The City Of Benares

  • Thread starter Michael Shetina
  • Start date
Michael Shetina

Michael Shetina

Member
Does anyone know anything at all about the ship City Of Benares, torpedoed during WWII while evacutaing children from Britain during the blitz?
 
I

Iain Stuart Yardley

Member
Morning Mike,

The City of Benares, an 11,000 ton passenger vessel of City Lines and under Captain Landles Nicoll, was torpedoed by the U-48 on 17th September 1940 en route from Liverpool to Canada. It was 600 miles and 5 days into it's journey carrying 400 passengers and 99 evacuated children.
325 people were killed, including 77 of the children. HMS Hurricane (lost in 1943) picked up the survivors. The disaster ended the British Government's Children's Overseas Resettlement Scheme.

Similar disasters can be found at:
www.iinet.net.au/~gduncan

Cheers,

Boz
 
Dave Gittins

Dave Gittins

Member
By coincidence, last night I saw on TV a survivor of City of Benares. She appeared in the third episode of the BBC series Their Finest Hour. Her name is Bess Cummings.

She was 15 at the time, so her memory of the affair was good. She was very eager to go to Canada. She had the idea that it was close to the US and the wonders of Hollywood. She told how the ship left Liverpool, with everybody singing Wish me Luck as you Wave me Goodbye. The ship was in its normal passenger-carrying form and she recalled the younger children playing in a playroom that included a very large rocking horse. The food was amazing to somebody used to wartime rations. She especially recalled the giant slices of ham, of which she was very fond. She was supposed to look after her young brother, but he was sent to the other side of the ship, as the girls had one side and the boys the other.

After a few days, the ship ran into a heavy gale and the children were sent below. Most were asleep when the ship was torpedoed at about 10-30 p.m. Somebody grabbed her and dragged her to the boat deck. By then, the ship was listing badly and she was thrown into a lifeboat. The boat was soon filled and lowered but it soon capsized. When she surfaced, she was close to the boat and she managed to climb on and hang onto the keel. She noticed the rocking horse bobbing on the waves nearby. Another girl of about the same age joined her. They hung on for about 20 hours. Bess was determined to live to tell her parents what had happened.

Because children were involved, it was decided to break the rules and send help. The destroyer HMS Hurricane was allowed to leave a convoy and search for survivors, normally a dangerous thing to do with U-boats around. The lifeboat was sighted and a boat was lowered. Bess could hear the boat's crew cheering as they rowed and from the ship came more cheering. When the boat arrived, the coxswain had to prise Bess's figures off the keel.

The eleven surviving children were placed in the officers' quarters. When Bess had recovered a little, the captain told her he had a present for her and produced her brother. The survivors were returned to Britain, just in time for the blitz! The disaster put an end to evacuations of children to Canada.
 
N

Noel F. Jones

Member
Search for "Children of the Benares :
a war crime and its victims"

Author: Barker, Ralph,
Publication: London : Methuen, 1987
OCLC member libraries worldwide: 26

Also

same title and author

Publication: London : Grafton, 1990
OCLC member libraries worldwide: 6

I think I'm right in saying the vessel was distinguished as the only Ellerman City liner to have two funnels. She was their virtual flagship before the war.

Noel
 
A

Anthony Cunningham

Member
I interviewed Colin Ryder Richardson for the book I am writing for the RNLI. He was something of a hero on the Benares and was decorated by the King for his services. At the time he was only 11. He is a charming man and it was a pleasure meeting with him.
 
I

Iain Stuart Yardley

Member
I bought this book at the Liverpool Ship Show last weekend. A terrible tale. Colin Ryder Richardson was the little chap whose mother insist he wore his red lifejacket at all times.
 
I

Iain Stuart Yardley

Member
Morning all,

W.D. Roberts of Avid Publications has asked me to post this message on their behalf:

The book 'Children of the Benares 'by Ralph Barker, which tells the
definitive story of the prelude to the disaster and its repercussions is
available from Avid Publications...they are on the web at
http://www.avidpublications.co.uk/benares.htm

Cheers,

Boz
 
Mike Poirier

Mike Poirier

Member
That is good news. I bought a copy years ago on ABE as it was out of print. It is a must for any ship buff's library.
 
P

Pat Winship

Member
I did a search of uboat.net, and found a very informative thread:

http://uboat.net/forum/read.php?f=3&i=4336&t=4336

A forgotten factoid of the disaster is that the ship was probably targeted by the last man on earth that you'd want to have shooting at you: Reinhard "Teddy" Suhren, the IWO of the U-48 on that cruise. Suhren had the highest percentage of hits to torpedoes fired of any submariner in history.

Pat W.
 
C

Cliff Mark Barry

Member
Just to let everyone know there's a documentary on BBC2 (UK only) tonight on the City of Benares, includes interviews with survivors and one of the U-boat crew

Ciff
 
Paul Rogers

Paul Rogers

Member
Thanks for the heads-up, Cliff; I would have missed this otherwise. I enjoyed the programme very much.
 
C

Cliff Mark Barry

Member
no probs Paul, it was a great documentray, some of the links on the BBC website give a bit more info as well

Cliff
 
Top