Wednesday, 31 July 2013

SS Ulysses

SS Ulysses was launched in 1913 in Belfast. She was a steam passenger ship with a displacement of 14,647 tons. She was built for Alfred Holt & Co, trading as the Blue Funnel Line, to sail the route Glasgow - Liverpool - Brisbane. Her home port was Liverpool. During WW1 (1914-1918) she served as a troopship and carried Australian soldiers to the Middle East and Europe and American soldiers across the Atlantic. After the war she resumed commercial service for the Blue Funnel Line in 1920. The Blue Funnel ships all took their names from Greek mythology. They all had that distinctive high blue painted funnel. Most of the ships were cargo ships but a few like Ulysses were passenger liners. Ulysses was sunk in April 1942 by a U-boat and this  is the story of her last voyage.

SS Ulysses(Source:
In 1941 she was in Hong Kong for refitting. Her Captain was James Appleton Russell. The crew were billeted ashore. In September, 1941, whilst nearing completion, the ship was damaged in a typhoon. She had been towed out to a buoy in the harbour, and moored fore and aft, but in the storm, she broke her moorings and ran aground at Green Island, at the western entrance to the harbour. This necessitated further repairs and delayed her departure from Hong Kong. Hong Kong had been living under the threat of a Japanese invasion for several years since Japan invaded  Manchuria in 1931 and the rest of China in 1937. In 1940, many of the British women and children resident in Hong Kong   were evacuated to Australia. In November 1941, two Canadian infantry battalions arrived as reinforcements. The garrison was split into two infantry brigades, one holding the Mainland and the other defending the Island. Hong Kong was on the eve of war, and the Mainland Brigade was already manning the "inner line" known as the Gin Drinkers Line. Tensions were high, but many thought Japan was blustering and that war could be averted. 

In December 1941, Lt Alexander ("Alec") Kennedy, RNVR, commanding officer of MTB 09 one of eight motor torpedo boats based in Hong Kong, had proposed to Rachel Smith. Rachel was the  daughter of Norman Lockhart Smith, the Colonial Secretary. Smith, who  was  known by his initials "NL", was due to retire from the Colonial Government Administration and he and his daughter, Rachel, were booked to sail back to Britain on the Ulysses. Alec Kennedy in a privately published book titled Hong Kong Full Circle 1939-1945 described their departure.
"On the evening of 6th December, the officers and crews of the merchantmen in harbour were recalled to their ships, and the passengers for the Ulysses told to be onboard within 12 hours. I went out to the ship to to say goodbye to Rachel and  "NL" early the next morning. Crossing the harbor the launch passed a coaster which had just arrived from Singapore and had brought among its few passengers the new Colonial Secretary, Mr Franklin Gimson. A steady stream of ships put out from Hong Kong that Sunday morning, all heading south. Ashore the Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corp were being mobilised, and the regular battalions were at their battle stations on the border." 
The Ulysses sailed that fateful Sunday, while the Japanese were preparing to attack the American fleet at Pearl Harbour and to invade Hong Kong, Malaya and the Philippines. After one day's passage  from Hong  Kong, and whilst heading for Manila, they heard by wireless that war had begun, and that Manila  was already under attack. Captain Russell decided to change course and sail to Singapore. Early one morning the ship's siren sounded and a loud explosion was heard. The passengers rushed up to the boat deck to find that a Japanese aircraft had passed overhead and dropped bombs, which resulted in near misses and no damage was done. The next day a  Japanese aircraft strafed the ship with machine guns. Again no serious damage and no injuries were sustained. The destroyers HMS Scout and HMS Thanet which left Hong Kong on Monday evening 8th December bound for Singapore had been ordered to look out for the Ulysses, after her distress signal had been received, stating that she was under attack by Japanese aircraft. They found no sign of her. 

Ulysses (Source: Wikipedia)
The ship eventually reached Singapore, causing some surprise, as people thought she had been sunk,   as after sending out the distress signal, the ship had maintained radio silence. She remained in Singapore for a week, where she undertook further repairs. The passengers, including Rachel and her father, were put ashore and accommodated for a week in the Raffles Hotel. Singapore was being bombed and the Japanese were fighting their way through Malaya towards Singapore. Just before Christmas Ulysses departed Singapore for Fremantle after having embarked a large number of women and children evacuees. From Fremantle they sailed to Adelaide for repairs. By this time Hong Kong had surrendered and Lt Alec Kennedy had escaped with the five remaining MTBs to the coast of China and made his way with the other boat crews across country to Free China. It was in Adelaide that Rachel first heard that her fiancĂ© had escaped and was on his way to Burma. After picking up some cargo, the ship sailed via Sydney, and Auckland across the Pacific and through the Panama Canal into the Atlantic Ocean. One of the passengers who joined the ship in Sydney was nineteen-year-old Helen Hills. She and her mother Edith had gone to Australia in October 1941 to stay with relations. When Edith returned to Hong Kong, she decided to leave Helen in Australia where it would be safer. Edith worked as a Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) nurse in a military hospital in Hong Kong during hostilities, and her husband, Hebert worked in Air Raid Precautions (ARP). After the British surrender Edith and Herbert were interned at Stanley Camp. Helen had two brothers at boarding school in England and decided to return to England on the Ulysses. She later joined the Women's Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF). Stuart, the oldest of her two brothers, joined the Army after leaving school and took part in the invasion of Normandy. He was awarded the Military Cross.

As the Ulysses steamed up the coast of Florida she was involved in a collision. On 8th April 1942 she collided with the Panamanian tanker Gold Heels causing a hole in her hull below the waterline and major damage to her bows. The ship had to slow down, which made her  a target for German U-boats. On April 11th, her luck ran out and she was torpedoed by U-160 off the coast of Carolina. Three torpedoes hit the ship but she settled slowly providing enough time for the life boats to be lowered. Her 195 crew members, which included five gunners, and her 95 passengers, were picked up by an American destroyer, the USS Manley.

SS Ulysses after having been struck by three  torpedoes

The picture above shows the Ulysses' boilers blowing shortly before sinking. This was taken by a US aircraft which first reached the scene. The presence of an aircraft (possibly a  flying boat) probably led to the early departure of U-160. An hour or so later, the destroyer, USS Manley, arrived, scrambling nets were lowered and the the survivors were brought up on deck. They were landed in Charleston and then taken to New York, where they took passage on SS Myrmidon, another Blue Funnel Line ship, back to Britain. The ship joined a convoy (Convoy HX 189) at Halifax on 23rd May 1942 and took sixteen days to arrive at Greenock, Glasgow. 
SS Myrmidon (Source:
The SS Myrmidon was sunk by a U-boat in September 1942 off the west coast of Africa. 

USS Manley
In July 2017 I received an email from Mr Roger Lewis who had come across my post on the story of the Ulysses. His mother and grandparents had been on the Ulysses when she was sunk. 
"My mother,Mary Patricia Rowell,had boarded the ship in Austrailia with her parents,her father being Thomas Richmond Rowell (later to be Director of Education in Hong Kong and awarded the CBE in 1950). Apparently the ship was full of rubber from Malaya and therefore did not capsize. In my mother's account she talks of the incredible generosity of the American people. Baroness Rothschild took every passenger to Macy's store in New York for replacement shoes. On her return to the UK my mother joined the WRNS, was on incendiary duty on the roof of St Paul's and was later posted to Bletchley Park where she worked as a cypher clerk on the enigma project. Hopefully this will be of interest."
Roger Lewis also sent me these press cuttings:

Awaiting rescue in the lifeboats
The ship's radio officer had sent a distress message before abandoning ship. In response a US military aircraft arrived at the scene. The destroyer USS Manley reached the area some seventy-five minutes later and rescued all the passengers and crew who had taken to the ships boats. All ten of the ship's lifeboats had been utilised before she sank. For one of the ship's stewardesses, Katherine Lacy, this was the third time she had been torpedoed at sea, but for Lester Pilbean, one of the crew, it was the  fifth time he had been torpedoed at sea and lived to tell the tale. The story of the Ulysses captured the imagination of the American public. The passengers and crew were shown great kindness by the people of Charleston where they landed. In Charleston the passengers were accommodated in the Francis Marion and Fort Sumter hotels. The next day they were taken by train to New York via Washington. They stayed in the Wellington Hotel for ten days. When you look at the faces of the survivors in the newspaper photographs, although they have lost everything, and nearly lost their lives, they don't look downcast, they look indomitable.

The front page of the Charleston newspaper shows in the top left Mrs McAuslin and Mrs Chapman  with their their young children. The photograph top right shows the survivors on the USS Manley as they docked at the naval yard in Charleston. The photograph in the centre-lower section shows Captain Russell thanking the American destroyer commander for their rescue. In the bottom right is Mrs Charlotte Pugh - not looking her 86 years of age.

In the centre is Judith Rowell, Roger Lewis's aunt, then aged 11, and although difficult to seeing the photograph, she is holding three kittens which she had rescued from the ship. The cats mother was the only casualty - she went down with the ship.  On the right is Vera Wickett with her baby son Peter. Vera was known by her stage name Vera Wood and was a well known opera singer.

Captain J.A. Russell was the last to leave his stricken ship. Gibson, his Quartermaster, refused to leave the bridge, and left after searching the ship to make sure that no-one had been left behind. He left with his Captain. There was no panic, women and children boarded the lifeboats first, the crew were efficient. The lifeboats pulled away before the ship sank. It was the last voyage for the Ulysses.


SS Ulysses  Passengers and crew list :

Please email me at or comment in comments section to advise me of any additional names of passengers or crew or any typos or amendments needed, or with additional information on the passengers and crew on the last voyage.

Surname First Names Age Occupation Place of last residence Embarkation Port Comments
Abbey  (Miss) Juliet  H . 16 Student
Allan James Malcom  56 yrs Bank official Australia Sydney Chartered Bank 
Allan  (Mrs) A. S.  44 yrs H/W Sydney
Anderson  (Mrs)  Olive Lucy  31 yrs H/W Malaya Sydney
Barton James  51 yrs Planter Malaya Sydney Malayan Planter
Begg James 43 yrs Malaya
Begg  (Mrs) Olive Janie 43 yrs Housewife Ipoh, Malaysia Sydney Husband's name was Norman Fraser Buchanan Begg. He was born in 1892 and records show him returmning to UK  after the war (and internmemnt in 1945). He died in 1953 aged 61. He had been an Engineer. Her maiden name was Wood.  Their address is shown as 6, Gliddon Road, W14
Bett  (Dr.) Douglas Home 66 yrs Physician  Australia Sydney
Bett.  (Mrs) Olive Chomley. 61 yrs Sydney
Blair    (Mrs) Elizabeth Smellie 29 yrs Housewife Singapore Melbourne Scottish. Father's name looks like Daniel Dunlop Blaire - residents of Singapore
Blair    (Miss) Janice Elizabeth 15 months Singapore Melbourne
Brooker Jessie 56 yrs Nurse
Bourne      (Mrs) Eileen Peggy 29 yrs Singapore Melbourne Her husband was Patrick William Bourne who was a PC in Singapore according to manifest. However in 1947 he is shown as Mercantile Assistant Shell Oil Co (Malaya/Singapore) 
Bourne Michael John  20 months Singapore Melbourne
Boyde      (Mrs)     Nancy Keil  46 yrs Housewife Johore, Malaya  Singapore Scottish. She was born 1896. Her maiden name was Anderson. She died in 1947 aged 51 yrs. Husband was Andrew Graham Boyd. They married in 1924. He was a rubber planter in Malaya.  He appears to have remarried ands died in 1951
Bryant   (Mrs)  Sybil Mary 12/Sept 1899  43 yrs Japan/Tokyo Sydney Husband Air Commodore Walter Edward George  Bryant worked as Air Attache at British Embassy Tokyo. Maiden name Prout. Married 1916. 
Bryant  (Miss) Mary Sybil 17 Tokyo Sydney
Burden   (Miss) Elsie Grace 40 Teacher Australia Sydney  British national.
Burlington   (Mrs)  Eileen  29 yrs Australia Melbourne
Channer  (Miss) Frances 39 yrs Teacher Australia Sydney
Chapman     (Mrs)  Betty Irene 29 yrs Housewife Rangoon, Burma Sydney Betty, husband and son flew (Flying Boat) from Rangoon to Sydney (via Singapore, Jakarta, Darwin, and Newcastle). Her husband (Harold Victor Chapman) was a PWD Engineer working in Burma - he returned to Burma and rejoined the family in England in 1943. Betty & Richard boarded Ulysses at Sydney. She is shown with son Richard after being rescued  in a photo on the front page of the News & Courier (Charleston) 14th April 1942.
Chapman     (Master)  Richard 6 Child Burma Sydney Adam Chapman contacted me to say that Richard Chapman was his father and Betty his grandmother. Richard wrote of his experiences  See:
Collins Cecil  W.  50 yrs Civil Servant HK Hong Kong Address is c/o Cable & Wirless
Cooper  (Lt-Col) Thomas 55 yrs India Sydney Employed by Baroda & Central Indian Railway Co. Locomotive and Carriage Superintendent
Dawe Joseph M.W.  51 yrs  M.o.I. China HK Hong Kong
Deighton  (Mrs)  Margaret 31 yrs Malaya Sydney
Davies George Howard 61 yrs Hong Kong
Ellison    (Mrs)  Rose 47 yrs Typist Australia Sydney
Ellison    (Miss)    Sheila 17 yrs Typist Sydney
Forsyth   Alistair Kyle 34 yrs Hong Kong Sydney After the war was resiudent in Malsaya and profession was shown as Banker. He died in 1964 in Tonbridge, Kent. He wsa married to Frances May.
Gambling Oliver Mining Engineer Australia Melbourne
Gambling     (Mrs)    Mildred Melbourne
Gibson Ship's QM Member of crew and with Captain Russell one oif the last to leave the stricken ship.
Hills   (Miss) Helen Faber 20 Stenographer Australia     HK Sydney Her parents (Herbert and Edith Hills) lived in Hong Kong  and were interned in Stanley Camp.
Hunt Percy Clarke 65 yrs Melbourne
Jacobs   (Mrs) Catherine Ruby 31 yrs Sydney
Jacobs  (Miss) Patricia Anne  4 yrs Sydney
Jeffery  Mary Morma 20 Bank Clerk Australia Melbourne
Jolly    (Mrs) Helen 36 Manila, Philiuppine Islands Sydney
Jones  (Miss) Kathleen Hilda 34 Teacher Australia Sydney She was a British national wotrrking as a school mistress. Her address was c/o her mother (Hilda)  101, Oakwood Park Road, London
Jones  (Miss) Marjorie Lilian 34 School Teacher Australia Sydney British national
Jordan     (Mrs) Margaret Daisy Anne  45 Malaya Melbourne UK address in Belfast. She died aged 74 in Brighton. . She had an address post war of "Woodlands", Chiddinfold.
Jordan   (Miss)  Margaret Anne 6 Melbourne
Key James Hong Kong HM Secretary of State for Colonies - 
Key   (Mrs) Ester Rosaline 36 Hong Kong Chinese
Key   (Miss) Angela Helen Hong Kong Adopted daughter
Lacy   (Miss)   Katherine Member of crew. She was a ship's stewardess. She had been torpedoed twice before.
Maas Henry Oscar 57 Retired Malaya Sydney Wife Majorie Maas
Moffat   (Mrs)  Doris   Winifred Housewife Australia Sydney Her husband Edward Moffat was interned in Shanghai 
McAuslan   (Mrs)  Lilian Burma Sydney She is shown with her two daughters in a photo on the front page of "The News & Courier"  (Charleston 14th April 1942.). She was married to Henry Buchanan McAuslan
McAuslan    (Miss) Elizabeth 5 Sydney
McAuslan (Miss)  Ailsa 7 Sydney
McLaren  (Mrs)  Nellie Florence 34 yrs Sydney
McLaren  (Miss)  Patricia Ann 5 yrs Sydney
McLaren  (Miss)  Susan Jenifer 2 yrs Sydney Now Susan Penn wife of John Penn whose father was Captain Harry Penn CO of No. 1 Coy HKVDC in 1941
McDonald John Ferguson Journalist.  (Associated Australian Press) Australia
Miller    (Mrs) H.W.  Singapore Note that she landed at Auckland (and therefore not on last voyage)
Noon.  (Mrs) Annie Katherine  67 Rtd Singapore Sydney Listed as boarding in Sydney.
Noon,  (Mrs)  Barbara 29 Houysewife Singapore Sydney Married tro Henry Bromley Noon Chartered Accountant in Federated Malayan States.
Noon Timothy Henry 1 Child Singapore Sydney
Norton John Eardley 39 HK Hong Kong He was born in Egypt in 1903. He gave an address as 8, Glenoch Road, London, NW3. He may have worked for Censor's Office (not clear what he was doing in Hong Kong).
Notman   (Mrs) Annie Eileen 44 yrs Hong Kong Husband:Herbert George Notman
Owen  (Mrs) Dorothie Marie Campbell 33 yrs Melbourne
Owen (Master) Charles Blackburn 6 yrs Melbourne
Owen  (Miss) Marie Lennox 5 yrs Melbourne
Packard (Mrs)  Maude Rosina  31 yrs  Adelaide, Aus Sydney She was born 11th Jan 1910. She died in 1985. She married Charles Reginald Packard in 1935. Her maiden mame was Chapshoe. She had two children. Not sure of the whereabouts of  her husbasnd during WW2. I assume 2nd child born after 1942.
Packard   (Miss)  Angela Mary 3 yrs Sydney
Parker (Mrs) Andrew Isabel
Parker (Miss) Lavina Mary 12
Parker (Miss)  Caroline Audrey 6
Paynter Bernard  48 yrs Govt official HK HK Hong Kong Chief Press Censor
Pearlman Myer 51 Representative Residence in UK
Pilbeaner  Lester Member of the crew. He had survived five torpedoe attacks
Ponsford Henry Sydney
Pugh  (Mrs) Charlotte  86 yrs Sydney She  was the oldest passenger. She had beemn visiting her daughter Agnes Osborn whp lived near Sydney.  Charlotte's photo was shown on fromnt page collage of "The News & Courier" 14th April 1942 looking younger than her years. She was  Welsh. 
Reeve  (Mrs) Katherine Malaya Sydney J. Penn advises they actually boarded ship in Singapore despite manifest suggesting Singapore
Reeve  (Miss) Rosemary 2 Sydney Now Rosemary Fell Secretary of Malaysian Volunteer Group
Rowell Thomas Richmond Educational Advisor- Colonial Office.  HK Sydney "My mother,Mary Patricia Rowell,had boarded the ship in Austrailia with her parents,her father being Thomas Richmond Rowell (later to be Director of Education in Hong Kongand awarded the CBE in 1950). (Message to PGC from Mr Roger Lewis)
Rowell  (Mrs)  Edith Mary Wilson Australia Sydney
Rowell   (Miss) Mary Patricia 17 Sydney "My mother,Mary Patricia Rowell,had boarded the ship in Austrailia with her parents,her father being Thomas Richmond Rowell (later to be Director of Education in Hong Kongand awarded the CBE in 1950). (Message to PGC from Mr Roger Lewis)
Rowell  (Miss)  Judith Anne 11 Sydney She is shown in a photo on the front page of "The News & Courier" 14th April 1942 holding three rescued  kittens from the ship. The cats mother went down witrh the ship.
Russell (Mrs) Isabelle McKenzie 35 yrs  Housewife Singapore Melbourne Scottish. Husband was John William Russell of 45 Orchard Road.
Russell  Gordon Robert 9 yrs Child Melbourne
Russell   (Miss) Isabelle Lindsay  4 yrs Child Melbourne
Russell  (Captain)  James Appleton Master & Commander
Smith (Mrs) Doris Anita  Singapore Sydney
Smith Barrie 15 Singapore Sydney
Smith   Norman Lockhart 54 Retired Colonial Secretary Hong Kong Retiring to UK and travelling with his daughter
Smith    (Miss)  Rachel Lockhart 21 Cypher Office Hong Kong Engaged to Lt Alec Kennedy who escaped with MTBs from HK
Stevenson   (Mrs)    Edith Maud Malaya Sydney Husband George Stevenson
Stevenson Hamish Gary Reid  1 yr Malaya Sydney
Thomson     (Mrs) Elizabeth 34 yrs KL Malaya Melbourne
Thomson John 14 yrs KL Malaya Melbourne
Thomson Donald 2 yrs KL Malaya Melbourne
Watson Herbert 36 yrs Commercial Traveller Java Singapore
Watson  (Mrs) Isobel Campbell Australia Sydney
Watson    (Mrs)  Joan 38 yrs Malaya Melbourne
Watson Robert Mark  5 Melbourne
Whelan  (Mrs) Marjorie Australia Melbourne
Whelan William 4 Melbourne
Wickett   (Mrs)   Vera (DoB: 1916) About 26yrs old Malaya Sydney Also known as Vera Wood (stage name). She was an opera singer.  She is shown with her infant son in the front page photo of  "The News & Courier" (14th April 1942)
Wickett Peter 6 months Sydney
Williams-Mitchell    (Mrs)  Jean Florence  36 yrs  Housewife Australia Sydney She was born 30/3/1906 in NZ. She married Alan Williams-Mitchell in Sept 1936 in UK. They had two children. She died in 1988 aged 82 in Salsbury, Wilts.
Williams-Mitchell  Robert Henry 2 yrs Child Sydney
Williamson Gladys Louise 31 yrs Teacher Australia Sydney
Wilson Janet D.C.  24 Domestic Australia Sydney
Young Denis Packenham 19 Student Australia Melbourne


Group Captain Horey, the Station Commander RAF Kai Tai sailed on Ulysses from HK and disembarked at Singapore.