Mervyn Maciel lost five family members on the ship during World War II
A Goan who lost five members of his family when the SS Tilawa was sunk during World War II will be a special invitee at the 81st commemoration of the ill-fated ship at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich on November 23.
For the first time on British soil, a full Leopold Muller theatre will officially acknowledge the incident, and memorialise the loss of 280 lives.
Emile Solanki, who lost his great-grandfather, Nichhabhai Chibabhai Solanki in the tragedy, is founder of tilawa1942.com, a comprehensive resource site.
In a press note, Solanki stated that this is a story mainly of the Indian people, hence described as ‘The Indian Titanic story.’
The S.S. Tilawa was a British ship bound for Durban, South Africa. It departed from Bombay India on November 20, 1942. The ship carried over 6,000 tonnes of cargo, including 60 tonnes of silver purchased by the Republic of South Africa for the purpose of coinage.
There were 732 passengers, 222 crew members, and 4 gunners. The passengers were mainly Indian nationals. The ship was twice torpedoed by the Japanese Imperial Army in the early hours of the morning on November 23, 1942.
Hundreds fought for dear life, in life boats or floating for 2 days in the middle of the Indian Ocean. There were random barracuda and shark attacks to contend with, in addition to the weather and stomach churning sea movement.
Thanks to the rescue mission of HMS Birmingham and S.S. Carthage, 678 people were rescued. It is believed this is the only passenger cargo-liner attacked in the Indian Ocean during the Second World War.
In the UK, there are countless families connected to the tragedy who either had loved ones perish or survive.
In South London, Arvindbhai Jani (83), was 3 years old when his mother, the late Mrs Vasantben Jani, “wrapped him in her sari and jumped into the lifeboat”.
Mervyn Maciel from South London, who was a teenager when he lost both his parents and three young siblings, is looking forward to the event.
“As one who lost five family members – my dad, stepmother and three very young siblings aged 3, 1 year and 3 months – during World War II, I am determined to bring to the wider world the full import of this tragedy,” said Mervyn Maciel (94), who had served as Senior Civil Servant of Her Majesty’s Overseas Civil Service in Kenya before moving to the UK.
In addition to the only living survivors who will be interviewed at the Greenwich Commemoration, Maciel will also be interviewed and he will read out his poem composed on the Tilawa tragedy.
Incidentally, there was one Goan survivor on the SS Tilawa.
“The family of the late Arilio Nazareth, who was a survivor on the SS Tilawa are also likely to attend the commemoration at Greenwich. I remember Arilio meeting me at our Beckenham Club and confirming he was a survivor. He didn’t go any further as the memory must have been haunting,” said Maciel.
There are many stories to be told. The 81st anniversary of the tragedy will be a special opportunity for many families in the UK affected by the incident to come together and share their story.
Last year, the Solanki family from Canada and the UK hosted the first commemoration in history of the forgotten tragedy in Mumbai on its 80th anniversary. The location was fitting since the SS Tilawa last left this very port, and the survivors were brought back here on November 27, 1942.
The British Deputy High Commissioner Alan Gemmell was chief guest and delivered a speech including a pledge for the commission to place a wreath each year in memory of the S.S. Tilawa incident and lives lost.
Honouring his pledge made at the Bombay Commemoration, Gemmell allowed a wreath to be laid at the Remembrance Day Service held in Mumbai this year.
The Maciel Family Tragedy
By Mervyn Maciel
My mother was snatched at too early an age,
My father soon followed that same old stage
And left us three brothers quite helpless, alone
To bear the yoke that they had borne.
My mother's death took place at home
Where all of us did weep and mourn
But my father's was a death at sea,
It tore our hearts and orphaned three!
My Dad with step-mum and children three,
Was sailing to Africa, full of glee;
He smilingly said, “I'll come back soon”
But we knew not death would call so soon.
So sudden God's summons, so quick the deep sea,
Did swallow them all, O destiny
No time to say farewell, no time to say 'wait',
Death's cold gatekeeper had opened the gate.
And now that he's gone we can murmur not
But trust in God for that's our lot,
And trusting in Him who reigns on high
We'll patiently wait till the end draws nigh.
Then Daddy and Mummy soon shall we meet,
When death has silenced our last heart beat
Together then we'll live forever and ever
In Heaven so beautiful, we shall part - NO NEVER!