
William Edward Henderson, Fourth Engineer, Ship’s Officer. He was 23. He was the son of Charles and Eva Henderson. (p.23)
Geoffrey Charles Purslow, Surgeon, Merchant Navy. M.B, Ch.B, M.R.C.S., L.R.C.P. Dr Purslow was 26 and the son of 2/Lt George Purslow and of Mabel Beatrice Purslow of Chadderton Heath, Staffordshire. He died 19 days after the sinking. (p.29)
Lieut. Leopold John Tillie, R.N, D.S.C. and Bar, aged 23. He was the son of Lieut.-Col. W. Kingsley Tillie D.S.O, M.C. and Victoria H C Tillie of Westward Ho, Devon. (p.10–11)
31298 Squadron Leader Horace Rudyard Kenneth Wells R.A.F., died 28 September 1942, aged 26. He was the son of Horace and Annie Wells, and is commemorated on the Alamein Memorial. (p.18)
The baby, Sally was Sally Kay Readman, aged 14 months, of 31 Sharia Mohamed Mazhar Pasha, Zamalek, Cairo. Her parents are not named on the CWGC database. (p.7 and p.9)
Interestingly, the date of death provided for all those who perished on the voyage in the lifeboat is the date of the sinking of S.S. Laconia, Saturday 12 September 1942, even though it’s clear that many died considerably later.
Searching the CWGC database, by date of death, in order to identify Doris’s friend Mary, I found there were 468 names which I filtered down to the 19 Civilian deaths on that day. Fifteen of those were casualties of the S.S. Laconia. Mary turned out to be The Lady Grizel Mary Wolfe Murray, daughter of Captain the Earl of Glasgow, RN, DSO and the Countess of Glasgow, of Kelburn Castle, Glasgow, and wife of Major Malcolm Victor Alexander Wolfe Murray, The Black Watch.
There is more to Mary’s story and the clues can be found in one of the hyperlinks listed below for further reading, should any readers feel compelled to fill in the missing bits. There is always a fix for those burdened with insatiable curiosity.
Commonwealth War Graves Commission, https://www.cwgc.org/, accessed 4/3/2019.
Further Reading or viewing
Dimbleby, J., ‘Gloves Off: The Battle of the Atlantic’, https://www.historynet.com/battle-of-atlantic-laconia.htm, accessed 4/3/2019.
Hall, D.W., ‘Now is the hour’, http://www.nowisthehour.co.uk/the-story/, accessed 4/3/2019.
Hawkins, D. M., Atlantic Torpedo, London, 1943. Reprinted 1969, Bath.
Wikipedia, ‘Laconia Incident’, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laconia_incident, accessed 4/3/2019.