City of Benares

Ellerman City Line

In Memory of the children who did not come home
Hitler's War against women and children see also Athenia

When a ship travels in convoy, as the City of Benares did, it has to travel at the speed of the slowest vessel. Sadly this proved to be the death, not only of the city of Benares, but 77 children travelling on her to Canada to escape the German bombing of England, in particular, Liverpool. If she had ran solo, at speed, the odds were that she would  have made it safely across the Atlantic.


Liverpool in 1940 was a dangerous place. In the height of World War II, during the German bombing campaign, whole areas of the city were flattened, homes were destroyed and thousands were killed.  The Liverpool docks were an integral part of the Allied war effort. This caused Liverpool to become the most heavily attacked English city outside of London. Families were desperate, trying to protect their loved ones any way they could.


On Friday September 13, 1940 a passenger ship called City of Benares began its 2,500 mile crossing of the North Atlantic.  On board were around 400 people, 100 of which were children. Designed for the tropical trip to Bombay, City of Benares, accompanied by a navy destroyer, entered the rough seas patrolled by German U-boats.  "We'd hardly found our cabins when the alarm bells went. That was our first lifeboat drill," remembered 14 year old Beth Williams. As the morning of the fourth day at sea dawned, the passengers awoke to find their escort had left them - apparently now safe to continue the journey alone.


U-48 was the most successful German submarine of World War II, claiming thousands of tonnes of allied shipping. Nineteen-year-old radio operator Rolf Hilse remembered, "We sunk approximately 55 to 60 ships in the first two years of the war."  By September 17, 1940 it was 600 miles from the west coast of Ireland - lying beneath City Of Benares.  With no escort vessel Rolf said they didn't know it was a passenger ship. "The Captain said 'we start in the middle as this is the biggest ship'.  The torpedo attack left 175 adults dead and of the 100 children on board only 13 survived.

City of Benares was part of Convoy OB213 which was attacked apparently before midnight on 17th September 1940 in the north Atlantic. (56.48N/21.15W). In the early hours of the 18th a single torpedo was fired at her by U48. On board the liner were 90 children being evacuated to Canada escaping the effects of the Blitz.  The sinking ship took on an immediate list preventing the launching of many of the liferafts and trapping numerous crew and passengers below decks. As a result, many of the 400 people on board were unable to escape. As hundreds of survivors struggled in the water, the U~boat's searchlight swept over the chaotic scene, before it left the area for good.

he survivors in the boats were not rescued for nearly 24 hours, as the nearest allied units were 300 miles away, and in that time dozens of children and adults died from exposure, or drowned, leaving only 147 survivors. One boat was not picked up for a further eight days. In total 255 people (including 77 of the evacuees) died. Some of the children were killed in the explosion, some were trapped in their cabins, and the rest died when the lifeboats were launched incorrectly and children were just tipped into the sea. All I can remember were the screams and cries for help. It was one of the worst disasters at sea concerning children, and it should always be remembered.” David Bech. 9.

Left to right: Ken Sparks, Derek Capel and Fred Steels having survived 8 days adrift on lifeboat 12

Lifeboat 12 was left alone at sea as a result of a lifeboat miscount. Its passengers had three weeks supply of food, but enough water for only 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 Anthony.

City of Benares - some of the survivors
Port of Registry: Glasgow
Propulsion: steam, turbines, single screw, 15 knots
Launched: Wednesday, 05/08/1936
Completed: October 1936
Built: 1936
Ship Type: Passenger Cargo Vessel
Tonnage: 11081 grt
Length: 486.2 feet (BP)
Breadth: 62.7 feet
Owner History:
Ellerman City Line Ltd Glasgow
Status: Torpedoed & Sunk - 18/09/1940

Benares at her launch in 1936

A report by the 4th officer, R M Cooper (as printed in


On the night of the 17th September, at about 10pm GMT I was asleep in my bunk and was awakened by a dull explosion and then the sound of alarm gongs. I dressed hurriedly and went along to my boat station which was No. 12 lifeboat, where I found the Native crews already mustered. I gave orders to clear away the boat, man the falls and reels and stand by for lowering.

By this time one lady escort, Miss Cornish, had brought 5 children to the boat, which was already lowered to the embarkation deck. Shortly afterwards the male escort Mr. O’Sullivan, arrived with one child and one passenger all of whom embarked in the lifeboat. The assistant steward then reported that all children had been cleared from the muster station in the Children’s playroom to their allotted boats. I sent him to make a further search to ascertain if there were any children asleep in their cabins. He returned and stated that the cabins had been wrecked and the water being up to his waist he shouted along the alleyway. Receiving no reply he assumed that there were no children there.

There were now 18 children in the boat and 9 Europeans, and as the vessel did not appear to be sinking very rapidly, I held on for approximately a quarter of an hour in case any stragglers happened to appear. All other port boats had now been lowered into the water so I gave orders to lower away the boat which was launched in an orderly manner. When the boat was safely in the water I ordered the 4 natives, who had been standing by the falls, to get into the boat by means of the side ladders, and also the Assistant Steward who had remained on deck.

After having a further search around the deck, I made my way into the lifeboat and gave orders to ship the handles of the Fleming Gear which were fixed to all our lifeboats. We then pulled away from the vessel. Just as we were getting clear 4 natives appeared to be scrambling down the lifelines and boat falls, so we put back and took them into the boat. We then got clear and lay off until the vessel sank. At about 11pm GMT the vessel commenced to go down stern first, raising her bow out of the water – she appeared to list heavily to port, then disappeared.

Noticing a person in one of the rafts we went alongside and took him aboard. It was the Naval Gunner Peards. I then steered over the position where the vessel sank and came across a raft containing two Natives whom I took on board. After this I sighted another raft; I pulled alongside and took aboard 2 Europeans and 3 Natives, one of the Europeans being Cadet Critchley and the other a Naval Signal Rating. About 10 yards away we picked up another native who was floating in the water.

The boat now contained 6 children, 2 Escorts, 1 passenger, 1 Cadet, 1 Seaman gunner who was a member of the crew, the Assistant Steward, 1 Naval signalman, 32 Natives and myself.

There was a rough sea and heavy swell running. Noticing a light which I took to be the rescue ship, I steered for it, but on approaching discovered it to be another lifeboat, the occupants of which hailed us and asked what ship. I replied CITY OF BENARES and they answered MARINA. Seeing no sign of the remainder of our lifeboat’s, we kept company with the MARINA’s lifeboat and steered in an Easterly direction before a strong wind, keeping sea and swell astern. We continued in company until dawn when the MARINA’s boat set sail, parting from us. As daylight came I had the canvas hood rigged forward for the children, who were quite snugly wrapped in blankets of which there were an ample supply in the boat. The weather was so heavy that I decided not to set sail but carried on by means of the Fleming Gear, setting the members of the crew on watch. At noon I put all the occupants of the boat on food and water rations, detailing the Assistant Steward to serve out the allocated quantities.

On Thursday morning, the weather having moderated, we set the sail and continued in an Easterly course intending to make the land if not picked up meanwhile. On Friday afternoon the Westerly wind increased to gale force with heavy rain and hail squalls with high sea. I decided to ride to a sea anchor which was made fast in the after end of the boat, also making use of the oil bags. We rode to the sea anchor for the remainder of the day. My object in riding astern to sea was to endeavour to keep the children and passengers dry as they were under the hood fitted in the fore end of the boat.

At 4am on Saturday the 21st September, the wind and sea having abated a little, we set sail again and continued on an Eastern course. At about 4pm on Sunday 22nd we sighted a vessel which we thought was going to pick us up as she was heading in our direction. However, she altered course and steered away from us and I thought afterwards that she must have been zig zagging and may not have seen us.

The wind was again freshening and we continued under sail until about 6.30pm when the weather changed for the worse bringing frequent rain and hail squalls. I decided to run out the sea anchor again to which we rode stern first during the night. At daybreak, Monday the 23rd, the weather had moderated to a light wind, moderate sea and swell. We hoisted sail again and proceeded until 1pm Wednesday the 25th with a moderate W to WNW wind. One of the boys sighted a Sunderland Flying boat which made towards us and after circling 2 or 3 times communicated by means of the Aldis lamp. The Naval Signalman replied by means of Semaphore but I do not know whether the occupants of the ‘plane understood the signal. The plane dropped a smoke flares with instructions to set it off when the rescue ship was in sight, and he made off.

I then decided to lower the sail and heave to until assistance arrived. About 2pm the flying boat again appeared and dropped a parcel containing food, also a note telling us that assistance was on the way. At about 4.30pm we sighted a Destroyer coming, guided by the ‘plane. It was the HMS ANTHONY and by 5 o’clock we were made fast alongside and got the crew aboard without difficulty with the exception of one lascar who was ill. The Destroyer’s MO attended to him in the lifeboat but he died shortly after being taken aboard the Destroyer.

All the children were in good form, having, I think, looked upon the whole thing as a picnic, and only one child was suffering from Trench feet. We were all attended to by the Officers and men of the Destroyer from whom we received every consideration and kindness. I hadn’t at any time any anxiety regarding the food supplies in the boat as we had plenty of tinned foods including meat, salmon and milk, and there was of course the usual biscuits. However, I realised of course that if we weren’t picked up before reaching land our water supplies would have to be strictly rationed. We had already travelled 200 miles and were still 400 miles from land when picked up. The Children behaved splendidly and were looked after very efficiently by Miss Cornish whom I believed massaged them continuously. Throughout I had every assistance from the passengers and crew. I was relieved at the tiller by Crichtley, the Assistant Steward and the Naval Signalman and the Lascar Saloon boy, Ramjan, was very good, proving most willing, helpful, and keeping the other Lascars in good order.

Everyone behaved very well, and a spirit of loyalty to orders and comparative cheerfulness prevailed throughout the entire 7 days and 19 hours which we were in the boat. We were landed at Greenock at 7pm on the evening of the 26th September.


Crew Casualties

NICOLL, Landles Master (51) MN
ASHER, Hugh Hendry 2nd Officer (39) MN
BAILEY, Annie Assistant Stewardess (36) MN
BHICKOO, Abbas Seaman MN
CHARNOCK, Ernest Ordinary Signalman (24) RN
COOK, Christian Sharp Chief Stewardess (52) MN
CUTHBERTSON, James 6th Engineer (21) MN
FAIRWEATHER, Alister 1st Radio Officer (40) MN
FLETCHER, Duncan Surgeon (67) MN
GEMMELL, James Alexander Walker 4th Engineer (24) MN
GIBBESON, John Cecil 3rd Engineer (30) MN
LADYMAN, Margaret Nurse (49) MN
LAZARUS, John Wireless Operator (28) MN
LIVINGSTONE, Robert William Quartermaster (42) MN
LUNT, Garath Quartermaster (20) MN
MACRAE, Donald 5th Engineer (27) MN
MACKINNON, Edmond Julius Gordon Commodore 2nd Class (60)
MCLACHLAN, William Quartermaster (56) MN
MARSHALL, George Petty Officer Telegraphist RN
MITCHELL, John Colville Supernumerary 6th Engineer (19) MN
ROBERTS, John Quartermaster (60) MN
SWALES, James Electrician (30) MN
SYMON, Frank Steward (27) MN
WALLACE, Agnes H Nurse (25) MN
ABDOOL, Allawoodeen Trimmer MN
ABOO, Abdul Latif Saloon Boy MN
ADAM, Esmail Seaman MN
AHMED, Jamal Saloon Boy MN
AHMED, Sk Esmail Sk Greaser MN
AJAD, Madaz Trimmer MN
ALFONSO, Jose General Servant MN
ALI, Mubarck Baker MN
ALLAB, Mussuljer N/K MN
ALLEE, Hasham Fireman MN
ALLEKHAN, Md Khan Fireman MN
AMEEN, Khotoo Greaser MN
AMEN, Sk Fakeer Seaman MN
AMJAD, Sk Steward MN
AZIS, General Servant MN
BABA, Oosman Seaman MN
BABA, Oosman Seaman MN
BABOO, Pootu General Servant MN
BADROODEEN, Sulleyman Fireman MN
BALLA, Dawood Donkeyman MN
BALLA, Ebrahim Seaman MN
BAPOO, Sk Nooroodeen Seaman MN
BAWASH, Sk Ahmen Fireman MN
BHAKWA, Rustom Mussuljer N/K MN
BUXSH, Rahim Butler MN
CADER, Allesab Seaman MN
CALLOO, Sk General Servant MN
CHIKAPA, Ramswamy Topass MN
CURRIN SK, Saloon Boy MN
DAWOOD, Mahomed Sk Seaman MN
DHARMO, Ak Hasson Seaman MN
DHONDOO, Oosman Fireman MN
EBRAHIM, Abdoolla Fireman MN
EBRAHIM, Mahomed Paniwallah MN
EBRAHIM, Sk Md Sk Trimmer MN
ESMAIL, Sheriff Sk Trimmer MN
ESMAIL, Sk Allee Trimmer MN
ESMAIL, Sowkat Serang MN
FACKEER, Rajack Fireman MN
FAZALDEEN, Sheir Md Fireman MN
FERNANDES, Manuel Assistant Steward MN
FERNANDES, Roque S Scullion MN
GHANI, Abdul Saloon Boy MN
GUNNY, Amon Abdool Trimmer MN
HASSON, Sk Hoosein Sk Winchman MN
HOOSEIN, Sk Adam Sk Bhandary MN
HUQ, Abdul Saloon Boy MN
HUSSAIN, Mohd Saloon Boy MN
HYDERKHAN, Jafferkhan Fireman MN
JAFFER, Mahomed Fireman MN
JAN, Sk Md Saloon Boy MN
JNAUY, Topass MN
KAMALOODEEN, Sk Ahmed Greaser MN
KHALIQUE, Sk Abdul Saloon Boy MN
KHAMIE, Hasson Trimmer MN
KHOTOO, Sk Allee Fireman MN
LALOO, Sk Pantry Boy MN
LATIF, General Servant MN
LEITAO, Piedade C General Servant MN
MAHOMED, Dawood Trimmer MN
MAHOMED, Shoosein Tindal MN
MAHOMED, Sk Hossein Sk Fireman MN
MANSOOR, Ismail Greaser MN
MOHAMDU, Pantryman MN
MOHIB, Bhandary N/K MN
MOJID, Abdul Saloon Boy MN
NAYKI, Nazroo Mahd Paniwallah MN
NOOROO, Sk Pantryman MN
NOZIR, Topass MN
OOSMAN, Abdooramon Cassab MN
OOSMAN, Sk Abass Tindal MN
OZONEULLA, Toimoosoolla Greaser MN
PALMA, Benedic Cook MN
PANCHANDRA, Ramswamy Topass MN
PANCHOO, Saloon Boy MN
PEREIRA, Espexian Butcher's Mate MN
PUNNA, Topass MN
RAHIM, Ebrahim Abdool General Servant MN
RAHMAN, Azizur Saloon Boy MN
RAZACK, Abdool Trimmer MN
RAZACK, Abdool Saloon Boy MN
ROSSUN, Saloon Boy MN
SAFEE, Mahomed Bhandary MN
SOBAN, Abdool Captain's Boy MN
SOFEE, Mohomed Barber MN
SONA, Topass MN
SUBRAMANI, Rangswami Topass MN
SUKARAM, Gunpat Topass MN
SULEMAN, Saloon Boy MN
SULTAN, Esmail Trimmer MN
TAJOODEEN, Allee Seaman MN

U 48
Sources & Reference

Please bear in mind that any references to wikipedia online do not necessarily reflect the truth. Too many members of the public
post information in there that is deflected by personal belief and wishes to change history. I know, from experience.