Sid Graham. A forgotten Bajan WWII hero (1920 – 2017)

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 Grahm - A forgotten Bajan WWII hero.
Sid Graham – The East End boy risked his life in the Merchant Navy, and survived a torpedo attack. Taken from the BBC TWO programme: Then and now: the Greatest Generation in pictures.

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

Details of the sinking of the Scottish Star sunk on 20 February 1942 by torpedo and gunfire by Italian submarine RIN Luigi Torelli 667 miles East of Barbados with the loss of 4 and with 69 survivors

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

Responses to “Sid Graham. A forgotten Bajan WWII hero (1920 – 2017)”

  1. I received this from Barbara Willson-Graham on the 30 April 2017. We extend our sympathy to all of Sid’s family.

    It is with deep sadness to inform you that Sidney passed away on Saturday morning. He had been battling a chest infection and sadly succumbed to pneumonia, he passed away peacefully in his sleep.

    I would like to thank you again for all the information you have provided me.

    My Grandad enjoyed looking at the photographs.

    with Kindest Regards


  2. Alan Walker

    Hello to Sidney Graham and his family, I have come across this article whilst doing some research into the sinking of the Scottish Star in Feb 1942. Although I’m not able to help with regard sid’s family in Barbados, I can say my father was one of the fifteen other seamen in the lifeboat with Sidney that eventually made it to Barbados following the sinking of the Scottish Star. My fathers name was Arthur Frederick Walker who sadly passed away in December 1979. I have visited Barbados 3 times in recent years, it is not only a beautiful place but a place that holds special memories for me. I have some photo’s of my father and various other people taken whilst they were on Barbados, contact me via the website and I can maybe upload anything of importance.

    1. Barbara Willson-Graham

      Thank you so much, I have seen the newspaper article and wow! was your father in the photograph? I would like to point him out to my Grandad. This is an amazing story and thanks to BajanThings and some amazing people I have found out some fascinating things.

      Kind regards

      Barbara Willson Graham

  3. James O’Neill

    God Bless Sid and family! From a Yankee Bajun to a British Bajun!

  4. Barbara Willson-Graham

    Hello, Thank you for this report. Sidney Graham is my Grandad and still lives in Custom House with is wife.

    We are desperate to trace Sidney’s family in Barbados and only know that his grandfather was called Thomas.

    Thank you again for the article.

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