“The bomb passed through the bows, exploding on the other side”

Three of the Sisters of the Community of St John Baptist, whose base was at Clewer, were shipwrecked on their way home from India thanks to enemy action.

April, 1918
My dear Associates

You will all be interested to hear that we have just welcomed home from Calcutta Sister Alexandrina, Sister Marion Edith and Sister Edith Helen after a really perilous voyage. The only route available was via Colombo, which they reached by train from Calcutta. The first part of the voyage through the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea was very enjoyable, smooth and lovely weather.

Good Friday was spent in the harbour of Suez, and Port Said was reached on Sunday morning. Along the banks of the Suez Canal they saw many races of the recent fighting in Egypt – deserted trenches and dug-outs, and in one place a camp of a considerable size, but their own course was perfectly uneventful.

After waiting four days at Port Said, their steamer joined a large convoy of vessels bound for England, protected by several destroyers and sloops. All went well during the first six days, and then, at 7 a.m. on a date I am not allowed to mention, the ship was struck by a torpedo. Mercifully no one was seriously injured, the bomb having passed through the bows, exploding on the other side.

Fearing another attack, the Captain immediately transferred all the passengers to the boats, and after rowing about on a rough sea for two hours, a sloop picked them up, and conveyed them to Bizerta, a French town on the coast of North Africa, the actual site of ancient Carthage, about four hours by rail from Tunis. At once everything was done on a most generous scale for their comfort and protection, and four days later a mail boat from Tunis conveyed all the passengers to Marseilles, and from there the homeward journey was continued via Paris, Havre and Southampton….

Letters to Associates of the Community of St John Baptist (D/EX1675/1/24/6)

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A P & O ship strikes a mine and passengers take to the lifeboats

Two Anglican Sisters from Clewer had to take to the lifeboats on a dangerous voyage home from India. The incident was hushed up, and the ship repaired.

17 December 1916

Sister Katharine Hope & Sister Georgina arrived about 1 pm having come overland from Marseilles. Their ship, the Caledonia P&O, had struck a mine when about 1 ½ hours journey from Marseilles. Though she did not sink & eventually reached Marseilles, all the passengers had to take to the boats. Our Sisters were taken off the life boat by one of HM destroyers and brought to Marseilles. The only lives lost were those of 2 of the crew.

The P&O particularly requested that this accident should not be publicly spoken of, for fear of the news reaching German ears.

Annals of the Community of St John Baptist, Clewer (D/EX1675/1/14/5)