Liverpool liner SS Ceramic sunk on 6 December 1942.
At first families back home in Liverpool were oblivious to the horror that had befallen their loved ones.
On November 23 1942 my grandmother watched from Crosby beach as Liverpool liner SS Ceramic left the River Mersey. Her husband Fred was aboard working as a steward. Clutching her three-month-old baby, Annie Felton waved the ship off, unaware that this would be the very final farewell.
The 18,400 ton Ceramic was launched in 1912 by Harland and Wolff in Belfast. She was the first ship built by White Star Line after Titanic and spent her years sailing the Liverpool to Australia route.
She was nicknamed “the relief of Bootle” because she’d offered work to jobless Liverpool seamen taking them off the dole queues.
On this day 70-years-ago (December 6 1942), Ceramic was en-route to Sydney. But she never made the Harbour Bridge. The merchant ship would be torpedoed and sunk in the Atlantic off The Azores.
In deep of night U-515 aimed its torpedoes and unleashed hell. Passengers and crew scrambled into lifeboats, but this only prolonged the agony. As lifeboats capsized there was no escape from chaos of storm and sea.
Of the 656 men, women and children aboard, just one survived. U-515 emerged to pluck just one person from the carnage - sapper Eric Munday. It would be 10 months before the fate of Ceramic would be known back in Liverpool.
The sinking remains one of the worst shipping disasters of all time. The definitive story of Ceramic and account of sole survivor Eric Munday is available in a book by Clare Hardy called: “SS Ceramic – the untold story”: www.ssceramic.co.uk
SS Ceramic photograph is from the collections of Merseyside Maritime Museum. Our Maritime Archives and Library holds an extensive collection of maritime books and archives spanning three centuries, including one of the finest collections of merchant shipping records in the UK. www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/maritime/archive/
By Dickie Felton