October 22, 2009
My family were living in England during the war having come from Canada in 1936 and of course unable to leave the country when war broke out. I had 2 brothers join the Royal Navy, 1 brother joined the army and was
captured at Dunkirk serving 5 years as a POW, and my sister in the WAAF's. Probably the only Canadian family
in England with kin serving in the three forces.
At 11 yrs, and my sister, 7 yrs, received a telegram from Canada House in London advising us to embark the
City of Benares in Liverpool on Sep. 13, 1940, fortunately for us the telegram was days late in arrival due to severe air-raids and we missed her sailing. On Sep.17. Benares was sunk 600 miles from the Irish coast with a terrible loss of life, including 77 of 90 evacuee children heading for safety in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
As a result our family returned to Canada intact after the war.
As a postcript I will never forget being in London on VE Day, May 8, 1945, a day of celebration that still rings
in my ears.
Ronald E. Elliott CD. RCN (Ret'd)
Congratulations on the majestic job you do with your hard work.
Thank you for your kind words about AHOY, I am beholden to my Web master, Terry Kearns of Atlanta, Georgia who takes my writing and research and turns it into what appears on AHOY for anyone who may chace upon our site on the WWW.
A history of the City of Benares.
Name: City of Benares
Owner: Ellerman Lines Ltd, London
Operator: City Line Ltd
Port of registry: Glasgow
Builder: Barclay, Curle & Co, Whiteinch, Glasgow
Yard number: 656
Launched: 5 August 1935
Completed: October 1936
Identification: Official Number 164096
Code Letters GZBW
Fate: sunk on 18 September 1940
Class and type: Steam passenger ship
Tonnage: 11,081 GRT
Length: 486 feet 1 inch (148.16 m)
Beam: 62 feet 7 inches (19.08 m)
Draught: 30 feet 8 inches (9.35 m)
Propulsion: Three Cammell Laird steam turbines (1,450 horsepower (1,080 kW)), single reduction geared driving a single screw
Speed: 15 knots (28 km/h)
Capacity: 219 (single class)
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
sinking resulted in the total cancellation of the
Children's Overseas Reception Board (CORB) plan to
relocate British children abroad.
City of Benares was built by Lithgows Ltd, Port Glasgow.
She was launched on 5 August 1938, and completed in
October 1936. She was managed by City Line Ltd on behalf
of her owners, Ellerman Lines Ltd.
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, organised by 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, James Baldwin-Webb, a parliamentarian,
and documentary director Ruby Grierson. The ship 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.
Unbeknownst to Kapitänleutnant Heinrich Bleichrodt (who
was comanding the U-48), on board the liner were 90
children being evacuated to Canada under the Children's
Overseas Reception Board's initiative in order to escape
the effects of the Blitz.
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
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.
City of Benares was 486 ft 1 in (148.16 m) long, with a
beam of 62 feet 7 inches (19.08 m) and draught of 30 feet
8 inches (9.35 m). She was powered by three steam turbines
which were supplied by Cammell Laird. They were oil fired
and drove a single screw via single reduction gearing,
giving her a speed of 15 knots (28 km/h).
October 23, 2009
Once again many thanks for your efficiency and speed in your replies to my two requests.
Ron Elliott CD. RCN (Ret'd)
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