Saturday, 10 November 2012

Muslim Merchant Seamen in WW2

Remembrance Sunday is perhaps a good time to mention the very significant contribution that Muslim sailors made to the British war effort in WW2.

A contribution that particularly needs to be told given the current fashion for anti-Muslim media stories.

If we look at just the ships sunk by U-boats in WW2, we see that over 3,300 Indian crewmembers died in these attacks, of which the overwhelming majority were Muslim. This compares to the 34,000 British Merchant Seamen who lost their lives to U-boat attacks.

For example, on 20th September 1941, the Cingalese Prince sunk by U-111 in the mid-Atlantic. Of the 77 crew, 57 died, around of these being Muslims - people like Ahmed Shah(43, greaser), Matab Bin Salam(39, quartermaster) or young Ab Manuf Ab Hamid, aged just 19.

While on 9 Jul, 1941, the Designer was torpedoed by U-98 and sank in just 6 minutes,near the Azores. In this case the crew comprised some 78 people, but 67 of these lost their lives in the attack, (the majority of those dying being Indian Muslims). Fortunately the survivors were picked up the next day. One wonders about the stories of people like Abbas Ali (25, Trimmer) or Ishaq Mian(43, Fireman)

The passenger ship City of Cairo, was sailing in the South Atlantic on 1st Nov 1942 when it was hit by a topedo from U-68. The ship was abandoned and only 6 of the 311 on board were lost during the evacuation. However, they were 1000 miles from the mainland. Estimating that they could reach the Island St Helena in 2-3 weeks they rationed their water to 110ml per day and and made their way towards the Island. During the trip, many boats were lost, while others were picked up by passing ships. Only a handful of people made it to landfall. 40% of those who died were Muslim, including seamen Sultan Baker (39) and Abdul Karim (20)

A Merchant Ship is sunk in a U-boat atack

2 Nov, 1943, was the last day afloat for the Baron Semple, as she was sunk by U-848 northwest of Ascension Island. The whole crew of 62 was lost, with nearly half being Muslim, including seamen Shams-ul-Haq (33) and Bashir Ali(27)

One of the most tragic incidents was that of the sinking of the City of Benares on 18th Sep 1940 by U-48 as she was sailing from the UK to Canada. It was tragic because the ship was carrying 90 evacuated children, of whom some 77 lost their lives. So amongst the casualty list, which includes the names of some 72 Muslim crew, such as fireman Abdullah Ibrahim and seaman Sheik Husein, there are also the hearbreaking names of the children, such as Alan John Capel (5) and Beryl Irene Carr (8)

BFTF could go on and on, describing how many Muslim crewmembers gave their lives during attacks on ships such as the Nurmahal, the Aymeric or Cap Padaram - but you can probably get the picture by now.

BFTF wonders what other little known roles British Indian Muslims played during WW2. . . . the water

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