Papers relating to the sinking of Sithonia, Henry M. Thomson, and the experiences of crew member Frank Orchard, 1942.

MMM.2021.9

Information

Frank Orchard [1910 Liverpool - 1993 Perth, Australia], AB on the British vessel SS Sithonia, Henry M. Thomson, London. Documents relating to his experience of being torpedoed in WWII [Second World War] and being held as Prisoner of War [POW] by the Vichy French in West Africa. Account of the events written by Frank at the time in pencil on a food wrapper for ‘La Poutargue ‘Timiris’, Societe Industrielle de la Grande Peche, Port Etienne, Mauritanie’ [Poutargue or bottarga is salted, cured cod roe]. See attached transcription. Handwritten notes about return to UK from camp and subsequent hospital treatment and discharge from Merchant Navy as unfit. Newspaper cuttings re British internees in North Africa. List of crew members in Orchard's boat, including note on those left in hospital in Dakar or who died. Certificate of discharge from Merchant Navy Reserve Pool. Letters and receipt relating to wages paid and money owed [as Merchant Navy wages were stopped when the vessel was sunk]. Letter from Brian Clarke to Allan Orchard, 2021 re Brian's memories of the events. Accounts differ in some details but broadly similar: Early morning on 13 July 1942 the Sithonia (Master Charles Cottew Brown), dispersed from convoy OS-33, was torpedoed and sunk by U-201 west of the Canary Islands. Seven crew members were lost [some in the sinking and some during the lifeboat journey and in West Africa]. The master and 20 crew members made landfall after 18 days at Timiris, Mauretania and were interned by the Vichy French authorities at Port Etienne (Nouadhibou) and then Sebikotane, Senegal. The chief officer and 24 crew members were picked up after sailing about 820 miles in 14 days by a Spanish fishing vessel and landed at Las Palmas. Sources are Merchant Navy Roll of Honour and Frank's account. Merchant Navy Roll of Honour says 26 in each lifeboat, Frank Orchard says 24.