Sid Graham was born in Tidal Basin, Custom House in the London’s East End in 1920, the son of Sidney “Siddy” Graham a seaman from Barbados and his English wife Emma an East Ender. Sid made it to his 97th birthday on 28th January 2017 and sadly passed away on 30th April 2017. Until then he continued to live at Custom House in East London.
Sid followed in his father’s footstep going to sea at the age of 15. During the war Sid served as a merchant seaman (stoker) on Atlantic and Arctic convoys.
At the beginning of 1942 Sid’s worst fears were realised. He was crossing the Atlantic on a supply ship, the SS Scottish Star, when it was torpedoed by an Italian submarine the RIN Luigi Torelli at 9.05 pm on the 19 February. At 9.30pm the the ship was abandoned and four life boats were launched. During the night the life boats separated. Three lifeboats were later picked up by HMS Diomede.
Sid and fifteen other crew members survived for 8 days in the fourth life boat as it drifted 600 miles towards Barbados where they were eventually spotted and picked up by the Bajan fishing boat Stella. The ship-wrecked crew had only a vague idea where they were as their voyage was a “special mission” and were unaware that the SS Scottish Star intended route was from Liverpool was to Buenos Aires and Montevideo.
Sid had never visited Barbados, the land of his father. He was more fortunate than a number of other survivors. At that time when a seaman’s ship was torpedoed his pay was immediately stopped. In Barbados Sid was looked after by his Aunt Dorothy for six months until a ship arrived to take him and the other survivors back to Britain. For the rest of the war Sid worked on special operations. He went to every invasion there was winning all the medals including the Burma Star.
While researching Sid Graham the original intention was to use a copy of the picture of Sid Graham and the other survivors of the Scottish Star that appeared on the front cover of Barbados Advocate on Saturday 28 February 1942. The copy on micro-film at the Barbados Library is of very poor quality as it is a copy of a copy. Below is an extract from the Barbados Herald of Saturday 28 February 1942 which contained the following:
The skipper of the fishing craft Elkana Goddard said that at about 2am Reuben Elcoak and George Griffith and himself set sail in the “Stella” for the fishing ground, they lowered away about 3am and after 6 hours fishing set sail for home.
When they were about 9 miles from land and North West of the Island they sighted a lifeboat with 16 men on board, some of the men were shouting and gave the distress signal with a flag.
The Stella went to them and enquired their nationality and they replied, English.
They took them in tow but with a strong current against them it meant much tacking before they reached Carlisle Bay where the Harbour Master Launch came to their aid.
Radio Operator, James Eve, one of the rescued 16, aged 41, said the steam ship Scottish Star left London en Route to a South American Port with general cargo when it was torpedoed 600 miles due east of Barbados.
The crew comprised about 79 men. Three other lifeboats were floating around with equal numbers of men in them, including the captain, but they had lost sight of them.
“We were in the lifeboats for 8 days” he said and sighted a light, supposed to be North Point Lighthouse, around 12 O clock last night but feared it was Martinique.
They sighted the fishing boat around 11 O Clock and were towed in.
[At this point the copy gets very light but it seems to mention Sid. A bit further on it improves somewhat]
… out from London when the enemy submarine sent them to the bottom with one direct hit from a torpedo, that was about 10 O clock last Friday night. The U-Boat came to the surface to see the results of its work and the crew took to the lifeboats.
Barbara Willson-Graham (see comment below) who is Sid’s grand-daughter sent us an email. She tells us that Sid will be 97 on 28th January 2017 and still lives at Custom House in East London with his wife.
Barbara is trying to research Sid’s family in Barbados. Sid’s father Sidney “Siddy” Graham was a seaman from Barbados and his Bajan grandfather was Thomas Graham. It’s believed the family came from Carrington Village.
When Sid landed in Barbados in February 1942 after his ship the SS Scottish Star had been torpedoed he was looked after by his Aunty Dorothy [Graham?].
If you can help the Graham family in the UK piece together their Barbadian ancestry please send us a message via the contact form and we will pass any information on.
We wish Sid and his family in Custom House in London a good health for 2017.
Our thanks to Jenni Munro-Collins the Heritage Local Studies Officer at London Borough of Newham, Heritage and Archives Search Room, Stratford Library who was able to provide BajanThings with a scan of The Newham Mag (VE Day special edition) All at sea in a battle for survival – 7th May 2005 that is used at the beginning of this post.
For Further information see:
British Ship Scottish Star Torpedoed – 19th February 1942. The story of Sid Graham, Arthur Walker and Michael Doyle. Three survivors of the SS Scottish Star torpedoed 600 miles off of Barbados on 19th February 1942.
The Newham Mag (VE Day special edition) All at sea in a battle for survival, 7 May 2005
The Motherland Calls: Britain’s Black Servicemen & Women, 1939-45 By Stephen Bourne. Chapter 2: Sid Graham: The Call of the Sea
Britain’s Greatest Generation. How our parents and grandparents made the twentieth century. Sue Elliot. Steve Humphries BBC
Sailors at War, the Call of the Sea: Britain’s Maritime Past 1900 -1960 Steve Humphries BBC pp119-121
Barbados Advocate, Saturday 28 February 1942
Barbados Herald, Saturday 28 February 1942
Submarine activity within the Caribbean during World War II
– Battle of the Caribbean
– Operation Neuland
– Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico Campaigns
– Torpedoing of the Cornwallis in Carlisle Bay – September 1942
– Torpedoing of the Cornwallis in Carlisle Bay – September 1942: 75th Anniversary