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Colin Thomas Watson 1943 - Overstrand Book of Remembrance

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posted by alias Moominpappa06 on Tuesday 31st of December 2013 11:24:45 PM

The church of St Martin, Overstrand is home to three separate forms of memorial to the fallen of WW1 and WW2. Outside in the churchyard is the War Memorial, while inside the names are carved on a wooden panel. Beneath the panel there are two bound books, one for each conflict. Each name remembered here receives a small potted biography which I take no shame in reproducing here. Colin Thomas Watson Born on 13th October 1918 at Cromer. Son of Arthur & Gertrude Watson. Serving as Leading Cook in H.M Submarines “Cachalot” & “Truant”. Killed when Troopship “Empress of Canada” was sunk on the 13th March 1943, returning from the Far East. WATSON, COLIN THOMAS Rank:…………………………….Leading Cook (S) Service No:………………………P/MX 54244 Date of Death:……………………13/03/1943 Age:……………………………....25 Service:…………………………..Royal Navy, H.M.S. Victory III Panel Reference Panel 79, Column 1. Memorial PORTSMOUTH NAVAL MEMORIAL Additional Information: Son of Arthur William and Maud Watson, of Cromer, Norfolk. CWGC,%20COL... Remembered on the War Memorial in the churchyard as:- Colin Watson R.N The birth of a Colin T Watson was recorded in the Erpingham District which covers Cromer in the October to December 1918 quarter. Looking for that combination of surname, mothers maiden name and registration district throws up the following possible siblings:- Elsie V……birth recorded April to June 1913 Albert F…..birth recorded January to March 1915 Violet L…..birth recorded October to December 1916 Career H M Submarine Cachalot HMS Cachalot (N83) was one of the six ship class of Grampus-class mine-laying submarine of the Royal Navy. She was built at Scotts, Greenock and launched 2 December 1937. She served in World War II in home waters and the Mediterranean. She was rammed and sunk by the Italian torpedo boat Generale Achille Papa on 30 July 1941. In August, 1940, Cachalot torpedoed and sank the German submarine U-51 in the Bay of Biscay and in September the German auxiliary minesweeper M 1604 / Österreich hit a mine laid by Cachalot and sank. She was assigned to operate in the Mediterranean in 1941. Cachalot left Malta on 26 July, bound for Alexandria and instructions to look out for an escorted tanker heading for Benghazi. At 2 o’clock on the morning of 30 July a destroyer was spotted heading towards Cachalot, forcing the submarine to dive. On returning to the surface the submarine was attacked by the Italian destroyer. Cachalot attempted to dive again but the upper hatch jammed, and the Italian destroyer rammed her. The crew scuttled the ship as they abandoned her and all personnel except for a Maltese steward were picked up by the Italians. (Colin had obviously moved on by that stage). H M Submarine Truant HMS Truant was a T-class submarine of the Royal Navy. She was laid down by Vickers Armstrong, Barrow and launched on the 5 May 1939. Truant's first major victory came when she torpedoed and damaged the German light cruiser Karlsruhe off Kristiansand, Norway, which disabled both engines and power stations. Karlsruhe had to be scuttled with two torpedoes by the German torpedo boat Greif. Truant later attacked the British merchant Alster, unaware that it had been recently captured from the Germans, but her torpedoes missed. She also intercepted the German merchant Tropic Sea. Tropic Sea had formerly been in Norwegian service, but had been captured by the German armed merchant cruiser Orion in the South Pacific. The Tropic Sea was scuttled by the German prize crew in the Bay of Biscay. Truant had a narrow escape, when she was attacked by the River-class submarine Clyde, who had mistaken her for an enemy submarine. Fortunately, Clyde's torpedoes missed. Assigned to the Mediterranean in mid 1940, Truant went on to sink a number of enemy ships, including the Italian merchant vessels Providenza, Sebastiano Bianchi and Multedo, the Italian tankers Bonzo and Meteor, the Italian auxiliary submarine chaser Vanna, the Italian passenger/cargo ship Bengasi and the German merchantman Virginia S. Truant also damaged the small Italian tanker Prometeo and the Italian torpedo boat Alcione, which was later declared a total loss. She also unsuccessfully attacked the Italian merchant vessels Utilitas, Silvia Tripcovich, Bainsizza and Arborea, the small Italian tanker Labor and the German merchantman Bellona. Truant was assigned to operate in the Far East, against Japanese shipping in 1942. She torpedoed and sank the Japanese merchant cargo ships Yae Maru and Shunsei Maru and the Japanese army cargo ship Tamon Maru No.1. She also attacked the Japanese light cruiser Nagara, but the torpedoes missed their target. She was also prominent at the Battle of Badung Strait. Truant survived the war and was sold to be broken up for scrap on 19 December 1945. She was wrecked in December 1946 whilst en route to the shipbreakers. Her patrol diaries can be read here. On the day The Empress of Canada. Following the outbreak of World War II in 1939, she was converted for use as a troopship. She was one of the ships in the first Australian/New Zealand convoy, designated US.1 for secrecy, destined for North Africa and at that time not yet fully converted for full troop capacity with few ships of the convoy carrying more than 25% more than their normal passenger load. Empress of Canada departed Wellington 6 January 1940 with the New Zealand elements, joined the Australian ships and arrived Aden on 8 February from where the convoy split with all ships heading for Suez. She continued to transport ANZAC troops from New Zealand and from Australia to the war zones in Europe until sunk. The return voyage from Europe was not less dangerous than the trip north had been. On 13 March 1943, while en route from Durban, South Africa to Takoradi carrying Italian prisoners of war along with Polish and Greek refugees, the SS Empress of Canada was torpedoed and sunk by the Italian submarine Leonardo Da Vinci approximately 400 miles (640 km) south of Cape Palmas off the coast of Africa. Of the approximate 1800 people on board, 392 died. Nearly half of the fatalities reported were Italian prisoners. A recurring theme amongst survivors and relatives is the losses and injuries suffered from shark attack in the days afterwards - it took up to six days in some cases to be rescued. A more phlegmatic description of the aftermath appears in The Montreal Gazette, dated Feb.21 1944. Logs Kept on Empress of Canada gives Graphic Facts on Sinking. Victoria B,C February 19th. The log of a Victoria man, Third Officer M D Atkins, 19, graphically tells the story of the sinking of the line Empress of Canada, a year ago, with loss of 400 lives. Atkins was on the Empress of Asia a year previously when she went down under a shower of Japanese bombs off the Sumatra coast. Atkins, now studying here for his second officers certificate, wrote the following log; March 13th 1943 - at 2345 hours, (11.45 pm) Empress of Canada was torpedoed by an Italian sub (400 miles of Freetown, West Africa). Order to abandon ship given at 2400 hours, (midnight). Was in bed at the time. Went to station at power lifeboat, starboard. Launched the boat in about fifteen minutes with six men in it. No line attached to power boat, so left behind by Canada, still under way. Canada listed badly with explosion but afterwards righted. Submarine hit her with a second torpedo at 0050 hours, (12.50 am), March 14th and Canada disappeared at 0110 hours, (1.10 am). Sub surfaced close to the boats and called for an Italian doctor among Italian prisoners being taken to England. Found him and took him aboard. Also called for a Greek submarine commander who was on board and had been causing trouble for Itallian shipping in the Mediterranean but no one gave him away, so they left without him. Picked up one of the engineers from the water and then got engine going and picked up two survivors floating with their red lights showing and tied together several Carley floats to the power boats and waited for dawn. When daylight came we put survivors out of the boat on to the floats and spent all day Sunday, march 14, picking up survivors and loading them on floats and herding lifeboats and floats together to save them getting separated and lost. Lay to by sea anchor Sunday night and spent Monday picking up other survivors and keeping floats and boats together. Also picked up several tins of food stores and kegs of water. Finally had enough food supplies aboard to last 35 days by rationing. About 1730 hours, (5.30 pm),Sunday March 14, Catalina flying boat spoke to us and found out we were survivors from the Canada and then left to report our position. Checked stores and spent time figuring rations. Sighted British destroyer on the horizon at 1830 (6.30 pm) March 15. Destroyer picked up survivors from the lifeboats and floats and reached us 2130, (9.30 pm) Monday. By this time the destroyer had a full load and was leaving us when the skipper inquired how many loads they had taken aboard and received the answer, 13 loads., and ordered the crew to pick us up to break the jinx, which was very acceptable to us. Destroyer then headed and steamed for Freetown, arriving there March 18. We put up at the Grand Hotel, Freetown and sailed for Liverpool, March 26, arriving in Liverpool April 28. Forty-eight people in lifeboat including one woman, pregnant, who was in the water 18 hours before being rescued. In November 1939, after 200 Pacific crossings, Empress of Canada was requisitioned for trooping. On 1 March 1943, she left Durban with about 1800 people on board, including 400 Italian prisoners of war and 200 Poles who had been released by the Soviet Union after Germany invaded. On the night of 13-14 March 1943, she was torpedoed twice by the Italian submarine Leonardo da Vinci about 400 miles (640 km) south of Cape Palmas and sank within 20 minutes after the second attack. There were 392 fatalities: 340 passengers, including a majority of the Italian prisoners, 44 crew and 8 gunners. The survivors were taken to Freetown and, from there, resumed their trip to England on Mauretania. From the memoirs of a Polish officer aboard the ship. The previous chapter had talked about this being the 13th day of the voyage, and during the afternoon he’d distracted some of the lady passengers who became distressed at seeing a rat scuttling on the lifeboat ropes by joking about deserting the sinking ship. Chapter 74 Torpedoed That night the joke with the rat ceased to be amusing when the most feared maritime war incident became a reality. During the evening, fears concerning the ominous number had appeared to subside. The new day, unaffected by superstition, was about to begin. As the lights went out, the night’s quiet darkness consumed the ship and the sub-equatorial waters surrounding her. All the men, including the “jolly” ones succumbed to the mastery of the soothing waves. As midnight approached, there was not enough time left for the supernatural force to prove its evil power. Few were awake to count the last few minutes of the day bearing the superstitious number. The evil power came like a treacherous thief in the night. An enormous explosion jolted the massive body of the ship, throwing the troops out of their hammocks. In bewilderment, all remained quiet for a moment or two. This was replaced by the shrieking sound of the ship’s alarm system blaring a grim message in regular intervals. It continued piercing everyone’s ears with its terrible sound of distress. Stanley immediately climbed into his pants, shirt and shoes. In spite of the obvious threat to human life, there was no panic, no screaming, no wild scenes on deck; just silence and disbelief. With each beat of the alarm, the lights grew dimmer and dimmer. For a while, they played with the spectrum of darkness and then danced away with one last final flicker. And then the corridors were enclosed in complete darkness. The powerful ship like a wounded beast took a slight list to the right. The ghostly shadows of people passed in silence down the long halls in a solemn ceremony of fear. Stanley followed in this procession hearing only the sound of shuffling feet and the hum of the moving crowd. The passengers quickly climbed the steps until they reached the grey opening to the outside deck and the cool night air. In no time, the deck was crowded with moving people seeking a means of salvation. Small lifeboats hung from the sides, barely visible against the grey sky. The reflective brightness of the white life jackets broke the monotony. Stanley moved to his pre-arranged place on the upper deck where a ship’s official was to direct him to a lifeboat. In the darkness and under the moving feet, markings were no longer recognizable. The crowd on the deck was no longer quiet and orderly. While attempting to reach their respective lifeboats, the passengers were becoming increasingly irritable and impatient. These modes of transport did not appear to be in abundance and as the survivors began to acknowledge this fact, pandemonium began to grow. Amidst the darkness and general commotion, the orders of the sailors were incoherent. The voices of the crew repeated, “Women first, women first” as they filled the remaining lifeboats with grappling people. As time grew short, the voices of the passengers grew more and more disturbed; some screamed, some cried. The increasing strain for survival broke down any inner control they may have had. Below in the water, other people were screaming too. In the initial panic, some had jumped into the darkness of the ocean. Now they were hoping to be picked up by any boat that descended the side of the ship. Their calls were to no avail. The boats that passed them were already overloaded and in a desperate rush to get away from the sinking ship. The white dotted images like floating balls were left to their own devices. At this point, all available boats were gone. The only lifeboats were on the left side of the ship, since the torpedo had entered the right side. Stanley stood alone on the deck and the space around him became mysteriously empty. Only a few human silhouettes moved around the periphery of his dimmed sight. On the aft side of the ship, Stanley began to hear loud voices and a crescendo of banging and breaking chains. Someone was attempting to release a raft from the ship. It was bound to get caught in the whirlpool of the sinking giant. Stanley considered his options. A few ropes hung from the side of the ship and he somehow questioned their ability to save him. From the middle of the ship, Stanley heard several loud voices, “Women aboard, women aboard”. From out of nowhere a motorboat appeared. At this point, Stanley slid down the rope. His palms immediately burned as the flesh was seared from his hands. Only the life jacket kept him afloat. Miraculously, he began to feel hands reaching for him. He found himself pulled up and safely released into the vessel. Once again, the hand of God favored his existence with a rescue. Filled to capacity, the survivors squeezed together like a sponge to make room for one more. And then in an instant the boat pulled away into the unrelenting darkness of the night, moving quickly over the bumpy waves. Someone remarked, “There has to be another bang”. Stanley looked back at the marvelous beast. The huge black hulk was still showing its irregular contours above the water. The shapes were barely visible now against the lighter shade of darkness of the midnight sky. Wild screams of desperation still sounded from the ship’s direction. Those still in the water called for help in vain. Their only hope of survival was to swim a safe distance before the U-boat commander decided to send the next torpedo. Amidst this hellish scene, the second explosion shattered the air. A large column of water shot up against the dark sky. This was the final verdict for the people still in close proximity to the hulk of the ship. The foaming water absorbed the wretched souls. The proud luxury liner like a dying animal, made a final attempt to lift up. Slowly the aft came up from the water, but the fore weighed heavily down. With the roar of rushing water, she sank deeper and deeper, accelerating her downward trend until a foamy blanket of bubbles buried her forever. The topping of the white foam boiled for a while, before the waves removed it from the surface of the sea. From a distant lifeboat, an astonishing sound emerged. Sailors stood in the boats, holding their hats, and singing “Roll Out the Barrel”. Stanley could not comprehend how they could sing at such a moment. He never learned the symbolic meaning of the tune and its lyrics, in spite of later questioning the British sailors. No sooner had the song died in the night than the Italian U-boat, the Leonardo da Vinci, emerged. Its searchlights beamed towards the lifeboats. Information was exchanged between a group of British sailors and the men on the u-boat. The Leonardo da Vinci submerged, leaving the survivors alone to contemplate the tragedy. The Leonardo da Vinci would not escape retribution. Approximately two months later, on May 24, 1943, she would be sunk by the destroyers HMS Active and HMS Ness near Cape Finisterre. The death of the Empress did not quench the screams. Desperate voices lingered and then gradually died in the darkness. The mighty gods of the sea’s underworld mercilessly absorbed them as their own. At dawn, the rising sun revealed the magnitude of the night’s destruction. Boats and rafts were strewn aimlessly across the water as far as the eye could see. It was the site of a battlefield although no corpses were to be seen. The forces of Nature had buried them deep within the waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Chapter 75 Praying for Rescue When morning came, Stanley offered his seat on the boat to one of the Polish ladies, taking in exchange her place on a big square raft. Many of those on board were barely clad, some smeared with black oil and all suffering from thirst. Stanley’s hands, open and raw stung with each touch of the salty water. A Canadian flyer immediately assumed command of the group. Another was appointed to disburse the limited food supplies. A container of water and a box of crackers were provided in the raft’s special compartment. Each survivor was allocated five milligrams of water and one cracker each day. The inhabitants quickly learned tolerance of one another in such crowded circumstances. Other amenities were graciously provided due to the foresight of the British. A canvas roof, a canvas fence, and a mast were hidden in the center of the raft. These were set up in order to provide protection from the sun. The survivors kept their eyes focused on the horizon, hoping to catch sight of the coming rescue. The first afternoon a British plane flew over signaling messages of hope. The sign of the plane assured them the British Admiralty was watching. It was merely a matter of when they might reach the area. Meanwhile the survivors bore the heat of the equatorial sun, the sight of threatening sharks cruising, and bumpy waves continuously increasing in size. The raft was big, about 10’ by 15’, but too small for the number that it held. At least 55 men now called it home. Although the survivors suffered in the heat of the day, the night provided a cool recovery. With the canvas roof above, Stanley kept his head exposed to the night air, enjoying the cool breeze and thoughtlessly let his feet dangle in the water. A sailor swiftly shouted one of his known English words, “Shark!” The beast swept passed, angered by the loss of his intended prey. The second night, the peaceful waters were replaced by massive waves. As the raft bounced up and down, visibility became rather limited and it became difficult to distinguish the other lifeboats floating in the water. Chapter 76 Rescue at Sea The third day was quiet with a blue sky and peaceful current. The survivors anxiously looked to the skies and horizon for some evidence of rescue. No welcome sign of a ship’s smokestack was forthcoming. Dusk was settling before the anticipated vision appeared. Three destroyers (The Boreas, the Petunia, and the Crocus) and one Ellerman line vessel (the Corinthian) had been sent. Even so, it felt like eternity before the first rescue ship reached the raft. Impatiently some took hold of the two oars attempting to move the raft closer to the destroyer. The efforts were in vain. The raft did not move at all. They remained at the mercy of the rescue ship, which seemed so close and yet so far. It was already dark, almost 10 p.m., when the destroyer reached the raft and dropped a rope ladder. English hospitality treated the survivors with a cup of hot tea. And then they proceeded with other basic needs, food, washing, and medical treatment. In due course, a medical person attended to the wounds on Stanley’s palms and instantly relieved the burning sensation. Wrapped in a warm woolen blanket Stanley spent a comfortable night on the open deck. The following morning several were transferred to a light cruiser named the “Karynthia”. A rope gangplank was thrown between the boats, and Stanley gingerly made his way across. The cruisers mission was to sink the remaining rafts and boats. Throughout the day, he watched from the deck as depth charges were dropped underwater. Cadavers surrealistically reappeared and floated above the waves. Even some lucky survivors also were rescued from the waters, having floated for three days. A Polish subaltern, covered with the sticky residue of oil, was picked up about 4 p.m. He must have been one of the last to leave the ship, and thus became immersed in the black oil. This uncomfortable covering also became his salvation, as fish are reluctant to touch oil-encrusted objects. After sinking the residues of the disaster, the warship sailed towards the West African port of Freetown. My memories of the sinking of the "Empress of Canada" When I returned home to Liverpool after being torpedoed on the "Duchess of Atholl", I was granted 3 weeks of shore leave, and then also told to report to another C.P.R. ship the "Empress of Canada", in Scotland. This was March 1943. We embarked three thousand troops, and sailed to join a convoy of Royal Navy destroyers and a cruiser with spotter planes. Once we had left port we were informed we were headed to the Middle East. We sailed around South Africa where the convoy split in two, one half going to Cape Town, and the other to Durban. I was in the convoy to Durban. Once there we refueled with oil, water and provisions, then continued up the east coast through the Suez Canal onto Port Said and Alexandria, where the troops disembarked. We returned to Durban and Cape Town for more provisions to see us through our journey home. We stayed for 3 days and were allowed shore leave - the first for about six weeks. Before we sailed our numbers were swelled with the embarkation of 499 Italian Prisoners Of War, Greek and Polish refugees, and some medical casualties. With the crew, there was a total of 1,346 personnel aboard for our return trip home. Lots of Troopships intermittently sailed alone for the U.K., without a naval escort. This was nothing out of the ordinary. Everything was going well until just after midnight, on the morning of the 14th March, there was a terrific explosion that shook the ship violently from stem to stern. The engines and the generators stopped, leaving the ship in total darkness. There was a lot of confusion and shouting to each other. I just grabbed my life jacket and bolted through the door, making my way to the main hallway where there was an emergency exit. It was a steel spiral staircase leading up to the deck. The ship was taking a heavy list to the port side, and this made it very difficult getting up to the top deck on the ladder. When I got to the boat deck the ship was listing even more heavily, still to the port side, which meant that only half the lifeboats could be launched. I managed to get into a boat before it was lowered away. As soon as we hit the water we pulled clear of the ship, knowing that as she was sinking we could be sucked down with her. The night was filled with all the cries and calls for help. We pulled as many people as we could out of the water and filled the boat up as much as we dare. We also had to keep bailing water out of the boat constantly. We were extremely lucky that the weather was calm, or else we would have sunk because the boats were very overcrowded. With so many different languages being spoken, the confusion continued into near-chaos. I'm sure there was many a prayer said that night for the weather to stay calm. It really was a dreadful night. When daylight broke the next morning, there was quite a lot of wreckage about - life rafts, lifebelts; anything that would float had people clinging on for dear life. Every lifeboat was dangerously low in the water. It was very hot during the day, but very cold at night. Almost everyone was dressed in their nightclothes. I was clad only in a pair of shorts and a life jacket. My foot was bleeding; I had stood on broken glass. We saw a lot of sharks in the water and had to fend them off with our oars when they came too close. On the third day, we were preparing for another night when just before dusk we saw the passenger ship "Corinthia", the R.N. Destroyer "Boreas" and 2 corvettes. I'm sure our cheers and cries could be heard for miles. We were all exhausted and many of us may not have had the strength to face another night. God had heard and answered our prayers. The survivors of our boat were picked up by the destroyer, "Boreas", which by a strange quirk of fate had been the same destroyer that had picked me up from the wreckage of the "Duchess of Atholl", on my prior trip. So my Guardian Angel must have been watching over me again. We were taken to Takoradi to await transport home to the U.K. We learned later that the number of people on board was 1,346 and the number of people who died was 392, 44 of which were crewmembers. I'm sure the brave officers and Deckhands that launched the lifeboats must have been among those 44 crewmembers. I had slept in a 4-berth cabin with three other mates, and I am sorry to say that I never saw 2 of them ever again after that dreadful night. I later learned that it was an Italian submarine "Leonardo Da Vinci" that had sunk our ship. The Royal Navy later sank her. It was said that the Harbor Master of Cape Town had been giving information on the movements of Ships and Convoys to the enemy. That's why we lost so many ships and brave lives in the South Atlantic. Footnote: Recently I watched the movie "Titanic", and it brought back memories of the night of the horrible attack on the "Canada". There was only one difference that really stuck in my mind - the "Titanic" sank in icy waters, and the "Canada" sank in shark-infested water - but, thank God, so many of us survived. CHARLES CUSACK Another reminiscence. Colin was one of 59 Royal Navy men lost with this sinking. The Admiralty enquiry into the loss is held at the National Archive under reference ADM 358/3259

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