Survivor finds plaque memorializing Helen Burrows who died in the sinking of Athenia

the "Index to articles about Passenger Liner Athenia"

Hello Mac,

Yesterday I was in St. James church in Orillia, Ontario, Canada. I saw a wall with brass plaques, each commemorating a person who had lost their life in WW1 or WW2. At the top of the list of WW2 casualties was  Helen W. Burrows who is shown as losing her life in the sinking of the Athenia on 4rd of September 1939.

I have no idea why she is commemorated in this church - perhaps she was a parishioner. I see from your list that a Helen Burrows died in that tragedy and was shown in your source as 50, Housewife, British, c/o Coleman, York Lodge, Antrim. This may have been where she was visiting. She probably boarded Athenia in Belfast.

I too was aboard her that fateful day, hence my interest in her commemorative plaque yesterday. I was 7 and travelling with my Mum, sister & brother (aged 5 and 3) to Canada as refugees. My Mum was Canadian. We spent the night in a lifeboat and were picked up by HMS Electra the next morning. We finally got here on the Washington in October via New York City.

I'm glad to see your list commemorating those who lost their lives. Thank you.


St. James church in Orillia, Ontario

St. James church in Orillia, Ontario Helen W. Burrows

St. James church in Orillia, Ontario Helen W. Burrows

St. James church in Orillia, Ontario Helen W. Burrows

Dear Phil,

Thank you for your letter, yet one more piece in that huge jigsaw that makes up the sinking of Athenia on the 3rd. of September back in 1939.

( I have taken the liberty of changing your 4th. of September to the 3rd. )

The one list of survivors that eludes me, is that from the two British destroyers, and you Paul are the first from that source.

I take it that your Mum, sister, and brother all survived, could you please spell out their names for me, so I might start a list of survivors collected by the two British Destroyers.

Great to hear from you.

Best wishes.
Mac. Gregory.


St James Church Orillia Ontario Canada
St James Church Orillia Ontario Canada

St James Church Orillia Ontario Canada Interior
Interior of St James Church Orillia where the plaque for Helen Burrows
who died in the sinking of Athenia is located

Dear Mac,

The date on that brass plaque with Helen Burrows' name does indeed record her death as having occurred on the 4th September. At first it seemed incorrect to me also. Although it could possibly be an error, the Athenia was torpedoed at 7:29 p.m. on 3rd September and she stayed afloat until next morning the 4th September at around 11 a.m. I will have to check further, but if the Knute Nelson's propellor chewed up the lifeboat filled with survivors after midnight and she was in it, then 4th September would be correct, I see that you have already posted my email with photos of St. James' church and so I do think it better to record the actual date that is on Helen Burrows plaque. The next time I go down to Orillia, I'll try to get a photo of the plaque for you.

I have read Judith Evelyn's article on your website, and on page 17 she says it seems they had been 5-1/2 hours in the lifeboat when Knute Nelson arrived. So that must have been around 1:30 a.m. on 4th September, allowing a half-hour to get into Athenia's lifeboat and be lowered to sea level. Then again there was a further wait as Knute Nelson loaded the previous lifeboat and before the tragedy of Judith's lifeboat being drawn into its propellor.

The only unknown is if Helen Burrows was in the same lifeboat.

I see that I am already featured on your website in Michael Poirier's article. ("The Athenia Remembered: September 3, 1939-September 3, 2004 by Michael Poirier") Those quotes of mine were taken from my own article, published in the Spring/Summer 1998 issue of the "Periodical Journal of America's Military Past".

For your Electra survivor list you may post these four names (our father was in Brazil at this time.)

Andreana H. Gunyon - aged 37
Philip C. Gunyon - aged 7
Barbara A. Gunyon - aged 4 (I got her age wrong in my email yesterday. This is the correct one.)
Andrew R. Gunyon - aged 2 (his age is also wrong in my email. He turned 3 only in December 1939)

I've attached a photo of a memento given me by an Electra crewman. The handwriting is my mother's.

By the way, when reading Judith Evelyn's account I noticed an error on the web page http://ahoy.tk-jk.net/AtheniaMemoir/AboutJudithEvelynandAllan.html
The header reads " About Judith Evelyn and Allan Andrew ". Somehow a gremlin has reversed Allan's name, which should be Andrew Allan. You may wish to correct this.

I have a copy of Andrew Allan's autobiography and it records his Athenia experience. I will check his account today and see what he had to say. As you know, he and Judith Evelyn and Andrew's father were in that ill-fated lifeboat.

That's it for now Mac. All best wishes,


Phil & Eva Gunyon

Of course I think you are right about Helen Burrows and the date recorded for her death, I was taking the date of the sinking of Athenia, and some people would have survived to greet the 4th. of September.
I will ask Terry my Web Master to change that date back to the 4th. of September.

We would love a photo of Helen's plaque thank you, to go on AHOY close to her name in the list of those who perished.

Thank you for the names to head the list of those survivors collected by HMS Electra.

Your correction to Judith Evelyn's account to reverse the name listed as Alan Andrew to Andrew Alan is noted with thanks.

We do strive to be accurate, but not always achieveable, so we are grateful to receive corrections.

Again nice to hear from you.

Best wishes,


This is the Torpedoman's badge given to 7 year old Phil, by a sailor from HMS Electra, after he had been rescued from the Athenia sinking.
This is the Torpedoman's badge given to 7 year old Phil, by a sailor from HMS Electra, after he
had been rescued from the Athenia sinking. A unique momento for a young boy.

HMS Electra
HMS Electra, sunk later around Java

Xmas Card sent to phil's family by the Torpedoman's Mess Christmass 1940
Xmas Card sent to phil's family by the Torpedoman's Mess Christmass 1940
Christmas Card sent to Phil's family by the Torpedoman's Mess Christmass 1940



Your Torpedoman's badge rang a real bell for me.

Post war I was selected to undertake the first combined Torpedo Anti-Submarine Specialist Officer's Course in UK schools.

Over 1947 and part of 1948 we travelled the country doing various segments, to Portland and HMS Osprey, for the Anti-submarine theory, and sea exercises against live submarines, to Portsmouth at HMS Vernon for all our torpedo work, bomb disposal, and explosives, plus deep and shallow diving, and the whole gamut of mines and their disposal by sweeping or delousing. To the Clyde area in Scotland for torpedo firings, Mine sweeping on the Firth of Forth.

To Londonderry for anti-submarine games on the large plotting table, and to fly with the RAF dropping sono buoys and tracking live submarines trying to elude us. Off to Plymouth for degausing etc.

I was the only Australian, 2 Indians, 2 Canadians, and 7 Royal Navy.

We became a tight unit after all that time together, and had a most wonderful time, working hard, and playing hard, we were all Lieutenants who had spent most of WW2 at sea.

Thanks for the memories.

Here is a crew list for HMS Electra sunk at the Battle of the Java Sea.

Some detail on the oldest Sub in service in WW2, S-38.

From your Christmas Card list, the only names that are here are: F. Morgan, Killed in Action. and C.H. Palmer, POW.

All the others seem to have been drafted from the ship before she came out to the East.


Dear Mac,

Eva and I went shopping in Orillia yesterday and took along the camera. I am afraid the photos are not at all professional. But of the 20 or so we took, these seemed the best. Eva also took one of me shooting a photo that shows the area where the Memorial Wall is located under a beautiful, large stained glass window.

Thank you for all the information on the Electra crew and S-38. I had read about her but had no idea she was the oldest sub in WW2. I also came across a website of some fellows who had dived on the wreck of Electra in the Java Sea http://www.pacificwrecks.com/ships/hms/electra.html

All best wishes,


Thanks to you both, we will use the larger memorial for Helen, and the Stained glass window picture.

Very good of you to take the time and trouble to help.

Best regards,

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