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Surviving the TSS Yorkshire sinking

6 March 2017 by Ben

TSS Yorkshire painted by Ernest Barrett. 1987.118.3.37

TSS Yorkshire painted by Ernest Barrett. 1987.118.3.37

The maritime history department at Merseyside Maritime Museum have recently collected an object connected to the sinking of the TSS Yorkshire in 1939.

TSS Yorkshire was built in 1920 by Harland and Wolff in Belfast for the Liverpool based Bibby Line.  The ship was on her way to Liverpool from Rangoon as part of the allied convoy HG-3.  The Dixon family had joined the ship at Gibraltar, including brother and sister Cyril (aged 15) and Maureen (aged 8), and their mother and father.  On 17 October, 1939 the convoy was in the North Atlantic 160 miles off the north-west coast of Spain.  That afternoon the convoy was attacked by the German U-boat U-37.  Yorkshire was hit and sank with the loss of 58 lives. 

Amongst the 223 survivors were the Dixon family.  Cyril fell out of a lifeboat and was hauled back in by a sailor using a boat hook, during which a piece of cork was ripped from his lifejacket. Cyril, now 92, has donated the cork, the only object he has from the sinking.  It might not look like much but has a dramatic story behind it – an example of a great social history object.

The piece of cork donated by Cyril Dixon

The piece of cork donated by Cyril DixonTSS Yorkshire

The survivors were picked up by the US steamer Independence Hall and landed in France.  Cyril’s sister Maureen Ashcroft, now aged 85, told me:

“Everything we had ever owned went down with the ship.  We landed in France with just the clothes on our backs.”

Two other ships from the convoy, Clan Chisholm and City of Mandalay, were also sunk.

To see an article on this subject written by Maureen Ashcroft’s grand-daughter, visit the Lancashire Evening Post website.

Maureen and Cyril Dixon with their father George.

Maureen and Cyril Dixon with their father George.

The Bibby Line lost two ships in the Second World War – TSS Yorkshire and the TSMV Shropshire Shropshire had been converted to an armed merchant cruiser and was torpedoed off Greenland in 1941.  Liverpool shipping lines lost more than 3 million tons of shipping in the war, a quarter of the Merchant Navy’s total losses, and more in tonnage than the merchant fleets of Greece, Norway and Holland.   Around 190,000 men served in the British Merchant Navy, including 10,000 from Liverpool.

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