This is the story of CNS Lady Drake one of five Lady Boats that plied the trade routes between Canada and the West Indies from 1928 to 1942 when she was sunk by a torpedo from U-106 about 140km north of Bermuda. Six crew members and six passengers were lost. The master, one hundred and fourteen crew members and one hundred and forty one passengers were picked up by USS Owl and landed in Bermuda.
The five Lady Boats were commissioned by the Canadian National Steam Ship Lines (CNSSL) in conformance with the Canada-West Indies Trade Agreement of 1925. They were named after the wives of British Admirals with a connection to the West Indies: Lord Horatio Nelson, Sir John Hawkins, Sir Francis Drake, Sir George Somers and Lord George Brydges Rodney.
Jack Bayley’s scale model of the Lady Drake
Below is a scale model of the Lady Drake built in 1932 by seventeen year old Jack Bayley with some help from his father Benjamin Bayley. At the time the Bayley family lived in British Guiana (known as Guyana post independence in 1966). Jack’s father spent most of his working life working at Government House, Georgetown, as a colonial administrator. Jack went on to set up in British Guiana a company manufacturing menswear, with about 80 employees. In 1974 post independence Jack retired to Barbados where he died in 1999.
For a period Jack Bayley’s scale model of Lady Drake resided in the office of the Canadian High Commissioner in Bridgetown, Barbados. The model was reconditioned in 1986. Today this beautiful scale model of the Lady Drake, built in 1932 by Jack Bayley, sits in the entrance lobby of his son’s house.
The Canadian National Steam Ship Lines Lady Boats
Of the five CNS Lady Boats, the Lady Nelson was first to be launched and left Halifax on her maiden voyage on 12th December 1928. She was the fleet’s flagship.
The five Lady Boats were almost identical at 8,000 tonnes gross, 438 feet length, 60 feet beam and were all built by Cammell Laird of Birkenhead, on the Wirral in England. The hulls of all the Lady Boats were painted white, which then was a relatively new fashion among shipping companies, and confined largely to passenger ships serving tropical or sub-tropical destinations.
These Lady Boats also operated as Royal Mail Ships so sometimes you will see them referred to as RMS. They were designed to carry mail, cargo and passengers. They were the pleasure cruisers of the day outfitted with great opulence to attract paying passengers. Unfortunately the Lady Boat service was launched and put into service just as the Great Depression hit Canada which affected their revenue earning potential.
Between 1928 and 1952 the Canadian National Steam Ship Lines, Lady Boats operated two routes from Canada to the West Indies, the:
- Eastern-route route: where steamships, Lady Nelson, Lady Hawkins and Lady Drake, provided a year-round service every two weeks from Halifax to Bermuda, St. Kitts, Nevis, Antigua, Montserrat, Dominica, St. Lucia, Barbados, St. Vincent, Grenada, Trinidad and British Guiana before returning by the same route to Saint John, New Brunswick.
- Western-route: where steamships Lady Somers and Lady Rodney during the summer months sailed from Montreal to Bermuda, the Bahamas, Jamaica and British Honduras before returning. During the winter months they operated out of Halifax when the St. Lawrence River was frozen.
The three Lady Boats on the Eastern-route: Lady Nelson, Lady Hawkins and Lady Drake, were fitted out with greater passenger capacity and lesser cargo capacity than the two Lady Boats on the Western-route: Lady Somers and Lady Rodney.
Three of the Lady boats were lost to enemy action during World War II:
- the Lady Somers was torpedoed and sunk by the Italian submarine Morosini on 15th July 1941,
- the Lady Hawkins was torpedoed and sunk by U-66 on 19th January 1942 and
- the Lady Drake was torpedoed and sunk by U-106 on 5th May 1942.
The Lady Nelson was torpedoed while alongside the wharf at Castries, St. Lucia on 10th March 1942 by U-161. Like the CNS Cornwallis the Lady Nelson was later re-floated and towed to Mobile, Alabama for repairs. Having been repaired the Lady Nelson was converted into Canada’s first hospital ship. The remaining Lady Boat; Lady Rodney served as a troop transport for the remainder of the war.
The Lady Nelson and Lady Rodney both survived World War II and returned to the Caribbean in 1947 serving the Eastern-route until they were both sold in 1953.
A selection of historical images of the Lady Drake
Our thanks to Jack Bayley’s son for sharing the photographs of the scale model of the Lady Drake built in 1932.
Additional Reference Material
- The Canadian Lady Boats
- The Ladies of War
- S.S. LADY DRAKE, Attack & Survivor Narrative by Eric Wiberg (nautical author & historian)
- Lady Drake hit by one of two torpedoes from U-106
- SS Lady Drake wreck details
- A sailing trip aboard the schooner Mary M. Lewis from Bridgetown to Georgetown – Summer 1939
- Torpedoing of the Cornwallis in Carlisle Bay, Barbados, 11th September 1942: 75th Anniversary
- Survivors arriving in Barbados in May 1942 from ships sunk by German U-Boats
- SS Quaker City. Torpedoed 18th May 1942. The story of John Heller