Tragic sisters

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detail of the deck of a model ship showing passengers on deckchairs and swimming in the pool

Detail of the model of the Arandora Star, on display in the Merseyside Maritime Museum.

I have climbed the tower of Liverpool’s Anglican cathedral – one of the largest cathedrals in the world - and enjoyed one of the finest views of the city.

I also attended the royal ceremony to mark the completion of this hugely inspiring building in 1978.

Years later I learnt that the tower is named after a well-known local family, the Vesteys, whose fortunes rose with the arrival of refrigeration. They paid for most of the 331-ft high tower.

The Blue Star shipping line was started by the family – originally Liverpool butchers – to carry eggs and other perishables from China.

They were among the first to introduce refrigeration into their shops - a milestone because previously meat had to be sold off cheaply on Saturdays as most shops were shut on Sundays.

This developed into a business importing meat from South America using refrigerated ships. Vestey Brothers had a huge processing factory in Buenos Aires which could handle 5,000 cattle a day.

The Blue Star Line was registered in 1911 and during the First World War its ships carried beef for Allied troops in France.

In 1920 the ships started to carry Star in their names. In 1927 five elegant sister ships of around 13,000 tons each were built – they would later be named Arandora Star, Almeda Star, Andalucia Star, Avila Star and Avelona Star.

All would have the sad distinction of being torpedoed and sunk by German U-boat submarines in the Second World War. Blue Star lost 29 of its 39 ships during the conflict, involving the deaths of 646 crew members.

There is a fine model of the most famous – the Arandora Star – on display in the Merseyside Maritime Museum’s Battle of the Atlantic gallery. Our picture shows the swimming pool complete with bathers and sun loungers. .

Arandora Star left Liverpool for Canada on 2 July 1940 carrying Italian male civilian internees and German internees and prisoners-of-war along with British troops. The following day she was torpedoed by the U-47 off County Donegal in Ireland with the loss of 805 lives.

From happier times, a colourful poster by Kenneth Shoesmith advertises an Arandora Star cruise taking in South Africa, Java, Malaya, Ceylon and Egypt in 1935.

The first sister to be sunk was the Avelona Star, victim of the U-43 on 30 June 1940 off Cape Finisterre.

The Blue Star fleet was rebuilt after the war with new ships and second-hand vessels. The company was disposed of by the Vestey Group to P&O Nedlloyd in 1998.

A new Maritime Tale by Stephen Guy appears every Saturday in the Liverpool Echo. A paperback – Mersey Maritime Tales (£3.99) – is available from the museum, newsagents, bookshops or from the Mersey Shop website (£1 p&p UK).