Luck of the Logans

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"My start in life was extraordinary." War can have a devastating impact on families around the world and in Helen's case their chances of survival were slim.


"My start in life was extraordinary.

I was born in an air raid shelter during a heavy bombing raid on Malta.

My father was posted back to the UK and boarded the troopship Laconia in Durban.

She was torpedoed by a German submarine and sank 800 miles from the coast of Africa.

I was a five month old baby. For six days and five nights, my parents and I were crammed in an overcrowded lifeboat, with no food and very little water. I certainly would have died if I hadn't been breastfed.

Following the rescue, we spent two months in a prisoner-of-war camp in north Africa.

Since then my life has been less adventurous and my childhood with my brother and sister, in the mining village of Ynysybwl, was happy, but nothing out of the ordinary. I went to the grammar school and afterwards worked for the Inland Revenue.

My husband Roy and I met at a dance. Our two sons are married and we have two grandsons. I teach French in adult education and for 30 years I have worked as a school secretary.

When I think how slim our chances of survival were, I realise how fortunate we were to have been spared. I am the youngest survivor of this disaster. Mam and Dad were married for 44 years and Roy and I have been married for 42.

All the good things in life we have experienced would have been lost, if our lives had ended over 60 years ago, as so many others did."

By: Helen Charles
Published: February 2006

An interview with the author

Please tell us a little bit about yourself.
My father Douglas Logan was from Ynysybwl and while serving with the RAF in Malta he met my mother, Violet Whelpdale. After leaving Malta for the UK, they were on board the Laconia when she was torpedoed and sank on Sept. 12th, 1942. I am the youngest survivor. I was brought up in Ynysybwl and my husband, Roy, was originally from Swansea.
My main interest is France and the French language, and I'm an adult education tutor. As a member of Cynon Valley U3A, I am now learning German for visits to Germany.

What is your story about?
My story is too long for the time alloted on the Digital Storytelling workshop as it tells of my parents' experience of the Laconia incident and the events leading up to it and following the disaster. My digital story only relates to the fact that we survived and my parents settled in Ynysybwl where I was brought up, with my brother and sister. I lived in Tonteg after my marriage and moved to Aberdare 32 years ago.

Why did you choose to tell this particular story?
My father, who died in 2002, related it many times and would be delighted to know that I have continued and it hasn't been forgotten.
He would be very proud to know that the story will be on the internet and possibly on TV. I'm very glad I had the opportunity to do this for him.

What did you find most rewarding about the workshop?
To leave with a completed film and a sense of achievement. The information was too much to absorb, but it wetted the appetite to learn more, knowing that it is possible. The whole experience was rewarding and I appreciate the chance I had to peep into another part of the world of computer technology.

Your comments

"We have just found a story written by a Mrs Foster who was a survivor on the Laconia and in a lifeboat with an Elizabeth, Major Norton, LT-Col Baldwin rasc,Junior third office Willis, Jimmy Green, Major Morton,Captain Woonlidge.It is a detailed description of the event and we are not sure who Elizabeth is does anybody have a survivors list?"
Sue Lamb, York.

"My father was a 17 year old Liverpool lad in the Merchant Navy and worked in the stoke hole and endured a very harrowing experience onboard a lifeboat. At first the lifeboat had about 80 people onboard when the u-boat was bombed and when washed up on the African coast after many days at sea he was amongst only 8 survivors. I am very interested to locate any survivors, especially those who were in the same lifeboat as my father."
Theresa Smith, Liverpool.

"I too was on the Laconia and actually sat next to you and your parents in the lifeboat. You were a tiny baby and I was 14 years old. We were in the lifeboat for 5 days before being rescued by the Vichy French cruiser "Gloire". During our time in the lifeboat and Italian submarine surfaced close to us looking for Italian POW's and before leaving us he passed out some milk for you."
Jo Pratchett.

"My grandfather, George Steele, was an officer on the RMS Laconia and went down with the ship. The "Laconia Incident" was an event with a great deal to teach us, lessons that we seem still not to have learned."
G Steele, Thanet, Kent.

"My dad was on this ship called the Laconia. He was a butcher on the ship and he remembers it well. My dad is 82, he is still going strong but partly blind."
B Johnson, Wallasey Merseyside.

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