HMHS St David

HMHS St David

The HMHS St David was an Irish Sea Ferry employed as a Hospital Carrier. On 24 January 1944. well illuminated and displaying the neutral markings of a hospital ship, she was about 25 miles south-west of Anzio when attacked by enemy aircraft. One bomb hit the ship in No.3 hold, two others exploded alongside No. 2 hold. The crew attempted to save all those aboard but the ship sank five minutes after the initial hit. 159 people were saved1.

These nurses who died are commemorated on the Brookwood Memorial2:

  • Sister DIXON, Sarah Elizabeth QAIMNS (Reserve)
  • Sister HARRISON, Winnie Alice Elizabeth QAIMNS (Reserve)

Personal Account

We had lain off Anzio all Monday afternoon taking off wounded. The weather was not good for small craft that day, and it was a rather longer process than we had anticipated. About 5.30 p.m. we set sail, the St. David leading, followed by her sister ships, Leinster and St. Andrew. When we were about four miles out the black-out was lifted. This is customary with hospital ships at sea, in order to distinguish them, in the hope of avoiding enemy attack. The weather turned very rough. It must have been about eight o'clock, when we were 20 miles out at sea, that I heard a crash. We all ran up on deck with our lifebelts, and were told the ship had been hit and we must take to the boats. We did our best with the wounded. Fortunately a good proportion of them were walking casualties. It all seemed one confused rush, and then the ship began to heel over, and we were told to jump for it. Miss Berret jumped for one of the boats, but the boat itself was tipped over and everyone in it was tossed out into the water. I was just behind her, and I went straight down into the sea. The whole of the time from the bomb hitting our ship to the time we had to jump into the water was only four minutes – it seemed much longer. I felt myself being sucked down under the ship. I struggled and came up twice, and each time something hit me on the head. The third time I was luckier. All around me people were clinging to rafts and bits of wreckage. Some of them had torches with which they were signalling to the boats that had been put out by the Leinster and the St. Andrew to search for us. But the ordinary flashlight does not carry far. We spent about an hour in the water before being picked up by the Leinster. One man of our surgical team was trying to get all the wounded off right up to the last, and instead of jumping for the boats he went back to the sick bays3.

Painting

A painting of the sinking of HMHS St David is in the National Railway Museum

References

  1. Pilgrim, R. (2011) Thomas Boston Anderson (Quartermaster HMHS St David) [WWW] http://www.benfleethistory.org.uk/page_id__391.aspx
  2. Commonwealth War Graves Commission
  3. Hindman, R (American Army Nurse) I Was There! - The Nazis Bombed and Sank Our Hospital Ship. The War Illustrated, Volume 7, No. 175, Page 633, March 3, 1944