STEWARDESS SARAH KERR STRUTHERS
Sarah Kerr Struthers was born on 30 May 1892 in Braehead, Blantyre to James Struthers from Blantyre and Catherine McNicol from Inveraray, Argyll. The first census taken after her birth was in 1901, which listed the family living in Futtashins, Blantyre with Sarah the eldest of 3 girls with 2 older brothers. Her father was a Stone Mason and mother was a home keeper. Her eldest brother, James Junior was 14 years old and was a Pithead Labourer with Sarah and the rest of her siblings being at school, likely to be attending High Blantyre Primary, Hunthill Road.
By the time the 1911 census came round the family were living at 77 Craigmuir Road in Blantyre, with Sarah's father still working as a Stone Mason, her brother James now an engineer, Robert was a boot maker and Sarah was now working in domestic service. Her sisters Barbara and Mary were still both at school, with their mother Catherine still keeping the family home.
Now it must have been sometime after this, Sarah joined the Merchant Navy and was serving on the SS Britannia at the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939.
The S. S. Britannia was constructed around 1925 by Stephen and Sons Ltd, Glasgow, on the banks of the River Clyde and owned by the Anchor Line Ltd, Glasgow as a passenger ship with a speed of up to 15 knots.
On the 13 March 1941, the Britannia sailed from Liverpool with 203 crew and 281 passengers on board under the command of Captain A. Collie heading for Bombay via Freetown and Durban. The liner was part of an Atlantic convoy with an anti-submarine escort. On the 25th March 1941, the convoy veered on to it usual course, leaving the Britannia go on its way to its first port of call, Freetown.
About 750 miles west of Freetown, Britannia could see another ship flying a Japanese flag, as, at this time, Japan were not involved in WW2. On closer inspection, the Cruiser then flew a German flag, forcing the Britannia to flee the scene. The German Raider "Thor" bombarded the Britannia, forcing Britannia to return fire until its gun became unusable. Passengers were fleeing or jumping overboard and the Captain then ordered the boats engines to be stopped and to let out the lifeboats to abandon ship. Passengers were throwing timber, chairs, anything they could get their hands on to act as a makeshift life raft to flee from the now burning ship before Kapitan Otto Kahler of the Thor ordered his crew to torpedo the Britannia below the water line and the ship sank quickly and without trace. The Thor did not even stop to pick up survivors.
Later the day, a Spanish steamer "Bachi picked up survivors that were in lifeboat 5, totalling around 50, with the Spanish ship "Cabo De Homos" picked up around 77 survivors. The MV Raranga picked up around 67 and took them on to Sierra Leone with other ships picking up about 4 more. In total 122 crew and 127 passengers from the Britannia perished, including Sarah Kerr Struthers from Blantyre.
Sarah Struthers is commemorated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission on their memorial at Tower Hill, London, along with others who lost their lives in the sea battles of World War 2 and she is the only woman commemorated on the High Blantyre War Memorial at the local cemetery where her parents lie at rest.