Sunday, 1 August 2010

The Andalucia Star: a survivor's tale (Part I of 3)

Once again, I am the astonished yet grateful recipient of another remarkable survivor's tale from the sinking of the SS Andalucia Star during World War II.

The Andalucia was cruelly hit and sunk by three torpedoes fired from U-107, a German U-Boat submarine on 6 October 1942. (Click on link to see Wallace Trickett's painting of the attack).

I am now indebted to Michael (Miguel) Webb, a pediatrician working in Comodoro Rivadavia in southern Argentina, who has emailed me a letter he found only recently, written by his father, Gordon F. Webb. The letter, dated 1st November, 1942, written by Gordon to his parents, vividly recalls how he survived the U-Boat attack and witnessed the Andalucia Starfinal moments.

Gordon Webb's letter merits its own space, so my next two postings will feature his eye-witness account in full. Just to remind you, the background to all of this is that my own dear grandfather Les (pictured below) had sailed across the Atlantic many times on board the Andalucia Star before World War II. Naturally, Les was very upset when he learnt the 15,000-ton Blue Star refrigerated passenger, cargo and mail liner - one of his favourite merchant navy ships - had been torpedoed and sunk.

You might also recall how the life of a little girl, aged five, was saved by the bravery of  stewardess Mrs L.A. Green and crewman William Wheeler. Green had switched on a red light on the little girl's lifejacket before lifting her into a lifeboat. Minutes later, the lifeboat dropped as it was lowered and tipped Green and presumably the little girl into the Atlantic waters.
Green was killed but the little girl was fortunate. William Wheeler, hearing the little girl's cries, saw the red light and swam to save her. Incredibly, shortly after I posted this tale, I received an email from Jill McNichol-Harrell(née Bicheno) that simply began: "I was the little girl."

Michael Webb tells me Gordon, his father, spoke very little about the war. But I do know he was in the Royal Air Force, flying as a navigator in Sunderland flying boats, says Michael. He was based in Lanark till he was grounded due to ear trouble.

Remarkably, it was a Sunderland that sunk U-107, adds Michael. I wonder if there is any way of finding out where the avenging Sunderland was based?

Michael adds the Andalucia Stars Argentine flag was recovered with the passengers names on it. For many years it was shown in the Luján History Museum. 

So, Gordon Webb's dramatic and poignant letter, written less than one month after the U-Boat attack, is featured in my next two postings, The Andalucia Star; a survivor's tale, Parts 2 and 3.

(Pictured: Leslie Richard Coleman, my grandfather Les)

Paul Coleman, London, August 2010.

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