Glasgow & West Scotland

Family traced after plea over watch from torpedoed SS Athenia

Image caption The museum appealed for information about the owner of the watch

An appeal for information about the original owner of a watch gifted to a Scottish museum has helped reunite members of his family.

Sidney Worrall was a cook on board the SS Athenia, the first British ship to be sunk by Germany in World War Two.

He gave his watch to a Canadian passenger and almost 80 years later it ended up at Glasgow's Riverside Museum.

Sixteen members of his family responded to the museum curator's plea for more details about Mr Worrall.

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

The ship was sunk by a torpedo from a German submarine in September 1939, off the coast of Ireland.

Mr Worrall was badly injured in the attack, which killed 117 people, and passed his watch to a Canadian man who was in the same lifeboat, Gerry Hutchinson.

When Mr Hutchinson died, his son Rob donated the watch to the Riverside Museum.

Image caption Family members Cath Muir and Dr Ernie Worrall were introduced when they viewed the watch at the Riverside Museum

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

He went on to marry and have a daughter and died in 1973. Family members said he never mentioned the watch he had left in the hands of a stranger.

Among those to come forward in response to the museum's appeal for information were his granddaughter Cath Muir and nephew Dr Ernie Worrall, who did not know each other.

Pathe newsreel

Ms Muir said: "What a surprise it was when by husband told me there was an appeal for information on my grandfather. I remember him as a child. He was very badly burned when the Athenia was attacked and had many skin grafts on his face and legs. He told us that they were his maps of the world.

"After returning from Galway he was pensioned out of the Merchant Navy due to the injuries he sustained, but he returned to sea to serve in the war, he felt it was his duty to do so, but that meant he had to forgo part of his pension. After the war he worked as a hospital porter in Law Hospital, Lanarkshire.

"I am indebted to Gerry for keeping my grandfather's watch safe all these years and I look forward to bringing my own grandchildren to Riverside to see it on display soon."

The seaman's nephew, Dr Worrall, added: "I was made aware of Riverside's search for my uncle Sid. My father had told me all about him being caught up in the torpedoing of the Athenia.

"A day or so after the sinking, my grandmother's neighbour was at the cinema and saw on the Pathe newsreel that night my uncle being landed as a survivor in Galway. At the end of the picture show she told my grandmother, who at that point would have been unaware whether her son had been killed or had been rescued.

"My grandmother hot-footed it down to the cinema just as the manager was closing up for the night and he kindly opened up and re-ran the newsreel for her while she sat in this empty cinema and was able to be reassured that he was indeed alive."

He added: "Not only has Emily's detective work allowed me to learn more about my family's history, it has put me in touch with Cath and family I didn't know before."

Image caption Rob Hutchison donated the watch to Glasgow's Riverside Museum

Rob Hutchinson, who gifted the watch to the Riverside, said: "I am delighted that the museum has been able to draw together the two ends of this very long story.

"I look forward to one day seeing the museum's display and possibly meeting Sid's family. My father would have been so pleased."

The watch will go on display as part of an updated SS Athenia exhibition at the Riverside which is expected to open in summer 2017.

Curator Emily Malcolm said: "It is wonderful to welcome Cath and Ernie to Riverside, to show them Sid's watch and to introduce them to Rob in Canada. I am so pleased they got in touch.

"We are delighted the family is happy to help Glasgow Museums complete Sid's story and put the watch on display. It's good that something so positive has come from such a disaster."

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