Cargo bound for London arrives at Falmouth docks 71 years later.
How does cargo bound for London arrive at Falmouth docks 71 years after departing from Calcutta?
January 1941, a 412ft steel hulled merchant ship loaded with 2,600 tons of Pig Iron, 1,765 tons of tea and 2,369 tons of silver including ingots leaves Calcutta en route to Galway in Ireland. The Ship SS Gairsoppa commanded by Gerald Hyland and his crew of 85 mainly English members joins a convoy of 20 ships. After several days a mixture of stormy seas and low fuel forces Hyland to order a break away from the convoy, bring the ships speed down to 5 knots and head for Galway Ireland. Allowing the rest of the convoy to steam ahead and leave the Gairsoppa unprotected and vulnerable.
February 12th and the remaining convoy of 20 ships are intercepted by German cruisers resulting in the loss of 150 lives and the sinking of 7 ships.
Meanwhile completely unaware of the tragedy and danger that lies ahead Gerald Hyland continues forward. 5 days later Gairsoppa steams into the path of a submerged U-Boat on patrol captained by Ernst Mengerson. Torpedo’s from the U-boat are fired immediately taking out the Cairsoppa’s radio controls and causing enough damage for the ship to start sinking.
8 Europeans and 25 lascar seamen board a lifeboat commanded by second officer Richard Ayers and they make their escape. Far from safety their ordeal continues over the next 14 days as the crew battle against rough seas, dehydration and hypothermia. One would think that the sight of the Lizard Peninsula coming toward the reaming 3 crewmen would signify an end to this tragedy. As the lifeboat draws nearer to the shore the relentless sea overturns the lifeboat and with little to no strength left in their bodies 2 further crew men perish.
The coastguard is alerted by three young walkers who are watching the drama unfold and the surviving Richard Ayers along with the bodies of three of his colleagues are pulled to shore.
Richard Ayers received an MBE and pursued a career as a cargo Superintendant with the BISNC he died in 1992.
In a peaceful corner of the beautiful St Wynallow Churchyard between the Lizard and Church Cove are two sandstone headstones bearing the insignia of the Merchant Navy. The headstones mark the graves of two unidentified Indian sailors buried there over 70 years ago. A little further away is the civilian grave of gunner Norman Thomas buried at the same time.
But what of the SS Gairsoppa and her remaining crew?
70 years later the wreckage of SS Gairsoppa was discovered 4,700 meters below the North Atlantic sea 300 miles South West of Ireland. The bodies of her crew took their final commands from the law of nature and their souls remain with the sea.
After departing from Calcutta the cargo of SS Gairsoppa has started arriving at Falmouth Docks just 71 years after her one remaining crew member.