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Edwards, Harold E.

I am not certain of the Family history of Harold as there are no censuses published after 1911 and Harold was born circa 1920, so any help to identify his family would be appreciated.      The newspaper reports of his death give us a little clue:-

Chester Chronicle 15th April 1944 Trooper Harold EDWARDS, POW, Aston Hill, Hawarden, also in the Liverpool Evening Express 10th May 1944, same article.

DEATH IN PRISON CAMP – Mr & Mrs R.W. JONES,Church-lane, Aston Hill, have received news that their adopted son, Trooper Harold EDWARDS, Royal Tank Regiment, is presumed killed while a prisoner of war.   He joined the Army in June, 1941.   He was captured in June 1942, while serving  with the Middle East Forces.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission citation tells us that he is the son of Son of John and Mary Jane Edwards, of Queen’s Ferry, Flintshire.

Harold was first on a Casualty List as ”Missing” in Cyrenaica (2) on the 20th June 1942 and on the next one was listed as “Prisoners of War, previously listed as Missing”(2), along  with 23 other soldiers and on another Casualty List is “Previously reported Prisoner of War – Cyrenaica – Now reported Missing” – (16) date not reported.   The next Casualty List (14) states that Harold is among 14 men from the Royal Armoured Corps who were “Previously reported Missing whilst Prisoner of War, Date not reported, now Presumed Killed in Action whilst Prisoner of War in Italian Hands,” – dated 14th November 1942.   Even though each Casualty list has page numbers on the top, there is no way of knowing which came first.   It appears he died at Sea, 1 of only 4 who died at sea from the 44th Royal Tank Regiment.

Harold’s fate was sealed when he was put on the Ship SS Scillin with other POW’s on the  12th  or 13th November 1942, see below:-

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SS_ScillinExcerpts from SS Scillin – SS Scillin was a 1,591 GRT cargo steamship that was built in Scotland in 1903, passed through a succession of owners of various nationalities and had a succession of different names. She was built as H. M. Pellatt but was successively called Memling, Nicole Le Borgne, Giuliana Pagan and Scillin Secondo before becoming Scillin in 1937.

By the time of the Second World War the ship was in Italian ownership. In 1942 a Royal Navy submarine sank her in the Mediterranean Sea when she was transporting over 800 Allied prisoners of war (POWs) from North Africa to Italy, killing nearly all of them. The United Kingdom kept the cause of her sinking secret until 1996, more than 50 years after the event.

Final voyage

In November 1942 in Tripoli in Libya, 814 Allied POWs were embarked in Scillin’s hold, which, reportedly, was suitable for only about 300. The result was severe overcrowding and unsanitary conditions. More prisoners would have been embarked, but the British military doctor (Captain Gilbert, RAMC) made vehement and repeated protests. Some reports state that a further 195 POWs were embarked before Scillin sailed and that there were some 200 Italian troops aboard; others dispute these points saying that the only Italian troops aboard were guards and gun crews and the surplus POWs were never actually embarked. She sailed on 13 November 1942.[2]

A British S-class submarine, HMS Sahib, intercepted Scillin on the night of 14 November off the coast of Tunisia. Sahib first fired two shells at the cargo ship and then launched a single torpedo, which hit Scillin’s hold and rapidly sank her. Prisoners in the hold had little chance of survival. Sahib rescued 27 POWs (26 British and one South African), Scillin’s captain and 34 Italian crew and soldiers [3] before the arrival of an Italian warship obliged her to leave. Only when Sahib’s crew heard survivors speaking English did they realise the ship’s purpose.[4]

Official reaction –  HMS Sahib

Royal Navy submarine commanders had been ordered not to attack enemy civilian ships that were en route from North Africa to Italy. In an inquiry, Sahib’s commander (Lt. John Bromage) was cleared of culpability, since he claimed that Scillin had borne no lights, he had believed that Scillin was carrying Italian troops, had appeared to be en route to Africa and had not responded to the initial shelling (two rounds), intended to halt her.[4]   In his log Lt Bromage never claimed to have fired any warning shots.

“Fired 12 rounds with the 3″ gun and registered with 10”. The ship was brought to. Closed to 750yds and fired one Torpedo into the engine room.

Sgt W D Heath R.T.R. (survivor) mistook the missed rounds as warning shots.”

The patrol report clearly indicates that the Sahib was put on a course to intercept Scillin. The order came from Malta and was received during a radio listening watch as recorded in Lt Brommage’s log.

Consideration was given to the prosecution of Italians for war crimes because of Scillin’s lack of life-saving equipment and Italian attempts to batten down (i.e. close) her hatches where the POWs were kept, thus preventing their escape. Prosecution was abandoned due to lack of evidence.[4] 787 or 788 POWs died aboard Scillin. Another source mentions 806 POWs lost, as well as 79 Italians.[5]

Secrecy and disclosure – The details of Scillin’s loss and the circumstances of the death of the Allied POWs were kept secret for more than 50 years, until persistent enquiries by relations and historians brought a more open response. The reasons for such official reticence for such a long period are not clear, but there are claims that it was deemed necessary to protect intelligence sources.[2]

The first time information was made public was in 1996 when the Ministry of Defence records department put an account of the sinking and a list of POWs into an existing file at The National Archives. (WO311/304) Both the account of the sinking and the list of casualties were factually flawed. When the mistakes were pointed out the MoD accepted the errors, but no alterations have been made.

It was deemed important to conceal the source of the intelligence (Ultra) that so accurately predicted Scillin’s position and schedule, enabling Sahib to intercept her, and also revealed that POWs were aboard.[4] It should be remembered that Ultra was highly secret and great efforts were made to prevent the Axis discovering or disclosing that their signals were being read; Ultra’s existence was not publicly disclosed until the 1970s.

Many measures were applied to protect Ultra intelligence. One was to overfly any intended shipping target before directing any interception and attack. Scillin’s crew were interrogated when they were landed at Malta and disclosed that the ship had been sighted by aerial reconnaissance. Sahib was then given an interception course. This was standard practice when attacking shipping whose movements had been revealed by Ultra whether they had POW aboard or not. Thus if transports that carried POW were not attacked at all it would have been obvious that the Allies had prior knowledge of the ships’ cargo.

The most complete account of Scillin’s sinking and the role of Ultra was published in the September 2006 issue of the Royal Artillery Journal.

Previous losses – Scillin was only one example of Allied POWs being killed when enemy ships were sunk in the Mediterranean. Five others had been sunk in the preceding year with 2,000 casualties; Ultra had predicted each of the POW transportations.[2] There is a memorial plaque at the National Memorial Arboretum to the POWs lost at sea on Sebastiano Veniero (9 December 1941), Ariosto (15 February 1942), Tembien (27 February 42), Nino Bixio (17 August 1942), Loreto (13 October 1942) and Scillin (14 November 1942).[2]

Many thanks to the Forum members of WW2talk without their help Harold’s story may not have been told.  http://ww2talk.com/index.php?threads/british-pow-losses-on-italian-ship.2494/

British Pow Losses On Italian Ship – Discussion in ‘North Africa & the Med’ started by Ralph B, Oct 31, 2005. (Many thanks to TD on WW2talk Forum)

https://www.wrecksite.eu/wreck.aspx?31791

Jan Lettens 27/11/2017 On November 13th, 1942, at Tripoli, 814 Allied POWs were ordered into the Italian SCILLIN’s cargo hold, which was only suitable for around 300. The result was severe overcrowding and insanitary conditions. More prisoners would have been loaded, but the British military doctor (Capt. Gilbert, RAMC) made vehement and repeated protests. Some reports state that a further 195 POWs were disembarked before Scillin sailed and that there were some 200 Italian troops on board; others dispute these points saying that the only Italian troops on board were guards and gun crews and the surplus POWs were never actually boarded. On the night of 14 November off the Tunisian coast SCILLIN was ordered to stop with gunfire by the British submarine HMS SAHIB. She did not respond, so her Captain decided to torpedo SCILLIN. Those in the hold had little chance of survival as the torpedo had hit the hold itself and the ship sank rapidly. SAHIB was able to rescue 27 POWs (26 British and one South African), the SCILLIN’s captain and 45 Italian crew members, before the arrival of an Italian warship obliged her to leave. Only when survivors were heard speaking English, did SAHIB’s captain realize that the SCILLIN was carrying POWs. The Ministry of Defence kept this incident a closely guarded secret for fifty-four years, telling relatives that the victimes had died while prisoner-of-war in Italian camps or lost at sea. It was not until 1996, after repeated requests for information from the families of the drowned men that the truth came out.

Harold is also mentioned on the 44th ROYAL TANK REGIMENT 1939-1945 – ROLL OF HONOUR:-

http://web.archive.org/web/20091019092447/http://uk.geocities.com/williamfdungey/mems/44roll.html

Also More on the 44th Royal Tank Regiment Role of Honour 1939-1945 on http://www.desertrats.org.uk/bde/4thABunits.htm#44RTR

Harold Edward was remembered with love as his name was put forward by family members or friends to be added to the Hawarden WW2 War Memorial for perpetuity.

 

 

 

 


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