Thursday, September 21, 2006

A little family history - Alexander Colin Stewart

My maternal grandfather was Alexander Colin Stewart, born in Lanark in the south of Scotland on 12 Apr 1908. He was the second son of John Stewart and Margaret Isabella Henry who were married in Turriff, Aberdeenshire, in August 1903.

Between 1913 and 1926, Colin attended Lanark Grammar School before studying at the Royal Technical College, Glasgow (now part of Strathclyde University). In 1931 he graduated with a B.Sc. (Hons.) in Civil Engineering. For the next 2 years he completed his apprenticeship under Mr J.T. Babtie. He then went to work for the Road Research Laboratory as an Assistant Engineer where his work mainly involved the use of concrete for roads. In 1934, he also became an Assocate Member of the Institution of Civil Engineers.

In Lanark on 10 July 1935 Colin married Gladys Farquhar. At the time, he was living at 12 Marion Road, Southsea, Hampshire and was working for the Admitralty. Gladys lived with her mother in Lanark and commuted to work in Glasgow.

In 1938, Colin was sent to work overseas and he and his wife went to live in Singapore where their son was born, returning to England in 1939. While in Singapore, Colin's work involved building bridges. After their return to the UK, the family lived for a time in Petersfield, Hampshire, but by mid 1942, Colin had been sent to work in Scotland and the family moved to 104 East King Street, Helensburgh, Dunbartonshire.

In August 1942 Colin and Gladys's daughter was born in Glasgow. However, not long after moving to Helensburgh, Colin was again posted overseas. On 28 November 1942, he boarded the MV Henry Stanley in Liverpool, en route for Freetown, South Africa, possibly on his way to the Singapore area.

By 1942, the Germans and Italians had virtually closed the Mediterranean to Allied shipping and all merchant ships went round the Cape of Good Hope. Any journey to Singapore would therefore have been via South Africa, round the Cape of Good Hope, then to Mombasa, Kenya, across the Indian Ocean to Colombo or Trincomalee in Sri Lanka and then through the Malacca Strait to the North of Sumatra. Refuelling and re-provisioning stops may have taken place in South Africa and Sri Lanka.

There is a slight paradox here as the Japanese captured Singapore in February 1942. It is unlikely that Colin would therefore have been heading Singapore itself after then, certainly not in December.

However, on 5th December, the Henry Stanley was torpedoed by a u-boat (U103) and sank fairly quickly. The crew and passengers took to the lifeboats, heading for the Azores. The u-boat later surfaced and took the Henry Stanley's captain prisoner. During the night, a gale blew up, accompanied by heavy snow squalls. The U-boat commander decided to pursue the lifeboats to see if they needed assistance. However, the submarine shipped a heavy sea which flooded her engine-room and the chase was abandoned. Nothing further was heard of the four lifeboats and their crews, and it was presumed that they lost their lives in the storm.


Anonymous said...

I was interested in your extract on this site concerning the sinking of the MV Henry Stanley as my grandfather was also on this voyage and lost his life presumed drown at sea. I was informed the ship sank on the 7 Dec 1942. We have only just researched details on this incident after studying family archives. My grandmother was from Edinburgh and moved to England where she met my grandfather who was a civil engineer. I was in the Regular Army for 32 years and retired in the rank of Major.
Best wishes, Peter Redfern

Anonymous said...

My great uncle was on that ship.He was from Hull and was doing the classic '1 last trip mother' he said to my great grandma before he went.Indeed it was his last 1 aged 29.His sister,my grandmother,would tell me all about Fred every time i saw her.She made it til 2001 but wasn't well enough for me to take her to his memorial plaque on Tower Hill,London.I found the U-Boat Captain on a website.He torpedoed Great Uncle Fred and all his pals yet he lived in to the late 1970's i think.No real winners in war i guess only different levels of losing.