- Contributed by
- People in story:
- C.H. Hindley, Geoffrey Shakespeare, Lord Provost Dollan
- Location of story:
- SS Volendam, Atlantic Convoy, Gourock, River Clyde
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 28 June 2005
The Gourock Times of 6 September 1940 ran this story about the SS Volendam being torpedoed, and the rescued children from the ship being safely brought to port on the Clyde. The piece is written in a rather veiled form, no doubt due to the constraints of wartime censorship.
British Evacuee Ship Torpedoed
Children All Saved
Ordeal Was a Great Adventure
The 321 children who arrived at a Scottish port last Sunday, following the experience of having their ship torpedoed, were in high spirits, and on the whole looked at the ordeal they had come through as a great adventure. Every assistance was given to them at the port of landing - over 70 came early in the morning, the last lot arriving about mid day. Some were taken to a hydropathic a few miles away, others found ample accommodation in two large hotels, and the last to arrive were taken to a large concert pavilion. The authorities had the able assistance of ladies and gentlemen connected with the various local organisations and others, and it must be mentioned that all who had to share the work of attending to the children did so in a magnificent manner.
The ship was on its way to Canada and was torpedoed in the Atlantic by a U-boat. The vessel, which did not sink, had 600 passengers, including 321 children and a crew of 250. She was torpedoed in the evening. There was a loud explosion, but no one was injured. The only person lost was the purser, who fell overboard and was drowned. Steps were taken to lower the lifeboats, and the children got away first, being taken on different ships. Within 1 ½ hours all the children and passengers were transferred to the rescue vessels. There were 74 children from Scotland. The company of children was one of a number already sent overseas by the Children’s Overseas Reception Board. They were drawn almost entirely from state aided schools and from such widely distributed areas as Dundee, Glasgow, Inverness, Kirkcaldy, Aberdeen, Ayrshire, Dumbartonshire, London, Manchester, Birmingham, Yorkshire, Northumberland, Cardiff, Newcastle-on-Tyne, Lincoln, Cambridge, Aldershot, Isle of Wight, Bristol, Southampton, Newport, Scarborough etc.
The behaviour of the children is described by all concerned as having been wonderful. They showed no sign of panic or fear. With few exceptions the feeling among the children was that they all wanted to go to Canada at the first opportunity. “I saw British pluck at the age of five”, said a 20 year old British seaman. “One would have thought that boys and girls, roused from their beds, rushed up on deck and passed into lifeboats would have been afraid. What did these ‘kids’ do? They sang ‘Roll out the barrel’ and kept on singing it until they were safely on board rescue ships.”
In an official announcement of the sinking (sic) of the liner, the Children’s Overseas Reception Board stated that of the 321 children, 74 were from Scotland. They left this country recently as evacuees sent to a dominion by the board. It is known that the ship in which the children were travelling did not sink, that the transfer of the little evacuees from her to the rescuing ships, one of them a warship, was carried out in perfect order, and that the children’s kits are undamaged. This latter circumstance will be source of additional comfort to the parents.
The children had sailed under the supervision of Mr C.H. Hindley, Headmaster of Stoke School, Gosforth, Newcastle. Mr Hindley said that never in his life had he felt so proud of British children as he did of those 321 boys and girls from all over England, Scotland and Wales. There were town boys, country boys, rich boys and poor boys in the party, and also, of course, girls, and their cheerfulness and courage in the ordeal which they went through was beyond all praise. “The Officers of the ship did everything possible for us,” Mr Hindley continued. “They treated us as the salt of the earth, as it were, for I have never seen such a grand lot of kids. If any of the children had a birthday an enormous cake was forthcoming, and also a present from the crew. It seemed to me as if someone had taken an enormous hammer and hit the ship. It may appear extraordinary, but it is a fact that it took us no more than 3½ minutes to get all those children out of bed and up to their boat stations. Many of the children flung coats or wraps over their pyjamas, a few got on some clothing, but other made their way to the boat deck without stopping to cover their sleeping garments. Three or four boats got away. It was then thought that the ship was in no imminent danger, and an attempt was made to recall the boats, but the disembarkation was continued. By this time a number of ships were standing by. Stewards and stewardesses gave able assistance to the escorts in helping the children to get into the boats.”
‘An Act of God’
“The escape of the children is an act of god. There was a very special guardian angel watching over them.” That was the comment of Mr Geoffrey Shakespeare M.P. , chairman of the Children’s Overseas Reception Board. Continuing he said. “I have been with the children after they landed. Some of them were feeling a little sea-sick, but they are all in great spirits. They are marvellous. They sang in the boats in the rough sea, and most of the boys I spoke to want to go off to Canada in the next ship. We will have to consult the parents as to that but these children will have a preference in the future sailing of evacuees.” Mr Shakespeare also paid a tribute to the great steadiness and courage shown by the Master and the crew and the stewardesses of the liner. He praised the discipline and steadiness of the official escorts with the children. Each escort had charge of a group of 15 children, and they kept up their spirits and courage in a marvellous way. Mr Shakespeare spent the whole of Sunday with the children. The only ‘casualty’ was one child who had been sea-sick, added Mr Shakespeare. At the concert pavilion, where the last lot of the children were cared for, the scene was a moving one. The children wore their life-jackets, and presented a tragically picturesque sight as they filed into the hall in an orderly manner, some in sleeping attire covered by a wrap or coat, some with house shoes, almost all bare headed. The one similarity in the children was their bright countenances, and the ‘pep’ they all displayed. The whole area of the hall had been laid out with beds and blankets in anticipation of arrival during the night. The children squatted on these and waited quietly and unconcernedly for the service of the food which had been prepared by a regular host of willing and sympathetic workers, and which was speedily served.
Expressions of Thanks
Mr Hindley made a few remarks. He said they would be glad to know that all the children were safe (cheers). He was delighted at the way they had all conducted themselves. They were shortly to leave by train for a larger centre, and then they would be sent home (more cheers). Telegrams would be sent to their friends announcing their safety and their cheerfulness (louder cheers).
Lord Provost Dollan, chairman of the Scottish Committee of the Children’s Overseas Reception Board, who arrived at the hall with Provost Rees-Pedlar, gave a few encouraging words to the children. He remarked on what had been done for them, by the people of the town, headed by the Provost, and called for three hearty cheers for all who had been assisting. This was responded to with great gusto. The Lord Provost with the Provost and others, also visited the two hotels, where the other children had been located, and thanks were expressed to proprietors and staff for their splendid work in caring for the young folks.
The progress of the children to and from their temporary quarters was watched with kindly and sympathetic interest by crowds of people and it must be emphasised that the officials in charge, and all those who so willingly stood by during the night and most of the day, did a grand job of work. All who were called upon, including the officials, the hotel proprietors and staffs, Toc H (sic), the voluntary services and local organisations, also the local hospital, placed their full resources at the full disposal of all who had come from the torpedoed vessel, and all felt highly honoured in having the opportunity to lend a hand in one way or the other.
© Copyright of content contributed to this Archive rests with the author. Find out how you can use this.