The Wartime Memories Project - The Second War

SS Anselm

The SS Anslem was built in Dumbarton in 1935, a coal fired passenger ship, she was converted to a troop ship in 1940. The SS Anselm was sunk by U96 5 July 1941 about 300 miles north of the Azores while on passage from Gourock to Freetown carrying 1,200 troops. 250 troops and 4 crewmen were lost. The Monthly Anti-submarine Report for September, 1941, states that immediately preceding the attack, HMS Challenger and SS Anselm were in line ahead and were being screened by HMS Lavender and HMS Petunia. HMS Starwort, whose Asdic (anti-submarine detection equipment) was out of order, was stationed astern. The escorts had been keeping listening watch in thick fog, but at 0350 the fog cleared and both ships commenced transmitting. At this time, HMS Lavender and HMS Petunia took up screening positions on either bow of HMS Challenger and commenced a zigzag on a course just east of south at a speed of 11 knots. At 0426, in approximate position 44 30N, 28 30W, not far from the Canary Islands, the SS Anselm was struck by a torpedo on the port side amidships. The SS Anselm settled rapidly by the head and sank 22 minutes after being hit.

All the lifeboats got away with the exception of No 6, which was damaged by the explosion. By skilful manoeuvring, HMS Challenger placed her bow alongside the SS Anselm’s port quarter, and in this manner rescued 60 men. Unfortunately 254 men, including 175 RAF personnel, lost their lives, but it is probable that many of these were killed by the explosion of the torpedo which struck the ship immediately below the accommodation space.

Postcard of the Anslem

A post card of the Anslem.

List of those who served on SS Anselm during the Second World War.

If you have any names to add to this list, or any recollections or photos of those listed, please get in touch.

George William Thompson 84 Sqd.

My late Father George William Thompson, Royal Air Force was on-board the ss Aslem when she was sunk. Thankfully he was rescued after several hours in the water, I will always remember my Father saying that he was full of praise for the bravery of The Reverend Pugh tendering to the injured Airman who were trapped in the sinking ship. Dad always insisted on wearing his life jacket when on-board, he was ordered by a senior officer (no name though) to take it off & pass it him, Dad refused to do this & thus saved his life when the torpedo struck. I have seen a photo of my Mother, taken in his cabin, that is now at the bottom of the Atlantic having gone down in the Anselm.

Thankfully Dad survived 1939 – 45 after serving in 84, 101, 109 & 2nd TAF from the beginning of the war, prior to that had served with the RAF in Iraq & Egypt (84 Sqd.) flying in such delights as Westland Wapitis & the Vickers Virginia transport.

I believe there is a plaque, statue & bust of the Rev Pugh commemorating his bravery & sacrifice, does anyone know where this is please? Any info would be appreciated.

Ann Jones

John Haylock SS Anslem

My father, John Haylock, was on the SS Anslem when it was torpedoed and sunk. He was one of those trying to 'persuade' the Revd Pugh not to go back down into the hold. Dad was overcome with emotion when he saw the pictures and was reading from this site. He always thought this episode had been thoroughly 'swept under the carpet'.

Jill Dighton

Sergeant George Frederick Thomas Burrows (d.5th July 1941)

My father, Sergeant George Frederick Thomas Burrows, R.A.S.C. had been in France in the BEF and managed to get home on one of the little ships at Dunkirk. I would love to know who rescued him. After a convalescent, he was sent out to Africa, not sure quite where they intended to land. His ship was the HMS Anselm and he was one who didn't get off. I was about 6 years old at the time with 'ovaltiney' sisters of 4 and 2 and Mum expecting a baby in the November as Dad was killed in July

He was the sun in my sky and it took me over 60 years to be healed of the grief I felt at his death. This being through my Christian faith and a loving counsellor. War doesn't end with the peace treaty, as I and many others can testify.

I have a Liverpool Echo report of the incident and Padre Cedric Pugh, who, eventually received his well earned medal. It took my local councillors 50 years to get our lost loved ones names put on a monument.I also have many photos of Dad and one of Mum that he carried with him all through the BEF and Dunkirk. Also a small cutting about someone who was rescued from the Anselm. I am not very good with the computer but would be very willing to get good copies if anyone cared to have one.

Sincerely and thanks for the site. I will try and send a donation but am now an OAP and it isn't financially easy in this 'land fit for heroes'.

Maureen Bessie Bentley

Thomas Raymond Parry

My father served in the Royal Marines during the Second World War. He was Thomas Raymond Parry. He travelled on the SS Anselm and told me the story of the lowering of Padre Pugh into the hold. He was also aboard 'The Hood'.

Sarah White

Wilfred Marten

My father Wilfred Marten was on board the SS Anselm and has always had great admiration for the actions of the padre Cecil Pugh, he mentioned how he helped the erks when the stair case had been blown up, as far as my father knows the ship was still moving along as the 'padre' was consoling the men.

My father was on the first deck down only because on arrival in Liverpool they asked for volunteers to man the machine guns he thinks the may have been browning's. As he had done some shooting at Blackpool on training and was a member of the rifle club. All bullets having gone through the same hole at a hundred yards.

Wilfreds hammock was attached to the stair well so he was knocked out of bed by the explosion. Somebody pulled my father up from the first deck down to the main deck, he does not know the name of the man who lowered the rope and does not know what became of him? They had been told that it was safe enough to undress so he was only in undergarments, no boots and airforce trousers. My father and one other man went around throwing ropes into the hold, and could hear them shouting. After first affixing the ropes to anything fixed atop. He also let rafts down and threw them into the sea. The deck of the ship at this time was empty except maybe for two others helping the best they could. The front of the ship started to go down and LAC W Marten (butch) moved to the stern, got to the railings and got ready to jump in. It was just getting daylight. he jumped in and went a long way down and then swam for the light and looked for something to hold on to. He floated around for an hours or so with only a small Naval float which kept him up.

An officer who had removed his epaulette's and any notification of rank started to order my father to row. After being picked up by a rowing boat 'butch' looked near deaths door and was exhausted, a kindly naval rating possibly a petty officer came to his aid and suggested that if he did not shut his mouth he would go over the side. My father had been in the water for a few hours and he was treated very well by the ratings that picked him up, he was in no fit state to row a boat.

He was taken to the Starwort and climbed with help the netting. When on the boat they were treated like Lords. He was given rum and got rid of the sea water. He thinks that he was taken to Flora bay. He still does not know where he was bound for but this site has given me some information to act on. The following day 150 approximately of RAF personnel were sent to Bo. He would like to hear from anyone aboard.

Jeffrey Marten

Bsn. John Ward SS Anslem

My grandfather Jack Ward was bosun on the Anselm and he would always relate the tale to us all about the fact that his pay was stopped as soon as the lifeboats hit the water !

Peter Cunningham-Ward

Alfred "Taff" Watson SS Anselm

My grandad, Mr Alfred Watson, Taff as he was known at sea , was the Anslem when it was sunk and survived for 18 days in a lifeboat without any food or water. He hardly spoke about this as it upset him deeply although there was an article in the Barnsley Chronicle which gave some information on the torment they all went through.

If any one has any information or pictures of the SS Anselm or of my grandfather please contact me I would be ever grateful.

Claire Watson

Alfred "Taff" Watson SS Anselm

My granddad Alfred Watson was aboard the SS Anselm on the 5th of July 1941 when it was hit by German U-boat U-96. If anyone has any pictures or story's I would love to hear from you.

Claire Watson

Cyril Frank Hepher 95 Squadon

My Dad was a survivor from the torpedo attack and sinking of the SS Anselm on 5th July 1941. He was rescued by the ship Cathay. He did not tell us much about the event. However, he did say he was very lucky as he was below in the hold with the RAF personnel and as it was very sticky he went on deck for some fresh air and it whilst he was on deck the ship was torpedoed. His overriding memory was that of a young man on the deck who had his head removed by a whiplash effect from a rope on the deck, he saw him decapitated, I do not know who the lad was but I do know Dad had bad dreams about seeing it happen. Dad then jumped overboard and thankfully was rescued.

Ann Munn

Sgt. Eric Hendry Shaw

My father, Eric Shaw, was on the SS Anselm when it was sunk. He was a sergeant in the Royal Air Force, aged 20. He jumped off the ship as it was going down and after 20 minutes in the water he was picked up by British survey vessel HMS Challenger, and later transferred to HMS Cathay which took survivors to Freetown, Sierra Leone. Eric was based there until January 1943.

During his time in the RAF Eric kept a diary which includes a detailed and vivid account of the sinking of Anselm, including events leading up to the sea journey and also the following 18 months when he was in Sierra Leone. He does mention some of his pals from that time, but only by first name or nickname. He was artistically inclined, and his diary is illustrated with many drawings of the events, people and places he has written about. I am the present custodian of the diary which is being kept as a family heirloom. I am in the process of transcribing it into MS Word format, and scanning the illustrations. When I have completed this, I will make it available to anyone who may be interested in having a copy.

Brian Shaw

Cpl. Nathan Smith

My Father, Nathan Smith was a passenger on the Anselm troopship, on his way to Freetown, as a Corporal in the RAF when it was torpedoed on the 5th July 1941, the day after his 21st Birthday. He recalls that himself and two others made for the stern of the ship as it sank very quickly and the bows went down. As they hung from the rail, my father counted to three and they all let go, my father did not see either of the men again. After some time in the water where he supported another comrade who couldn't swim, they were rescued by the Challenger or the Starwort and transferred to HMS Cathay which landed them at Freetown.

My father went on to serve in Africa for a further year before being transferred to the Far East where he served until 1946. Today very much alive with prompting he recalls many memories including the story of how he met my mother. After many weeks of travelling on foot they finally arrived in Kuala Lumpur, where in true British tradition they found a bar. Being renowned for his ability to sing and play the piano, the men with him demanded he give them a song. So before he even had a beer, my father sat down at the piano and played and sang Donkey Serenade and so won my mother's heart. My mother's name was Winifred Mary Bowers nee Horsley. She was working in the NAAFI. My mother and father were married for 61 years and have three daughters. My Mother died four years ago. My father is still a non active member of City of Glasgow 602 Squadron.

Frances Wright

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