Continuation of Destination Disaster : SS City of Benares
Fourth Officer Ronnie Cooper had gone in command of Lifeboat 12. The boat had tipped backwards while lowering but no one had fallen out. Once launched Cooper picked up 8 swimmers, making for a total of 46 people aboard the boat. The boat was tossed around in the stormy seas but survived the night, meeting up with one of the Marina’s lifeboats. They stuck together until the Marina boat decided to leave for Ireland, the next day. Lifeboat 12 was overloaded and remained behind. The Marina would make it to Tory Island Light before being picked up by a boat on September 25th.
Cooper had the seating rearranged. Crew in the stern. Indians and passengers in the middle and Cornish and the boys in the bow where a makeshift shelter had been erected. That day George Purvis, a Benares crewmember wisely began rationing food. Rescue may not come for a few days. While they would have plenty of food, their water would only last 8 days. Drinking seawater was out of the question. To do so would be suicide.
At first the 6 boys were excited about their trouble. But the humdrum of sitting in a boat doing nothing began to replace the excitement. CORB escort Mary Cornish, or Auntie Mary as the children called her, took up the duties of being the protector of the boys. O’Sullivan, though their escort, had been ill with the flu before the torpedoing and was still ill. He lay in the bottom of the boat, his comrades thinking he would be the first to go. Cornish wasn’t well viewed at first by her fellow survivors. She seemed to be a severe person. But soon opinion changed. She donated her camisole as a flag and kept the boys occupied. Discussions, games and made up stories of Bulldog Drummond kept the boys occupied.
On September 22nd, those in Lifeboat 12 sighted a ship and began waving their ‘flag’. Finally rescue had come or so they thought. Making zigzag patterns the ship traveled away from the Benares survivors. That night a storm hit. Amazingly everyone survived it. But strength was failing and hope draining. With the strict rationing of water the survivors were suffering from dehydration.
By the 24th the survivors were on death’s doorstep. One of the Indian crew lost his mind and jumped overboard. He was swept away by the currents. He may have drank seawater which would have contributed to his demise. The boys were also suffering. Ken Sparks had had a fit and Paul Shearing followed with a much more severe fit some time later. Shearing yelled for water and said he was ‘mad’. Cooper was afraid to give him water as the Indian crew, which outnumbered the Europeans, might riot. The fear was not without a foundation. The ‘head’ of the Indians who communicated with Cooper regularly had said that favoritism could land them in trouble. Cooper handed an axe down to O’Sullivan and had someone nonchalantly take a dipper up to the bow for Shearing. There was thankfully no riot.
On September 25th Sparks spotted a plane. Others in the boat were doubtful, thinking of past disappointments. The plane, a Sunderland, had found the boat quite by accident. It was a miracle. In the boat the Indians lent their turbans to be used as semaphore flags. The plane told them that another plane would be along to save them. The pilot didn’t have enough fuel or space to take them on. The next plane told the survivors that a ship was 40 miles away. Before leaving to fetch the HMS Anthony pilot, Doughie Baker dropped food to the survivors. What the Lifeboat 12 occupants really needed was water but fruits in juice provided a substitute. The Sunderland flew back to the HMS Anthony ( which was under Lieutenant Commander N. V. Thew) and led it to the boat.
When the HMS Anthony arrived, the 45 souls had been at sea for 8 days. Rory O’Sullivan’s appearance had been altered so much in that time, he was mistaken for one of the Indians. Aboard the ship the adults were still feeling the effects of the ordeal even rationing the drinks given to them. Cornish and O’Sullivan were suffering terribly and it was wondered whether or not they would die. The children quickly recovered. But once back at home with their families who had belived they were dead, nightmares and other conditions would plague them. Survivors were taken to Scotland where they learned the tally of the dead. Of the CORB children only 13 had survived, 77 were dead. Two of the Indians taken from Lifeboat 12 later died in hospitals.