Stirling Observer

Athenia survivors relate their story


A number of people with Stirling connection­s were aboard the liner Athenia when it was sunk by a German torpedo on September 3, 1939, the day Britain declared war on Germany.

The ship was travelling from Glasgow to Montreal and had on board 1103 passengers, including 500 Jewish refugees, and 315 crew.

It was the first vessel to be sunk in World War Two when it went down in the Atlantic with the loss of 117 passengers and crew.

Among the survivors was Mrs Bentley Murray, The Shieling, Stirling, who was on her way to Vancouver to meet her married daughter when the tragedy happened.

She told the Observer she was dining when she `felt the characteri­stic whirr of the torpedo’s motor and then a crash.’

Mrs Murray secured a life jacket and grabbed a coat from her cabin and told of `great difficulty’ getting to the lifeboats.

She said someone shoved a rope in front of her and said “slide, lady, for your life”.

Mrs Murray said she was glad in her youth she had done some gymnastics and was able to slide down the rope without damaging her hands.

Others, unused to negotiatin­g a rope, either `tore their hands to ribbons’ or fell into the water before being picked up.

Distress flares were sent up from the lifeboats and in those boats where there were no flares, women gave up their skirts so they could be burned for emergency signals.

Mrs Murray and her fellow survivors were in the open boat for eight hours before they were picked up by Norwegian vessel Knute Nelson.

A total of 428 Athenia survivors were taken on board that ship which later docked at Galway where those who disembarke­d were given brandy and found accommodat­ion.

Mrs Murray described the Irish people she encountere­d as the best examples of `Good Samaritans’ she had encountere­d. Shops supplied her with clothes, on credit, and when she asked one trader if she could purchase a brooch to fasten her blouse, he said `Indeed, you won’t’ and was handed a shamrock brooch adding “I hope it brings you luck”.

Others with Stirling links on the Athenia were reported to be Mrs Hannah Baird, assistant bedroom steward, the sister of a Mrs Campsie, Avenue Lodge, Bridge of Allan; Rev William Allan, his son Mr Andrew Allan and Mr Allan’s fiancée, Miss Judith Evelyn. At the time of writing Mrs Baird and Rev Allan were unaccounte­d for. Rev Allan was the brother of a Mrs Carruthers who was a swimming instructor at Riverside School, Stirling.

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