Memorial bid gathering pace

Sydney Rapley, survivor of the sinking of the SS Avondale Park
Sydney Rapley, survivor of the sinking of the SS Avondale Park

A bid by Anstruther Town Centre Working Group (ATCWG) to raise funds for a memorial to those lost in the last ever sinking of World War Two is gathering pace.

The local group is aiming to raise £8500 to erect a momument in time for the 60th anniversary of the sinking of the SS Avondale Park which was torpedoed by a German submarine an hour before the end of the Second World War on May 7, 1944.

SS Avondale Park, the last ship to be sunk in World War Two, just off the Isle of May

SS Avondale Park, the last ship to be sunk in World War Two, just off the Isle of May

Glenn Jones of ATCWG said: “Anstruther Community Council has kindly agreed to allocate £2000 towards the project, from the Common Good Fund, and Fife Charities Trust has awarded us £500. With a £50 donation from Anstruther Improvements Association, we are now in a position to order the plaque, as our total is now £4900.

“Our aim is to have the memorial in place for the 60th anniversary of the sinking, on May 7, 2015.”

During the attack by U2335, commanded by Kapitanleutnant Emil Klusmeier, who claimed not to have received the message to cease hostilities on May 4, two of the crew - chief engineer George Anderson and Donkeyman William Harvey - were killed.

The memorial will be placed beside the former Baptist Chirch manse on the shore at East Green and will face out to sea, toward the location of the wreck which is around 1.5 miles south east of the Isle of May.

The group had previously planned to mount the plaque on a stone cairn, but it has been decided that the memorial will now be fixed directly on the harbour wall, following an application for listed structure consent.

Survivor’s story....

Sydney Rapley was just 17 years and two days old when he found himself escaping from the torpedoed SS Avondale Park.

Now 86-years-old, and living in West Sussex, Mr Rapley remembers the night of the sinking vividly.

“I had just come off the bridge at 8.30 p.m. and turned in for the night. I was just dozing off when it happened.

“I was on the top bunk and got blown out of my bunk and hit the roof. I thought we had hit a mine. I was just in my underwear, but grabbed my life jacket and documents.

“My boatdeck was on the starboard side and when I went outside, it was totally gone and there was a massive hole in the side of the boat.”

A merchant ship, the SS Avondale Park had been carrying rolls of news print and oil cake bags to Hull, and Mr Rapley said all of the cargo was floating around in the sea alongwith debris and dead fish.

“The life boat was on the port side but had been cast off when we were hit so we had to swim out about 50 feet to get to it.”

Mr Rapley and some of the other survivors waited in the lifeboat before being picked up by another boat and taken ashore to Methil.

“The ladies in the mission knew what had happened and were ready and waiting for us. Everyone was quite calm at that point and the shock didn’t really hit me until I was on the train home.”

Mr Rapley stayed in the merchant navy for another three years, and married wife Mildred at age 20.

He worked with his father, who had coaches and taxis, and the pair went on to have a son Phillip to join Mildred’s daughter Linda.

Mr Rapley believes the memorial to be a great idea and has already contributed funds to help it become a reality.

“The loss was terrible. For me, being in the navy was exciting, an adventure at that age, and being so young, you never thought about dying.

“It was awful to lose the Donkeyman William and chief engineer George. It was a small crew and we were all quite close.”