The fate of HMT Shera: “Closed Until 1972”

Strolling ... Stewart Cruden and his mother with an unknown (to me) couple

Strolling … Stewart Cameron Cruden with his mother and an unknown couple.

Growing up, I often heard my mother talk about her great uncle “Sanky” who had died “in the war.” The bare bones of the story were that he drowned while serving on the Arctic Convoys, but like most family stories, it sat at the back of my mind, unexamined and half-forgotten.

When I first began researching my family history, mum sent me the photo above of her Uncle Sanky – whose real name was Stewart Cameron Cruden.  My mum doesn’t know when or where the photo was taken, or who the other people were, but that image of a confident young man walking nonchalantly towards the photographer somehow made him real to me and it became important to understand more about his life and death.

Life …

Continue reading

Wordless Wednesday: finding answers at the National Archives

20130925-231100.jpg
My great grand uncle Stewart Cruden died in the sinking of the Shera in the Barents Sea in 1942. Today at Kew I found out a little more about his fate.

It’s too raw to write about now; but I was glad to spend time in this beautiful building.

Nine weeks, two days, seven hours … and yes, obviously I am counting

arctic convoy exhib

Planning for my UK trip is getting quite advanced.

As well as organising to spend time at the Kirkcaldy Library and Fife Archives, I’ve discovered this exhibition at the National War Museum in Edinburgh. My mum’s great uncle Stewart Cruden served on the Arctic Convoys and died aboard the HM Shera in the Barents Sea in March 1942. His ship – a converted whaler – capsized because of ice. There was an official enquiry into the sinking, a copy of which is held at the National Archives in Kew. I hope to get to there to read this report too.

Seeing the world with new eyes

20130429-161413.jpg

I’ve walked along Wellington’s waterfront past Frank Kitts Park dozens of times, and often stopped to read the plaques commemorating various naval events; shipwrecks, landings, etc.

Yet today was the first time I’d ever seen this memorial to the New Zealanders who took part in the Arctic Convoys of World War II. These delivered vital supplies to the USSR during a time when the Nazis controlled much of the territory around that vast country.

I was really touched by the memorial because my great uncle, Stewart Cruden, also sailed on the Arctic Convoys, losing his life in 1942 when his ship, a converted whaler called the Shera, capsized in atrocious, icy conditions in the Barents Sea with the loss of nineteen lives.

My great uncle’s death is commemorated on a memorial to members of the Royal Naval Reserve in Lowestoft, England. From that memorial I know that the sailors who died on the Shera were Scottish, English and Norwegian. There were no New Zealanders; but obviously, amongst the many hundreds of boats in the convoys, Kiwis did serve.

I’m glad they have been remembered.

When the telegram came

Strolling ... Stewart Cruden and his mother with an unknown (to me) couple

Strolling … Stewart Cruden and his mother with an unknown (to me) couple

My mother sent me this photo recently. The young man in front is her great uncle, Stewart Cameron Cruden, who died on 9 March 1942 aboard the HMT Shera in the Berants Sea. The ship was a Norwegian whaling boat which had been requisitioned by the British Navy as a minesweeper to protect the Arctic Convoys delivering supplies to Russia. It was en-route to Murmansk on loan to the Soviet government when high seas and pack ice caused the ship to ice up and capsize, with the loss of seventeen lives.

Mum remembers quite vividly hearing of her great uncle’s death. She said that when the telegram came, her parents were at the cinema in Kirkcaldy and that the management stopped the film to deliver the message that they were to go home immediately. Mum wasn’t sure who had sent the message – probably one of her older sisters – but the reason was that they were needed to comfort my great, great grandmother who was ill and living with my mother’s family at the time.

It seems an odd thing to do, but I guess that, in wartime, it was probably quite common. I also occurred to me that for my grandmother, hearing her name called out in the cinema must have been truly awful since my uncle David, her only son, was also serving in the navy and it must surely have gone through her mind that she was being sent home to a telegram announcing his death.

I like this photo. Stewart looks like a confident young man, striding out with an attractive woman at his side. My mum doesn’t know who the young woman in the photo is – or for that matter, the man at the back. The older woman walking behind is Stewart’s mother, Isabella Wallace.

Isabella Wallace, seated, with my grandmother standing beside her. Probably taken around 1933-1934.

Isabella Wallace, seated.

I don’t know when or where this photo was taken but I’m working on the assumption that it was in the late 1930s; based on the younger woman’s clothes, and also the fact that I have this photo of Isabella Wallace (sitting, with my grandmother beside her) in which she looks much younger, and I know that photo was taken after 1932 when she returned from the United States, having spent seven years living in New Jersey.

Anyone with knowledge of 1930s fashion who could help me date this more accurately – all suggestions welcome!

In Lowestoft, Suffolk, there is a memorial to the 2385 members of the Royal Naval Patrol Service who died during World War II who have no known grave. My great grand uncle is amongst them. lowestoft memorial cruden

My plan for 2013; a trip to the UK to, (amongst other family history objectives) take my mum to see this memorial.