My father is a survivor from the SS Athenia Sep. 3, 1939

SS Athenia

My father is a survivor from the SS Athenia Sep. 3, 1939.  He was only 7 when he went down with his mother and sister, who have since passed away.

I do not see him in any of the survivor lists you have on your site, but I found articles for him from NY Times and other papers, which had lists of Canadian survivors.  The three names from my family, Ivy Reid, I. Reid, and H. Reid appear there.

You can email him c/o my mother if you need any other information.

Thank you,


Thank you for your mail, two merchant ships picked up Athenia survivors, City of Flint, and the Norwegian tanker Kanute Nelson, in general I have those survivor lists. In addition three Royal Navy destroyers, Electra, Escort and Fame picked up some survivors and transported them to the Clyde in Scotland, those survivors I have not been able to find on any lists. If you do not find your family the Reids, the chances are they were amongst those picked up by one of the British destroyers.

Could you please copy me with your newspaper artricles? so we might add that information to our AHOY data on the sinking of Athenia.

I will certainly contact your Father, although but 7 at the time of that tragedy he may have memories he might like to share.

I continue to be suprised at the detail about the ship and her demise that still surface so long after that day the first of WW2 on Sunday September 3rd. 1939. 

Again my thanks for taking the trouble to write.

Best wishes.
Mac. Gregory.

Dear Sir,

Your daughter Sue has passed on to me your E-mail address with a note that you as a 7 year year old boy had survived the loss of Athenia on Sunday the 3rd. of September 1939.

I am a retired Naval Officer from the Royal Australian Navy who spent WW2 at sea or in UK undertaking my Sub Lieutenant's Courses.

In August 1942 I was sunk at the Battle of Savo Island by a Japanese Surface Fleet whilst serving as a 20 year old Sub Lieutenant in the 8 inch cruiser HMAS Canberra.

I have a large web site Ahoy Mac's Web Log covering a lot of Naval and Maritime History at this URL: ahoy.tk-jk.net On it is are our Athenia Pages with a lot of information etc. we would love to be able to add any of your recollections of that fateful night and your subsequent rescue.

I am well aware Sir you were only 7, but I am sure that tragedy left you with memories. 

Anything you would care to share with me would be very much appreciated.

I am fortunate to be 85 and still active, and AHOY keeps me very much occupied.

With every good wish and hoping to hear from you as convenient.

Mackenzie ( Mac for short ) Gregory.

Good Morning.

My father has been recounting his memories to us since I brought the SS Athenia up again. He was picked up by the Electra, as was his mother and sister. We have survivor lists from newspaper clippings in Canada and USA which we can forward as well. 

I just wanted to let you know that once he gets his thoughts/stories in notation, I will go over and type them out to send to you.  My father does not type or use the computer other than to read the emails my mother prints for him. I don’t want you to think we had forgotten about this.

Just as a note to your email below (above), there was also a private yacht, “Southern Cross” which belonged to some wealthy man who owned a “vacuum cleaner” company. 

Thank you,

Hello Sue,

Thank you for your mail, I am very pleased to read that your Father is going to recount his memories of the Athenia sinking.

I did think that your family had been picked up by one of the British destroyers, as I said earlier that is the one list that has eluded me in my hunt for a consolidated list of all survivors. Every scrap of information I am offered about that tragic night helps to put the jigsaw together.

It is kind people such as your Father and yourself that assist in this project, and any newspaper articles and survivor lists are very welcome.

I am aware of the Southern Cross being involved in the rescue work, although I did not mention her in my mail to you originally.

Those she rescued seemed to go to the City of Flint.

I will add the names of your Father, his Mother and Sister to the few names I have who were landed in Scotland from the three British destroyers.

Once more Sue my grateful thanks for all your help, I am delighted you wrote in the beginning.

Best regards, and please say thank you to your Father from me.


In April of 1939, my mother, sister and myself went to England to spend the summer with my Grandmother and other members of the family.

In late August, we received passage aboard the S.S. Athenia. I do not remember what time we boarded the ship, but we boarded in Liverpool.

Sunday, Sept. 03, 1939 11:00 hrs Boarded Athenia 

18:00 hrs hours at sea, 200 miles West of Hebrides Athenia torpedoed

I don’t know what time we boarded the Athenia. I recall the cabin had two bunks, upper and lower, and a cot that folded although I do not recall sleeping on it.

My main recollection of the ship was dinner on Sunday night. I had finished dinner and my sister and mother were not quite finished. I asked if I could go up on deck and go to the ship’s gym. I received mother’s permission and I left our table, walked over to the stairs and went up on deck; port side, aft. 

I opened the door. There was a loud noise (explosion) and the ship listed to the port side. I began sliding toward the ship’s railing, when a tall man grabbed my right hand, or arm and pulled me back to the open door, pointed toward the front of the ship, yelled “Lifeboat” at me and went down the stairway to the diningroom.

I made my way forward, down steps, across the deck and went up steps toward the lifeboat the man had pointed to. As I arrived at the lifeboat, there was a lot of confusion and a lot of people being pulled up or climbing up to the deck from a large hole toward the center of the ship. 

I saw a woman standing on deck, she was wearing a long brown coat with a big fur collar. I grabbed this woman’s arm and yelled “mom”. She looked at me and it wasn’t my mother. However, she took my arm and said “Stay with me”. She would not let go of my arm.

We stood in a short line up to get into a lifeboat. I could see the lifeboat swinging out away from the ship and back to the ship side. When the lifeboat was at the ship side, a sailor yelled “jump” and the people in the front of the line jumped into the lifeboat. When our turn came we jumped into the lifeboat together.

We sat toward the stern of the lifeboat and huddled together to keep warm, but I was wet and cold. That was the way we spent the night, other than when a man let me help him row the lifeboat.

When it started to get light, it was very grey but we could see the Athenia listing heavily to the port side. 

Then I saw a destroyer in the grey, misty distance and as I watched her, she leaned over (like a speed boat turning) and came right at us. I thought she was going to run us down. The destroyer soon pulled up and stopped on our left.  There were either rope ladders or a scramble net (I am not sure which), and I got picked up by a man in the lifeboat and put on the ladder. I put my hand up toward the rung above my head, when a sailor grabbed my hand and said something like “up you come”. I was pulled up onto the deck, where another sailor caught me and pointed to a sailor standing by an open doorway further down the deck and said “go”, so I went. He sent me down the steps and a sailor showed me into a large room at the stern. The room was half round in the stern bulkhead of the destroyer.

I sat in this room for awhile and told a sailor my name, he was writing everyone’s name on a pad of paper. I told him I had lost my shoes and socks. He left and came back later with a pair of big woolen socks and told me they were the Captain’s socks and I was to go with him. We went along a passage way to another room where my mother and sister were sitting on the deck, near a stove. My mother and sister were happy to see me because they didn’t know where I was, if I was rescued or had been killed. 

We all stayed together in this room and sat on the deck. There were no chairs or tables, just the stove. There were many other survivors in the same room, sitting on the deck. Later on we all got plat of mashed potatoes and three sausages (bangers and mash) and a fork. Mother gave her sausages to a big sailor who was sitting near the stove. 

After we ate, the big sailor slung a hammock over top of the stove, climbed into it and went to sleep. I went to sleep, leaning against mother.

My next recollection was getting off bus and we went into a large hotel in Glasgow.

I didn’t like the hotel because we had only a wash basin in the room and the only toilet was down the hall and there was always a lineup to use it.

Later that day we went to a larger room in the hotel to get some clothes and things. I got to pick out a pair of hobnail boots, they were great! I made lots of noise when I walked up and down the hall or staircase. I would walk down the staircase and then ride up on the elevator with another boy I met until the elevator man stopped giving us a ride up.

My last recollection was arriving back at my Grandmother’s house in Wickham Lane, Woolwich, London, England. We stayed with my Grandmother until early November, when we got passage aboard the S.S. Duchess of Richmond and returned home to Canada. 

Thank you,
Sue Shaw
Grande Prairie, AB

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