There’s a lot in the news right now about the tragic loss of a rather large ocean liner that took place about 100 years ago. Sixty-nine years ago a rather smaller ship than the Titanic went down in the Atlantic Ocean, the victim of a German U-Boat. What makes the latter incident much more immediate to me is that the Master of that ship was my Grandfather, Captain William Gordon Higgs. The MV Port Victor set sail on her final voyage on April 11th, 1943 and in today’s blog you’ll hear a report of that sinking in great detail.
I’ve mentioned my maternal Grandfather before now in these pages, but just recently his own type-written report of the incident turned up in a university library in Australia after an internet search. It runs to eight pages and I thought I would like to share it with a wider audience – I found it so extraordinary to read and I present it here in it’s entirety (about 25 minutes). I hope you find the time to listen through as it gives an extraordinarily vivid picture of what it must have been like to risk life and limb on the high seas during the height of World War II.
The ‘MV’ of MV Port Victor stands for ‘Motor Vessel’. She had only been completed the year before, having been built in 1942 in the Wallsend shipyards of Swan, Hunter and Wigham Richardson. She was 12,441 tons in weight and, as far as I can make out from internet records, of the 200+ merchant vessels sunk by the Germans in 1943 there were only four heavier. If you are interested click on the following link to find more details and the map location of the sinking at the bottom of the page: http://www.wrecksite.eu/wreck.aspx?37354
Some years ago I remember my mother showing me the photograph my Grandfather mentions, taken by the Liberator’s crew of their lifeboats roped together, in a frame alongside the handwritten note scribbled in pencil by the American crew of that plane and sent down with the supplies. It exists somewhere in our family’s collection of memorabilia, but quite where at this moment we are not sure – it is being looked for…
A couple of weeks after reaching dry land my Grandfather wrote to the parents of a couple of young female Dutch passengers – I present that letter below. I love his turn of phrase: ‘To the feminine virtues of beauty and grace they added intelligence and “savoir faire” to a remarkable degree in girls so young’.
I am adding this paragraph after the initial publication of this blog as my brother has succeeded in finding more material relevant to our Grandfather’s career – below is a newspaper report (from the Tasmanian Examiner, of all papers!) on the visit of King George VI and the Queen to the newly launched Port Brisbane in 1949 – Commodore WG Higgs commanding:
To say I am proud to be a part of a family that contains such a wonderful man as my Grandfather is understating it. My only regret, and I have said this before, is that he died when I was only 9 months old. Here’s a picture of my Grandfather with my Grandmother and her sister taken in 1948 - 5 years after the events mentioned here. It’s said my Grandmother’s hair turned white overnight on hearing that her husband’s ship had gone down.
My thanks go to Elizabeth Drew in Australia for bringing these documents to our attention, my brother who emailed them to me from the UK (and found the cutting used above in the National Library of Australia) and my cousin Graham (also in Australia) for the 1948 photo. Isn’t the internet a wonderful thing!