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Posts tagged with 'city of benares'

Hands Across The Ocean, a guest blog from visiting author Deborah Heiligman

26 September 2018 by Jen

Deborah Heiligman with Sonia Bech Williams, child survivor of the sinking of the City of Benares, outside Sonia's childhood home.

Deborah Heiligman with Sonia Bech Williams, child survivor of the sinking of the City of Benares, outside Sonia’s childhood home.

Earlier this year I met with American author Deborah Heiligman, who’s working on a new children’s book about the sinking of the City of Benares in World War II. It was lovely to meet her and exchange information on this fascinating story and she’s now been kind enough to write a blog for us talking about her research and what drew her to the City of Benares: Read more…

British child refugees

20 June 2018 by Jen

Refugee Week, founded in 1998 “as a direct reaction to hostility in the media and society in general towards refugees and asylum seekers”, is marking its 20th anniversary this week, and one of the 20 Simple Acts they have asked people to consider doing this year is spread the word.

Sadly the hostility that inspired this campaign in 1998 is still present and their work is as important as ever. I believe that it is harder to be hostile towards someone once we begin to empathise with them, and as human beings we often empathise most easily with people when we realise they are like ourselves. In keeping with that idea I want to talk about Britain’s own child refugees. Read more…

A story of female friendship and survival

7 March 2018 by Jen

Back and white photo of a large two funnelled liner, the City of Benares

City of Benares, Maritime Archives & Library, MMM collection, reference MCR/61/371 (copyright unknown, believed to be expired)

When I first started to think about women’s stories we could spotlight this year for International Women’s Day there was one in particular that instantly came to mind. I’ve blogged before about the sinking of the Ellerman liner, City of Benares. Torpedoed mid-Atlantic in 1940 while taking child evacuees to Canada, it’s one of the most heart-rending pieces of research I’ve ever carried out. As always with such tragedies though, the larger story is made up of hundreds of smaller, more personal, ones. Beth and Bess are one of these stories. Read more…

The City of Benares legacy 75 years on

20 October 2015 by Jen

John Baker holding a page from a newspaper

City of Benares survivor John Baker holding a copy of his local paper in which he was interviewed. Picture taken on his recent visit to the maritime Museum.

One of the great things about working on projects around events within living memory is that often they prompt people to come forward and talk about their own experiences or family story. At a 75 year remove, with most of the children not from the local area, I wasn’t sure how much impact our City of Benares feature would have in this respect but I was pleasantly surprised. Some people got in touch to say they’d known or knew people who had been on board, a representative of the Sunderland Volunteer Life Brigade (SVLB) made contact to say they were marking the 75th anniversary with a service and small display, and one of the child survivors even turned up at the Maritime Museum for a chat.  Read more…

‘Back from the dead!’ The amazing survival story of Lifeboat 12

25 September 2015 by Jen

HMS ANTHONY rescuing survivors from lifeboat 12 © IWM (CH 1354)

HMS Anthony rescuing survivors from lifeboat 12 © IWM (CH 1354)

The sinking of the City of Benares is a story with few bright spots.  Horrific loss of life, particularly amongst children, makes for grim research. There are stories from the tragedy that show the full strength of human endurance, two teenage girls clinging on to an upturned lifeboat for 18 hours through the night in freezing waters and managing to survive, a 7 year old boy who survived the night on a raft amongst sleet and hail and choppy seas. One story of endurance however was only realised 8 days after the sinking, when a further 45 survivors were discovered.  Newspaper headlines described them as, ‘back from the dead’.  Read more…

75 years since sinking of ‘Children’s Ship’ City of Benares

14 September 2015 by Jen

Mural showing Michael Rennie, children's escort in the lifeboat with child from the City of Benares. Copyright The Parish Church of St Jude-on-the-Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb.

Mural showing Michael Rennie, children’s escort, in the lifeboat with children from the City of Benares. Copyright The Parish Church of St Jude-on-the-Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb.

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the loss of the City of Benares, torpedoed and sunk by a German U-boat in the North Atlantic during the Second World War.  What makes her loss stand out amongst the many lost merchant ships however is the 90 children she was carrying.  They were travelling under the government’s CORB (Children’s Overseas Reception Board) scheme to evacuate children away from a Britain facing the Blitz, and the ever growing possibility of invasion, to the safer shores of the Dominions, particularly Canada, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.  Read more…



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