When the Luftwaffe began bombing Britain in 1940 the government decided set up a Children's Overseas Reception Board (CORB) which arranged for children to be sent to USA, Canada and Australia. In the first few months over 210,000 children were registered with the scheme.
After the City of Bernares was sunk by a German torpedo on 17th September, 1940, killing 73 children, the overseas evacuation programme was brought to a halt. By this time the Children's Overseas Reception Board had sent 2,664 children overseas. Most of these went to Canada.
Wealthy parents continued to send their children to safe countries. It is estimated that during the first two years of the war around 14,000 children were sent privately to USA, Canada and Australia.
I had never swum in my life before but I swum that night. I do not know how I did it but I got to an upturned boat and climbed on to it. After some hours when I was able to see I found there were Bessie Walden and the seaman and myself clinging on the keel. The seaman was on the point of collapse when a warship came in sight.
My sister Barbara got down a ladder at the Bow and Derrick was following down on a rope flung from the ship's side. By the time he reached the water the lifeboat had pulled away, and Derrick had to climb up again. We were then told to go to the stern of the ship, but as we were running along the deck we were told that the ship was going down.
We rushed back to the bow and climbed down a ladder where we found a raft, and we all scrambled on to it. For some hours we were tossed about in the water and were soaked to the skin. Seas were washing over us and when we lay down our heads were in water. When we tried to sit up we were blown down by the terrific wind. We were on the raft for some hours.
We were picked up by another boat. We were all very worried about Barbara, but she turned up all right in the warship, so all of us were safe.
The Children's Overseas Reception Board announces with deep regret that a ship carrying 90 children and nine escorts to Canada, under its scheme of evacuation from vulnerable areas to the overseas dominions, has been torpedoed and sunk. It is feared that 83 of the children and seven of the escorts have been lost.
Eleven of the children lost were from Liverpool. This included three brothers from one family and a brother and sister from another. Nine were from Sunderland, and included two pairs of brothers and two sisters.
Mr. W. R. Forsyth of London, a passenger, told a reporter: "We had no warning before the attack. The ship was so badly holed that she listed heavily and almost immediately began to sink. We had only 20 minutes to get the lifeboats lowered and away before she went down. Casualties occurred almost at the start. Darkness added to our difficulties. The passengers behaved magnificently, particularly the women and children. The little mites obeyed every instruction."
Angus McDonald, Glasgow, carpenter's mate, stated in an interview that about a dozen of the ship's boats succeeded in getting away. The weather was very rough and waves continually swept over the boat. "I had 38 people in my boat and many of them were in a sad plight. Most of them, were suffering from the extreme cold. The boat had become water-logged and the water was almost up to the gunwales. We were sitting up to our waists in water. Most of my passengers were women, and there were also two children. For hours our lifeboat was tossed about and darkness turned to daylight. It was a long time afterwards that we sighted a destroyer, and soon we were safely on board, but not many who left the ship were alive."
"We had one little hero in our boat, an 11-year-old boy named Edward Richardson. One outstanding example of his courage was his conduct in the lifeboat when a nurse was dying. She asked that someone should hold her hand and Edward at once went to her assistance. He repeatedly gave her the assurance that rescue boats were on their way."
Mrs. Margaret Hudson, of Baildon, Bradford said: "The children had been as happy on board looking forward to their new home in Canada, and when the alarm came they behaved wonderfully. My husband helped me over the side and I got down a rope thinking I was going into a lifeboat. The boat, however, was some distance away, and another girl, the daughter of Mrs. Balmer, Pat aged fourteen, and I swam towards it. I did not see my husband again, but Pat and I are living in hope that he and her mother will be picked up by a warship."