This is the story of Sid Graham, Arthur Walker and Michael Doyle – three survivors of The Blue Star Line SS Scottish Star that was torpedoed 600 miles off of Barbados on 19th February 1942. The survivors lifeboat was towed into Barbados by the fishing boat “Stella” on 27th February 1942. The sixteen survivors remained in Barbados for about 6 months until a ship was sent to repatriate them.
On 2nd February 1942 the SS Scottish Star bound for Buenos Aires and Montevideo with 2,000 tons of general cargo including whisky sailed from Liverpool with a convoy.
Ten days later, somewhere in the western Atlantic, the convoy dispersed. At 9.05 p.m. on the 19th February 1942, when the ship was about 700 miles east north east of Trinidad in position 13.24N 49.36W, she was suddenly torpedoed abreast of Number 3 hold on the starboard side. Hatches were blown off by the force of the explosion, and the hold flooded at once, the engine-room and stoke hold also filling with water within ten minutes. The SS Scottish Star settled fast, so at 9.30 p.m. the Captain, Edgar Norton Rhodes, gave orders to abandon ship. In spite of the heavy swell all four boats were safely manned and lowered leaving the ship when the deck was awash. The Captain, who was the last to leave, jumped overboard and swam to the nearest boat. Shortly afterwards, the U-boat (R.Smg. Luigi Torelli) came to the surface and fired five rounds at the sinking ship before disappearing on the surface.
The life boats lay to their sea anchors throughout the night, and at daylight on February 20th two boats had drifted out of sight, leaving only one in company with the Captain’s. He made sail for Trinidad; but that afternoon three of the lifeboats were sighted and picked up by H.M.S. Diomede, which had intercepted the Scottish Star’s S.O.S. The fourth boat, that in charge of the Chief Officer, Charles H Watson, reached Barbados on February 27th, after a voyage of nearly 600 miles as the seagull flies. They remained in Barbados for about 6 months until a ship could be sent for them.
Four men of crew of the SS Scottish Star who were in the engine-room lost their lives when the ship was torpedoed.
The above is taken from the Blue Star Line web page:
On this 75th anniversary of the sinking of the Blue Star Line SS Scottish Star we remember the crew in the engine room that lost their lives when their ship was torpedo and sank. We remember:
JERRY ARTHUR A. JOHNSON – Trimmer age 24.
HENRY DAVID SANKOH – Fireman and Trimmer aged 34 leaving a wife Admire Lucretia Sankoh of Freetown, Sierra Leone.
REGINALD SPOONER – Fireman and Trimmer aged 34.
THOMAS HAROLD COPEMAN – Fireman and Trimmer aged 28.
A memorial for them is located at Panel 94 of The Tower Hill Memorial which commemorates men and women of the Merchant Navy and Fishing Fleets who died in both World Wars and who have no known grave. It stands on the south side of the garden of Trinity Square, London, close to The Tower of London.
Last year we wrote a post on Sid Graham a Forgotten Bajan World War II Hero. In December 2016 we were contacted by Sid’s granddaugher. Sid Graham was 97 on 28th January 2017. He sadly passed away on 30th April 2017.
When we were putting together the post on Sid Graham a Forgotten Bajan World War II Hero we had hoped to lead with a photo of the survivors of the Scottish Star that appeared in the Barbados Advocate on Saturday 28th February 1942. In December 2016 Alan Walker contacted us. His father, Arthur Walker who died in December 1979, was one of the survivors of the SS Scottish Star. Alan contacted us to say he had a copy of the Barbados Advocate cutting together with photographs of his father and the other survivors who had remained on Barbados for about 6 months.
Below is a transcript of the front page of the Barbados Advocate from Saturday 28th February 1942.
British Ship ‘Scottish Star’ Torpedoed
16 Survivors In Barbados
For the second time within two weeks, the horrors of war have been brought to Barbados. The fist was on Thursday 19th [February 1942] when news was received that a Nazi submarine had slipped into the Gulf of Paria in Trinidad and had torpedoed two ships laying at anchor.
The second was yesterday afternoon when the fishing boat “Stella” towed into the Careenage a lifeboat with six-teen survivors of the Blue Star Line Steamer “Scottish Star” 7,224 tons gross which had been torpedoed on Thursday 19th [February 1942] about 650 miles east of Barbados.
These survivors were members of the crew of the steamer and although sunburnt, bearded and begrimed they were all in good spirits. The fishermen were out on their usual route and about noon saw an unusual looking craft with a small sail trying to attract their attention. They changed course and went to her. “Take us ashore, will you? We have been out several days!” and those who had gone out for their daily haul of fish became rescuers of men – men who had braved the danger of the deep and the harrows of war. They had been left to the mercy of the waves by the hand of the enemy but deliverance had come.
They reached Carlisle Bay shortly after 3 o’clock and thousands of curious and sympathetic spectators lined the waterfront to get a glimpse of them. They were taken to the Harbour and Shipping Master’s Office where they gave particulars of their ship and of themselves. Chief Officer C.H. Watson was the leader of the party in Boat No. 2.
Interviewed by the “Advocate, ”Mr. Watson said: “I had just come off watch and was enjoying a Bass when I head two explosion. It was very unexpected because I had thought that we were outside the danger zone. The submarine had cut across our bows. We had plenty of time and so I finished my Bass [brand of beer]. We had four boats which were adequate for the 72 members of the crew. We remained in the vicinity of the ship all night and when we steered due west for Barbados at 6.30 o’clock next morning, the ship had settled but was still afloat.”
“One of the other boats kept us company that day and part of the night. After that we lost contact. We had plenty of food and water and my only fear was that we might get off our course as we had no instruments and might land at Martinique.
The heat of the sun during the day was our only discomfort, but we were all in good spirits.
We sighted North Point Light last midnight but waited around until daybreak to make sure that it was really Barbados.”
The members of the party are all fit and well and are expecting their comrades to drift this way. [They were picked up by H.M.S. Diomede, which had intercepted the SS Scottish Star’s S.O.S.]
Chief Radio Officer James Eve said that it was about ten minutes past nine when the submarine appeared in the darkness. They could not see whether it was German or Japanese but they heard the explosions and realised what has happened. They took to their boats and all the crew got off safely. “We had no instruments but kept a straight course for Barbados. We had eight days of it and to-day when we saw this boat we pulled our sail until they saw us. They were very kind to tow us here.
I expect the others in the boats will soon reach here. [They were picked up by H.M.S. Diomede, which had intercepted the SS Scottish Star’s S.O.S.]
Twelve member of the crew are at the Admiral Grant Sailors’ Rest while the four officers were taken to the Hastings Hotel.
The survivors are:
- CHARLES H WATSON – Chief Officer
- JAMES EVE – Radio Officer
- CHARLES A TODMAN – 2nd Engineer
- WILLIAM HICKMAN – 5th Engineer
- JACK FOREMAN – Steward
- MAHOMET FAZEH – Fireman
- GEORGE HARDING – Fireman
- JOHN LOUW – Fireman
- SYDNEY D. GRAHAM – Fireman
- SAM ROBERT SOUKAH – Greaser
- ROY CHARLES – Trimmer
- MARTIN BOSSE – Trimmer
- MICHAEL DOYLE – AB (Able seaman)
- WILLIAM HART – Carpenter
- WILLIAM PLIMMER – Sailor
- ARTHUR WALKER – Sailor
Feb. 26 (C.P.)
A number of survivors from a torpedoed ship landed at Georgetown at noon today. Expecting more to arrive.
Below are a selection of photographs that Alan Walker has shared with BajanThings. The photographs are mainly of Alan’s father Arthur Walker who was one of the survivors of the SS Scottish Star.
The pictures of the groups are probably the members of the SS Scottish Star crew who were staying at the Admiral Grant Sailors’ Rest, located at 7 Bay Street, Bridgetown on the sea side. It was next to Stokes & Bynoe.
If you recognise any of the people in the photographs or their location we would love to hear from you.
Click on the thumbnail image to see an enlarged photograph with captions. If you can name any of the Bajan in these photos please contact us.
We received this from Helen Doyle in New Zealand:
You cannot imagine my joy at seeing those photos that Alan Walker shared with BajanThings. All I knew growing up was that my Dad had been in a life boat and that his favourite place in the world was Barbados. For whatever reason he would not talk about that time.
Putting the two together and with the help of the internet I narrowed it down to the SS Scottish Star as he was on the crew list. I was still not absolutely certain.
What is most amazing is that one of the very few photos I have of my Dad before he came to New Zealand is one that his mother sent me, which I now know was taken at the Barbados races. I could not believe it when I saw it on the BajanThings.
My Dad is Michael Doyle AB. He is the one holding his hat over the rail at the Barbados races and he is the thin one with curly hair in some of the swim suit photos. In 1942 Dad would have been 24 years old. He had first gone to sea aged about 14 years old.
After the War my Dad carried on sailing and met my mother on a passenger ship from New Zealand to England in the 1960s. My father moved from England to New Zealand after he married my mother where he worked as a foreman stevedore – so never far from the sea.
Dad used to say he never thought he would marry and would end up in an old sailors home. Dad died on 16th November 2008.
Helen Doyle – New Zealand
The Blue Star SS Scottish Star was sunk by the Italian Submarine Luigi Torelli. She was a Marconi class submarine built for the Royal Italian Navy (Italian: Regia Marina) launched on 6th January 1940. Torelli sank two ships during Operation Neuland (19th February 1942 Scottish Star and 25th February 1942 Esso Copenhagen). Below is an extract from Regia Marina Italiana (The Italian Royal Navy):
On the 2nd of February, 1942 the Torelli left for its first mission along the American coast, specifically off the French Island of Martinique.
During the crossing of the Atlantic, on February 20th, it located and sank the 7.224 t. British SS Scottish Star with the torpedo and the deck gun. This ship belonged to the “Blue Start Line Ltd” of London and was built in 1917 as the “Millais” by the Harland of Greenock and renamed in 1938. The sinking was given at 13° 24′ N and 49° 36′ W; four crew members were lost and 69 rescued. The Torelli later reached its destination on the 24th, remaining in the area until March 10th.
On the 25th it located and sank the 9.245 t. Panamanian motor tanker Esso Copenhagen. This ship, in service to the United States, belonged to the “Panama Transport”, and was built in 1939 by the “Burmeister & Wain” of Copenhagen. The sinking was given at 10° 32′ N, 53° 20′ W and one crew member was lost, while the remaining 38 rescued. The 10th of March, it located the British armed M/V Orari (10,350), but due to the superior speed of the target failed to reach a satisfactory position of attack.
On the 26th, it sighted the periscope of a submarine and, not knowing its identity, quickly disengaged. Later, It left the area and returning to Bordeaux on March 31st, where it entered the shipyard for routine maintenance work. During this period, CC. De Giacomo left the command and was replaced by T.V. Augusto Migliorini.
Post Script: See also: Sid Graham. A forgotten Bajan WWII hero (1920 – 2017). We were very sad to learn that Sid Graham died at home on 30th April 2017.