Thank you very much to Elizabeth Grieve who has shared her excellent research here about a very interesting Blantyre woman who turned out to be the only woman commemorated on the High Blantyre War Memorial
Sarah Kerr Struthers was born on 30 May 1892 at Braehead, Blantyre to James Struthers from Blantyre and Catherine McNicol from Inveraray, Argyll. The first census taken after her birth was in 1901, which listed the family living in Futtashins, Blantyre with Sarah the eldest of 3 girls with 2 older brothers. Her father was a Stone Mason and mother was a home keeper. Her eldest brother, James was 14 years old and was a Pithead Labourer with Sarah and the rest of her siblings being at school, likely to be attending High Blantyre Primary, Hunthill Road.
By the time the 1911 census, the family were living at 77 Craigmuir Road in Blantyre, with Sarah’s father still working as a Stone Mason, her brother James now an engineer, Robert was a boot maker and Sarah was now working in domestic service. Her sisters Barbara and Mary were still both at school, with their mother Catherine still keeping the family home.
Now it must have been sometime after this, Sarah joined the Merchant Navy and was serving on the SS Britannia at the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939.
The S. S. Britannia was constructed around 1925 by Stephen and Sons Ltd, Glasgow, on the banks of the River Clyde and owned by the Anchor Line Ltd, Glasgow as a passenger ship with a speed of up to 15 knots.
On the 13 March 1941, the Britannia sailed from Liverpool with 203 crew and 281 passenger and service personnel on board under the command of Captain A. Collie heading for Bombay via Freetown and Durban. The liner was part of an Atlantic convoy with an anti-submarine escort for part of its voyage. On the 25th March 1941, the Britannia left the protection of the convoy, heading for its first port of call Freetown.
About 750 miles west of Freetown, Britannia could see another ship flying a Japanese flag, as, at this time, Japan was not involved in WW2. On closer inspection, the Cruiser then flew a German flag, forcing the Britannia to flee the scene. The German Raider “Thor” bombarded the Britannia, forcing Britannia to return fire until its gun became unusable. Passengers were fleeing or jumping overboard and the Captain then ordered the ships engines to be stopped, to launch the lifeboats and abandon ship. Passengers were throwing timber, chairs, anything they could get their hands on to act as a makeshift life raft to flee from the now burning ship before Kapitan Otto Kahler of the Thor ordered his crew to torpedo the Britannia below the water line and the ship sank quickly and without trace. The Thor did not even stop to pick up survivors.
Later that day, a Spanish steamer “Bachi picked up survivors that were in lifeboat 5, totalling around 50, with the Spanish ship “Cabo De Homos” picked up around 77 survivors. The MV Raranga picked up around 67 and took them on to Sierra Leone with other ships picking up about 4 more. In total 122 crew and 127 passengers from the Britannia perished, including Sarah Kerr Struthers from Blantyre.
Sarah K. Struthers is commemorated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission on their memorial at Tower Hill, London, along with others who lost their lives in the sea battles of World War 2. She is the only woman commemorated on the High Blantyre War Memorial at the local cemetery where her parents lie at rest.
Sarah’s Parents and Siblings
I am only surmising that Sarah Struthers’ family were devastated at her death at the age of 48 years and her death coming only 7 months after the death of her mother, Catherine McNicol on 12 August 1940. Her father James, was not to survive for long after Sarah’s death, passing away on 17 May 1941 in Blantyre. They are both buried in High Blantyre Cemetery in lair L44 however there is no grave marker or memorial.
Her brother James born 25 January 1886 in Blantyre went on to marry Jane Waddell Wardlaw (1896-1964) on 1st June 1915 in Bridgend, South Wales. They went on to have 4 children.
Robert Stuart Struthers was born 18 September 1889 in Blantyre.
Barbara Lennox Struthers born 17 June 1895 in Blantyre, Died 1993 Stirling and remained single.
Mary Campbell Struthers born 18 September 1898 Blantyre, died around 1988 Blantyre. Mary married 27 Dec 1929 in Blythswood Glasgow to William Davidson, born around 1902.
Family of James Struthers Jr & Jane W Wardlaw
James Wardlaw Struthers born 10 December 1916 Blaengarw, Bridgend South Wales, died 17 October 1979 Blaengarw, Bridgend South Wales.
Robin Cook Stuart Struthers born about 1918 Blaengarw, Bridgend South Wales, died 1 Feb 1944 Sangro River, Italy. Buried at Sangro River Cemetery plot XI. A. 25. Sergeant Parachute Regiment A. A. C. 6th (10th bn Royal Welsh Fusiliers) Service Number 3963985
John Struthers born 9 October 1922 Blaengarw, Bridgend South Wales, died 17 September 1996 Tondu, Bridgend South Wales.
Struthers Family History
James Struthers 21 September 1823 Blantyre, Died 2 January 1877 Blantyre. Married on 28 December 1845 Blantyre to Barbara Lennox born about 1825 Dunscore, Dumfries, died 5 November 1883 Blantyre.
Robert Struthers born about 1847 Blantyre, died 5 May 1928 Glasgow.
Jean Struthers born about 1848 Blantyre
Isabella Struthers Born about 1851 Blantyre, Died 17 Aug 1937 Blantyre.
James Struthers (1) born Sept 1854 Blantyre, Died 24 Nov 1856 Blantyre.
James Struthers (2) born 3 Jan 1858 Blantyre, Died 17 May 1941 Blantyre.
William Struthers born 14 Oct 1860 Blantyre, Died 10 July 1924 Blantyre. Married 24 Feb 1880 Shotts to Christina Campbell Somerville born 9 Feb 1858 Slamannan.
Barbara Struthers born 20 Sept 1863, died 26 June 1864 Blantyre.
John Struthers Born 1 Sept 1865 Blantyre, died 10 April 1935 Blantyre. Married 8 Aug 1885 Blantyre to Helen Young born 17 Aug 1868 Blantyre, died 11 May 1938 Blantyre.
Robert Stewart Struthers born about 1791 Dalserf, died 24 March 1871 Blantyre. Married about 1822 Blantyre to Isabella Watson born 20 Aug 1804 Blantyre, died about 1854 Blantyre. Approximately 10 children to the marriage.
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Thanks Paul for publishing the story. A great 50th birthday present.