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KNOTTINGLEY'S MARITIME HISTORY

Captain George Colverson

CAPTAIN GEORGE COLVERSON

1882 -1963


by RON GOSNEY

George Colverson was born on the 8th February 1882, one of five brothers born to Captain William Colverson and his wife Lucy Ann (formerly Rowbottom), daughter of Edward Rowbottom. They were married at Christ Church, Knottingley, on the 28th May 1881 and lived on Sunny Bank.

George first went to sea with his father on the wooden sailing ship ‘Princess’ along with his younger brother Tom (1888-1951) Tom worked on the barges for John Harker’s. George worked for many years as a ship master for the British Channel Islands Shipping Co, Ltd., of London and in a booklet titled “The War Record of the ‘Queen’ Boats” compiled by Godfrey W. Ford one of the Company Directors he describes the service of George Colverson during the conflict. In his introduction he says;

“Many chroniclers, now that the war is over, will place on record the events which occurred during close on six years of the greatest struggle in history. From their own experience or, as in the present case, from knowledge gathered from the actual participants, the story of deeds performed by fighting men, abroad or at home will unfold. It is inevitable, and it is right too, that it should be told. Memory is short, and if the lessons of the past are to be learned for the future benefit of mankind, then the efforts and sacrifices of all those who have fought for liberty must be set down as a warning and an inspiration for generations yet to come."

"No one will deny that to an Island race, such as ourselves, the Mercantile Marine is a lifeline of our existence, and it is with the men and ships of the merchant fleet, as represented by that small part formed by the vessels owned by the British Channel Islands Shipping Co. Ltd., of London, and widely known as the ‘Queen’ boats, that this narrative deals - a single piece only of the jig-saw forming the picture of the nation’s war-time endeavours, but with the loss of six of its ships and some of their gallant crews, together with the loyal devotion to duty of all in its service, the Company is right to think that a not unworthy contribution has been made.”

He goes on to say:

"The first of the Company’s vessels to be lost through enemy action was the ‘S.S. Island Queen’ 1,160 tons deadweight. Built by Burntisland Shipbuilding Co. Ltd., in 1934 for the Channel Islands trade, she was the fifth vessel of this name to be owned by the Company, and a sister ship of the ‘S.S. London Queen’ built the previous year. These two vessels established a fine reputation for regularity on the Channel Islands’ run, which they served in the bi-weekly service from London for over ten years.

The ‘Island Queen’ had been taken off this service, as a result of enemy occupation of the Channel Islands, only a month previous to her loss, and was employed in the East Coast coal trade when she was bombed off Dover. She was the commodore ship of the convoy when it was attacked by a squadron of German planes on 14th July 1940. Bombs rained down on the vessel, two of them making direct hits and four more narrowly missing her. At this period few vessels were adequately armed for defence, and the ‘Island Queen’ was equipped only with one machine gun, which was poor protection against the weight of attack from the enemy planes. The Chief Officer and an able seaman, on the bridge with the Captain, were killed by the bomb hits, and the ship was soon on fire and sinking. Another seaman was also killed in the attack. The Germans subsequently claimed over their radio, to have sunk a ship of 11,000 tons - a slight exaggeration of nearly 10,000 tons.

Captain G. Colverson, already a veteran in the service of the Company, was the master, and in him, as will further be shown, the fighting spirit of the merchant navy is well typified. Following the loss of his ship Captain Colverson resumed the hazards of the coasting service in command of ‘S.S. Jersey Queen’ 1,325 tons deadweight, and at once was again tested in the fire of merciless warfare, losing this vessel also, less than two months after the first. The ’Jersey Queen’ built in 1936, and another product of the Burntisland shipyard, was first singled out for attack by a Dornier bomber in the Irish sea.

With combined fire from cannon and machine guns, accompanied by incendiary bombs, a veritable inferno seemed to have broken loose on the ship, which, however, gave a spirited reply with her own guns. The incendiaries fortunately glanced off the ship into the sea without inflicting damage, but the cannon shells penetrated the plating and two of the crew were injured. Some of the aircraft’s bullets entered the chief engineer’s cabin and embedded themselves in the furniture, but luckily for him, he was not there at the time.

Two days after this experience, an acoustic mine exploded under the vessel near Falmouth, resulting in the loss of the ship and the lives of the chief officer and a seaman. Captain Colverson was on the bridge at the time of the explosion and was knocked unconscious as a result of the protective blocks surrounding the wheelhouse falling on him. Picked from the water by one of the ship’s boats, he and the rest of the crew had to weather a south-westerly gale for three and a half hours before rescue came.

Still undaunted by the loss of two ships and the ordeal he had suffered, Captain Colverson next took command of the new vessel ’S.S. Stuart Queen’ 1,500 tons deadweight, delivered from Ardrossan in March 1941, and further adventures awaited him, beginning with eight hectic nights in Liverpool during the air raid blitz on that city. There were many near-hits by bombs as the ship lay in the dock, and some incendiaries actually fell on board. These however, were dealt with by the ship’s crew, and the vessel left port safe and sound, though considerably shaken by the blast and concussion she had endured.

On another occasion, the ’Stuart Queen’ was gunned and bombed from the air while sailing down the east coast, one bomb landing very close to the ship’s side. The ship’s guns gave good account of themselves, the fire of which gave the raiders a warm reception, and they may well have made hits on the enemy.

To complete the record of the ships commanded by Captain Colverson, we will jump to 1943, to find him at the helm of the ’S.S. Windsor Queen’ 1,390 tons deadweight, just delivered from Burntisland. The ’Windsor Queen’ came in for her share of attacks from aircraft and E-boats (motor torpedo boats) while on the east coast run, to feed the fires of southern England with Tyneside coal, and in addition, was in the port of London during a particularly venomous attack by flying bombs. A large proportion of these missiles fell in the Thames Estuary and dock areas, and on this occasion several landed in uncomfortable proximity. The ’Windsor Queen’ however, continued on her voyages unharmed to the end of the war. Captain Colverson was awarded the M.B.E. for his wartime service, and no man’s record in the Merchant Navy can more worthily have merited this recognition."


Ron Gosney


Also by Ron Gosney:

Christopher Rowbotham & Sons
John Harker Shipyard
Disasters at Sea


 

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