John Moore, shown first on the left in this old photo of war comrades.
Lost At Sea
by Alison MacRae
Watching the "Imitation Game," a story about breaking the Enigma Code, I was shocked. This code took over two years to break. In those two years, some convoys were allowed to get through. Sadly, other convoys were allowed to be torpedoed. Intelligence knew the position of the U-Boats daily but could not let all the convoys go through as the Germans, realizing it was cracked would have changed the code. This got me to thinking about my cousins who were sailors on ships at the time. I decided to investigate further.
I would like to thank The British Merchant Navy - Old Friends Plus. I have been a member of this group for a number of years. They helped me find discharge papers, which contained lots of information on two of my cousins that were in the Merchant Navy. This is a free site which runs on donations. I highly recommend this site to anyone who may have had family members that were in the Merchant Navy.
So, this is my tribute to my cousins, who sadly died tragically at sea and now have no voice.
Writing this was very emotional and very sad because I was really not aware of the Enigma Code and the results from it.
Two of my cousins served in the Merchant Navy and One served in the Royal Navy in WW2,
It also seems with the name MacIver the men had what I would call "sea blood". It started a long time before the War, in the 1800's as some of my ancestors were instrumental in the start of the Cunard Line.
I will start with my cousin John MacIver. John was a puzzle I had to do a lot of research to solve. His grandfather was a brother to my great grandfather, and that was our connection. John's father's name was also John, and his mother name was Annabelle Maclennan. John was born on the Isle of Lewis, in 1921 and when he was a toddler the family moved to Glasgow.
John was heroic even at a very early age. At 14 he plunged into the Monkland Canal and saved a toddler from drowning, Now much of the route of the Monkland Canal lies beneath the M8 motorway. Its culverted remains still supply water to the Forth and Clyde canal.Luckily for the toddler, John lived beside this canal. It was likely a place where he and his friends visited daily.
Records showed that John also had a Gaelic name which of course would not have been used when he moved to Glasgow. It also explains why it is so hard to trace ancestors. He joined the Merchant Navy when he was 17 years of age, I am sure the excitement of being a teenager and watching the newsreels of the war at the movies made it an exciting thing to do, as he was so young to be off to war. He started off as a Petty Mess hand and worked his way up to 3rd Engineer, this was done in a span of four years.
His last and fatal trip that he signed up for was on the SS Baron Erskine.This was built by D & W Henderson & Co Ltd, Glasgow. Baron Erskine was completed in 1930 and had seen many a trip on the high seas. The ship was loaded with a cargo of phosphates in Tampa Florida and sailed on 9 December 1941. It sailed to Sydney, Cape Breton. It joined up with homeward bound 28-ship convoy SC-62 on the 27 December 1941. During the crossing Baron Erskine began to lose speed and was lagging behind the convoy, the reason was put down to bad coal, makes me wonder was more people on the lookout for enemy sightings? I also wondered if they were aware of what could happen? Then the ship fell out of the convoy by the 1st January 1942. On the 6 January, it was torpedoed twice and sunk by U Boat 701 at 4:27 pm.
It was reported that the ship sunk slowly and 34 men on a lifeboat and several rafts were questioned by the Germans from the U-Boat, they misunderstood the name of the ship and the name was recorded as Baron Haig that they had sunk, so it was not until 10 January it was discovered Baron Haig was still active on high seas but the Baron Erskine was missing.
The 40 crew members were never seen again. It was then they knew it was Baron Erskine that was sunk.Now this part was heartbreaking for me, how many days did they drift in the Ocean in terrible winter weather conditions waiting for rescue, and what happened to them? How long did they live before they realised nobody was coming? Oh, it is so horrible to think this.
John was 21 years of age. The youngest on the ship was 16 and the oldest was 61. There is a panel listing their names on the Tower Hill Memorial in London.
My other cousin that was in the Merchant Navy, was John Moore. His father's name was Joseph Moore, his mother was Annabella MacIver who was a sister to my Grandfather. Joseph Moore was the relief lighthouse keeper of the Flannan Isle Mystery. John was born on the Isle of Lewis in 1903. He was married to Hilda W. Richards of Cardiff in 1937. He was a 2nd Engineer on the ill-fated steamship tanker named Tia Juana, 2,395 tons built by Harland & Wolf Ltd, Belfast.
John's last journey was from the Dutch Island of Aruba, which was home to two of the largest oil refineries in the world during WW2, Oil was important in the war efforts to Britain.That was why they were there to take the crude oil back to Britain.
The ship cargo was crude oil and the ship was unescorted and would have been an easy target for the U-boat 502 which torpedoed it.
It caught fire and must have exploded into an inferno. It sank quickly about 25 miles SW of Punta Macolla, Venezuela on the 16 February 1942. Just finding what the cargo was that they were carrying makes it even more of a horror how it burnt and went down quickly. There was a crew of 26, and 17 died. 9 crew members were rescued. The youngest crew member was 17 and the oldest was 55. There is also a panel listing their names on Tower Hill Memorial in London.
The Commonwealth Merchant Navy seamen who lost their lives in the Two World Wars was a total of 50,700. How very tragic.
Now, my cousin, Donald Murdo MacIver was born on the Isle of Lewis he signed up with the Royal Navy as a seaman. His father's name was Angus, who was a brother to my Grandfather, and his mother was Marion Graham. Donald was born in 1923, he was working as a plumber before he signed up as a seaman, another young lad who was excited about joining the Navy at a young age. He was on the HMS Ganilly (T367) a Royal Naval Patrol boat, used mainly on minesweeping and harbour defence duties. It was built by Cook, Welton & Gemmell Ltd in Yorkshire.
Donald's ill-fated trip started off in Seine Bay, it was escorting convoy EBC-30 when it was torpedoed about 12 miles east south-east of Cap Barfleur, Utah Beach Normandy.It was the 5th July 1944, at 8:21 a.m.
The day before, on the 4th of July Donald celebrated his birthday. I like to think there would have been some kind of celebration and a cake would have been made for him as well I am sure. After all, birthdays are happy events and when you turn 21 that was known as having the "Key to the Door" that was indeed a special birthday to celebrate.
The crew of 39 all died. The youngest was 18 and the oldest was 41. The memorial panel is at the Lowestoft Naval Memorial. Donald's name is also on the tombstone with his Mum and Dad in the Isle of Lewis cemetery.
Almost 2,400 of the Royal Naval patrol service have no grave but the sea.
I will finish this with a quote from the famous Scottish Poet, Robbie Burns, it is the 3rd verse of "A Red Red Rose."
"Till a the seas gang dry, my dear
And the rocks melt wi the sun
And I will luv thee still my dear
While the sands o life shall run."
At left is John MacIver. At right is Donald Murdo MacIver