Dulcie Kup of Warnham
I was born in Mottingham, South London in 1917, during the First World War. I was fortunate that my father was in the building trade and so he was not called up.
I had an older sister, Beryl, and a younger brother, John, and we enjoyed growing up in the countryside. When I was 12, I went to Malvern St James boarding school.
I married Cyril Kendall. He was a civil engineer working on the railways in Burma, so we went out there and that is where Colin, my son, was born. We had to go by sea, which took a month and initially we settled in Rangoon. We had staff to do everything for us, so it was a time when I enjoyed myself greatly, playing bridge and tennis.
Soon after the start of the Second World War we had to move to the north of Burma in the jungle. I was the only white woman there. My husband was helping to construct a new railway from Lashio in the northern Shan State in to China.
When the Japanese invaded Burma, the British workers were leaving so I left Cyril and with Colin I joined the evacuation. We travelled by train, plane and by boat and after four days we arrived in Calcutta. There, the European club organised for us to stay with a British couple taking in refugees in India.
Cyril had to carry on working on the line until London told him to stop. Eventually word reached me that Cyril had left, but by that time the only way he could get out of Lashio was by walking out. I had received a telegram saying that he had left for India so went to meet him.
It took two nights and a whole day to get there by train. Cyril caught cerebral malaria. He reached a hospital in India, but he died before I arrived.
We travelled down to Bombay to wait for a passage back to England. I was offered a cabin on the City of Cairo ship and we left Bombay on October 1st 1942. There were about 150 crew and 150 passengers. We made it to Durban in three weeks then went to Cape Town before setting off again.
On 6th November, I was sat having dinner with a lady called Freda Bullen when we heard an awful thud. The lights went off, and of course we had been torpedoed. Colin, who was two years old, was lucky as the torpedo hit
just under our cabin, where he had been resting. A friend helped put Colin on a lifeboat with me. Our boat had just been lowered when a second torpedo hit the boat.
There was an enormous flame from the middle of the ship, and then she disappeared. We had to push away as quickly to avoid going down with it. The U-boat that sank us surfaced afterwards. The captain came out and gave us our position,420 miles from St Helena (an island in the South Atlantic) and 1,025 miles from Walvis Bay (Namibia). He said ‘sorry for sinking you’ and disappeared again!
Six lifeboats got away, and in our boat we had 56 people. Of those, 36 were Lascars (Indian sailors engaged by the British military), 11 were men and eight were women. Colin was the only child. We picked up a few people in the water as the ship sank.
The Captain of the City of Cairo had survived, and for several days tried to tie the lifeboats nose to tail and sail to land together, as it was only his boat that had a small engine. One night during a storm one man fell overboard and we couldn’t reach him. After that, the captain decided each lifeboat should go its own way.
Thankfully we had a very experienced senior merchant navy officer called George Nutter on our lifeboat and he took over. It is thanks to him that many of us survived.
We had two ounces of water in the morning and two ounces at night, as well as a small piece of chocolate in the evening. Colin wanted more but when I started giving him some of mine I was told not to as I needed it just as much. Colin was absolutely amazing. Having been a very lively child, he was so well behaved. He didn’t cry at all. He just didn’t have any energy as he wasn’t eating.
After the first week lost at sea, some of the Lascars lost heart and some of them slipped overboard as they didn’t want to go on. We were picked up after two weeks, just as I had started to wonder if it was best for me and Colin to slip overboard.
We saw a cargo ship in the distance. We didn’t believe it at first, but we shouted and sent a flare up and were rescued by the S.S Clan Alpine. We picked up two more life boats in the following days and then eventually reached St Helena. Of the other three lifeboats, one was picked up soon after our boat, with 47 of its original 55 occupants having survived. Another sailed for 36 days, and only two British men survived from more than 50 people. In another lifeboat, a man and a woman survived until 27th December.
We were taken to St Helena where we had to wait for another boat to take us from there. The first ship they sent for us was torpedoed with the loss of all on board. The T.S.S Nestor came and we joined a convoy home. It took
another six weeks to return home and three of our convoy were sunk by submarines but this time we were lucky.
t was the middle of the war so everyone in England was having problems. If such an ordeal happened now it would be quite a different thing but most people’s lives had been affected dramatically by the war.
My brother John was in the air force, and he was on a training exercise off the east coast somewhere up north. They were flying low and the plane he was flying cut out and he crashed into the sea. His body was never found.
It was only a few months after I arrived home from my ordeal that John died. It absolutely shattered my mother. Our family was hit hard by the war.
When I returned home, the war was still on. People had to come to my father’s house to see when it was their day for fire watching duties. Through this, I met a girl called Sonia and she invited me out for dinner with her brother, Geoffrey Kup, who was in the army but was visiting her. So I went and ended up marrying him.
In 1947 Geoffrey and I had a daughter, Jenny, and we spent all of the 1950s in Germany, except for two years in Pakistan. We had a wonderful life – I had a Polish cook, a nurse maid for Colin and two or three cleaners. So I was back spending my time playing bridge and tennis.
We left Germany in 1960. My father wanted us to buy a house with him, so he would have one half and us the other. My father was nine years older than my mother, and wanted to ensure my mother had somebody near to care for her when he died. So we bought a house just on the edge of Warnham.
After my father died, I looked after my mother. She died in 1981, the same year as Geoffrey. I must admit sometimes I think that I’ve had enough of it on my own. I’ve always done a lot though. I have always filled my days and I make friends easily and up until recently I liked to go on holiday a lot, especially cruises.
There was a reunion of survivors from the City of Cairo in London. We met up on the Thames. Not everybody could make it but quite a few did. I remained friends with Freda for a long time. Freda had twins who were just a year old at the time and they all survived on another lifeboat having initially jumped into the water when the torpedoes hit.
But eventually we lost contact and I think she has died. I’ve gone on rather longer than most people.
If you would like to know more about the SS City of Cairo there is a terrific website at www.sscityofcairo.co.uk