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Appeal over cook's watch from torpedoed SS Athenia

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  • World War Two
image captionThe watch is quite ordinary but curators say it has an "extraordinary" story to tell

A museum which was gifted a watch, worn by a cook on the first British ship to be sunk by Germany in World War Two, is hoping to trace the seaman's family.

Sidney Worrall was badly injured in the attack on the Athenia in 1939, which killed 117 people, and passed his watch to a Canadian man, Gerry Hutchinson.

When Gerry died, his son donated the watch to Glasgow's Riverside Museum.

Mr Hutchinson believed Mr Worrall had died but the museum later learned he survived his injuries.

Curators wants to unite the watch with Mr Worrall's family and hope they will give their blessing for it to go on show at the museum.

The SS Athenia was a transatlantic passenger liner built in Glasgow in 1923 which sailed between the UK and Canada.

The ship was sunk by a torpedo from a German submarine on 3 September 1939, about 200 nautical miles off the northwest coast of Ireland.

image captionThe Riverside Museum has an exhibition devoted to the Glasgow-built liner Athenia

Rob Hutchinson said: "My father Gerry was a passenger on board, and as the order to abandon ship came he helped to load, and then man the lifeboats.

"He ended up in lifeboat six, which also carried the two badly injured cooks. My father did what he could for them over the next few hours, making them as comfortable as possible.

"One of them, named Sid, was really ill when he pressed his wristwatch into my dad's hand, saying 'please look after my watch for me'."

Mr Hutchinson said that his father told him how a rescue ship took survivors from the Athenia to Galway, where he had presumed that Sid had died.

image captionRob Hutchison donated the watch to Glasgow's River

He added: "My dad grew to treasure the watch that he had been entrusted with.

"He returned home and eventually became a minister of the United Church of Canada.

"He didn't talk about his experiences much, but when he did he would show the wristwatch and talk about Sid."

When Gerald Middleton Hutchinson died in 2015, his son Rob decided to donate some of his Athenia-related items to the Riverside Museum in Glasgow, which has a display dedicated to the ship and tells the story of the sinking.

The museum's curator, Emily Malcolm, said the watch was a "perfectly ordinary 1930s man's wristwatch" but she said the story it had to tell was "absolutely fascinating".

She said: "I was extremely surprised to find that Sidney Worrall, the second fish cook on board Athenia, didn't die after the sinking.

"The records are very patchy, but it looked as if he had recovered and gone on to live and marry in Scotland."

Ms Malcolm has been unable to find a record of death for any Sidney Worrall in Scotland until 1973.

She added: "Together with Rob and his family in Canada we would love the public's help in tracing Sid's relatives.

"I think they would be genuinely touched to learn that Gerry had kept his treasured watch safe all these years.

"We hope that, with their blessing, it can go on show at Riverside to help tell the important story of the Athenia disaster and those that were on board on that fateful day."

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