Ceramic Survivor of Sinking

Mike Poirier

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Dec 31, 2004
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Does anyone know if the only survivor of the Ceramic disaster gaves his account after being rleased as a prisoner of war?
 

Mark Baber

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Dec 29, 2000
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Hello, Mike---

At least as far as U.S. based sources are concerned, I'm not aware of anything along these lines; this is on my "medium priority" list and I've made some, but not extensive, efforts to find it, thus far without success.

There's one aspect of Ceramic's sinking that I think is inaccurately reported in a number of sources. Haws' Merchant Fleets, Vol. 19, White Star Line, says that Ceramic's loss was "unrecorded for many months" and Kludas' Great Passenger Ships of the World says that the Admiralty did not know when and where she sank "until much later". Although I don't know when Ceramic's loss was officially acknowledged, on 9 December 1942, two days after the event, The New York Times carried an an Associated Press article reporting that Nazi radio had announced Ceramic's sinking the day before, and that "(t)here was no confirmation of this assertion."

MAB
 

Inger Sheil

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Dec 3, 2000
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I've long had an interest in the SS Ceramic - both in her pre-War career (Harold Lowe served aboard her in peace time) and in her tragic fate.

The question has been raised before about whether the one survivor ever told his story, and I think most WSL researchers have often wondered about this man.

A new book by Clare Hardy, SS Ceramic: The Untold Story, has been published. For the first time the sole survivor, Eric Munday, tells his story.

The author is herself the granddaughter of one of the lost, Trevor Winser.

I haven't yet read the book myself (am hastening over to put in an order, however!) but it was brought to my attention by someone in the Australian academic community who has an interest in the ship because of her Australian connections (many of the 655 casualties were Australian).

Information can be found here:

http://ssceramic.co.uk/

[MAB - couldn't post this in the pre-existing Ceramic thread, but you may want to lob it over there!]
 
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Linda Sherlock

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Thank you Inger, for the information about the book on SS Ceramic's fate. I have ordered a copy today and I am looking forward to reading an account of the tragic loss.
 

Clare Hardy

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May 17, 2006
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Inger let me know about this website, and I have signed up today. I am Clare Hardy, the author of the book. Or maybe I should say "compiler" as it is made up mainly of first-hand accounts rather than narrative, which really gives a flavour of life on board throughout the 30-year period.

My grandfather was one of the 655 casualties, which is how I met Eric Munday. Eric's diary and letters fill a gap in recorded history. Eric and I also went to Germany in 2001 to meet the remaining crew of U-515 and hear their version of events. Their stories are recorded in the book. There is also a 70-page section listing the casualties, taken from various original documents. The book totals 572 pages and there are over 200 black and white photos and illustrations.

I have priced the book at cost, because I didn't think it right to profit from a tragedy and a book that is primarily commemorative. I have printed 600 copies initially, and I have a limited number of books that have been signed by Eric Munday for those "first off the blocks"! Ordering details are on my website. It isn't available anywhere else yet, as it is privately published.

www.ssceramic.co.uk
 

Mike Poirier

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Dec 31, 2004
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That is wonderful Clare. Congratulations!
I will order a copy and review it for Voyage magazine. Can't wait to read it.
Mike
 

Clare Hardy

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May 17, 2006
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Michael, your signature reminded me of the following:

(When the torpedo struck, was it sudden?)
Eric: Oh yes, there were three before we got off, and then they told me, another two. You know something’s happened - and it was dark. From memory it was about 8 o’ clock - we were still up in the bar playing cards. And I remember one of the chaps we were playing with bending over scooping up the money and putting it in his pocket!
 
Jul 23, 2008
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Clare your book sounds fascinating and I have just popped a cheque in the post.
How super that you did all that research on a ship which most people know so little about. Many thanks!
 

Inger Sheil

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Dec 3, 2000
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Thank you for visiting ET to tell us more about the book, Clare. I was amazed when the notice of it came across my desk at work - we'd so often spoken of the near-complete loss of the ship's complement and Eric Munday's experience as one of the most significant untold stories connected with a WSL vessel, and then there was notification of an entire work dedicated to the loss! The more I learn about this publication the more fascinated I am - you're right, this is a gap in recorded history. The feedback from the person who sent us world about SS Ceramic: The Untold Story indicated he felt strongly that it was an important piece of previously untold, unexplored wartime history.

With your own profoundly personal connection to this tragic event and what sounds like a wealth of sources, both written and oral, this promises to be a most remarkable book. The efforts you and Mr Munday went to in order to get the other side of the story make it all the more fascinating. My order went in this morning.
 
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Linda Sherlock

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I posted my order to Clare Hardy on Wednesday 17th May and the book arrived today Friday 19th! I have only glanced at it as yet, but have already e-mailed Clare to congratulate her on what is a magnificent achievement. I am eager to read the book and it has been signed both by the author and the survivor of SS Ceramic, Mr. Munday. Although I have yet to read the book in depth, even my first glance through it is enough to say with confidence that I can thoroughly recommend it as a fascinating read and excellent value for money. Thanks Clare!
 
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Timothy Trower

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I've got my copy ordered, and am looking forward to receiving it. I guess this is one of the reasons that I like this message board -- I'm not sure that I'd have ever heard of this book otherwise.
 
Mar 28, 2002
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My copy is safey at home after an amazingly fast delivery. It's the next book on the list to read and just glancing through it, it looks sure to be a greatly researched book. Congratulations, Clare.

Cheers,

Boz
 

Inger Sheil

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Dec 3, 2000
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quote:

My Dear Boy was our all I feel I haven't got nothing to look for now.
quote:

I am enclosing his photograph, hoping that if you didn't know him by name, you will recognise his face.

Will you please let us have the photograph back, because it is the only one which we have...
quote:

I'm so sorry to have worried you in the first instance, but you see my Husband was my whole life and I'm waiting & praying that by some miracle he will one day come back. Your letter, & newspaper cutting with photograph, are amongst the few items I treasure most. You might have known him.
quote:

They were just newly married, he would be about 32 years of age when he sailed, and his wife somewhat younger...was of medium height, slim build, and fair complexion and wore glasses.
quote:

it must be a great work of sympathy on your part dear Eric to take on all the letter writing it is going to mean replying to all the anxious suffering people who are left in this world as a result of their dear ones being on that ill fated ship...only we who are down in the deep hell of it all can appreciate what you are doing & thank you with all our hearts.
I've been researching and writing about maritime history for quite a few years now. Because of the nature of my work, many books about ships and the people connected with them cross my desk. Quite a few of these deal with the more tragic aspects of maritime history - even outside my obvious interest in the Titanic and Lusitania.

I can't remember a time when a book has moved me more than SS Ceramic: The Untold Story. And I've barely arrived at the WWII chapters.

The book arrived yesterday (Tuesday in Oz time - note that I put my order in for the book last Thursday...what incredibly swift dispatch, and not even an express request! The entire ordering process went without a hitch, and the book was well packaged). The first impression was extremely positive - cover design and layouts were all excellent.

I had intended to read it start to finish, but as I chatted to the family I flipped through the pages and my eye caught the section dealing with the letter after letter after letter written to Eric Munday from those seeking information on what had happened. The above quotes were chosen at random, and can hardly give an idea of the cumulative effect of these wrenchingly painful requests for information on loved ones. What an extraordinary burden to place on one man, the sole survivor...and what an extraordinary man to rise to that burden and try to give whatever comfort was in the information he could provide. As Clare notes in the text, this book will now fulfil a deep need for all those out there who, for personal reasons, want to know what happened to the Ceramic.

But that's getting ahead of the story. I should probably wait until I've read it cover to cover, but the impact of reading this book is so immediate it won't wait.

It's the richest collection of primary source material imaginable, and it covers the history of the vessel from the time of its inception. In that sense, it's a wonderful ship history. It's also wartime history - I was so engrossed in the commemorative magazine produced by Aussie troops returning home in 1920 that I forgot the ultimate end. I was reminded of some of the stories from her troopship transport days of what my grandfather, a Gallipoli reinforcement, related of similar experiences. Then those wonderful halcyon days of the 20s and 30s, when men like Harold Lowe sailed in her and she was known as the Queen of the Southern Seas - a happy ship, according the reminiscenes of those who knew her in this period, crew and passengers.

Documents, photographs, plans, schematics...you'd be hard pressed to think of a ship better served by a collection of material relating to all aspects of its existence. From interior shots to the ephemera to the people who sailed in her - all are well represented with the images reproduced.

Clare largely allows the primary source material to speak for itself, but she has arranged it in such a way as to make the story entirely coherant and comprehensible. Her linking narrative, when she has used it, is clear, lucid and is itself engaging.

I have no hesitation in suggesting that this is one of the most powerful and comprehensive of books ever written about a White Star Line ship and the stories connected with it - and I'm including the popular culture giant Titanic in that assessment.​
 

Pat Winship

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May 8, 2001
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From the "Other Firm"

On 26 Nov, 1942, the Ceramic (Master Herbert Charles Elford) left Liverpool in convoy ON-149 with 264 crew members, 14 gunners, 244 military and naval passengers (mostly nurses of the Queen Alexandra´s Imperial Military Nursing Service) and 133 fare paying passengers in 1st class, among them 12 children. On 2 December, the convoy was dispersed and she began sailing independently as routed.
Just at Midnight on 6/7 December, the Ceramic was hit by one torpedo from U-515 west of the Azores. On action stations were sounded and two or three minutes later two more torpedoes struck the engine room below the waterline. The engines stopped and the vessel was plunged into darkness. There was very little panic among the passengers and the crew launched approximately eight full loaden lifeboats. Despite of the cold weather, the rough seas and the poor visibility in the darkness. The Ceramic stayed afloat and three hours later U-515 hit the ship with two more torpedoes, which broke her in two and she sank immediately.
By this time, the sea was very rough and it was raining. The lifeboats were becoming swamped and needed continual bailing out. Some lifeboats capsized and threw the occupants into the water, so that many people were floating in the water, supported by their lifejackets.
Henke reported the sinking to the BdU and was ordered to return to the site to find the master and to find out where she had been bound. At about midday, the surfaced U-515 returned. A lookout first saw a body, then empty life jackets and the broken mast from the ship. A lifeboat whose occupants waved to him was also seen. It was reported later that Henke was very upset at the sight that greeted him. At this time the wind had almost reached Force 10 and a storm started. The sea was almost swamping the conning tower, so Henke ordered his men to take the first survivor that came close enough to his vessel. Two men threw a rope to one of the men in the water, Sapper Eric Munday of the Royal Engineers, took him aboard and U-515 left the area. Other seamen in the area considered later, that this storm was one of the worst storms that they had experienced.

Sapper Eric Munday was landed at Lorient on 6 January and was taken to the POW camp Stalag 8B in Upper Silesia and remained there until the end of the war.

Pat W
 

Mark Baber

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Just a minor comment.

By the time of her sinking, Ceramic was no longer a White Star ship. At the time of the 1934 merger of the North Atlantic operations of Cunard and White Star, Ceramic, together with other ships that had been employed on White Star's Australian and New Zealand services went over to Shaw, Savill & Albion.
 

Clare Hardy

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A few points, regarding the article above, the Ceramic didn't have first class accommodation, it was a single class ship though quite comfortable; my grandfather wrote, "in fact we are in luxury". Also, Ceramic was dispersed on 5th December not 2nd December. In addition, the link provided above says the Ceramic didn't have time to put out a distress signal. This is not the case. U-515's log records their interception of the distress call, by which they identified the ship. The distress call was picked up, located and acted upon as on 9th December the Portuguese destroyer Dao and HMS Enterprise were sent to search for survivors, and the sinking was also reported in the weekly resumé of the War Cabinet.