Seventy-four years ago two men from Shirehampton lost their lives in a tragic sinking, it took until 1996 for the truth to be revealed about the sinking of the Italian merchantman the SS Scillin.
Leslie Charles Chard, Son of William & Marian Lillian Chard, Gunner, Royal Horse Artillery, Service number 959737, Date of death 14/11/1942, Listed on The Alamein Memorial.
Frederick Walter Cheeseman, Son of Frederick & Martha Cheeseman of Bristol, Gunner, Royal Horse Artillery, Service number 959738, Date of death 14/11/1942. Listed on The Alamein Memorial.
Both served with 11 (Honourable Artillery Company) Regiment as part of the 8th Army (Desert Rats). Taken prisoner by Italian forces in The Western Desert, they were taken to the Italian POW Transit Camp 154, they were listed as Missing, Presumed Drowned after the Italian ship, SS Scillin, that they were being transported on was sunk by a British submarine, HMS Sahib. Of the 814 Commonwealth prisoners-of-war that were on board only 27 were rescued by HMS Sahib.
SS SCILLIN (November 14, 1942)
On the night of 14th November 1942 the Italian transport ship SS Scillin was en route from Tripoli to Sicily with about 815 Commonwealth prisoners-of-war on board, 30 or so Italian Guards, plus a Naval gun crew for the 120mm and Light AA Gun. She was seen by the submarine, HMS Sahib. At the time the SS Scillin seemed be heading towards Africa and carried no sign or flag, and the submarine’s orders were that only African-bound ships were to be attacked.
The Scillin was flying the Italian Flag at the time, and in the Sahibs Patrol Report Lt Brommage makes no claim to having fired any warning shot. It states
Fired 12 rounds with the 3” Gun Registered with 10.
The Sahib rescued 27 POW’s from the water (26 British and one South African) plus the Scillin’s captain and 45 Italian crew members. Only then, when the commander heard the survivors speaking English, did he realize that he had sunk a ship carrying British prisoners-of-war and some Italian soldiers and had drowned 783 men.
At a subsequent inquiry into this ‘friendly fire’ tragedy, Lt. Brommage was cleared of any wrongdoing as the ship was unmarked and at the time he firmly believed that the ship was carrying Italian troops.
The Ministry of Defence kept this incident a closely guarded secret for fifty-four years, maintaining that they had died while prisoners-of-war in Italian camps or were simply ‘lost at sea’. It was not until 1996, after repeated requests for information from the families of the drowned men that the truth came out.
The Sahib was attacked by bombs from escorting German Ju-88 bombers and depth charges from the Italian corvette Gabbiano in the counter attack immediately after the sinking. Badly damaged, the Sahib was later abandoned and scuttled
from Steve Fell, author Shirehampton Book of Remembrance