Joseph is not remembered on the war memorial at Christchurch Park, Ipswich.
Born: 1919, Ipswich.
Died: 14th November 1942; age: 23; drowned as an Italian PoW on board S.S.’Scillin.’
Rank: Gunner; Service Number: 953087.
Regiment: Royal Artillery, 67 Medium Regiment.
Relatives Notified & Address: Son of Joseph & Florence Atherton, of Ipswich.
Father: Joseph Atherton, born 1896.
Mother: Florence Atherton (nee Driver), born 1892, Ipswich.
67th Medium Regiment
67th Medium Regiment, R.A. (T.A.)
HQ, 232nd (Suffolk) Bty: Ipswich
231st (Suffolk) Bty: Sudbury
67th Medium Regiment served under command of IV Corps Artillery in the autumn of 1940. It was sent to North Africa in October 1941 as part of the Crusader convoys. It served under 8th Army in the campaigns in the Western Desert from November 1941 until June 1942. It supported the South African attack on Bardia in December 1941. The regiment added (Suffolk) to its name on 17 February 1942. It was captured at Tobruk on 20 June 1942. Due to causalities the regiment was reduced to a cadre on 7 September 1942.
The regiment was reformed at Hunstanton, Norfolk on 7 February 1943 from 167th Field Regiment. It joined 3rd Army Group RA on its formation on 11 February 1943 at 49 Trant Road, Tunbridge Wells. It served in Northwest Europe with this formation from June 1944 until the end of the war.
S.S.’Scillin’ was a cargo steamship built in 1903, at Russell & Co., Greenock, Renfrewshire, at yard 511, for William Peterson Ltd., of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and named H.M. ‘Pellatt.’ In 1905, she was sold to the Canadian Lake & Ocean Navigation Co., of Newcastle. H.M.’Pellatt’ was sold again in 1911, to the Merchants Mutual Line, of Newcastle. The Canadian Northern Steamships, of London bought her in 1917, and soon sold her in 1918 to Canada Steamship Lines Ltd., of Montreal. She was sold once again in 1920, and re-named S.S. ‘Memling’ by her new owner the Société Belge d’Armement Maritime. In 1924/1925 her name was changed to S.S. ‘Nicole Le Borgne’ by the Compagnie Charles Le Borgne, of Marseille. In 1934, her new owner Giuseppe Pagan, of Venice re-named her S.S. ‘Giuliana Pagan.’ The Aurora SA di Navigazione, of Genoa had bought the steamship and changed her name to S.S. ‘Scillin Secondo,’ which was later shortened in 1937 to S.S. ‘Scillin.’ In 1941, S.S. ‘Scillin’ was in the ownership of Fratelli Biarchi Società Di Navigazione of Genoa.
14th November 1942
On the 13th November 1942, over 800 PoWs weak from the lack of food and medical treatment were loaded onto the S.S.’Scillin,’ at the Spanish Quay in Tripoli Harbour. The men were penned into the severely overcrowded hold, with insanitary conditions. The only air and light came through a small hatch. A further 195 PoWs were left behind to board another ship after the British Captain Gilbert, of the R.A.M.C. made a strong forceful and intense protest that the ship was already overcrowded.
With an Italian Naval gun crew and guards, the ship set sail three hours late on it’s passage from Tripoli to Trapani, Sicily.
The British P212 submarine H.M.S. ‘Sahib’ (Lieutenant John Bromage), was on patrol in support of the Axis campaign in North Africa. When S.S. ‘Scillin’ appeared on their radar. In the darkness, 9 miles north of Kuriat, Tunisa Lt. Bromage, believing that the ship was carrying Italian troops, ordered open fire of their 3inch gun as a signal for the ship to stop. She did not respond. At 19:50hrs a torpedo was fired. The torpedo blew out the bottom of the hold in which the PoWs were penned. There was little chance of survival and the ship sank rapidly.
H.M.S.’Sahib’ rescued 27 PoWs (26 British & 1 South African), plus S.S. Scillin’s Captain and 45 Italian crew members, before an Italian warship arrived and H.M.S. ‘Sahib’ was forced to withdraw. Only when the survivors (who later landed in Malta) were heard speaking English did Lt. Bromage realise that the ship had been carrying PoWs.
The ‘friendly fire’ tragedy was investigated as a war crime, and the subsequent inquiry absolved Lt. Bromage of any blame. The Ministry of Defence kept the incident a secret for 54 years. Telling families that their loved ones had died as PoWs in camps, or ‘lost at sea.’ In 1996, after repeated requests from the families the truth was revealed.
Now the Date of Death recorded by the C.W.G.C. (26th October 1942 – 14th November 1942) has been corrected to show the 14th November 1942 to almost all who had died on board
S.S.’Scillin.’67th Medium Regiment information used from the work of Brian Sims (1997) and courtesy of Pat Dowsing.