So many members of M.V.G. were child evacuees from Singapore that it seems appropriate for us to include a website section on the subject. This will include:
CAP ST JAQUES
DUCHESS OF BEDFORD
EMPRESS OF JAPAN
KRAMER & RUYS
LYE EE MOON
USS WEST POINT
EVACUATED BY AIR
MATA HARI [captured]
THE ULYSSES STORY
Blue Funnel Line
Captain J. A Russell
Although in trouble herself, she reached Singapore and embarked as many women and children evacuees as she could, slipped her lines, and headed for Fremantle in Australia. Ulysses (4) 1913-1942 torpedoed and sunk off Cape Hatteras in position 34º 23’ N 75º 35’ W
ULYSSES (4) was built in 1913 by Workman Clark & Co. at Belfast with a tonnage of 14499 grt, a length of 563 ft 2 in, a beam of 68 ft 4 in, and a service speed of 13.5 knots. Sister of the NESTOR, she was completed for the China Mutual Steam Navigation Co. and deployed on the Glasgow - Liverpool - Brisbane service. She became a troopship in 1915 and ferried troops from Australia to Suez. In 1917 she trooped in the North Atlantic, carrying American soldiers. She resumed commercial activities in September 1920 and operated on the Glasgow - Liverpool - Cape Town - Australian ports - Brisbane service. In 1928 her Master was Capt. R. D. Owen O.B.E., who flew the swallow-tailed house flag of Commodore of Blue Funnel Line.
By 1941 Britain was being subjected to continual bombing. ULYSSES urgently required an overhaul, but it was too risky to do this task in the UK, so she was sent to Hong Kong for the refit. After calling at Cape Town and Durban, it was across the Indian Ocean to Ceylon and Penang, then Singapore. Soon after, she arrived in Hong Kong. Here she was met by a tender who delivered a few hundred workers. They immediately got to work chipping the paintwork off the ship's side, and off the masts and railings. Before she even tied up, half the paintwork had been stripped.
Apparently there must have been paint remaining from the First World War, as all the crew we were billeted ashore while the ship was in the hands of the dockyard. ULYSSES had a good soccer team and played games against the different Army and Royal Navy ships’ teams. After the games they had great social evenings with the soldiers and naval boys. Most of those lads would eventually be slain or made POW's by the Japanese.
Then one day, Hong Kong got a typhoon warning. The ULYSSES was in dry-dock with all her engines lying on the dock. She was taken out of dry-dock and towed to a point where she was moored to buoys fore and aft. This is normal practice, except that a ship is meant to drive full speed against the wind just to remain steady. But she had no engines. When the typhoon struck, she was soon torn from the buoys. The helpless ship was blown at considerable speed until she came to a grinding halt. She was pushed onto an islet, Little Green Island, and grounded. So she delayed further and remained in Hong Kong until Dec. 7, 1941 - Pearl Harbor Day.
ULYSSES immediately left Hong Kong and was ordered to make for Manila in the Philippines. However, the wireless operator gave the Captain a message that Manila was under severe attack from the Japanese, so Captain Russell decided to make for Singapore although low on fuel. She was sailing with one engine; the second one was lying on the deck, such was the rush to get away from Hong Kong. ULYSSES was doing five knots and although she was attacked a few times, none of the attacks were concentrated. She did eventually reach Singapore, much to the surprise of people there, who believed she had been lost.
ULYSSES was very lucky to have survived when faster ships were being sunk, including the REPULSE and the famous PRINCE OF WALES, the newest battleship in the fleet. These were dark days, indeed, with the Japanese conquering all before them. She made a quick stop in Singapore to obtain more bunkers from other ships and to embark many women and children who desperately needed to leave before the Japanese Army reached Singapore.
The situation was dire and ULYSSES took on as many evacuees as she could possibly carry and accommodate with life-saving equipment. The crew, by this time, was desperate for rest, but in the true tradition of the Blue Funnel Line, they served above and beyond expectations. ULYSSES slipped her lines, leaving them on the dock, and sailed.
It is not known how she obtained the extra bunkers but it is thought they obtained them from the Blue Funnel ship, TALTHYBIUS. Possibly the transfer was done with drums or even buckets. For certain the crew accomplished it with tremendous determination in the face of danger. TALTHYBIUS, damaged by bombing, was on fire at the Empire Dry Dock. Eventually her crew managed to drag her across the entrance to the dry-dock and scuttle her, thus disabling the dry-dock. The Japanese later shot several of TALTHYBIUS’s crew on the wharf. Some escaped, only to become POWs, while some managed to flee Singapore on other ships.
ULYSSES left Singapore on December 12 and made Fremantle, Australia, on December 31. When she arrived in Fremantle there was no room to berth at the quay, so she had to tie up alongside another ship. All her evacuees were taken ashore and looked after by the various refugee organizations. These groups were well organized in Fremantle, which was a front line arrival port for the evacuation of Singapore.
Again ULYSSES was put back together and became a seaworthy ship once more. Meanwhile, the crew had become friendly with the crew of the ship lying alongside. When ULYSSES was leaving Fremantle, the entire crew of the other ship assembled on the after-deck and sang a song called “The Maoris’ Farewell”. They continued the serenade until well out of sight. Such a romantic event for a bunch of tough and tired seamen.
The next port of call was Adelaide, where the ship was to get the final touches to her repairs. ULYSSES stayed in Adelaide for a few weeks. However, all good things come to an end, and she had to continue her voyage, as she was still a long way from home. After Adelaide came Melbourne, and then Sydney, where more cargo was loaded for England. At Sydney, ULYSSES took on more passengers who had escaped from Singapore on other vessels and were heading back to England.
After departing Sydney with her cargo and new passengers, she would see more action. With a now rested crew, she headed for the Panama Canal, but her trip was far from over. It was known that her transit through the Panama Canal would be reported by enemy agents. ULYSSES made the Canal transit in good time and again entered dangerous waters. She proceeded up the Florida East Coast, possibly intending to reach a point further north before altering to a NE by E course for Liverpool.
Everything seemed to be going well until the night of April 8, 1942, when she collided with a Panamanian tanker GOLD HEELS. ULYSSES’s bow was extensively damaged below the waterline and speed was reduced to 7 knots. Her Master, Capt. J. A. Russell, altered course for the nearest port, Newport News. He may not have been aware that German submarines were operating in the area. There is some doubt as to whether he received an Admiralty advisory about U-Boat activity in the area. On April 11, 1942, at 15.30 hrs, ULYSSES was torpedoed by U-160 (Kapitan Leutnant Georg Lassen – Knight’s Cross with Oak Leaves). She was 45 nm south of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, in position 34º 23’ N 75º 35’ W.
The first torpedo struck the No. 6 hold. A second one hit ULYSSES abreast of the funnel and she very quickly settled deep in the water. A third torpedo may have struck her, but failed to explode after glancing off the ship’s hull plating. Several persons said that the submarine never surfaced. Some said that children were playing on deck when the first explosion occurred. Everyone fully realized the situation, but proceeded to their stations with calm and order. This was attributed to the fact that the passengers had participated in many drills in their three weeks aboard ship. Ten of her lifeboats were launched successfully and stood off the now sinking ULYSSES.
The very last of ULYSSES’s crew to abandon her were Capt. J. A. Russell and the on watch quartermaster who had been at the wheel at the time of the attack. The quartermaster refused to leave Captain Russell on his own and assisted in searching the ship. In spite of the danger, they ensured that nobody was left aboard. They also made sure that “essential documents” were thrown overboard in special weighted bags. The ship was settling very fast and was well down by the stern, and could have sunk or rolled over at any moment. They eventually abandoned her on the last life raft.
Before abandoning ship, the wireless operator had sent out the distress call of the day for a vessel being attacked by a U-Boat. This brought United States Army patrol bombers to look for the lifeboats. Seventy-five minutes after the last explosion, a United States Navy warship, USS MANLEY, picked up the survivors. MANLEY picked up the ten lifeboats from ULYSSES, about 290 souls. One injured crewman sustained an injury boarding a lifeboat, but there was no loss of life to any crew member or passenger.
Included among the passengers were Mrs. D. J. Wickett of Singapore, who was known in England as Vera Wood, an opera singer; her seven-months-old son, Peter, the youngest passenger aboard; Mrs. Charlotte Pugh, eighty-six, of Mountain Ashe, South Wales, the oldest survivor; George H. Davies, a London exporter, and Miss Katherine Lacy of Wallesey, England, a ship stewardess who twice before had ships torpedoed under her. She was decorated with the British Naval Cross.
The ship’s company was appreciative of the reception given them in Charleston. Disembarking at the navy yard, they were taken in charge by a trained naval group; H. de C. Harsten, British vice-consul; and Red Cross workers. Despite short notice, they managed to put together a real meal and a big supply of sandwiches, cakes and coffee for the nearly three hundred survivors.
After a stay in Charleston, all were sent north to New York and from there, even further north. Here they boarded a vessel bound for England in a North Atlantic convoy. In due course they docked in England. Many months after leaving Singapore and Australia, everyone was home at last.
A Tribute to a Merchant Navy Crew who were glad to be able to help
THE CHARLESTON EVENING POST
CHARLESTON, S, C., MONDAY. APRIL 13, 1942.
PASSENGER SHIP SURVIVORS ARE LANDED AT CHARLESTON
British Vessel Is Torpedo Victim; American Warship Effects Rescue of All Aboard.
Their ship torpedoed by an enemy submarine off the Atlantic coast, 290 survivors of the sinking of a medium-sized British passenger liner were brought to Charleston early Sunday afternoon aboard a United States warship.
Fortunately there was no loss of life among the 95 passengers and 195 officers and seamen of the ill-fated vessel.
News of the sinking and of the arrival of the survivors at Charleston was released today by the navy department.
Reporting that the only fatality was a tabby cat whose three kittens were saved, and that the only casualty was an accidental injury sustained by a passenger as he boarded a life boat, the passengers, after being debarked at the navy yard and being interviewed there by waiting newspapermen, were taken to the Francis Marion and Fort Sumter hotels for the night. The crewmen were accommodated at the navy yard. Arrangements are being made to assist them on their way to their homes.
Women and Children
Thirty-seven of the passengers were women and twenty-four were small children. The youngest was little Peter Wickett, six-months-old son of a British opera star who uses the stage name of Vera Wood. Bringing Peter with her, she was on her way back to England to sing for British service men. The oldest was Mrs. Charlotte Pugh, 86, of South Wales.
The passengers, who included the former acting governor of Hong Kong, N.L. Smith CMG, and Bertram J.R. Barton, a member of the state council of Johore, Malaysian sultanate, were enthusiastic in their praise of the United States navy for the dispatch shown in their rescue, and were also appreciative of the calmness and efficiency of their own skipper, Capt. J.A. Russell “from the north of Ireland” and his crew. Neither Smith nor Barton was at the far eastern points when the Japs invaded their former stations.
Drills Prove Value
The numerous drills through which passengers and crew had been put for such an eventuality, under orders of Captain Russell, stood them well when the actual ordeal of abandoning occurred, asserted members of the ship’s company.
The vessel, according to passengers and crewmen, was hit by three torpedoes, all on the starboard side. Two of them with devastating effect sealed her doom; the other – the second to be fired by the lurking sub – caromed off her steel plates to speed harmlessly by, a dud.
Torpedoed at about 4.30 o’clock Saturday afternoon the ship settled fast in the water but not before all passengers and crew were safely removed.
One of the passengers, Mrs. T.R. Powell, told of an act of heroism on the part of Quartermaster Gibson, who she said, would not leave the ship “until the captain left,” and made sure his skipper was going with him when he went over-side.
The abandoning of ship was carried out with calm efficiency, the only injury being sustained by Barton who accidentally fell on a lifeboat’s oarlock. All of the ship’s ten lifeboats were safely away when she sank.
The survivors were first spotted by a United States patrol plane and were later picked up by the American war vessel which brought them to port, the transfer being made about seventy-five minutes after the British merchantman was struck. This resulted in all of the survivors – including the four kittens – being taken aboard the American ship before nightfall.
“It was a good thing that we were picked up when we were for the wind blew in that night,” said one of the survivors.
He recounted that there was “a heavy ground swell” at the time of the sinking, and that also “there were some combers” but that the sea became worse after the actual rescue had been effected.
Mr. Smith, who retired as colonial secretary of Hong Kong before the Japs attacked Pearl Harbour, but who in that office had served frequently as acting governor of the British colony, spoke of the transfer from ship to smallboat, and thence to the American warship, as “orderly” in spite of the “biggish sort of ground swell.” His daughter, Miss Rachel Smith was with him for the adventure.
Mr. Barton in telling of the torpedoing said:
“I was sleeping on the deck and was awakened by the crash. I went immediately to my station. We got the women and children off first. There was not much excitement. Everyone was calm.”
Praising the efficiency of the United States navy, he declared that “it was the fastest thing I ever saw.” He revealed that he was torpedoed in World War 1 in which he had served with the British armed forces, and that for the past thirty years, excepting for the time he was in uniform, he had been in the far east.
The passengers and crewmen were also enthusiastic about Miss Katherine Lacey of Wallesey, England, who wears the British cross, who had been bombed once, and who has now experienced her second escape from torpedo escape at sea. She calmly helped passengers to leave the stricken ship.
Another veteran of sea disaster is Lester Pilbean, a member of the crew, who has now been in five sinkings by torpedo attack.
The submarine struck without warning, though one passenger recounted that he saw the periscope shortly before the first torpedo hit. The sub however did not shell either ship or lifeboats.
Several of the children were playing on the deck when the first torpedo struck. Crashing into the side of the ship with a devastating explosion, it sent a spray of splintered wood and glass about their heads. Fortunately none were hurt.
Other passengers included George H. Davies, London exporter, and John Ferguson McDonald, of the Australian Associated Press. The latter, also representing papers in New Zealand, upon the arrival of local newspapermen was particularly anxious as to how stories were to be filed that he might get off a story to “down under.”
The ship’s company was appreciative of the reception given them in Charleston. Debarking at the navy yard they were taken in charge by a trained naval group, H. de C. Harsten, British vice-consul, and Red Cross workers, who, despite short notice, managed to get together a real meal for the nearly three hundred survivors, and also a big supply of sandwiches, cakes and coffee.
Blue Funnel Line
Built: 1933 by Caledon S.B. & E., Dundee.
Gorgon and her sister Charon were built for the Singapore-West Australia service. Gorgon was initially owned jointly by Ocean S.S. and West Australian S.N., Co. ( Bethell, Gwynn & Co ), when the latters only ship Minderoo was sunk in 1935, West Australian pulled out of the trade and sold their share of Gorgon to Ocean S.S. in 1936. In January of 1942 she sailed from Melbourne bound for Singapore in Convoy MS 1 and on arrival was continuously bombed by Japanese aircraft. By the 11th of February her Master realised that it was pointless to continue discharging her cargo and so after taking 358 passengers and refugees aboard he sailed for Australia. She was attacked by high level Japanese bombers on the 12th on six occasions and was hit three times, two of which caused serious fires one adjacent to the ammunition store, fortunately both blazes were brought under control. The third bomb however failed to detonate and had embedded itself in bags of flour in one of the holds. Showing great bravery Chief Officer J. Bruce with the assistance of two soldiers gingerly carried the bomb out onto the deck and dropped it over the side, again it failed to explode. After the Australians successful defense of Port Moresby the Allies went on the offensive and in one action landed troops at Milne Bay, New Guinea on the 4th of April 1943, Gorgon took part. Again Gorgon was bombed by Japanese aircraft, six of her crew were killed and much of the ship was set on fire, so much so that she had to be towed to Brisbane for repairs, however the crew were delighted to report that they had shot down two enemy aircraft. After the War Gorgon returned to her normal service before making her final sailing from Fremantle on the 21st of July 1964, she arrived in Hong Kong for breaking in August of the same year.
Compiled by Capt. John Bax
Blue Funnel Line
CHARON was built in 1936 by Caledon Ship Building & Engineering Co. at Dundee with a tonnage of 3703grt, a length of 336ft, a beam of 51ft 2in and a service speed of 12 knots. Sister of the Gorgon she was built for the Ocean Steam Ship Co. and West Australian Steam Navigations Co's joint operation between Singapore and Western Australian ports. Charon took part in the evacuation of Singapore and transported many people to Fremantle and safety. She is thought to have left Singapore on or about 8th January 1942.
CHARON suffered enemy bombing damage at least twice: in February 1942 during the Singapore evacuation and in April 1943 at Milne Bay, during the Allied landings there, but with her partner vessel Charon survived the war.
She was only ordered when the Australian Steam Navigation Co. lost the Minderoo in 1935. In 1936 she became fully owned by the Ocean Steam Ship Co. when the West Australian Stem Navigation Co. pulled out of the trade due to fierce competition. During 1943 she played a very important wartime role when she kept the Australian base at Milne Bay supplied. She made 30 round trips between Sydney and New Guinea without any damage whatsoever. This class of ship had specially strengthened bottoms which enabled them to call at ports where they were required to settle on the mud at low tide. She was sold to Malayan Shipbreakers Ltd of Singapore in 1964 for demolition but before she actually faced the torch in August 1965 she was sold several times at one time being renamed Seng Kong No.1.
Compiled by Capt. John Bax with Photo from the Fred Parkinson Collection.