Pictures of the SS City of Benares?
April 27, 2010
In July 1940 after the Gibraltar evacuees were expelled from French Morocco, the British Government had no choice but evacuate all non-combatant civilians in Gibraltar to the London pending the construction of two camps in Jamaica. In September 1940, when one of the camps was ready it was decided to re-evacuate the Gibraltar evacuees from the London to the West Indies.
As you will obviously know, many ships were being sunk in the Atlantic and the Admiralty advised the British
I have carried out an in depth research about the Gibraltar evacuees for a documentary book and I would like to include a picture related to the sinking of the City of Benares in order to enhance the presentation and the historical value of my documentary book. Searching through the internet, I found your webpage and I would like to ask you whether you or if you know who has any pictures, particularly, of the surviving children for my research.
My documentary book is of a non-commercial nature and All the proceeds obtained from its future sale will be donated entirely in aid of cancer related charities. My research has been made possible thanks to historical information made available, free, by many historical institutions world wide. The bulk of the photographs that appear in the book were also very kindly donated by those who were evacuated and their families who have contributed with their personal experiences towards this charitable project.
Thanking you very much
Some notes and photos of children who survived the sinking of SS City of Benares.
City of Benares
Description: Aerial photograph of lifeboat from the SS
Britain's WW2 evacuee children to get their own memorial
They fled the bomb-torn towns and cities in their hordes
And now 70 years after the evacuation of 3.5million
The bronze artwork is to feature children holding hands
The sculpture, by Dutch concentration camp survivor
Miracles On the Water: The Heroic Survivors of a World War
Many thanks for your wonderful response to my request for
information and photos related to the sinking of the SS
The SS City of Benares was a steam passenger ship built for Ellerman Lines by Barclay, Curle & Co of Glasgow in 1936. During the Second World War she was torpedoed by the German submarine U-48 with heavy loss of life.
The SS City of Benares was part of convoy OB-213, and was being used as a refugee ship in the overseas evacuation scheme of Great Britain, the Children’s Overseas Reception Board (CORB). She was carrying 90 child evacuee passengers who were being evacuated from wartime Britain to Canada. Also aboard were Mary Cornish, an accomplished classical pianist who had volunteered as a children's escort, and James Baldwin-Webb, a parliamentarian. She departed Liverpool on 13 September 1940, bound for the Canadian ports of Quebec and Montreal, under the command of her Master, Landles Nicoll. She was the flagship of the convoy commodore Rear Admiral E.J.G. Mackinnon DSO RN and the first ship in the center column. Late in the evening of 17 September, the City of Benares was sighted by U-48, who fired two torpedoes at her at 23.45 hours. Both torpedoes missed, and at 00.01 hours on 18 September, the U-boat fired another torpedo at her. The torpedo struck her in the stern causing her to sink within 30 minutes, 253 miles west-southwest of Rockall. 15 minutes after the torpedo hit, the vessel had been abandoned, though there were difficulties with lowering the lifeboats on the weather side of the ship. HMS Hurricane arrived on the scene 24 hours later, and picked up 105 survivors and landed them at Greenock. During the attack on the SS City of Benares, the SS Marina was also torpedoed. Hurricane mistakenly counted one of the lifeboats from the SS Marina for one of the lifeboats from SS City of Benares. As a result, Lifeboat 12 was left alone at sea. Its passengers had three weeks supply of food, but enough water only for one week. In the lifeboat were approximately 30 Indian crewmen, a Polish merchant, several sailors, Mary Cornish, Father Rory O'Sullivan (a Roman Catholic priest who had volunteered to be an escort for the evacuee children), and six evacuee boys from the CORB program. They spent eight days afloat in the Atlantic Ocean before being sighted from the air and rescued by HMS Anthony. In total, 248 of the 406 people on board, including the master, the commodore, three staff members, 121 crew members and 134 passengers were lost. 77 of the 90 child evacuee passengers were also killed in the sinking, prompting the immediate cessation of the Children’s
Overseas Reception Board.
MARY CORNISH & S.S. CITY OF BENARES
In 1940 Mary Cornish was a 41 year old music teacher. She was on board the passenger liner "City of Benares" when she sailed in convoy from Liverpool to Canada on Friday 13th September. The mission was to take 90 evacuee children from the bombed cities of Britain to safety. This was a Government sponsored scheme.
The port remained closed for some hours before the Benares sailed. So whilst the ship was in mid-river and in contact with land the children wrote letters home. From these letters we learn that Mary Cornish had quickly gained the confidence and affection of the girls in her care. Her quiet but strong personality inspired the girls to help each other.
Four days later the City of Benares was sunk without warning by a German U-boat. The vessel sank in 30-40 minutes. The total disregard for the plight of the survivors horrified the civilised world.
As soon as the torpedo struck Mary Cornish tried to reach the children in her care. She groped her way through passage ways in the darkness, kicking, pushing and wrenching obstacles out of her way, tearing her flesh until she finally reached them. She found all but one - a little girl - and although the crew declared, "All clear below!" Mary felt bound to have another search. She was the escort for boat 10 and left an older girl in charge whilst she returned below.
The call was given to abandon ship. Boat 10 was lowered and the children ordered to get in with another escort. When an anxious Mary returned empty handed she was directed into boat 12, joining Father O'Sullivan and the six boys he had grouped together.
The lowering of lifeboats from a listing ship in tempestuous seas was a nightmare. Benares was in the open Atlantic more than 600 miles from the nearest shore and her escort had left 21 hours earlier. The sinking ship threatened some of the lifeboats with capsizing and many were lost. The shocked passengers believed the adjacent ships would pick them up but the ships' officers were under strict admiralty orders not to attempt rescue work once their escort had left if it involved risk to themselves. As the minutes passed so the sea became more violent. Still they hoped for rescue. At first the children responded to the encouragements of the escorts, but the cruel sea and low temperatures made them subdued.
Boat 12 could not be seen. Even the capsized boats were visible and buoyant, but not Mary Cornish's boat. However, because boat 12 was the last to be lowered and was the farthest astern, it was away from the currents which had capsized the other boats. Number 12, under the charge of 4th Officer Ronnie Cooper, was able to get clear.
Gradually a routine was organised. Rations were allocated twice a day. Father O'Sullivan said prayers, and Mary Cornish told the boys thrilling stories of lone exploits against villains and Nazis and survival against all odds. Mary massaged their cramped limbs and feet. They suffered constipation and dehydration. They baled but could not clear the few inches of water in the bottom of the boat. Then they began to hallucinate.
Ronnie Cooper was an unflappable 22 year old officer, but he had his problems with an overcrowded boat and only a handful of men with abilities in sailing an open boat. Cooper had been lucky in the men he had picked out of the sea. They gave invaluable help.
By Sunday the next of kin of all the children had been informed. By the following Tuesday the survivors' strength was ebbing. They were eking out the meagre rations.
At 1300 hours on Wednesday September 25th, their eighth day in the boat, they saw a speck in the sky which, fortunately, was an R.A.A.F. plane - a Sunderland flying boat. Soon it turned towards them but had insufficient fuel to rescue them. It signalled, "Help coming". Airborne for many hours on escort duties, it was sheer chance on their return route that took then within sight of the lifeboat. From semaphore signals from the boat they were thrilled to realise they were looking at 46 survivors of the Benares.
Details were passed on to another convoy plane. Fifteen minutes later a second plane was sighted and supplies were dropped to boat 12 plus a message that help was coming. H.M.S. Anthony dropped out of convoy to rescue them. Sunderland aircraft took photos. The following evening, Thursday September 26th they landed at Gourock.
Ronnie Cooper, assistant steward George Purvis and Mary Cornish were all decorated for bravery.
Other information re Mary Cornish from the Public Record Office.
Accounts of Miss Cornish's heroism MT 9/3461/M15184/40
List of survivors and their present position as at 10-10-1940. Mary's address is given as: Forest Hill Hydro, Aberfoyle ( her sister and brother-in-law's address) DO 131/20
Numbers on board Benares:
209 crew (43 Europeans, the rest Lascars)
No 1 overturned by the sinking ship, most occupants died
134 passengers died - 57 adults & 77 children
121 crew died - 20 Europeans, 101 Indians ( many of these committed suicide)
City of Benares
Description: Aerial photograph of lifeboat from the SS City of Benares. The passenger liner was carrying children being evacuated from Britain to Canada when it was sunk in a U-Boat attack on the convoy in which it was travelling. Only 13 of the 90 children on board survived and government evacuation of children to the Dominions such as Canada, New Zealand and Australia (the CORB scheme) immediately ceased.
Britain's WW2 evacuee children to get their own memorial at last.
They fled the bomb-torn towns and cities in their hordes to start new lives with strangers in the country for the duration of the Second World War.
And now 70 years after the evacuation of 3.5million children, the first national memorial commemorating one of Britain's biggest ever social upheavals is planned for outside St Paul's Cathedral.
The bronze artwork is to feature children holding hands with gas masks and luggage labels round their necks, but facing in different directions as they leave home to escape their Blitz-ravaged homes.
Poignant: A detail of the proposed evacuees memorial that will stand outside St Paul's Cathedral
The sculpture, by Dutch concentration camp survivor Maurice Blik, aims to 'symbolise the bewilderment, anxiety and uncertainty of children sent off to unknown and often unwelcoming destinations',
Children of the Doomed VoyageBy Steve Humphries
Four of the boys who survived: Rex Thorne (The eldest), Louis Walder (in dark sweater), John Baker and Jack Keeley.
Miracles On the Water: The Heroic Survivors of a World War II U-Boat Attack (HardcoverMiracles On the Water: The Heroic Survivors of a World War II U-Boat Attack.
Hope this helps you a little.
August 10, 2010
I have found your contact details on the Web. I am the daughter of William Henry Garing who was the Captain of
Regards, Pip Byrne
Thank you for that, we will amend our AHOY piece accordingly.
Yes please I would love to have your Father's account of finding the boat carrying Mary Cornish plus others, it
I have passed your E-Mail on to Joe and asked him to get in touch with you.
Yes I am in Australia, actually in Melbourne on St Kilda Road, my phone number is: 0395100128.
August 11, 2010
Hello to you both,
I'm not sure how much information is needed or appropriate - pleased edit as you see fit.
Rather than try and load lots of information and pictures here I'll just give you the links and you can see what you need/want.
Just as some background...this is something I wrote some years ago.
My name is Phillipa Byrne from Australia. I am the daughter of Air Commodore WH 'Bull' Garing CBE, DFC. My Dad was the Captain of the Sunderland from 10 Sqn RAAF who found the last lifeboat from the City of Benares and sent their location to the rescue vessel.
My father was not decorated for his finding of this lifeboat, however, I can assure you it was one of his proudest moments during his long RAAF career. It was much talked about within our family and friends during my Father's life.
As far as I remember all the RAAF pilots were aware of the sinking of the 'City of Benares' and my Father spent many hours 'plotting' the direction in which he thought the lifeboat would 'drift' given the weather and the current - many thought their fate had been 'long met'.
He set off from 10 Squadron on another mission, however, while returning to dock he took a longer path determined to find the lifeboat. At a critical point (fuel wise for the Sunderland) he found the lifeboat including the last survivors of the "City of Benares"...he has told us that he circled them three (?) times to let them know that they had been found. The water was too rough to land but I believe he dropped flares with a note for them to let them off when they saw a ship approaching.
It was then that he radioed back and the second Sunderland was sent (that dropped food packages?) I believe this was the one from
On the way back to Dock Dad found his flying boat in a critical fuel situation and there was much discussion within the crew of the Sunderland if they would make it back to land - they did.
Dad went on to be influential in the Pacific war against the Japanese and based in New Guinea.
I have inserted the inscription from a copy of General Kenney's book "General Kenney Reports" - it reads
My Dad was always proud of his work in the Pacific, however, I can assure you he was very proud of being 'influential' in the finding of the life boat from the "City of Benares" and their salvation. Despite leading a long life he never met anyone from the lifeboat but I know he would have loved to.
It was generally not known that there were members of the RAAF flying Sunderland's in those early days of the war - however, if you go to this link you'll read why they were there..
This link has a photo of Dad during those early days - he is second from left on the third photo down on the left hand side...
This was a story that Allan Stephens wrote after Dad passed away and has a photo of him after he'd retired in full dress uniform and medals...
Many thanks for your interest. I have a painting here which belonged to Dad and was painted by Air Commodore Stan Nicol (he took up painting in retirement and it is quite a 'naive style) - however, was always treasured by Dad and hung with great pride in our family home. You will find a photo I took today attached. We are in the process of donating this to 10 Squadron RAAF for the Crew Room.
Please be assured that I am not trying to blow my own trumpet or Dad's with this information, however, I have found so many sites on the internet that attribute the discovery of the lifeboat to the RAF and not the RAAF that I am just trying to set the record straight, so to speak.
Feel free to contact me anytime.
Cheers and regards,
At our URL:
Can you please add a post Script to include Pip's story about her Father, and this photo much later than when he found the boat from City of Benares?
Air Commodore W H Garing RAAF.
Update 27 September 2010 See also "City of Benares - RAAF rescue"