Ulverston man's dramatic rescue from sinking troopship

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12 June 2017 7:11PM

AN Ulverston soldier fell into the sea from the side of a sinking troopship, swam for his life and was rescued by a mine sweeper after 10 hours in a lifeboat.

These dramatic events of April 15 in 1917 were described in a letter by Pte William Tindall of the Army Service Corps - who had been one of more than 2,000 men on the troopship Cameronia.

His letter to his police inspector father was published in the Barrow News on July 28 in 1917.

He wrote: “It would be 5.20pm and I and my pal and two more of our draft were at our quarters on the mess table.

“Two of them were just going to have a shave and my pal and I were just making a cup of chocolate from some ship’s chocolate that Tom Hughes gave me in port, when there was a heavy thud, quickly followed by a terrific crash, which for a moment dazed me.

“However, I quickly regained my senses and was fully alive to what had occurred.

“I remember seeing nothing but water and wood and various utensils off the tables flying about and I quickly made for the stairs but never reached them.

“The flood of water coming through the hole which the torpedo made, knocked me off my feet and fortunately washed me up against an iron ladder in the middle of the hatchway.

“I knocked the use out of my arm though, striking my funny bone against some object but hung on with my right, eventually climbing up to the top of the ship.

“I then ran over the deck looking for a lifebelt but failed to find one.

“Seeing a boat being lowered down the side, I leaped into it.

“But as we got half-way down it stuck and some silly blighter cut the rope, with the result that we were tipped into the sea.

“I fell on about 20 chaps and, managing to disentangle myself from the struggle, I struck out.

“When I had got about 100 yards, I spotted one of the boats and made for that.

“They picked me up and then we watched the Cameronia go down.

“We then drifted and rowed about, with the destroyers circling round us and playing the searchlights upon us to keep an eye on us, lest we drifted away one from another.

“They could not pick us up as they were full up themselves.”

The German submarine was spotted on the surface and was fired on by the destroyers before one of them came alongside the Cameronia to take off survivors.

Those on Tindall’s lifeboat were picked up between 3am and 4am by a Royal Navy mine sweeper and taken to hospital in Malta

The SS Cameronia was a passenger steamship owned by the Glasgow-based Anchor Line.

It was built by D and W Henderson and Company in 1911 and provided a transatlantic service from Glasgow.

The first voyage was on September 13 in 1911 to New York.

It was 515ft long and displaced almost 11,000 tons.

The Cameronia was torpedoed by the German U-33 while traveling from Marseille in France to Alexandria in Egypt,

The liner was serving as a troopship and contained around 2,650 soldiers.

The ship sank in 40 minutes with the loss of at least 140 men was 150 miles east of Malta.

Most of the crew and soldiers were picked up by the destroyers HMS Nemesis and HMS Rifleman. Others had time to get into the Cameronia’s lifeboats.

Pte Tindall was the son of Robert Francis Tindall who in 1917 was based in Bolton.

The 1911 census shows him as a police sergeant at Ulverston, who was then aged 42 and had been born at Darwen, Lancashire.

He lived at 40 Hartley Street, Ulverston, with wife Edith, 41, and two sons James, 19, and William, 14.

James also served in the First World War as a sergeant with “A” Company of the 1/4th Battalion of the King’s Own Royal Lancaster Regiment.

He was killed by a railway locomotive on August 17 in 1914 while on guard duty at London’s Paddington station.

He is buried at Ulverston cemetery.

At the time of his 1914 accident, the Tindall family was living at 46 Norfolk Street, Barrow.

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