The Merchant Navy Crest


A tribute to the British Merchant Navy - they also served!

The Red Duster

Joan A. Redl

This is a copy of an account by Joan A. Redl who was travelling as a passenger on the ship along with her two-year-old son David. It is reproduced here courtesy of St Helena Island Archives. The copyright is with David Redl.

Joan A. Redl's recollections on the sinking of ss CITY OF CAIRO 6.11.1942

Joan Redl

Joan Redl

My husband had gone off to the Middle East battle zone, and had no idea when he would return to India. The situation in India did not look too healthy, the Japs were advancing on the east, and the Germans on the west. India seemed sure to be invaded. I thought if I am to be killed better to be with my own folks than in India.

After some time I was dragged and pushed into another life boat. Then after some time I was handed David. I was quite sure that he was dead; but hoped that I was wrong. I put him around my body to get what warmth he could from me. Then some kind woman handed me some brandy she had in her bag. I got a bit down him, and it did the trick; he moved his body. With lots more rubbing, and the brandy in side him, he came to life.

On we went into the night hoping that one day we might see St. Helena, as the Germans said it was 500 miles away. The food was the usual stuff provided by the City Line. Biscuits so dry a dog would not eat it. Pemmican; horrid stuff, and the malted milk tablets; those kept David going. Two oz. of water every twelve hours; that was very hard on all of us, especially the children. It did not rain, so we were not able to get any more than our ration. We continued on until one night it began to start blowing a gale. The boats started to get into trouble; not surprising as the waves were enormous; about the size of a high building, which was not too good for a small boat.

The Captain collected them all up and in some way had them tied up to each other. That did not last long, as they soon started to break loose and go their own ways. The next morning what boats that were left, got together and continued on their way. Life started to get very tough for us all; several people died, including Kate Richardson - at the last, she thought she was on a bus and kept asking the bus driver to let her get off the bus. She was getting on a bit and the life boat was no place for her at such a great age. My foot started to hurt by then. I must have hit some wreckage paddling about, as I had a cut on it. Douglas Quantrill (Ships doctor) did what he could for it and got me to sit at the bottom of the boat. Soon I wished I hadn't, as I received several hefty kicks in my back from people not exactly appreciating me being there. That didn't last long, so I returned to my seat. I sat next to Bill Stubbs and he offered me his shoulder to sleep on. That was a kindness having a restless child on your lap and trying to sleep is not easy. Several lascars jumped over board, as they had had enough of it. Drinking salt water made their life worse. During the day Gladys Usher took David so I could get a rest, which was so kind of her. She was always ready to help any body; a wonderful person.

On and on we went. By now I felt that I could drink a gallon of milk. At times I thought I could see lines of milk bottles passing before me, and that I reached out to get one. I am sure I hit some body in the face. I must have been getting light headed by that time.

Then on the 13th day we saw smoke far off. I couldn't believe it when they started to shout. I then seemed to become alive and take notice of what was going on. We all got very excited about the fact that there was still some water left in the keg. This was rationed out to us, more than we had been given on the journey. It seemed like nectar to me. The ship got nearer and nearer; a dream ship, and then it was right before us. Rope ladders were lowered, and men came down to help us up. I didn't want that; if it was the last thing I could do I was going up that ladder under my own steam. However I did have to get David carried up. When I started up on my climb, the side of the ship seemed enormous. I got there to be greeted by a cup of tea, - the best tea I have ever had in my life. I am not quite sure how long we were before sighting St. Helena. The island was just a shadow at first, then the hills began to come into sight, they got bigger and bigger, until we were out side the harbour of Jamestown. A lot of small boats were waiting to take us a shore to awaiting vehicles, and then off we went to the hospital to be scrubbed and fed. We remained in the hospital for a few days.

David and I, were sent to a cottage called Maldivia. That was just wonderful after a cramped boat. Several other survivors were sent to this cottage. Betty Birchman was amongst them. She became a good friend of mine, and we both became pretty regular visitors to a house where the army officers lived. They gave us a wonderful time, taking us to dances, films, bathing parties, and meals. So we really enjoyed ourselves for the three months on St. Helena. Being so peaceful I was in no hurry to go home to war torn England. I shall always think of St Helena with love, especially its people who were so kind to us. They brought eggs and fruit to the hospital, and we had some really good times visiting their houses. The island is beautiful, especially the birds and the flowers.

David Redl 1st November 1999

Joan Redl and David were repatriated back to the UK on the TSS NESTOR arriving Liverpool on April 5th 1943.