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Post Info TOPIC: Empire’s sinking cost 23 local lives

PWSTS UK Director

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Empire’s sinking cost 23 local lives

LEST WE FORGET...this spring will mark the 70th anniversary of the Battle of the Atlantic.

TODAY the deaths of 23 people from a single small community would be headlines around the country.

Shields itself must have reeled from the news so many men lost in the sinking of a single ship.

Yet in the dark days of the Battle of the Atlantic, the loss of the Empire Airman was just one more tragedy in the relentless struggle to arm and feed a beleaguered Britain.

This was the period, late in 1940, when the German U-boats still held the upper hand. Daily they harried convoys of allied merchant ships, sending vessels and their crews to the bottom, and sinking precious cargoes.

The Empire Airman, carrying iron ore, was one of six ships from a homeward-bound convoy which fell to U-boat attack, west of Ireland, on September 21, 1940.

Those subsequently reported missing all came from Shields, ranging from her skipper, Capt Raine, from Blagdon Avenue in the town, through other officers, ABs, engineers, firemen etc, down to her galley boy, a lad called Kane, from John Clay Street.

Out of a crew of more than 35, there were only four survivors.

This May, the Merchant Navy and the Royal Navy are to join in marking the 70th anniversary of the Battle of the Atlantic.

The date has been chosen because it was in that month, in 1943, that better deployment of technology and intelligence finally turned the tide against the wolf packs.

It was a pivotal moment, which allowed the logistical build-up that would ultimately lead to the success of D-Day.

But the human cost of the battle was huge. Beginning with the sinking of the SS Athenia on September 3, 1939, and ending with Victory in Europe on May 8, 1945, between 30,000 and 40,000 Merchant Navy personnel were lost and more than 5,000 ships and cargoes sunk.

Nationally, events will be centred on three cities: London, where there will be services at St Pauls Cathedral and at the Merchant Navy Memorial at Tower Hill, and Liverpool, where there will be ship visits, a service at the cathedral and a march by RN and MN personnel and veterans, plus a fly-past of Fairey Swordfish.

In Londonderry, there will be the dedication of a new statue by the Royal Naval Association (RNA).

Are you an MN or RN seaman who served in the Battle of the Atlantic? If so, Id like to hear what your experiences were for a series of special features to mark the anniversary.

You can write to me here at the Shields Gazette, Chapter Row, South Shields NE33 1BL or e-mail me at:

If youve trouble with either of those, give me a ring on 427 4844, Mon-Wed, 8am to 3pm.

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