The crew of the S. S. Royal Crown

Indexing the volume Local Authority’s Record of Civilian Deaths Due to War Operations [43/1/15/1], you would not expect to come across Merchant Navy personnel from England and abroad who had washed up on the shores of north-east Suffolk. Some of the bodies of the crew of the S. S. Royal Crown [Official No. 149440] were found on the shore between 31 January and 2 February 1940 and are recorded in the volume.

The attack on the S. S. Royal Crown

S. S. Royal Crown, a Newcastle steamer, was attacked by a German aeroplane which first machine gunned the vessel and then dropped incendiary bombs on her 15 miles south of Smith Knoll Light on 30 January 1940. The Eastern Daily Press reported on 3 February 1940 that as ‘the crew of 37 crowded into her two undamaged boats they were machine gunned.’ Four men died in the initial attack. Of the two lifeboats launched from the burning S. S. Royal Crown only one lifeboat, carrying 22 men, made it to the shore. However, this lifeboat overturned resulting in seven of the men drowning. The second lifeboat disappeared without trace though some bodies of the crew soon washed up on the beaches. The S. S. Royal Crown ran aground in flames at Covehithe on 2 February 1940.

Recording the dead

On the Shipping and Seamen Rolls of Honour WWI and WWII [free to access at Suffolk Record Offices], 23 men serving on S. S. Royal Crown are listed as dying in the attack. Fourteen of the crew are recorded in the Local Authority’s Record of Civilian Deaths Due to War Operations. These were Captain Henry Hawes Dawes, Ismail Abdulla Salim, Ali Kahtan, Cyril Clarke, Ronald George Agar, Wallace Anderson, Samuel Clappison, William Arthur Fry, John Dinning Davison, Robert McNaughton, Ahmed Salim and Hamed Abdul. Four unidentified bodies were also recovered and can be associated with the members of this crew.

The form recording the deaths of these men in the Local Authority’s Record of Civilian Deaths Due to War Operations are completed to varying degrees for both identified and unidentified individuals. From these some interesting details can be found both about the men, including the four men who listed their residence as Camp Aden, Yemen, and the mortuaries in the local area at this time which included Pakefield Holiday Camp.

Burying the bodies

 

Lowestoft Cemetery holds the graves of several of the men. However, two men who are recorded in the Local Authority’s Record of Civilian Deaths Due to War Operations as being buried at Lowestoft Cemetery are not actually buried there. Searching for Ismail Abdulla Salim or Hamed Abdul on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website reveals that both are recorded on the Tower Hill Memorial, London. This memorial is for men and women of the Merchant Navy and Fishing Fleets who have no known grave. It contradicts the records held at Lowestoft Record Office. Further research into the graves register on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website reveals that two men appear alongside the members of the S.S. Royal Crown as being buried in Lowestoft Cemetery, Ahmed Abdul and Abdul Salem, who both served and died aboard S. S. Brandon on 8 December 1939. However, S. S. Brandon was torpedoed off Lands’ End on its journey from Cardiff to Port Everglades and with the currents and distance it seems very unlikely that their bodies would have washed up on the east coast and been buried in a Lowestoft graveyard. Could there have been an error in recording their names at the graveyard?

The fate of the vessel

The S. S. Royal Crown’s role in the war was not over yet. Built by William Dobson & Co. in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne in 1927, the steamer was soon redeployed into service. Just over a year after running aground at Covehithe, the Royal Crown was sunk on 16 March 1941 by the German battleship Gneisenau in the Atlantic Ocean just off Canada during the German naval operation ‘Berlin’.

Resources:

Katie Angus

Searchroom Assistant

Lowestoft Record Office