Kenneth George Till
Merchant Navy (R211506). British
|Born||3 May 1924||Kingston upon Hull|
Roster information listed for Kenneth George Till
|Ship||Type||Rank / role||Attacked on||Boat|
|Holmpark||Steam merchant||Seaman||24 Oct 1942||U-516 (1)|
The sinking of the Holmpark
At the end of 1942 Lillian Rose Till received a telegram stating her 18-year-old son Kenneth was posted as missing after his merchant ship the Holmpark had been torpedoed in the Atlantic Ocean. She had three sons on active service in the war. Sidney “Sid” was the eldest and in the Army, as was Charles “Charlie”, the second eldest, and Kenneth “Ken” who was in the Merchant Navy.
Ken had joined the Merchant Navy as a 15-year-old just before hostilities broke out. It was at a time when sailors had to buy their own straw mattresses. He was a young lad and saw his chance to see the world without having to pay for the privilege. Just after the war began in 1939 he and his friend were offered places on a ship, believed to be the Frances Massey, which they accepted. The ship had sailed down the Humber and reached the Grimsby jetty when Ken decided he didn’t want to sail on her after all. He jumped off onto the jetty and returned home. He later discovered the vessel went down with all hands after being torpedoed.
After two years convoy duty he joined the crew of the Holmpark. She was sailing from Laurenço Marques and Cape Town to Trinidad then on to Philadelphia. On the night of 24 October 1942, Ken had just finished the dogwatch, midnight ‘til four am, an unpopular watch amongst seamen. There was a full moon and the sea was calm, when a torpedo from what is now known as U-516 successfully found its mark and the Holmpark was sunk. In the midst of much confusion the lifeboats were lowered and managed to pick up the crew who were in the sea, amongst the floating oil and debris. Ken later told his wife Cath the worst moment was seeing the ship go up on end and sink swiftly beneath the waves. History tells that one man, the steward, was sucked under as the Holmpark went to her watery grave. The U-boat surfaced and the commander of U-516 asked the master of the Holmpark his name, those of the crew, where they had sailed from and where they were headed. After being told - politely and otherwise - where to go, he wished them all goodnight and good luck and he and his vessel disappeared beneath the waves.
For 16 days the crew lived on rations, slept when they could and when awake spoke about their families, friends and which pubs they liked to frequent etc., all the time wondering if they would see their homes again. The food and water supply was low. One morning Ken awoke and the rainwater from the sail was dripping onto him so he opened his mouth to drink it. He said how good it tasted! The South Atlantic weather was very extreme throughout the ordeal. When it rained, it rained in torrents; it was very hot during the day and equally cold at night.
At home, as in most homes, Ken’s mother worried about her three sons although she was unaware of the drama unfolding and didn’t know what was happening to Ken. One morning his small sister, Elsie, awoke from a bad dream and told her mother she had seen “our Kenny in the water”, she was only three years old at the time.
Back in the Atlantic, the crew were beginning to think they would never be saved. They were becoming ill and things were looking grim. One day a plane circled overhead and the men were certain they had been spotted but their hopes faded when it disappeared into the distance. Ken said it was just like in the movies. When hope was diminishing, suddenly land was seen. The men didn’t dare to believe it at first because night was falling but, sure enough, at daybreak they saw solid ground. Not knowing where they were they went ashore. Initially there was no sign of life but further inland they met with local people who were very wary at first but then became excited. The island they had landed on was St. Lucia. It is interesting to know that the adjacent island was Martinique, an island in the hands of the Vichy French. If the men had landed there they would have found themselves interned. On St. Lucia the crew were taken to meet British officials who questioned them, then to a hospital. Unfortunately the only ward available was a maternity ward! They were treated well everywhere they went on the island. However, sadly, one of the crew died and was buried there. He was a cabin boy and he died of gastroenteritis. Ken thought he was only 15 although records show he was, in fact, 19, a year older than Ken.
The crew were eventually picked up by a ship which took them to the United States and from there, home. Ken received £12 for his experiences.
- Personal communication