No.63 The Magdapur

75 years since the outbreak of the Second World War

This week commemorates the first ships sunk in English waters following the declaration of war on 3 September 1939. The Goodwood and the Magdapur each foundered after striking a mine in different locations off the east coast on 10 September 1939.

They were not the first wartime losses: that distinction belonged to the Athenia, sunk in the Atlantic by U-boat on 3 September. The toll of merchantmen lost on the Allied side worldwide would account for 808 pages of typescript in Lloyd’s War Losses for the Second World War, Volume I: British, Allied and Neutral Merchant Vessels Sunk or Destroyed by War Causes, with an average of five or six ships per page.

The first ship to go down was the collier Goodwood, off Flamborough Head, early in the morning. The Magdapur sank the same afternoon off Suffolk, calling out the RNLI for the first of their many wartime services as the Aldeburgh lifeboat sped to the scene. She was the victim of a minefield laid on 4 September by U13, which was also to claim the French ship Phryné on 24 September. U13 would herself be lost off the same coastline in 1940 when she was depth-charged by HMS Weston, delineating a landscape of war linking attacker and victims. (Where possible we try to associate records in this way, so that PastScape readers can see the depth of the resource by calling up related records for full context.)

As her name implies, the Magdapur had strong connections with India. Her owners, the Brocklebank Line, had a long tradition of specialising in the India trade. She was thus one of many British ships who relied on lascars, or Indian seamen, many of whom traditionally worked below in the engine room, and had a significant complement of 60 lascars among her 80-strong crew. Six men were lost, of whom four were lascars, commemorated on the dual rolls of honour kept at Bombay and Chittagong. (You can search for any casualty of the two World Wars or later through the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Advanced Search page by date of death and service, e.g. Merchant Navy.)

For an interesting document showing the wreck event as the Magdapur sinks with her back broken, and some of the rescued lascars with locals, click here: http://thebertonandeastbridge.onesuffolk.net/assets/History-Photos/S.S.-Magdapur-sunk-off-Sizewell.doc .

For another wreck involving lascars, please see the Mahratta I, from 1909.

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