Now It Can Be Told! - Ceramic's Three-Year Mystery Cleared Up
Sapper Eric Alfred Munday, aged 24, back in his home at Foulsham Road, Thornton Heath, Surrey, brought with him the first full story of a three-year-old war mystery – the sinking of the British liner Ceramic in the Atlantic: The 18,750-ton Ceramic, former luxury ship on the Australian run, set out for Capetown from Britain on November 26, 1942, with 656 men, women and children on board.
She went down off the Azores. For ten months relatives of the passengers heard nothing. Then the loss of the ship was admitted in Capetown. In the House of Commons, the First Lord of the Admiralty said she was not in convoy, but was a “fast, independent ship”. That was all.
Sapper Munday was the only survivor of the Ceramic. He told the story of her last voyage to a Daily Express reporter on October 14, 19455. Captain H. C. Elford had taken the ship through the Atlantic before. He knew what the dangers were in that winter of 1942. And he protested to the authorities against taking women and children on board. But 155, including 50 British nurses, were in the ship when she left Britain.
On the night of December 6-7 three torpedoes hit her. She remained afloat for three hours. Everyone on board was put into boats or rafts. At dawn a storm broke. The boats were scattered. Many sank. Munday's boat, with 40 in it, capsized. He and six other soldiers clung to it. The rest were carried away. Four hours later the U-boat surfaced near them. A rope was thrown to them, but the boat was swept by a heavy sea. Only Munday was able to grab the rope, and he was hauled aboard the submarine.
“I pleaded with the U-boat commander, Captain Henke, to save the other six men who were still clinging to the overturned lifeboat”, said Munday. “He refused.” The U-boat submerged. Munday saw no more survivors of the Ceramic. The next two and a half years he spent in a prison camp in Germany.
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