British Oversea Evacuations: The Ships

Figure 1.--The Cunard liner 'SS Samaria' seems to have brought these British boys right into New York City. They may have been private evacuees and not part of the official CORB groups, but there was a large group of evacyuee children aboard. The press caption read, "Arriving on Samaria: A right smart couple of boys were Clyde Davies, 9 (left), and his brother, Trevor, 12, of London, who were found asleep in one of the 'S.S. Samaria's life boats when it arrived here [New York City], August 21 [1940], with 210 refugee children." 'Refugees' was an Amerivcan term, the Vriotish called them 'evacuees'. Parents admonished all the older siblings to look out after their younger brothers and sisters. Trevor seens to be doing just that with Clyde right beside him. Notice how Trevor has tucked his evacuee tag into his blazer pocket. Hopefully the anchor badge on the school cap and blazer badge will help identify their school. It looks to be a toney private school.

We believe that the ships used for the overseas evacuations were passenger carying liners,but do not yet have details. Liners tended to be relatively fast ships and thus safer than the slower cargo vessels. As the convoy system had been adopted by the time the evacuations began, however, the liners could only go as fast as the convoy to which it was assighned. And tragically the hard-pressed Royal Navy in 1940 was woefully short of escort vessels and anti-sumarine warfare (ASW) tactics were still poorly developed. We do not have a complete list of ships used for the overseas evacuations, but they included: SS City of Benares, Duchess of Atholl, Samaria,, and Volendam. Some of these were Cunard liners. They seemed to havev carried groups of about 200-300 evacuee children. Most of the ships made for Montreal because that was where the convoys headed and U.S. ports were at first closed to the British convoys because of the American Neutrality Acts which President Roosevelt was attempting to have repealed. We note some ships docking at New York City, like the SS Samria here (figure 1). We are not entirely sure yet just what the rules were. Most liners taking refugees from Europe to America chose the shorter route to Canada. I am trying to find out the status of those ships that were still sailing to New York after the outbreak of hostilities and the first U-boats attacks. Jitler invaded Poland (September 1). Britain and France declared war (Seotember 3). Britain immediately activated an embargo on all German shipping and Admiral Dönitz had U-boats ready to begin attacks on British shipping. This launched the Battle of the Atlantic, the most extended campaign of the War. Hitler at first was convinced that Britain would not declare war and then with Poland rapidly defeated would quickly make peace. As a result, the small number of German U-boats at first operated under very restrictive rules of engagement. Neither side had enough ships to enforce effectyively their embargo. Americans were determined to stay neutral, but there was considerable sympathy for Britain and France. The Neutrality Laws, however, palced strict limits on the shipment of arms and material to combatant countries. The Roosevelt Administration set out to revise the Neutrailty Laws, but that took some time and the Isolationists tried to prevent it. Passenger liners were allowed to continue operating as long as arms and munitions were not aboard. It shold be noted that the sinking of the liner RMS Lusitania (1915) played a major role in bringing America into World Wat I. We now know that there were munitions in the hold. As it was, the first British ship sank by a U-boat was the liner SS Athenia (September 3, 1939). A British reader who was one of the evacuees writes, "I have come across many past evacuees who arrived in New York, but they seem to be children who were sponsored by family and friends rather than sent by organisations. A few years ago I saw a letter in the London Times, about the Pinkham Family ('Pink pills for pale people'). The thesis of the letters was 'who was Lily the Pink', but anyway. The family lived at the top of the road in Lynn, Mass, and the daughter, Patricia was in my 8th Grade Class. One of the correspondents was a cousin of hers, who is English. He told me that the Pinkham Family had arranged for his evacuation. He came in 1940 with some siblings to New York. I suspect that the shipping lines tried to keep their schedules running for as long as they could. There were after all a lot of Americans still in Europe at the time, and many would have wanted to come home as soon as possible. The majority of the Transatlantic liners were European. The U.S. Lines was quite a small compnay. I am sure there are still timetables of the day to research, but I haven't found a link yet. I am trying. Ancestry publish passenger lists, but I haven't looked there yet."


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Created: 9:40 PM 9/29/2013
Last updated: 1:36 AM 10/9/2013