A Survivor's Tale
(Page 3 of 5... A story by Trevor Reeve, HMS Jervis Bay Association.)
An interesting twist to the Urquhart family tree, turned
out to be about Randolph's parents, George Senior and Elizabeth. Elizabeth was
to die prematurely (today's equivalent death being cancer of the uterus), at
only 38 years of age in 1895. Randolph's father George then married Elizabeth's
younger sister Jane Milne, and the couple had a further five children; Wilfred;
Bruce; Jeannie Milne; Nellie; Irene;
The 1911 census has the Urquhart family as George Senior
(aged 52); Jane (aged 45); George Junior (aged 24); Wilfred (aged 13); Bruce
(aged 10); Jeannie (aged 8); Nellie (aged 7); Irene (aged 4). Having lost two
younger children in 1891 through poor living and health conditions, in the 1911
census, the family had acquired a servant (Lily - aged 20.) How times and
fortunes had changed for the family. Still living in Hartlepool, the family
would move westwards later, to the outskirts of Carlisle in Cumberland (as it
Of the other children, Allan was living in Cardiff; Stanley had ventured to
the USA; Randolph of course, had become a member of the Merchant Navy.
No one was to know what a future Randolph Urquhart would have in store, aboard HMS Jervis Bay on 5th November, 1940.
Randolph's elder brother George passed away on 14 March, 1940,
leaving Ann Carr (nee McWhinnie) Urquhart a widow. At the time, George still
worked at the grocer's shop (called The Hadrian). George Junior died of
'Subarachnoid Haemorrage' (stroke) which had been something of a hereditary
disease within the family. Ann had George buried in a new grave plot in
Tynemouth (Preston) Cemetery. We have since obtained a photograph of this CWGC
Only brother Allan (Cardiff) attended George's funeral in 1940. Randolph
Urquhart was at sea when his brother passed away, and Stanley was in America by
then. Stanley passed away himself in February, 1942 (in Upper Darby,
Pennsylvania). He had no children.
Randolph's starting date on HMS Jervis Bay is not clear. Most of the crew joined the ship in 1939, after requisition from Aberdeen & Commonwealth (Shaw Savill Line.) Many did join at other dates throughout 1939 & 1940. As Randolph did not appear in the original 'Tribune' photograph of the ship's officers, we can only presume that he joined at some point in 1940. He may even have replaced Officer William F. Howes, who had died in Halifax, Nova Scotia in September, 1940, and whose funeral all of the J.B. crew had attended, also held in Halifax. Howes is also buried here. There are photographs of this military funeral elsewhere on the website. Whether he joined before or after his brother George died, we cannot be certain of at this point in time though.
So, I am taking it upon myself to presume that Randolph joined the Jervis
Bay as a 3rd Engineer (a refrigeration engineer), where he worked alongside
fellow survivors Robertson, Byam and Moss, in the ship's engineering
department. That would of course make the list of crew survivors wrong, as
Urquhart is clearly listed as '2nd Radio Officer'. I believe that the 'Tribune'
list is wrong in more than one place anyway, as you will see later. The British
Admiralty often got their lines crossed, especially in wartime, where crews
were 'chopping and changing', often at the last minute for various reasons.
.Some crew only joined the 'Jervis Bay' on the day that she sailed in Convoy
HX84. Crew Casualty 'George Lethby' and crew survivor 'Sam Patience' both
joined the ship on her day of sailing. Lethby was on his way home (in the sick
bay) to leave the armed forces, and Patience 'swapped' with a crewman who
needed 'leave st the last minute'. Fate certainly came in to it's own that day.
And, we cannot take any facts at 'face value', when mix-ups did occur.
What Urquhart did during the action with the 'Admiral Scheer', we do not
know. We do know that he abandoned the ship with the other survivors, and he
found himself on a liferaft. We are led to believe from his relatives, that
Randolph escaped from the ship relatively unscathed. Many crewmen had cuts,
bruises, burns or shrapnel wounds etc. We know that Randolph did suffer
terribly from the cold, due to his time in the freezing North Atlantic Ocean
itself, and upon that liferaft, whilst drifting on top of it. Eventually, the
'Stureholm' would pick-up the survivors, and return them to Canada. Indeed,
Randolph can be seen on the crew survivor photographs taken aboard the
'Cormorin' (previously thought of as having been taken aboard the Stureholm)
back in Halifax, NS.
Randolph Urquhart returned to Liverpool, England in late 1940 after the
ordeal, and it is believed that he visited his brother Allan in Cardiff. Later,
he would return to North Shields (his so-called 'fixed aboard', if a MN man can
ever have one), where widow Ann Carr Urquhart still lived, and near to where
his brother George had been buried, whilst Randolph was away playing his part
in the war efforts. Randolph (still a Merchant Navy man of course), was only to
make two further 'trips', both upon the troop carrier 'Dominion Monarch'. He
would be suspended from duty in February, 1942. Shaw Savill had offered him a
'desk job' in an office, and Randolph was to become a 'landlubber'.