Memorial and exhibition to mark torpedoed ship which claimed the lives of 11 young Wearsiders

A memorial to commemorate an appalling wartime event which claimed the lives of 11 Wearside children is to be held in Fulwell.

Wednesday, 15th September 2021, 11:12 am

On Tuesday, September 17, 1940 the SS City of Banares set sail from Liverpool to Canada. On board were 90 evacuees, children who were escaping the bombing of Britain.

The vessel had sailed around 600 miles westwards across the Atlantic Ocean, when it was torpedoed and sunk by a German U-boat, claiming the lives of 260 of the 407 on board. Only 13 of the 90 evacuees survived.

The 11 Sunderland children who never came home were aged between 13 and five.

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SS City of Benares survivor Bill Short, second left at the front at the previous memorial service in 2015. Billy passed away in 2016.

Usually the memorial is staged every five years, but the most recent one was in 2015. The 2020 service was postponed due to covid, but will now take place at All Saints Church in Fulwell at 10.45am on Saturday, September 18. All are welcome.

Among those to attend in 2015 was Billy Short, who survived the disaster aged nine. His younger brother Peter was not so fortunate and lost his life aged just five.

It took eight days to rescue Billy and the others in his lifeboat. A Sunderland Flying Boat was returning from escort duty when the crew spotted them.

Billy passed away in 2016, but told Echo in 2005: “I was asleep when the torpedo hit. The top bunk came down on me and I had to crawl out from underneath it.”

This memorial plaque is kept by the Sunderland Volunteer Life Brigade in Roker.

After the war the captain of the U-boat was tried for a war crime, but acquitted. He said he had no way of knowing who was on board and never apologised.

A brass plaque honouring the 11 children is kept by the Sunderland Volunteer Life Brigade (SVLB) in Roker.

SVLB historian, Kate Gill, said: “Sunderland Volunteer Life Brigade are proud to be the custodians of the plaque which commemorates the Sunderland children who died.

“We hope that this loss of young life will be remembered as part of Sunderland's wartime history.”

There will also be a small exhibition in the Brigade Watch House where the plaque is displayed, at Pier View, Roker on Saturday and Sunday, September 18 and 19 between 12.30pm and 4pm.

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