Survivor of German U-Boat Attack Passes Away

The image of the German U-boat dredges up a number of images to those who were alive during the Second World War. Even many of those who were not around at the time are largely aware of the devastation that these submarines caused to many Allied ships. Only one survivor remained from the sinking of the SS City of Benares at the hands of a German U-boat. Now, that survivor has tragically passed away at the age of 88.

Beth Williams (née Cummings) was only fourteen years of age when the City of Benares was struck by a torpedo. The ship had left Liverpool in September of 1940, and had sailed about six hundred miles into the Atlantic at the time of the attack. It had only been four days since the ship left port for Canada. Beth was not by far the only child aboard when the German U-boat attacked, as the City of Benares had left for the express purpose of relocating children to Canada so that they would be further away from the fighting in Europe. Only thirteen of these children, including Beth, were to survive the attack. The rest of the ninety on board perished with the ship, the Craven Herald reports.

Beth was stranded at sea for some time before she was rescued. Although she had never swum prior to the incident, her survival instincts kicked in and she was able to reach an overturned lifeboat. After the attack of the German U-boat, the City of Benares had sent out a distress call. It was sixteen hours before the call resulted in a rescue attempt. Beth and her friend, Bessie Walden, were forced to cling to the keel of the lifeboat for the duration of that time.

Twenty-three years later, Beth met her husband, Glyn Williams. She spent her remaining days in Liverpool as a welfare officer before retiring with Glyn to Bentham in 1986. She gave a number of lectures at schools and other institutions about her survival of the German U-boat attack. Not only was she not afraid to speak on the matter, but it never destroyed her love for the sea. While she never formally learned to swim, she was a fan of cruises and loved to sail Scottish waters (having originally been born in Scotland). She was also a great fan of Norwegian fjords.

Beth Williams was buried on the second of October. Her funeral was held in Bentham, at St John the Baptist Church. While many remember her stories of the German U-boat and her survival at sea, many also remember her as a kind-hearted and jovial woman. No remaining survivors of the German U-boat attack are known, but Williams is certain to be remembered by friends and family.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE