Lucy Marston, lost on Athenia, her daughter Aileen Scott Philipsen survived

11 Mar 2011


My name is Karen Reid (nee: Philipsen). My Mother Aileen Scott Philipsen (nee: Marston) and her Mother Lucy Marston were passengers onboard the Athenia.

My Mother Aileen was 7 months pregnant with my older brother Andrew, he was born in Oxford Dec. 30, 1939.  My Mother survived, my Grandmother Lucy did not.

My Mother told me (she did not often speak of this) that when the torpedo hit, she was lying on her bunk and Lucy was squatting and going through a Trunk in their cabin. A very large and heavy Dresser fell over onto Lucy, pinning her to the deck.

Aileen could not get it off her and Lucy pleaded with her to leave. Aileen left to get help, but the main staircase was blown away and she finally found an iron rung ladder that she climbed up, looking for help.

She got to the Deck and could not get out of the round opening at the top. A couple came by and the man pulled her through the opening.

Aileen was very distressed and told him about Lucy and he promptly went down to help her. Aileen and the man's wife were standing at the top of the opening when sailors came along and forced them to a lifeboat. Putting them both in and then swinging it over the side and lowering it into the water.

My Mom and the Lady were trying not to go, but were given no option. That was the last time Aileen and the Lady saw either Lucy or the Husband.... My Mother spent that night and the next night in the lifeboat, bailing. She was wearing a very light dress and the water kept filling the lifeboat, they were all bailing.

She also said that at one point a ship passed them, they thought they were coming to help them but it sailed past and just kept motioning for them to stay out of the prop wash. She said those she could see on the deck had pom pom's on their hats. (French???) 

The lifeboat was packed with women and children.

They were finally rescued by one of the three British Navy vessel's my Mom described as a Destroyer, which at some point after their rescue went in pursuit of a submarine. I'm not sure which one it was, but my Mom said she would never forget the faces of the two sailors who pulled her up and over the railing of the ship.

She was taken to a makeshift hospital on the Dock of where they landed and that is where my Father Arnold Philipsen finally found her. He was in the RAF and became a Squadron Leader. He was on his first mission when this happened and was advised when he returned that he must go immediately to where my Mom was, which he did.

My Father had gone to England from Victoria, B.C. Canada to join the RAF in 1937 and my Mom and grandmother had sailed over to England in 1938. They knew one another in Victoria and they met up in England, when Aileen and Lucy arrived there. They then married and when War was
imminent, my Dad wanted them safely back in Canada.

I hope this helps with your documentation and pieces together the story a bit. These people were extremely brave and courageous. They did not speak alot about what happened. I asked questions only the once and this is the story I was told. I did not venture there again, as I felt it was extremely personal and painful. Aileen did sail back to Canada with Andy when he was 18 months old. She always had his jacket on and a lifejacket beside them both. this was in the height of the War.

If you have any questions that I might help with, please  (email me)

I wish you the best with your history of the Athenia.



My thanks for your harrowing story about your Mother and Grandmother in Athenia, every small piece of the jig saw helps to build up a larger picture.

The three British destroyers who picked up survivors were HM ships  Electra, Fame, and Escort, Fame was the destroyer sent off to carry out anti-sumarine sweep, so I believe she was the destroyer that picked up your Mother
and took her to Greenock on the Clyde in Scotland, to be met by your Squadron Leader father.

Three survivors died whilst trying to transfer from a lifeboat to the Royal Navy destroyers, they were crushed.

I was unaware of any French ship being in the area after Athenia's sinking, and cannot document any report, but Pom Poms on a Sailor's hat certainly indicate a French warship.

I have the list of 93 passengers who died in this tragic event on the very first day of the start of WW2, Lucy is listed as: Lucy Marston, 63, housewife, British Ely View, Haughton Road, St Ives.

Karen, may I be rude and ask when you were born?


I have visited your country many times, love Vancouver, and could quite easily live there, but at 89, that is very unlikely to happen.

Again my thanks for taking your time and the trouble to talk to me.

All the best,

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