We all know about the sinking of HMS Hood in 1941 with loss of all but three of the ship’s company.
But I wonder how many of you know that 70 years ago on the night of December 5/6, 1942, a merchant troopship – the Ceramic – was torpedoed in the north Atlantic.
She was lost with all lives except one who was saved by the crew of the very submarine that sunk the ship from under him, U515 – 655 men, women and children were lost.
On board were several men from Portsmouth and Gosport. One was a man who would have been my uncle – my father’s brother Lt William Hind of the Hampshire Regiment.
Six years previously on January 26, 1936, he had been a pall bearer at the funeral of King George V. He was a guardsman then. Before marriage, he lived in Crofton Road, Milton.
The Ceramic was in a 50-ship convoy and was on her way to St Helena, Durban and Sydney. Along with six other ships she broke away from the convoy and headed south.
But U515 lay in wait with her commander Werner Henke.
After several hits the Ceramic started to sink and her passengers were ordered to abandon ship. What Henke may not have known was that there were women, children and nurses on board and although many made it to the lifeboats they were all lost when a terrific storm blew up.
The one survivor was Sapper Eric Munday, whom I had the privilege to meet on several occasions. He had been in the water for several hours when the U-boat surfaced and took him on board. He spent the rest of the war in a prison camp.