HMHS Newfoundland

HMHS Newfoundland
The Hospital Ship Newfoundland. with its Red Cross sign prominently displayed. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source:

After the Allied invasion of Italy in September 1943, HMHS Newfoundland was assigned as the hospital ship of the Eighth Army, and was one of two hospital ships sent to deliver 103 American nurses to the Salerno beaches on 12 September. The hospital ships were attacked twice that day by dive bombers, and by evening they were joined by a third hospital ship. Concerned by a number of near misses, it was decided to move the ships out to sea and anchor there for the night. What happened then was recorded in the press around the world1:

Nazis Bomb Hospital Ship

German planes recently dive-bombed and set fire to the hospital ship Newfoundland off Salerno it was revealed today. There were no wounded aboard, but six nurses and also all the doctors and a number of the ship’s officers were killed. Volunteers fought the flames but the ship had to be abandoned and sunk by naval gunfire. Some of the survivors have reached a Scottish port.

An able seaman, aged 22, paid a tribute to British and American nurses who tended the men wounded in the attack, while German fighters were machine-gunning the decks.

“The Germans attacked the Newfoundland at 5 a.m. on September 13 when she was between 30 and 40 miles off shore. We carried huge, illuminated red crosses and a fringe of green lights. We could not have been mistaken for a fighting ship. One bomb scored a direct hit on the doctor’s quarters. The ship listed to starboard, but we managed to launch some lifeboats and rafts. The crew and medical corps men thought first of the nurses, but the nurses could not be convinced that they should get out of the danger zone.”

This report was from an American nurse also on the HMHS Newfoundland2:

I still don’t know if this will pass the censor but will try & tell you what happened the 13th of Sept. We tried to land in Italy all day Sunday the 12th but they were too busy fighting to worry about a hundred nurses on a hospital ship. Several bombs just missed us several times but we didn’t really realize what it was all about. Evening came & we had to go out of the harbor because our ship was all lit up. We taxied around in the sea off shore about 30 miles all nite—our ship & 4 other Hospital ships—at 5 a.m. we were awakened by a bomb falling very close to us—Some of the girls dressed then but most of us went back to sleep. (We all slept in the nood because all our clothes were packed & ready to get off the ship the next morning.)

At 5:10 we heard a plane & then that bad awful whistle a bomb makes & bang!—You’ll never know of the thousand things that flashed thro my mind those few seconds. I thought sure I was dying—could feel hot water falling on my face & body—Had heavy boards on my chest that had fallen from the ceiling—I shut my eyes & thought it was the end—Then the next second I thought “What the hell, I’m not dead—get out of this place”—then I could see poor Wheeler & Waldin without a stitch of clothes on trying to find anything to put on. I couldn’t see for the terrific smoke in our room—but was a mass of motion trying to find my coveralls which I had hung on the post hole the nite before. I found on the floor—all soaked with water & black with dirt—put them on & found my shoes—grabbed my helmet & water canteen & grabbed on to someone’s arm & followed the light that Claudine was holding. She coudn’t hardly find where the door was because the wall had all been blown out.

When we got on the deck we all had to get on one side because the bomb had torn away the other side of the ship. I’ll never forget seeing this one British nurse trying to get thro the porthole but was too large to make it. She was screaming terribly because her room was all in flames. One British fellow saw that she could never get out so he knocked her in the head with his fist and shoved her back in his room—She died but it was much easier than if she had burned to death.

We loaded in a life boat—70 of us in one boat that had a capacity of 30. Were taken on another hospital ship & given tea & hot coffee. I felt a darn good cry coming on so some British fellow took the 4 of we girls to his room & we drank a bottle of Scotch. I got “stinko” drunk—cried & when I snapped out of it, I felt fine. All the bruises I got out of it was a scratch on my knee, a cut on my left foot and marks & scratches on my chest where debree fell from the roof.
—Someday I’ll tell you more about it….


British nurses lost on the HMHS Newfoundland

Matron Agnes McInnes Cheyne QAIMNS
Sister Una Cameron TANS
Sister Mary Lea TANS
Sister Dorothy Mary Cole QAIMNS
Sister Phyllis Gibson QAIMNS
Sister Margaret Annie O’Loughlin QAIMNS


  1. Examiner (1943) Nazis Bomb Hospital Ship. Examiner, Launceston, Tasmania, 19 October 1943 p.1

SS Kuala

SS Kuala

The SS Kuala was a small coastal ship converted into an auxiliary vessel.

While still taking on passengers, SS Kuala was attacked by wave after wave of enemy aircraft, killing dozens of passengers including an Army nurse. The ship was carrying 600 people, 500 of whom were civilians. Half of these were women and children. Scores were injured by shrapnel fragments and flying glass. It left Singapore on February 14th as the Japanese advanced.

There were about 50 nurses on board, including civilians and military nurses from the other services. The master of the Kuala had decided to sail at night when they were less visible to aircraft, and lie to during the day. They had just sent men ashore in boats to Pom Pong island to camouflage the ship with branches and thatch when the planes came over. The women heard a warning shout to take cover and the ship was rocked by a massive explosion as the bridge suffered a direct hit and the boiler room caught fire.

With the stricken vessel sinking fast the order came to abandon ship. There were only two lifeboats and not nearly enough lifebelts – all were forced to jump from the blazing ship into the water where a fierce current was sweeping away from the island and out to the open sea, and the Japanese came back and strafed them, hitting one of the lifeboats and catapulting the passengers back into the sea. Some survivors were picked up by the SS Tanjong Pinang, which was itself sunk a day later.

SS Tanjong Pinang

The SS Tanjong Pinang was a 97 foot converted ‘tug’ trying to make its escape with about 160 women and children on board plus about eight wounded men from Pom Pong Island where they had been shipwrecked; it also had on board five ocean shipwreck survivors who had been plucked from the sea on the day before. Almost all these people were survivors, including many wounded, of the earlier sinking of the SS Kuala which had sailed from Singapore on 13 February and had been bombed by Japanese planes at Pom Pong Island so they had already experienced the horror and pain of one sinking. There is no official record of all those on board but it is thought that there were at least 160 on board and there could have been as many as 208 passengers and 17 crew crammed on the deck and into the hold in the dark of the night of 16 February.  There are also numerous Chinese and Eurasian women who are thought to have been on board too but there are no records of their names.

The ship left from Pom Pong Island at dawn on 17 February. One crew man said a lifeboat had ferried people from Pom Pong Island to the ship eight times carrying 20 people each time except for the last trip of 12 people. Another crewman said there were 250 passengers on board. The ship was stopped at sea about 30 miles north of the Tanjung Ular lighthouse off Banka Island at about 8.30pm that night by a warning shot across its bows. Whilst some women and children were being lowered in the ship’s only two small boats (there were no real lifeboats), a Japanese submarine or torpedo boat opened fire at point blank range whilst its searchlights were trained on the SS Tanjong Pinang directly hitting the starboard side ship’s boat. The ship sank within five to ten minutes taking down many of the women and children passengers who had been trapped in the hold and cabins.

SS Khedive Ismail

SS Khedive Ismail

The SS Khedive Ismail was a steamship sunk with great loss of life in 1944. On 6 February 1944 Convoy KR-8 sailed from Kilindini Harbour at Mombasa, Kenya to Colombo, Ceylon. The convoy consisted of five troop transports (Khedive Ismail, City of Paris, Varsova, Ekma & Ellenga), escorted by the heavy cruiser HMS Hawkins and the destroyers HMS Petard and HMS Paladin.

In the early afternoon of Saturday 12 February 1944, a Japanese submarine sank the Khedive Ismail with two torpedoes. No fewer than 1,297 people, including 77 women, lost their lives in the two minutes it took for the Khedive Ismail to sink. Only 208 men and 6 women survived. The sinking was the third worst Allied shipping disaster of World War II and the single worst loss of female service personnel in the history of the Commonwealth of Nations. The Army nurses that died are commemorated on the Brookwood Memorial.

Nurses who died at sea on the SS Khedive Ismail

Airey, Freda

Atkin, Joyce Kathleen

Bateman, Edith Mary

Brown, Amy

Dalgarno, Elsie Alice

Dann, Elizabeth Doritha

Davies, Margaret Eluned

Dervan, Gertrude

Dewar, Alice Whitehead

Dowling, Beatrice Olivia

Farrelly, Mary

FitzGerald, Catherine Mary

Harvey, Grace Wesslink

Hastings, Valerie Francis

Humphrey, Muriel Christine

Ievers, Eileen Mary Elsie

Jarman, Marie

Johnston, Maud Fredaline

Kells, Maggie Jane

Kells, Winifred Evelyn

Leckey, Muriel Emily

Leech, Barbara Elisabeth

Littleton, Mary Joyce

MacLaren, Jean Noel

McMillan, Marion Lennox

Moore, Isabella

Morgan, Sarah

Nuttall, Phyllis

Pirie, Barbara

Richardson, Sybil Gwendoline

Robertson, Helen Murray

Senior, Doris Ena

Smith, Marjorie

Spence, Isobel

Taylor, Katherine Mary Monica

Thomas, Jane Mair George

Urquhart, Mary Annie Ross

Walker, Kathleen Hewison

Warwick, Roberta Alice

Whitaker, Mafalda Selene

White, Gwendoline May

Willis, Annie Amelia

Young, Eleanor Jane